When Connie went up to her bedroom she did what she had not done for a long time: took off all her clothes, and looked at herself naked in the huge mirror. She did not know what she was looking for, or at, very definitely, yet she moved the lamp till it shone full on her.
And she thought, as she had thought so often, what a frail, easily hurt, rather pathetic thing a human body is, naked; somehow a little unfinished, incomplete!
She had been supposed to have rather a good figure, but now she was out of fashion: a little too female, not enough like an adolescent boy. She was not very tall, a bit Scottish and short; but she had a certain fluent, down-slipping grace that might have been beauty. Her skin was faintly tawny, her limbs had a certain stillness, her body should have had a full, down-slipping richness; but it lacked something.
Instead of ripening its firm, down-running curves, her body was flattening and going a little harsh. It was as if it had not had enough sun and warmth; it was a little greyish and sapless.
Disappointed of its real womanhood, it had not succeeded in becoming boyish, and unsubstantial, and transparent; instead it had gone opaque.
Her breasts were rather small, and dropping pear-shaped. But they were unripe, a little bitter, without meaning hanging there. And her belly had lost the fresh, round gleam it had had when she was young, in the days of her German boy, who really loved her physically. Then it was young and expectant, with a real look of its own. Now it was going slack, and a little flat, thinner, but with a slack thinness. Her thighs, too, they used to look so quick and glimpsy in their female roundness, somehow they too were going flat, slack, meaningless.
Her body was going meaningless, going dull and opaque, so much insignificant substance. It made her feel immensely depressed and hopeless. What hope was there? She was old, old at twenty-seven, with no gleam and sparkle in the flesh. Old through neglect and denial, yes, denial. Fashionable women kept their bodies bright like delicate porcelain, by external attention. There was nothing inside the porcelain; but she was not even as bright as that. The mental life! Suddenly she hated it with a rushing fury, the swindle!
She looked in the other mirror’s reflection at her back, her waist, her loins. She was getting thinner, but to her it was not becoming. The crumple of her waist at the back, as she bent back to look, was a little weary; and it used to be so gay-looking. And the longish slope of her haunches and her buttocks had lost its gleam and its sense of richness. Gone! Only the German boy had loved it, and he was ten years dead, very nearly. How time went by! Ten years dead, and she was only twenty-seven. The healthy boy with his fresh, clumsy sensuality that she had then been so scornful of! Where would she find it now? It was gone out of men. They had their pathetic, two-seconds spasms like Michaelis; but no healthy human sensuality, that warms the blood and freshens the whole being.
Still she thought the most beautiful part of her was the long-sloping fall of the haunches from the socket of the back, and the slumberous, round stillness of the buttocks. Like hillocks of sand, the Arabs say, soft and downward-slipping with a long slope. Here the life still lingered hoping. But here too she was thinner, and going unripe, astringent.
But the front of her body made her miserable. It was already beginning to slacken, with a slack sort of thinness, almost withered, going old before it had ever really lived. She thought of the child she might somehow bear. Was she fit, anyhow?
She slipped into her nightdress, and went to bed, where she sobbed bitterly. And in her bitterness burned a cold indignation against Clifford, and his writings and his talk: against all the men of his sort who defrauded a woman even of her own body.
Unjust! Unjust! The sense of deep physical injustice burned to her very soul.
But in the morning, all the same, she was up at seven, and going downstairs to Clifford. She had to help him in all the intimate things, for he had no man, and refused a woman-servant. The housekeeper’s husband, who had known him as a boy, helped him, and did any heavy lifting; but Connie did the personal things, and she did them willingly. It was a demand on her, but she had wanted to do what she could.
So she hardly ever went away from Wragby, and never for more than a day or two; when Mrs Betts, the housekeeper, attended to Clifford. He, as was inevitable in the course of time, took all the service for granted. It was natural he should.
And yet, deep inside herself, a sense of injustice, of being defrauded, had begun to burn in Connie. The physical sense of injustice is a dangerous feeling, once it is awakened. It must have outlet, or it eats away the one in whom it is aroused. Poor Clifford, he was not to blame. His was the greater misfortune. It was all part of the general catastrophe.
