Ursula went on in an unreal suspense, the last weeks before going away. She was not herself — she was not anything. She was something that is going to be — soon — soon — very soon. But as yet, she was only imminent.
She went to see her parents. It was a rather stiff, sad meeting, more like a verification of separateness than a reunion. But they were all vague and indefinite with one another, stiffened in the fate that moved them apart.
She did not really come to until she was on the ship crossing from Dover to Ostend. Dimly she had come down to London with Birkin, London had been a vagueness, so had the train-journey to Dover. It was all like a sleep.
And now, at last, as she stood in the stern of the ship, in a pitch-dark, rather blowy night, feeling the motion of the sea, and watching the small, rather desolate little lights that twinkled on the shores of England, as on the shores of nowhere, watched them sinking smaller and smaller on the profound and living darkness, she felt her soul stirring to awake from its anaesthetic sleep.
‘Let us go forward, shall we?’ said Birkin. He wanted to be at the tip of their projection. So they left off looking at the faint sparks that glimmered out of nowhere, in the far distance, called England, and turned their faces to the unfathomed night in front.
They went right to the bows of the softly plunging vessel. In the complete obscurity, Birkin found a comparatively sheltered nook, where a great rope was coiled up. It was quite near the very point of the ship, near the black, unpierced space ahead. There they sat down, folded together, folded round with the same rug, creeping in nearer and ever nearer to one another, till it seemed they had crept right into each other, and become one substance. It was very cold, and the darkness was palpable.
One of the ship’s crew came along the deck, dark as the darkness, not really visible. They then made out the faintest pallor of his face. He felt their presence, and stopped, unsure — then bent forward. When his face was near them, he saw the faint pallor of their faces. Then he withdrew like a phantom. And they watched him without making any sound.
They seemed to fall away into the profound darkness. There was no sky, no earth, only one unbroken darkness, into which, with a soft, sleeping motion, they seemed to fall like one closed seed of life falling through dark, fathomless space.
They had forgotten where they were, forgotten all that was and all that had been, conscious only in their heart, and there conscious only of this pure trajectory through the surpassing darkness. The ship’s prow cleaved on, with a faint noise of cleavage, into the complete night, without knowing, without seeing, only surging on.
In Ursula the sense of the unrealised world ahead triumphed over everything. In the midst of this profound darkness, there seemed to glow on her heart the effulgence of a paradise unknown and unrealised. Her heart was full of the most wonderful light, golden like honey of darkness, sweet like the warmth of day, a light which was not shed on the world, only on the unknown paradise towards which she was going, a sweetness of habitation, a delight of living quite unknown, but hers infallibly. In her transport she lifted her face suddenly to him, and he touched it with his lips. So cold, so fresh, so sea-clear her face was, it was like kissing a flower that grows near the surf.
But he did not know the ecstasy of bliss in fore-knowledge that she knew. To him, the wonder of this transit was overwhelming. He was falling through a gulf of infinite darkness, like a meteorite plunging across the chasm between the worlds. The world was torn in two, and he was plunging like an unlit star through the ineffable rift. What was beyond was not yet for him. He was overcome by the trajectory.
In a trance he lay enfolding Ursula round about. His face was against her fine, fragile hair, he breathed its fragrance with the sea and the profound night. And his soul was at peace; yielded, as he fell into the unknown. This was the first time that an utter and absolute peace had entered his heart, now, in this final transit out of life.
When there came some stir on the deck, they roused. They stood up. How stiff and cramped they were, in the night-time! And yet the paradisal glow on her heart, and the unutterable peace of darkness in his, this was the all-in-all.
They stood up and looked ahead. Low lights were seen down the darkness. This was the world again. It was not the bliss of her heart, nor the peace of his. It was the superficial unreal world of fact. Yet not quite the old world. For the peace and the bliss in their hearts was enduring.
Strange, and desolate above all things, like disembarking from the Styx into the desolated underworld, was this landing at night. There was the raw, half-lighted, covered-in vastness of the dark place, boarded and hollow underfoot, with only desolation everywhere. Ursula had caught sight of the big, pallid, mystic letters ‘OSTEND,’ standing in the darkness. Everybody was hurrying with a blind, insect-like intentness through the dark grey air, porters were calling in un-English English, then trotting with heavy bags, their colourless blouses looking ghostly as they disappeared; Ursula stood at a long, low, zinc-covered barrier, along with hundreds of other spectral people, and all the way down the vast, raw darkness was this low stretch of open bags and spectral people, whilst, on the other side of the barrier, pallid officials in peaked caps and moustaches were turning the underclothing in the bags, then scrawling a chalk-mark.
It was done. Birkin snapped the hand bags, off they went, the porter coming behind. They were through a great doorway, and in the open night again — ah, a railway platform! Voices were still calling in inhuman agitation through the dark-grey air, spectres were running along the darkness between the train.
‘Koln — Berlin —’ Ursula made out on the boards hung on the high train on one side.
‘Here we are,’ said Birkin. And on her side she saw: ‘Elsass — Lothringen — Luxembourg, Metz — Basle.’
‘That was it, Basle!’
The porter came up.
‘A Bale — deuxieme classe? — Voila!’ And he clambered into the high train. They followed. The compartments were already some of them taken. But many were dim and empty. The luggage was stowed, the porter was tipped.
‘Nous avons encore —?’ said Birkin, looking at his watch and at the porter.
‘Encore une demi-heure.’ With which, in his blue blouse, he disappeared. He was ugly and insolent.
‘Come,’ said Birkin. ‘It is cold. Let us eat.’
There was a coffee-wagon on the platform. They drank hot, watery coffee, and ate the long rolls, split, with ham between, which were such a wide bite that it almost dislocated Ursula’s jaw; and they walked beside the high trains. It was all so strange, so extremely desolate, like the underworld, grey, grey, dirt grey, desolate, forlorn, nowhere — grey, dreary nowhere.
At last they were moving through the night. In the darkness Ursula made out the flat fields, the wet flat dreary darkness of the Continent. They pulled up surprisingly soon — Bruges! Then on through the level darkness, with glimpses of sleeping farms and thin poplar trees and deserted high-roads. She sat dismayed, hand in hand with Birkin. He pale, immobile like a REVENANT himself, looked sometimes out of the window, sometimes closed his eyes. Then his eyes opened again, dark as the darkness outside.
A flash of a few lights on the darkness — Ghent station! A few more spectres moving outside on the platform — then the bell — then motion again through the level darkness. Ursula saw a man with a lantern come out of a farm by the railway, and cross to the dark farm-buildings. She thought of the Marsh, the old, intimate farm-life at Cossethay. My God, how far was she projected from her childhood, how far was she still to go! In one life-time one travelled through aeons. The great chasm of memory from her childhood in the intimate country surroundings of Cossethay and the Marsh Farm — she remembered the servant Tilly, who used to give her bread and butter sprinkled with brown sugar, in the old living-room where the grandfather clock had two pink roses in a basket painted above the figures on the face — and now when she was travelling into the unknown with Birkin, an utter stranger — was so great, that it seemed she had no identity, that the child she had been, playing in Cossethay churchyard, was a little creature of history, not really herself.
They were at Brussels — half an hour for breakfast. They got down. On the great station clock it said six o’clock. They had coffee and rolls and honey in the vast desert refreshment room, so dreary, always so dreary, dirty, so spacious, such desolation of space. But she washed her face and hands in hot water, and combed her hair — that was a blessing.
Soon they were in the train again and moving on. The greyness of dawn began. There were several people in the compartment, large florid Belgian business-men with long brown beards, talking incessantly in an ugly French she was too tired to follow.
It seemed the train ran by degrees out of the darkness into a faint light, then beat after beat into the day. Ah, how weary it was! Faintly, the trees showed, like shadows. Then a house, white, had a curious distinctness. How was it? Then she saw a village — there were always houses passing.
This was an old world she was still journeying through, winter-heavy and dreary. There was plough-land and pasture, and copses of bare trees, copses of bushes, and homesteads naked and work-bare. No new earth had come to pass.
She looked at Birkin’s face. It was white and still and eternal, too eternal. She linked her fingers imploringly in his, under the cover of her rug. His fingers responded, his eyes looked back at her. How dark, like a night, his eyes were, like another world beyond! Oh, if he were the world as well, if only the world were he! If only he could call a world into being, that should be their own world!
The Belgians left, the train ran on, through Luxembourg, through Alsace-Lorraine, through Metz. But she was blind, she could see no more. Her soul did not look out.
They came at last to Basle, to the hotel. It was all a drifting trance, from which she never came to. They went out in the morning, before the train departed. She saw the street, the river, she stood on the bridge. But it all meant nothing. She remembered some shops — one full of pictures, one with orange velvet and ermine. But what did these signify? — nothing.
She was not at ease till they were in the train again. Then she was relieved. So long as they were moving onwards, she was satisfied. They came to Zurich, then, before very long, ran under the mountains, that were deep in snow. At last she was drawing near. This was the other world now.
Innsbruck was wonderful, deep in snow, and evening. They drove in an open sledge over the snow: the train had been so hot and stifling. And the hotel, with the golden light glowing under the porch, seemed like a home.
They laughed with pleasure when they were in the hall. The place seemed full and busy.
‘Do you know if Mr and Mrs Crich — English — from Paris, have arrived?’ Birkin asked in German.
The porter reflected a moment, and was just going to answer, when Ursula caught sight of Gudrun sauntering down the stairs, wearing her dark glossy coat, with grey fur.
‘Gudrun! Gudrun!’ she called, waving up the well of the staircase. ‘Shu-hu!’
Gudrun looked over the rail, and immediately lost her sauntering, diffident air. Her eyes flashed.
‘Really — Ursula!’ she cried. And she began to move downstairs as Ursula ran up. They met at a turn and kissed with laughter and exclamations inarticulate and stirring.
‘But!’ cried Gudrun, mortified. ‘We thought it was TOMORROW you were coming! I wanted to come to the station.’
‘No, we’ve come today!’ cried Ursula. ‘Isn’t it lovely here!’
‘Adorable!’ said Gudrun. ‘Gerald’s just gone out to get something. Ursula, aren’t you FEARFULLY tired?’
‘No, not so very. But I look a filthy sight, don’t I!’
‘No, you don’t. You look almost perfectly fresh. I like that fur cap IMMENSELY!’ She glanced over Ursula, who wore a big soft coat with a collar of deep, soft, blond fur, and a soft blond cap of fur.
‘And you!’ cried Ursula. ‘What do you think YOU look like!’
Gudrun assumed an unconcerned, expressionless face.
‘Do you like it?’ she said.
‘It’s VERY fine!’ cried Ursula, perhaps with a touch of satire.
‘Go up — or come down,’ said Birkin. For there the sisters stood, Gudrun with her hand on Ursula’s arm, on the turn of the stairs half way to the first landing, blocking the way and affording full entertainment to the whole of the hall below, from the door porter to the plump Jew in black clothes.
The two young women slowly mounted, followed by Birkin and the waiter.
‘First floor?’ asked Gudrun, looking back over her shoulder.
‘Second Madam — the lift!’ the waiter replied. And he darted to the elevator to forestall the two women. But they ignored him, as, chattering without heed, they set to mount the second flight. Rather chagrined, the waiter followed.
It was curious, the delight of the sisters in each other, at this meeting. It was as if they met in exile, and united their solitary forces against all the world. Birkin looked on with some mistrust and wonder.
When they had bathed and changed, Gerald came in. He looked shining like the sun on frost.
‘Go with Gerald and smoke,’ said Ursula to Birkin. ‘Gudrun and I want to talk.’
Then the sisters sat in Gudrun’s bedroom, and talked clothes, and experiences. Gudrun told Ursula the experience of the Birkin letter in the cafe. Ursula was shocked and frightened.
