Every year Mr Crich gave a more or less public water-party on the lake. There was a little pleasure-launch on Willey Water and several rowing boats, and guests could take tea either in the marquee that was set up in the grounds of the house, or they could picnic in the shade of the great walnut tree at the boat-house by the lake. This year the staff of the Grammar-School was invited, along with the chief officials of the firm. Gerald and the younger Criches did not care for this party, but it had become customary now, and it pleased the father, as being the only occasion when he could gather some people of the district together in festivity with him. For he loved to give pleasures to his dependents and to those poorer than himself. But his children preferred the company of their own equals in wealth. They hated their inferiors’ humility or gratitude or awkwardness.
Nevertheless they were willing to attend at this festival, as they had done almost since they were children, the more so, as they all felt a little guilty now, and unwilling to thwart their father any more, since he was so ill in health. Therefore, quite cheerfully Laura prepared to take her mother’s place as hostess, and Gerald assumed responsibility for the amusements on the water.
Birkin had written to Ursula saying he expected to see her at the party, and Gudrun, although she scorned the patronage of the Criches, would nevertheless accompany her mother and father if the weather were fine.
The day came blue and full of sunshine, with little wafts of wind. The sisters both wore dresses of white crepe, and hats of soft grass. But Gudrun had a sash of brilliant black and pink and yellow colour wound broadly round her waist, and she had pink silk stockings, and black and pink and yellow decoration on the brim of her hat, weighing it down a little. She carried also a yellow silk coat over her arm, so that she looked remarkable, like a painting from the Salon. Her appearance was a sore trial to her father, who said angrily:
‘Don’t you think you might as well get yourself up for a Christmas cracker, an’ha’ done with it?’
But Gudrun looked handsome and brilliant, and she wore her clothes in pure defiance. When people stared at her, and giggled after her, she made a point of saying loudly, to Ursula:
‘Regarde, regarde ces gens-la! Ne sont-ils pas des hiboux incroyables?’ And with the words of French in her mouth, she would look over her shoulder at the giggling party.
‘No, really, it’s impossible!’ Ursula would reply distinctly. And so the two girls took it out of their universal enemy. But their father became more and more enraged.
Ursula was all snowy white, save that her hat was pink, and entirely without trimming, and her shoes were dark red, and she carried an orange-coloured coat. And in this guise they were walking all the way to Shortlands, their father and mother going in front.
They were laughing at their mother, who, dressed in a summer material of black and purple stripes, and wearing a hat of purple straw, was setting forth with much more of the shyness and trepidation of a young girl than her daughters ever felt, walking demurely beside her husband, who, as usual, looked rather crumpled in his best suit, as if he were the father of a young family and had been holding the baby whilst his wife got dressed.
‘Look at the young couple in front,’ said Gudrun calmly. Ursula looked at her mother and father, and was suddenly seized with uncontrollable laughter. The two girls stood in the road and laughed till the tears ran down their faces, as they caught sight again of the shy, unworldly couple of their parents going on ahead.
‘We are roaring at you, mother,’ called Ursula, helplessly following after her parents.
Mrs Brangwen turned round with a slightly puzzled, exasperated look. ‘Oh indeed!’ she said. ‘What is there so very funny about ME, I should like to know?’
She could not understand that there could be anything amiss with her appearance. She had a perfect calm sufficiency, an easy indifference to any criticism whatsoever, as if she were beyond it. Her clothes were always rather odd, and as a rule slip-shod, yet she wore them with a perfect ease and satisfaction. Whatever she had on, so long as she was barely tidy, she was right, beyond remark; such an aristocrat she was by instinct.
‘You look so stately, like a country Baroness,’ said Ursula, laughing with a little tenderness at her mother’s naive puzzled air.
‘JUST like a country Baroness!’ chimed in Gudrun. Now the mother’s natural hauteur became self-conscious, and the girls shrieked again.
‘Go home, you pair of idiots, great giggling idiots!’ cried the father inflamed with irritation.
‘Mm-m-er!’ booed Ursula, pulling a face at his crossness.
The yellow lights danced in his eyes, he leaned forward in real rage.
‘Don’t be so silly as to take any notice of the great gabies,’ said Mrs Brangwen, turning on her way.
‘I’ll see if I’m going to be followed by a pair of giggling yelling jackanapes —’ he cried vengefully.
The girls stood still, laughing helplessly at his fury, upon the path beside the hedge.
‘Why you’re as silly as they are, to take any notice,’ said Mrs Brangwen also becoming angry now he was really enraged.
‘There are some people coming, father,’ cried Ursula, with mocking warning. He glanced round quickly, and went on to join his wife, walking stiff with rage. And the girls followed, weak with laughter.
When the people had passed by, Brangwen cried in a loud, stupid voice:
‘I’m going back home if there’s any more of this. I’m damned if I’m going to be made a fool of in this fashion, in the public road.’
He was really out of temper. At the sound of his blind, vindictive voice, the laughter suddenly left the girls, and their hearts contracted with contempt. They hated his words ‘in the public road.’ What did they care for the public road? But Gudrun was conciliatory.
‘But we weren’t laughing to HURT you,’ she cried, with an uncouth gentleness which made her parents uncomfortable. ‘We were laughing because we’re fond of you.’
‘We’ll walk on in front, if they are SO touchy,’ said Ursula, angry. And in this wise they arrived at Willey Water. The lake was blue and fair, the meadows sloped down in sunshine on one side, the thick dark woods dropped steeply on the other. The little pleasure-launch was fussing out from the shore, twanging its music, crowded with people, flapping its paddles. Near the boat-house was a throng of gaily-dressed persons, small in the distance. And on the high-road, some of the common people were standing along the hedge, looking at the festivity beyond, enviously, like souls not admitted to paradise.
‘My eye!’ said Gudrun, sotto voce, looking at the motley of guests, ‘there’s a pretty crowd if you like! Imagine yourself in the midst of that, my dear.’
Gudrun’s apprehensive horror of people in the mass unnerved Ursula. ‘It looks rather awful,’ she said anxiously.
‘And imagine what they’ll be like — IMAGINE!’ said Gudrun, still in that unnerving, subdued voice. Yet she advanced determinedly.
‘I suppose we can get away from them,’ said Ursula anxiously.
‘We’re in a pretty fix if we can’t,’ said Gudrun. Her extreme ironic loathing and apprehension was very trying to Ursula.
‘We needn’t stay,’ she said.
‘I certainly shan’t stay five minutes among that little lot,’ said Gudrun. They advanced nearer, till they saw policemen at the gates.
‘Policemen to keep you in, too!’ said Gudrun. ‘My word, this is a beautiful affair.’
‘We’d better look after father and mother,’ said Ursula anxiously.
‘Mother’s PERFECTLY capable of getting through this little celebration,’ said Gudrun with some contempt.
But Ursula knew that her father felt uncouth and angry and unhappy, so she was far from her ease. They waited outside the gate till their parents came up. The tall, thin man in his crumpled clothes was unnerved and irritable as a boy, finding himself on the brink of this social function. He did not feel a gentleman, he did not feel anything except pure exasperation.
Ursula took her place at his side, they gave their tickets to the policeman, and passed in on to the grass, four abreast; the tall, hot, ruddy-dark man with his narrow boyish brow drawn with irritation, the fresh-faced, easy woman, perfectly collected though her hair was slipping on one side, then Gudrun, her eyes round and dark and staring, her full soft face impassive, almost sulky, so that she seemed to be backing away in antagonism even whilst she was advancing; and then Ursula, with the odd, brilliant, dazzled look on her face, that always came when she was in some false situation.
Birkin was the good angel. He came smiling to them with his affected social grace, that somehow was never QUITE right. But he took off his hat and smiled at them with a real smile in his eyes, so that Brangwen cried out heartily in relief:
‘How do you do? You’re better, are you?’
‘Yes, I’m better. How do you do, Mrs Brangwen? I know Gudrun and Ursula very well.’
His eyes smiled full of natural warmth. He had a soft, flattering manner with women, particularly with women who were not young.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Brangwen, cool but yet gratified. ‘I have heard them speak of you often enough.’
He laughed. Gudrun looked aside, feeling she was being belittled. People were standing about in groups, some women were sitting in the shade of the walnut tree, with cups of tea in their hands, a waiter in evening dress was hurrying round, some girls were simpering with parasols, some young men, who had just come in from rowing, were sitting cross-legged on the grass, coatless, their shirt-sleeves rolled up in manly fashion, their hands resting on their white flannel trousers, their gaudy ties floating about, as they laughed and tried to be witty with the young damsels.
‘Why,’ thought Gudrun churlishly, ‘don’t they have the manners to put their coats on, and not to assume such intimacy in their appearance.’
She abhorred the ordinary young man, with his hair plastered back, and his easy-going chumminess.
