Thomas Crich died slowly, terribly slowly. It seemed impossible to everybody that the thread of life could be drawn out so thin, and yet not break. The sick man lay unutterably weak and spent, kept alive by morphia and by drinks, which he sipped slowly. He was only half conscious — a thin strand of consciousness linking the darkness of death with the light of day. Yet his will was unbroken, he was integral, complete. Only he must have perfect stillness about him.
Any presence but that of the nurses was a strain and an effort to him now. Every morning Gerald went into the room, hoping to find his father passed away at last. Yet always he saw the same transparent face, the same dread dark hair on the waxen forehead, and the awful, inchoate dark eyes, which seemed to be decomposing into formless darkness, having only a tiny grain of vision within them.
And always, as the dark, inchoate eyes turned to him, there passed through Gerald’s bowels a burning stroke of revolt, that seemed to resound through his whole being, threatening to break his mind with its clangour, and making him mad.
Every morning, the son stood there, erect and taut with life, gleaming in his blondness. The gleaming blondness of his strange, imminent being put the father into a fever of fretful irritation. He could not bear to meet the uncanny, downward look of Gerald’s blue eyes. But it was only for a moment. Each on the brink of departure, the father and son looked at each other, then parted.
For a long time Gerald preserved a perfect sang froid, he remained quite collected. But at last, fear undermined him. He was afraid of some horrible collapse in himself. He had to stay and see this thing through. Some perverse will made him watch his father drawn over the borders of life. And yet, now, every day, the great red-hot stroke of horrified fear through the bowels of the son struck a further inflammation. Gerald went about all day with a tendency to cringe, as if there were the point of a sword of Damocles pricking the nape of his neck.
There was no escape — he was bound up with his father, he had to see him through. And the father’s will never relaxed or yielded to death. It would have to snap when death at last snapped it — if it did not persist after a physical death. In the same way, the will of the son never yielded. He stood firm and immune, he was outside this death and this dying.
It was a trial by ordeal. Could he stand and see his father slowly dissolve and disappear in death, without once yielding his will, without once relenting before the omnipotence of death. Like a Red Indian undergoing torture, Gerald would experience the whole process of slow death without wincing or flinching. He even triumphed in it. He somehow WANTED this death, even forced it. It was as if he himself were dealing the death, even when he most recoiled in horror. Still, he would deal it, he would triumph through death.
But in the stress of this ordeal, Gerald too lost his hold on the outer, daily life. That which was much to him, came to mean nothing. Work, pleasure — it was all left behind. He went on more or less mechanically with his business, but this activity was all extraneous. The real activity was this ghastly wrestling for death in his own soul. And his own will should triumph. Come what might, he would not bow down or submit or acknowledge a master. He had no master in death.
But as the fight went on, and all that he had been and was continued to be destroyed, so that life was a hollow shell all round him, roaring and clattering like the sound of the sea, a noise in which he participated externally, and inside this hollow shell was all the darkness and fearful space of death, he knew he would have to find reinforcements, otherwise he would collapse inwards upon the great dark void which circled at the centre of his soul. His will held his outer life, his outer mind, his outer being unbroken and unchanged. But the pressure was too great. He would have to find something to make good the equilibrium. Something must come with him into the hollow void of death in his soul, fill it up, and so equalise the pressure within to the pressure without. For day by day he felt more and more like a bubble filled with darkness, round which whirled the iridescence of his consciousness, and upon which the pressure of the outer world, the outer life, roared vastly.
In this extremity his instinct led him to Gudrun. He threw away everything now — he only wanted the relation established with her. He would follow her to the studio, to be near her, to talk to her. He would stand about the room, aimlessly picking up the implements, the lumps of clay, the little figures she had cast — they were whimsical and grotesque — looking at them without perceiving them. And she felt him following her, dogging her heels like a doom. She held away from him, and yet she knew he drew always a little nearer, a little nearer.
‘I say,’ he said to her one evening, in an odd, unthinking, uncertain way, ‘won’t you stay to dinner tonight? I wish you would.’
She started slightly. He spoke to her like a man making a request of another man.
‘They’ll be expecting me at home,’ she said.
‘Oh, they won’t mind, will they?’ he said. ‘I should be awfully glad if you’d stay.’
Her long silence gave consent at last.
‘I’ll tell Thomas, shall I?’ he said.
‘I must go almost immediately after dinner,’ she said.
It was a dark, cold evening. There was no fire in the drawing-room, they sat in the library. He was mostly silent, absent, and Winifred talked little. But when Gerald did rouse himself, he smiled and was pleasant and ordinary with her. Then there came over him again the long blanks, of which he was not aware.
She was very much attracted by him. He looked so preoccupied, and his strange, blank silences, which she could not read, moved her and made her wonder over him, made her feel reverential towards him.
But he was very kind. He gave her the best things at the table, he had a bottle of slightly sweet, delicious golden wine brought out for dinner, knowing she would prefer it to the burgundy. She felt herself esteemed, needed almost.
As they took coffee in the library, there was a soft, very soft knocking at the door. He started, and called ‘Come in.’ The timbre of his voice, like something vibrating at high pitch, unnerved Gudrun. A nurse in white entered, half hovering in the doorway like a shadow. She was very good-looking, but strangely enough, shy and self-mistrusting.
‘The doctor would like to speak to you, Mr Crich,’ she said, in her low, discreet voice.
‘The doctor!’ he said, starting up. ‘Where is he?’
‘He is in the dining-room.’
‘Tell him I’m coming.’
He drank up his coffee, and followed the nurse, who had dissolved like a shadow.
‘Which nurse was that?’ asked Gudrun.
‘Miss Inglis — I like her best,’ replied Winifred.
After a while Gerald came back, looking absorbed by his own thoughts, and having some of that tension and abstraction which is seen in a slightly drunken man. He did not say what the doctor had wanted him for, but stood before the fire, with his hands behind his back, and his face open and as if rapt. Not that he was really thinking — he was only arrested in pure suspense inside himself, and thoughts wafted through his mind without order.
‘I must go now and see Mama,’ said Winifred, ‘and see Dadda before he goes to sleep.’
She bade them both good-night.
Gudrun also rose to take her leave.
‘You needn’t go yet, need you?’ said Gerald, glancing quickly at the clock.’ It is early yet. I’ll walk down with you when you go. Sit down, don’t hurry away.’
Gudrun sat down, as if, absent as he was, his will had power over her. She felt almost mesmerised. He was strange to her, something unknown. What was he thinking, what was he feeling, as he stood there so rapt, saying nothing? He kept her — she could feel that. He would not let her go. She watched him in humble submissiveness.
‘Had the doctor anything new to tell you?’ she asked, softly, at length, with that gentle, timid sympathy which touched a keen fibre in his heart. He lifted his eyebrows with a negligent, indifferent expression.
‘No — nothing new,’ he replied, as if the question were quite casual, trivial. ‘He says the pulse is very weak indeed, very intermittent — but that doesn’t necessarily mean much, you know.’
He looked down at her. Her eyes were dark and soft and unfolded, with a stricken look that roused him.