‘Where is the letter?’ she asked.
‘I kept it,’ said Gudrun.
‘You’ll give it me, won’t you?’ she said.
But Gudrun was silent for some moments, before she replied:
‘Do you really want it, Ursula?’
‘I want to read it,’ said Ursula.
‘Certainly,’ said Gudrun.
Even now, she could not admit, to Ursula, that she wanted to keep it, as a memento, or a symbol. But Ursula knew, and was not pleased. So the subject was switched off.
‘What did you do in Paris?’ asked Ursula.
‘Oh,’ said Gudrun laconically —‘the usual things. We had a FINE party one night in Fanny Bath’s studio.’
‘Did you? And you and Gerald were there! Who else? Tell me about it.’
‘Well,’ said Gudrun. ‘There’s nothing particular to tell. You know Fanny is FRIGHTFULLY in love with that painter, Billy Macfarlane. He was there — so Fanny spared nothing, she spent VERY freely. It was really remarkable! Of course, everybody got fearfully drunk — but in an interesting way, not like that filthy London crowd. The fact is these were all people that matter, which makes all the difference. There was a Roumanian, a fine chap. He got completely drunk, and climbed to the top of a high studio ladder, and gave the most marvellous address — really, Ursula, it was wonderful! He began in French — La vie, c’est une affaire d’ames imperiales — in a most beautiful voice — he was a fine-looking chap — but he had got into Roumanian before he had finished, and not a soul understood. But Donald Gilchrist was worked to a frenzy. He dashed his glass to the ground, and declared, by God, he was glad he had been born, by God, it was a miracle to be alive. And do you know, Ursula, so it was —’ Gudrun laughed rather hollowly.
‘But how was Gerald among them all?’ asked Ursula.
‘Gerald! Oh, my word, he came out like a dandelion in the sun! HE’S a whole saturnalia in himself, once he is roused. I shouldn’t like to say whose waist his arm did not go round. Really, Ursula, he seems to reap the women like a harvest. There wasn’t one that would have resisted him. It was too amazing! Can you understand it?’
Ursula reflected, and a dancing light came into her eyes.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I can. He is such a whole-hogger.’
‘Whole-hogger! I should think so!’ exclaimed Gudrun. ‘But it is true, Ursula, every woman in the room was ready to surrender to him. Chanticleer isn’t in it — even Fanny Bath, who is GENUINELY in love with Billy Macfarlane! I never was more amazed in my life! And you know, afterwards — I felt I was a whole ROOMFUL of women. I was no more myself to him, than I was Queen Victoria. I was a whole roomful of women at once. It was most astounding! But my eye, I’d caught a Sultan that time —’
Gudrun’s eyes were flashing, her cheek was hot, she looked strange, exotic, satiric. Ursula was fascinated at once — and yet uneasy.
They had to get ready for dinner. Gudrun came down in a daring gown of vivid green silk and tissue of gold, with green velvet bodice and a strange black-and-white band round her hair. She was really brilliantly beautiful and everybody noticed her. Gerald was in that full-blooded, gleaming state when he was most handsome. Birkin watched them with quick, laughing, half-sinister eyes, Ursula quite lost her head. There seemed a spell, almost a blinding spell, cast round their table, as if they were lighted up more strongly than the rest of the dining-room.
‘Don’t you love to be in this place?’ cried Gudrun. ‘Isn’t the snow wonderful! Do you notice how it exalts everything? It is simply marvellous. One really does feel LIBERMENSCHLICH— more than human.’
‘One does,’ cried Ursula. ‘But isn’t that partly the being out of England?’
‘Oh, of course,’ cried Gudrun. ‘One could never feel like this in England, for the simple reason that the damper is NEVER lifted off one, there. It is quite impossible really to let go, in England, of that I am assured.’
And she turned again to the food she was eating. She was fluttering with vivid intensity.
‘It’s quite true,’ said Gerald, ‘it never is quite the same in England. But perhaps we don’t want it to be — perhaps it’s like bringing the light a little too near the powder-magazine, to let go altogether, in England. One is afraid what might happen, if EVERYBODY ELSE let go.’
‘My God!’ cried Gudrun. ‘But wouldn’t it be wonderful, if all England did suddenly go off like a display of fireworks.’
‘It couldn’t,’ said Ursula. ‘They are all too damp, the powder is damp in them.’
‘I’m not so sure of that,’ said Gerald.
‘Nor I,’ said Birkin. ‘When the English really begin to go off, EN MASSE, it’ll be time to shut your ears and run.’
‘They never will,’ said Ursula.
‘We’ll see,’ he replied.
‘Isn’t it marvellous,’ said Gudrun, ‘how thankful one can be, to be out of one’s country. I cannot believe myself, I am so transported, the moment I set foot on a foreign shore. I say to myself “Here steps a new creature into life.”’
‘Don’t be too hard on poor old England,’ said Gerald. ‘Though we curse it, we love it really.’
To Ursula, there seemed a fund of cynicism in these words.
‘We may,’ said Birkin. ‘But it’s a damnably uncomfortable love: like a love for an aged parent who suffers horribly from a complication of diseases, for which there is no hope.’
Gudrun looked at him with dilated dark eyes.
‘You think there is no hope?’ she asked, in her pertinent fashion.
But Birkin backed away. He would not answer such a question.
‘Any hope of England’s becoming real? God knows. It’s a great actual unreality now, an aggregation into unreality. It might be real, if there were no Englishmen.’
‘You think the English will have to disappear?’ persisted Gudrun. It was strange, her pointed interest in his answer. It might have been her own fate she was inquiring after. Her dark, dilated eyes rested on Birkin, as if she could conjure the truth of the future out of him, as out of some instrument of divination.
He was pale. Then, reluctantly, he answered:
‘Well — what else is in front of them, but disappearance? They’ve got to disappear from their own special brand of Englishness, anyhow.’
Gudrun watched him as if in a hypnotic state, her eyes wide and fixed on him.
‘But in what way do you mean, disappear? —’ she persisted.
‘Yes, do you mean a change of heart?’ put in Gerald.
‘I don’t mean anything, why should I?’ said Birkin. ‘I’m an Englishman, and I’ve paid the price of it. I can’t talk about England — I can only speak for myself.’
‘Yes,’ said Gudrun slowly, ‘you love England immensely, IMMENSELY, Rupert.’
‘And leave her,’ he replied.
‘No, not for good. You’ll come back,’ said Gerald, nodding sagely.
‘They say the lice crawl off a dying body,’ said Birkin, with a glare of bitterness. ‘So I leave England.’
‘Ah, but you’ll come back,’ said Gudrun, with a sardonic smile.
‘Tant pis pour moi,’ he replied.
‘Isn’t he angry with his mother country!’ laughed Gerald, amused.
‘Ah, a patriot!’ said Gudrun, with something like a sneer.
Birkin refused to answer any more.
Gudrun watched him still for a few seconds. Then she turned away. It was finished, her spell of divination in him. She felt already purely cynical. She looked at Gerald. He was wonderful like a piece of radium to her. She felt she could consume herself and know ALL, by means of this fatal, living metal. She smiled to herself at her fancy. And what would she do with herself, when she had destroyed herself? For if spirit, if integral being is destructible, Matter is indestructible.
He was looking bright and abstracted, puzzled, for the moment. She stretched out her beautiful arm, with its fluff of green tulle, and touched his chin with her subtle, artist’s fingers.
‘What are they then?’ she asked, with a strange, knowing smile.
‘What?’ he replied, his eyes suddenly dilating with wonder.
Gerald looked like a man coming awake.
‘I think I had none,’ he said.
‘Really!’ she said, with grave laughter in her voice.
And to Birkin it was as if she killed Gerald, with that touch.
‘Ah but,’ cried Gudrun, ‘let us drink to Britannia — let us drink to Britannia.’
It seemed there was wild despair in her voice. Gerald laughed, and filled the glasses.
‘I think Rupert means,’ he said, ‘that NATIONALLY all Englishmen must die, so that they can exist individually and —’
‘Super-nationally —’ put in Gudrun, with a slight ironic grimace, raising her glass.
The next day, they descended at the tiny railway station of Hohenhausen, at the end of the tiny valley railway. It was snow everywhere, a white, perfect cradle of snow, new and frozen, sweeping up an either side, black crags, and white sweeps of silver towards the blue pale heavens.
As they stepped out on the naked platform, with only snow around and above, Gudrun shrank as if it chilled her heart.
‘My God, Jerry,’ she said, turning to Gerald with sudden intimacy, ‘you’ve done it now.’
She made a faint gesture, indicating the world on either hand.
‘Look at it!’
She seemed afraid to go on. He laughed.
They were in the heart of the mountains. From high above, on either side, swept down the white fold of snow, so that one seemed small and tiny in a valley of pure concrete heaven, all strangely radiant and changeless and silent.
‘It makes one feel so small and alone,’ said Ursula, turning to Birkin and laying her hand on his arm.
‘You’re not sorry you’ve come, are you?’ said Gerald to Gudrun.
She looked doubtful. They went out of the station between banks of snow.
‘Ah,’ said Gerald, sniffing the air in elation, ‘this is perfect. There’s our sledge. We’ll walk a bit — we’ll run up the road.’
Gudrun, always doubtful, dropped her heavy coat on the sledge, as he did his, and they set off. Suddenly she threw up her head and set off scudding along the road of snow, pulling her cap down over her ears. Her blue, bright dress fluttered in the wind, her thick scarlet stockings were brilliant above the whiteness. Gerald watched her: she seemed to be rushing towards her fate, and leaving him behind. He let her get some distance, then, loosening his limbs, he went after her.
Everywhere was deep and silent snow. Great snow-eaves weighed down the broad-roofed Tyrolese houses, that were sunk to the window-sashes in snow. Peasant-women, full-skirted, wearing each a cross-over shawl, and thick snow-boots, turned in the way to look at the soft, determined girl running with such heavy fleetness from the man, who was overtaking her, but not gaining any power over her.
They passed the inn with its painted shutters and balcony, a few cottages, half buried in the snow; then the snow-buried silent sawmill by the roofed bridge, which crossed the hidden stream, over which they ran into the very depth of the untouched sheets of snow. It was a silence and a sheer whiteness exhilarating to madness. But the perfect silence was most terrifying, isolating the soul, surrounding the heart with frozen air.
‘It’s a marvellous place, for all that,’ said Gudrun, looking into his eyes with a strange, meaning look. His soul leapt.
‘Good,’ he said.
A fierce electric energy seemed to flow over all his limbs, his muscles were surcharged, his hands felt hard with strength. They walked along rapidly up the snow-road, that was marked by withered branches of trees stuck in at intervals. He and she were separate, like opposite poles of one fierce energy. But they felt powerful enough to leap over the confines of life into the forbidden places, and back again.
Birkin and Ursula were running along also, over the snow. He had disposed of the luggage, and they had a little start of the sledges. Ursula was excited and happy, but she kept turning suddenly to catch hold of Birkin’s arm, to make sure of him.
‘This is something I never expected,’ she said. ‘It is a different world, here.’
They went on into a snow meadow. There they were overtaken by the sledge, that came tinkling through the silence. It was another mile before they came upon Gudrun and Gerald on the steep up-climb, beside the pink, half-buried shrine.
Then they passed into a gulley, where were walls of black rock and a river filled with snow, and a still blue sky above. Through a covered bridge they went, drumming roughly over the boards, crossing the snow-bed once more, then slowly up and up, the horses walking swiftly, the driver cracking his long whip as he walked beside, and calling his strange wild HUE-HUE!, the walls of rock passing slowly by, till they emerged again between slopes and masses of snow. Up and up, gradually they went, through the cold shadow-radiance of the afternoon, silenced by the imminence of the mountains, the luminous, dazing sides of snow that rose above them and fell away beneath.
