‘You see, Hilda,’ said Connie after lunch, when they were nearing London, ‘you have never known either real tenderness or real sensuality: and if you do know them, with the same person, it makes a great difference.’
‘For mercy’s sake don’t brag about your experiences!’ said Hilda. ‘I’ve never met the man yet who was capable of intimacy with a woman, giving himself up to her. That was what I wanted. I’m not keen on their self-satisfied tenderness, and their sensuality. I’m not content to be any man’s little petsy-wetsy, nor his chair à plaisir either. I wanted a complete intimacy, and I didn’t get it. That’s enough for me.
Connie pondered this. Complete intimacy! She supposed that meant revealing everything concerning yourself to the other person, and his revealing everything concerning himself. But that was a bore. And all that weary self-consciousness between a man and a woman! a disease!
‘I think you’re too conscious of yourself all the time, with everybody,’ she said to her sister.
‘I hope at least I haven’t a slave nature,’ said Hilda.
‘But perhaps you have! Perhaps you are a slave to your own idea of yourself.’
Hilda drove in silence for some time after this piece of unheard of insolence from that chit Connie.
‘At least I’m not a slave to somebody else’s idea of me: and the somebody else a servant of my husband’s,’ she retorted at last, in crude anger.
‘You see, it’s not so,’ said Connie calmly.
She had always let herself be dominated by her elder sister. Now, though somewhere inside herself she was weeping, she was free of the dominion of other women. Ah! that in itself was a relief, like being given another life: to be free of the strange dominion and obsession of other women. How awful they were, women!
She was glad to be with her father, whose favourite she had always been. She and Hilda stayed in a little hotel off Pall Mall, and Sir Malcolm was in his club. But he took his daughters out in the evening, and they liked going with him.
He was still handsome and robust, though just a little afraid of the new world that had sprung up around him. He had got a second wife in Scotland, younger than himself and richer. But he had as many holidays away from her as possible: just as with his first wife.
Connie sat next to him at the opera. He was moderately stout, and had stout thighs, but they were still strong and well-knit, the thighs of a healthy man who had taken his pleasure in life. His good-humoured selfishness, his dogged sort of independence, his unrepenting sensuality, it seemed to Connie she could see them all in his well-knit straight thighs. Just a man! And now becoming an old man, which is sad. Because in his strong, thick male legs there was none of the alert sensitiveness and power of tenderness which is the very essence of youth, that which never dies, once it is there.
Connie woke up to the existence of legs. They became more important to her than faces, which are no longer very real. How few people had live, alert legs! She looked at the men in the stalls. Great puddingy thighs in black pudding-cloth, or lean wooden sticks in black funeral stuff, or well-shaped young legs without any meaning whatever, either sensuality or tenderness or sensitiveness, just mere leggy ordinariness that pranced around. Not even any sensuality like her father’s. They were all daunted, daunted out of existence.
But the women were not daunted. The awful mill-posts of most females! really shocking, really enough to justify murder! Or the poor thin pegs! or the trim neat things in silk stockings, without the slightest look of life! Awful, the millions of meaningless legs prancing meaninglessly around!
But she was not happy in London. The people seemed so spectral and blank. They had no alive happiness, no matter how brisk and good-looking they were. It was all barren. And Connie had a woman’s blind craving for happiness, to be assured of happiness.
In Paris at any rate she felt a bit of sensuality still. But what a weary, tired, worn-out sensuality. Worn-out for lack of tenderness. Oh! Paris was sad. One of the saddest towns: weary of its now-mechanical sensuality, weary of the tension of money, money, money, weary even of resentment and conceit, just weary to death, and still not sufficiently Americanized or Londonized to hide the weariness under a mechanical jig-jig-jig! Ah, these manly he-men, these fl¶neurs, the oglers, these eaters of good dinners! How weary they were! weary, worn-out for lack of a little tenderness, given and taken. The efficient, sometimes charming women knew a thing or two about the sensual realities: they had that pull over their jigging English sisters. But they knew even less of tenderness. Dry, with the endless dry tension of will, they too were wearing out. The human world was just getting worn out. Perhaps it would turn fiercely destructive. A sort of anarchy! Clifford and his conservative anarchy! Perhaps it wouldn’t be conservative much longer. Perhaps it would develop into a very radical anarchy.
Connie found herself shrinking and afraid of the world. Sometimes she was happy for a little while in the Boulevards or in the Bois or the Luxembourg Gardens. But already Paris was full of Americans and English, strange Americans in the oddest uniforms, and the usual dreary English that are so hopeless abroad.
She was glad to drive on. It was suddenly hot weather, so Hilda was going through Switzerland and over the Brenner, then through the Dolomites down to Venice. Hilda loved all the managing and the driving and being mistress of the show. Connie was quite content to keep quiet.