Hermione Roddice came up, in a handsome gown of white lace, trailing an enormous silk shawl blotched with great embroidered flowers, and balancing an enormous plain hat on her head. She looked striking, astonishing, almost macabre, so tall, with the fringe of her great cream-coloured vividly-blotched shawl trailing on the ground after her, her thick hair coming low over her eyes, her face strange and long and pale, and the blotches of brilliant colour drawn round her.
‘Doesn’t she look WEIRD!’ Gudrun heard some girls titter behind her. And she could have killed them.
‘How do you do!’ sang Hermione, coming up very kindly, and glancing slowly over Gudrun’s father and mother. It was a trying moment, exasperating for Gudrun. Hermione was really so strongly entrenched in her class superiority, she could come up and know people out of simple curiosity, as if they were creatures on exhibition. Gudrun would do the same herself. But she resented being in the position when somebody might do it to her.
Hermione, very remarkable, and distinguishing the Brangwens very much, led them along to where Laura Crich stood receiving the guests.
‘This is Mrs Brangwen,’ sang Hermione, and Laura, who wore a stiff embroidered linen dress, shook hands and said she was glad to see her. Then Gerald came up, dressed in white, with a black and brown blazer, and looking handsome. He too was introduced to the Brangwen parents, and immediately he spoke to Mrs Brangwen as if she were a lady, and to Brangwen as if he were NOT a gentleman. Gerlad was so obvious in his demeanour. He had to shake hands with his left hand, because he had hurt his right, and carried it, bandaged up, in the pocket of his jacket. Gudrun was VERY thankful that none of her party asked him what was the matter with the hand.
The steam launch was fussing in, all its music jingling, people calling excitedly from on board. Gerald went to see to the debarkation, Birkin was getting tea for Mrs Brangwen, Brangwen had joined a Grammar-School group, Hermione was sitting down by their mother, the girls went to the landing-stage to watch the launch come in.
She hooted and tooted gaily, then her paddles were silent, the ropes were thrown ashore, she drifted in with a little bump. Immediately the passengers crowded excitedly to come ashore.
‘Wait a minute, wait a minute,’ shouted Gerald in sharp command.
They must wait till the boat was tight on the ropes, till the small gangway was put out. Then they streamed ashore, clamouring as if they had come from America.
‘Oh it’s SO nice!’ the young girls were crying. ‘It’s quite lovely.’
The waiters from on board ran out to the boat-house with baskets, the captain lounged on the little bridge. Seeing all safe, Gerald came to Gudrun and Ursula.
‘You wouldn’t care to go on board for the next trip, and have tea there?’ he asked.
‘No thanks,’ said Gudrun coldly.
‘You don’t care for the water?’
‘For the water? Yes, I like it very much.’
He looked at her, his eyes searching.
‘You don’t care for going on a launch, then?’
She was slow in answering, and then she spoke slowly.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I can’t say that I do.’ Her colour was high, she seemed angry about something.
‘Un peu trop de monde,’ said Ursula, explaining.
‘Eh? TROP DE MONDE!’ He laughed shortly. ‘Yes there’s a fair number of ‘em.’
Gudrun turned on him brilliantly.
‘Have you ever been from Westminster Bridge to Richmond on one of the Thames steamers?’ she cried.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I can’t say I have.’
‘Well, it’s one of the most VILE experiences I’ve ever had.’ She spoke rapidly and excitedly, the colour high in her cheeks. ‘There was absolutely nowhere to sit down, nowhere, a man just above sang “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep” the WHOLE way; he was blind and he had a small organ, one of those portable organs, and he expected money; so you can imagine what THAT was like; there came a constant smell of luncheon from below, and puffs of hot oily machinery; the journey took hours and hours and hours; and for miles, literally for miles, dreadful boys ran with us on the shore, in that AWFUL Thames mud, going in UP TO THE WAIST— they had their trousers turned back, and they went up to their hips in that indescribable Thames mud, their faces always turned to us, and screaming, exactly like carrion creatures, screaming “‘Ere y’are sir, ‘ere y’are sir, ‘ere y’are sir,” exactly like some foul carrion objects, perfectly obscene; and paterfamilias on board, laughing when the boys went right down in that awful mud, occasionally throwing them a ha’penny. And if you’d seen the intent look on the faces of these boys, and the way they darted in the filth when a coin was flung — really, no vulture or jackal could dream of approaching them, for foulness. I NEVER would go on a pleasure boat again — never.’
Gerald watched her all the time she spoke, his eyes glittering with faint rousedness. It was not so much what she said; it was she herself who roused him, roused him with a small, vivid pricking.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘every civilised body is bound to have its vermin.’
‘Why?’ cried Ursula. ‘I don’t have vermin.’
‘And it’s not that — it’s the QUALITY of the whole thing — paterfamilias laughing and thinking it sport, and throwing the ha’pennies, and materfamilias spreading her fat little knees and eating, continually eating —’ replied Gudrun.
‘Yes,’ said Ursula. ‘It isn’t the boys so much who are vermin; it’s the people themselves, the whole body politic, as you call it.’
‘Never mind,’ he said. ‘You shan’t go on the launch.’
Gudrun flushed quickly at his rebuke.
There were a few moments of silence. Gerald, like a sentinel, was watching the people who were going on to the boat. He was very good-looking and self-contained, but his air of soldierly alertness was rather irritating.
‘Will you have tea here then, or go across to the house, where there’s a tent on the lawn?’ he asked.
‘Can’t we have a rowing boat, and get out?’ asked Ursula, who was always rushing in too fast.
‘To get out?’ smiled Gerald.
‘You see,’ cried Gudrun, flushing at Ursula’s outspoken rudeness, ‘we don’t know the people, we are almost COMPLETE strangers here.’
‘Oh, I can soon set you up with a few acquaintances,’ he said easily.
Gudrun looked at him, to see if it were ill-meant. Then she smiled at him.
‘Ah,’ she said, ‘you know what we mean. Can’t we go up there, and explore that coast?’ She pointed to a grove on the hillock of the meadow-side, near the shore half way down the lake. ‘That looks perfectly lovely. We might even bathe. Isn’t it beautiful in this light. Really, it’s like one of the reaches of the Nile — as one imagines the Nile.’
Gerald smiled at her factitious enthusiasm for the distant spot.
‘You’re sure it’s far enough off?’ he asked ironically, adding at once: ‘Yes, you might go there, if we could get a boat. They seem to be all out.’
He looked round the lake and counted the rowing boats on its surface.
‘How lovely it would be!’ cried Ursula wistfully.
‘And don’t you want tea?’ he said.
‘Oh,’ said Gudrun, ‘we could just drink a cup, and be off.’
He looked from one to the other, smiling. He was somewhat offended — yet sporting.
‘Can you manage a boat pretty well?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ replied Gudrun, coldly, ‘pretty well.’
‘Oh yes,’ cried Ursula. ‘We can both of us row like water-spiders.’
‘You can? There’s light little canoe of mine, that I didn’t take out for fear somebody should drown themselves. Do you think you’d be safe in that?’
‘Oh perfectly,’ said Gudrun.
‘What an angel!’ cried Ursula.
‘Don’t, for MY sake, have an accident — because I’m responsible for the water.’
‘Sure,’ pledged Gudrun.
‘Besides, we can both swim quite well,’ said Ursula.
‘Well — then I’ll get them to put you up a tea-basket, and you can picnic all to yourselves — that’s the idea, isn’t it?’
‘How fearfully good! How frightfully nice if you could!’ cried Gudrun warmly, her colour flushing up again. It made the blood stir in his veins, the subtle way she turned to him and infused her gratitude into his body.
‘Where’s Birkin?’ he said, his eyes twinkling. ‘He might help me to get it down.’
‘But what about your hand? Isn’t it hurt?’ asked Gudrun, rather muted, as if avoiding the intimacy. This was the first time the hurt had been mentioned. The curious way she skirted round the subject sent a new, subtle caress through his veins. He took his hand out of his pocket. It was bandaged. He looked at it, then put it in his pocket again. Gudrun quivered at the sight of the wrapped up paw.
‘Oh I can manage with one hand. The canoe is as light as a feather,’ he said. ‘There’s Rupert! — Rupert!’
Birkin turned from his social duties and came towards them.
‘What have you done to it?’ asked Ursula, who had been aching to put the question for the last half hour.
‘To my hand?’ said Gerald. ‘I trapped it in some machinery.’
‘Ugh!’ said Ursula. ‘And did it hurt much?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It did at the time. It’s getting better now. It crushed the fingers.’
‘Oh,’ cried Ursula, as if in pain, ‘I hate people who hurt themselves. I can FEEL it.’ And she shook her hand.
‘What do you want?’ said Birkin.
The two men carried down the slim brown boat, and set it on the water.
‘You’re quite sure you’ll be safe in it?’ Gerald asked.
‘Quite sure,’ said Gudrun. ‘I wouldn’t be so mean as to take it, if there was the slightest doubt. But I’ve had a canoe at Arundel, and I assure you I’m perfectly safe.’