They came forth at last in a little high table-land of snow, where stood the last peaks of snow like the heart petals of an open rose. In the midst of the last deserted valleys of heaven stood a lonely building with brown wooden walls and white heavy roof, deep and deserted in the waste of snow, like a dream. It stood like a rock that had rolled down from the last steep slopes, a rock that had taken the form of a house, and was now half-buried. It was unbelievable that one could live there uncrushed by all this terrible waste of whiteness and silence and clear, upper, ringing cold.
Yet the sledges ran up in fine style, people came to the door laughing and excited, the floor of the hostel rang hollow, the passage was wet with snow, it was a real, warm interior.
The new-comers tramped up the bare wooden stairs, following the serving woman. Gudrun and Gerald took the first bedroom. In a moment they found themselves alone in a bare, smallish, close-shut room that was all of golden-coloured wood, floor, walls, ceiling, door, all of the same warm gold panelling of oiled pine. There was a window opposite the door, but low down, because the roof sloped. Under the slope of the ceiling were the table with wash-hand bowl and jug, and across, another table with mirror. On either side the door were two beds piled high with an enormous blue-checked overbolster, enormous.
This was all — no cupboard, none of the amenities of life. Here they were shut up together in this cell of golden-coloured wood, with two blue checked beds. They looked at each other and laughed, frightened by this naked nearness of isolation.
A man knocked and came in with the luggage. He was a sturdy fellow with flattish cheek-bones, rather pale, and with coarse fair moustache. Gudrun watched him put down the bags, in silence, then tramp heavily out.
‘It isn’t too rough, is it?’ Gerald asked.
The bedroom was not very warm, and she shivered slightly.
‘It is wonderful,’ she equivocated. ‘Look at the colour of this panelling — it’s wonderful, like being inside a nut.’
He was standing watching her, feeling his short-cut moustache, leaning back slightly and watching her with his keen, undaunted eyes, dominated by the constant passion, that was like a doom upon him.
She went and crouched down in front of the window, curious.
‘Oh, but this —!’ she cried involuntarily, almost in pain.
In front was a valley shut in under the sky, the last huge slopes of snow and black rock, and at the end, like the navel of the earth, a white-folded wall, and two peaks glimmering in the late light. Straight in front ran the cradle of silent snow, between the great slopes that were fringed with a little roughness of pine-trees, like hair, round the base. But the cradle of snow ran on to the eternal closing-in, where the walls of snow and rock rose impenetrable, and the mountain peaks above were in heaven immediate. This was the centre, the knot, the navel of the world, where the earth belonged to the skies, pure, unapproachable, impassable.
It filled Gudrun with a strange rapture. She crouched in front of the window, clenching her face in her hands, in a sort of trance. At last she had arrived, she had reached her place. Here at last she folded her venture and settled down like a crystal in the navel of snow, and was gone.
Gerald bent above her and was looking out over her shoulder. Already he felt he was alone. She was gone. She was completely gone, and there was icy vapour round his heart. He saw the blind valley, the great cul-de-sac of snow and mountain peaks, under the heaven. And there was no way out. The terrible silence and cold and the glamorous whiteness of the dusk wrapped him round, and she remained crouching before the window, as at a shrine, a shadow.
‘Do you like it?’ he asked, in a voice that sounded detached and foreign. At least she might acknowledge he was with her. But she only averted her soft, mute face a little from his gaze. And he knew that there were tears in her eyes, her own tears, tears of her strange religion, that put him to nought.
Quite suddenly, he put his hand under her chin and lifted up her face to him. Her dark blue eyes, in their wetness of tears, dilated as if she was startled in her very soul. They looked at him through their tears in terror and a little horror. His light blue eyes were keen, small-pupilled and unnatural in their vision. Her lips parted, as she breathed with difficulty.
The passion came up in him, stroke after stroke, like the ringing of a bronze bell, so strong and unflawed and indomitable. His knees tightened to bronze as he hung above her soft face, whose lips parted and whose eyes dilated in a strange violation. In the grasp of his hand her chin was unutterably soft and silken. He felt strong as winter, his hands were living metal, invincible and not to be turned aside. His heart rang like a bell clanging inside him.
He took her up in his arms. She was soft and inert, motionless. All the while her eyes, in which the tears had not yet dried, were dilated as if in a kind of swoon of fascination and helplessness. He was superhumanly strong, and unflawed, as if invested with supernatural force.
He lifted her close and folded her against him. Her softness, her inert, relaxed weight lay against his own surcharged, bronze-like limbs in a heaviness of desirability that would destroy him, if he were not fulfilled. She moved convulsively, recoiling away from him. His heart went up like a flame of ice, he closed over her like steel. He would destroy her rather than be denied.
But the overweening power of his body was too much for her. She relaxed again, and lay loose and soft, panting in a little delirium. And to him, she was so sweet, she was such bliss of release, that he would have suffered a whole eternity of torture rather than forego one second of this pang of unsurpassable bliss.
‘My God,’ he said to her, his face drawn and strange, transfigured, ‘what next?’
She lay perfectly still, with a still, child-like face and dark eyes, looking at him. She was lost, fallen right away.
‘I shall always love you,’ he said, looking at her.
But she did not hear. She lay, looking at him as at something she could never understand, never: as a child looks at a grown-up person, without hope of understanding, only submitting.
He kissed her, kissed her eyes shut, so that she could not look any more. He wanted something now, some recognition, some sign, some admission. But she only lay silent and child-like and remote, like a child that is overcome and cannot understand, only feels lost. He kissed her again, giving up.
‘Shall we go down and have coffee and Kuchen?’ he asked.
The twilight was falling slate-blue at the window. She closed her eyes, closed away the monotonous level of dead wonder, and opened them again to the every-day world.
‘Yes,’ she said briefly, regaining her will with a click. She went again to the window. Blue evening had fallen over the cradle of snow and over the great pallid slopes. But in the heaven the peaks of snow were rosy, glistening like transcendent, radiant spikes of blossom in the heavenly upper-world, so lovely and beyond.
Gudrun saw all their loveliness, she KNEW how immortally beautiful they were, great pistils of rose-coloured, snow-fed fire in the blue twilight of the heaven. She could SEE it, she knew it, but she was not of it. She was divorced, debarred, a soul shut out.
With a last look of remorse, she turned away, and was doing her hair. He had unstrapped the luggage, and was waiting, watching her. She knew he was watching her. It made her a little hasty and feverish in her precipitation.
They went downstairs, both with a strange other-world look on their faces, and with a glow in their eyes. They saw Birkin and Ursula sitting at the long table in a corner, waiting for them.
‘How good and simple they look together,’ Gudrun thought, jealously. She envied them some spontaneity, a childish sufficiency to which she herself could never approach. They seemed such children to her.
‘Such good Kranzkuchen!’ cried Ursula greedily. ‘So good!’
‘Right,’ said Gudrun. ‘Can we have Kaffee mit Kranzkuchen?’ she added to the waiter.
And she seated herself on the bench beside Gerald. Birkin, looking at them, felt a pain of tenderness for them.
‘I think the place is really wonderful, Gerald,’ he said; ‘prachtvoll and wunderbar and wunderschon and unbeschreiblich and all the other German adjectives.’
Gerald broke into a slight smile.
‘I like it,’ he said.
The tables, of white scrubbed wood, were placed round three sides of the room, as in a Gasthaus. Birkin and Ursula sat with their backs to the wall, which was of oiled wood, and Gerald and Gudrun sat in the corner next them, near to the stove. It was a fairly large place, with a tiny bar, just like a country inn, but quite simple and bare, and all of oiled wood, ceilings and walls and floor, the only furniture being the tables and benches going round three sides, the great green stove, and the bar and the doors on the fourth side. The windows were double, and quite uncurtained. It was early evening.
The coffee came — hot and good — and a whole ring of cake.
‘A whole Kuchen!’ cried Ursula. ‘They give you more than us! I want some of yours.’
There were other people in the place, ten altogether, so Birkin had found out: two artists, three students, a man and wife, and a Professor and two daughters — all Germans. The four English people, being newcomers, sat in their coign of vantage to watch. The Germans peeped in at the door, called a word to the waiter, and went away again. It was not meal-time, so they did not come into this dining-room, but betook themselves, when their boots were changed, to the Reunionsaal.
The English visitors could hear the occasional twanging of a zither, the strumming of a piano, snatches of laughter and shouting and singing, a faint vibration of voices. The whole building being of wood, it seemed to carry every sound, like a drum, but instead of increasing each particular noise, it decreased it, so that the sound of the zither seemed tiny, as if a diminutive zither were playing somewhere, and it seemed the piano must be a small one, like a little spinet.
The host came when the coffee was finished. He was a Tyrolese, broad, rather flat-cheeked, with a pale, pock-marked skin and flourishing moustaches.
‘Would you like to go to the Reunionsaal to be introduced to the other ladies and gentlemen?’ he asked, bending forward and smiling, showing his large, strong teeth. His blue eyes went quickly from one to the other — he was not quite sure of his ground with these English people. He was unhappy too because he spoke no English and he was not sure whether to try his French.
‘Shall we go to the Reunionsaal, and be introduced to the other people?’ repeated Gerald, laughing.
There was a moment’s hesitation.
‘I suppose we’d better — better break the ice,’ said Birkin.
The women rose, rather flushed. And the Wirt’s black, beetle-like, broad-shouldered figure went on ignominiously in front, towards the noise. He opened the door and ushered the four strangers into the play-room.
Instantly a silence fell, a slight embarrassment came over the company. The newcomers had a sense of many blond faces looking their way. Then, the host was bowing to a short, energetic-looking man with large moustaches, and saying in a low voice:
‘Herr Professor, darf ich vorstellen-’
The Herr Professor was prompt and energetic. He bowed low to the English people, smiling, and began to be a comrade at once.
‘Nehmen die Herrschaften teil an unserer Unterhaltung?’ he said, with a vigorous suavity, his voice curling up in the question.
The four English people smiled, lounging with an attentive uneasiness in the middle of the room. Gerald, who was spokesman, said that they would willingly take part in the entertainment. Gudrun and Ursula, laughing, excited, felt the eyes of all the men upon them, and they lifted their heads and looked nowhere, and felt royal.
The Professor announced the names of those present, SANS CEREMONIE. There was a bowing to the wrong people and to the right people. Everybody was there, except the man and wife. The two tall, clear-skinned, athletic daughters of the professor, with their plain-cut, dark blue blouses and loden skirts, their rather long, strong necks, their clear blue eyes and carefully banded hair, and their blushes, bowed and stood back; the three students bowed very low, in the humble hope of making an impression of extreme good-breeding; then there was a thin, dark-skinned man with full eyes, an odd creature, like a child, and like a troll, quick, detached; he bowed slightly; his companion, a large fair young man, stylishly dressed, blushed to the eyes and bowed very low.
It was over.
‘Herr Loerke was giving us a recitation in the Cologne dialect,’ said the Professor.
‘He must forgive us for interrupting him,’ said Gerald, ‘we should like very much to hear it.’
There was instantly a bowing and an offering of seats. Gudrun and Ursula, Gerald and Birkin sat in the deep sofas against the wall. The room was of naked oiled panelling, like the rest of the house. It had a piano, sofas and chairs, and a couple of tables with books and magazines. In its complete absence of decoration, save for the big, blue stove, it was cosy and pleasant.
Herr Loerke was the little man with the boyish figure, and the round, full, sensitive-looking head, and the quick, full eyes, like a mouse’s. He glanced swiftly from one to the other of the strangers, and held himself aloof.
‘Please go on with the recitation,’ said the Professor, suavely, with his slight authority. Loerke, who was sitting hunched on the piano stool, blinked and did not answer.
‘It would be a great pleasure,’ said Ursula, who had been getting the sentence ready, in German, for some minutes.
