After his illness Birkin went to the south of France for a time. He did not write, nobody heard anything of him. Ursula, left alone, felt as if everything were lapsing out. There seemed to be no hope in the world. One was a tiny little rock with the tide of nothingness rising higher and higher She herself was real, and only herself — just like a rock in a wash of flood-water. The rest was all nothingness. She was hard and indifferent, isolated in herself.
There was nothing for it now, but contemptuous, resistant indifference. All the world was lapsing into a grey wish-wash of nothingness, she had no contact and no connection anywhere. She despised and detested the whole show. From the bottom of her heart, from the bottom of her soul, she despised and detested people, adult people. She loved only children and animals: children she loved passionately, but coldly. They made her want to hug them, to protect them, to give them life. But this very love, based on pity and despair, was only a bondage and a pain to her. She loved best of all the animals, that were single and unsocial as she herself was. She loved the horses and cows in the field. Each was single and to itself, magical. It was not referred away to some detestable social principle. It was incapable of soulfulness and tragedy, which she detested so profoundly.
She could be very pleasant and flattering, almost subservient, to people she met. But no one was taken in. Instinctively each felt her contemptuous mockery of the human being in himself, or herself. She had a profound grudge against the human being. That which the word ‘human’ stood for was despicable and repugnant to her.
Mostly her heart was closed in this hidden, unconscious strain of contemptuous ridicule. She thought she loved, she thought she was full of love. This was her idea of herself. But the strange brightness of her presence, a marvellous radiance of intrinsic vitality, was a luminousness of supreme repudiation, nothing but repudiation.
Yet, at moments, she yielded and softened, she wanted pure love, only pure love. This other, this state of constant unfailing repudiation, was a strain, a suffering also. A terrible desire for pure love overcame her again.
She went out one evening, numbed by this constant essential suffering. Those who are timed for destruction must die now. The knowledge of this reached a finality, a finishing in her. And the finality released her. If fate would carry off in death or downfall all those who were timed to go, why need she trouble, why repudiate any further. She was free of it all, she could seek a new union elsewhere.
Ursula set off to Willey Green, towards the mill. She came to Willey Water. It was almost full again, after its period of emptiness. Then she turned off through the woods. The night had fallen, it was dark. But she forgot to be afraid, she who had such great sources of fear. Among the trees, far from any human beings, there was a sort of magic peace. The more one could find a pure loneliness, with no taint of people, the better one felt. She was in reality terrified, horrified in her apprehension of people.
She started, noticing something on her right hand, between the tree trunks. It was like a great presence, watching her, dodging her. She started violently. It was only the moon, risen through the thin trees. But it seemed so mysterious, with its white and deathly smile. And there was no avoiding it. Night or day, one could not escape the sinister face, triumphant and radiant like this moon, with a high smile. She hurried on, cowering from the white planet. She would just see the pond at the mill before she went home.
Not wanting to go through the yard, because of the dogs, she turned off along the hill-side to descend on the pond from above. The moon was transcendent over the bare, open space, she suffered from being exposed to it. There was a glimmer of nightly rabbits across the ground. The night was as clear as crystal, and very still. She could hear a distant coughing of a sheep.
So she swerved down to the steep, tree-hidden bank above the pond, where the alders twisted their roots. She was glad to pass into the shade out of the moon. There she stood, at the top of the fallen-away bank, her hand on the rough trunk of a tree, looking at the water, that was perfect in its stillness, floating the moon upon it. But for some reason she disliked it. It did not give her anything. She listened for the hoarse rustle of the sluice. And she wished for something else out of the night, she wanted another night, not this moon-brilliant hardness. She could feel her soul crying out in her, lamenting desolately.
She saw a shadow moving by the water. It would be Birkin. He had come back then, unawares. She accepted it without remark, nothing mattered to her. She sat down among the roots of the alder tree, dim and veiled, hearing the sound of the sluice like dew distilling audibly into the night. The islands were dark and half revealed, the reeds were dark also, only some of them had a little frail fire of reflection. A fish leaped secretly, revealing the light in the pond. This fire of the chill night breaking constantly on to the pure darkness, repelled her. She wished it were perfectly dark, perfectly, and noiseless and without motion. Birkin, small and dark also, his hair tinged with moonlight, wandered nearer. He was quite near, and yet he did not exist in her. He did not know she was there. Supposing he did something he would not wish to be seen doing, thinking he was quite private? But there, what did it matter? What did the small priyacies matter? How could it matter, what he did? How can there be any secrets, we are all the same organisms? How can there be any secrecy, when everything is known to all of us?
He was touching unconsciously the dead husks of flowers as he passed by, and talking disconnectedly to himself.
‘You can’t go away,’ he was saying. ‘There IS no away. You only withdraw upon yourself.’
He threw a dead flower-husk on to the water.
‘An antiphony — they lie, and you sing back to them. There wouldn’t have to be any truth, if there weren’t any lies. Then one needn’t assert anything —’
He stood still, looking at the water, and throwing upon it the husks of the flowers.
‘Cybele — curse her! The accursed Syria Dea! Does one begrudge it her? What else is there —?’
Ursula wanted to laugh loudly and hysterically, hearing his isolated voice speaking out. It was so ridiculous.