And the trip was really quite nice. Only Connie kept saying to herself: Why don’t I really care! Why am I never really thrilled? How awful, that I don’t really care about the landscape any more! But I don’t. It’s rather awful. I’m like Saint Bernard, who could sail down the lake of Lucerne without ever noticing that there were even mountain and green water. I just don’t care for landscape any more. Why should one stare at it? Why should one? I refuse to.
No, she found nothing vital in France or Switzerland or the Tyrol or Italy. She just was carted through it all. And it was all less real than Wragby. Less real than the awful Wragby! She felt she didn’t care if she never saw France or Switzerland or Italy again. They’d keep. Wragby was more real.
As for people! people were all alike, with very little difference. They all wanted to get money out of you: or, if they were travellers, they wanted to get enjoyment, perforce, like squeezing blood out of a stone. Poor mountains! poor landscape! it all had to be squeezed and squeezed and squeezed again, to provide a thrill, to provide enjoyment. What did people mean, with their simply determined enjoying of themselves?
No! said Connie to herself I’d rather be at Wragby, where I can go about and be still, and not stare at anything or do any performing of any sort. This tourist performance of enjoying oneself is too hopelessly humiliating: it’s such a failure.
She wanted to go back to Wragby, even to Clifford, even to poor crippled Clifford. He wasn’t such a fool as this swarming holidaying lot, anyhow.
But in her inner consciousness she was keeping touch with the other man. She mustn’t let her connexion with him go: oh, she mustn’t let it go, or she was lost, lost utterly in this world of riff-raffy expensive people and joy-hogs. Oh, the joy-hogs! Oh ‘enjoying oneself’! Another modern form of sickness.
They left the car in Mestre, in a garage, and took the regular steamer over to Venice. It was a lovely summer afternoon, the shallow lagoon rippled, the full sunshine made Venice, turning its back to them across the water, look dim.
At the station quay they changed to a gondola, giving the man the address. He was a regular gondolier in a white-and-blue blouse, not very good-looking, not at all impressive.
‘Yes! The Villa Esmeralda! Yes! I know it! I have been the gondolier for a gentleman there. But a fair distance out!’
He seemed a rather childish, impetuous fellow. He rowed with a certain exaggerated impetuosity, through the dark side-canals with the horrible, slimy green walls, the canals that go through the poorer quarters, where the washing hangs high up on ropes, and there is a slight, or strong, odour of sewage.
But at last he came to one of the open canals with pavement on either side, and looping bridges, that run straight, at right-angles to the Grand Canal. The two women sat under the little awning, the man was perched above, behind them.
‘Are the signorine staying long at the Villa Esmeralda?’ he asked, rowing easy, and ‘wiping his perspiring face with a white-and-blue handkerchief.
‘Some twenty days: we are both married ladies,’ said Hilda, in her curious hushed voice, that made her Italian sound so foreign.
‘Ah! Twenty days!’ said the man. There was a pause. After which he asked: ‘Do the signore want a gondolier for the twenty days or so that they will stay at the Villa Esmeralda? Or by the day, or by the week?’
Connie and Hilda considered. In Venice, it is always preferable to have one’s own gondola, as it is preferable to have one’s own car on land.
‘What is there at the Villa? what boats?’
‘There is a motor-launch, also a gondola. But — ’ The but meant: they won’t be your property.
‘How much do you charge?’
It was about thirty shillings a day, or ten pounds a week.
‘Is that the regular price?’ asked Hilda.
‘Less, Signora, less. The regular price — ’
The sisters considered.
‘Well,’ said Hilda, ‘come tomorrow morning, and we will arrange it. What is your name?’
His name was Giovanni, and he wanted to know at what time he should come, and then for whom should he say he was waiting. Hilda had no card. Connie gave him one of hers. He glanced at it swiftly, with his hot, southern blue eyes, then glanced again.
‘Ah!’ he said, lighting up. ‘Milady! Milady, isn’t it?’
‘Milady Costanza!’ said Connie.
He nodded, repeating: ‘Milady Costanza!’ and putting the card carefully away in his blouse.
The Villa Esmeralda was quite a long way out, on the edge of the lagoon looking towards Chioggia. It was not a very old house, and pleasant, with the terraces looking seawards, and below, quite a big garden with dark trees, walled in from the lagoon.
Their host was a heavy, rather coarse Scotchman who had made a good fortune in Italy before the war, and had been knighted for his ultrapatriotism during the war. His wife was a thin, pale, sharp kind of person with no fortune of her own, and the misfortune of having to regulate her husband’s rather sordid amorous exploits. He was terribly tiresome with the servants. But having had a slight stroke during the winter, he was now more manageable.