Then, suddenly, the small, unresponding man swung aside, towards his previous audience and broke forth, exactly as he had broken off; in a controlled, mocking voice, giving an imitation of a quarrel between an old Cologne woman and a railway guard.
His body was slight and unformed, like a boy’s, but his voice was mature, sardonic, its movement had the flexibility of essential energy, and of a mocking penetrating understanding. Gudrun could not understand a word of his monologue, but she was spell-bound, watching him. He must be an artist, nobody else could have such fine adjustment and singleness. The Germans were doubled up with laughter, hearing his strange droll words, his droll phrases of dialect. And in the midst of their paroxysms, they glanced with deference at the four English strangers, the elect. Gudrun and Ursula were forced to laugh. The room rang with shouts of laughter. The blue eyes of the Professor’s daughters were swimming over with laughter-tears, their clear cheeks were flushed crimson with mirth, their father broke out in the most astonishing peals of hilarity, the students bowed their heads on their knees in excess of joy. Ursula looked round amazed, the laughter was bubbling out of her involuntarily. She looked at Gudrun. Gudrun looked at her, and the two sisters burst out laughing, carried away. Loerke glanced at them swiftly, with his full eyes. Birkin was sniggering involuntarily. Gerald Crich sat erect, with a glistening look of amusement on his face. And the laughter crashed out again, in wild paroxysms, the Professor’s daughters were reduced to shaking helplessness, the veins of the Professor’s neck were swollen, his face was purple, he was strangled in ultimate, silent spasms of laughter. The students were shouting half-articulated words that tailed off in helpless explosions. Then suddenly the rapid patter of the artist ceased, there were little whoops of subsiding mirth, Ursula and Gudrun were wiping their eyes, and the Professor was crying loudly.
‘Das war ausgezeichnet, das war famos —’
‘Wirklich famos,’ echoed his exhausted daughters, faintly.
‘And we couldn’t understand it,’ cried Ursula.
‘Oh leider, leider!’ cried the Professor.
‘You couldn’t understand it?’ cried the Students, let loose at last in speech with the newcomers. ‘Ja, das ist wirklich schade, das ist schade, gnadige Frau. Wissen Sie —’
The mixture was made, the newcomers were stirred into the party, like new ingredients, the whole room was alive. Gerald was in his element, he talked freely and excitedly, his face glistened with a strange amusement. Perhaps even Birkin, in the end, would break forth. He was shy and withheld, though full of attention.
Ursula was prevailed upon to sing ‘Annie Lowrie,’ as the Professor called it. There was a hush of EXTREME deference. She had never been so flattered in her life. Gudrun accompanied her on the piano, playing from memory.
Ursula had a beautiful ringing voice, but usually no confidence, she spoiled everything. This evening she felt conceited and untrammelled. Birkin was well in the background, she shone almost in reaction, the Germans made her feel fine and infallible, she was liberated into overweening self-confidence. She felt like a bird flying in the air, as her voice soared out, enjoying herself extremely in the balance and flight of the song, like the motion of a bird’s wings that is up in the wind, sliding and playing on the air, she played with sentimentality, supported by rapturous attention. She was very happy, singing that song by herself, full of a conceit of emotion and power, working upon all those people, and upon herself, exerting herself with gratification, giving immeasurable gratification to the Germans.
At the end, the Germans were all touched with admiring, delicious melancholy, they praised her in soft, reverent voices, they could not say too much.
‘Wie schon, wie ruhrend! Ach, die Schottischen Lieder, sie haben so viel Stimmung! Aber die gnadige Frau hat eine WUNDERBARE Stimme; die gnadige Frau ist wirklich eine Kunstlerin, aber wirklich!’
She was dilated and brilliant, like a flower in the morning sun. She felt Birkin looking at her, as if he were jealous of her, and her breasts thrilled, her veins were all golden. She was as happy as the sun that has just opened above clouds. And everybody seemed so admiring and radiant, it was perfect.
After dinner she wanted to go out for a minute, to look at the world. The company tried to dissuade her — it was so terribly cold. But just to look, she said.
They all four wrapped up warmly, and found themselves in a vague, unsubstantial outdoors of dim snow and ghosts of an upper-world, that made strange shadows before the stars. It was indeed cold, bruisingly, frighteningly, unnaturally cold. Ursula could not believe the air in her nostrils. It seemed conscious, malevolent, purposive in its intense murderous coldness.
Yet it was wonderful, an intoxication, a silence of dim, unrealised snow, of the invisible intervening between her and the visible, between her and the flashing stars. She could see Orion sloping up. How wonderful he was, wonderful enough to make one cry aloud.
And all around was this cradle of snow, and there was firm snow underfoot, that struck with heavy cold through her boot-soles. It was night, and silence. She imagined she could hear the stars. She imagined distinctly she could hear the celestial, musical motion of the stars, quite near at hand. She seemed like a bird flying amongst their harmonious motion.
And she clung close to Birkin. Suddenly she realised she did not know what he was thinking. She did not know where he was ranging.
‘My love!’ she said, stopping to look at him.
His face was pale, his eyes dark, there was a faint spark of starlight on them. And he saw her face soft and upturned to him, very near. He kissed her softly.
‘What then?’ he asked.
‘Do you love me?’ she asked.
‘Too much,’ he answered quietly.
She clung a little closer.
‘Not too much,’ she pleaded.
‘Far too much,’ he said, almost sadly.
‘And does it make you sad, that I am everything to you?’ she asked, wistful. He held her close to him, kissing her, and saying, scarcely audible:
‘No, but I feel like a beggar — I feel poor.’
She was silent, looking at the stars now. Then she kissed him.
‘Don’t be a beggar,’ she pleaded, wistfully. ‘It isn’t ignominious that you love me.’
‘It is ignominious to feel poor, isn’t it?’ he replied.
‘Why? Why should it be?’ she asked. He only stood still, in the terribly cold air that moved invisibly over the mountain tops, folding her round with his arms.
‘I couldn’t bear this cold, eternal place without you,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t bear it, it would kill the quick of my life.’
She kissed him again, suddenly.
‘Do you hate it?’ she asked, puzzled, wondering.
‘If I couldn’t come near to you, if you weren’t here, I should hate it. I couldn’t bear it,’ he answered.
‘But the people are nice,’ she said.
‘I mean the stillness, the cold, the frozen eternality,’ he said.
She wondered. Then her spirit came home to him, nestling unconscious in him.
‘Yes, it is good we are warm and together,’ she said.
And they turned home again. They saw the golden lights of the hotel glowing out in the night of snow-silence, small in the hollow, like a cluster of yellow berries. It seemed like a bunch of sun-sparks, tiny and orange in the midst of the snow-darkness. Behind, was a high shadow of a peak, blotting out the stars, like a ghost.
They drew near to their home. They saw a man come from the dark building, with a lighted lantern which swung golden, and made that his dark feet walked in a halo of snow. He was a small, dark figure in the darkened snow. He unlatched the door of an outhouse. A smell of cows, hot, animal, almost like beef, came out on the heavily cold air. There was a glimpse of two cattle in their dark stalls, then the door was shut again, and not a chink of light showed. It had reminded Ursula again of home, of the Marsh, of her childhood, and of the journey to Brussels, and, strangely, of Anton Skrebensky.
Oh, God, could one bear it, this past which was gone down the abyss? Could she bear, that it ever had been! She looked round this silent, upper world of snow and stars and powerful cold. There was another world, like views on a magic lantern; The Marsh, Cossethay, Ilkeston, lit up with a common, unreal light. There was a shadowy unreal Ursula, a whole shadow-play of an unreal life. It was as unreal, and circumscribed, as a magic-lantern show. She wished the slides could all be broken. She wished it could be gone for ever, like a lantern-slide which was broken. She wanted to have no past. She wanted to have come down from the slopes of heaven to this place, with Birkin, not to have toiled out of the murk of her childhood and her upbringing, slowly, all soiled. She felt that memory was a dirty trick played upon her. What was this decree, that she should ‘remember’! Why not a bath of pure oblivion, a new birth, without any recollections or blemish of a past life. She was with Birkin, she had just come into life, here in the high snow, against the stars. What had she to do with parents and antecedents? She knew herself new and unbegotten, she had no father, no mother, no anterior connections, she was herself, pure and silvery, she belonged only to the oneness with Birkin, a oneness that struck deeper notes, sounding into the heart of the universe, the heart of reality, where she had never existed before.
Even Gudrun was a separate unit, separate, separate, having nothing to do with this self, this Ursula, in her new world of reality. That old shadow-world, the actuality of the past — ah, let it go! She rose free on the wings of her new condition.
Gudrun and Gerald had not come in. They had walked up the valley straight in front of the house, not like Ursula and Birkin, on to the little hill at the right. Gudrun was driven by a strange desire. She wanted to plunge on and on, till she came to the end of the valley of snow. Then she wanted to climb the wall of white finality, climb over, into the peaks that sprang up like sharp petals in the heart of the frozen, mysterious navel of the world. She felt that there, over the strange blind, terrible wall of rocky snow, there in the navel of the mystic world, among the final cluster of peaks, there, in the infolded navel of it all, was her consummation. If she could but come there, alone, and pass into the infolded navel of eternal snow and of uprising, immortal peaks of snow and rock, she would be a oneness with all, she would be herself the eternal, infinite silence, the sleeping, timeless, frozen centre of the All.
They went back to the house, to the Reunionsaal. She was curious to see what was going on. The men there made her alert, roused her curiosity. It was a new taste of life for her, they were so prostrate before her, yet so full of life.
The party was boisterous; they were dancing all together, dancing the Schuhplatteln, the Tyrolese dance of the clapping hands and tossing the partner in the air at the crisis. The Germans were all proficient — they were from Munich chiefly. Gerald also was quite passable. There were three zithers twanging away in a corner. It was a scene of great animation and confusion. The Professor was initiating Ursula into the dance, stamping, clapping, and swinging her high, with amazing force and zest. When the crisis came even Birkin was behaving manfully with one of the Professor’s fresh, strong daughters, who was exceedingly happy. Everybody was dancing, there was the most boisterous turmoil.
Gudrun looked on with delight. The solid wooden floor resounded to the knocking heels of the men, the air quivered with the clapping hands and the zither music, there was a golden dust about the hanging lamps.
Suddenly the dance finished, Loerke and the students rushed out to bring in drinks. There was an excited clamour of voices, a clinking of mug-lids, a great crying of ‘Prosit — Prosit!’ Loerke was everywhere at once, like a gnome, suggesting drinks for the women, making an obscure, slightly risky joke with the men, confusing and mystifying the waiter.
He wanted very much to dance with Gudrun. From the first moment he had seen her, he wanted to make a connection with her. Instinctively she felt this, and she waited for him to come up. But a kind of sulkiness kept him away from her, so she thought he disliked her.
‘Will you schuhplatteln, gnadige Frau?’ said the large, fair youth, Loerke’s companion. He was too soft, too humble for Gudrun’s taste. But she wanted to dance, and the fair youth, who was called Leitner, was handsome enough in his uneasy, slightly abject fashion, a humility that covered a certain fear. She accepted him as a partner.
The zithers sounded out again, the dance began. Gerald led them, laughing, with one of the Professor’s daughters. Ursula danced with one of the students, Birkin with the other daughter of the Professor, the Professor with Frau Kramer, and the rest of the men danced together, with quite as much zest as if they had had women partners.
Because Gudrun had danced with the well-built, soft youth, his companion, Loerke, was more pettish and exasperated than ever, and would not even notice her existence in the room. This piqued her, but she made up to herself by dancing with the Professor, who was strong as a mature, well-seasoned bull, and as full of coarse energy. She could not bear him, critically, and yet she enjoyed being rushed through the dance, and tossed up into the air, on his coarse, powerful impetus. The Professor enjoyed it too, he eyed her with strange, large blue eyes, full of galvanic fire. She hated him for the seasoned, semi-paternal animalism with which he regarded her, but she admired his weight of strength.
