Connie was a good deal alone now, fewer people came to Wragby. Clifford no longer wanted them. He had turned against even the cronies. He was queer. He preferred the radio, which he had installed at some expense, with a good deal of success at last. He could sometimes get Madrid or Frankfurt, even there in the uneasy Midlands.
And he would sit alone for hours listening to the loudspeaker bellowing forth. It amazed and stunned Connie. But there he would sit, with a blank entranced expression on his face, like a person losing his mind, and listen, or seem to listen, to the unspeakable thing.
Was he really listening? Or was it a sort of soporific he took, whilst something else worked on underneath in him? Connie did now know. She fled up to her room, or out of doors to the wood. A kind of terror filled her sometimes, a terror of the incipient insanity of the whole civilized species.
But now that Clifford was drifting off to this other weirdness of industrial activity, becoming almost a creature, with a hard, efficient shell of an exterior and a pulpy interior, one of the amazing crabs and lobsters of the modern, industrial and financial world, invertebrates of the crustacean order, with shells of steel, like machines, and inner bodies of soft pulp, Connie herself was really completely stranded.
She was not even free, for Clifford must have her there. He seemed to have a nervous terror that she should leave him. The curious pulpy part of him, the emotional and humanly-individual part, depended on her with terror, like a child, almost like an idiot. She must be there, there at Wragby, a Lady Chatterley, his wife. Otherwise he would be lost like an idiot on a moor.
This amazing dependence Connie realized with a sort of horror. She heard him with his pit managers, with the members of his Board, with young scientists, and she was amazed at his shrewd insight into things, his power, his uncanny material power over what is called practical men. He had become a practical man himself and an amazingly astute and powerful one, a master. Connie attributed it to Mrs Bolton’s influence upon him, just at the crisis in his life.
But this astute and practical man was almost an idiot when left alone to his own emotional life. He worshipped Connie. She was his wife, a higher being, and he worshipped her with a queer, craven idolatry, like a savage, a worship based on enormous fear, and even hate of the power of the idol, the dread idol. All he wanted was for Connie to swear, to swear not to leave him, not to give him away.
‘Clifford,’ she said to him — but this was after she had the key to the hut — ‘Would you really like me to have a child one day?’
He looked at her with a furtive apprehension in his rather prominent pale eyes.
‘I shouldn’t mind, if it made no difference between us,’ he said.
‘No difference to what?’ she asked.
‘To you and me; to our love for one another. If it’s going to affect that, then I’m all against it. Why, I might even one day have a child of my own!’
She looked at him in amazement.
‘I mean, it might come back to me one of these days.’
She still stared in amazement, and he was uncomfortable.
‘So you would not like it if I had a child?’ she said.
‘I tell you,’ he replied quickly, like a cornered dog, ‘I am quite willing, provided it doesn’t touch your love for me. If it would touch that, I am dead against it.’
Connie could only be silent in cold fear and contempt. Such talk was really the gabbling of an idiot. He no longer knew what he was talking about.
‘Oh, it wouldn’t make any difference to my feeling for you,’ she said, with a certain sarcasm.
‘There!’ he said. ‘That is the point! In that case I don’t mind in the least. I mean it would be awfully nice to have a child running about the house, and feel one was building up a future for it. I should have something to strive for then, and I should know it was your child, shouldn’t I, dear? And it would seem just the same as my own. Because it is you who count in these matters. You know that, don’t you, dear? I don’t enter, I am a cypher. You are the great I-am! as far as life goes. You know that, don’t you? I mean, as far as I am concerned. I mean, but for you I am absolutely nothing. I live for your sake and your future. I am nothing to myself’
Connie heard it all with deepening dismay and repulsion. It was one of the ghastly half-truths that poison human existence. What man in his senses would say such things to a woman! But men aren’t in their senses. What man with a spark of honour would put this ghastly burden of life-responsibility upon a woman, and leave her there, in the void?
Moreover, in half an hour’s time, Connie heard Clifford talking to Mrs Bolton, in a hot, impulsive voice, revealing himself in a sort of passionless passion to the woman, as if she were half mistress, half foster-mother to him. And Mrs Bolton was carefully dressing him in evening clothes, for there were important business guests in the house.
Connie really sometimes felt she would die at this time. She felt she was being crushed to death by weird lies, and by the amazing cruelty of idiocy. Clifford’s strange business efficiency in a way over-awed her, and his declaration of private worship put her into a panic. There was nothing between them. She never even touched him nowadays, and he never touched her. He never even took her hand and held it kindly. No, and because they were so utterly out of touch, he tortured her with his declaration of idolatry. It was the cruelty of utter impotence. And she felt her reason would give way, or she would die.
She fled as much as possible to the wood. One afternoon, as she sat brooding, watching the water bubbling coldly in John’s Well, the keeper had strode up to her.
‘I got you a key made, my Lady!’ he said, saluting, and he offered her the key.
‘Thank you so much!’ she said, startled.
‘The hut’s not very tidy, if you don’t mind,’ he said. ‘I cleared it what I could.’
‘But I didn’t want you to trouble!’ she said.
‘Oh, it wasn’t any trouble. I am setting the hens in about a week. But they won’t be scared of you. I s’ll have to see to them morning and night, but I shan’t bother you any more than I can help.’
‘But you wouldn’t bother me,’ she pleaded. ‘I’d rather not go to the hut at all, if I am going to be in the way.’
He looked at her with his keen blue eyes. He seemed kindly, but distant. But at least he was sane, and wholesome, if even he looked thin and ill. A cough troubled him.
‘You have a cough,’ she said.
‘Nothing — a cold! The last pneumonia left me with a cough, but it’s nothing.’
He kept distant from her, and would not come any nearer.
She went fairly often to the hut, in the morning or in the afternoon, but he was never there. No doubt he avoided her on purpose. He wanted to keep his own privacy.
He had made the hut tidy, put the little table and chair near the fireplace, left a little pile of kindling and small logs, and put the tools and traps away as far as possible, effacing himself. Outside, by the clearing, he had built a low little roof of boughs and straw, a shelter for the birds, and under it stood the live coops. And, one day when she came, she found two brown hens sitting alert and fierce in the coops, sitting on pheasants’ eggs, and fluffed out so proud and deep in all the heat of the pondering female blood. This almost broke Connie’s heart. She, herself was so forlorn and unused, not a female at all, just a mere thing of terrors.
Then all the live coops were occupied by hens, three brown and a grey and a black. All alike, they clustered themselves down on the eggs in the soft nestling ponderosity of the female urge, the female nature, fluffing out their feathers. And with brilliant eyes they watched Connie, as she crouched before them, and they gave short sharp clucks of anger and alarm, but chiefly of female anger at being approached.
Connie found corn in the corn-bin in the hut. She offered it to the hens in her hand. They would not eat it. Only one hen pecked at her hand with a fierce little jab, so Connie was frightened. But she was pining to give them something, the brooding mothers who neither fed themselves nor drank. She brought water in a little tin, and was delighted when one of the hens drank.
Now she came every day to the hens, they were the only things in the world that warmed her heart. Clifford’s protestations made her go cold from head to foot. Mrs Bolton’s voice made her go cold, and the sound of the business men who came. An occasional letter from Michaelis affected her with the same sense of chill. She felt she would surely die if it lasted much longer.
Yet it was spring, and the bluebells were coming in the wood, and the leaf-buds on the hazels were opening like the spatter of green rain. How terrible it was that it should be spring, and everything cold-hearted, cold-hearted. Only the hens, fluffed so wonderfully on the eggs, were warm with their hot, brooding female bodies! Connie felt herself living on the brink of fainting all the time.
Then, one day, a lovely sunny day with great tufts of primroses under the hazels, and many violets dotting the paths, she came in the afternoon to the coops and there was one tiny, tiny perky chicken tinily prancing round in front of a coop, and the mother hen clucking in terror. The slim little chick was greyish brown with dark markings, and it was the most alive little spark of a creature in seven kingdoms at that moment. Connie crouched to watch in a sort of ecstasy. Life, life! pure, sparky, fearless new life! New life! So tiny and so utterly without fear! Even when it scampered a little, scrambling into the coop again, and disappeared under the hen’s feathers in answer to the mother hen’s wild alarm-cries, it was not really frightened, it took it as a game, the game of living. For in a moment a tiny sharp head was poking through the gold-brown feathers of the hen, and eyeing the Cosmos.
Connie was fascinated. And at the same time, never had she felt so acutely the agony of her own female forlornness. It was becoming unbearable.
She had only one desire now, to go to the clearing in the wood. The rest was a kind of painful dream. But sometimes she was kept all day at Wragby, by her duties as hostess. And then she felt as if she too were going blank, just blank and insane.