The house was pretty full. Besides Sir Malcolm and his two daughters, there were seven more people, a Scotch couple, again with two daughters; a young Italian Contessa, a widow; a young Georgian prince, and a youngish English clergyman who had had pneumonia and was being chaplain to Sir Alexander for his health’s sake. The prince was penniless, good-looking, would make an excellent chauffeur, with the necessary impudence, and basta! The Contessa was a quiet little puss with a game on somewhere. The clergyman was a raw simple fellow from a Bucks vicarage: luckily he had left his wife and two children at home. And the Guthries, the family of four, were good solid Edinburgh middle class, enjoying everything in a solid fashion, and daring everything while risking nothing.
Connie and Hilda ruled out the prince at once. The Guthries were more or less their own sort, substantial, hut boring: and the girls wanted husbands. The chaplain was not a had fellow, but too deferential. Sir Alexander, after his slight stroke, had a terrible heaviness his joviality, but he was still thrilled at the presence of so many handsome young women. Lady Cooper was a quiet, catty person who had a thin time of it, poor thing, and who watched every other woman with a cold watchfulness that had become her second nature, and who said cold, nasty little things which showed what an utterly low opinion she had of all human nature. She was also quite venomously overbearing with the servants, Connie found: but in a quiet way. And she skilfully behaved so that Sir Alexander should think that he was lord and monarch of the whole caboosh, with his stout, would-be-genial paunch, and his utterly boring jokes, his humourosity, as Hilda called it.
Sir Malcolm was painting. Yes, he still would do a Venetian lagoonscape, now and then, in contrast to his Scottish landscapes. So in the morning he was rowed off with a huge canvas, to his ‘site’. A little later, Lady Cooper would he rowed off into the heart of the city, with sketching-block and colours. She was an inveterate watercolour painter, and the house was full of rose-coloured palaces, dark canals, swaying bridges, medieval facades, and so on. A little later the Guthries, the prince, the countess, Sir Alexander, and sometimes Mr Lind, the chaplain, would go off to the Lido, where they would bathe; coming home to a late lunch at half past one.
The house-party, as a house-party, was distinctly boring. But this did not trouble the sisters. They were out all the time. Their father took them to the exhibition, miles and miles of weary paintings. He took them to all the cronies of his in the Villa Lucchese, he sat with them on warm evenings in the piazza, having got a table at Florian’s: he took them to the theatre, to the Goldoni plays. There were illuminated water-fˆtes, there were dances. This was a holiday-place of all holiday-places. The Lido, with its acres of sun-pinked or pyjamaed bodies, was like a strand with an endless heap of seals come up for mating. Too many people in the piazza, too many limbs and trunks of humanity on the Lido, too many gondolas, too many motor-launches, too many steamers, too many pigeons, too many ices, too many cocktails, too many menservants wanting tips, too many languages rattling, too much, too much sun, too much smell of Venice, too many cargoes of strawberries, too many silk shawls, too many huge, raw-beef slices of watermelon on stalls: too much enjoyment, altogether far too much enjoyment!
Connie and Hilda went around in their sunny frocks. There were dozens of people they knew, dozens of people knew them. Michaelis turned up like a bad penny. ‘Hullo! Where you staying? Come and have an ice-cream or something! Come with me somewhere in my gondola.’ Even Michaelis almost sun-burned: though sun-cooked is more appropriate to the look of the mass of human flesh.
It was pleasant in a way. It was almost enjoyment. But anyhow, with all the cocktails, all the lying in warmish water and sunbathing on hot sand in hot sun, jazzing with your stomach up against some fellow in the warm nights, cooling off with ices, it was a complete narcotic. And that was what they all wanted, a drug: the slow water, a drug; the sun, a drug; jazz, a drug; cigarettes, cocktails, ices, vermouth. To be drugged! Enjoyment! Enjoyment!
Hilda half liked being drugged. She liked looking at all the women, speculating about them. The women were absorbingly interested in the women. How does she look! what man has she captured? what fun is she getting out of it? — The men were like great dogs in white flannel trousers, waiting to be patted, waiting to wallow, waiting to plaster some woman’s stomach against their own, in jazz.
Hilda liked jazz, because she could plaster her stomach against the stomach of some so-called man, and let him control her movement from the visceral centre, here and there across the floor, and then she could break loose and ignore ‘the creature’. He had been merely made use of. Poor Connie was rather unhappy. She wouldn’t jazz, because she simply couldn’t plaster her stomach against some ‘creature’s’ stomach. She hated the conglomerate mass of nearly nude flesh on the Lido: there was hardly enough water to wet them all. She disliked Sir Alexander and Lady Cooper. She did not want Michaelis or anybody else trailing her.
The happiest times were when she got Hilda to go with her away across the lagoon, far across to some lonely shingle-bank, where they could bathe quite alone, the gondola remaining on the inner side of the reef.