The room was charged with excitement and strong, animal emotion. Loerke was kept away from Gudrun, to whom he wanted to speak, as by a hedge of thorns, and he felt a sardonic ruthless hatred for this young love-companion, Leitner, who was his penniless dependent. He mocked the youth, with an acid ridicule, that made Leitner red in the face and impotent with resentment.
Gerald, who had now got the dance perfectly, was dancing again with the younger of the Professor’s daughters, who was almost dying of virgin excitement, because she thought Gerald so handsome, so superb. He had her in his power, as if she were a palpitating bird, a fluttering, flushing, bewildered creature. And it made him smile, as she shrank convulsively between his hands, violently, when he must throw her into the air. At the end, she was so overcome with prostrate love for him, that she could scarcely speak sensibly at all.
Birkin was dancing with Ursula. There were odd little fires playing in his eyes, he seemed to have turned into something wicked and flickering, mocking, suggestive, quite impossible. Ursula was frightened of him, and fascinated. Clear, before her eyes, as in a vision, she could see the sardonic, licentious mockery of his eyes, he moved towards her with subtle, animal, indifferent approach. The strangeness of his hands, which came quick and cunning, inevitably to the vital place beneath her breasts, and, lifting with mocking, suggestive impulse, carried her through the air as if without strength, through blackmagic, made her swoon with fear. For a moment she revolted, it was horrible. She would break the spell. But before the resolution had formed she had submitted again, yielded to her fear. He knew all the time what he was doing, she could see it in his smiling, concentrated eyes. It was his responsibility, she would leave it to him.
When they were alone in the darkness, she felt the strange, licentiousness of him hovering upon her. She was troubled and repelled. Why should he turn like this?
‘What is it?’ she asked in dread.
But his face only glistened on her, unknown, horrible. And yet she was fascinated. Her impulse was to repel him violently, break from this spell of mocking brutishness. But she was too fascinated, she wanted to submit, she wanted to know. What would he do to her?
He was so attractive, and so repulsive at one. The sardonic suggestivity that flickered over his face and looked from his narrowed eyes, made her want to hide, to hide herself away from him and watch him from somewhere unseen.
‘Why are you like this?’ she demanded again, rousing against him with sudden force and animosity.
The flickering fires in his eyes concentrated as he looked into her eyes. Then the lids drooped with a faint motion of satiric contempt. Then they rose again to the same remorseless suggestivity. And she gave way, he might do as he would. His licentiousness was repulsively attractive. But he was self-responsible, she would see what it was.
They might do as they liked — this she realised as she went to sleep. How could anything that gave one satisfaction be excluded? What was degrading? Who cared? Degrading things were real, with a different reality. And he was so unabashed and unrestrained. Wasn’t it rather horrible, a man who could be so soulful and spiritual, now to be so — she balked at her own thoughts and memories: then she added — so bestial? So bestial, they two! — so degraded! She winced. But after all, why not? She exulted as well. Why not be bestial, and go the whole round of experience? She exulted in it. She was bestial. How good it was to be really shameful! There would be no shameful thing she had not experienced. Yet she was unabashed, she was herself. Why not? She was free, when she knew everything, and no dark shameful things were denied her.
Gudrun, who had been watching Gerald in the Reunionsaal, suddenly thought:
‘He should have all the women he can — it is his nature. It is absurd to call him monogamous — he is naturally promiscuous. That is his nature.’
The thought came to her involuntarily. It shocked her somewhat. It was as if she had seen some new MENE! MENE! upon the wall. Yet it was merely true. A voice seemed to have spoken it to her so clearly, that for the moment she believed in inspiration.
‘It is really true,’ she said to herself again.
She knew quite well she had believed it all along. She knew it implicitly. But she must keep it dark — almost from herself. She must keep it completely secret. It was knowledge for her alone, and scarcely even to be admitted to herself.
The deep resolve formed in her, to combat him. One of them must triumph over the other. Which should it be? Her soul steeled itself with strength. Almost she laughed within herself, at her confidence. It woke a certain keen, half contemptuous pity, tenderness for him: she was so ruthless.
Everybody retired early. The Professor and Loerke went into a small lounge to drink. They both watched Gudrun go along the landing by the railing upstairs.
‘Ein schones Frauenzimmer,’ said the Professor.
‘Ja!’ asserted Loerke, shortly.
Gerald walked with his queer, long wolf-steps across the bedroom to the window, stooped and looked out, then rose again, and turned to Gudrun, his eyes sharp with an abstract smile. He seemed very tall to her, she saw the glisten of his whitish eyebrows, that met between his brows.
‘How do you like it?’ he said.
He seemed to be laughing inside himself, quite unconsciously. She looked at him. He was a phenomenon to her, not a human being: a sort of creature, greedy.
‘I like it very much,’ she replied.
‘Who do you like best downstairs?’ he asked, standing tall and glistening above her, with his glistening stiff hair erect.
‘Who do I like best?’ she repeated, wanting to answer his question, and finding it difficult to collect herself. ‘Why I don’t know, I don’t know enough about them yet, to be able to say. Who do YOU like best?’
‘Oh, I don’t care — I don’t like or dislike any of them. It doesn’t matter about me. I wanted to know about you.’
‘But why?’ she asked, going rather pale. The abstract, unconscious smile in his eyes was intensified.
‘I wanted to know,’ he said.
She turned aside, breaking the spell. In some strange way, she felt he was getting power over her.
‘Well, I can’t tell you already,’ she said.
She went to the mirror to take out the hairpins from her hair. She stood before the mirror every night for some minutes, brushing her fine dark hair. It was part of the inevitable ritual of her life.
He followed her, and stood behind her. She was busy with bent head, taking out the pins and shaking her warm hair loose. When she looked up, she saw him in the glass standing behind her, watching unconsciously, not consciously seeing her, and yet watching, with finepupilled eyes that SEEMED to smile, and which were not really smiling.
She started. It took all her courage for her to continue brushing her hair, as usual, for her to pretend she was at her ease. She was far, far from being at her ease with him. She beat her brains wildly for something to say to him.
‘What are your plans for tomorrow?’ she asked nonchalantly, whilst her heart was beating so furiously, her eyes were so bright with strange nervousness, she felt he could not but observe. But she knew also that he was completely blind, blind as a wolf looking at her. It was a strange battle between her ordinary consciousness and his uncanny, black-art consciousness.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied, ‘what would you like to do?’
He spoke emptily, his mind was sunk away.
‘Oh,’ she said, with easy protestation, ‘I’m ready for anything — anything will be fine for ME, I’m sure.’
And to herself she was saying: ‘God, why am I so nervous — why are you so nervous, you fool. If he sees it I’m done for forever — you KNOW you’re done for forever, if he sees the absurd state you’re in.’
And she smiled to herself as if it were all child’s play. Meanwhile her heart was plunging, she was almost fainting. She could see him, in the mirror, as he stood there behind her, tall and over-arching — blond and terribly frightening. She glanced at his reflection with furtive eyes, willing to give anything to save him from knowing she could see him. He did not know she could see his reflection. He was looking unconsciously, glisteningly down at her head, from which the hair fell loose, as she brushed it with wild, nervous hand. She held her head aside and brushed and brushed her hair madly. For her life, she could not turn round and face him. For her life, SHE COULD NOT. And the knowledge made her almost sink to the ground in a faint, helpless, spent. She was aware of his frightening, impending figure standing close behind her, she was aware of his hard, strong, unyielding chest, close upon her back. And she felt she could not bear it any more, in a few minutes she would fall down at his feet, grovelling at his feet, and letting him destroy her.
The thought pricked up all her sharp intelligence and presence of mind. She dared not turn round to him — and there he stood motionless, unbroken. Summoning all her strength, she said, in a full, resonant, nonchalant voice, that was forced out with all her remaining self-control:
‘Oh, would you mind looking in that bag behind there and giving me my —’
Here her power fell inert. ‘My what — my what —?’ she screamed in silence to herself.
But he had started round, surprised and startled that she should ask him to look in her bag, which she always kept so VERY private to herself.
She turned now, her face white, her dark eyes blazing with uncanny, overwrought excitement. She saw him stooping to the bag, undoing the loosely buckled strap, unattentive.
‘Your what?’ he asked.
‘Oh, a little enamel box — yellow — with a design of a cormorant plucking her breast —’
She went towards him, stooping her beautiful, bare arm, and deftly turned some of her things, disclosing the box, which was exquisitely painted.
‘That is it, see,’ she said, taking it from under his eyes.
And he was baffled now. He was left to fasten up the bag, whilst she swiftly did up her hair for the night, and sat down to unfasten her shoes. She would not turn her back to him any more.
He was baffled, frustrated, but unconscious. She had the whip hand over him now. She knew he had not realised her terrible panic. Her heart was beating heavily still. Fool, fool that she was, to get into such a state! How she thanked God for Gerald’s obtuse blindness. Thank God he could see nothing.
She sat slowly unlacing her shoes, and he too commenced to undress. Thank God that crisis was over. She felt almost fond of him now, almost in love with him.
‘Ah, Gerald,’ she laughed, caressively, teasingly, ‘Ah, what a fine game you played with the Professor’s daughter — didn’t you now?’
‘What game?’ he asked, looking round.
‘ISN’T she in love with you — oh DEAR, isn’t she in love with you!’ said Gudrun, in her gayest, most attractive mood.
‘I shouldn’t think so,’ he said.
‘Shouldn’t think so!’ she teased. ‘Why the poor girl is lying at this moment overwhelmed, dying with love for you. She thinks you’re WONDERFUL— oh marvellous, beyond what man has ever been. REALLY, isn’t it funny?’
‘Why funny, what is funny?’ he asked.
‘Why to see you working it on her,’ she said, with a half reproach that confused the male conceit in him. ‘Really Gerald, the poor girl —!’
‘I did nothing to her,’ he said.
‘Oh, it was too shameful, the way you simply swept her off her feet.’
‘That was Schuhplatteln,’ he replied, with a bright grin.
‘Ha — ha — ha!’ laughed Gudrun.
Her mockery quivered through his muscles with curious re-echoes. When he slept he seemed to crouch down in the bed, lapped up in his own strength, that yet was hollow.
And Gudrun slept strongly, a victorious sleep. Suddenly, she was almost fiercely awake. The small timber room glowed with the dawn, that came upwards from the low window. She could see down the valley when she lifted her head: the snow with a pinkish, half-revealed magic, the fringe of pine-trees at the bottom of the slope. And one tiny figure moved over the vaguely-illuminated space.
She glanced at his watch; it was seven o’clock. He was still completely asleep. And she was so hard awake, it was almost frightening — a hard, metallic wakefulness. She lay looking at him.
He slept in the subjection of his own health and defeat. She was overcome by a sincere regard for him. Till now, she was afraid before him. She lay and thought about him, what he was, what he represented in the world. A fine, independent will, he had. She thought of the revolution he had worked in the mines, in so short a time. She knew that, if he were confronted with any problem, any hard actual difficulty, he would overcome it. If he laid hold of any idea, he would carry it through. He had the faculty of making order out of confusion. Only let him grip hold of a situation, and he would bring to pass an inevitable conclusion.
For a few moments she was borne away on the wild wings of ambition. Gerald, with his force of will and his power for comprehending the actual world, should be set to solve the problems of the day, the problem of industrialism in the modern world. She knew he would, in the course of time, effect the changes he desired, he could re-organise the industrial system. She knew he could do it. As an instrument, in these things, he was marvellous, she had never seen any man with his potentiality. He was unaware of it, but she knew.