One evening, guests or no guests, she escaped after tea. It was late, and she fled across the park like one who fears to be called back. The sun was setting rosy as she entered the wood, but she pressed on among the flowers. The light would last long overhead.
She arrived at the clearing flushed and semi-conscious. The keeper was there, in his shirt-sleeves, just closing up the coops for the night, so the little occupants would be safe. But still one little trio was pattering about on tiny feet, alert drab mites, under the straw shelter, refusing to be called in by the anxious mother.
‘I had to come and see the chickens!’ she said, panting, glancing shyly at the keeper, almost unaware of him. ‘Are there any more?’
‘Thurty-six so far!’ he said. ‘Not bad!’
He too took a curious pleasure in watching the young things come out.
Connie crouched in front of the last coop. The three chicks had run in. But still their cheeky heads came poking sharply through the yellow feathers, then withdrawing, then only one beady little head eyeing forth from the vast mother-body.
‘I’d love to touch them,’ she said, putting her lingers gingerly through the bars of the coop. But the mother-hen pecked at her hand fiercely, and Connie drew back startled and frightened.
‘How she pecks at me! She hates me!’ she said in a wondering voice. ‘But I wouldn’t hurt them!’
The man standing above her laughed, and crouched down beside her, knees apart, and put his hand with quiet confidence slowly into the coop. The old hen pecked at him, but not so savagely. And slowly, softly, with sure gentle lingers, he felt among the old bird’s feathers and drew out a faintly-peeping chick in his closed hand.
‘There!’ he said, holding out his hand to her. She took the little drab thing between her hands, and there it stood, on its impossible little stalks of legs, its atom of balancing life trembling through its almost weightless feet into Connie’s hands. But it lifted its handsome, clean-shaped little head boldly, and looked sharply round, and gave a little ‘peep’. ‘So adorable! So cheeky!’ she said softly.
The keeper, squatting beside her, was also watching with an amused face the bold little bird in her hands. Suddenly he saw a tear fall on to her wrist.
And he stood up, and stood away, moving to the other coop. For suddenly he was aware of the old flame shooting and leaping up in his loins, that he had hoped was quiescent for ever. He fought against it, turning his back to her. But it leapt, and leapt downwards, circling in his knees.
He turned again to look at her. She was kneeling and holding her two hands slowly forward, blindly, so that the chicken should run in to the mother-hen again. And there was something so mute and forlorn in her, compassion flamed in his bowels for her.
Without knowing, he came quickly towards her and crouched beside her again, taking the chick from her hands, because she was afraid of the hen, and putting it back in the coop. At the back of his loins the fire suddenly darted stronger.
He glanced apprehensively at her. Her face was averted, and she was crying blindly, in all the anguish of her generation’s forlornness. His heart melted suddenly, like a drop of fire, and he put out his hand and laid his lingers on her knee.
‘You shouldn’t cry,’ he said softly.
But then she put her hands over her face and felt that really her heart was broken and nothing mattered any more.
He laid his hand on her shoulder, and softly, gently, it began to travel down the curve of her back, blindly, with a blind stroking motion, to the curve of her crouching loins. And there his hand softly, softly, stroked the curve of her flank, in the blind instinctive caress.
She had found her scrap of handkerchief and was blindly trying to dry her face.
‘Shall you come to the hut?’ he said, in a quiet, neutral voice.
And closing his hand softly on her upper arm, he drew her up and led her slowly to the hut, not letting go of her till she was inside. Then he cleared aside the chair and table, and took a brown, soldier’s blanket from the tool chest, spreading it slowly. She glanced at his face, as she stood motionless.
His face was pale and without expression, like that of a man submitting to fate.
‘You lie there,’ he said softly, and he shut the door, so that it was dark, quite dark.
With a queer obedience, she lay down on the blanket. Then she felt the soft, groping, helplessly desirous hand touching her body, feeling for her face. The hand stroked her face softly, softly, with infinite soothing and assurance, and at last there was the soft touch of a kiss on her cheek.
She lay quite still, in a sort of sleep, in a sort of dream. Then she quivered as she felt his hand groping softly, yet with queer thwarted clumsiness, among her ‘clothing. Yet the hand knew, too, how to unclothe her where it wanted. He drew down the thin silk sheath, slowly, carefully, right down and over her feet. Then with a quiver of exquisite pleasure he touched the warm soft body, and touched her navel for a moment in a kiss. And he had to come in to her at once, to enter the peace on earth of her soft, quiescent body. It was the moment of pure peace for him, the entry into the body of the woman.
She lay still, in a kind of sleep, always in a kind of sleep. The activity, the orgasm was his, all his; she could strive for herself no more. Even the tightness of his arms round her, even the intense movement of his body, and the springing of his seed in her, was a kind of sleep, from which she did not begin to rouse till he had finished and lay softly panting against her breast.
Then she wondered, just dimly wondered, why? Why was this necessary? Why had it lifted a great cloud from her and given her peace? Was it real? Was it real?
Her tormented modern-woman’s brain still had no rest. Was it real? And she knew, if she gave herself to the man, it was real. But if she kept herself for herself it was nothing. She was old; millions of years old, she felt. And at last, she could bear the burden of herself no more. She was to be had for the taking. To be had for the taking.
The man lay in a mysterious stillness. What was he feeling? What was he thinking? She did not know. He was a strange man to her, she did not know him. She must only wait, for she did not dare to break his mysterious stillness. He lay there with his arms round her, his body on hers, his wet body touching hers, so close. And completely unknown. Yet not unpeaceful. His very stillness was peaceful.
She knew that, when at last he roused and drew away from her. It was like an abandonment. He drew her dress in the darkness down over her knees and stood a few moments, apparently adjusting his own clothing. Then he quietly opened the door and went out.
She saw a very brilliant little moon shining above the afterglow over the oaks. Quickly she got up and arranged herself she was tidy. Then she went to the door of the hut.
All the lower wood was in shadow, almost darkness. Yet the sky overhead was crystal. But it shed hardly any light. He came through the lower shadow towards her, his face lifted like a pale blotch.
‘Shall we go then?’ he said.
‘I’ll go with you to the gate.’
He arranged things his own way. He locked the door of the hut and came after her.
‘You aren’t sorry, are you?’ he asked, as he went at her side.
‘No! No! Are you?’ she said.
‘For that! No!’ he said. Then after a while he added: ‘But there’s the rest of things.’
‘What rest of things?’ she said.
‘Sir Clifford. Other folks. All the complications.’
‘Why complications?’ she said, disappointed.
‘It’s always so. For you as well as for me. There’s always complications.’ He walked on steadily in the dark.
‘And are you sorry?’ she said.
‘In a way!’ he replied, looking up at the sky. ‘I thought I’d done with it all. Now I’ve begun again.’
‘Life!’ she re-echoed, with a queer thrill.
‘It’s life,’ he said. ‘There’s no keeping clear. And if you do keep clear you might almost as well die. So if I’ve got to be broken open again, I have.’
She did not quite see it that way, but still ‘It’s just love,’ she said cheerfully.
‘Whatever that may be,’ he replied.
They went on through the darkening wood in silence, till they were almost at the gate.
‘But you don’t hate me, do you?’ she said wistfully.
‘Nay, nay,’ he replied. And suddenly he held her fast against his breast again, with the old connecting passion. ‘Nay, for me it was good, it was good. Was it for you?’
‘Yes, for me too,’ she answered, a little untruthfully, for she had not been conscious of much.
He kissed her softly, softly, with the kisses of warmth.
‘If only there weren’t so many other people in the world,’ he said lugubriously.
She laughed. They were at the gate to the park. He opened it for her.
‘I won’t come any further,’ he said.
‘No!’ And she held out her hand, as if to shake hands. But he took it in both his.
‘Shall I come again?’ she asked wistfully.
She left him and went across the park.
He stood back and watched her going into the dark, against the pallor of the horizon. Almost with bitterness he watched her go. She had connected him up again, when he had wanted to be alone. She had cost him that bitter privacy of a man who at last wants only to be alone.
He turned into the dark of the wood. All was still, the moon had set. But he was aware of the noises of the night, the engines at Stacks Gate, the traffic on the main road. Slowly he climbed the denuded knoll. And from the top he could see the country, bright rows of lights at Stacks Gate, smaller lights at Tevershall pit, the yellow lights of Tevershall and lights everywhere, here and there, on the dark country, with the distant blush of furnaces, faint and rosy, since the night was clear, the rosiness of the outpouring of white-hot metal. Sharp, wicked electric lights at Stacks Gate! An undefinable quick of evil in them! And all the unease, the ever-shifting dread of the industrial night in the Midlands. He could hear the winding-engines at Stacks Gate turning down the seven-o’clock miners. The pit worked three shifts.