Then Giovanni got another gondolier to help him, because it was a long way and he sweated terrifically in the sun. Giovanni was very nice: affectionate, as the Italians are, and quite passionless. The Italians are not passionate: passion has deep reserves. They are easily moved, and often affectionate, but they rarely have any abiding passion of any sort.
So Giovanni was already devoted to his ladies, as he had been devoted to cargoes of ladies in the past. He was perfectly ready to prostitute himself to them, if they wanted hint: he secretly hoped they would want him. They would give him a handsome present, and it would come in very handy, as he was just going to be married. He told them about his marriage, and they were suitably interested.
He thought this trip to some lonely bank across the lagoon probably meant business: business being l’amore, love. So he got a mate to help him, for it was a long way; and after all, they were two ladies. Two ladies, two mackerels! Good arithmetic! Beautiful ladies, too! He was justly proud of them. And though it was the Signora who paid him and gave him orders, he rather hoped it would be the young milady who would select hint for l’amore. She would give more money too.
The mate he brought was called Daniele. He was not a regular gondolier, so he had none of the cadger and prostitute about him. He was a sandola man, a sandola being a big boat that brings in fruit and produce from the islands.
Daniele was beautiful, tall and well-shapen, with a light round head of little, close, pale-blond curls, and a good-looking man’s face, a little like a lion, and long-distance blue eyes. He was not effusive, loquacious, and bibulous like Giovanni. He was silent and he rowed with a strength and ease as if he were alone on the water. The ladies were ladies, remote from him. He did not even look at them. He looked ahead.
He was a real man, a little angry when Giovanni drank too much wine and rowed awkwardly, with effusive shoves of the great oar. He was a man as Mellors was a man, unprostituted. Connie pitied the wife of the easily-overflowing Giovanni. But Daniele’s wife would be one of those sweet Venetian women of the people whom one still sees, modest and flower-like in the back of that labyrinth of a town.
Ah, how sad that man first prostitutes woman, then woman prostitutes man. Giovanni was pining to prostitute himself, dribbling like a dog, wanting to give himself to a woman. And for money!
Connie looked at Venice far off, low and rose-coloured upon the water. Built of money, blossomed of money, and dead with money. The money-deadness! Money, money, money, prostitution and deadness.
Yet Daniele was still a man capable of a man’s free allegiance. He did not wear the gondolier’s blouse: only the knitted blue jersey. He was a little wild, uncouth and proud. So he was hireling to the rather doggy Giovanni who was hireling again to two women. So it is! When Jesus refused the devil’s money, he left the devil like a Jewish banker, master of the whole situation.
Connie would come home from the blazing light of the lagoon in a kind of stupor, to find letters from home. Clifford wrote regularly. He wrote very good letters: they might all have been printed in a book. And for this reason Connie found them not very interesting.
She lived in the stupor of the light of the lagoon, the lapping saltiness of the water, the space, the emptiness, the nothingness: but health, health, complete stupor of health. It was gratifying, and she was lulled away in it, not caring for anything. Besides, she was pregnant. She knew now. So the stupor of sunlight and lagoon salt and sea-bathing and lying on shingle and finding shells and drifting away, away in a gondola, was completed by the pregnancy inside her, another fullness of health, satisfying and stupefying.
She had been at Venice a fortnight, and she was to stay another ten days or a fortnight. The sunshine blazed over any count of time, and the fullness of physical health made forgetfulness complete. She was in a sort of stupor of well-being.
From which a letter of Clifford roused her.
We too have had our mild local excitement. It appears the truant wife of Mellors, the keeper, turned up at the cottage and found herself unwelcome. He packed her off, and locked the door. Report has it, however, that when he returned from the wood he found the no longer fair lady firmly established in his bed, in puris naturalibus; or one should say, in impuris naturalibus. She had broken a window and got in that way. Unable to evict the somewhat man-handled Venus from his couch, he beat a retreat and retired, it is said, to his mother’s house in Tevershall. Meanwhile the Venus of Stacks Gate is established in the cottage, which she claims is her home, and Apollo, apparently, is domiciled in Tevershall.
I repeat this from hearsay, as Mellors has not come to me personally. I had this particular bit of local garbage from our garbage bird, our ibis, our scavenging turkey-buzzard, Mrs Bolton. I would not have repeated it had she not exclaimed: her Ladyship will go no more to the wood if that woman’s going to be about!