‘No,’ she murmured at length. ‘I don’t understand anything about these things.’
‘Just as well not,’ he said. ‘I say, won’t you have a cigarette? — do!’ He quickly fetched the box, and held her a light. Then he stood before her on the hearth again.
‘No,’ he said, ‘we’ve never had much illness in the house, either — not till father.’ He seemed to meditate a while. Then looking down at her, with strangely communicative blue eyes, that filled her with dread, he continued: ‘It’s something you don’t reckon with, you know, till it is there. And then you realise that it was there all the time — it was always there — you understand what I mean? — the possibility of this incurable illness, this slow death.’
He moved his feet uneasily on the marble hearth, and put his cigarette to his mouth, looking up at the ceiling.
‘I know,’ murmured Gudrun: ‘it is dreadful.’
He smoked without knowing. Then he took the cigarette from his lips, bared his teeth, and putting the tip of his tongue between his teeth spat off a grain of tobacco, turning slightly aside, like a man who is alone, or who is lost in thought.
‘I don’t know what the effect actually IS, on one,’ he said, and again he looked down at her. Her eyes were dark and stricken with knowledge, looking into his. He saw her submerged, and he turned aside his face. ‘But I absolutely am not the same. There’s nothing left, if you understand what I mean. You seem to be clutching at the void — and at the same time you are void yourself. And so you don’t know what to DO.’
‘No,’ she murmured. A heavy thrill ran down her nerves, heavy, almost pleasure, almost pain. ‘What can be done?’ she added.
He turned, and flipped the ash from his cigarette on to the great marble hearth-stones, that lay bare in the room, without fender or bar.
‘I don’t know, I’m sure,’ he replied. ‘But I do think you’ve got to find some way of resolving the situation — not because you want to, but because you’ve GOT to, otherwise you’re done. The whole of everything, and yourself included, is just on the point of caving in, and you are just holding it up with your hands. Well, it’s a situation that obviously can’t continue. You can’t stand holding the roof up with your hands, for ever. You know that sooner or later you’ll HAVE to let go. Do you understand what I mean? And so something’s got to be done, or there’s a universal collapse — as far as you yourself are concerned.’
He shifted slightly on the hearth, crunching a cinder under his heel. He looked down at it. Gudrun was aware of the beautiful old marble panels of the fireplace, swelling softly carved, round him and above him. She felt as if she were caught at last by fate, imprisoned in some horrible and fatal trap.
‘But what CAN be done?’ she murmured humbly. ‘You must use me if I can be of any help at all — but how can I? I don’t see how I CAN help you.’
He looked down at her critically.
‘I don’t want you to HELP,’ he said, slightly irritated, ‘because there’s nothing to be DONE. I only want sympathy, do you see: I want somebody I can talk to sympathetically. That eases the strain. And there IS nobody to talk to sympathetically. That’s the curious thing. There IS nobody. There’s Rupert Birkin. But then he ISN’T sympathetic, he wants to DICTATE. And that is no use whatsoever.’
She was caught in a strange snare. She looked down at her hands.
Then there was the sound of the door softly opening. Gerald started. He was chagrined. It was his starting that really startled Gudrun. Then he went forward, with quick, graceful, intentional courtesy.
‘Oh, mother!’ he said. ‘How nice of you to come down. How are you?’
The elderly woman, loosely and bulkily wrapped in a purple gown, came forward silently, slightly hulked, as usual. Her son was at her side. He pushed her up a chair, saying ‘You know Miss Brangwen, don’t you?’
The mother glanced at Gudrun indifferently.
‘Yes,’ she said. Then she turned her wonderful, forget-me-not blue eyes up to her son, as she slowly sat down in the chair he had brought her.
‘I came to ask you about your father,’ she said, in her rapid, scarcely-audible voice. ‘I didn’t know you had company.’
‘No? Didn’t Winifred tell you? Miss Brangwen stayed to dinner, to make us a little more lively —’
Mrs Crich turned slowly round to Gudrun, and looked at her, but with unseeing eyes.
‘I’m afraid it would be no treat to her.’ Then she turned again to her son. ‘Winifred tells me the doctor had something to say about your father. What is it?’
‘Only that the pulse is very weak — misses altogether a good many times — so that he might not last the night out,’ Gerald replied.
Mrs Crich sat perfectly impassive, as if she had not heard. Her bulk seemed hunched in the chair, her fair hair hung slack over her ears. But her skin was clear and fine, her hands, as she sat with them forgotten and folded, were quite beautiful, full of potential energy. A great mass of energy seemed decaying up in that silent, hulking form.
She looked up at her son, as he stood, keen and soldierly, near to her. Her eyes were most wonderfully blue, bluer than forget-me-nots. She seemed to have a certain confidence in Gerald, and to feel a certain motherly mistrust of him.
‘How are YOU?’ she muttered, in her strangely quiet voice, as if nobody should hear but him. ‘You’re not getting into a state, are you?
You’re not letting it make you hysterical?’
The curious challenge in the last words startled Gudrun.
‘I don’t think so, mother,’ he answered, rather coldly cheery.
‘Somebody’s got to see it through, you know.’
‘Have they? Have they?’ answered his mother rapidly. ‘Why should YOU take it on yourself? What have you got to do, seeing it through. It will see itself through. You are not needed.’
‘No, I don’t suppose I can do any good,’ he answered. ‘It’s just how it affects us, you see.’
‘You like to be affected — don’t you? It’s quite nuts for you? You would have to be important. You have no need to stop at home. Why don’t you go away!’
These sentences, evidently the ripened grain of many dark hours, took Gerald by surprise.
‘I don’t think it’s any good going away now, mother, at the last minute,’ he said, coldly.
‘You take care,’ replied his mother. ‘You mind YOURSELF— that’s your business. You take too much on yourself. You mind YOURSELF, or you’ll find yourself in Queer Street, that’s what will happen to you. You’re hysterical, always were.’
‘I’m all right, mother,’ he said. ‘There’s no need to worry about ME, I assure you.’
‘Let the dead bury their dead — don’t go and bury yourself along with them — that’s what I tell you. I know you well enough.’
He did not answer this, not knowing what to say. The mother sat bunched up in silence, her beautiful white hands, that had no rings whatsoever, clasping the pommels of her arm-chair.
‘You can’t do it,’ she said, almost bitterly. ‘You haven’t the nerve. You’re as weak as a cat, really — always were. Is this young woman staying here?’
‘No,’ said Gerald. ‘She is going home tonight.’
‘Then she’d better have the dog-cart. Does she go far?’
‘Only to Beldover.’
‘Ah!’ The elderly woman never looked at Gudrun, yet she seemed to take knowledge of her presence.
‘You are inclined to take too much on yourself, Gerald,’ said the mother, pulling herself to her feet, with a little difficulty.
‘Will you go, mother?’ he asked, politely.
‘Yes, I’ll go up again,’ she replied. Turning to Gudrun, she bade her ‘Good-night.’ Then she went slowly to the door, as if she were unaccustomed to walking. At the door she lifted her face to him, implicitly. He kissed her.