He went down again into the darkness and seclusion of the wood. But he knew that the seclusion of the wood was illusory. The industrial noises broke the solitude, the sharp lights, though unseen, mocked it. A man could no longer be private and withdrawn. The world allows no hermits. And now he had taken the woman, and brought on himself a new cycle of pain and doom. For he knew by experience what it meant.
It was not woman’s fault, nor even love’s fault, nor the fault of sex. The fault lay there, out there, in those evil electric lights and diabolical rattlings of engines. There, in the world of the mechanical greedy, greedy mechanism and mechanized greed, sparkling with lights and gushing hot metal and roaring with traffic, there lay the vast evil thing, ready to destroy whatever did not conform. Soon it would destroy the wood, and the bluebells would spring no more. All vulnerable things must perish under the rolling and running of iron.
He thought with infinite tenderness of the woman. Poor forlorn thing, she was nicer than she knew, and oh! so much too nice for the tough lot she was in contact with. Poor thing, she too had some of the vulnerability of the wild hyacinths, she wasn’t all tough rubber-goods and platinum, like the modern girl. And they would do her in! As sure as life, they would do her in, as they do in all naturally tender life. Tender! Somewhere she was tender, tender with a tenderness of the growing hyacinths, something that has gone out of the celluloid women of today. But he would protect her with his heart for a little while. For a little while, before the insentient iron world and the Mammon of mechanized greed did them both in, her as well as him.
He went home with his gun and his dog, to the dark cottage, lit the lamp, started the fire, and ate his supper of bread and cheese, young onions and beer. He was alone, in a silence he loved. His room was clean and tidy, but rather stark. Yet the fire was bright, the hearth white, the petroleum lamp hung bright over the table, with its white oil-cloth. He tried to read a book about India, but tonight he could not read. He sat by the fire in his shirt-sleeves, not smoking, but with a mug of beer in reach. And he thought about Connie.
To tell the truth, he was sorry for what had happened, perhaps most for her sake. He had a sense of foreboding. No sense of wrong or sin; he was troubled by no conscience in that respect. He knew that conscience was chiefly tear of society, or fear of oneself. He was not afraid of himself. But he was quite consciously afraid of society, which he knew by instinct to be a malevolent, partly-insane beast.
The woman! If she could be there with him, and there were nobody else in the world! The desire rose again, his penis began to stir like a live bird. At the same time an oppression, a dread of exposing himself and her to that outside Thing that sparkled viciously in the electric lights, weighed down his shoulders. She, poor young thing, was just a young female creature to him; but a young female creature whom he had gone into and whom he desired again.
Stretching with the curious yawn of desire, for he had been alone and apart from man or woman for four years, he rose and took his coat again, and his gun, lowered the lamp and went out into the starry night, with the dog. Driven by desire and by dread of the malevolent Thing outside, he made his round in the wood, slowly, softly. He loved the darkness and folded himself into it. It fitted the turgidity of his desire which, in spite of all, was like a riches; the stirring restlessness of his penis, the stirring fire in his loins! Oh, if only there were other men to be with, to fight that sparkling electric Thing outside there, to preserve the tenderness of life, the tenderness of women, and the natural riches of desire. If only there were men to fight side by side with! But the men were all outside there, glorying in the Thing, triumphing or being trodden down in the rush of mechanized greed or of greedy mechanism.
Constance, for her part, had hurried across the park, home, almost without thinking. As yet she had no afterthought. She would be in time for dinner.
She was annoyed to find the doors fastened, however, so that she had to ring. Mrs Bolton opened.
‘Why there you are, your Ladyship! I was beginning to wonder if you’d gone lost!’ she said a little roguishly. ‘Sir Clifford hasn’t asked for you, though; he’s got Mr Linley in with him, talking over something. It looks as if he’d stay to dinner, doesn’t it, my Lady?’
‘It does rather,’ said Connie.
‘Shall I put dinner back a quarter of an hour? That would give you time to dress in comfort.’
‘Perhaps you’d better.’
Mr Linley was the general manager of the collieries, an elderly man from the north, with not quite enough punch to suit Clifford; not up to post-war conditions, nor post-war colliers either, with their ‘ca’ canny’ creed. But Connie liked Mr Linley, though she was glad to be spared the toadying of his wife.
Linley stayed to dinner, and Connie was the hostess men liked so much, so modest, yet so attentive and aware, with big, wide blue eyes and a soft repose that sufficiently hid what she was really thinking. Connie had played this woman so much, it was almost second nature to her; but still, decidedly second. Yet it was curious how everything disappeared from her consciousness while she played it.
She waited patiently till she could go upstairs and think her own thoughts. She was always waiting, it seemed to be her forte.
Once in her room, however, she felt still vague and confused. She didn’t know what to think. What sort of a man was he, really? Did he really like her? Not much, she felt. Yet he was kind. There was something, a sort of warm naive kindness, curious and sudden, that almost opened her womb to him. But she felt he might be kind like that to any woman. Though even so, it was curiously soothing, comforting. And he was a passionate man, wholesome and passionate. But perhaps he wasn’t quite individual enough; he might be the same with any woman as he had been with her. It really wasn’t personal. She was only really a female to him.
But perhaps that was better. And after all, he was kind to the female in her, which no man had ever been. Men were very kind to the person she was, but rather cruel to the female, despising her or ignoring her altogether. Men were awfully kind to Constance Reid or to Lady Chatterley; but not to her womb they weren’t kind. And he took no notice of Constance or of Lady Chatterley; he just softly stroked her loins or her breasts.
She went to the wood next day. It was a grey, still afternoon, with the dark-green dogs-mercury spreading under the hazel copse, and all the trees making a silent effort to open their buds. Today she could almost feel it in her own body, the huge heave of the sap in the massive trees, upwards, up, up to the bud-a, there to push into little flamey oak-leaves, bronze as blood. It was like a ride running turgid upward, and spreading on the sky.
She came to the clearing, but he was not there. She had only half expected him. The pheasant chicks were running lightly abroad, light as insects, from the coops where the fellow hens clucked anxiously. Connie sat and watched them, and waited. She only waited. Even the chicks she hardly saw. She waited.
The time passed with dream-like slowness, and he did not come. She had only half expected him. He never came in the afternoon. She must go home to tea. But she had to force herself to leave.
As she went home, a fine drizzle of rain fell.
‘Is it raining again?’ said Clifford, seeing her shake her hat.
She poured tea in silence, absorbed in a sort of obstinacy. She did want to see the keeper today, to see if it were really real. If it were really real.
‘Shall I read a little to you afterwards?’ said Clifford.
She looked at him. Had he sensed something?
‘The spring makes me feel queer — I thought I might rest a little,’ she said.
‘Just as you like. Not feeling really unwell, are you?’
‘No! Only rather tired — with the spring. Will you have Mrs Bolton to play something with you?’
‘No! I think I’ll listen in.’
She heard the curious satisfaction in his voice. She went upstairs to her bedroom. There she heard the loudspeaker begin to bellow, in an idiotically velveteen-genteel sort of voice, something about a series of street-cries, the very cream of genteel affectation imitating old criers. She pulled on her old violet coloured mackintosh, and slipped out of the house at the side door.
The drizzle of rain was like a veil over the world, mysterious, hushed, not cold. She got very warm as she hurried across the park. She had to open her light waterproof.
The wood was silent, still and secret in the evening drizzle of rain, full of the mystery of eggs and half-open buds, half unsheathed flowers. In the dimness of it all trees glistened naked and dark as if they had unclothed themselves, and the green things on earth seemed to hum with greenness.
There was still no one at the clearing. The chicks had nearly all gone under the mother-hens, only one or two last adventurous ones still dibbed about in the dryness under the straw roof shelter. And they were doubtful of themselves.
So! He still had not been. He was staying away on purpose. Or perhaps something was wrong. Perhaps she should go to the cottage and see.
But she was born to wait. She opened the hut with her key. It was all tidy, the corn put in the bin, the blankets folded on the shelf, the straw neat in a corner; a new bundle of straw. The hurricane lamp hung on a nail. The table and chair had been put back where she had lain.
She sat down on a stool in the doorway. How still everything was! The fine rain blew very softly, filmily, but the wind made no noise. Nothing made any sound. The trees stood like powerful beings, dim, twilit, silent and alive. How alive everything was!
Night was drawing near again; she would have to go. He was avoiding her.
But suddenly he came striding into the clearing, in his black oilskin jacket like a chauffeur, shining with wet. He glanced quickly at the hut, half-saluted, then veered aside and went on to the coops. There he crouched in silence, looking carefully at everything, then carefully shutting the hens and chicks up safe against the night.
At last he came slowly towards her. She still sat on her stool. He stood before her under the porch.
‘You come then,’ he said, using the intonation of the dialect.
‘Yes,’ she said, looking up at him. ‘You’re late!’
‘Ay!’ he replied, looking away into the wood.