I like your picture of Sir Malcolm striding into the sea with white hair blowing and pink flesh glowing. I envy you that sun. Here it rains. But I don’t envy Sir Malcolm his inveterate mortal carnality. However, it suits his age. Apparently one grows more carnal and more mortal as one grows older. Only youth has a taste of immortality —
This news affected Connie in her state of semi-stupefied ell being with vexation amounting to exasperation. Now she ad got to be bothered by that beast of a woman! Now she must start and fret! She had no letter from Mellors. They had agreed not to write at all, but now she wanted to hear from him personally. After all, he was the father of the child that was coming. Let him write!
But how hateful! Now everything was messed up. How foul those low people were! How nice it was here, in the sunshine and the indolence, compared to that dismal mess of that English Midlands! After all, a clear sky was almost the most important thing in life.
She did not mention the fact of her pregnancy, even to Hilda. She wrote to Mrs Bolton for exact information.
Duncan Forbes, an artist friend of theirs, had arrived at the Villa Esmeralda, coming north from Rome. Now he made a third in the gondola, and he bathed with them across the lagoon, and was their escort: a quiet, almost taciturn young man, very advanced in his art.
She had a letter from Mrs Bolton:
You will be pleased, I am sure, my Lady, when you see Sir Clifford. He’s looking quite blooming and working very hard, and very hopeful. Of course he is looking forward to seeing you among us again. It is a dull house without my Lady, and we shall all welcome her presence among us once more.
About Mr Mellors, I don’t know how much Sir Clifford told you. It seems his wife came back all of a sudden one afternoon, and he found her sitting on the doorstep when he came in from the wood. She said she was come back to him and wanted to live with him again, as she was his legal wife, and he wasn’t going to divorce her. But he wouldn’t have anything to do with her, and wouldn’t let her in the house, and did not go in himself; he went back into the wood without ever opening the door.
But when he came back after dark, he found the house broken into, so he went upstairs to see what she’d done, and he found her in bed without a rag on her. He offered her money, but she said she was his wife and he must take her back. I don’t know what sort of a scene they had. His mother told me about it, she’s terribly upset. Well, he told her he’d die rather than ever live with her again, so he took his things and went straight to his mother’s on Tevershall hill. He stopped the night and went to the wood next day through the park, never going near the cottage. It seems he never saw his wife that day. But the day after she was at her brother Pan’s at Beggarlee, swearing and carrying on, saying she was his legal wife, and that he’d beers having women at the cottage, because she’d found a scent-bottle in his drawer, and gold-tipped cigarette-ends on the ash-heap, and I don’t know what all. Then it seems the postman Fred Kirk says he heard somebody talking in Mr Mellors’ bedroom early one morning, and a motor-car had been in the lane.
Mr Mellors stayed on with his mother, and went to the wood through the park, and it seems she stayed on at the cottage. Well, there was no end of talk. So at last Mr Mellors and Tom Phillips went to the cottage and fetched away most of the furniture and bedding, and unscrewed the handle of the pump, so she was forced to go. But instead of going back to Stacks Gate she went and lodged with that Mrs Swain at Beggarlee, because her brother Dan’s wife wouldn’t have her. And she kept going to old Mrs Mellors’ house, to catch him, and she began swearing he’d got in bed with her in the cottage and she went to a lawyer to make him pay her an allowance. She’s grown heavy, and more common than ever, and as strong as a bull. And she goes about saying the most awful things about him, how he has women at the cottage, and how he behaved to her when they were married, the low, beastly things he did to her, and I don’t know what all. I’m sure it’s awful, the mischief a woman can do, once she starts talking. And no matter how low she may be, there’ll be some as will believe her, and some of the dirt will stick. I’m sure the way she makes out that Mr Mellors was one of those low, beastly men with women, is simply shocking. And people are only too ready to believe things against anybody, especially things like that. She declared she’ll never leave him alone while he lives. Though what I say is, if he was so beastly to her, why is she so anxious to go back to him? But of course she’s coming near her change of life, for she’s years older than he is. And these common, violent women always go partly insane whets the change of life comes upon them —
This was a nasty blow to Connie. Here she was, sure as life, coming in for her share of the lowness and dirt. She felt angry with him for not having got clear of a Bertha Coutts: nay, for ever having married her. Perhaps he had a certain hankering after lowness. Connie remembered the last night she had spent with him, and shivered. He had known all that sensuality, even with a Bertha Coutts! It was really rather disgusting. It would be well to be rid of him, clear of him altogether. He was perhaps really common, really low.
She had a revulsion against the whole affair, and almost envied the Guthrie girls their gawky inexperience and crude maidenliness. And she now dreaded the thought that anybody would know about herself and the keeper. How unspeakably humiliating! She was weary, afraid, and felt a craving for utter respectability, even for the vulgar and deadening respectability of the Guthrie girls. If Clifford knew about her affair, how unspeakably humiliating! She was afraid, terrified of society and its unclean bite. She almost wished she could get rid of the child again, and be quite clear. In short, she fell into a state of funk.