‘Don’t come any further with me,’ she said, in her barely audible voice. ‘I don’t want you any further.’
He bade her good-night, watched her across to the stairs and mount slowly. Then he closed the door and came back to Gudrun. Gudrun rose also, to go.
‘A queer being, my mother,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ replied Gudrun.
‘She has her own thoughts.’
‘Yes,’ said Gudrun.
Then they were silent.
‘You want to go?’ he asked. ‘Half a minute, I’ll just have a horse put in —’
‘No,’ said Gudrun. ‘I want to walk.’
He had promised to walk with her down the long, lonely mile of drive, and she wanted this.
‘You might JUST as well drive,’ he said.
‘I’d MUCH RATHER walk,’ she asserted, with emphasis.
‘You would! Then I will come along with you. You know where your things are? I’ll put boots on.’
He put on a cap, and an overcoat over his evening dress. They went out into the night.
‘Let us light a cigarette,’ he said, stopping in a sheltered angle of the porch. ‘You have one too.’
So, with the scent of tobacco on the night air, they set off down the dark drive that ran between close-cut hedges through sloping meadows.
He wanted to put his arm round her. If he could put his arm round her, and draw her against him as they walked, he would equilibriate himself. For now he felt like a pair of scales, the half of which tips down and down into an indefinite void. He must recover some sort of balance. And here was the hope and the perfect recovery.
Blind to her, thinking only of himself, he slipped his arm softly round her waist, and drew her to him. Her heart fainted, feeling herself taken. But then, his arm was so strong, she quailed under its powerful close grasp. She died a little death, and was drawn against him as they walked down the stormy darkness. He seemed to balance her perfectly in opposition to himself, in their dual motion of walking. So, suddenly, he was liberated and perfect, strong, heroic.
He put his hand to his mouth and threw his cigarette away, a gleaming point, into the unseen hedge. Then he was quite free to balance her.
‘That’s better,’ he said, with exultancy.
The exultation in his voice was like a sweetish, poisonous drug to her. Did she then mean so much to him! She sipped the poison.
‘Are you happier?’ she asked, wistfully.
‘Much better,’ he said, in the same exultant voice, ‘and I was rather far gone.’
She nestled against him. He felt her all soft and warm, she was the rich, lovely substance of his being. The warmth and motion of her walk suffused through him wonderfully.
‘I’m SO glad if I help you,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ he answered. ‘There’s nobody else could do it, if you wouldn’t.’
‘That is true,’ she said to herself, with a thrill of strange, fatal elation.
As they walked, he seemed to lift her nearer and nearer to himself, till she moved upon the firm vehicle of his body.
He was so strong, so sustaining, and he could not be opposed. She drifted along in a wonderful interfusion of physical motion, down the dark, blowy hillside. Far across shone the little yellow lights of Beldover, many of them, spread in a thick patch on another dark hill. But he and she were walking in perfect, isolated darkness, outside the world.
‘But how much do you care for me!’ came her voice, almost querulous. ‘You see, I don’t know, I don’t understand!’
‘How much!’ His voice rang with a painful elation. ‘I don’t know either — but everything.’ He was startled by his own declaration. It was true. So he stripped himself of every safeguard, in making this admission to her. He cared everything for her — she was everything.
‘But I can’t believe it,’ said her low voice, amazed, trembling. She was trembling with doubt and exultance. This was the thing she wanted to hear, only this. Yet now she heard it, heard the strange clapping vibration of truth in his voice as he said it, she could not believe. She could not believe — she did not believe. Yet she believed, triumphantly, with fatal exultance.
‘Why not?’ he said. ‘Why don’t you believe it? It’s true. It is true, as we stand at this moment —’ he stood still with her in the wind; ‘I care for nothing on earth, or in heaven, outside this spot where we are. And it isn’t my own presence I care about, it is all yours. I’d sell my soul a hundred times — but I couldn’t bear not to have you here. I couldn’t bear to be alone. My brain would burst. It is true.’ He drew her closer to him, with definite movement.
‘No,’ she murmured, afraid. Yet this was what she wanted. Why did she so lose courage?
They resumed their strange walk. They were such strangers — and yet they were so frightfully, unthinkably near. It was like a madness. Yet it was what she wanted, it was what she wanted. They had descended the hill, and now they were coming to the square arch where the road passed under the colliery railway. The arch, Gudrun knew, had walls of squared stone, mossy on one side with water that trickled down, dry on the other side. She had stood under it to hear the train rumble thundering over the logs overhead. And she knew that under this dark and lonely bridge the young colliers stood in the darkness with their sweethearts, in rainy weather. And so she wanted to stand under the bridge with HER sweetheart, and be kissed under the bridge in the invisible darkness. Her steps dragged as she drew near.
So, under the bridge, they came to a standstill, and he lifted her upon his breast. His body vibrated taut and powerful as he closed upon her and crushed her, breathless and dazed and destroyed, crushed her upon his breast. Ah, it was terrible, and perfect. Under this bridge, the colliers pressed their lovers to their breast. And now, under the bridge, the master of them all pressed her to himself? And how much more powerful and terrible was his embrace than theirs, how much more concentrated and supreme his love was, than theirs in the same sort! She felt she would swoon, die, under the vibrating, inhuman tension of his arms and his body — she would pass away. Then the unthinkable high vibration slackened and became more undulating. He slackened and drew her with him to stand with his back to the wall.
She was almost unconscious. So the colliers’ lovers would stand with their backs to the walls, holding their sweethearts and kissing them as she was being kissed. Ah, but would their kisses be fine and powerful as the kisses of the firm-mouthed master? Even the keen, short-cut moustache — the colliers would not have that.
And the colliers’ sweethearts would, like herself, hang their heads back limp over their shoulder, and look out from the dark archway, at the close patch of yellow lights on the unseen hill in the distance, or at the vague form of trees, and at the buildings of the colliery wood-yard, in the other direction.
His arms were fast around her, he seemed to be gathering her into himself, her warmth, her softness, her adorable weight, drinking in the suffusion of her physical being, avidly. He lifted her, and seemed to pour her into himself, like wine into a cup.
‘This is worth everything,’ he said, in a strange, penetrating voice.
So she relaxed, and seemed to melt, to flow into him, as if she were some infinitely warm and precious suffusion filling into his veins, like an intoxicant. Her arms were round his neck, he kissed her and held her perfectly suspended, she was all slack and flowing into him, and he was the firm, strong cup that receives the wine of her life. So she lay cast upon him, stranded, lifted up against him, melting and melting under his kisses, melting into his limbs and bones, as if he were soft iron becoming surcharged with her electric life.
Till she seemed to swoon, gradually her mind went, and she passed away, everything in her was melted down and fluid, and she lay still, become contained by him, sleeping in him as lightning sleeps in a pure, soft stone. So she was passed away and gone in him, and he was perfected.
When she opened her eyes again, and saw the patch of lights in the distance, it seemed to her strange that the world still existed, that she was standing under the bridge resting her head on Gerald’s breast. Gerald — who was he? He was the exquisite adventure, the desirable unknown to her.