So saying, having given her word like a man, she and Ursula entered the frail craft, and pushed gently off. The two men stood watching them. Gudrun was paddling. She knew the men were watching her, and it made her slow and rather clumsy. The colour flew in her face like a flag.
‘Thanks awfully,’ she called back to him, from the water, as the boat slid away. ‘It’s lovely — like sitting in a leaf.’
He laughed at the fancy. Her voice was shrill and strange, calling from the distance. He watched her as she paddled away. There was something childlike about her, trustful and deferential, like a child. He watched her all the while, as she rowed. And to Gudrun it was a real delight, in make-belief, to be the childlike, clinging woman to the man who stood there on the quay, so good-looking and efficient in his white clothes, and moreover the most important man she knew at the moment. She did not take any notice of the wavering, indistinct, lambent Birkin, who stood at his side. One figure at a time occupied the field of her attention.
The boat rustled lightly along the water. They passed the bathers whose striped tents stood between the willows of the meadow’s edge, and drew along the open shore, past the meadows that sloped golden in the light of the already late afternoon. Other boats were stealing under the wooded shore opposite, they could hear people’s laughter and voices. But Gudrun rowed on towards the clump of trees that balanced perfect in the distance, in the golden light.
The sisters found a little place where a tiny stream flowed into the lake, with reeds and flowery marsh of pink willow herb, and a gravelly bank to the side. Here they ran delicately ashore, with their frail boat, the two girls took off their shoes and stockings and went through the water’s edge to the grass. The tiny ripples of the lake were warm and clear, they lifted their boat on to the bank, and looked round with joy. They were quite alone in a forsaken little stream-mouth, and on the knoll just behind was the clump of trees.
‘We will bathe just for a moment,’ said Ursula, ‘and then we’ll have tea.’
They looked round. Nobody could notice them, or could come up in time to see them. In less than a minute Ursula had thrown off her clothes and had slipped naked into the water, and was swimming out. Quickly, Gudrun joined her. They swam silently and blissfully for a few minutes, circling round their little stream-mouth. Then they slipped ashore and ran into the grove again, like nymphs.
‘How lovely it is to be free,’ said Ursula, running swiftly here and there between the tree trunks, quite naked, her hair blowing loose. The grove was of beech-trees, big and splendid, a steel-grey scaffolding of trunks and boughs, with level sprays of strong green here and there, whilst through the northern side the distance glimmered open as through a window.
When they had run and danced themselves dry, the girls quickly dressed and sat down to the fragrant tea. They sat on the northern side of the grove, in the yellow sunshine facing the slope of the grassy hill, alone in a little wild world of their own. The tea was hot and aromatic, there were delicious little sandwiches of cucumber and of caviare, and winy cakes.
‘Are you happy, Prune?’ cried Ursula in delight, looking at her sister.
‘Ursula, I’m perfectly happy,’ replied Gudrun gravely, looking at the westering sun.
‘So am I.’
When they were together, doing the things they enjoyed, the two sisters were quite complete in a perfect world of their own. And this was one of the perfect moments of freedom and delight, such as children alone know, when all seems a perfect and blissful adventure.
When they had finished tea, the two girls sat on, silent and serene. Then Ursula, who had a beautiful strong voice, began to sing to herself, softly: ‘Annchen von Tharau.’ Gudrun listened, as she sat beneath the trees, and the yearning came into her heart. Ursula seemed so peaceful and sufficient unto herself, sitting there unconsciously crooning her song, strong and unquestioned at the centre of her own universe. And Gudrun felt herself outside. Always this desolating, agonised feeling, that she was outside of life, an onlooker, whilst Ursula was a partaker, caused Gudrun to suffer from a sense of her own negation, and made her, that she must always demand the other to be aware of her, to be in connection with her.
‘Do you mind if I do Dalcroze to that tune, Hurtler?’ she asked in a curious muted tone, scarce moving her lips.
‘What did you say?’ asked Ursula, looking up in peaceful surprise.
‘Will you sing while I do Dalcroze?’ said Gudrun, suffering at having to repeat herself.
Ursula thought a moment, gathering her straying wits together.
‘While you do —?’ she asked vaguely.
‘Dalcroze movements,’ said Gudrun, suffering tortures of self-consciousness, even because of her sister.
‘Oh Dalcroze! I couldn’t catch the name. DO— I should love to see you,’ cried Ursula, with childish surprised brightness. ‘What shall I sing?’
‘Sing anything you like, and I’ll take the rhythm from it.’
But Ursula could not for her life think of anything to sing. However, she suddenly began, in a laughing, teasing voice:
‘My love — is a high-born lady —’
Gudrun, looking as if some invisible chain weighed on her hands and feet, began slowly to dance in the eurythmic manner, pulsing and fluttering rhythmically with her feet, making slower, regular gestures with her hands and arms, now spreading her arms wide, now raising them above her head, now flinging them softly apart, and lifting her face, her feet all the time beating and running to the measure of the song, as if it were some strange incantation, her white, rapt form drifting here and there in a strange impulsive rhapsody, seeming to be lifted on a breeze of incantation, shuddering with strange little runs. Ursula sat on the grass, her mouth open in her singing, her eyes laughing as if she thought it was a great joke, but a yellow light flashing up in them, as she caught some of the unconscious ritualistic suggestion of the complex shuddering and waving and drifting of her sister’s white form, that was clutched in pure, mindless, tossing rhythm, and a will set powerful in a kind of hypnotic influence.
‘My love is a high-born lady — She is-s-s — rather dark than shady —’ rang out Ursula’s laughing, satiric song, and quicker, fiercer went Gudrun in the dance, stamping as if she were trying to throw off some bond, flinging her hands suddenly and stamping again, then rushing with face uplifted and throat full and beautiful, and eyes half closed, sightless. The sun was low and yellow, sinking down, and in the sky floated a thin, ineffectual moon.
Ursula was quite absorbed in her song, when suddenly Gudrun stopped and said mildly, ironically:
‘Yes?’ said Ursula, opening her eyes out of the trance.
Gudrun was standing still and pointing, a mocking smile on her face, towards the side.
‘Ugh!’ cried Ursula in sudden panic, starting to her feet.
‘They’re quite all right,’ rang out Gudrun’s sardonic voice.
On the left stood a little cluster of Highland cattle, vividly coloured and fleecy in the evening light, their horns branching into the sky, pushing forward their muzzles inquisitively, to know what it was all about. Their eyes glittered through their tangle of hair, their naked nostrils were full of shadow.
‘Won’t they do anything?’ cried Ursula in fear.
Gudrun, who was usually frightened of cattle, now shook her head in a queer, half-doubtful, half-sardonic motion, a faint smile round her mouth.
‘Don’t they look charming, Ursula?’ cried Gudrun, in a high, strident voice, something like the scream of a seagull.
‘Charming,’ cried Ursula in trepidation. ‘But won’t they do anything to us?’
Again Gudrun looked back at her sister with an enigmatic smile, and shook her head.
‘I’m sure they won’t,’ she said, as if she had to convince herself also, and yet, as if she were confident of some secret power in herself, and had to put it to the test. ‘Sit down and sing again,’ she called in her high, strident voice.
‘I’m frightened,’ cried Ursula, in a pathetic voice, watching the group of sturdy short cattle, that stood with their knees planted, and watched with their dark, wicked eyes, through the matted fringe of their hair. Nevertheless, she sank down again, in her former posture.
‘They are quite safe,’ came Gudrun’s high call. ‘Sing something, you’ve only to sing something.’
It was evident she had a strange passion to dance before the sturdy, handsome cattle.
Ursula began to sing, in a false quavering voice:
‘Way down in Tennessee —’
She sounded purely anxious. Nevertheless, Gudrun, with her arms outspread and her face uplifted, went in a strange palpitating dance towards the cattle, lifting her body towards them as if in a spell, her feet pulsing as if in some little frenzy of unconscious sensation, her arms, her wrists, her hands stretching and heaving and falling and reaching and reaching and falling, her breasts lifted and shaken towards the cattle, her throat exposed as in some voluptuous ecstasy towards them, whilst she drifted imperceptibly nearer, an uncanny white figure, towards them, carried away in its own rapt trance, ebbing in strange fluctuations upon the cattle, that waited, and ducked their heads a little in sudden contraction from her, watching all the time as if hypnotised, their bare horns branching in the clear light, as the white figure of the woman ebbed upon them, in the slow, hypnotising convulsion of the dance. She could feel them just in front of her, it was as if she had the electric pulse from their breasts running into her hands. Soon she would touch them, actually touch them. A terrible shiver of fear and pleasure went through her. And all the while, Ursula, spell-bound, kept up her high-pitched thin, irrelevant song, which pierced the fading evening like an incantation.