He stood staring at the water. Then he stooped and picked up a stone, which he threw sharply at the pond. Ursula was aware of the bright moon leaping and swaying, all distorted, in her eyes. It seemed to shoot out arms of fire like a cuttle-fish, like a luminous polyp, palpitating strongly before her.
And his shadow on the border of the pond, was watching for a few moments, then he stooped and groped on the ground. Then again there was a burst of sound, and a burst of brilliant light, the moon had exploded on the water, and was flying asunder in flakes of white and dangerous fire. Rapidly, like white birds, the fires all broken rose across the pond, fleeing in clamorous confusion, battling with the flock of dark waves that were forcing their way in. The furthest waves of light, fleeing out, seemed to be clamouring against the shore for escape, the waves of darkness came in heavily, running under towards the centre. But at the centre, the heart of all, was still a vivid, incandescent quivering of a white moon not quite destroyed, a white body of fire writhing and striving and not even now broken open, not yet violated. It seemed to be drawing itself together with strange, violent pangs, in blind effort. It was getting stronger, it was re-asserting itself, the inviolable moon. And the rays were hastening in in thin lines of light, to return to the strengthened moon, that shook upon the water in triumphant reassumption.
Birkin stood and watched, motionless, till the pond was almost calm, the moon was almost serene. Then, satisfied of so much, he looked for more stones. She felt his invisible tenacity. And in a moment again, the broken lights scattered in explosion over her face, dazzling her; and then, almost immediately, came the second shot. The moon leapt up white and burst through the air. Darts of bright light shot asunder, darkness swept over the centre. There was no moon, only a battlefield of broken lights and shadows, running close together. Shadows, dark and heavy, struck again and again across the place where the heart of the moon had been, obliterating it altogether. The white fragments pulsed up and down, and could not find where to go, apart and brilliant on the water like the petals of a rose that a wind has blown far and wide.
Yet again, they were flickering their way to the centre, finding the path blindly, enviously. And again, all was still, as Birkin and Ursula watched. The waters were loud on the shore. He saw the moon regathering itself insidiously, saw the heart of the rose intertwining vigorously and blindly, calling back the scattered fragments, winning home the fragments, in a pulse and in effort of return.
And he was not satisfied. Like a madness, he must go on. He got large stones, and threw them, one after the other, at the white-burning centre of the moon, till there was nothing but a rocking of hollow noise, and a pond surged up, no moon any more, only a few broken flakes tangled and glittering broadcast in the darkness, without aim or meaning, a darkened confusion, like a black and white kaleidoscope tossed at random. The hollow night was rocking and crashing with noise, and from the sluice came sharp, regular flashes of sound. Flakes of light appeared here and there, glittering tormented among the shadows, far off, in strange places; among the dripping shadow of the willow on the island. Birkin stood and listened and was satisfied.
Ursula was dazed, her mind was all gone. She felt she had fallen to the ground and was spilled out, like water on the earth. Motionless and spent she remained in the gloom. Though even now she was aware, unseeing, that in the darkness was a little tumult of ebbing flakes of light, a cluster dancing secretly in a round, twining and coming steadily together. They were gathering a heart again, they were coming once more into being. Gradually the fragments caught together re-united, heaving, rocking, dancing, falling back as in panic, but working their way home again persistently, making semblance of fleeing away when they had advanced, but always flickering nearer, a little closer to the mark, the cluster growing mysteriously larger and brighter, as gleam after gleam fell in with the whole, until a ragged rose, a distorted, frayed moon was shaking upon the waters again, re-asserted, renewed, trying to recover from its convulsion, to get over the disfigurement and the agitation, to be whole and composed, at peace.
Birkin lingered vaguely by the water. Ursula was afraid that he would stone the moon again. She slipped from her seat and went down to him, saying:
‘You won’t throw stones at it any more, will you?’
‘How long have you been there?’
‘All the time. You won’t throw any more stones, will you?’
‘I wanted to see if I could make it be quite gone off the pond,’ he said.
‘Yes, it was horrible, really. Why should you hate the moon? It hasn’t done you any harm, has it?’
‘Was it hate?’ he said.
And they were silent for a few minutes.
‘When did you come back?’ she said.
‘Why did you never write?’
‘I could find nothing to say.’
‘Why was there nothing to say?’
‘I don’t know. Why are there no daffodils now?’
Again there was a space of silence. Ursula looked at the moon. It had gathered itself together, and was quivering slightly.
‘Was it good for you, to be alone?’ she asked.
‘Perhaps. Not that I know much. But I got over a good deal. Did you do anything important?’
‘No. I looked at England, and thought I’d done with it.’
‘Why England?’ he asked in surprise.
‘I don’t know, it came like that.’
‘It isn’t a question of nations,’ he said. ‘France is far worse.’
‘Yes, I know. I felt I’d done with it all.’
They went and sat down on the roots of the trees, in the shadow. And being silent, he remembered the beauty of her eyes, which were sometimes filled with light, like spring, suffused with wonderful promise. So he said to her, slowly, with difficulty:
‘There is a golden light in you, which I wish you would give me.’ It was as if he had been thinking of this for some time.
She was startled, she seemed to leap clear of him. Yet also she was pleased.
‘What kind of a light,’ she asked.