She looked up, and in the darkness saw his face above her, his shapely, male face. There seemed a faint, white light emitted from him, a white aura, as if he were visitor from the unseen. She reached up, like Eve reaching to the apples on the tree of knowledge, and she kissed him, though her passion was a transcendent fear of the thing he was, touching his face with her infinitely delicate, encroaching wondering fingers. Her fingers went over the mould of his face, over his features. How perfect and foreign he was — ah how dangerous! Her soul thrilled with complete knowledge. This was the glistening, forbidden apple, this face of a man. She kissed him, putting her fingers over his face, his eyes, his nostrils, over his brows and his ears, to his neck, to know him, to gather him in by touch. He was so firm, and shapely, with such satisfying, inconceivable shapeliness, strange, yet unutterably clear. He was such an unutterable enemy, yet glistening with uncanny white fire. She wanted to touch him and touch him and touch him, till she had him all in her hands, till she had strained him into her knowledge. Ah, if she could have the precious KNOWLEDGE of him, she would be filled, and nothing could deprive her of this. For he was so unsure, so risky in the common world of day.
‘You are so BEAUTIFUL,’ she murmured in her throat.
He wondered, and was suspended. But she felt him quiver, and she came down involuntarily nearer upon him. He could not help himself. Her fingers had him under their power. The fathomless, fathomless desire they could evoke in him was deeper than death, where he had no choice.
But she knew now, and it was enough. For the time, her soul was destroyed with the exquisite shock of his invisible fluid lightning. She knew. And this knowledge was a death from which she must recover. How much more of him was there to know? Ah much, much, many days harvesting for her large, yet perfectly subtle and intelligent hands upon the field of his living, radio-active body. Ah, her hands were eager, greedy for knowledge. But for the present it was enough, enough, as much as her soul could bear. Too much, and she would shatter herself, she would fill the fine vial of her soul too quickly, and it would break. Enough now — enough for the time being. There were all the after days when her hands, like birds, could feed upon the fields of him mystical plastic form — till then enough.
And even he was glad to be checked, rebuked, held back. For to desire is better than to possess, the finality of the end was dreaded as deeply as it was desired.
They walked on towards the town, towards where the lamps threaded singly, at long intervals down the dark high-road of the valley. They came at length to the gate of the drive.
‘Don’t come any further,’ she said.
‘You’d rather I didn’t?’ he asked, relieved. He did not want to go up the public streets with her, his soul all naked and alight as it was.
‘Much rather — good-night.’ She held out her hand. He grasped it, then touched the perilous, potent fingers with his lips.
‘Good-night,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow.’
And they parted. He went home full of the strength and the power of living desire.
But the next day, she did not come, she sent a note that she was kept indoors by a cold. Here was a torment! But he possessed his soul in some sort of patience, writing a brief answer, telling her how sorry he was not to see her.
The day after this, he stayed at home — it seemed so futile to go down to the office. His father could not live the week out. And he wanted to be at home, suspended.
Gerald sat on a chair by the window in his father’s room. The landscape outside was black and winter-sodden. His father lay grey and ashen on the bed, a nurse moved silently in her white dress, neat and elegant, even beautiful. There was a scent of eau-de-cologne in the room. The nurse went out of the room, Gerald was alone with death, facing the winter-black landscape.
‘Is there much more water in Denley?’ came the faint voice, determined and querulous, from the bed. The dying man was asking about a leakage from Willey Water into one of the pits.
‘Some more — we shall have to run off the lake,’ said Gerald.
‘Will you?’ The faint voice filtered to extinction. There was dead stillness. The grey-faced, sick man lay with eyes closed, more dead than death. Gerald looked away. He felt his heart was seared, it would perish if this went on much longer.
Suddenly he heard a strange noise. Turning round, he saw his father’s eyes wide open, strained and rolling in a frenzy of inhuman struggling. Gerald started to his feet, and stood transfixed in horror.
‘Wha-a-ah-h-h-’ came a horrible choking rattle from his father’s throat, the fearful, frenzied eye, rolling awfully in its wild fruitless search for help, passed blindly over Gerald, then up came the dark blood and mess pumping over the face of the agonised being. The tense body relaxed, the head fell aside, down the pillow.
Gerald stood transfixed, his soul echoing in horror. He would move, but he could not. He could not move his limbs. His brain seemed to re-echo, like a pulse.
The nurse in white softly entered. She glanced at Gerald, then at the bed.
‘Ah!’ came her soft whimpering cry, and she hurried forward to the dead man. ‘Ah-h!’ came the slight sound of her agitated distress, as she stood bending over the bedside. Then she recovered, turned, and came for towel and sponge. She was wiping the dead face carefully, and murmuring, almost whimpering, very softly: ‘Poor Mr Crich! — Poor Mr Crich! Poor Mr Crich!’
‘Is he dead?’ clanged Gerald’s sharp voice.
‘Oh yes, he’s gone,’ replied the soft, moaning voice of the nurse, as she looked up at Gerald’s face. She was young and beautiful and quivering. A strange sort of grin went over Gerald’s face, over the horror. And he walked out of the room.
He was going to tell his mother. On the landing he met his brother Basil.
‘He’s gone, Basil,’ he said, scarcely able to subdue his voice, not to let an unconscious, frightening exultation sound through.
‘What?’ cried Basil, going pale.
Gerald nodded. Then he went on to his mother’s room.
She was sitting in her purple gown, sewing, very slowly sewing, putting in a stitch then another stitch. She looked up at Gerald with her blue undaunted eyes.
‘Father’s gone,’ he said.
‘He’s dead? Who says so?’
‘Oh, you know, mother, if you see him.’
She put her sewing down, and slowly rose.
‘Are you going to see him?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she said
By the bedside the children already stood in a weeping group.
‘Oh, mother!’ cried the daughters, almost in hysterics, weeping loudly.
But the mother went forward. The dead man lay in repose, as if gently asleep, so gently, so peacefully, like a young man sleeping in purity. He was still warm. She stood looking at him in gloomy, heavy silence, for some time.
‘Ay,’ she said bitterly, at length, speaking as if to the unseen witnesses of the air. ‘You’re dead.’ She stood for some minutes in silence, looking down. ‘Beautiful,’ she asserted, ‘beautiful as if life had never touched you — never touched you. God send I look different. I hope I shall look my years, when I am dead. Beautiful, beautiful,’ she crooned over him. ‘You can see him in his teens, with his first beard on his face. A beautiful soul, beautiful —’ Then there was a tearing in her voice as she cried: ‘None of you look like this, when you are dead! Don’t let it happen again.’ It was a strange, wild command from out of the unknown. Her children moved unconsciously together, in a nearer group, at the dreadful command in her voice. The colour was flushed bright in her cheek, she looked awful and wonderful. ‘Blame me, blame me if you like, that he lies there like a lad in his teens, with his first beard on his face. Blame me if you like. But you none of you know.’ She was silent in intense silence.
Then there came, in a low, tense voice: ‘If I thought that the children I bore would lie looking like that in death, I’d strangle them when they were infants, yes —’
‘No, mother,’ came the strange, clarion voice of Gerald from the background, ‘we are different, we don’t blame you.’