She rose slowly, drawing aside her stool.
‘Did you want to come in?’ she asked.
He looked down at her shrewdly.
‘Won’t folks be thinkin’ somethink, you comin’ here every night?’ he said.
‘Why?’ She looked up at him, at a loss. ‘I said I’d come. Nobody knows.’
‘They soon will, though,’ he replied. ‘An’ what then?’
She was at a loss for an answer.
‘Why should they know?’ she said.
‘Folks always does,’ he said fatally.
Her lip quivered a little.
‘Well I can’t help it,’ she faltered.
‘Nay,’ he said. ‘You can help it by not comin’ — if yer want to,’ he added, in a lower tone.
‘But I don’t want to,’ she murmured.
He looked away into the wood, and was silent.
‘But what when folks finds out?’ he asked at last. ‘Think about it! Think how lowered you’ll feel, one of your husband’s servants.’
She looked up at his averted face.
‘Is it,’ she stammered, ‘is it that you don’t want me?’
‘Think!’ he said. ‘Think what if folks find out Sir Clifford an’ a’ — an’ everybody talkin’ — ’
‘Well, I can go away.’
‘Anywhere! I’ve got money of my own. My mother left me twenty thousand pounds in trust, and I know Clifford can’t touch it. I can go away.’
‘But ’appen you don’t want to go away.’
‘Yes, yes! I don’t care what happens to me.’
‘Ay, you think that! But you’ll care! You’ll have to care, everybody has. You’ve got to remember your Ladyship is carrying on with a game-keeper. It’s not as if I was a gentleman. Yes, you’d care. You’d care.’
‘I shouldn’t. What do I care about my ladyship! I hate it really. I feel people are jeering every time they say it. And they are, they are! Even you jeer when you say it.’
For the first time he looked straight at her, and into her eyes. ‘I don’t jeer at you,’ he said.
As he looked into her eyes she saw his own eyes go dark, quite dark, the pupils dilating.
‘Don’t you care about a’ the risk?’ he asked in a husky voice. ‘You should care. Don’t care when it’s too late!’
There was a curious warning pleading in his voice.
‘But I’ve nothing to lose,’ she said fretfully. ‘If you knew what it is, you’d think I’d be glad to lose it. But are you afraid for yourself?’
‘Ay!’ he said briefly. ‘I am. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid O’ things.’
‘What things?’ she asked.
He gave a curious backward jerk of his head, indicating the outer world.
‘Things! Everybody! The lot of ’em.’
Then he bent down and suddenly kissed her unhappy face.
‘Nay, I don’t care,’ he said. ‘Let’s have it, an’ damn the rest. But if you was to feel sorry you’d ever done it —!’
‘Don’t put me off,’ she pleaded.
He put his fingers to her cheek and kissed her again suddenly.
‘Let me come in then,’ he said softly. ‘An’ take off your mackintosh.’
He hung up his gun, slipped out of his wet leather jacket, and reached for the blankets.
‘I brought another blanket,’ he said, ‘so we can put one over us if you like.’
‘I can’t stay long,’ she said. ‘Dinner is half-past seven.’
He looked at her swiftly, then at his watch.
‘All right,’ he said.
He shut the door, and lit a tiny light in the hanging hurricane lamp. ‘One time we’ll have a long time,’ he said.
He put the blankets down carefully, one folded for her head. Then he sat down a moment on the stool, and drew her to him, holding her close with one arm, feeling for her body with his free hand. She heard the catch of his intaken breath as he found her. Under her frail petticoat she was naked.
‘Eh! what it is to touch thee!’ he said, as his finger caressed the delicate, warm, secret skin of her waist and hips. He put his face down and rubbed his cheek against her belly and against her thighs again and again. And again she wondered a little over the sort of rapture it was to him. She did not understand the beauty he found in her, through touch upon her living secret body, almost the ecstasy of beauty. For passion alone is awake to it. And when passion is dead, or absent, then the magnificent throb of beauty is incomprehensible and even a little despicable; warm, live beauty of contact, so much deeper than the beauty of vision. She felt the glide of his cheek on her thighs and belly and buttocks, and the close brushing of his moustache and his soft thick hair, and her knees began to quiver. Far down in her she felt a new stirring, a new nakedness emerging. And she was half afraid. Half she wished he would not caress her so. He was encompassing her somehow. Yet she was waiting, waiting.
And when he came into her, with an intensification of relief and consummation that was pure peace to him, still she was waiting. She felt herself a little left out. And she knew, partly it was her own fault. She willed herself into this separateness. Now perhaps she was condemned to it. She lay still, feeling his motion within her, his deep-sunk intentness, the sudden quiver of him at the springing of his seed, then the slow-subsiding thrust. That thrust of the buttocks, surely it was a little ridiculous. If you were a woman, and a part in all the business, surely that thrusting of the man’s buttocks was supremely ridiculous. Surely the man was intensely ridiculous in this posture and this act!
But she lay still, without recoil. Even when he had finished, she did not rouse herself to get a grip on her own satisfaction, as she had done with Michaelis; she lay still, and the tears slowly filled and ran from her eyes.
He lay still, too. But he held her close and tried to cover her poor naked legs with his legs, to keep them warm. He lay on her with a close, undoubting warmth.
‘Are yer cold?’ he asked, in a soft, small voice, as if she were close, so close. Whereas she was left out, distant.
‘No! But I must go,’ she said gently.
He sighed, held her closer, then relaxed to rest again.
He had not guessed her tears. He thought she was there with him.
‘I must go,’ she repeated.
He lifted himself kneeled beside her a moment, kissed the inner side of her thighs, then drew down her skirts, buttoning his own clothes unthinking, not even turning aside, in the faint, faint light from the lantern.
‘Tha mun come ter th’ cottage one time,’ he said, looking down at her with a warm, sure, easy face.
But she lay there inert, and was gazing up at him thinking: Stranger! Stranger! She even resented him a little.
He put on his coat and looked for his hat, which had fallen, then he slung on his gun.
‘Come then!’ he said, looking down at her with those warm, peaceful sort of eyes.
She rose slowly. She didn’t want to go. She also rather resented staying. He helped her with her thin waterproof and saw she was tidy.
Then he opened the door. The outside was quite dark. The faithful dog under the porch stood up with pleasure seeing him. The drizzle of rain drifted greyly past upon the darkness. It was quite dark.
‘Ah mun ta’e th’ lantern,’ he said. ‘The’ll be nob’dy.’
He walked just before her in the narrow path, swinging the hurricane lamp low, revealing the wet grass, the black shiny tree-roots like snakes, wan flowers. For the rest, all was grey rain-mist and complete darkness.
‘Tha mun come to the cottage one time,’ he said, ‘shall ta? We might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.’
It puzzled her, his queer, persistent wanting her, when there was nothing between them, when he never really spoke to her, and in spite of herself she resented the dialect. His ‘tha mun come’ seemed not addressed to her, but some common woman. She recognized the foxglove leaves of the riding and knew, more or less, where they were.
‘It’s quarter past seven,’ he said, ‘you’ll do it.’ He had changed his voice, seemed to feel her distance. As they turned the last bend in the riding towards the hazel wall and the gate, he blew out the light. ‘We’ll see from here,’ be said, taking her gently by the arm.
But it was difficult, the earth under their feet was a mystery, but he felt his way by tread: he was used to it. At the gate he gave her his electric torch. ‘It’s a bit lighter in the park,’ he said; ‘but take it for fear you get off th’ path.’
It was true, there seemed a ghost-glimmer of greyness in the open space of the park. He suddenly drew her to him and whipped his hand under her dress again, feeling her warm body with his wet, chill hand.
‘I could die for the touch of a woman like thee,’ he said in his throat. ‘If tha’ would stop another minute.’
She felt the sudden force of his wanting her again.
‘No, I must run,’ she said, a little wildly.
‘Ay,’ he replied, suddenly changed, letting her go.
She turned away, and on the instant she turned back to him saying: ‘Kiss me.’
He bent over her indistinguishable and kissed her on the left eye. She held her mouth and he softly kissed it, but at once drew away. He hated mouth kisses.
‘I’ll come tomorrow,’ she said, drawing away; ‘if I can,’ she added.
‘Ay! not so late,’ he replied out of the darkness. Already she could not see him at all.
‘Goodnight,’ she said.
‘Goodnight, your Ladyship,’ his voice.
She stopped and looked back into the wet dark. She could just see the bulk of him. ‘Why did you say that?’ she said.
‘Nay,’ he replied. ‘Goodnight then, run!’
She plunged on in the dark-grey tangible night. She found the side-door open, and slipped into her room unseen. As she closed the door the gong sounded, but she would take her bath all the same — she must take her bath. ‘But I won’t be late any more,’ she said to herself; ‘it’s too annoying.’