He only needed to be hitched on, he needed that his hand should be set to the task, because he was so unconscious. And this she could do. She would marry him, he would go into Parliament in the Conservative interest, he would clear up the great muddle of labour and industry. He was so superbly fearless, masterful, he knew that every problem could be worked out, in life as in geometry. And he would care neither about himself nor about anything but the pure working out of the problem. He was very pure, really.
Her heart beat fast, she flew away on wings of elation, imagining a future. He would be a Napoleon of peace, or a Bismarck — and she the woman behind him. She had read Bismarck’s letters, and had been deeply moved by them. And Gerald would be freer, more dauntless than Bismarck.
But even as she lay in fictitious transport, bathed in the strange, false sunshine of hope in life, something seemed to snap in her, and a terrible cynicism began to gain upon her, blowing in like a wind. Everything turned to irony with her: the last flavour of everything was ironical. When she felt her pang of undeniable reality, this was when she knew the hard irony of hopes and ideas.
She lay and looked at him, as he slept. He was sheerly beautiful, he was a perfect instrument. To her mind, he was a pure, inhuman, almost superhuman instrument. His instrumentality appealed so strongly to her, she wished she were God, to use him as a tool.
And at the same instant, came the ironical question: ‘What for?’ She thought of the colliers’ wives, with their linoleum and their lace curtains and their little girls in high-laced boots. She thought of the wives and daughters of the pit-managers, their tennis-parties, and their terrible struggles to be superior each to the other, in the social scale. There was Shortlands with its meaningless distinction, the meaningless crowd of the Criches. There was London, the House of Commons, the extant social world. My God!
Young as she was, Gudrun had touched the whole pulse of social England. She had no ideas of rising in the world. She knew, with the perfect cynicism of cruel youth, that to rise in the world meant to have one outside show instead of another, the advance was like having a spurious half-crown instead of a spurious penny. The whole coinage of valuation was spurious. Yet of course, her cynicism knew well enough that, in a world where spurious coin was current, a bad sovereign was better than a bad farthing. But rich and poor, she despised both alike.
Already she mocked at herself for her dreams. They could be fulfilled easily enough. But she recognised too well, in her spirit, the mockery of her own impulses. What did she care, that Gerald had created a richly-paying industry out of an old worn-out concern? What did she care? The worn-out concern and the rapid, splendidly organised industry, they were bad money. Yet of course, she cared a great deal, outwardly — and outwardly was all that mattered, for inwardly was a bad joke.
Everything was intrinsically a piece of irony to her. She leaned over Gerald and said in her heart, with compassion:
‘Oh, my dear, my dear, the game isn’t worth even you. You are a fine thing really — why should you be used on such a poor show!’
Her heart was breaking with pity and grief for him. And at the same moment, a grimace came over her mouth, of mocking irony at her own unspoken tirade. Ah, what a farce it was! She thought of Parnell and Katherine O’Shea. Parnell! After all, who can take the nationalisation of Ireland seriously? Who can take political Ireland really seriously, whatever it does? And who can take political England seriously? Who can? Who can care a straw, really, how the old patched-up Constitution is tinkered at any more? Who cares a button for our national ideas, any more than for our national bowler hat? Aha, it is all old hat, it is all old bowler hat!
That’s all it is, Gerald, my young hero. At any rate we’ll spare ourselves the nausea of stirring the old broth any more. You be beautiful, my Gerald, and reckless. There ARE perfect moments. Wake up, Gerald, wake up, convince me of the perfect moments. Oh, convince me, I need it.
He opened his eyes, and looked at her. She greeted him with a mocking, enigmatic smile in which was a poignant gaiety. Over his face went the reflection of the smile, he smiled, too, purely unconsciously.
That filled her with extraordinary delight, to see the smile cross his face, reflected from her face. She remembered that was how a baby smiled. It filled her with extraordinary radiant delight.
‘You’ve done it,’ she said.
‘What?’ he asked, dazed.
And she bent down, kissing him passionately, passionately, so that he was bewildered. He did not ask her of what he had convinced her, though he meant to. He was glad she was kissing him. She seemed to be feeling for his very heart to touch the quick of him. And he wanted her to touch the quick of his being, he wanted that most of all.
Outside, somebody was singing, in a manly, reckless handsome voice:
‘Mach mir auf, mach mir auf, du Stolze,
Mach mir ein Feuer von Holze.
Vom Regen bin ich nass
Vom Regen bin ich nass-’
Gudrun knew that that song would sound through her eternity, sung in a manly, reckless, mocking voice. It marked one of her supreme moments, the supreme pangs of her nervous gratification. There it was, fixed in eternity for her.
The day came fine and bluish. There was a light wind blowing among the mountain tops, keen as a rapier where it touched, carrying with it a fine dust of snow-powder. Gerald went out with the fine, blind face of a man who is in his state of fulfilment. Gudrun and he were in perfect static unity this morning, but unseeing and unwitting. They went out with a toboggan, leaving Ursula and Birkin to follow.
Gudrun was all scarlet and royal blue — a scarlet jersey and cap, and a royal blue skirt and stockings. She went gaily over the white snow, with Gerald beside her, in white and grey, pulling the little toboggan. They grew small in the distance of snow, climbing the steep slope.
For Gudrun herself, she seemed to pass altogether into the whiteness of the snow, she became a pure, thoughtless crystal. When she reached the top of the slope, in the wind, she looked round, and saw peak beyond peak of rock and snow, bluish, transcendent in heaven. And it seemed to her like a garden, with the peaks for pure flowers, and her heart gathering them. She had no separate consciousness for Gerald.
She held on to him as they went sheering down over the keen slope. She felt as if her senses were being whetted on some fine grindstone, that was keen as flame. The snow sprinted on either side, like sparks from a blade that is being sharpened, the whiteness round about ran swifter, swifter, in pure flame the white slope flew against her, and she fused like one molten, dancing globule, rushed through a white intensity. Then there was a great swerve at the bottom, when they swung as it were in a fall to earth, in the diminishing motion.
They came to rest. But when she rose to her feet, she could not stand. She gave a strange cry, turned and clung to him, sinking her face on his breast, fainting in him. Utter oblivion came over her, as she lay for a few moments abandoned against him.
‘What is it?’ he was saying. ‘Was it too much for you?’
But she heard nothing.
When she came to, she stood up and looked round, astonished. Her face was white, her eyes brilliant and large.
‘What is it?’ he repeated. ‘Did it upset you?’
She looked at him with her brilliant eyes that seemed to have undergone some transfiguration, and she laughed, with a terrible merriment.
‘No,’ she cried, with triumphant joy. ‘It was the complete moment of my life.’
And she looked at him with her dazzling, overweening laughter, like one possessed. A fine blade seemed to enter his heart, but he did not care, or take any notice.
But they climbed up the slope again, and they flew down through the white flame again, splendidly, splendidly. Gudrun was laughing and flashing, powdered with snow-crystals, Gerald worked perfectly. He felt he could guide the toboggan to a hair-breadth, almost he could make it pierce into the air and right into the very heart of the sky. It seemed to him the flying sledge was but his strength spread out, he had but to move his arms, the motion was his own. They explored the great slopes, to find another slide. He felt there must be something better than they had known. And he found what he desired, a perfect long, fierce sweep, sheering past the foot of a rock and into the trees at the base. It was dangerous, he knew. But then he knew also he would direct the sledge between his fingers.
The first days passed in an ecstasy of physical motion, sleighing, skiing, skating, moving in an intensity of speed and white light that surpassed life itself, and carried the souls of the human beings beyond into an inhuman abstraction of velocity and weight and eternal, frozen snow.
Gerald’s eyes became hard and strange, and as he went by on his skis he was more like some powerful, fateful sigh than a man, his muscles elastic in a perfect, soaring trajectory, his body projected in pure flight, mindless, soulless, whirling along one perfect line of force.
Luckily there came a day of snow, when they must all stay indoors: otherwise Birkin said, they would all lose their faculties, and begin to utter themselves in cries and shrieks, like some strange, unknown species of snow-creatures.
It happened in the afternoon that Ursula sat in the Reunionsaal talking to Loerke. The latter had seemed unhappy lately. He was lively and full of mischievous humour, as usual.
But Ursula had thought he was sulky about something. His partner, too, the big, fair, good-looking youth, was ill at ease, going about as if he belonged to nowhere, and was kept in some sort of subjection, against which he was rebelling.
Loerke had hardly talked to Gudrun. His associate, on the other hand, had paid her constantly a soft, over-deferential attention. Gudrun wanted to talk to Loerke. He was a sculptor, and she wanted to hear his view of his art. And his figure attracted her. There was the look of a little wastrel about him, that intrigued her, and an old man’s look, that interested her, and then, beside this, an uncanny singleness, a quality of being by himself, not in contact with anybody else, that marked out an artist to her. He was a chatterer, a magpie, a maker of mischievous word-jokes, that were sometimes very clever, but which often were not. And she could see in his brown, gnome’s eyes, the black look of inorganic misery, which lay behind all his small buffoonery.
His figure interested her — the figure of a boy, almost a street arab. He made no attempt to conceal it. He always wore a simple loden suit, with knee breeches. His legs were thin, and he made no attempt to disguise the fact: which was of itself remarkable, in a German. And he never ingratiated himself anywhere, not in the slightest, but kept to himself, for all his apparent playfulness.
Leitner, his companion, was a great sportsman, very handsome with his big limbs and his blue eyes. Loerke would go toboganning or skating, in little snatches, but he was indifferent. And his fine, thin nostrils, the nostrils of a pure-bred street arab, would quiver with contempt at Leitner’s splothering gymnastic displays. It was evident that the two men who had travelled and lived together, sharing the same bedroom, had now reached the stage of loathing. Leitner hated Loerke with an injured, writhing, impotent hatred, and Loerke treated Leitner with a fine-quivering contempt and sarcasm. Soon the two would have to go apart.
Already they were rarely together. Leitner ran attaching himself to somebody or other, always deferring, Loerke was a good deal alone. Out of doors he wore a Westphalian cap, a close brown-velvet head with big brown velvet flaps down over his ears, so that he looked like a lop-eared rabbit, or a troll. His face was brown-red, with a dry, bright skin, that seemed to crinkle with his mobile expressions. His eyes were arresting — brown, full, like a rabbit’s, or like a troll’s, or like the eyes of a lost being, having a strange, dumb, depraved look of knowledge, and a quick spark of uncanny fire. Whenever Gudrun had tried to talk to him he had shied away unresponsive, looking at her with his watchful dark eyes, but entering into no relation with her. He had made her feel that her slow French and her slower German, were hateful to him. As for his own inadequate English, he was much too awkward to try it at all. But he understood a good deal of what was said, nevertheless. And Gudrun, piqued, left him alone.
This afternoon, however, she came into the lounge as he was talking to Ursula. His fine, black hair somehow reminded her of a bat, thin as it was on his full, sensitive-looking head, and worn away at the temples. He sat hunched up, as if his spirit were bat-like. And Gudrun could see he was making some slow confidence to Ursula, unwilling, a slow, grudging, scanty self-revelation. She went and sat by her sister.
He looked at her, then looked away again, as if he took no notice of her. But as a matter of fact, she interested him deeply.
‘Isn’t it interesting, Prune,’ said Ursula, turning to her sister, ‘Herr Loerke is doing a great frieze for a factory in Cologne, for the outside, the street.’
She looked at him, at his thin, brown, nervous hands, that were prehensile, and somehow like talons, like ‘griffes,’ inhuman.
‘What IN?’ she asked.
‘AUS WAS?’ repeated Ursula.
‘GRANIT,’ he replied.
It had become immediately a laconic series of question and answer between fellow craftsmen.
‘What is the relief?’ asked Gudrun.
‘And at what height?’