She turned and looked full in his eyes. Then she lifted her hands in a strange half-gesture of mad despair.
‘Pray!’ she said strongly. ‘Pray for yourselves to God, for there’s no help for you from your parents.’
‘Oh mother!’ cried her daughters wildly.
But she had turned and gone, and they all went quickly away from each other.
When Gudrun heard that Mr Crich was dead, she felt rebuked. She had stayed away lest Gerald should think her too easy of winning. And now, he was in the midst of trouble, whilst she was cold.
The following day she went up as usual to Winifred, who was glad to see her, glad to get away into the studio. The girl had wept, and then, too frightened, had turned aside to avoid any more tragic eventuality. She and Gudrun resumed work as usual, in the isolation of the studio, and this seemed an immeasurable happiness, a pure world of freedom, after the aimlessness and misery of the house. Gudrun stayed on till evening. She and Winifred had dinner brought up to the studio, where they ate in freedom, away from all the people in the house.
After dinner Gerald came up. The great high studio was full of shadow and a fragrance of coffee. Gudrun and Winifred had a little table near the fire at the far end, with a white lamp whose light did not travel far. They were a tiny world to themselves, the two girls surrounded by lovely shadows, the beams and rafters shadowy over-head, the benches and implements shadowy down the studio.
‘You are cosy enough here,’ said Gerald, going up to them.
There was a low brick fireplace, full of fire, an old blue Turkish rug, the little oak table with the lamp and the white-and-blue cloth and the dessert, and Gudrun making coffee in an odd brass coffee-maker, and Winifred scalding a little milk in a tiny saucepan.
‘Have you had coffee?’ said Gudrun.
‘I have, but I’ll have some more with you,’ he replied.
‘Then you must have it in a glass — there are only two cups,’ said Winifred.
‘It is the same to me,’ he said, taking a chair and coming into the charmed circle of the girls. How happy they were, how cosy and glamorous it was with them, in a world of lofty shadows! The outside world, in which he had been transacting funeral business all the day was completely wiped out. In an instant he snuffed glamour and magic.
They had all their things very dainty, two odd and lovely little cups, scarlet and solid gilt, and a little black jug with scarlet discs, and the curious coffee-machine, whose spirit-flame flowed steadily, almost invisibly. There was the effect of rather sinister richness, in which Gerald at once escaped himself.
They all sat down, and Gudrun carefully poured out the coffee.
‘Will you have milk?’ she asked calmly, yet nervously poising the little black jug with its big red dots. She was always so completely controlled, yet so bitterly nervous.
‘No, I won’t,’ he replied.
So, with a curious humility, she placed him the little cup of coffee, and herself took the awkward tumbler. She seemed to want to serve him.
‘Why don’t you give me the glass — it is so clumsy for you,’ he said. He would much rather have had it, and seen her daintily served. But she was silent, pleased with the disparity, with her self-abasement.
‘You are quite EN MENAGE,’ he said.
‘Yes. We aren’t really at home to visitors,’ said Winifred.
‘You’re not? Then I’m an intruder?’
For once he felt his conventional dress was out of place, he was an outsider.
Gudrun was very quiet. She did not feel drawn to talk to him. At this stage, silence was best — or mere light words. It was best to leave serious things aside. So they talked gaily and lightly, till they heard the man below lead out the horse, and call it to ‘back-back!’ into the dog-cart that was to take Gudrun home. So she put on her things, and shook hands with Gerald, without once meeting his eyes. And she was gone.
The funeral was detestable. Afterwards, at the tea-table, the daughters kept saying —‘He was a good father to us — the best father in the world’— or else —‘We shan’t easily find another man as good as father was.’
Gerald acquiesced in all this. It was the right conventional attitude, and, as far as the world went, he believed in the conventions. He took it as a matter of course. But Winifred hated everything, and hid in the studio, and cried her heart out, and wished Gudrun would come.
Luckily everybody was going away. The Criches never stayed long at home. By dinner-time, Gerald was left quite alone. Even Winifred was carried off to London, for a few days with her sister Laura.
But when Gerald was really left alone, he could not bear it. One day passed by, and another. And all the time he was like a man hung in chains over the edge of an abyss. Struggle as he might, he could not turn himself to the solid earth, he could not get footing. He was suspended on the edge of a void, writhing. Whatever he thought of, was the abyss — whether it were friends or strangers, or work or play, it all showed him only the same bottomless void, in which his heart swung perishing. There was no escape, there was nothing to grasp hold of. He must writhe on the edge of the chasm, suspended in chains of invisible physical life.
At first he was quiet, he kept still, expecting the extremity to pass away, expecting to find himself released into the world of the living, after this extremity of penance. But it did not pass, and a crisis gained upon him.
As the evening of the third day came on, his heart rang with fear. He could not bear another night. Another night was coming on, for another night he was to be suspended in chain of physical life, over the bottomless pit of nothingness. And he could not bear it. He could not bear it. He was frightened deeply, and coldly, frightened in his soul. He did not believe in his own strength any more. He could not fall into this infinite void, and rise again. If he fell, he would be gone for ever. He must withdraw, he must seek reinforcements. He did not believe in his own single self, any further than this.
After dinner, faced with the ultimate experience of his own nothingness, he turned aside. He pulled on his boots, put on his coat, and set out to walk in the night.
It was dark and misty. He went through the wood, stumbling and feeling his way to the Mill. Birkin was away. Good — he was half glad. He turned up the hill, and stumbled blindly over the wild slopes, having lost the path in the complete darkness. It was boring. Where was he going? No matter. He stumbled on till he came to a path again. Then he went on through another wood. His mind became dark, he went on automatically. Without thought or sensation, he stumbled unevenly on, out into the open again, fumbling for stiles, losing the path, and going along the hedges of the fields till he came to the outlet.
And at last he came to the high road. It had distracted him to struggle blindly through the maze of darkness. But now, he must take a direction. And he did not even know where he was. But he must take a direction now. Nothing would be resolved by merely walking, walking away. He had to take a direction.
He stood still on the road, that was high in the utterly dark night, and he did not know where he was. It was a strange sensation, his heart beating, and ringed round with the utterly unknown darkness. So he stood for some time.
Then he heard footsteps, and saw a small, swinging light. He immediately went towards this. It was a miner.
‘Can you tell me,’ he said, ‘where this road goes?’
‘Road? Ay, it goes ter Whatmore.’
‘Whatmore! Oh thank you, that’s right. I thought I was wrong. Good-night.’
‘Good-night,’ replied the broad voice of the miner.
Gerald guessed where he was. At least, when he came to Whatmore, he would know. He was glad to be on a high road. He walked forward as in a sleep of decision.
That was Whatmore Village —? Yes, the King’s Head — and there the hall gates. He descended the steep hill almost running. Winding through the hollow, he passed the Grammar School, and came to Willey Green Church. The churchyard! He halted.