The next day she did not go to the wood. She went instead with Clifford to Uthwaite. He could occasionally go out now in the car, and had got a strong young man as chauffeur, who could help him out of the car if need be. He particularly wanted to see his godfather, Leslie Winter, who lived at Shipley Hall, not far from Uthwaite. Winter was an elderly gentleman now, wealthy, one of the wealthy coal-owners who had had their hey-day in King Edward’s time. King Edward had stayed more than once at Shipley, for the shooting. It was a handsome old stucco hall, very elegantly appointed, for Winter was a bachelor and prided himself on his style; but the place was beset by collieries. Leslie Winter was attached to Clifford, but personally did not entertain a great respect for him, because of the photographs in illustrated papers and the literature. The old man was a buck of the King Edward school, who thought life was life and the scribbling fellows were something else. Towards Connie the Squire was always rather gallant; he thought her an attractive demure maiden and rather wasted on Clifford, and it was a thousand pities she stood no chance of bringing forth an heir to Wragby. He himself had no heir.
Connie wondered what he would say if he knew that Clifford’s game-keeper had been having intercourse with her, and saying to her ‘tha mun come to th’ cottage one time.’ He would detest and despise her, for he had come almost to hate the shoving forward of the working classes. A man of her own class he would not mind, for Connie was gifted from nature with this appearance of demure, submissive maidenliness, and perhaps it was part of her nature. Winter called her ‘dear child’ and gave her a rather lovely miniature of an eighteenth-century lady, rather against her will.
But Connie was preoccupied with her affair with the keeper. After all, Mr Winter, who was really a gentleman and a man of the world, treated her as a person and a discriminating individual; he did not lump her together with all the rest of his female womanhood in his ‘thee’ and ‘tha’.
She did not go to the wood that day nor the next, nor the day following. She did not go so long as she felt, or imagined she felt, the man waiting for her, wanting her. But the fourth day she was terribly unsettled and uneasy. She still refused to go to the wood and open her thighs once more to the man. She thought of all the things she might do — drive to Sheffield, pay visits, and the thought of all these things was repellent. At last she decided to take a walk, not towards the wood, but in the opposite direction; she would go to Marehay, through the little iron gate in the other side of the park fence. It was a quiet grey day of spring, almost warm. She walked on unheeding, absorbed in thoughts she was not even conscious of She was not really aware of anything outside her, till she was startled by the loud barking of the dog at Marehay Farm. Marehay Farm! Its pastures ran up to Wragby park fence, so they were neighbours, but it was some time since Connie had called.
‘Bell!’ she said to the big white bull-terrier. ‘Bell! have you forgotten me? Don’t you know me?’ She was afraid of dogs, and Bell stood back and bellowed, and she wanted to pass through the farmyard on to the warren path.
Mrs Flint appeared. She was a woman of Constance’s own age, had been a school-teacher, but Connie suspected her of being rather a false little thing.
‘Why, it’s Lady Chatterley! Why!’ And Mrs Flint’s eyes glowed again, and she flushed like a young girl. ‘Bell, Bell. Why! barking at Lady Chatterley! Bell! Be quiet!’ She darted forward and slashed at the dog with a white cloth she held in her hand, then came forward to Connie.
‘She used to know me,’ said Connie, shaking hands. The Flints were Chatterley tenants.
‘Of course she knows your Ladyship! She’s just showing off,’ said Mrs Flint, glowing and looking up with a sort of flushed confusion, ‘but it’s so long since she’s seen you. I do hope you are better.’
‘Yes thanks, I’m all right.’
‘We’ve hardly seen you all winter. Will you come in and look at the baby?’
‘Well!’ Connie hesitated. ‘Just for a minute.’
Mrs Flint flew wildly in to tidy up, and Connie came slowly after her, hesitating in the rather dark kitchen where the kettle was boiling by the fire. Back came Mrs Flint.
‘I do hope you’ll excuse me,’ she said. ‘Will you come in here?’
They went into the living-room, where a baby was sitting on the rag hearth rug, and the table was roughly set for tea. A young servant-girl backed down the passage, shy and awkward.
The baby was a perky little thing of about a year, with red hair like its father, and cheeky pale-blue eyes. It was a girl, and not to be daunted. It sat among cushions and was surrounded with rag dolls and other toys in modern excess.
‘Why, what a dear she is!’ said Connie, ‘and how she’s grown! A big girl! A big girl!’
She had given it a shawl when it was born, and celluloid ducks for Christmas.
‘There, Josephine! Who’s that come to see you? Who’s this, Josephine? Lady Chatterley — you know Lady Chatterley, don’t you?’
The queer pert little mite gazed cheekily at Connie. Ladyships were still all the same to her.
‘Come! Will you come to me?’ said Connie to the baby.
The baby didn’t care one way or another, so Connie picked her up and held her in her lap. How warm and lovely it was to hold a child in one’s lap, and the soft little arms, the unconscious cheeky little legs.
‘I was just having a rough cup of tea all by myself. Luke’s gone to market, so I can have it when I like. Would you care for a cup, Lady Chatterley? I don’t suppose it’s what you’re used to, but if you would . . . ’
Connie would, though she didn’t want to be reminded of what she was used to. There was a great relaying of the table, and the best cups brought and the best tea-pot.
‘If only you wouldn’t take any trouble,’ said Connie.
But if Mrs Flint took no trouble, where was the fun! So Connie played with the child and was amused by its little female dauntlessness, and got a deep voluptuous pleasure out of its soft young warmth. Young life! And so fearless! So fearless, because so defenceless. All the other people, so narrow with fear!
She had a cup of tea, which was rather strong, and very good bread and butter, and bottled damsons. Mrs Flint flushed and glowed and bridled with excitement, as if Connie were some gallant knight. And they had a real female chat, and both of them enjoyed it.
‘It’s a poor little tea, though,’ said Mrs Flint.
‘It’s much nicer than at home,’ said Connie truthfully.
‘Oh-h!’ said Mrs Flint, not believing, of course.
But at last Connie rose.
‘I must go,’ she said. ‘My husband has no idea where I am. He’ll be wondering all kinds of things.’
‘He’ll never think you’re here,’ laughed Mrs Flint excitedly. ‘He’ll be sending the crier round.’
‘Goodbye, Josephine,’ said Connie, kissing the baby and ruffling its red, wispy hair.
Mrs Flint insisted on opening the locked and barred front door. Connie emerged in the farm’s little front garden, shut in by a privet hedge. There were two rows of auriculas by the path, very velvety and rich.
‘Lovely auriculas,’ said Connie.
‘Recklesses, as Luke calls them,’ laughed Mrs Flint. ‘Have some.’
And eagerly she picked the velvet and primrose flowers.
‘Enough! Enough!’ said Connie.
They came to the little garden gate.
‘Which way were you going?’ asked Mrs Flint.
‘By the Warren.’
‘Let me see! Oh yes, the cows are in the gin close. But they’re not up yet. But the gate’s locked, you’ll have to climb.’
‘I can climb,’ said Connie.
‘Perhaps I can just go down the close with you.’
They went down the poor, rabbit-bitten pasture. Birds were whistling in wild evening triumph in the wood. A man was calling up the last cows, which trailed slowly over the path-worn pasture.
‘They’re late, milking, tonight,’ said Mrs Flint severely. ‘They know Luke won’t be back till after dark.’
They came to the fence, beyond which the young fir-wood bristled dense. There was a little gate, but it was locked. In the grass on the inside stood a bottle, empty.
‘There’s the keeper’s empty bottle for his milk,’ explained Mrs Flint. ‘We bring it as far as here for him, and then he fetches it himself’
‘When?’ said Connie.
‘Oh, any time he’s around. Often in the morning. Well, goodbye Lady Chatterley! And do come again. It was so lovely having you.’
Connie climbed the fence into the narrow path between the dense, bristling young firs. Mrs Flint went running back across the pasture, in a sun-bonnet, because she was really a schoolteacher. Constance didn’t like this dense new part of the wood; it seemed gruesome and choking. She hurried on with her head down, thinking of the Flints’ baby. It was a dear little thing, but it would be a bit bow-legged like its father. It showed already, but perhaps it would grow out of it. How warm and fulfilling somehow to have a baby, and how Mrs Flint had showed it off! She had something anyhow that Connie hadn’t got, and apparently couldn’t have. Yes, Mrs Flint had flaunted her motherhood. And Connie had been just a bit, just a little bit jealous. She couldn’t help it.
She started out of her muse, and gave a little cry of fear. A man was there.
It was the keeper. He stood in the path like Balaam’s ass, barring her way.
‘How’s this?’ he said in surprise.
‘How did you come?’ she panted.
‘How did you? Have you been to the hut?’
‘No! No! I went to Marehay.’