Gudrun could hear the cattle breathing heavily with helpless fear and fascination. Oh, they were brave little beasts, these wild Scotch bullocks, wild and fleecy. Suddenly one of them snorted, ducked its head, and backed.
‘Hue! Hi-eee!’ came a sudden loud shout from the edge of the grove. The cattle broke and fell back quite spontaneously, went running up the hill, their fleece waving like fire to their motion. Gudrun stood suspended out on the grass, Ursula rose to her feet.
It was Gerald and Birkin come to find them, and Gerald had cried out to frighten off the cattle.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he now called, in a high, wondering vexed tone.
‘Why have you come?’ came back Gudrun’s strident cry of anger.
‘What do you think you were doing?’ Gerald repeated, auto-matically.
‘We were doing eurythmics,’ laughed Ursula, in a shaken voice.
Gudrun stood aloof looking at them with large dark eyes of resentment, suspended for a few moments. Then she walked away up the hill, after the cattle, which had gathered in a little, spell-bound cluster higher up.
‘Where are you going?’ Gerald called after her. And he followed her up the hill-side. The sun had gone behind the hill, and shadows were clinging to the earth, the sky above was full of travelling light.
‘A poor song for a dance,’ said Birkin to Ursula, standing before her with a sardonic, flickering laugh on his face. And in another second, he was singing softly to himself, and dancing a grotesque step-dance in front of her, his limbs and body shaking loose, his face flickering palely, a constant thing, whilst his feet beat a rapid mocking tattoo, and his body seemed to hang all loose and quaking in between, like a shadow.
‘I think we’ve all gone mad,’ she said, laughing rather frightened.
‘Pity we aren’t madder,’ he answered, as he kept up the incessant shaking dance. Then suddenly he leaned up to her and kissed her fingers lightly, putting his face to hers and looking into her eyes with a pale grin. She stepped back, affronted.
‘Offended —?’ he asked ironically, suddenly going quite still and reserved again. ‘I thought you liked the light fantastic.’
‘Not like that,’ she said, confused and bewildered, almost affronted. Yet somewhere inside her she was fascinated by the sight of his loose, vibrating body, perfectly abandoned to its own dropping and swinging, and by the pallid, sardonic-smiling face above. Yet automatically she stiffened herself away, and disapproved. It seemed almost an obscenity, in a man who talked as a rule so very seriously.
‘Why not like that?’ he mocked. And immediately he dropped again into the incredibly rapid, slack-waggling dance, watching her malevolently. And moving in the rapid, stationary dance, he came a little nearer, and reached forward with an incredibly mocking, satiric gleam on his face, and would have kissed her again, had she not started back.
‘No, don’t!’ she cried, really afraid.
‘Cordelia after all,’ he said satirically. She was stung, as if this were an insult. She knew he intended it as such, and it bewildered her.
‘And you,’ she cried in retort, ‘why do you always take your soul in your mouth, so frightfully full?’
‘So that I can spit it out the more readily,’ he said, pleased by his own retort.
Gerald Crich, his face narrowing to an intent gleam, followed up the hill with quick strides, straight after Gudrun. The cattle stood with their noses together on the brow of a slope, watching the scene below, the men in white hovering about the white forms of the women, watching above all Gudrun, who was advancing slowly towards them. She stood a moment, glancing back at Gerald, and then at the cattle.
Then in a sudden motion, she lifted her arms and rushed sheer upon the long-horned bullocks, in shuddering irregular runs, pausing for a second and looking at them, then lifting her hands and running forward with a flash, till they ceased pawing the ground, and gave way, snorting with terror, lifting their heads from the ground and flinging themselves away, galloping off into the evening, becoming tiny in the distance, and still not stopping.
Gudrun remained staring after them, with a mask-like defiant face.
‘Why do you want to drive them mad?’ asked Gerald, coming up with her.
She took no notice of him, only averted her face from him. ‘It’s not safe, you know,’ he persisted. ‘They’re nasty, when they do turn.’
‘Turn where? Turn away?’ she mocked loudly.
‘No,’ he said, ‘turn against you.’
‘Turn against ME?’ she mocked.
He could make nothing of this.
‘Anyway, they gored one of the farmer’s cows to death, the other day,’ he said.
‘What do I care?’ she said.
‘I cared though,’ he replied, ‘seeing that they’re my cattle.’
‘How are they yours! You haven’t swallowed them. Give me one of them now,’ she said, holding out her hand.
‘You know where they are,’ he said, pointing over the hill. ‘You can have one if you’d like it sent to you later on.’
She looked at him inscrutably.
‘You think I’m afraid of you and your cattle, don’t you?’ she asked.
His eyes narrowed dangerously. There was a faint domineering smile on his face.
‘Why should I think that?’ he said.
She was watching him all the time with her dark, dilated, inchoate eyes. She leaned forward and swung round her arm, catching him a light blow on the face with the back of her hand.
‘That’s why,’ she said, mocking.
And she felt in her soul an unconquerable desire for deep violence against him. She shut off the fear and dismay that filled her conscious mind. She wanted to do as she did, she was not going to be afraid.
He recoiled from the slight blow on his face. He became deadly pale, and a dangerous flame darkened his eyes. For some seconds he could not speak, his lungs were so suffused with blood, his heart stretched almost to bursting with a great gush of ungovernable emotion. It was as if some reservoir of black emotion had burst within him, and swamped him.
‘You have struck the first blow,’ he said at last, forcing the words from his lungs, in a voice so soft and low, it sounded like a dream within her, not spoken in the outer air.
‘And I shall strike the last,’ she retorted involuntarily, with confident assurance. He was silent, he did not contradict her.
She stood negligently, staring away from him, into the distance. On the edge of her consciousness the question was asking itself, automatically:
‘Why ARE you behaving in this IMPOSSIBLE and ridiculous fashion.’ But she was sullen, she half shoved the question out of herself. She could not get it clean away, so she felt self-conscious.
Gerald, very pale, was watching her closely. His eyes were lit up with intent lights, absorbed and gleaming. She turned suddenly on him.
‘It’s you who make me behave like this, you know,’ she said, almost suggestive.
‘I? How?’ he said.
But she turned away, and set off towards the lake. Below, on the water, lanterns were coming alight, faint ghosts of warm flame floating in the pallor of the first twilight. The earth was spread with darkness, like lacquer, overhead was a pale sky, all primrose, and the lake was pale as milk in one part. Away at the landing stage, tiniest points of coloured rays were stringing themselves in the dusk. The launch was being illuminated. All round, shadow was gathering from the trees.
Gerald, white like a presence in his summer clothes, was following down the open grassy slope. Gudrun waited for him to come up. Then she softly put out her hand and touched him, saying softly:
‘Don’t be angry with me.’
A flame flew over him, and he was unconscious. Yet he stammered:
‘I’m not angry with you. I’m in love with you.’
His mind was gone, he grasped for sufficient mechanical control, to save himself. She laughed a silvery little mockery, yet intolerably caressive.
‘That’s one way of putting it,’ she said.
The terrible swooning burden on his mind, the awful swooning, the loss of all his control, was too much for him. He grasped her arm in his one hand, as if his hand were iron.
‘It’s all right, then, is it?’ he said, holding her arrested.
She looked at the face with the fixed eyes, set before her, and her blood ran cold.
‘Yes, it’s all right,’ she said softly, as if drugged, her voice crooning and witch-like.
He walked on beside her, a striding, mindless body. But he recovered a little as he went. He suffered badly. He had killed his brother when a boy, and was set apart, like Cain.
They found Birkin and Ursula sitting together by the boats, talking and laughing. Birkin had been teasing Ursula.
‘Do you smell this little marsh?’ he said, sniffing the air. He was very sensitive to scents, and quick in understanding them.
‘It’s rather nice,’ she said.
‘No,’ he replied, ‘alarming.’
‘Why alarming?’ she laughed.
‘It seethes and seethes, a river of darkness,’ he said, ‘putting forth lilies and snakes, and the ignis fatuus, and rolling all the time onward. That’s what we never take into count — that it rolls onwards.’
‘The other river, the black river. We always consider the silver river of life, rolling on and quickening all the world to a brightness, on and on to heaven, flowing into a bright eternal sea, a heaven of angels thronging. But the other is our real reality —’
‘But what other? I don’t see any other,’ said Ursula.
‘It is your reality, nevertheless,’ he said; ‘that dark river of dissolution. You see it rolls in us just as the other rolls — the black river of corruption. And our flowers are of this — our sea-born Aphrodite, all our white phosphorescent flowers of sensuous perfection, all our reality, nowadays.’
‘You mean that Aphrodite is really deathly?’ asked Ursula.
‘I mean she is the flowering mystery of the death-process, yes,’ he replied. ‘When the stream of synthetic creation lapses, we find ourselves part of the inverse process, the blood of destructive creation. Aphrodite is born in the first spasm of universal dissolution — then the snakes and swans and lotus — marsh-flowers — and Gudrun and Gerald — born in the process of destructive creation.’