As for the scent-bottle, that was her own folly. She had not been able to refrain from perfuming his one or two handkerchiefs and his shirts in the drawer, just out of childishness, and she had left a little bottle of Coty’s Wood-violet perfume, half empty, among his things. She wanted him to remember her in the perfume. As for the cigarette-ends, they were Hilda’s.
She could not help confiding a little in Duncan Forbes. She didn’t say she had been the keeper’s lover, she only said she liked him, and told Forbes the history of the man.
‘Oh,’ said Forbes, ‘you’ll see, they’ll never rest till they’ve pulled the man down and done him its. If he has refused to creep up into the middle classes, when he had a chance; and if he’s a man who stands up for his own sex, then they’ll do him in. It’s the one thing they won’t let you be, straight and open in your sex. You can be as dirty as you like. In fact the more dirt you do on sex the better they like it. But if you believe in your own sex, and won’t have it done dirt to: they’ll down you. It’s the one insane taboo left: sex as a natural and vital thing. They won’t have it, and they’ll kill you before they’ll let you have it. You’ll see, they’ll hound that man down. And what’s he done, after all? If he’s made love to his wife all ends on, hasn’t he a right to? She ought to be proud of it. But you see, even a low bitch like that turns on him, and uses the hyena instinct of the mob against sex, to pull him down. You have a snivel and feel sinful or awful about your sex, before you’re allowed to have any. Oh, they’ll hound the poor devil down.’
Connie had a revulsion in the opposite direction now. What had he done, after all? what had he done to herself, Connie, but give her an exquisite pleasure and a sense of freedom and life? He had released her warm, natural sexual flow. And for that they would hound him down.
No no, it should not be. She saw the image of him, naked white with tanned face and hands, looking down and addressing his erect penis as if it were another being, the odd grin flickering on his face. And she heard his voice again: Tha’s got the nicest woman’s arse of anybody! And she felt his hand warmly and softly closing over her tail again, over her secret places, like a benediction. And the warmth ran through her womb, and the little flames flickered in her knees, and she said: Oh, no! I mustn’t go back on it! I must not go back on him. I must stick to him and to what I had of him, through everything. I had no warm, flamy life till he gave it me. And I won’t go back on it.
She did a rash thing. She sent a letter to Ivy Bolton, enclosing a note to the keeper, and asking Mrs Bolton to give it him. And she wrote to him:
I am very much distressed to hear of all the trouble your wife is making for you, but don’t mind it, it is only a sort of hysteria. It will all blow over as suddenly as it came. But I’m awfully sorry about it, and I do hope you are not minding very much. After all, it isn’t worth it. She is only a hysterical woman who wants to hurt you. I shall be home in ten days’ time, and I do hope everything will be all right.
A few days later came a letter from Clifford. He was evidently upset.
I am delighted to hear you are prepared to leave Venice on the sixteenth. But if you are enjoying it, don’t hurry home. We miss you, Wragby misses you. But it is essential that you should get your full amount of sunshine, sunshine and pyjamas, as the advertisements of the Lido say. So please do stay on a little longer, if it is cheering you up and preparing you for our sufficiently awful winter. Even today, it rains.
I am assiduously, admirably looked after by Mrs Bolton. She is a queer specimen. The more I live, the more I realize what strange creatures human beings are. Some of them might Just as well have a hundred legs, like a centipede, or six, like a lobster. The human consistency and dignity one has been led to expect from one’s fellow-men seem actually nonexistent. One doubts if they exist to any startling degree even is oneself.
The scandal of the keeper continues and gets bigger like a snowball. Mrs Bolton keeps me informed. She reminds me of a fish which, though dumb, seems to be breathing silent gossip through its gills, while ever it lives. All goes through the sieve of her gills, and nothing surprises her. It is as if the events of other people’s lives were the necessary oxygen of her own.
She is preoccupied with tie Mellors scandal, and if I will let her begin, she takes me down to the depths. Her great indignation, which even then is like the indignation of an actress playing a role, is against the wife of Mellors, whom she persists in calling Bertha Courts. I have been to the depths of the muddy lies of the Bertha Couttses of this world, and when, released from the current of gossip, I slowly rise to the surface again, I look at the daylight its wonder that it ever should be.
It seems to me absolutely true, that our world, which appears to us the surface of all things, is really the bottom of a deep ocean: all our trees are submarine growths, and we are weird, scaly-clad submarine fauna, feeding ourselves on offal like shrimps. Only occasionally the soul rises gasping through the fathomless fathoms under which we live, far up to the surface of the ether, where there is true air. I am convinced that the air we normally breathe is a kind of water, and men and women are a species of fish.