And yet was he not in a way to blame? This lack of warmth, this lack of the simple, warm, physical contact, was he not to blame for that? He was never really warm, nor even kind, only thoughtful, considerate, in a well-bred, cold sort of way! But never warm as a man can be warm to a woman, as even Connie’s father could be warm to her, with the warmth of a man who did himself well, and intended to, but who still could comfort it woman with a bit of his masculine glow.
But Clifford was not like that. His whole race was not like that. They were all inwardly hard and separate, and warmth to them was just bad taste. You had to get on without it, and hold your own; which was all very well if you were of the same class and race. Then you could keep yourself cold and be very estimable, and hold your own, and enjoy the satisfaction of holding it. But if you were of another class and another race it wouldn’t do; there was no fun merely holding your own, and feeling you belonged to the ruling class. What was the point, when even the smartest aristocrats had really nothing positive of their own to hold, and their rule was really a farce, not rule at all? What was the point? It was all cold nonsense.
A sense of rebellion smouldered in Connie. What was the good of it all? What was the good of her sacrifice, her devoting her life to Clifford? What was she serving, after all? A cold spirit of vanity, that had no warm human contacts, and that was as corrupt as any low-born Jew, in craving for prostitution to the bitch-goddess, Success. Even Clifford’s cool and contactless assurance that he belonged to the ruling class didn’t prevent his tongue lolling out of his mouth, as he panted after the bitch-goddess. After all, Michaelis was really more dignified in the matter, and far, far more successful. Really, if you looked closely at Clifford, he was a buffoon, and a buffoon is more humiliating than a bounder.
As between the two men, Michaelis really had far more use for her than Clifford had. He had even more need of her. Any good nurse can attend to crippled legs! And as for the heroic effort, Michaelis was a heroic rat, and Clifford was very much of a poodle showing off.
There were people staying in the house, among them Clifford’s Aunt Eva, Lady Bennerley. She was a thin woman of sixty, with a red nose, a widow, and still something of a grande dame. She belonged to one of the best families, and had the character to carry it off. Connie liked her, she was so perfectly simple and frank, as far as she intended to be frank, and superficially kind. Inside herself she was a past-mistress in holding her own, and holding other people a little lower. She was not at all a snob: far too sure of herself. She was perfect at the social sport of coolly holding her own, and making other people defer to her.
She was kind to Connie, and tried to worm into her woman’s soul with the sharp gimlet of her well-born observations.
‘You’re quite wonderful, in my opinion,’ she said to Connie. ‘You’ve done wonders for Clifford. I never saw any budding genius myself, and there he is, all the rage.’ Aunt Eva was quite complacently proud of Clifford’s success. Another feather in the family cap! She didn’t care a straw about his books, but why should she?
‘Oh, I don’t think it’s my doing,’ said Connie.
‘It must be! Can’t be anybody else’s. And it seems to me you don’t get enough out of it.’
‘Look at the way you are shut up here. I said to Clifford: If that child rebels one day you’ll have yourself to thank!’
‘But Clifford never denies me anything,’ said Connie.
‘Look here, my dear child’ — and Lady Bennerley laid her thin hand on Connie’s arm. ‘A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it. Believe me!’ And she took another sip of brandy, which maybe was her form of repentance.
‘But I do live my life, don’t I?’
‘Not in my idea! Clifford should bring you to London, and let you go about. His sort of friends are all right for him, but what are they for you? If I were you I should think it wasn’t good enough. You’ll let your youth slip by, and you’ll spend your old age, and your middle age too, repenting it.’
Her ladyship lapsed into contemplative silence, soothed by the brandy.
But Connie was not keen on going to London, and being steered into the smart world by Lady Bennerley. She didn’t feel really smart, it wasn’t interesting. And she did feel the peculiar, withering coldness under it all; like the soil of Labrador, which his gay little flowers on its surface, and a foot down is frozen.
Tommy Dukes was at Wragby, and another man, Harry Winterslow, and Jack Strangeways with his wife Olive. The talk was much more desultory than when only the cronies were there, and everybody was a bit bored, for the weather was bad, and there was only billiards, and the pianola to dance to.