But he was shy, and did not say any more. So the moment passed for this time. And gradually a feeling of sorrow came over her.
‘My life is unfulfilled,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he answered briefly, not wanting to hear this.
‘And I feel as if nobody could ever really love me,’ she said.
But he did not answer.
‘You think, don’t you,’ she said slowly, ‘that I only want physical things? It isn’t true. I want you to serve my spirit.’
‘I know you do. I know you don’t want physical things by themselves. But, I want you to give me — to give your spirit to me — that golden light which is you — which you don’t know — give it me —’
After a moment’s silence she replied:
‘But how can I, you don’t love me! You only want your own ends. You don’t want to serve ME, and yet you want me to serve you. It is so one-sided!’
It was a great effort to him to maintain this conversation, and to press for the thing he wanted from her, the surrender of her spirit.
‘It is different,’ he said. ‘The two kinds of service are so different. I serve you in another way — not through YOURSELF— somewhere else. But I want us to be together without bothering about ourselves — to be really together because we ARE together, as if it were a phenomenon, not a not a thing we have to maintain by our own effort.’
‘No,’ she said, pondering. ‘You are just egocentric. You never have any enthusiasm, you never come out with any spark towards me. You want yourself, really, and your own affairs. And you want me just to be there, to serve you.’
But this only made him shut off from her.
‘Ah well,’ he said, ‘words make no matter, any way. The thing IS between us, or it isn’t.’
‘You don’t even love me,’ she cried.
‘I do,’ he said angrily. ‘But I want —’ His mind saw again the lovely golden light of spring transfused through her eyes, as through some wonderful window. And he wanted her to be with him there, in this world of proud indifference. But what was the good of telling her he wanted this company in proud indifference. What was the good of talking, any way? It must happen beyond the sound of words. It was merely ruinous to try to work her by conviction. This was a paradisal bird that could never be netted, it must fly by itself to the heart.
‘I always think I am going to be loved — and then I am let down. You DON’T love me, you know. You don’t want to serve me. You only want yourself.’
A shiver of rage went over his veins, at this repeated: ‘You don’t want to serve me.’ All the paradisal disappeared from him.
‘No,’ he said, irritated, ‘I don’t want to serve you, because there is nothing there to serve. What you want me to serve, is nothing, mere nothing. It isn’t even you, it is your mere female quality. And I wouldn’t give a straw for your female ego — it’s a rag doll.’
‘Ha!’ she laughed in mockery. ‘That’s all you think of me, is it? And then you have the impudence to say you love me.’
She rose in anger, to go home.
You want the paradisal unknowing,’ she said, turning round on him as he still sat half-visible in the shadow. ‘I know what that means, thank you. You want me to be your thing, never to criticise you or to have anything to say for myself. You want me to be a mere THING for you! No thank you! IF you want that, there are plenty of women who will give it to you. There are plenty of women who will lie down for you to walk over them — GO to them then, if that’s what you want — go to them.’
‘No,’ he said, outspoken with anger. ‘I want you to drop your assertive WILL, your frightened apprehensive self-insistence, that is what I want. I want you to trust yourself so implicitly, that you can let yourself go.’
‘Let myself go!’ she re-echoed in mockery. ‘I can let myself go, easily enough. It is you who can’t let yourself go, it is you who hang on to yourself as if it were your only treasure. YOU— YOU are the Sunday school teacher — YOU— you preacher.’
The amount of truth that was in this made him stiff and unheeding of her.
‘I don’t mean let yourself go in the Dionysic ecstatic way,’ he said. ‘I know you can do that. But I hate ecstasy, Dionysic or any other. It’s like going round in a squirrel cage. I want you not to care about yourself, just to be there and not to care about yourself, not to insist — be glad and sure and indifferent.’
‘Who insists?’ she mocked. ‘Who is it that keeps on insisting? It isn’t ME!’
There was a weary, mocking bitterness in her voice. He was silent for some time.
‘I know,’ he said. ‘While ever either of us insists to the other, we are all wrong. But there we are, the accord doesn’t come.’
They sat in stillness under the shadow of the trees by the bank. The night was white around them, they were in the darkness, barely conscious.
Gradually, the stillness and peace came over them. She put her hand tentatively on his. Their hands clasped softly and silently, in peace.
‘Do you really love me?’ she said.
‘I call that your war-cry,’ he replied, amused.
‘Why!’ she cried, amused and really wondering.
‘Your insistence — Your war-cry —“A Brangwen, A Brangwen”— an old battle-cry. Yours is, “Do you love me? Yield knave, or die.”’
‘No,’ she said, pleading, ‘not like that. Not like that. But I must know that you love me, mustn’t I?’
‘Well then, know it and have done with it.’
‘But do you?’
‘Yes, I do. I love you, and I know it’s final. It is final, so why say any more about it.’
She was silent for some moments, in delight and doubt.
‘Are you sure?’ she said, nestling happily near to him.
‘Quite sure — so now have done — accept it and have done.’
She was nestled quite close to him.
‘Have done with what?’ she murmured, happily.
‘With bothering,’ he said.