‘And you and me —?’ she asked.
‘Probably,’ he replied. ‘In part, certainly. Whether we are that, in toto, I don’t yet know.’
‘You mean we are flowers of dissolution — fleurs du mal? I don’t feel as if I were,’ she protested.
He was silent for a time.
‘I don’t feel as if we were, ALTOGETHER,’ he replied. ‘Some people are pure flowers of dark corruption — lilies. But there ought to be some roses, warm and flamy. You know Herakleitos says “a dry soul is best.” I know so well what that means. Do you?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Ursula replied. ‘But what if people ARE all flowers of dissolution — when they’re flowers at all — what difference does it make?’
‘No difference — and all the difference. Dissolution rolls on, just as production does,’ he said. ‘It is a progressive process — and it ends in universal nothing — the end of the world, if you like. But why isn’t the end of the world as good as the beginning?’
‘I suppose it isn’t,’ said Ursula, rather angry.
‘Oh yes, ultimately,’ he said. ‘It means a new cycle of creation after — but not for us. If it is the end, then we are of the end — fleurs du mal if you like. If we are fleurs du mal, we are not roses of happiness, and there you are.’
‘But I think I am,’ said Ursula. ‘I think I am a rose of happiness.’
‘Ready-made?’ he asked ironically.
‘No — real,’ she said, hurt.
‘If we are the end, we are not the beginning,’ he said.
‘Yes we are,’ she said. ‘The beginning comes out of the end.’
‘After it, not out of it. After us, not out of us.’
‘You are a devil, you know, really,’ she said. ‘You want to destroy our hope. You WANT US to be deathly.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘I only want us to KNOW what we are.’
‘Ha!’ she cried in anger. ‘You only want us to know death.’
‘You’re quite right,’ said the soft voice of Gerald, out of the dusk behind.
Birkin rose. Gerald and Gudrun came up. They all began to smoke, in the moments of silence. One after another, Birkin lighted their cigarettes. The match flickered in the twilight, and they were all smoking peacefully by the water-side. The lake was dim, the light dying from off it, in the midst of the dark land. The air all round was intangible, neither here nor there, and there was an unreal noise of banjoes, or suchlike music.
As the golden swim of light overhead died out, the moon gained brightness, and seemed to begin to smile forth her ascendancy. The dark woods on the opposite shore melted into universal shadow. And amid this universal under-shadow, there was a scattered intrusion of lights. Far down the lake were fantastic pale strings of colour, like beads of wan fire, green and red and yellow. The music came out in a little puff, as the launch, all illuminated, veered into the great shadow, stirring her outlines of half-living lights, puffing out her music in little drifts.
All were lighting up. Here and there, close against the faint water, and at the far end of the lake, where the water lay milky in the last whiteness of the sky, and there was no shadow, solitary, frail flames of lanterns floated from the unseen boats. There was a sound of oars, and a boat passed from the pallor into the darkness under the wood, where her lanterns seemed to kindle into fire, hanging in ruddy lovely globes. And again, in the lake, shadowy red gleams hovered in reflection about the boat. Everywhere were these noiseless ruddy creatures of fire drifting near the surface of the water, caught at by the rarest, scarce visible reflections.
Birkin brought the lanterns from the bigger boat, and the four shadowy white figures gathered round, to light them. Ursula held up the first, Birkin lowered the light from the rosy, glowing cup of his hands, into the depths of the lantern. It was kindled, and they all stood back to look at the great blue moon of light that hung from Ursula’s hand, casting a strange gleam on her face. It flickered, and Birkin went bending over the well of light. His face shone out like an apparition, so unconscious, and again, something demoniacal. Ursula was dim and veiled, looming over him.
‘That is all right,’ said his voice softly.
She held up the lantern. It had a flight of storks streaming through a turquoise sky of light, over a dark earth.
‘This is beautiful,’ she said.
‘Lovely,’ echoed Gudrun, who wanted to hold one also, and lift it up full of beauty.
‘Light one for me,’ she said. Gerald stood by her, incapacitated. Birkin lit the lantern she held up. Her heart beat with anxiety, to see how beautiful it would be. It was primrose yellow, with tall straight flowers growing darkly from their dark leaves, lifting their heads into the primrose day, while butterflies hovered about them, in the pure clear light.
Gudrun gave a little cry of excitement, as if pierced with delight.
‘Isn’t it beautiful, oh, isn’t it beautiful!’
Her soul was really pierced with beauty, she was translated beyond herself. Gerald leaned near to her, into her zone of light, as if to see. He came close to her, and stood touching her, looking with her at the primrose-shining globe. And she turned her face to his, that was faintly bright in the light of the lantern, and they stood together in one luminous union, close together and ringed round with light, all the rest excluded.
Birkin looked away, and went to light Ursula’s second lantern. It had a pale ruddy sea-bottom, with black crabs and sea-weed moving sinuously under a transparent sea, that passed into flamy ruddiness above.
‘You’ve got the heavens above, and the waters under the earth,’ said Birkin to her.
‘Anything but the earth itself,’ she laughed, watching his live hands that hovered to attend to the light.
‘I’m dying to see what my second one is,’ cried Gudrun, in a vibrating rather strident voice, that seemed to repel the others from her.
Birkin went and kindled it. It was of a lovely deep blue colour, with a red floor, and a great white cuttle-fish flowing in white soft streams all over it. The cuttle-fish had a face that stared straight from the heart of the light, very fixed and coldly intent.
‘How truly terrifying!’ exclaimed Gudrun, in a voice of horror. Gerald, at her side, gave a low laugh.
‘But isn’t it really fearful!’ she cried in dismay.
Again he laughed, and said:
‘Change it with Ursula, for the crabs.’
Gudrun was silent for a moment.
‘Ursula,’ she said, ‘could you bear to have this fearful thing?’
‘I think the colouring is LOVELY,’ said Ursula.
‘So do I,’ said Gudrun. ‘But could you BEAR to have it swinging to your boat? Don’t you want to destroy it at ONCE?’
‘Oh no,’ said Ursula. ‘I don’t want to destroy it.’
‘Well do you mind having it instead of the crabs? Are you sure you don’t mind?’
Gudrun came forward to exchange lanterns.
‘No,’ said Ursula, yielding up the crabs and receiving the cuttle-fish.
Yet she could not help feeling rather resentful at the way in which Gudrun and Gerald should assume a right over her, a precedence.
‘Come then,’ said Birkin. ‘I’ll put them on the boats.’
He and Ursula were moving away to the big boat.
‘I suppose you’ll row me back, Rupert,’ said Gerald, out of the pale shadow of the evening.
‘Won’t you go with Gudrun in the canoe?’ said Birkin. ‘It’ll be more interesting.’
There was a moment’s pause. Birkin and Ursula stood dimly, with their swinging lanterns, by the water’s edge. The world was all illusive.
‘Is that all right?’ said Gudrun to him.
‘It’ll suit ME very well,’ he said. ‘But what about you, and the rowing? I don’t see why you should pull me.’
‘Why not?’ she said. ‘I can pull you as well as I could pull Ursula.’
By her tone he could tell she wanted to have him in the boat to herself, and that she was subtly gratified that she should have power over them both. He gave himself, in a strange, electric submission.
She handed him the lanterns, whilst she went to fix the cane at the end of the canoe. He followed after her, and stood with the lanterns dangling against his white-flannelled thighs, emphasising the shadow around.
‘Kiss me before we go,’ came his voice softly from out of the shadow above.
She stopped her work in real, momentary astonishment.
‘But why?’ she exclaimed, in pure surprise.
‘Why?’ he echoed, ironically.
And she looked at him fixedly for some moments. Then she leaned forward and kissed him, with a slow, luxurious kiss, lingering on the mouth. And then she took the lanterns from him, while he stood swooning with the perfect fire that burned in all his joints.
They lifted the canoe into the water, Gudrun took her place, and Gerald pushed off.
‘Are you sure you don’t hurt your hand, doing that?’ she asked, solicitous. ‘Because I could have done it PERFECTLY.’
‘I don’t hurt myself,’ he said in a low, soft voice, that caressed her with inexpressible beauty.
And she watched him as he sat near her, very near to her, in the stern of the canoe, his legs coming towards hers, his feet touching hers. And she paddled softly, lingeringly, longing for him to say something meaningful to her. But he remained silent.
‘You like this, do you?’ she said, in a gentle, solicitous voice.
He laughed shortly.
‘There is a space between us,’ he said, in the same low, unconscious voice, as if something were speaking out of him. And she was as if magically aware of their being balanced in separation, in the boat. She swooned with acute comprehension and pleasure.
‘But I’m very near,’ she said caressively, gaily.
‘Yet distant, distant,’ he said.
Again she was silent with pleasure, before she answered, speaking with a reedy, thrilled voice:
‘Yet we cannot very well change, whilst we are on the water.’ She caressed him subtly and strangely, having him completely at her mercy.