Olive was reading a book about the future, when babies would be bred in bottles, and women would be ‘immunized’.
‘Jolly good thing too!’ she said. ‘Then a woman can live her own life.’ Strangeways wanted children, and she didn’t.
‘How’d you like to be immunized?’ Winterslow asked her, with an ugly smile.
‘I hope I am; naturally,’ she said. ‘Anyhow the future’s going to have more sense, and a woman needn’t be dragged down by her functions.’
‘Perhaps she’ll float off into space altogether,’ said Dukes.
‘I do think sufficient civilization ought to eliminate a lot of the physical disabilities,’ said Clifford. ‘All the love-business for example, it might just as well go. I suppose it would if we could breed babies in bottles.’
‘No!’ cried Olive. ‘That might leave all the more room for fun.’
‘I suppose,’ said Lady Bennerley, contemplatively, ‘if the love-business went, something else would take its place. Morphia, perhaps. A little morphine in all the air. It would be wonderfully refreshing for everybody.’
‘The government releasing ether into the air on Saturdays, for a cheerful weekend!’ said Jack. ‘Sounds all right, but where should we be by Wednesday?’
‘So long as you can forget your body you are happy,’ said Lady Bennerley. ‘And the moment you begin to be aware of your body, you are wretched. So, if civilization is any good, it has to help us to forget our bodies, and then time passes happily without our knowing it.’
‘Help us to get rid of our bodies altogether,’ said Winterslow. ‘It’s quite time man began to improve on his own nature, especially the physical side of it.’
‘Imagine if we floated like tobacco smoke,’ said Connie.
‘It won’t happen,’ said Dukes. ‘Our old show will come flop; our civilization is going to fall. It’s going down the bottomless pit, down the chasm. And believe me, the only bridge across the chasm will be the phallus!’
‘Oh do! do be impossible, General!’ cried Olive.
‘I believe our civilization is going to collapse,’ said Aunt Eva.
‘And what will come after it?’ asked Clifford.
‘I haven’t the faintest idea, but something, I suppose,’ said the elderly lady.
‘Connie says people like wisps of smoke, and Olive says immunized women, and babies in bottles, and Dukes says the phallus is the bridge to what comes next. I wonder what it will really be?’ said Clifford.
‘Oh, don’t bother! let’s get on with today,’ said Olive. ‘Only hurry up with the breeding bottle, and let us poor women off.’
‘There might even be real men, in the next phase,’ said Tommy. ‘Real, intelligent, wholesome men, and wholesome nice women! Wouldn’t that be a change, an enormous change from us? we’re not men, and the women aren’t women. We’re only cerebrating make-shifts, mechanical and intellectual experiments. There may even come a civilization of genuine men and women, instead of our little lot of clever-jacks, all at the intelligence-age of seven. It would be even more amazing than men of smoke or babies in bottles.’
‘Oh, when people begin to talk about real women, I give up,’ said Olive.
‘Certainly nothing but the spirit in us is worth having,’ said Winterslow.
‘Spirits!’ said Jack, drinking his whisky and soda.
‘Think so? Give me the resurrection of the body!’ said Dukes.
‘But it’ll come, in time, when we’ve shoved the cerebral stone away a bit, the money and the rest. Then we’ll get a democracy of touch, instead of a democracy of pocket.’
Something echoed inside Connie: ‘Give me the democracy of touch, the resurrection of the body!’ She didn’t at all know what it meant, but it comforted her, as meaningless things may do.
Anyhow everything was terribly silly, and she was exasperatedly bored by it all, by Clifford, by Aunt Eva, by Olive and Jack, and Winterslow, and even by Dukes. Talk, talk, talk! What hell it was, the continual rattle of it!
Then, when all the people went, it was no better. She continued plodding on, but exasperation and irritation had got hold of her lower body, she couldn’t escape. The days seemed to grind by, with curious painfulness, yet nothing happened. Only she was getting thinner; even the housekeeper noticed it, and asked her about herself Even Tommy Dukes insisted she was not well, though she said she was all right. Only she began to be afraid of the ghastly white tombstones, that peculiar loathsome whiteness of Carrara marble, detestable as false teeth, which stuck up on the hillside, under Tevershall church, and which she saw with such grim painfulness from the park. The bristling of the hideous false teeth of tombstones on the hill affected her with a grisly kind of horror. She felt the time not far off when she would be buried there, added to the ghastly host under the tombstones and the monuments, in these filthy Midlands.