She clung nearer to him. He held her close, and kissed her softly, gently. It was such peace and heavenly freedom, just to fold her and kiss her gently, and not to have any thoughts or any desires or any will, just to be still with her, to be perfectly still and together, in a peace that was not sleep, but content in bliss. To be content in bliss, without desire or insistence anywhere, this was heaven: to be together in happy stillness.
For a long time she nestled to him, and he kissed her softly, her hair, her face, her ears, gently, softly, like dew falling. But this warm breath on her ears disturbed her again, kindled the old destructive fires. She cleaved to him, and he could feel his blood changing like quicksilver.
‘But we’ll be still, shall we?’ he said.
‘Yes,’ she said, as if submissively.
And she continued to nestle against him.
But in a little while she drew away and looked at him.
‘I must be going home,’ she said.
‘Must you — how sad,’ he replied.
She leaned forward and put up her mouth to be kissed.
‘Are you really sad?’ she murmured, smiling.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I wish we could stay as we were, always.’
‘Always! Do you?’ she murmured, as he kissed her. And then, out of a full throat, she crooned ‘Kiss me! Kiss me!’ And she cleaved close to him. He kissed her many times. But he too had his idea and his will. He wanted only gentle communion, no other, no passion now. So that soon she drew away, put on her hat and went home.
The next day however, he felt wistful and yearning. He thought he had been wrong, perhaps. Perhaps he had been wrong to go to her with an idea of what he wanted. Was it really only an idea, or was it the interpretation of a profound yearning? If the latter, how was it he was always talking about sensual fulfilment? The two did not agree very well.
Suddenly he found himself face to face with a situation. It was as simple as this: fatally simple. On the one hand, he knew he did not want a further sensual experience — something deeper, darker, than ordinary life could give. He remembered the African fetishes he had seen at Halliday’s so often. There came back to him one, a statuette about two feet high, a tall, slim, elegant figure from West Africa, in dark wood, glossy and suave. It was a woman, with hair dressed high, like a melon-shaped dome. He remembered her vividly: she was one of his soul’s intimates. Her body was long and elegant, her face was crushed tiny like a beetle’s, she had rows of round heavy collars, like a column of quoits, on her neck. He remembered her: her astonishing cultured elegance, her diminished, beetle face, the astounding long elegant body, on short, ugly legs, with such protuberant buttocks, so weighty and unexpected below her slim long loins. She knew what he himself did not know. She had thousands of years of purely sensual, purely unspiritual knowledge behind her. It must have been thousands of years since her race had died, mystically: that is, since the relation between the senses and the outspoken mind had broken, leaving the experience all in one sort, mystically sensual. Thousands of years ago, that which was imminent in himself must have taken place in these Africans: the goodness, the holiness, the desire for creation and productive happiness must have lapsed, leaving the single impulse for knowledge in one sort, mindless progressive knowledge through the senses, knowledge arrested and ending in the senses, mystic knowledge in disintegration and dissolution, knowledge such as the beetles have, which live purely within the world of corruption and cold dissolution. This was why her face looked like a beetle’s: this was why the Egyptians worshipped the ball-rolling scarab: because of the principle of knowledge in dissolution and corruption.
There is a long way we can travel, after the death-break: after that point when the soul in intense suffering breaks, breaks away from its organic hold like a leaf that falls. We fall from the connection with life and hope, we lapse from pure integral being, from creation and liberty, and we fall into the long, long African process of purely sensual understanding, knowledge in the mystery of dissolution.
He realised now that this is a long process — thousands of years it takes, after the death of the creative spirit. He realised that there were great mysteries to be unsealed, sensual, mindless, dreadful mysteries, far beyond the phallic cult. How far, in their inverted culture, had these West Africans gone beyond phallic knowledge? Very, very far. Birkin recalled again the female figure: the elongated, long, long body, the curious unexpected heavy buttocks, he long, imprisoned neck, the face with tiny features like a beetle’s. This was far beyond any phallic knowledge, sensual subtle realities far beyond the scope of phallic investigation.
There remained this way, this awful African process, to be fulfilled. It would be done differently by the white races. The white races, having the arctic north behind them, the vast abstraction of ice and snow, would fulfil a mystery of ice-destructive knowledge, snow-abstract annihilation. Whereas the West Africans, controlled by the burning death-abstraction of the Sahara, had been fulfilled in sun-destruction, the putrescent mystery of sun-rays.
Was this then all that remained? Was there left now nothing but to break off from the happy creative being, was the time up? Is our day of creative life finished? Does there remain to us only the strange, awful afterwards of the knowledge in dissolution, the African knowledge, but different in us, who are blond and blue-eyed from the north?
Birkin thought of Gerald. He was one of these strange white wonderful demons from the north, fulfilled in the destructive frost mystery. And was he fated to pass away in this knowledge, this one process of frost-knowledge, death by perfect cold? Was he a messenger, an omen of the universal dissolution into whiteness and snow?
Birkin was frightened. He was tired too, when he had reached this length of speculation. Suddenly his strange, strained attention gave way, he could not attend to these mysteries any more. There was another way, the way of freedom. There was the paradisal entry into pure, single being, the individual soul taking precedence over love and desire for union, stronger than any pangs of emotion, a lovely state of free proud singleness, which accepted the obligation of the permanent connection with others, and with the other, submits to the yoke and leash of love, but never forfeits its own proud individual singleness, even while it loves and yields.