It was very interesting to Gudrun to think of his making the great granite frieze for a great granite factory in Cologne. She got from him some notion of the design. It was a representation of a fair, with peasants and artisans in an orgy of enjoyment, drunk and absurd in their modern dress, whirling ridiculously in roundabouts, gaping at shows, kissing and staggering and rolling in knots, swinging in swing-boats, and firing down shooting galleries, a frenzy of chaotic motion.
There was a swift discussion of technicalities. Gudrun was very much impressed.
‘But how wonderful, to have such a factory!’ cried Ursula. ‘Is the whole building fine?’
‘Oh yes,’ he replied. ‘The frieze is part of the whole architecture. Yes, it is a colossal thing.’
Then he seemed to stiffen, shrugged his shoulders, and went on:
‘Sculpture and architecture must go together. The day for irrelevant statues, as for wall pictures, is over. As a matter of fact sculpture is always part of an architectural conception. And since churches are all museum stuff, since industry is our business, now, then let us make our places of industry our art — our factory-area our Parthenon, ECCO!’
‘I suppose,’ she said, ‘there is no NEED for our great works to be so hideous.’
Instantly he broke into motion.
‘There you are!’ he cried, ‘there you are! There is not only NO NEED for our places of work to be ugly, but their ugliness ruins the work, in the end. Men will not go on submitting to such intolerable ugliness. In the end it will hurt too much, and they will wither because of it. And this will wither the WORK as well. They will think the work itself is ugly: the machines, the very act of labour. Whereas the machinery and the acts of labour are extremely, maddeningly beautiful. But this will be the end of our civilisation, when people will not work because work has become so intolerable to their senses, it nauseates them too much, they would rather starve. THEN we shall see the hammer used only for smashing, then we shall see it. Yet here we are — we have the opportunity to make beautiful factories, beautiful machine-houses — we have the opportunity —’
Gudrun could only partly understand. She could have cried with vexation.
‘What does he say?’ she asked Ursula. And Ursula translated, stammering and brief. Loerke watched Gudrun’s face, to see her judgment.
‘And do you think then,’ said Gudrun, ‘that art should serve industry?’
‘Art should INTERPRET industry, as art once interpreted religion,’ he said.
‘But does your fair interpret industry?’ she asked him.
‘Certainly. What is man doing, when he is at a fair like this? He is fulfilling the counterpart of labour — the machine works him, instead of he the machine. He enjoys the mechanical motion, in his own body.’
‘But is there nothing but work — mechanical work?’ said Gudrun.
‘Nothing but work!’ he repeated, leaning forward, his eyes two darknesses, with needle-points of light. ‘No, it is nothing but this, serving a machine, or enjoying the motion of a machine — motion, that is all. You have never worked for hunger, or you would know what god governs us.’
Gudrun quivered and flushed. For some reason she was almost in tears.
‘No, I have not worked for hunger,’ she replied, ‘but I have worked!’
‘Travaille — lavorato?’ he asked. ‘E che lavoro — che lavoro? Quel travail est-ce que vous avez fait?’
He broke into a mixture of Italian and French, instinctively using a foreign language when he spoke to her.
‘You have never worked as the world works,’ he said to her, with sarcasm.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I have. And I do — I work now for my daily bread.’
He paused, looked at her steadily, then dropped the subject entirely. She seemed to him to be trifling.
‘But have YOU ever worked as the world works?’ Ursula asked him.
He looked at her untrustful.
‘Yes,’ he replied, with a surly bark. ‘I have known what it was to lie in bed for three days, because I had nothing to eat.’
Gudrun was looking at him with large, grave eyes, that seemed to draw the confession from him as the marrow from his bones. All his nature held him back from confessing. And yet her large, grave eyes upon him seemed to open some valve in his veins, and involuntarily he was telling.
‘My father was a man who did not like work, and we had no mother. We lived in Austria, Polish Austria. How did we live? Ha! — somehow! Mostly in a room with three other families — one set in each corner — and the W.C. in the middle of the room — a pan with a plank on it — ha! I had two brothers and a sister — and there might be a woman with my father. He was a free being, in his way — would fight with any man in the town — a garrison town — and was a little man too. But he wouldn’t work for anybody — set his heart against it, and wouldn’t.’
‘And how did you live then?’ asked Ursula.
He looked at her — then, suddenly, at Gudrun.
‘Do you understand?’ he asked.
‘Enough,’ she replied.
Their eyes met for a moment. Then he looked away. He would say no more.
‘And how did you become a sculptor?’ asked Ursula.
‘How did I become a sculptor —’ he paused. ‘Dunque —’ he resumed, in a changed manner, and beginning to speak French —‘I became old enough — I used to steal from the market-place. Later I went to work — imprinted the stamp on clay bottles, before they were baked. It was an earthenware-bottle factory. There I began making models. One day, I had had enough. I lay in the sun and did not go to work. Then I walked to Munich — then I walked to Italy — begging, begging everything.’
‘The Italians were very good to me — they were good and honourable to me. From Bozen to Rome, almost every night I had a meal and a bed, perhaps of straw, with some peasant. I love the Italian people, with all my heart.
‘Dunque, adesso — maintenant — I earn a thousand pounds in a year, or I earn two thousand —’
He looked down at the ground, his voice tailing off into silence.
Gudrun looked at his fine, thin, shiny skin, reddish-brown from the sun, drawn tight over his full temples; and at his thin hair — and at the thick, coarse, brush-like moustache, cut short about his mobile, rather shapeless mouth.
‘How old are you?’ she asked.
He looked up at her with his full, elfin eyes startled.
‘WIE ALT?’ he repeated. And he hesitated. It was evidently one of his reticencies.
‘How old are YOU?’ he replied, without answering.
‘I am twenty-six,’ she answered.
‘Twenty-six,’ he repeated, looking into her eyes. He paused. Then he said:
‘UND IHR HERR GEMAHL, WIE ALT IS ER?’
‘Who?’ asked Gudrun.
‘Your husband,’ said Ursula, with a certain irony.
‘I haven’t got a husband,’ said Gudrun in English. In German she answered,
‘He is thirty-one.’
But Loerke was watching closely, with his uncanny, full, suspicious eyes. Something in Gudrun seemed to accord with him. He was really like one of the ‘little people’ who have no soul, who has found his mate in a human being. But he suffered in his discovery. She too was fascinated by him, fascinated, as if some strange creature, a rabbit or a bat, or a brown seal, had begun to talk to her. But also, she knew what he was unconscious of, his tremendous power of understanding, of apprehending her living motion. He did not know his own power. He did not know how, with his full, submerged, watchful eyes, he could look into her and see her, what she was, see her secrets. He would only want her to be herself — he knew her verily, with a subconscious, sinister knowledge, devoid of illusions and hopes.
To Gudrun, there was in Loerke the rock-bottom of all life. Everybody else had their illusion, must have their illusion, their before and after. But he, with a perfect stoicism, did without any before and after, dispensed with all illusion. He did not deceive himself in the last issue. In the last issue he cared about nothing, he was troubled about nothing, he made not the slightest attempt to be at one with anything. He existed a pure, unconnected will, stoical and momentaneous. There was only his work.
It was curious too, how his poverty, the degradation of his earlier life, attracted her. There was something insipid and tasteless to her, in the idea of a gentleman, a man who had gone the usual course through school and university. A certain violent sympathy, however, came up in her for this mud-child. He seemed to be the very stuff of the underworld of life. There was no going beyond him.
Ursula too was attracted by Loerke. In both sisters he commanded a certain homage. But there were moments when to Ursula he seemed indescribably inferior, false, a vulgarism.
Both Birkin and Gerald disliked him, Gerald ignoring him with some contempt, Birkin exasperated.
‘What do the women find so impressive in that little brat?’ Gerald asked.
‘God alone knows,’ replied Birkin, ‘unless it’s some sort of appeal he makes to them, which flatters them and has such a power over them.’
Gerald looked up in surprise.
‘DOES he make an appeal to them?’ he asked.
‘Oh yes,’ replied Birkin. ‘He is the perfectly subjected being, existing almost like a criminal. And the women rush towards that, like a current of air towards a vacuum.’
‘Funny they should rush to that,’ said Gerald.
‘Makes one mad, too,’ said Birkin. ‘But he has the fascination of pity and repulsion for them, a little obscene monster of the darkness that he is.’
Gerald stood still, suspended in thought.
‘What DO women want, at the bottom?’ he asked.
Birkin shrugged his shoulders.
‘God knows,’ he said. ‘Some satisfaction in basic repulsion, it seems to me. They seem to creep down some ghastly tunnel of darkness, and will never be satisfied till they’ve come to the end.’
Gerald looked out into the mist of fine snow that was blowing by. Everywhere was blind today, horribly blind.
‘And what is the end?’ he asked.
Birkin shook his head.
‘I’ve not got there yet, so I don’t know. Ask Loerke, he’s pretty near. He is a good many stages further than either you or I can go.’
‘Yes, but stages further in what?’ cried Gerald, irritated.
Birkin sighed, and gathered his brows into a knot of anger.
‘Stages further in social hatred,’ he said. ‘He lives like a rat, in the river of corruption, just where it falls over into the bottomless pit. He’s further on than we are. He hates the ideal more acutely. He HATES the ideal utterly, yet it still dominates him. I expect he is a Jew — or part Jewish.’
‘Probably,’ said Gerald.
‘He is a gnawing little negation, gnawing at the roots of life.’
‘But why does anybody care about him?’ cried Gerald.
‘Because they hate the ideal also, in their souls. They want to explore the sewers, and he’s the wizard rat that swims ahead.’
Still Gerald stood and stared at the blind haze of snow outside.
‘I don’t understand your terms, really,’ he said, in a flat, doomed voice. ‘But it sounds a rum sort of desire.’
‘I suppose we want the same,’ said Birkin. ‘Only we want to take a quick jump downwards, in a sort of ecstasy — and he ebbs with the stream, the sewer stream.’
Meanwhile Gudrun and Ursula waited for the next opportunity to talk to Loerke. It was no use beginning when the men were there. Then they could get into no touch with the isolated little sculptor. He had to be alone with them. And he preferred Ursula to be there, as a sort of transmitter to Gudrun.
‘Do you do nothing but architectural sculpture?’ Gudrun asked him one evening.
‘Not now,’ he replied. ‘I have done all sorts — except portraits — I never did portraits. But other things —’
‘What kind of things?’ asked Gudrun.
He paused a moment, then rose, and went out of the room. He returned almost immediately with a little roll of paper, which he handed to her. She unrolled it. It was a photogravure reproduction of a statuette, signed F. Loerke.
‘That is quite an early thing — NOT mechanical,’ he said, ‘more popular.’
The statuette was of a naked girl, small, finely made, sitting on a great naked horse. The girl was young and tender, a mere bud. She was sitting sideways on the horse, her face in her hands, as if in shame and grief, in a little abandon. Her hair, which was short and must be flaxen, fell forward, divided, half covering her hands.
Her limbs were young and tender. Her legs, scarcely formed yet, the legs of a maiden just passing towards cruel womanhood, dangled childishly over the side of the powerful horse, pathetically, the small feet folded one over the other, as if to hide. But there was no hiding. There she was exposed naked on the naked flank of the horse.
The horse stood stock still, stretched in a kind of start. It was a massive, magnificent stallion, rigid with pent-up power. Its neck was arched and terrible, like a sickle, its flanks were pressed back, rigid with power.
Gudrun went pale, and a darkness came over her eyes, like shame, she looked up with a certain supplication, almost slave-like. He glanced at her, and jerked his head a little.
‘How big is it?’ she asked, in a toneless voice, persisting in appearing casual and unaffected.
‘How big?’ he replied, glancing again at her. ‘Without pedestal — so high —’ he measured with his hand —‘with pedestal, so —’
He looked at her steadily. There was a little brusque, turgid contempt for her in his swift gesture, and she seemed to cringe a little.