Then in another moment he had clambered up the wall and was going among the graves. Even in this darkness he could see the heaped pallor of old white flowers at his feet. This then was the grave. He stooped down. The flowers were cold and clammy. There was a raw scent of chrysanthemums and tube-roses, deadened. He felt the clay beneath, and shrank, it was so horribly cold and sticky. He stood away in revulsion.
Here was one centre then, here in the complete darkness beside the unseen, raw grave. But there was nothing for him here. No, he had nothing to stay here for. He felt as if some of the clay were sticking cold and unclean, on his heart. No, enough of this.
Where then? — home? Never! It was no use going there. That was less than no use. It could not be done. There was somewhere else to go. Where?
A dangerous resolve formed in his heart, like a fixed idea. There was Gudrun — she would be safe in her home. But he could get at her — he would get at her. He would not go back tonight till he had come to her, if it cost him his life. He staked his all on this throw.
He set off walking straight across the fields towards Beldover. It was so dark, nobody could ever see him. His feet were wet and cold, heavy with clay. But he went on persistently, like a wind, straight forward, as if to his fate. There were great gaps in his consciousness. He was conscious that he was at Winthorpe hamlet, but quite unconscious how he had got there. And then, as in a dream, he was in the long street of Beldover, with its street-lamps.
There was a noise of voices, and of a door shutting loudly, and being barred, and of men talking in the night. The ‘Lord Nelson’ had just closed, and the drinkers were going home. He had better ask one of these where she lived — for he did not know the side streets at all.
‘Can you tell me where Somerset Drive is?’ he asked of one of the uneven men.
‘Where what?’ replied the tipsy miner’s voice.
‘Somerset Drive! — I’ve heard o’ such a place, but I couldn’t for my life say where it is. Who might you be wanting?’
‘Mr Brangwen — William Brangwen.’
‘William Brangwen —? —?’
‘Who teaches at the Grammar School, at Willey Green — his daughter teaches there too.’
‘O-o-o-oh, Brangwen! NOW I’ve got you. Of COURSE, William Brangwen! Yes, yes, he’s got two lasses as teachers, aside hisself. Ay, that’s him — that’s him! Why certainly I know where he lives, back your life I do! Yi — WHAT place do they ca’ it?’
‘Somerset Drive,’ repeated Gerald patiently. He knew his own colliers fairly well.
‘Somerset Drive, for certain!’ said the collier, swinging his arm as if catching something up. ‘Somerset Drive — yi! I couldn’t for my life lay hold o’ the lercality o’ the place. Yis, I know the place, to be sure I do —’
He turned unsteadily on his feet, and pointed up the dark, nighdeserted road.
‘You go up theer — an’ you ta’e th’ first — yi, th’ first turnin’ on your left — o’ that side — past Withamses tuffy shop —’
‘I know,’ said Gerald.
‘Ay! You go down a bit, past wheer th’ water-man lives — and then Somerset Drive, as they ca’ it, branches off on ‘t right hand side — an’ there’s nowt but three houses in it, no more than three, I believe — an’ I’m a’most certain as theirs is th’ last — th’ last o’ th’ three — you see —’
‘Thank you very much,’ said Gerald. ‘Good-night.’
And he started off, leaving the tipsy man there standing rooted.
Gerald went past the dark shops and houses, most of them sleeping now, and twisted round to the little blind road that ended on a field of darkness. He slowed down, as he neared his goal, not knowing how he should proceed. What if the house were closed in darkness?
But it was not. He saw a big lighted window, and heard voices, then a gate banged. His quick ears caught the sound of Birkin’s voice, his keen eyes made out Birkin, with Ursula standing in a pale dress on the step of the garden path. Then Ursula stepped down, and came along the road, holding Birkin’s arm.
Gerald went across into the darkness and they dawdled past him, talking happily, Birkin’s voice low, Ursula’s high and distinct. Gerald went quickly to the house.
The blinds were drawn before the big, lighted window of the diningroom. Looking up the path at the side he could see the door left open, shedding a soft, coloured light from the hall lamp. He went quickly and silently up the path, and looked up into the hall. There were pictures on the walls, and the antlers of a stag — and the stairs going up on one side — and just near the foot of the stairs the half opened door of the dining-room.
With heart drawn fine, Gerald stepped into the hall, whose floor was of coloured tiles, went quickly and looked into the large, pleasant room. In a chair by the fire, the father sat asleep, his head tilted back against the side of the big oak chimney piece, his ruddy face seen foreshortened, the nostrils open, the mouth fallen a little. It would take the merest sound to wake him.
Gerald stood a second suspended. He glanced down the passage behind him. It was all dark. Again he was suspended. Then he went swiftly upstairs. His senses were so finely, almost supernaturally keen, that he seemed to cast his own will over the half-unconscious house.
He came to the first landing. There he stood, scarcely breathing. Again, corresponding to the door below, there was a door again. That would be the mother’s room. He could hear her moving about in the candlelight. She would be expecting her husband to come up. He looked along the dark landing.
Then, silently, on infinitely careful feet, he went along the passage, feeling the wall with the extreme tips of his fingers. There was a door. He stood and listened. He could hear two people’s breathing. It was not that. He went stealthily forward. There was another door, slightly open. The room was in darkness. Empty. Then there was the bathroom, he could smell the soap and the heat. Then at the end another bedroom — one soft breathing. This was she.
With an almost occult carefulness he turned the door handle, and opened the door an inch. It creaked slightly. Then he opened it another inch — then another. His heart did not beat, he seemed to create a silence about himself, an obliviousness.
He was in the room. Still the sleeper breathed softly. It was very dark. He felt his way forward inch by inch, with his feet and hands. He touched the bed, he could hear the sleeper. He drew nearer, bending close as if his eyes would disclose whatever there was. And then, very near to his face, to his fear, he saw the round, dark head of a boy.
He recovered, turned round, saw the door ajar, a faint light revealed. And he retreated swiftly, drew the door to without fastening it, and passed rapidly down the passage. At the head of the stairs he hesitated. There was still time to flee.
But it was unthinkable. He would maintain his will. He turned past the door of the parental bedroom like a shadow, and was climbing the second flight of stairs. They creaked under his weight — it was exasperating. Ah what disaster, if the mother’s door opened just beneath him, and she saw him! It would have to be, if it were so. He held the control still.
He was not quite up these stairs when he heard a quick running of feet below, the outer door was closed and locked, he heard Ursula’s voice, then the father’s sleepy exclamation. He pressed on swiftly to the upper landing.
Again a door was ajar, a room was empty. Feeling his way forward, with the tips of his fingers, travelling rapidly, like a blind man, anxious lest Ursula should come upstairs, he found another door. There, with his preternaturally fine sense alert, he listened. He heard someone moving in bed. This would be she.
Softly now, like one who has only one sense, the tactile sense, he turned the latch. It clicked. He held still. The bed-clothes rustled. His heart did not beat. Then again he drew the latch back, and very gently pushed the door. It made a sticking noise as it gave.
‘Ursula?’ said Gudrun’s voice, frightened. He quickly opened the door and pushed it behind him.
‘Is it you, Ursula?’ came Gudrun’s frightened voice. He heard her sitting up in bed. In another moment she would scream.