There was the other way, the remaining way. And he must run to follow it. He thought of Ursula, how sensitive and delicate she really was, her skin so over-fine, as if one skin were wanting. She was really so marvellously gentle and sensitive. Why did he ever forget it? He must go to her at once. He must ask her to marry him. They must marry at once, and so make a definite pledge, enter into a definite communion. He must set out at once and ask her, this moment. There was no moment to spare.
He drifted on swiftly to Beldover, half-unconscious of his own movement. He saw the town on the slope of the hill, not straggling, but as if walled-in with the straight, final streets of miners’ dwellings, making a great square, and it looked like Jerusalem to his fancy. The world was all strange and transcendent.
Rosalind opened the door to him. She started slightly, as a young girl will, and said:
‘Oh, I’ll tell father.’
With which she disappeared, leaving Birkin in the hall, looking at some reproductions from Picasso, lately introduced by Gudrun. He was admiring the almost wizard, sensuous apprehension of the earth, when Will Brangwen appeared, rolling down his shirt sleeves.
‘Well,’ said Brangwen, ‘I’ll get a coat.’ And he too disappeared for a moment. Then he returned, and opened the door of the drawing-room, saying:
‘You must excuse me, I was just doing a bit of work in the shed. Come inside, will you.’
Birkin entered and sat down. He looked at the bright, reddish face of the other man, at the narrow brow and the very bright eyes, and at the rather sensual lips that unrolled wide and expansive under the black cropped moustache. How curious it was that this was a human being! What Brangwen thought himself to be, how meaningless it was, confronted with the reality of him. Birkin could see only a strange, inexplicable, almost patternless collection of passions and desires and suppressions and traditions and mechanical ideas, all cast unfused and disunited into this slender, bright-faced man of nearly fifty, who was as unresolved now as he was at twenty, and as uncreated. How could he be the parent of Ursula, when he was not created himself. He was not a parent. A slip of living flesh had been transmitted through him, but the spirit had not come from him. The spirit had not come from any ancestor, it had come out of the unknown. A child is the child of the mystery, or it is uncreated.
‘The weather’s not so bad as it has been,’ said Brangwen, after waiting a moment. There was no connection between the two men.
‘No,’ said Birkin. ‘It was full moon two days ago.’
‘Oh! You believe in the moon then, affecting the weather?’
‘No, I don’t think I do. I don’t really know enough about it.’
‘You know what they say? The moon and the weather may change together, but the change of the moon won’t change the weather.’
‘Is that it?’ said Birkin. ‘I hadn’t heard it.’
There was a pause. Then Birkin said:
‘Am I hindering you? I called to see Ursula, really. Is she at home?’
‘I don’t believe she is. I believe she’s gone to the library. I’ll just see.’
Birkin could hear him enquiring in the dining-room.
‘No,’ he said, coming back. ‘But she won’t be long. You wanted to speak to her?’
Birkin looked across at the other man with curious calm, clear eyes.
‘As a matter of fact,’ he said, ‘I wanted to ask her to marry me.’
A point of light came on the golden-brown eyes of the elder man.
‘O-oh?’ he said, looking at Birkin, then dropping his eyes before the calm, steadily watching look of the other: ‘Was she expecting you then?’
‘No,’ said Birkin.
‘No? I didn’t know anything of this sort was on foot —’ Brangwen smiled awkwardly.
Birkin looked back at him, and said to himself: ‘I wonder why it should be “on foot”!’ Aloud he said:
‘No, it’s perhaps rather sudden.’ At which, thinking of his relationship with Ursula, he added —‘but I don’t know —’
‘Quite sudden, is it? Oh!’ said Brangwen, rather baffled and annoyed.
‘In one way,’ replied Birkin, ‘— not in another.’
There was a moment’s pause, after which Brangwen said:
‘Well, she pleases herself —’
‘Oh yes!’ said Birkin, calmly.
A vibration came into Brangwen’s strong voice, as he replied:
‘Though I shouldn’t want her to be in too big a hurry, either. It’s no good looking round afterwards, when it’s too late.’
‘Oh, it need never be too late,’ said Birkin, ‘as far as that goes.’
‘How do you mean?’ asked the father.
‘If one repents being married, the marriage is at an end,’ said Birkin.
‘You think so?’
‘Ay, well that may be your way of looking at it.’
Birkin, in silence, thought to himself: ‘So it may. As for YOUR way of looking at it, William Brangwen, it needs a little explaining.’
‘I suppose,’ said Brangwen, ‘you know what sort of people we are? What sort of a bringing-up she’s had?’
‘“She”,’ thought Birkin to himself, remembering his childhood’s corrections, ‘is the cat’s mother.’
‘Do I know what sort of a bringing-up she’s had?’ he said aloud.
He seemed to annoy Brangwen intentionally.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘she’s had everything that’s right for a girl to have — as far as possible, as far as we could give it her.’
‘I’m sure she has,’ said Birkin, which caused a perilous full-stop. The father was becoming exasperated. There was something naturally irritant to him in Birkin’s mere presence.
‘And I don’t want to see her going back on it all,’ he said, in a clanging voice.
‘Why?’ said Birkin.
This monosyllable exploded in Brangwen’s brain like a shot.