A dozen or more boats on the lake swung their rosy and moon-like lanterns low on the water, that reflected as from a fire. In the distance, the steamer twanged and thrummed and washed with her faintly-splashing paddles, trailing her strings of coloured lights, and occasionally lighting up the whole scene luridly with an effusion of fireworks, Roman candles and sheafs of stars and other simple effects, illuminating the surface of the water, and showing the boats creeping round, low down. Then the lovely darkness fell again, the lanterns and the little threaded lights glimmered softly, there was a muffled knocking of oars and a waving of music.
Gudrun paddled almost imperceptibly. Gerald could see, not far ahead, the rich blue and the rose globes of Ursula’s lanterns swaying softly cheek to cheek as Birkin rowed, and iridescent, evanescent gleams chasing in the wake. He was aware, too, of his own delicately coloured lights casting their softness behind him.
Gudrun rested her paddle and looked round. The canoe lifted with the lightest ebbing of the water. Gerald’s white knees were very near to her.
‘Isn’t it beautiful!’ she said softly, as if reverently.
She looked at him, as he leaned back against the faint crystal of the lantern-light. She could see his face, although it was a pure shadow. But it was a piece of twilight. And her breast was keen with passion for him, he was so beautiful in his male stillness and mystery. It was a certain pure effluence of maleness, like an aroma from his softly, firmly moulded contours, a certain rich perfection of his presence, that touched her with an ecstasy, a thrill of pure intoxication. She loved to look at him. For the present she did not want to touch him, to know the further, satisfying substance of his living body. He was purely intangible, yet so near. Her hands lay on the paddle like slumber, she only wanted to see him, like a crystal shadow, to feel his essential presence.
‘Yes,’ he said vaguely. ‘It is very beautiful.’
He was listening to the faint near sounds, the dropping of water-drops from the oar-blades, the slight drumming of the lanterns behind him, as they rubbed against one another, the occasional rustling of Gudrun’s full skirt, an alien land noise. His mind was almost submerged, he was almost transfused, lapsed out for the first time in his life, into the things about him. For he always kept such a keen attentiveness, concentrated and unyielding in himself. Now he had let go, imperceptibly he was melting into oneness with the whole. It was like pure, perfect sleep, his first great sleep of life. He had been so insistent, so guarded, all his life. But here was sleep, and peace, and perfect lapsing out.
‘Shall I row to the landing-stage?’ asked Gudrun wistfully.
‘Anywhere,’ he answered. ‘Let it drift.’
‘Tell me then, if we are running into anything,’ she replied, in that very quiet, toneless voice of sheer intimacy.
‘The lights will show,’ he said.
So they drifted almost motionless, in silence. He wanted silence, pure and whole. But she was uneasy yet for some word, for some assurance.
‘Nobody will miss you?’ she asked, anxious for some communication.
‘Miss me?’ he echoed. ‘No! Why?’
‘I wondered if anybody would be looking for you.’
‘Why should they look for me?’ And then he remembered his manners. ‘But perhaps you want to get back,’ he said, in a changed voice.
‘No, I don’t want to get back,’ she replied. ‘No, I assure you.’
‘You’re quite sure it’s all right for you?’
‘Perfectly all right.’
And again they were still. The launch twanged and hooted, somebody was singing. Then as if the night smashed, suddenly there was a great shout, a confusion of shouting, warring on the water, then the horrid noise of paddles reversed and churned violently.
Gerald sat up, and Gudrun looked at him in fear.
‘Somebody in the water,’ he said, angrily, and desperately, looking keenly across the dusk. ‘Can you row up?’
‘Where, to the launch?’ asked Gudrun, in nervous panic.
‘You’ll tell me if I don’t steer straight,’ she said, in nervous apprehension.
‘You keep pretty level,’ he said, and the canoe hastened forward.
The shouting and the noise continued, sounding horrid through the dusk, over the surface of the water.
‘Wasn’t this BOUND to happen?’ said Gudrun, with heavy hateful irony. But he hardly heard, and she glanced over her shoulder to see her way. The half-dark waters were sprinkled with lovely bubbles of swaying lights, the launch did not look far off. She was rocking her lights in the early night. Gudrun rowed as hard as she could. But now that it was a serious matter, she seemed uncertain and clumsy in her stroke, it was difficult to paddle swiftly. She glanced at his face. He was looking fixedly into the darkness, very keen and alert and single in himself, instrumental. Her heart sank, she seemed to die a death. ‘Of course,’ she said to herself, ‘nobody will be drowned. Of course they won’t. It would be too extravagant and sensational.’ But her heart was cold, because of his sharp impersonal face. It was as if he belonged naturally to dread and catastrophe, as if he were himself again.
Then there came a child’s voice, a girl’s high, piercing shriek:
‘Di — Di — Di — Di — Oh Di — Oh Di — Oh Di!’
The blood ran cold in Gudrun’s veins.
‘It’s Diana, is it,’ muttered Gerald. ‘The young monkey, she’d have to be up to some of her tricks.’
And he glanced again at the paddle, the boat was not going quickly enough for him. It made Gudrun almost helpless at the rowing, this nervous stress. She kept up with all her might. Still the voices were calling and answering.
‘Where, where? There you are — that’s it. Which? No — No-o-o. Damn it all, here, HERE—’ Boats were hurrying from all directions to the scene, coloured lanterns could be seen waving close to the surface of the lake, reflections swaying after them in uneven haste. The steamer hooted again, for some unknown reason. Gudrun’s boat was travelling quickly, the lanterns were swinging behind Gerald.
And then again came the child’s high, screaming voice, with a note of weeping and impatience in it now:
‘Di — Oh Di — Oh Di — Di —!’
It was a terrible sound, coming through the obscure air of the evening.
‘You’d be better if you were in bed, Winnie,’ Gerald muttered to himself.
He was stooping unlacing his shoes, pushing them off with the foot. Then he threw his soft hat into the bottom of the boat.
‘You can’t go into the water with your hurt hand,’ said Gudrun, panting, in a low voice of horror.
‘What? It won’t hurt.’
He had struggled out of his jacket, and had dropped it between his feet. He sat bare-headed, all in white now. He felt the belt at his waist. They were nearing the launch, which stood still big above them, her myriad lamps making lovely darts, and sinuous running tongues of ugly red and green and yellow light on the lustrous dark water, under the shadow.
‘Oh get her out! Oh Di, DARLING! Oh get her out! Oh Daddy, Oh Daddy!’ moaned the child’s voice, in distraction. Somebody was in the water, with a life belt. Two boats paddled near, their lanterns swinging ineffectually, the boats nosing round.
‘Hi there — Rockley! — hi there!’
‘Mr Gerald!’ came the captain’s terrified voice. ‘Miss Diana’s in the water.’
‘Anybody gone in for her?’ came Gerald’s sharp voice.
‘Young Doctor Brindell, sir.’
‘Can’t see no signs of them, sir. Everybody’s looking, but there’s nothing so far.’
There was a moment’s ominous pause.
‘Where did she go in?’
‘I think — about where that boat is,’ came the uncertain answer, ‘that one with red and green lights.’
‘Row there,’ said Gerald quietly to Gudrun.
‘Get her out, Gerald, oh get her out,’ the child’s voice was crying anxiously. He took no heed.
‘Lean back that way,’ said Gerald to Gudrun, as he stood up in the frail boat. ‘She won’t upset.’
In another moment, he had dropped clean down, soft and plumb, into the water. Gudrun was swaying violently in her boat, the agitated water shook with transient lights, she realised that it was faintly moonlight, and that he was gone. So it was possible to be gone. A terrible sense of fatality robbed her of all feeling and thought. She knew he was gone out of the world, there was merely the same world, and absence, his absence. The night seemed large and vacuous. Lanterns swayed here and there, people were talking in an undertone on the launch and in the boats. She could hear Winifred moaning: ‘OH DO FIND HER GERALD, DO FIND HER,’ and someone trying to comfort the child. Gudrun paddled aimlessly here and there. The terrible, massive, cold, boundless surface of the water terrified her beyond words. Would he never come back? She felt she must jump into the water too, to know the horror also.
She started, hearing someone say: ‘There he is.’ She saw the movement of his swimming, like a water-rat. And she rowed involuntarily to him. But he was near another boat, a bigger one. Still she rowed towards him. She must be very near. She saw him — he looked like a seal. He looked like a seal as he took hold of the side of the boat. His fair hair was washed down on his round head, his face seemed to glisten suavely. She could hear him panting.
Then he clambered into the boat. Oh, and the beauty of the subjection of his loins, white and dimly luminous as be climbed over the side of the boat, made her want to die, to die. The beauty of his dim and luminous loins as be climbed into the boat, his back rounded and soft — ah, this was too much for her, too final a vision. She knew it, and it was fatal The terrible hopelessness of fate, and of beauty, such beauty!