But sometimes the soul does come up, shoots like a kittiwake into the light, with ecstasy, after having preyed on the submarine depths. It is our mortal destiny, I suppose, to prey upon the ghastly subaqueous life of our fellow-men, in the submarine jungle of mankind. But our immortal destiny is to escape, once we have swallowed our swimmy catch, up again into the bright ether, bursting out from the surface of Old Ocean into real light. Then one realizes one’s eternal nature.
When I hear Mrs Bolton talk, I feel myself plunging down, down, to the depths where the fish of human secrets wriggle and swim. Carnal appetite makes one seize a beakful of prey: then up, up again, out of the dense into the ethereal, from the wet into the dry. To you I can tell the whole process. But with Mrs Bolton I only feel the downward plunge, down, horribly, among the sea-weeds and the pallid monsters of the very bottom.
I am afraid we are going to lose our game-keeper. The scandal of the truant wife, instead of dying down, has reverberated to greater and greater dimensions. He is accused of all unspeakable things and curiously enough, the woman has managed to get the bulk of the colliers’ wives behind her, gruesome fish, and the village is putrescent with talk.
I hear this Bertha Coutts besieges Mellors in his mother’s house, having ransacked the cottage and the hut. She seized one day upon her own daughter, as that chip of the female block was returning from school; but the little one, instead of kissing the loving mother’s hand, bit it firmly, and so received from the other hand a smack in the face which sent her reeling into the gutter: whence she was rescued by an indignant and harassed grandmother.
The woman has blown off an amazing quantity of poison-gas. She has aired in detail all those incidents of her conjugal life which are usually buried down in the deepest grave of matrimonial silence, between married couples. Having chosen to exhume them, after ten years of burial, she has a weird array. I hear these details from Linley and the doctor: the latter being amused. Of course there is really nothing in it. Humanity has always had a strange avidity for unusual sexual postures, and if a man likes to use his wife, as Benvenuto Cellini says, ‘in the Italian way’, well that is a matter of taste. But I had hardly expected our game-keeper to be up to so many tricks. No doubt Bertha Coutts herself first put him up to them. In any case, it is a matter of their own personal squalor, and nothing to do with anybody else.
However, everybody listens: as I do myself. A dozen years ago, common decency would have hushed the thing. But common decency no longer exists, and the colliers’ wives are all up in arms and unabashed in voice. One would think every child in Tevershall, for the last fifty years, had been an immaculate conception, and every one of our nonconformist females was a shining Joan of Arc. That our estimable game-keeper should have about him a touch of Rabelais seems to make him more monstrous and shocking than a murderer like Crippen. Yet these people in Tevershall are a loose lot, if one is to believe all accounts.
The trouble is, however, the execrable Bertha Coutts has not confined herself to her own experiences and sufferings. She has discovered, at the top of her voice, that her husband has been ‘keeping’ women down at the cottage, and has made a few random shots at naming the women. This has brought a few decent names trailing through the mud, and the thing has gone quite considerably too far. An injunction has been taken out against the woman.
I have had to interview Mellors about the business, as it was impossible to keep the woman away from the wood. He goes about as usual, with his Miller-of-the-Dee air, I care for nobody, no not I, if nobody care for me! Nevertheless, I shrewdly suspect he feels like a dog with a tin can tied to its tail: though he makes a very good show of pretending the tin can isn’t there. But I heard that in the village the women call away their children if he is passing, as if he were the Marquis de Sade in person. He goes on with a certain impudence, but I am afraid the tin can is firmly tied to his tail, and that inwardly he repeats, like Don Rodrigo in the Spanish ballad: ‘Ah, now it bites me where I most have sinned!’
I asked him if he thought he would be able to attend to his duty in the wood, and he said he did not think he had neglected it. I told him it was a nuisance to have the woman trespassing: to which he replied that he had no power to arrest her. Then I hinted at the scandal and its unpleasant course. ‘Ay,’ he said. ‘folks should do their own fuckin’, then they wouldn’t want to listen to a lot of clatfart about another man’s.’
He said it with some bitterness, and no doubt it contains the real germ of truth. The mode of putting it, however, is neither delicate nor respectful. I hinted as much, and then I heard the tin can rattle again. ‘It’s not for a man the shape you’re in, Sir Clifford, to twit me for havin’ a cod atween my legs.’
These things, said indiscriminately to all and sundry, of course do not help him at all, and the rector, and Finley, and Burroughs all think it would be as well if the man left the place.
I asked him if it was true that he entertained ladies down at the cottage, and all he said was: ‘Why, what’s that to you, Sir Clifford?’ I told him I intended to have decency observed on my estate, to which he replied: ‘Then you mun button the mouths o’ a’ th’ women.’ — When I pressed him about his manner of life at the cottage, he said: ‘Surely you might ma’e a scandal out o’ me an’ my bitch Flossie. You’ve missed summat there.’ As a matter of fact, for an example of impertinence he’d be hard to beat.