‘Why! I don’t believe in your new-fangled ways and new-fangled ideas — in and out like a frog in a gallipot. It would never do for me.’
Birkin watched him with steady emotionless eyes. The radical antagnoism in the two men was rousing.
‘Yes, but are my ways and ideas new-fangled?’ asked Birkin.
‘Are they?’ Brangwen caught himself up. ‘I’m not speaking of you in particular,’ he said. ‘What I mean is that my children have been brought up to think and do according to the religion I was brought up in myself, and I don’t want to see them going away from THAT.’
There was a dangerous pause.
‘And beyond that —?’ asked Birkin.
The father hesitated, he was in a nasty position.
‘Eh? What do you mean? All I want to say is that my daughter’— he tailed off into silence, overcome by futility. He knew that in some way he was off the track.
‘Of course,’ said Birkin, ‘I don’t want to hurt anybody or influence anybody. Ursula does exactly as she pleases.’
There was a complete silence, because of the utter failure in mutual understanding. Birkin felt bored. Her father was not a coherent human being, he was a roomful of old echoes. The eyes of the younger man rested on the face of the elder. Brangwen looked up, and saw Birkin looking at him. His face was covered with inarticulate anger and humiliation and sense of inferiority in strength.
‘And as for beliefs, that’s one thing,’ he said. ‘But I’d rather see my daughters dead tomorrow than that they should be at the beck and call of the first man that likes to come and whistle for them.’
A queer painful light came into Birkin’s eyes.
‘As to that,’ he said, ‘I only know that it’s much more likely that it’s I who am at the beck and call of the woman, than she at mine.’
Again there was a pause. The father was somewhat bewildered.
‘I know,’ he said, ‘she’ll please herself — she always has done. I’ve done my best for them, but that doesn’t matter. They’ve got themselves to please, and if they can help it they’ll please nobody BUT themselves. But she’s a right to consider her mother, and me as well —’
Brangwen was thinking his own thoughts.
‘And I tell you this much, I would rather bury them, than see them getting into a lot of loose ways such as you see everywhere nowadays. I’d rather bury them —’
‘Yes but, you see,’ said Birkin slowly, rather wearily, bored again by this new turn, ‘they won’t give either you or me the chance to bury them, because they’re not to be buried.’
Brangwen looked at him in a sudden flare of impotent anger.
‘Now, Mr Birkin,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what you’ve come here for, and I don’t know what you’re asking for. But my daughters are my daughters — and it’s my business to look after them while I can.’
Birkin’s brows knitted suddenly, his eyes concentrated in mockery. But he remained perfectly stiff and still. There was a pause.
‘I’ve nothing against your marrying Ursula,’ Brangwen began at length. ‘It’s got nothing to do with me, she’ll do as she likes, me or no me.’
Birkin turned away, looking out of the window and letting go his consciousness. After all, what good was this? It was hopeless to keep it up. He would sit on till Ursula came home, then speak to her, then go away. He would not accept trouble at the hands of her father. It was all unnecessary, and he himself need not have provoked it.
The two men sat in complete silence, Birkin almost unconscious of his own whereabouts. He had come to ask her to marry him — well then, he would wait on, and ask her. As for what she said, whether she accepted or not, he did not think about it. He would say what he had come to say, and that was all he was conscious of. He accepted the complete insignificance of this household, for him. But everything now was as if fated. He could see one thing ahead, and no more. From the rest, he was absolved entirely for the time being. It had to be left to fate and chance to resolve the issues.
At length they heard the gate. They saw her coming up the steps with a bundle of books under her arm. Her face was bright and abstracted as usual, with the abstraction, that look of being not quite THERE, not quite present to the facts of reality, that galled her father so much. She had a maddening faculty of assuming a light of her own, which excluded the reality, and within which she looked radiant as if in sunshine.
They heard her go into the dining-room, and drop her armful of books on the table.
‘Did you bring me that Girl’s Own?’ cried Rosalind.
‘Yes, I brought it. But I forgot which one it was you wanted.’
‘You would,’ cried Rosalind angrily. ‘It’s right for a wonder.’
Then they heard her say something in a lowered tone.
‘Where?’ cried Ursula.
Again her sister’s voice was muffled.
Brangwen opened the door, and called, in his strong, brazen voice:
She appeared in a moment, wearing her hat.
‘Oh how do you do!’ she cried, seeing Birkin, and all dazzled as if taken by surprise. He wondered at her, knowing she was aware of his presence. She had her queer, radiant, breathless manner, as if confused by the actual world, unreal to it, having a complete bright world of her self alone.
‘Have I interrupted a conversation?’ she asked.
‘No, only a complete silence,’ said Birkin.
‘Oh,’ said Ursula, vaguely, absent. Their presence was not vital to her, she was withheld, she did not take them in. It was a subtle insult that never failed to exasperate her father.
‘Mr Birkin came to speak to YOU, not to me,’ said her father.
‘Oh, did he!’ she exclaimed vaguely, as if it did not concern her. Then, recollecting herself, she turned to him rather radiantly, but still quite superficially, and said: ‘Was it anything special?’
‘I hope so,’ he said, ironically.
‘— To propose to you, according to all accounts,’ said her father.