He looked at her curiously, searchingly, and she hung her head a little guiltily.
‘And were you going to the hut now?’ he asked rather sternly. ‘No! I mustn’t. I stayed at Marehay. No one knows where I am. I’m late. I’ve got to run.’
‘Giving me the slip, like?’ he said, with a faint ironic smile. ‘No! No. Not that. Only — ’
‘Why, what else?’ he said. And he stepped up to her and put his arms around her. She felt the front of his body terribly near to her, and alive.
‘Oh, not now, not now,’ she cried, trying to push him away.
‘Why not? It’s only six o’clock. You’ve got half an hour. Nay! Nay! I want you.’
He held her fast and she felt his urgency. Her old instinct was to fight for her freedom. But something else in her was strange and inert and heavy. His body was urgent against her, and she hadn’t the heart any more to fight.
He looked around.
‘Come — come here! Through here,’ he said, looking penetratingly into the dense fir-trees, that were young and not more than half-grown.
He looked back at her. She saw his eyes, tense and brilliant, fierce, not loving. But her will had left her. A strange weight was on her limbs. She was giving way. She was giving up.
He led her through the wall of prickly trees, that were difficult to come through, to a place where was a little space and a pile of dead boughs. He threw one or two dry ones down, put his coat and waistcoat over them, and she had to lie down there under the boughs of the tree, like an animal, while he waited, standing there in his shirt and breeches, watching her with haunted eyes. But still he was provident — he made her lie properly, properly. Yet he broke the band of her underclothes, for she did not help him, only lay inert.
He too had bared the front part of his body and she felt his naked flesh against her as he came into her. For a moment he was still inside her, turgid there and quivering. Then as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her new strange thrills rippling inside her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite, exquisite and melting her all molten inside. It was like bells rippling up and up to a culmination. She lay unconscious of the wild little cries she uttered at the last. But it was over too soon, too soon, and she could no longer force her own conclusion with her own activity. This was different, different. She could do nothing. She could no longer harden and grip for her own satisfaction upon him. She could only wait, wait and moan in spirit as she felt him withdrawing, withdrawing and contracting, coming to the terrible moment when he would slip out of her and be gone. Whilst all her womb was open and soft, and softly clamouring, like a sea-anemone under the tide, clamouring for him to come in again and make a fulfilment for her. She clung to him unconscious in passion, and he never quite slipped from her, and she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring, and strange rhythms flushing up into her with a strange rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swelling till it filled all her cleaving consciousness, and then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay there crying in unconscious inarticulate cries. The voice out of the uttermost night, the life! The man heard it beneath him with a kind of awe, as his life sprang out into her. And as it subsided, he subsided too and lay utterly still, unknowing, while her grip on him slowly relaxed, and she lay inert. And they lay and knew nothing, not even of each other, both lost. Till at last he began to rouse and become aware of his defenceless nakedness, and she was aware that his body was loosening its clasp on her. He was coming apart; but in her breast she felt she could not bear him to leave her uncovered. He must cover her now for ever.
But he drew away at last, and kissed her and covered her over, and began to cover himself She lay looking up to the boughs of the tree, unable as yet to move. He stood and fastened up his breeches, looking round. All was dense and silent, save for the awed dog that lay with its paws against its nose. He sat down again on the brushwood and took Connie’s hand in silence.
She turned and looked at him. ‘We came off together that time,’ he said.
She did not answer.
‘It’s good when it’s like that. Most folks live their lives through and they never know it,’ he said, speaking rather dreamily.
She looked into his brooding face.
‘Do they?’ she said. ‘Are you glad?’
He looked back into her eyes. ‘Glad,’ he said, ‘Ay, but never mind.’ He did not want her to talk. And he bent over her and kissed her, and she felt, so he must kiss her for ever.
At last she sat up.
‘Don’t people often come off together?’ she asked with naive curiosity.
‘A good many of them never. You can see by the raw look of them.’ He spoke unwittingly, regretting he had begun.
‘Have you come off like that with other women?’
He looked at her amused.
‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘I don’t know.’
And she knew he would never tell her anything he didn’t want to tell her. She watched his face, and the passion for him moved in her bowels. She resisted it as far as she could, for it was the loss of herself to herself.
He put on his waistcoat and his coat, and pushed a way through to the path again.
The last level rays of the sun touched the wood. ‘I won’t come with you,’ he said; ‘better not.’
She looked at him wistfully before she turned. His dog was waiting so anxiously for him to go, and he seemed to have nothing whatever to say. Nothing left.
Connie went slowly home, realizing the depth of the other thing in her. Another self was alive in her, burning molten and soft in her womb and bowels, and with this self she adored him. She adored him till her knees were weak as she walked. In her womb and bowels she was flowing and alive now and vulnerable, and helpless in adoration of him as the most naive woman. It feels like a child, she said to herself it feels like a child in me. And so it did, as if her womb, that had always been shut, had opened and filled with new life, almost a burden, yet lovely.
‘If I had a child!’ she thought to herself; ‘if I had him inside me as a child!’ — and her limbs turned molten at the thought, and she realized the immense difference between having a child to oneself and having a child to a man whom one’s bowels yearned towards. The former seemed in a sense ordinary: but to have a child to a man whom one adored in one’s bowels and one’s womb, it made her feel she was very different from her old self and as if she was sinking deep, deep to the centre of all womanhood and the sleep of creation.
It was not the passion that was new to her, it was the yearning adoration. She knew she had always feared it, for it left her helpless; she feared it still, lest if she adored him too much, then she would lose herself become effaced, and she did not want to be effaced, a slave, like a savage woman. She must not become a slave. She feared her adoration, yet she would not at once fight against it. She knew she could fight it. She had a devil of self-will in her breast that could have fought the full soft heaving adoration of her womb and crushed it. She could even now do it, or she thought so, and she could then take up her passion with her own will.
Ah yes, to be passionate like a Bacchante, like a Bacchanal fleeing through the woods, to call on Iacchos, the bright phallos that had no independent personality behind it, but was pure god-servant to the woman! The man, the individual, let him not dare intrude. He was but a temple-servant, the bearer and keeper of the bright phallos, her own.
So, in the flux of new awakening, the old hard passion flamed in her for a time, and the man dwindled to a contemptible object, the mere phallos-bearer, to be torn to pieces when his service was performed. She felt the force of the Bacchae in her limbs and her body, the woman gleaming and rapid, beating down the male; but while she felt this, her heart was heavy. She did not want it, it was known and barren, birthless; the adoration was her treasure.
It was so fathomless, so soft, so deep and so unknown. No, no, she would give up her hard bright female power; she was weary of it, stiffened with it; she would sink in the new bath of life, in the depths of her womb and her bowels that sang the voiceless song of adoration. It was early yet to begin to fear the man.
‘I walked over by Marehay, and I had tea with Mrs Flint,’ she said to Clifford. ‘I wanted to see the baby. It’s so adorable, with hair like red cobwebs. Such a dear! Mr Flint had gone to market, so she and I and the baby had tea together. Did you wonder where I was?’
‘Well, I wondered, but I guessed you had dropped in somewhere to tea,’ said Clifford jealously. With a sort of second sight he sensed something new in her, something to him quite incomprehensible, hut he ascribed it to the baby. He thought that all that ailed Connie was that she did not have a baby, automatically bring one forth, so to speak.
‘I saw you go across the park to the iron gate, my Lady,’ said Mrs Bolton; ‘so I thought perhaps you’d called at the Rectory.’
‘I nearly did, then I turned towards Marehay instead.’
The eyes of the two women met: Mrs Bolton’s grey and bright and searching; Connie’s blue and veiled and strangely beautiful. Mrs Bolton was almost sure she had a lover, yet how could it be, and who could it be? Where was there a man?
‘Oh, it’s so good for you, if you go out and see a bit of company sometimes,’ said Mrs Bolton. ‘I was saying to Sir Clifford, it would do her ladyship a world of good if she’d go out among people more.’
‘Yes, I’m glad I went, and such a quaint dear cheeky baby, Clifford,’ said Connie. ‘It’s got hair just like spider-webs, and bright orange, and the oddest, cheekiest, pale-blue china eyes. Of course it’s a girl, or it wouldn’t be so bold, bolder than any little Sir Francis Drake.’
‘You’re right, my Lady — a regular little Flint. They were always a forward sandy-headed family,’ said Mrs Bolton.
‘Wouldn’t you like to see it, Clifford? I’ve asked them to tea for you to see it.’
‘Who?’ he asked, looking at Connie in great uneasiness. ‘Mrs Flint and the baby, next Monday.’
‘You can have them to tea up in your room,’ he said.
‘Why, don’t you want to see the baby?’ she cried.
‘Oh, I’ll see it, but I don’t want to sit through a tea-time with them.’