‘No, it’s me,’ he said, feeling his way towards her. ‘It is I, Gerald.’
She sat motionless in her bed in sheer astonishment. She was too astonished, too much taken by surprise, even to be afraid.
‘Gerald!’ she echoed, in blank amazement. He had found his way to the bed, and his outstretched hand touched her warm breast blindly. She shrank away.
‘Let me make a light,’ she said, springing out.
He stood perfectly motionless. He heard her touch the match-box, he heard her fingers in their movement. Then he saw her in the light of a match, which she held to the candle. The light rose in the room, then sank to a small dimness, as the flame sank down on the candle, before it mounted again.
She looked at him, as he stood near the other side of the bed. His cap was pulled low over his brow, his black overcoat was buttoned close up to his chin. His face was strange and luminous. He was inevitable as a supernatural being. When she had seen him, she knew. She knew there was something fatal in the situation, and she must accept it. Yet she must challenge him.
‘How did you come up?’ she asked.
‘I walked up the stairs — the door was open.’
She looked at him.
‘I haven’t closed this door, either,’ he said. She walked swiftly across the room, and closed her door, softly, and locked it. Then she came back.
She was wonderful, with startled eyes and flushed cheeks, and her plait of hair rather short and thick down her back, and her long, fine white night-dress falling to her feet.
She saw that his boots were all clayey, even his trousers were plastered with clay. And she wondered if he had made footprints all the way up. He was a very strange figure, standing in her bedroom, near the tossed bed.
‘Why have you come?’ she asked, almost querulous.
‘I wanted to,’ he replied.
And this she could see from his face. It was fate.
‘You are so muddy,’ she said, in distaste, but gently.
He looked down at his feet.
‘I was walking in the dark,’ he replied. But he felt vividly elated. There was a pause. He stood on one side of the tumbled bed, she on the other. He did not even take his cap from his brows.
‘And what do you want of me,’ she challenged.
He looked aside, and did not answer. Save for the extreme beauty and mystic attractiveness of this distinct, strange face, she would have sent him away. But his face was too wonderful and undiscovered to her. It fascinated her with the fascination of pure beauty, cast a spell on her, like nostalgia, an ache.
‘What do you want of me?’ she repeated in an estranged voice.
He pulled off his cap, in a movement of dream-liberation, and went across to her. But he could not touch her, because she stood barefoot in her night-dress, and he was muddy and damp. Her eyes, wide and large and wondering, watched him, and asked him the ultimate question.
‘I came — because I must,’ he said. ‘Why do you ask?’
She looked at him in doubt and wonder.
‘I must ask,’ she said.
He shook his head slightly.
‘There is no answer,’ he replied, with strange vacancy.
There was about him a curious, and almost godlike air of simplicity and native directness. He reminded her of an apparition, the young Hermes.
‘But why did you come to me?’ she persisted.
‘Because — it has to be so. If there weren’t you in the world, then I shouldn’t be in the world, either.’
She stood looking at him, with large, wide, wondering, stricken eyes. His eyes were looking steadily into hers all the time, and he seemed fixed in an odd supernatural steadfastness. She sighed. She was lost now. She had no choice.
‘Won’t you take off your boots,’ she said. ‘They must be wet.’
He dropped his cap on a chair, unbuttoned his overcoat, lifting up his chin to unfasten the throat buttons. His short, keen hair was ruffled. He was so beautifully blond, like wheat. He pulled off his overcoat.
Quickly he pulled off his jacket, pulled loose his black tie, and was unfastening his studs, which were headed each with a pearl. She listened, watching, hoping no one would hear the starched linen crackle. It seemed to snap like pistol shots.
He had come for vindication. She let him hold her in his arms, clasp her close against him. He found in her an infinite relief. Into her he poured all his pent-up darkness and corrosive death, and he was whole again. It was wonderful, marvellous, it was a miracle. This was the everrecurrent miracle of his life, at the knowledge of which he was lost in an ecstasy of relief and wonder. And she, subject, received him as a vessel filled with his bitter potion of death. She had no power at this crisis to resist. The terrible frictional violence of death filled her, and she received it in an ecstasy of subjection, in throes of acute, violent sensation.
As he drew nearer to her, he plunged deeper into her enveloping soft warmth, a wonderful creative heat that penetrated his veins and gave him life again. He felt himself dissolving and sinking to rest in the bath of her living strength. It seemed as if her heart in her breast were a second unconquerable sun, into the glow and creative strength of which he plunged further and further. All his veins, that were murdered and lacerated, healed softly as life came pulsing in, stealing invisibly in to him as if it were the all-powerful effluence of the sun. His blood, which seemed to have been drawn back into death, came ebbing on the return, surely, beautifully, powerfully.
He felt his limbs growing fuller and flexible with life, his body gained an unknown strength. He was a man again, strong and rounded. And he was a child, so soothed and restored and full of gratitude.
And she, she was the great bath of life, he worshipped her. Mother and substance of all life she was. And he, child and man, received of her and was made whole. His pure body was almost killed. But the miraculous, soft effluence of her breast suffused over him, over his seared, damaged brain, like a healing lymph, like a soft, soothing flow of life itself, perfect as if he were bathed in the womb again.
His brain was hurt, seared, the tissue was as if destroyed. He had not known how hurt he was, how his tissue, the very tissue of his brain was damaged by the corrosive flood of death. Now, as the healing lymph of her effluence flowed through him, he knew how destroyed he was, like a plant whose tissue is burst from inwards by a frost.
He buried his small, hard head between her breasts, and pressed her breasts against him with his hands. And she with quivering hands pressed his head against her, as he lay suffused out, and she lay fully conscious. The lovely creative warmth flooded through him like a sleep of fecundity within the womb. Ah, if only she would grant him the flow of this living effluence, he would be restored, he would be complete again. He was afraid she would deny him before it was finished. Like a child at the breast, he cleaved intensely to her, and she could not put him away. And his seared, ruined membrane relaxed, softened, that which was seared and stiff and blasted yielded again, became soft and flexible, palpitating with new life. He was infinitely grateful, as to God, or as an infant is at its mother’s breast. He was glad and grateful like a delirium, as he felt his own wholeness come over him again, as he felt the full, unutterable sleep coming over him, the sleep of complete exhaustion and restoration.
But Gudrun lay wide awake, destroyed into perfect consciousness. She lay motionless, with wide eyes staring motionless into the darkness, whilst he was sunk away in sleep, his arms round her.
She seemed to be hearing waves break on a hidden shore, long, slow, gloomy waves, breaking with the rhythm of fate, so monotonously that it seemed eternal. This endless breaking of slow, sullen waves of fate held her life a possession, whilst she lay with dark, wide eyes looking into the darkness. She could see so far, as far as eternity — yet she saw nothing. She was suspended in perfect consciousness — and of what was she conscious?
This mood of extremity, when she lay staring into eternity, utterly suspended, and conscious of everything, to the last limits, passed and left her uneasy. She had lain so long motionless. She moved, she became self-conscious. She wanted to look at him, to see him.