She needed help, and she knew it: so she wrote a little cri du coeur to her sister, Hilda. ‘I’m not well lately, and I don’t know what’s the matter with me.’
Down posted Hilda from Scotland, where she had taken up her abode. She came in March, alone, driving herself in a nimble two-seater. Up the drive she came, tooting up the incline, then sweeping round the oval of grass, where the two great wild beech-trees stood, on the flat in front of the house.
Connie had run out to the steps. Hilda pulled up her car, got out, and kissed her sister.
‘But Connie!’ she cried. ‘Whatever is the matter?’
‘Nothing!’ said Connie, rather shamefacedly; but she knew how she had suffered in contrast to Hilda. Both sisters had the same rather golden, glowing skin, and soft brown hair, and naturally strong, warm physique. But now Connie was thin and earthy-looking, with a scraggy, yellowish neck, that stuck out of her jumper.
‘But you’re ill, child!’ said Hilda, in the soft, rather breathless voice that both sisters had alike. Hilda was nearly, but not quite, two years older than Connie.
‘No, not ill. Perhaps I’m bored,’ said Connie a little pathetically.
The light of battle glowed in Hilda’s face; she was a woman, soft and still as she seemed, of the old amazon sort, not made to fit with men.
‘This wretched place!’ she said softly, looking at poor, old, lumbering Wragby with real hate. She looked soft and warm herself, as a ripe pear, and she was an amazon of the real old breed.
She went quietly in to Clifford. He thought how handsome she looked, but also he shrank from her. His wife’s family did not have his sort of manners, or his sort of etiquette. He considered them rather outsiders, but once they got inside they made him jump through the hoop.
He sat square and well-groomed in his chair, his hair sleek and blond, and his face fresh, his blue eyes pale, and a little prominent, his expression inscrutable, but well-bred. Hilda thought it sulky and stupid, and he waited. He had an air of aplomb, but Hilda didn’t care what he had an air of; she was up in arms, and if he’d been Pope or Emperor it would have been just the same.
‘Connie’s looking awfully unwell,’ she said in her soft voice, fixing him with her beautiful, glowering grey eyes. She looked so maidenly, so did Connie; but he well knew the tone of Scottish obstinacy underneath.
‘She’s a little thinner,’ he said.
‘Haven’t you done anything about it?’
‘Do you think it necessary?’ he asked, with his suavest English stiffness, for the two things often go together.
Hilda only glowered at him without replying; repartee was not her forte, nor Connie’s; so she glowered, and he was much more uncomfortable than if she had said things.
‘I’ll take her to a doctor,’ said Hilda at length. ‘Can you suggest a good one round here?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t.’
‘Then I’ll take her to London, where we have a doctor we trust.’
Though boiling with rage, Clifford said nothing.
‘I suppose I may as well stay the night,’ said Hilda, pulling off her gloves, ‘and I’ll drive her to town tomorrow.’
Clifford was yellow at the gills with anger, and at evening the whites of his eyes were a little yellow too. He ran to liver. But Hilda was consistently modest and maidenly.
‘You must have a nurse or somebody, to look after you personally. You should really have a manservant,’ said Hilda as they sat, with apparent calmness, at coffee after dinner. She spoke in her soft, seemingly gentle way, but Clifford felt she was hitting him on the head with a bludgeon.
‘You think so?’ he said coldly.
‘I’m sure! It’s necessary. Either that, or Father and I must take Connie away for some months. This can’t go on.’
‘What can’t go on?’
‘Haven’t you looked at the child!’ asked Hilda, gazing at him full stare. He looked rather like a huge, boiled crayfish at the moment; or so she thought.
‘Connie and I will discuss it,’ he said.
‘I’ve already discussed it with her,’ said Hilda.
Clifford had been long enough in the hands of nurses; he hated them, because they left him no real privacy. And a manservant! . . . he couldn’t stand a man hanging round him. Almost better any woman. But why not Connie?