‘Oh,’ cried Connie, looking at him with wide veiled eyes.
She did not really see him, he was somebody else.
‘You can have a nice cosy tea up in your room, my Lady, and Mrs Flint will be more comfortable than if Sir Clifford was there,’ said Mrs Bolton.
She was sure Connie had a lover, and something in her soul exulted. But who was he? Who was he? Perhaps Mrs Flint would provide a clue.
Connie would not take her bath this evening. The sense of his flesh touching her, his very stickiness upon her, was dear to her, and in a sense holy.
Clifford was very uneasy. He would not let her go after dinner, and she had wanted so much to be alone. She looked at him, but was curiously submissive.
‘Shall we play a game, or shall I read to you, or what shall it be?’ he asked uneasily.
‘You read to me,’ said Connie.
‘What shall I read — verse or prose? Or drama?’
‘Read Racine,’ she said.
It had been one of his stunts in the past, to read Racine in the real French grand manner, but he was rusty now, and a little self-conscious; he really preferred the loudspeaker. But Connie was sewing, sewing a little frock silk of primrose silk, cut out of one of her dresses, for Mrs Flint’s baby. Between coming home and dinner she had cut it out, and she sat in the soft quiescent rapture of herself sewing, while the noise of the reading went on.
Inside herself she could feel the humming of passion, like the after-humming of deep bells.
Clifford said something to her about the Racine. She caught the sense after the words had gone.
‘Yes! Yes!’ she said, looking up at him. ‘It is splendid.’
Again he was frightened at the deep blue blaze of her eyes, and of her soft stillness, sitting there. She had never been so utterly soft and still. She fascinated him helplessly, as if some perfume about her intoxicated him. So he went on helplessly with his reading, and the throaty sound of the French was like the wind in the chimneys to her. Of the Racine she heard not one syllable.
She was gone in her own soft rapture, like a forest soughing with the dim, glad moan of spring, moving into bud. She could feel in the same world with her the man, the nameless man, moving on beautiful feet, beautiful in the phallic mystery. And in herself in all her veins, she felt him and his child. His child was in all her veins, like a twilight.
‘For hands she hath none, nor eyes, nor feet, nor golden Treasure of hair . . . ’
She was like a forest, like the dark interlacing of the oakwood, humming inaudibly with myriad unfolding buds. Meanwhile the birds of desire were asleep in the vast interlaced intricacy of her body.
But Clifford’s voice went on, clapping and gurgling with unusual sounds. How extraordinary it was! How extraordinary he was, bent there over the book, queer and rapacious and civilized, with broad shoulders and no real legs! What a strange creature, with the sharp, cold inflexible will of some bird, and no warmth, no warmth at all! One of those creatures of the afterwards, that have no soul, but an extra-alert will, cold will. She shuddered a little, afraid of him. But then, the soft warm flame of life was stronger than he, and the real things were hidden from him.
The reading finished. She was startled. She looked up, and was more startled still to see Clifford watching her with pale, uncanny eyes, like hate.
‘Thank you so much! You do read Racine beautifully!’ she said softly.
‘Almost as beautifully as you listen to him,’ he said cruelly. ‘What are you making?’ he asked.
‘I’m making a child’s dress, for Mrs Flint’s baby.’
He turned away. A child! A child! That was all her obsession.
‘After all,’ he said in a declamatory voice, ‘one gets all one wants out of Racine. Emotions that are ordered and given shape are more important than disorderly emotions.
She watched him with wide, vague, veiled eyes. ‘Yes, I’m sure they are,’ she said.
‘The modern world has only vulgarized emotion by letting it loose. What we need is classic control.’
‘Yes,’ she said slowly, thinking of him listening with vacant face to the emotional idiocy of the radio. ‘People pretend to have emotions, and they really feel nothing. I suppose that is being romantic.’
‘Exactly!’ he said.
As a matter of fact, he was tired. This evening had tired him. He would rather have been with his technical books, or his pit-manager, or listening-in to the radio.
Mrs Bolton came in with two glasses of malted milk: for Clifford, to make him sleep, and for Connie, to fatten her again. It was a regular night-cap she had introduced.
Connie was glad to go, when she had drunk her glass, and thankful she needn’t help Clifford to bed. She took his glass and put it on the tray, then took the tray, to leave it outside.
‘Goodnight Clifford! do sleep well! The Racine gets into one like a dream. Goodnight!’
She had drifted to the door. She was going without kissing him goodnight. He watched her with sharp, cold eyes. So! She did not even kiss him goodnight, after he had spent an evening reading to her. Such depths of callousness in her! Even if the kiss was but a formality, it was on such formalities that life depends. She was a Bolshevik, really. Her instincts were Bolshevistic! He gazed coldly and angrily at the door whence she had gone. Anger!
And again the dread of the night came on him. He was a network of nerves, anden he was not braced up to work, and so full of energy: or when he was not listening-in, and so utterly neuter: then he was haunted by anxiety and a sense of dangerous impending void. He was afraid. And Connie could keep the fear off him, if she would. But it was obvious she wouldn’t, she wouldn’t. She was callous, cold and callous to all that he did for her. He gave up his life for her, and she was callous to him. She only wanted her own way. ‘The lady loves her will.’
Now it was a baby she was obsessed by. Just so that it should be her own, all her own, and not his!
Clifford was so healthy, considering. He looked so well and ruddy in the face, his shoulders were broad and strong, his chest deep, he had put on flesh. And yet, at the same time, he was afraid of death. A terrible hollow seemed to menace him somewhere, somehow, a void, and into this void his energy would collapse. Energyless, he felt at times he was dead, really dead.
So his rather prominent pale eyes had a queer look, furtive, and yet a little cruel, so cold: and at the same time, almost impudent. It was a very odd look, this look of impudence: as if he were triumphing over life in spite of life. ‘Who knoweth the mysteries of the will — for it can triumph even against the angels — ’
But his dread was the nights when he could not sleep. Then it was awful indeed, when annihilation pressed in on him on every side. Then it was ghastly, to exist without having any life: lifeless, in the night, to exist.
But now he could ring for Mrs Bolton. And she would always come. That was a great comfort. She would come in her dressing gown, with her hair in a plait down her back, curiously girlish and dim, though the brown plait was streaked with grey. And she would make him coffee or camomile tea, and she would play chess or piquet with him. She had a woman’s queer faculty of playing even chess well enough, when she was three parts asleep, well enough to make her worth beating. So, in the silent intimacy of the night, they sat, or she sat and he lay on the bed, with the reading-lamp shedding its solitary light on them, she almost gone in sleep, he almost gone in a sort of fear, and they played, played together — then they had a cup of coffee and a biscuit together, hardly speaking, in the silence of night, but being a reassurance to one another.
And this night she was wondering who Lady Chatterley’s lover was. And she was thinking of her own Ted, so long dead, yet for her never quite dead. And when she thought of him, the old, old grudge against the world rose up, but especially against the masters, that they had killed him. They had not really killed him. Yet, to her, emotionally, they had. And somewhere deep in herself because of it, she was a nihilist, and really anarchic.
In her half-sleep, thoughts of her Ted and thoughts of Lady Chatterley’s unknown lover commingled, and then she felt she shared with the other woman a great grudge against Sir Clifford and all he stood for. At the same time she was playing piquet with him, and they were gambling sixpences. And it was a source of satisfaction to be playing piquet with a baronet, and even losing sixpences to him.
When they played cards, they always gambled. It made him forget himself. And he usually won. Tonight too he was winning. So he would not go to sleep till the first dawn appeared. Luckily it began to appear at half past four or thereabouts.
Connie was in bed, and fast asleep all this time. But the keeper, too, could not rest. He had closed the coops and made his round of the wood, then gone home and eaten supper. But he did not go to bed. Instead he sat by the fire and thought.
He thought of his boyhood in Tevershall, and of his five or six years of married life. He thought of his wife, and always bitterly. She had seemed so brutal. But he had not seen her now since 1915, in the spring when he joined up. Yet there she was, not three miles away, and more brutal than ever. He hoped never to see her again while he lived.
He thought of his life abroad, as a soldier. India, Egypt, then India again: the blind, thoughtless life with the horses: the colonel who had loved him and whom he had loved: the several years that he had been an officer, a lieutenant with a very fair chance of being a captain. Then the death of the colonel from pneumonia, and his own narrow escape from death: his damaged health: his deep restlessness: his leaving the army and coming back to England to be a working man again.
He was temporizing with life. He had thought he would be safe, at least for a time, in this wood. There was no shooting as yet: he had to rear the pheasants. He would have no guns to serve. He would be alone, and apart from life, which was all he wanted. He had to have some sort of a background. And this was his native place. There was even his mother, though she had never meant very much to him. And he could go on in life, existing from day to day, without connexion and without hope. For he did not know what to do with himself.