I asked him if it would be easy for him to find another job. He said: ‘If you’re hintin’ that you’d like to shunt me out of this job, it’d be easy as wink.’ So he made no trouble at all about leaving at the end of next week, and apparently is willing to initiate a young fellow, Joe Chambers, into as many mysteries of the craft as possible. I told him I would give him a month’s wages extra, when he left. He said he’d rather I kept my money, as I’d no occasion to ease my conscience. I asked him what he meant, and he said: ‘You don’t owe me nothing extra, Sir Clifford, so don’t pay me nothing extra. If you think you see my shirt hanging out, just tell me.’
Well, there is the end of it for the time being. The woman has gone away: we don’t know where to: but she is liable to arrest if she shows her face in Tevershall. And I heard she is mortally afraid of gaol, because she merits it so well. Mellors will depart on Saturday week, and the place will soon become normal again.
Meanwhile, my dear Connie, if you would enjoy to stay in Venice or in Switzerland till the beginning of August, I should be glad to think you were out of all this buzz of nastiness, which will have died quite away by the end of the month.
So you see, we arc deep-sea monsters, and when the lobster walks on mud, he stirs it up for everybody. We must perforce take it philosophically.
The irritation, and the lack of any sympathy in any direction, of Clifford’s letter, had a bad effect on Connie. But she understood it better when she received the following from Mellors:
The cat is out of the bag, along with various other pussies. You have heard that my wife Bertha came back to my unloving arms, and took up her abode in the cottage: where, to speak disrespectfully, she smelled a rat, in the shape of a little bottle of Coty. Other evidence she did not find, at least for some days, when she began to howl about the burnt photograph. She noticed the glass and the back-board in the square bedroom. Unfortunately, on the back-board somebody had scribbled little sketches, and the initials, several times repeated: C. S. R. This, however, afforded no clue until she broke into the hut, and found one of your books, an autobiography of the actress Judith, with your name, Constance Stewart Reid, on the front page. After this, for some days she went round loudly saying that my paramour was no less a person than Lady Chatterley herself. The news came at last to the rector, Mr Burroughs, and to Sir Clifford. They then proceeded to take legal steps against my liege lady, who for her part disappeared, having always had a mortal fear of the police.
Sir Clifford asked to see me, so I went to him. He talked around things and seemed annoyed with me. Then he asked if I knew that even her ladyship’s name had been mentioned. I said I never listened to scandal, and was surprised to hear this bit from Sir Clifford himself. He said, of course it was a great insult, and I told him there was Queen Mary on a calendar in the scullery, no doubt because Her Majesty formed part of my harem. But he didn’t appreciate the sarcasm. He as good as told me I was a disreputable character who walked about with my breeches’ buttons undone, and I as good as told him he’d nothing to unbutton anyhow, so he gave me the sack, and I leave on Saturday week, and the place thereof shall know me no more.
I shall go to London, and my old landlady, Mrs Inger, 17 Coburg Square, will either give me a room or will find one for me.
Be sure your sins will find you out, especially if you’re married and her name’s Bertha —
There was not a word about herself, or to her. Connie resented this. He might have said some few words of consolation or reassurance. But she knew he was leaving her free, free to go back to Wragby and to Clifford. She resented that too. He need riot be so falsely chivalrous. She wished he had said to Clifford: ‘Yes, she is my lover and my mistress and I am proud of it!’ But his courage wouldn’t carry him so far.
So her name was coupled with his in Tevershall! It was a mess. But that would soon die down.
She was angry, with the complicated and confused anger that made her inert. She did not know what to do nor what to say, so she said and did nothing. She went on at Venice just the same, rowing out in the gondola with Duncan Forbes, bathing, letting the days slip by. Duncan, who had been rather depressingly in love with her ten years ago, was in love with her again. But she said to him: ‘I only want one thing of men, and that is, that they should leave me alone.’
So Duncan left her alone: really quite pleased to be able to. All the same, he offered her a soft stream of a queer, inverted sort of love. He wanted to be with her.
‘Have you ever thought,’ he said to her one day, ‘how very little people are connected with one another. Look at Daniele! He is handsome as a son of the sun. But see how alone he looks in his handsomeness. Yet I bet he has a wife and family, and couldn’t possibly go away from them.’
‘Ask him,’ said Connie.
Duncan did so. Daniele said he was married, and had two children, both male, aged seven and nine. But he betrayed no emotion over the fact.
‘Perhaps only people who are capable of real togetherness have that look of being alone in the universe,’ said Connie. ‘The others have a certain stickiness, they stick to the mass, like Giovanni.’ ‘And,’ she thought to herself, ‘like you, Duncan.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10