The two sisters drove off in the morning, Connie looking rather like an Easter lamb, rather small beside Hilda, who held the wheel. Sir Malcolm was away, but the Kensington house was open.
The doctor examined Connie carefully, and asked her all about her life. ‘I see your photograph, and Sir Clifford’s, in the illustrated papers sometimes. Almost notorieties, aren’t you? That’s how the quiet little girls grow up, though you’re only a quiet little girl even now, in spite of the illustrated papers. No, no! There’s nothing organically wrong, but it won’t do! It won’t do! Tell Sir Clifford he’s got to bring you to town, or take you abroad, and amuse you. You’ve got to be amused, got to! Your vitality is much too low; no reserves, no reserves. The nerves of the heart a bit queer already: oh, yes! Nothing but nerves; I’d put you right in a month at Cannes or Biarritz. But it mustn’t go on, mustn’t, I tell you, or I won’t be answerable for consequences. You’re spending your life without renewing it. You’ve got to be amused, properly, healthily amused. You’re spending your vitality without making any. Can’t go on, you know. Depression! Avoid depression!’
Hilda set her jaw, and that meant something.
Michaelis heard they were in town, and came running with roses. ‘Why, whatever’s wrong?’ he cried. ‘You’re a shadow of yourself. Why, I never saw such a change! Why ever didn’t you let me know? Come to Nice with me! Come down to Sicily! Go on, come to Sicily with me. It’s lovely there just now. You want sun! You want life! Why, you’re wasting away! Come away with me! Come to Africa! Oh, hang Sir Clifford! Chuck him, and come along with me. I’ll marry you the minute he divorces you. Come along and try a life! God’s love! That place Wragby would kill anybody. Beastly place! Foul place! Kill anybody! Come away with me into the sun! It’s the sun you want, of course, and a bit of normal life.’
But Connie’s heart simply stood still at the thought of abandoning Clifford there and then. She couldn’t do it. No . . . no! She just couldn’t. She had to go back to Wragby.
Michaelis was disgusted. Hilda didn’t like Michaelis, but she almost preferred him to Clifford. Back went the sisters to the Midlands.
Hilda talked to Clifford, who still had yellow eyeballs when they got back. He, too, in his way, was overwrought; but he had to listen to all Hilda said, to all the doctor had said, not what Michaelis had said, of course, and he sat mum through the ultimatum.
‘Here is the address of a good manservant, who was with an invalid patient of the doctor’s till he died last month. He is really a good man, and fairly sure to come.’
‘But I’m not an invalid, and I will not have a manservant,’ said Clifford, poor devil.
‘And here are the addresses of two women; I saw one of them, she would do very well; a woman of about fifty, quiet, strong, kind, and in her way cultured . . . ’
Clifford only sulked, and would not answer.
‘Very well, Clifford. If we don’t settle something by to-morrow, I shall telegraph to Father, and we shall take Connie away.’
‘Will Connie go?’ asked Clifford.
‘She doesn’t want to, but she knows she must. Mother died of cancer, brought on by fretting. We’re not running any risks.’
So next day Clifford suggested Mrs Bolton, Tevershall parish nurse. Apparently Mrs Betts had thought of her. Mrs Bolton was just retiring from her parish duties to take up private nursing jobs. Clifford had a queer dread of delivering himself into the hands of a stranger, but this Mrs Bolton had once nursed him through scarlet fever, and he knew her.
The two sisters at once called on Mrs Bolton, in a newish house in a row, quite select for Tevershall. They found a rather good-looking woman of forty-odd, in a nurse’s uniform, with a white collar and apron, just making herself tea in a small crowded sitting-room.
Mrs Bolton was most attentive and polite, seemed quite nice, spoke with a bit of a broad slur, but in heavily correct English, and from having bossed the sick colliers for a good many years, had a very good opinion of herself, and a fair amount of assurance. In short, in her tiny way, one of the governing class in the village, very much respected.
‘Yes, Lady Chatterley’s not looking at all well! Why, she used to be that bonny, didn’t she now? But she’s been failing all winter! Oh, it’s hard, it is. Poor Sir Clifford! Eh, that war, it’s a lot to answer for.’