But she dared not make a light, because she knew he would wake, and she did not want to break his perfect sleep, that she knew he had got of her.
She disengaged herself, softly, and rose up a little to look at him. There was a faint light, it seemed to her, in the room. She could just distinguish his features, as he slept the perfect sleep. In this darkness, she seemed to see him so distinctly. But he was far off, in another world. Ah, she could shriek with torment, he was so far off, and perfected, in another world. She seemed to look at him as at a pebble far away under clear dark water. And here was she, left with all the anguish of consciousness, whilst he was sunk deep into the other element of mindless, remote, living shadow-gleam. He was beautiful, far-off, and perfected. They would never be together. Ah, this awful, inhuman distance which would always be interposed between her and the other being!
There was nothing to do but to lie still and endure. She felt an overwhelming tenderness for him, and a dark, under-stirring of jealous hatred, that he should lie so perfect and immune, in an other-world, whilst she was tormented with violent wakefulness, cast out in the outer darkness.
She lay in intense and vivid consciousness, an exhausting superconsciousness. The church clock struck the hours, it seemed to her, in quick succession. She heard them distinctly in the tension of her vivid consciousness. And he slept as if time were one moment, unchanging and unmoving.
She was exhausted, wearied. Yet she must continue in this state of violent active superconsciousness. She was conscious of everything — her childhood, her girlhood, all the forgotten incidents, all the unrealised influences and all the happenings she had not understood, pertaining to herself, to her family, to her friends, her lovers, her acquaintances, everybody. It was as if she drew a glittering rope of knowledge out of the sea of darkness, drew and drew and drew it out of the fathomless depths of the past, and still it did not come to an end, there was no end to it, she must haul and haul at the rope of glittering consciousness, pull it out phosphorescent from the endless depths of the unconsciousness, till she was weary, aching, exhausted, and fit to break, and yet she had not done.
Ah, if only she might wake him! She turned uneasily. When could she rouse him and send him away? When could she disturb him? And she relapsed into her activity of automatic consciousness, that would never end.
But the time was drawing near when she could wake him. It was like a release. The clock had struck four, outside in the night. Thank God the night had passed almost away. At five he must go, and she would be released. Then she could relax and fill her own place. Now she was driven up against his perfect sleeping motion like a knife white-hot on a grindstone. There was something monstrous about him, about his juxtaposition against her.
The last hour was the longest. And yet, at last it passed. Her heart leapt with relief — yes, there was the slow, strong stroke of the church clock — at last, after this night of eternity. She waited to catch each slow, fatal reverberation. ‘Three — four — five!’ There, it was finished. A weight rolled off her.
She raised herself, leaned over him tenderly, and kissed him. She was sad to wake him. After a few moments, she kissed him again. But he did not stir. The darling, he was so deep in sleep! What a shame to take him out of it. She let him lie a little longer. But he must go — he must really go.
With full over-tenderness she took his face between her hands, and kissed his eyes. The eyes opened, he remained motionless, looking at her. Her heart stood still. To hide her face from his dreadful opened eyes, in the darkness, she bent down and kissed him, whispering:
‘You must go, my love.’
But she was sick with terror, sick.
He put his arms round her. Her heart sank.
‘But you must go, my love. It’s late.’
‘What time is it?’ he said.
Strange, his man’s voice. She quivered. It was an intolerable oppression to her.
‘Past five o’clock,’ she said.
But he only closed his arms round her again. Her heart cried within her in torture. She disengaged herself firmly.
‘You really must go,’ she said.
‘Not for a minute,’ he said.
She lay still, nestling against him, but unyielding.
‘Not for a minute,’ he repeated, clasping her closer.
‘Yes,’ she said, unyielding, ‘I’m afraid if you stay any longer.’
There was a certain coldness in her voice that made him release her, and she broke away, rose and lit the candle. That then was the end.
He got up. He was warm and full of life and desire. Yet he felt a little bit ashamed, humiliated, putting on his clothes before her, in the candle-light. For he felt revealed, exposed to her, at a time when she was in some way against him. It was all very difficult to understand. He dressed himself quickly, without collar or tie. Still he felt full and complete, perfected. She thought it humiliating to see a man dressing: the ridiculous shirt, the ridiculous trousers and braces. But again an idea saved her.
‘It is like a workman getting up to go to work,’ thought Gudrun. ‘And I am like a workman’s wife.’ But an ache like nausea was upon her: a nausea of him.
He pushed his collar and tie into his overcoat pocket. Then he sat down and pulled on his boots. They were sodden, as were his socks and trouser-bottoms. But he himself was quick and warm.
‘Perhaps you ought to have put your boots on downstairs,’ she said.
At once, without answering, he pulled them off again, and stood holding them in his hand. She had thrust her feet into slippers, and flung a loose robe round her. She was ready. She looked at him as he stood waiting, his black coat buttoned to the chin, his cap pulled down, his boots in his hand. And the passionate almost hateful fascination revived in her for a moment. It was not exhausted. His face was so warm-looking, wide-eyed and full of newness, so perfect. She felt old, old. She went to him heavily, to be kissed. He kissed her quickly. She wished his warm, expressionless beauty did not so fatally put a spell on her, compel her and subjugate her. It was a burden upon her, that she resented, but could not escape. Yet when she looked at his straight man’s brows, and at his rather small, well-shaped nose, and at his blue, indifferent eyes, she knew her passion for him was not yet satisfied, perhaps never could be satisfied. Only now she was weary, with an ache like nausea. She wanted him gone.
They went downstairs quickly. It seemed they made a prodigious noise. He followed her as, wrapped in her vivid green wrap, she preceded him with the light. She suffered badly with fear, lest her people should be roused. He hardly cared. He did not care now who knew. And she hated this in him. One MUST be cautious. One must preserve oneself.
She led the way to the kitchen. It was neat and tidy, as the woman had left it. He looked up at the clock — twenty minutes past five Then he sat down on a chair to put on his boots. She waited, watching his every movement. She wanted it to be over, it was a great nervous strain on her.
He stood up — she unbolted the back door, and looked out. A cold, raw night, not yet dawn, with a piece of a moon in the vague sky. She was glad she need not go out.
‘Good-bye then,’ he murmured.
‘I’ll come to the gate,’ she said.
And again she hurried on in front, to warn him of the steps. And at the gate, once more she stood on the step whilst he stood below her.
‘Good-bye,’ she whispered.
He kissed her dutifully, and turned away.
She suffered torments hearing his firm tread going so distinctly down the road. Ah, the insensitiveness of that firm tread!
She closed the gate, and crept quickly and noiselessly back to bed. When she was in her room, and the door closed, and all safe, she breathed freely, and a great weight fell off her. She nestled down in bed, in the groove his body had made, in the warmth he had left. And excited, worn-out, yet still satisfied, she fell soon into a deep, heavy sleep.
Gerald walked quickly through the raw darkness of the coming dawn. He met nobody. His mind was beautifully still and thoughtless, like a still pool, and his body full and warm and rich. He went quickly along towards Shortlands, in a grateful self-sufficiency.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10