‘Oh,’ said Ursula.
‘Oh,’ mocked her father, imitating her. ‘Have you nothing more to say?’
She winced as if violated.
‘Did you really come to propose to me?’ she asked of Birkin, as if it were a joke.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I suppose I came to propose.’ He seemed to fight shy of the last word.
‘Did you?’ she cried, with her vague radiance. He might have been saying anything whatsoever. She seemed pleased.
‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘I wanted to — I wanted you to agree to marry me.’
She looked at him. His eyes were flickering with mixed lights, wanting something of her, yet not wanting it. She shrank a little, as if she were exposed to his eyes, and as if it were a pain to her. She darkened, her soul clouded over, she turned aside. She had been driven out of her own radiant, single world. And she dreaded contact, it was almost unnatural to her at these times.
‘Yes,’ she said vaguely, in a doubting, absent voice.
Birkin’s heart contracted swiftly, in a sudden fire of bitterness. It all meant nothing to her. He had been mistaken again. She was in some self-satisfied world of her own. He and his hopes were accidentals, violations to her. It drove her father to a pitch of mad exasperation. He had had to put up with this all his life, from her.
‘Well, what do you say?’ he cried.
She winced. Then she glanced down at her father, half-frightened, and she said:
‘I didn’t speak, did I?’ as if she were afraid she might have committed herself.
‘No,’ said her father, exasperated. ‘But you needn’t look like an idiot. You’ve got your wits, haven’t you?’
She ebbed away in silent hostility.
‘I’ve got my wits, what does that mean?’ she repeated, in a sullen voice of antagonism.
‘You heard what was asked you, didn’t you?’ cried her father in anger.
‘Of course I heard.’
‘Well then, can’t you answer?’ thundered her father.
‘Why should I?’
At the impertinence of this retort, he went stiff. But he said nothing.
‘No,’ said Birkin, to help out the occasion, ‘there’s no need to answer at once. You can say when you like.’
Her eyes flashed with a powerful light.
‘Why should I say anything?’ she cried. ‘You do this off your OWN bat, it has nothing to do with me. Why do you both want to bully me?’
‘Bully you! Bully you!’ cried her father, in bitter, rancorous anger. ‘Bully you! Why, it’s a pity you can’t be bullied into some sense and decency. Bully you! YOU’LL see to that, you self-willed creature.’
She stood suspended in the middle of the room, her face glimmering and dangerous. She was set in satisfied defiance. Birkin looked up at her. He too was angry.
‘But none is bullying you,’ he said, in a very soft dangerous voice also.
‘Oh yes,’ she cried. ‘You both want to force me into something.’
‘That is an illusion of yours,’ he said ironically.
‘Illusion!’ cried her father. ‘A self-opinionated fool, that’s what she is.’
Birkin rose, saying:
‘However, we’ll leave it for the time being.’
And without another word, he walked out of the house.
‘You fool! You fool!’ her father cried to her, with extreme bitterness. She left the room, and went upstairs, singing to herself. But she was terribly fluttered, as after some dreadful fight. From her window, she could see Birkin going up the road. He went in such a blithe drift of rage, that her mind wondered over him. He was ridiculous, but she was afraid of him. She was as if escaped from some danger.
Her father sat below, powerless in humiliation and chagrin. It was as if he were possessed with all the devils, after one of these unaccountable conflicts with Ursula. He hated her as if his only reality were in hating her to the last degree. He had all hell in his heart. But he went away, to escape himself. He knew he must despair, yield, give in to despair, and have done.
Ursula’s face closed, she completed herself against them all. Recoiling upon herself, she became hard and self-completed, like a jewel. She was bright and invulnerable, quite free and happy, perfectly liberated in her self-possession. Her father had to learn not to see her blithe obliviousness, or it would have sent him mad. She was so radiant with all things, in her possession of perfect hostility.
She would go on now for days like this, in this bright frank state of seemingly pure spontaneity, so essentially oblivious of the existence of anything but herself, but so ready and facile in her interest. Ah it was a bitter thing for a man to be near her, and her father cursed his fatherhood. But he must learn not to see her, not to know.
She was perfectly stable in resistance when she was in this state: so bright and radiant and attractive in her pure opposition, so very pure, and yet mistrusted by everybody, disliked on every hand. It was her voice, curiously clear and repellent, that gave her away. Only Gudrun was in accord with her. It was at these times that the intimacy between the two sisters was most complete, as if their intelligence were one. They felt a strong, bright bond of understanding between them, surpassing everything else. And during all these days of blind bright abstraction and intimacy of his two daughters, the father seemed to breathe an air of death, as if he were destroyed in his very being. He was irritable to madness, he could not rest, his daughters seemed to be destroying him. But he was inarticulate and helpless against them. He was forced to breathe the air of his own death. He cursed them in his soul, and only wanted, that they should be removed from him.
They continued radiant in their easy female transcendancy, beautiful to look at. They exchanged confidences, they were intimate in their revelations to the last degree, giving each other at last every secret. They withheld nothing, they told everything, till they were over the border of evil. And they armed each other with knowledge, they extracted the subtlest flavours from the apple of knowledge. It was curious how their knowledge was complementary, that of each to that of the other.