He was not like a man to her, he was an incarnation, a great phase of life. She saw him press the water out of his face, and look at the bandage on his hand. And she knew it was all no good, and that she would never go beyond him, he was the final approximation of life to her.
‘Put the lights out, we shall see better,’ came his voice, sudden and mechanical and belonging to the world of man. She could scarcely believe there was a world of man. She leaned round and blew out her lanterns. They were difficult to blow out. Everywhere the lights were gone save the coloured points on the sides of the launch. The blueygrey, early night spread level around, the moon was overhead, there were shadows of boats here and there.
Again there was a splash, and he was gone under. Gudrun sat, sick at heart, frightened of the great, level surface of the water, so heavy and deadly. She was so alone, with the level, unliving field of the water stretching beneath her. It was not a good isolation, it was a terrible, cold separation of suspense. She was suspended upon the surface of the insidious reality until such time as she also should disappear beneath it.
Then she knew, by a stirring of voices, that he had climbed out again, into a boat. She sat wanting connection with him. Strenuously she claimed her connection with him, across the invisible space of the water. But round her heart was an isolation unbearable, through which nothing would penetrate.
‘Take the launch in. It’s no use keeping her there. Get lines for the dragging,’ came the decisive, instrumental voice, that was full of the sound of the world.
The launch began gradually to beat the waters.
‘Gerald! Gerald!’ came the wild crying voice of Winifred. He did not answer. Slowly the launch drifted round in a pathetic, clumsy circle, and slunk away to the land, retreating into the dimness. The wash of her paddles grew duller. Gudrun rocked in her light boat, and dipped the paddle automatically to steady herself.
‘Gudrun?’ called Ursula’s voice.
The boats of the two sisters pulled together.
‘Where is Gerald?’ said Gudrun.
‘He’s dived again,’ said Ursula plaintively. ‘And I know he ought not, with his hurt hand and everything.’
‘I’ll take him in home this time,’ said Birkin.
The boats swayed again from the wash of steamer. Gudrun and Ursula kept a look-out for Gerald.
‘There he is!’ cried Ursula, who had the sharpest eyes. He had not been long under. Birkin pulled towards him, Gudrun following. He swam slowly, and caught hold of the boat with his wounded hand. It slipped, and he sank back.
‘Why don’t you help him?’ cried Ursula sharply.
He came again, and Birkin leaned to help him in to the boat. Gudrun again watched Gerald climb out of the water, but this time slowly, heavily, with the blind clambering motions of an amphibious beast, clumsy. Again the moon shone with faint luminosity on his white wet figure, on the stooping back and the rounded loins. But it looked defeated now, his body, it clambered and fell with slow clumsiness. He was breathing hoarsely too, like an animal that is suffering. He sat slack and motionless in the boat, his head blunt and blind like a seal’s, his whole appearance inhuman, unknowing. Gudrun shuddered as she mechanically followed his boat. Birkin rowed without speaking to the landing-stage.
‘Where are you going?’ Gerald asked suddenly, as if just waking up.
‘Home,’ said Birkin.
‘Oh no!’ said Gerald imperiously. ‘We can’t go home while they’re in the water. Turn back again, I’m going to find them.’ The women were frightened, his voice was so imperative and dangerous, almost mad, not to be opposed.
‘No!’ said Birkin. ‘You can’t.’ There was a strange fluid compulsion in his voice. Gerald was silent in a battle of wills. It was as if he would kill the other man. But Birkin rowed evenly and unswerving, with an inhuman inevitability.
‘Why should you interfere?’ said Gerald, in hate.
Birkin did not answer. He rowed towards the land. And Gerald sat mute, like a dumb beast, panting, his teeth chattering, his arms inert, his head like a seal’s head.
They came to the landing-stage. Wet and naked-looking, Gerald climbed up the few steps. There stood his father, in the night.
‘Father!’ he said.
‘Yes my boy? Go home and get those things off.’
‘We shan’t save them, father,’ said Gerald.
‘There’s hope yet, my boy.’
‘I’m afraid not. There’s no knowing where they are. You can’t find them. And there’s a current, as cold as hell.’
‘We’ll let the water out,’ said the father. ‘Go home you and look to yourself. See that he’s looked after, Rupert,’ he added in a neutral voice.
‘Well father, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m afraid it’s my fault. But it can’t be helped; I’ve done what I could for the moment. I could go on diving, of course — not much, though — and not much use —’
He moved away barefoot, on the planks of the platform. Then he trod on something sharp.
‘Of course, you’ve got no shoes on,’ said Birkin.
‘His shoes are here!’ cried Gudrun from below. She was making fast her boat.
Gerald waited for them to be brought to him. Gudrun came with them. He pulled them on his feet.
‘If you once die,’ he said, ‘then when it’s over, it’s finished. Why come to life again? There’s room under that water there for thousands.’
‘Two is enough,’ she said murmuring.
He dragged on his second shoe. He was shivering violently, and his jaw shook as he spoke.
‘That’s true,’ he said, ‘maybe. But it’s curious how much room there seems, a whole universe under there; and as cold as hell, you’re as helpless as if your head was cut off.’ He could scarcely speak, he shook so violently. ‘There’s one thing about our family, you know,’ he continued. ‘Once anything goes wrong, it can never be put right again — not with us. I’ve noticed it all my life — you can’t put a thing right, once it has gone wrong.’
They were walking across the high-road to the house.
‘And do you know, when you are down there, it is so cold, actually, and so endless, so different really from what it is on top, so endless — you wonder how it is so many are alive, why we’re up here. Are you going? I shall see you again, shan’t I? Good-night, and thank you. Thank you very much!’
The two girls waited a while, to see if there were any hope. The moon shone clearly overhead, with almost impertinent brightness, the small dark boats clustered on the water, there were voices and subdued shouts. But it was all to no purpose. Gudrun went home when Birkin returned.
He was commissioned to open the sluice that let out the water from the lake, which was pierced at one end, near the high-road, thus serving as a reservoir to supply with water the distant mines, in case of necessity. ‘Come with me,’ he said to Ursula, ‘and then I will walk home with you, when I’ve done this.’
He called at the water-keeper’s cottage and took the key of the sluice. They went through a little gate from the high-road, to the head of the water, where was a great stone basin which received the overflow, and a flight of stone steps descended into the depths of the water itself. At the head of the steps was the lock of the sluice-gate.
The night was silver-grey and perfect, save for the scattered restless sound of voices. The grey sheen of the moonlight caught the stretch of water, dark boats plashed and moved. But Ursula’s mind ceased to be receptive, everything was unimportant and unreal.
Birkin fixed the iron handle of the sluice, and turned it with a wrench. The cogs began slowly to rise. He turned and turned, like a slave, his white figure became distinct. Ursula looked away. She could not bear to see him winding heavily and laboriously, bending and rising mechanically like a slave, turning the handle.
Then, a real shock to her, there came a loud splashing of water from out of the dark, tree-filled hollow beyond the road, a splashing that deepened rapidly to a harsh roar, and then became a heavy, booming noise of a great body of water falling solidly all the time. It occupied the whole of the night, this great steady booming of water, everything was drowned within it, drowned and lost. Ursula seemed to have to struggle for her life. She put her hands over her ears, and looked at the high bland moon.
‘Can’t we go now?’ she cried to Birkin, who was watching the water on the steps, to see if it would get any lower. It seemed to fascinate him. He looked at her and nodded.
The little dark boats had moved nearer, people were crowding curiously along the hedge by the high-road, to see what was to be seen. Birkin and Ursula went to the cottage with the key, then turned their backs on the lake. She was in great haste. She could not bear the terrible crushing boom of the escaping water.
‘Do you think they are dead?’ she cried in a high voice, to make herself heard.
‘Yes,’ he replied.
‘Isn’t it horrible!’
He paid no heed. They walked up the hill, further and further away from the noise.
‘Do you mind very much?’ she asked him.
‘I don’t mind about the dead,’ he said, ‘once they are dead. The worst of it is, they cling on to the living, and won’t let go.’
She pondered for a time.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘The FACT of death doesn’t really seem to matter much, does it?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘What does it matter if Diana Crich is alive or dead?’
‘Doesn’t it?’ she said, shocked.
‘No, why should it? Better she were dead — she’ll be much more real. She’ll be positive in death. In life she was a fretting, negated thing.’
‘You are rather horrible,’ murmured Ursula.
‘No! I’d rather Diana Crich were dead. Her living somehow, was all wrong. As for the young man, poor devil — he’ll find his way out quickly instead of slowly. Death is all right — nothing better.’
‘Yet you don’t want to die,’ she challenged him.
He was silent for a time. Then he said, in a voice that was frightening to her in its change:
‘I should like to be through with it — I should like to be through with the death process.’
‘And aren’t you?’ asked Ursula nervously.