And Mrs Bolton would come to Wragby at once, if Dr Shardlow would let her off. She had another fortnight’s parish nursing to do, by rights, but they might get a substitute, you know.
Hilda posted off to Dr Shardlow, and on the following Sunday Mrs Bolton drove up in Leiver’s cab to Wragby with two trunks. Hilda had talks with her; Mrs Bolton was ready at any moment to talk. And she seemed so young! The way the passion would flush in her rather pale cheek. She was forty-seven.
Her husband, Ted Bolton, had been killed in the pit, twenty-two years ago, twenty-two years last Christmas, just at Christmas time, leaving her with two children, one a baby in arms. Oh, the baby was married now, Edith, to a young man in Boots Cash Chemists in Sheffield. The other one was a schoolteacher in Chesterfield; she came home weekends, when she wasn’t asked out somewhere. Young folks enjoyed themselves nowadays, not like when she, Ivy Bolton, was young.
Ted Bolton was twenty-eight when lie was killed in an explosion down th’ pit. The butty in front shouted to them all to lie down quick, there were four of them. And they all lay down in time, only Ted, and it killed him. Then at the inquiry, on the masters’ side they said Ted had been frightened, and trying to run away, and not obeying orders, so it was like his fault really. So the compensation was only three hundred pounds, and they made out as if it was more of a gift than legal compensation, because it was really the man’s own fault. And they wouldn’t let her have the money down; she wanted to have a little shop. But they said she’d no doubt squander it, perhaps in drink! So she had to draw it thirty shillings a week. Yes, she had to go every Monday morning down to the offices, and stand there a couple of hours waiting her turn; yes, for almost four years she went every Monday. And what could she do with two little children on her hands? But Ted’s mother was very good to her. When the baby could toddle she’d keep both the children for the day, while she, Ivy Bolton, went to Sheffield, and attended classes in ambulance, and then the fourth year she even took a nursing course and got qualified. She was determined to be independent and keep her children. So she was assistant at Uthwaite hospital, just a little place, for a while. But when the Company, the Tevershall Colliery Company, really Sir Geoffrey, saw that she could get on by herself, they were very good to her, gave her the parish nursing, and stood by her, she would say that for them. And she’d done it ever since, till now it was getting a bit much for her; she needed something a bit lighter, there was such a lot of traipsing around if you were a district nurse.
‘Yes, the Company’s been very good to me, I always say it. But I should never forget what they said about Ted, for he was as steady and fearless a chap as ever set foot on the cage, and it was as good as branding him a coward. But there, he was dead, and could say nothing to none of ’em.’
It was a queer mixture of feelings the woman showed as she talked. She liked the colliers, whom she had nursed for so long; but she felt very superior to them. She felt almost upper class; and at the same time a resentment against the ruling class smouldered in her. The masters! In a dispute between masters and men, she was always for the men. But when there was no question of contest, she was pining to be superior, to be one of the upper class. The upper classes fascinated her, appealing to her peculiar English passion for superiority. She was thrilled to come to Wragby; thrilled to talk to Lady Chatterley, my word, different from the common colliers’ wives! She said so in so many words. Yet one could see a grudge against the Chatterleys peep out in her; the grudge against the masters.
‘Why, yes, of course, it would wear Lady Chatterley out! It’s a mercy she had a sister to come and help her. Men don’t think, high and low-alike, they take what a woman does for them for granted. Oh, I’ve told the colliers off about it many a time. But it’s very hard for Sir Clifford, you know, crippled like that. They were always a haughty family, standoffish in a way, as they’ve a right to be. But then to be brought down like that! And it’s very hard on Lady Chatterley, perhaps harder on her. What she misses! I only had Ted three years, but my word, while I had him I had a husband I could never forget. He was one in a thousand, and jolly as the day. Who’d ever have thought he’d get killed? I don’t believe it to this day somehow, I’ve never believed it, though I washed him with my own hands. But he was never dead for me, he never was. I never took it in.’
This was a new voice in Wragby, very new for Connie to hear; it roused a new ear in her.