Ursula saw her men as sons, pitied their yearning and admired their courage, and wondered over them as a mother wonders over her child, with a certain delight in their novelty. But to Gudrun, they were the opposite camp. She feared them and despised them, and respected their activities even overmuch.
‘Of course,’ she said easily, ‘there is a quality of life in Birkin which is quite remarkable. There is an extraordinary rich spring of life in him, really amazing, the way he can give himself to things. But there are so many things in life that he simply doesn’t know. Either he is not aware of their existence at all, or he dismisses them as merely negligible — things which are vital to the other person. In a way, he is not clever enough, he is too intense in spots.’
‘Yes,’ cried Ursula, ‘too much of a preacher. He is really a priest.’
‘Exactly! He can’t hear what anybody else has to say — he simply cannot hear. His own voice is so loud.’
‘Yes. He cries you down.’
‘He cries you down,’ repeated Gudrun. ‘And by mere force of violence. And of course it is hopeless. Nobody is convinced by violence. It makes talking to him impossible — and living with him I should think would be more than impossible.’
‘You don’t think one could live with him’ asked Ursula.
‘I think it would be too wearing, too exhausting. One would be shouted down every time, and rushed into his way without any choice. He would want to control you entirely. He cannot allow that there is any other mind than his own. And then the real clumsiness of his mind is its lack of self-criticism. No, I think it would be perfectly intolerable.’
‘Yes,’ assented Ursula vaguely. She only half agreed with Gudrun. ‘The nuisance is,’ she said, ‘that one would find almost any man intolerable after a fortnight.’
‘It’s perfectly dreadful,’ said Gudrun. ‘But Birkin — he is too positive. He couldn’t bear it if you called your soul your own. Of him that is strictly true.’
‘Yes,’ said Ursula. ‘You must have HIS soul.’
‘Exactly! And what can you conceive more deadly?’ This was all so true, that Ursula felt jarred to the bottom of her soul with ugly distaste.
She went on, with the discord jarring and jolting through her, in the most barren of misery.
Then there started a revulsion from Gudrun. She finished life off so thoroughly, she made things so ugly and so final. As a matter of fact, even if it were as Gudrun said, about Birkin, other things were true as well. But Gudrun would draw two lines under him and cross him out like an account that is settled. There he was, summed up, paid for, settled, done with. And it was such a lie. This finality of Gudrun’s, this dispatching of people and things in a sentence, it was all such a lie. Ursula began to revolt from her sister.
One day as they were walking along the lane, they saw a robin sitting on the top twig of a bush, singing shrilly. The sisters stood to look at him. An ironical smile flickered on Gudrun’s face.
‘Doesn’t he feel important?’ smiled Gudrun.
‘Doesn’t he!’ exclaimed Ursula, with a little ironical grimace. ‘Isn’t he a little Lloyd George of the air!’
‘Isn’t he! Little Lloyd George of the air! That’s just what they are,’ cried Gudrun in delight. Then for days, Ursula saw the persistent, obtrusive birds as stout, short politicians lifting up their voices from the platform, little men who must make themselves heard at any cost.
But even from this there came the revulsion. Some yellowhammers suddenly shot along the road in front of her. And they looked to her so uncanny and inhuman, like flaring yellow barbs shooting through the air on some weird, living errand, that she said to herself: ‘After all, it is impudence to call them little Lloyd Georges. They are really unknown to us, they are the unknown forces. It is impudence to look at them as if they were the same as human beings. They are of another world. How stupid anthropomorphism is! Gudrun is really impudent, insolent, making herself the measure of everything, making everything come down to human standards. Rupert is quite right, human beings are boring, painting the universe with their own image. The universe is non-human, thank God.’ It seemed to her irreverence, destructive of all true life, to make little Lloyd Georges of the birds. It was such a lie towards the robins, and such a defamation. Yet she had done it herself. But under Gudrun’s influence: so she exonerated herself.
So she withdrew away from Gudrun and from that which she stood for, she turned in spirit towards Birkin again. She had not seen him since the fiasco of his proposal. She did not want to, because she did not want the question of her acceptance thrust upon her. She knew what Birkin meant when he asked her to marry him; vaguely, without putting it into speech, she knew. She knew what kind of love, what kind of surrender he wanted. And she was not at all sure that this was the kind of love that she herself wanted. She was not at all sure that it was this mutual unison in separateness that she wanted. She wanted unspeakable intimacies. She wanted to have him, utterly, finally to have him as her own, oh, so unspeakably, in intimacy. To drink him down — ah, like a life-draught. She made great professions, to herself, of her willingness to warm his foot-soles between her breasts, after the fashion of the nauseous Meredith poem. But only on condition that he, her lover, loved her absolutely, with complete self-abandon. And subtly enough, she knew he would never abandon himself FINALLY to her. He did not believe in final self-abandonment. He said it openly. It was his challenge. She was prepared to fight him for it. For she believed in an absolute surrender to love. She believed that love far surpassed the individual. He said the individual was MORE than love, or than any relationship. For him, the bright, single soul accepted love as one of its conditions, a condition of its own equilibrium. She believed that love was EVERYTHING. Man must render himself up to her. He must be quaffed to the dregs by her. Let him be HER MAN utterly, and she in return would be his humble slave — whether she wanted it or not.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57