They walked on for some way in silence, under the trees. Then he said, slowly, as if afraid:
‘There is life which belongs to death, and there is life which isn’t death. One is tired of the life that belongs to death — our kind of life. But whether it is finished, God knows. I want love that is like sleep, like being born again, vulnerable as a baby that just comes into the world.’
Ursula listened, half attentive, half avoiding what he said. She seemed to catch the drift of his statement, and then she drew away. She wanted to hear, but she did not want to be implicated. She was reluctant to yield there, where he wanted her, to yield as it were her very identity.
‘Why should love be like sleep?’ she asked sadly.
‘I don’t know. So that it is like death — I DO want to die from this life — and yet it is more than life itself. One is delivered over like a naked infant from the womb, all the old defences and the old body gone, and new air around one, that has never been breathed before.’
She listened, making out what he said. She knew, as well as he knew, that words themselves do not convey meaning, that they are but a gesture we make, a dumb show like any other. And she seemed to feel his gesture through her blood, and she drew back, even though her desire sent her forward.
‘But,’ she said gravely, ‘didn’t you say you wanted something that was NOT love — something beyond love?’
He turned in confusion. There was always confusion in speech. Yet it must be spoken. Whichever way one moved, if one were to move forwards, one must break a way through. And to know, to give utterance, was to break a way through the walls of the prison as the infant in labour strives through the walls of the womb. There is no new movement now, without the breaking through of the old body, deliberately, in knowledge, in the struggle to get out.
‘I don’t want love,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to know you. I want to be gone out of myself, and you to be lost to yourself, so we are found different. One shouldn’t talk when one is tired and wretched. One Hamletises, and it seems a lie. Only believe me when I show you a bit of healthy pride and insouciance. I hate myself serious.’
‘Why shouldn’t you be serious?’ she said.
He thought for a minute, then he said, sulkily:
‘I don’t know.’ Then they walked on in silence, at outs. He was vague and lost.
‘Isn’t it strange,’ she said, suddenly putting her hand on his arm, with a loving impulse, ‘how we always talk like this! I suppose we do love each other, in some way.’
‘Oh yes,’ he said; ‘too much.’
She laughed almost gaily.
‘You’d have to have it your own way, wouldn’t you?’ she teased. ‘You could never take it on trust.’
He changed, laughed softly, and turned and took her in his arms, in the middle of the road.
‘Yes,’ he said softly.
And he kissed her face and brow, slowly, gently, with a sort of delicate happiness which surprised her extremely, and to which she could not respond. They were soft, blind kisses, perfect in their stillness. Yet she held back from them. It was like strange moths, very soft and silent, settling on her from the darkness of her soul. She was uneasy. She drew away.
‘Isn’t somebody coming?’ she said.
So they looked down the dark road, then set off again walking towards Beldover. Then suddenly, to show him she was no shallow prude, she stopped and held him tight, hard against her, and covered his face with hard, fierce kisses of passion. In spite of his otherness, the old blood beat up in him.
‘Not this, not this,’ he whimpered to himself, as the first perfect mood of softness and sleep-loveliness ebbed back away from the rushing of passion that came up to his limbs and over his face as she drew him. And soon he was a perfect hard flame of passionate desire for her. Yet in the small core of the flame was an unyielding anguish of another thing. But this also was lost; he only wanted her, with an extreme desire that seemed inevitable as death, beyond question.
Then, satisfied and shattered, fulfilled and destroyed, he went home away from her, drifting vaguely through the darkness, lapsed into the old fire of burning passion. Far away, far away, there seemed to be a small lament in the darkness. But what did it matter? What did it matter, what did anything matter save this ultimate and triumphant experience of physical passion, that had blazed up anew like a new spell of life. ‘I was becoming quite dead-alive, nothing but a word-bag,’ he said in triumph, scorning his other self. Yet somewhere far off and small, the other hovered.
The men were still dragging the lake when he got back. He stood on the bank and heard Gerald’s voice. The water was still booming in the night, the moon was fair, the hills beyond were elusive. The lake was sinking. There came the raw smell of the banks, in the night air.
Up at Shortlands there were lights in the windows, as if nobody had gone to bed. On the landing-stage was the old doctor, the father of the young man who was lost. He stood quite silent, waiting. Birkin also stood and watched, Gerald came up in a boat.
‘You still here, Rupert?’ he said. ‘We can’t get them. The bottom slopes, you know, very steep. The water lies between two very sharp slopes, with little branch valleys, and God knows where the drift will take you. It isn’t as if it was a level bottom. You never know where you are, with the dragging.’
‘Is there any need for you to be working?’ said Birkin. ‘Wouldn’t it be much better if you went to bed?’
‘To bed! Good God, do you think I should sleep? We’ll find ‘em, before I go away from here.’
‘But the men would find them just the same without you — why should you insist?’
Gerald looked up at him. Then he put his hand affectionately on Birkin’s shoulder, saying:
‘Don’t you bother about me, Rupert. If there’s anybody’s health to think about, it’s yours, not mine. How do you feel yourself?’
‘Very well. But you, you spoil your own chance of life — you waste your best self.’
Gerald was silent for a moment. Then he said:
‘Waste it? What else is there to do with it?’
‘But leave this, won’t you? You force yourself into horrors, and put a mill-stone of beastly memories round your neck. Come away now.’
‘A mill-stone of beastly memories!’ Gerald repeated. Then he put his hand again affectionately on Birkin’s shoulder. ‘God, you’ve got such a telling way of putting things, Rupert, you have.’
Birkin’s heart sank. He was irritated and weary of having a telling way of putting things.
‘Won’t you leave it? Come over to my place’— he urged as one urges a drunken man.
‘No,’ said Gerald coaxingly, his arm across the other man’s shoulder. ‘Thanks very much, Rupert — I shall be glad to come tomorrow, if that’ll do. You understand, don’t you? I want to see this job through. But I’ll come tomorrow, right enough. Oh, I’d rather come and have a chat with you than — than do anything else, I verily believe. Yes, I would. You mean a lot to me, Rupert, more than you know.’
‘What do I mean, more than I know?’ asked Birkin irritably. He was acutely aware of Gerald’s hand on his shoulder. And he did not want this altercation. He wanted the other man to come out of the ugly misery.
‘I’ll tell you another time,’ said Gerald coaxingly.
‘Come along with me now — I want you to come,’ said Birkin.
There was a pause, intense and real. Birkin wondered why his own heart beat so heavily. Then Gerald’s fingers gripped hard and communicative into Birkin’s shoulder, as he said:
‘No, I’ll see this job through, Rupert. Thank you — I know what you mean. We’re all right, you know, you and me.’
‘I may be all right, but I’m sure you’re not, mucking about here,’ said Birkin. And he went away.
The bodies of the dead were not recovered till towards dawn. Diana had her arms tight round the neck of the young man, choking him.
‘She killed him,’ said Gerald.
The moon sloped down the sky and sank at last. The lake was sunk to quarter size, it had horrible raw banks of clay, that smelled of raw rottenish water. Dawn roused faintly behind the eastern hill. The water still boomed through the sluice.
As the birds were whistling for the first morning, and the hills at the back of the desolate lake stood radiant with the new mists, there was a straggling procession up to Shortlands, men bearing the bodies on a stretcher, Gerald going beside them, the two grey-bearded fathers following in silence. Indoors the family was all sitting up, waiting. Somebody must go to tell the mother, in her room. The doctor in secret struggled to bring back his son, till he himself was exhausted.
Over all the outlying district was a hush of dreadful excitement on that Sunday morning. The colliery people felt as if this catastrophe had happened directly to themselves, indeed they were more shocked and frightened than if their own men had been killed. Such a tragedy in Shortlands, the high home of the district! One of the young mistresses, persisting in dancing on the cabin roof of the launch, wilful young madam, drowned in the midst of the festival, with the young doctor! Everywhere on the Sunday morning, the colliers wandered about, discussing the calamity. At all the Sunday dinners of the people, there seemed a strange presence. It was as if the angel of death were very near, there was a sense of the supernatural in the air. The men had excited, startled faces, the women looked solemn, some of them had been crying. The children enjoyed the excitement at first. There was an intensity in the air, almost magical. Did all enjoy it? Did all enjoy the thrill?
Gudrun had wild ideas of rushing to comfort Gerald. She was thinking all the time of the perfect comforting, reassuring thing to say to him. She was shocked and frightened, but she put that away, thinking of how she should deport herself with Gerald: act her part. That was the real thrill: how she should act her part.
Ursula was deeply and passionately in love with Birkin, and she was capable of nothing. She was perfectly callous about all the talk of the accident, but her estranged air looked like trouble. She merely sat by herself, whenever she could, and longed to see him again. She wanted him to come to the house — she would not have it otherwise, he must come at once. She was waiting for him. She stayed indoors all day, waiting for him to knock at the door. Every minute, she glanced automatically at the window. He would be there.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10