For the first week or so, Mrs Bolton, however, was very quiet at Wragby, her assured, bossy manner left her, and she was nervous. With Clifford she was shy, almost frightened, and silent. He liked that, and soon recovered his self-possession, letting her do things for him without even noticing her.
‘She’s a useful nonentity!’ he said. Connie opened her eyes in wonder, but she did not contradict him. So different are impressions on two different people!
And he soon became rather superb, somewhat lordly with the nurse. She had rather expected it, and he played up without knowing. So susceptible we are to what is expected of us! The colliers had been so like children, talking to her, and telling her what hurt them, while she bandaged them, or nursed them. They had always made her feel so grand, almost super-human in her administrations. Now Clifford made her feel small, and like a servant, and she accepted it without a word, adjusting herself to the upper classes.
She came very mute, with her long, handsome face, and downcast eyes, to administer to him. And she said very humbly: ‘Shall I do this now, Sir Clifford? Shall I do that?’
‘No, leave it for a time. I’ll have it done later.’
‘Very well, Sir Clifford.’
‘Come in again in half an hour.’
‘Very well, Sir Clifford.’
‘And just take those old papers out, will you?’
‘Very well, Sir Clifford.’
She went softly, and in half an hour she came softly again. She was bullied, but she didn’t mind. She was experiencing the upper classes. She neither resented nor disliked Clifford; he was just part of a phenomenon, the phenomenon of the high-class folks, so far unknown to her, but now to be known. She felt more at home with Lady Chatterley, and after all it’s the mistress of the house matters most.
Mrs Bolton helped Clifford to bed at night, and slept across the passage from his room, and came if he rang for her in the night. She also helped him in the morning, and soon valeted him completely, even shaving him, in her soft, tentative woman’s way. She was very good and competent, and she soon knew how to have him in her power. He wasn’t so very different from the colliers after all, when you lathered his chin, and softly rubbed the bristles. The stand-offishness and the lack of frankness didn’t bother her; she was having a new experience.
Clifford, however, inside himself, never quite forgave Connie for giving up her personal care of him to a strange hired woman. It killed, he said to himself, the real flower of the intimacy between him and her. But Connie didn’t mind that. The fine flower of their intimacy was to her rather like an orchid, a bulb stuck parasitic on her tree of life, and producing, to her eyes, a rather shabby flower.
Now she had more time to herself she could softly play the piano, up in her room, and sing: ‘Touch not the nettle, for the bonds of love are ill to loose.’ She had not realized till lately how ill to loose they were, these bonds of love. But thank Heaven she had loosened them! She was so glad to be alone, not always to have to talk to him. When he was alone he tapped-tapped-tapped on a typewriter, to infinity. But when he was not ‘working’, and she was there, he talked, always talked; infinite small analysis of people and motives, and results, characters and personalities, till now she had had enough. For years she had loved it, until she had enough, and then suddenly it was too much. She was thankful to be alone.
It was as if thousands and thousands of little roots and threads of consciousness in him and her had grown together into a tangled mass, till they could crowd no more, and the plant was dying. Now quietly, subtly, she was unravelling the tangle of his consciousness and hers, breaking the threads gently, one by one, with patience and impatience to get clear. But the bonds of such love are more ill to loose even than most bonds; though Mrs Bolton’s coming had been a great help.
But he still wanted the old intimate evenings of talk with Connie: talk or reading aloud. But now she could arrange that Mrs Bolton should come at ten to disturb them. At ten o’clock Connie could go upstairs and be alone. Clifford was in good hands with Mrs Bolton.
Mrs Bolton ate with Mrs Betts in the housekeeper’s room, since they were all agreeable. And it was curious how much closer the servants’ quarters seemed to have come; right up to the doors of Clifford’s study, when before they were so remote. For Mrs Betts would sometimes sit in Mrs Bolton’s room, and Connie heard their lowered voices, and felt somehow the strong, other vibration of the working people almost invading the sitting-room, when she and Clifford were alone. So changed was Wragby merely by Mrs Bolton’s coming.
And Connie felt herself released, in another world, she felt she breathed differently. But still she was afraid of how many of her roots, perhaps mortal ones, were tangled with Clifford’s. Yet still, she breathed freer, a new phase was going to begin in her life.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10