He did not know what to do with himself. Since he had been an officer for some years, and had mixed among the other officers and civil servants, with their wives and families, he had lost all ambition to ‘get on’. There was a toughness, a curious rubbernecked toughness and unlivingness about the middle and upper classes, as he had known them, which just left him feeling cold and different from them.
So, he had come back to his own class. To find there, what he had forgotten during his absence of years, a pettiness and a vulgarity of manner extremely distasteful. He admitted now at last, how important manner was. He admitted, also, how important it was even to pretend not to care about the halfpence and the small things of life. But among the common people there was no pretence. A penny more or less on the bacon was worse than a change in the Gospel. He could not stand it.
And again, there was the wage-squabble. Having lived among the owning classes, he knew the utter futility of expecting any solution of the wage-squabble. There was no solution, short of death. The only thing was not to care, not to care about the wages.
Yet, if you were poor and wretched you had to care. Anyhow, it was becoming the only thing they did care about. The care about money was like a great cancer, eating away the individuals of all classes. He refused to care about money.
And what then? What did life offer apart from the care of money? Nothing.
Yet he could live alone, in the wan satisfaction of being alone, and raise pheasants to be shot ultimately by fat men after breakfast. It was futility, futility to the nth power.
But why care, why bother? And he had not cared nor bothered till now, when this woman had come into his life. He was nearly ten years older than she. And he was a thousand years older in experience, starting from the bottom. The connexion between them was growing closer. He could see the day when it would clinch up and they would have to make a life together. ‘For the bonds of love are ill to loose!’
And what then? What then? Must he start again, with nothing to start on? Must he entangle this woman? Must he have the horrible broil with her lame husband? And also some sort of horrible broil with his own brutal wife, who hated him? Misery! Lots of misery! And he was no longer young and merely buoyant. Neither was he the insouciant sort. Every bitterness and every ugliness would hurt him: and the woman!
But even if they got clear of Sir Clifford and of his own wife, even if they got clear, what were they going to do? What was he, himself going to do? What was he going to do with his life? For he must do something. He couldn’t be a mere hanger-on, on her money and his own very small pension.
It was the insoluble. He could only think of going to America, to try a new air. He disbelieved in the dollar utterly. But perhaps, perhaps there was something else.
He could not rest nor even go to bed. After sitting in a stupor of bitter thoughts until midnight, he got suddenly from his chair and reached for his coat and gun.
‘Come on, lass,’ he said to the dog. ‘We’re best outside.’
It was a starry night, but moonless. He went on a slow, scrupulous, soft-stepping and stealthy round. The only thing he had to contend with was the colliers setting snares for rabbits, particularly the Stacks Gate colliers, on the Marehay side. But it was breeding season, and even colliers respected it a little. Nevertheless the stealthy beating of the round in search of poachers soothed his nerves and took his mind off his thoughts.
But when he had done his slow, cautious beating of his bounds — it was nearly a five-mile walk — he was tired. He went to the top of the knoll and looked out. There was no sound save the noise, the faint shuffling noise from Stacks Gate colliery, that never ceased working: and there were hardly any lights, save the brilliant electric rows at the works. The world lay darkly and fumily sleeping. It was half past two. But even in its sleep it was an uneasy, cruel world, stirring with the noise of a train or some great lorry on the road, and flashing with some rosy lightning flash from the furnaces. It was a world of iron and coal, the cruelty of iron and the smoke of coal, and the endless, endless greed that drove it all. Only greed, greed stirring in its sleep.
It was cold, and he was coughing. A fine cold draught blew over the knoll. He thought of the woman. Now he would have given all he had or ever might have to hold her warm in his arms, both of them wrapped in one blanket, and sleep. All hopes of eternity and all gain from the past he would have given to have her there, to be wrapped warm with him in one blanket, and sleep, only sleep. It seemed the sleep with the woman in his arms was the only necessity.
He went to the hut, and wrapped himself in the blanket and lay on the floor to sleep. But he could not, he was cold. And besides, he felt cruelly his own unfinished nature. He felt his own unfinished condition of aloneness cruelly. He wanted her, to touch her, to hold her fast against him in one moment of completeness and sleep.
He got up again and went out, towards the park gates this time: then slowly along the path towards the house. It was nearly four o’clock, still clear and cold, but no sign of dawn. He was used to the dark, he could see well.
Slowly, slowly the great house drew him, as a magnet. He wanted to be near her. It was not desire, not that. It was the cruel sense of unfinished aloneness, that needed a silent woman folded in his arms. Perhaps he could find her. Perhaps he could even call her out to him: or find some way in to her. For the need was imperious.
He slowly, silently climbed the incline to the hall. Then he came round the great trees at the top of the knoll, on to the drive, which made a grand sweep round a lozenge of grass in front of the entrance. He could already see the two magnificent beeches which stood in this big level lozenge in front of the house, detaching themselves darkly in the dark air.
There was the house, low and long and obscure, with one light burning downstairs, in Sir Clifford’s room. But which room she was in, the woman who held the other end of the frail thread which drew him so mercilessly, that he did not know.
He went a little nearer, gun in hand, and stood motionless on the drive, watching the house. Perhaps even now he could find her, come at her in some way. The house was not impregnable: he was as clever as burglars are. Why not come to her?
He stood motionless, waiting, while the dawn faintly and imperceptibly paled behind him. He saw the light in the house go out. But he did not see Mrs Bolton come to the window and draw back the old curtain of dark-blue silk, and stand herself in the dark room, looking out on the half-dark of the approaching day, looking for the longed-for dawn, waiting, waiting for Clifford to be really reassured that it was daybreak. For when he was sure of daybreak, he would sleep almost at once.
She stood blind with sleep at the window, waiting. And as she stood, she started, and almost cried out. For there was a man out there on the drive, a black figure in the twilight. She woke up greyly, and watched, but without making a sound to disturb Sir Clifford.
The daylight began to rustle into the world, and the dark figure seemed to go smaller and more defined. She made out the gun and gaiters and baggy jacket — it would be Oliver Mellors, the keeper. ‘Yes, for there was the dog nosing around like a shadow, and waiting for him’!
And what did the man want? Did he want to rouse the house? What was he standing there for, transfixed, looking up at the house like a love-sick male dog outside the house where the bitch is?
Goodness! The knowledge went through Mrs Bolton like a shot. He was Lady Chatterley’s lover! He! He!
To think of it! Why, she, Ivy Bolton, had once been a tiny bit in love with him herself. When he was a lad of sixteen and she a woman of twenty-six. It was when she was studying, and he had helped her a lot with the anatomy and things she had had to learn. He’d been a clever boy, had a scholarship for Sheffield Grammar School, and learned French and things: and then after all had become an overhead blacksmith shoeing horses, because he was fond of horses, he said: but really because he was frightened to go out and face the world, only he’d never admit it.
But he’d been a nice lad, a nice lad, had helped her a lot, so clever at making things clear to you. He was quite as clever as Sir Clifford: and always one for the women. More with women than men, they said.
Till he’d gone and married that Bertha Coutts, as if to spite himself. Some people do marry to spite themselves, because they’re disappointed of something. And no wonder it had been a failure. — For years he was gone, all the time of the war: and a lieutenant and all: quite the gentleman, really quite the gentleman! — Then to come back to Tevershall and go as a game-keeper! Really, some people can’t take their chances when they’ve got them! And talking broad Derbyshire again like the worst, when she, Ivy Bolton, knew he spoke like any gentleman, really.
Well, well! So her ladyship had fallen for him! Well her ladyship wasn’t the first: there was something about him. But fancy! A Tevershall lad born and bred, and she her ladyship in Wragby Hall! My word, that was a slap back at the high-and-mighty Chatterleys!
But he, the keeper, as the day grew, had realized: it’s no good! It’s no good trying to get rid of your own aloneness. You’ve got to stick to it all your life. Only at times, at times, the gap will be filled in. At times! But you have to wait for the times. Accept your own aloneness and stick to it, all your life. And then accept the times when the gap is filled in, when they come. But they’ve got to come. You can’t force them.
With a sudden snap the bleeding desire that had drawn him after her broke. He had broken it, because it must be so. There must be a coming together on both sides. And if she wasn’t coming to him, he wouldn’t track her down. He mustn’t. He must go away, till she came.
He turned slowly, ponderingly, accepting again the isolation. He knew it was better so. She must come to him: it was no use his trailing after her. No use!
Mrs Bolton saw him disappear, saw his dog run after him.
‘Well, well!’ she said. ‘He’s the one man I never thought of; and the one man I might have thought of. He was nice to me when he was a lad, after I lost Ted. Well, well! Whatever would he say if he knew!’
And she glanced triumphantly at the already sleeping Clifford, as she stepped softly from the room.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23