‘And what is it done in?’ she asked, throwing back her head and looking at him with affected coldness.
He still gazed at her steadily, and his dominance was not shaken.
‘Bronze — green bronze.’
‘Green bronze!’ repeated Gudrun, coldly accepting his challenge. She was thinking of the slender, immature, tender limbs of the girl, smooth and cold in green bronze.
‘Yes, beautiful,’ she murmured, looking up at him with a certain dark homage.
He closed his eyes and looked aside, triumphant.
‘Why,’ said Ursula, ‘did you make the horse so stiff? It is as stiff as a block.’
‘Stiff?’ he repeated, in arms at once.
‘Yes. LOOK how stock and stupid and brutal it is. Horses are sensitive, quite delicate and sensitive, really.’
He raised his shoulders, spread his hands in a shrug of slow indifference, as much as to inform her she was an amateur and an impertinent nobody.
‘Wissen Sie,’ he said, with an insulting patience and condescension in his voice, ‘that horse is a certain FORM, part of a whole form. It is part of a work of art, a piece of form. It is not a picture of a friendly horse to which you give a lump of sugar, do you see — it is part of a work of art, it has no relation to anything outside that work of art.’
Ursula, angry at being treated quite so insultingly DE HAUT EN BAS, from the height of esoteric art to the depth of general exoteric amateurism, replied, hotly, flushing and lifting her face.
‘But it IS a picture of a horse, nevertheless.’
He lifted his shoulders in another shrug.
‘As you like — it is not a picture of a cow, certainly.’
Here Gudrun broke in, flushed and brilliant, anxious to avoid any more of this, any more of Ursula’s foolish persistence in giving herself away.
‘What do you mean by “it is a picture of a horse?”’ she cried at her sister. ‘What do you mean by a horse? You mean an idea you have in YOUR head, and which you want to see represented. There is another idea altogether, quite another idea. Call it a horse if you like, or say it is not a horse. I have just as much right to say that YOUR horse isn’t a horse, that it is a falsity of your own make-up.’
Ursula wavered, baffled. Then her words came.
‘But why does he have this idea of a horse?’ she said. ‘I know it is his idea. I know it is a picture of himself, really —’
Loerke snorted with rage.
‘A picture of myself!’ he repeated, in derision. ‘Wissen sie, gnadige Frau, that is a Kunstwerk, a work of art. It is a work of art, it is a picture of nothing, of absolutely nothing. It has nothing to do with anything but itself, it has no relation with the everyday world of this and other, there is no connection between them, absolutely none, they are two different and distinct planes of existence, and to translate one into the other is worse than foolish, it is a darkening of all counsel, a making confusion everywhere. Do you see, you MUST NOT confuse the relative work of action, with the absolute world of art. That you MUST NOT DO.’
‘That is quite true,’ cried Gudrun, let loose in a sort of rhapsody. ‘The two things are quite and permanently apart, they have NOTHING to do with one another. I and my art, they have nothing to do with each other. My art stands in another world, I am in this world.’
Her face was flushed and transfigured. Loerke who was sitting with his head ducked, like some creature at bay, looked up at her, swiftly, almost furtively, and murmured,
‘Ja — so ist es, so ist es.’
Ursula was silent after this outburst. She was furious. She wanted to poke a hole into them both.
‘It isn’t a word of it true, of all this harangue you have made me,’ she replied flatly. ‘The horse is a picture of your own stock, stupid brutality, and the girl was a girl you loved and tortured and then ignored.’
He looked up at her with a small smile of contempt in his eyes. He would not trouble to answer this last charge.
Gudrun too was silent in exasperated contempt. Ursula WAS such an insufferable outsider, rushing in where angels would fear to tread. But then — fools must be suffered, if not gladly.
But Ursula was persistent too.
‘As for your world of art and your world of reality,’ she replied, ‘you have to separate the two, because you can’t bear to know what you are. You can’t bear to realise what a stock, stiff, hide-bound brutality you ARE really, so you say “it’s the world of art.” The world of art is only the truth about the real world, that’s all — but you are too far gone to see it.’
She was white and trembling, intent. Gudrun and Loerke sat in stiff dislike of her. Gerald too, who had come up in the beginning of the speech, stood looking at her in complete disapproval and opposition. He felt she was undignified, she put a sort of vulgarity over the esotericism which gave man his last distinction. He joined his forces with the other two. They all three wanted her to go away. But she sat on in silence, her soul weeping, throbbing violently, her fingers twisting her handkerchief.
The others maintained a dead silence, letting the display of Ursula’s obtrusiveness pass by. Then Gudrun asked, in a voice that was quite cool and casual, as if resuming a casual conversation:
‘Was the girl a model?’
‘Nein, sie war kein Modell. Sie war eine kleine Malschulerin.’
‘An art-student!’ replied Gudrun.
And how the situation revealed itself to her! She saw the girl art-student, unformed and of pernicious recklessness, too young, her straight flaxen hair cut short, hanging just into her neck, curving inwards slightly, because it was rather thick; and Loerke, the well-known master-sculptor, and the girl, probably well-brought-up, and of good family, thinking herself so great to be his mistress. Oh how well she knew the common callousness of it all. Dresden, Paris, or London, what did it matter? She knew it.
‘Where is she now?’ Ursula asked.
Loerke raised his shoulders, to convey his complete ignorance and indifference.
‘That is already six years ago,’ he said; ‘she will be twenty-three years old, no more good.’
Gerald had picked up the picture and was looking at it. It attracted him also. He saw on the pedestal, that the piece was called ‘Lady Godiva.’
‘But this isn’t Lady Godiva,’ he said, smiling good-humouredly. ‘She was the middle-aged wife of some Earl or other, who covered herself with her long hair.’
‘A la Maud Allan,’ said Gudrun with a mocking grimace.
‘Why Maud Allan?’ he replied. ‘Isn’t it so? I always thought the legend was that.’
‘Yes, Gerald dear, I’m quite SURE you’ve got the legend perfectly.’
She was laughing at him, with a little, mock-caressive contempt.
‘To be sure, I’d rather see the woman than the hair,’ he laughed in return.
‘Wouldn’t you just!’ mocked Gudrun.
Ursula rose and went away, leaving the three together.
Gudrun took the picture again from Gerald, and sat looking at it closely.
‘Of course,’ she said, turning to tease Loerke now, ‘you UNDERSTOOD your little Malschulerin.’
He raised his eyebrows and his shoulders in a complacent shrug.
‘The little girl?’ asked Gerald, pointing to the figure.
Gudrun was sitting with the picture in her lap. She looked up at Gerald, full into his eyes, so that he seemed to be blinded.
‘DIDN’T he understand her!’ she said to Gerald, in a slightly mocking, humorous playfulness. ‘You’ve only to look at the feet — AREN’T they darling, so pretty and tender — oh, they’re really wonderful, they are really —’
She lifted her eyes slowly, with a hot, flaming look into Loerke’s eyes. His soul was filled with her burning recognition, he seemed to grow more uppish and lordly.
Gerald looked at the small, sculptured feet. They were turned together, half covering each other in pathetic shyness and fear. He looked at them a long time, fascinated. Then, in some pain, he put the picture away from him. He felt full of barrenness.
‘What was her name?’ Gudrun asked Loerke.
‘Annette von Weck,’ Loerke replied reminiscent. ‘Ja, sie war hubsch. She was pretty — but she was tiresome. She was a nuisance — not for a minute would she keep still — not until I’d slapped her hard and made her cry — then she’d sit for five minutes.’
He was thinking over the work, his work, the all important to him.
‘Did you really slap her?’ asked Gudrun, coolly.
He glanced back at her, reading her challenge.
‘Yes, I did,’ he said, nonchalant, ‘harder than I have ever beat anything in my life. I had to, I had to. It was the only way I got the work done.’
Gudrun watched him with large, dark-filled eyes, for some moments. She seemed to be considering his very soul. Then she looked down, in silence.
‘Why did you have such a young Godiva then?’ asked Gerald. ‘She is so small, besides, on the horse — not big enough for it — such a child.’
A queer spasm went over Loerke’s face.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I don’t like them any bigger, any older. Then they are beautiful, at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen — after that, they are no use to me.’
There was a moment’s pause.
‘Why not?’ asked Gerald.
Loerke shrugged his shoulders.
‘I don’t find them interesting — or beautiful — they are no good to me, for my work.’
‘Do you mean to say a woman isn’t beautiful after she is twenty?’ asked Gerald.
‘For me, no. Before twenty, she is small and fresh and tender and slight. After that — let her be what she likes, she has nothing for me. The Venus of Milo is a bourgeoise — so are they all.’
‘And you don’t care for women at all after twenty?’ asked Gerald.
‘They are no good to me, they are of no use in my art,’ Loerke repeated impatiently. ‘I don’t find them beautiful.’
‘You are an epicure,’ said Gerald, with a slight sarcastic laugh.
‘And what about men?’ asked Gudrun suddenly.
‘Yes, they are good at all ages,’ replied Loerke. ‘A man should be big and powerful — whether he is old or young is of no account, so he has the size, something of massiveness and — and stupid form.’
Ursula went out alone into the world of pure, new snow. But the dazzling whiteness seemed to beat upon her till it hurt her, she felt the cold was slowly strangling her soul. Her head felt dazed and numb.
Suddenly she wanted to go away. It occurred to her, like a miracle, that she might go away into another world. She had felt so doomed up here in the eternal snow, as if there were no beyond.
Now suddenly, as by a miracle she remembered that away beyond, below her, lay the dark fruitful earth, that towards the south there were stretches of land dark with orange trees and cypress, grey with olives, that ilex trees lifted wonderful plumy tufts in shadow against a blue sky. Miracle of miracles! — this utterly silent, frozen world of the mountain-tops was not universal! One might leave it and have done with it. One might go away.
She wanted to realise the miracle at once. She wanted at this instant to have done with the snow-world, the terrible, static ice-built mountain tops. She wanted to see the dark earth, to smell its earthy fecundity, to see the patient wintry vegetation, to feel the sunshine touch a response in the buds.
She went back gladly to the house, full of hope. Birkin was reading, lying in bed.
‘Rupert,’ she said, bursting in on him. ‘I want to go away.’
He looked up at her slowly.
‘Do you?’ he replied mildly.
She sat by him und put her arms round his neck. It surprised her that he was so little surprised.
‘Don’t YOU?’ she asked troubled.
‘I hadn’t thought about it,’ he said. ‘But I’m sure I do.’
She sat up, suddenly erect.
‘I hate it,’ she said. ‘I hate the snow, and the unnaturalness of it, the unnatural light it throws on everybody, the ghastly glamour, the unnatural feelings it makes everybody have.’
He lay still and laughed, meditating.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘we can go away — we can go tomorrow. We’ll go tomorrow to Verona, and find Romeo and Juliet, and sit in the amphitheatre — shall we?’
Suddenly she hid her face against his shoulder with perplexity and shyness. He lay so untrammelled.
‘Yes,’ she said softly, filled with relief. She felt her soul had new wings, now he was so uncaring. ‘I shall love to be Romeo and Juliet,’ she said. ‘My love!’
‘Though a fearfully cold wind blows in Verona,’ he said, ‘from out of the Alps. We shall have the smell of the snow in our noses.’
She sat up and looked at him.
‘Are you glad to go?’ she asked, troubled.
His eyes were inscrutable and laughing. She hid her face against his neck, clinging close to him, pleading:
‘Don’t laugh at me — don’t laugh at me.’
‘Why how’s that?’ he laughed, putting his arms round her.
‘Because I don’t want to be laughed at,’ she whispered.
He laughed more, as he kissed her delicate, finely perfumed hair.
‘Do you love me?’ she whispered, in wild seriousness.
‘Yes,’ he answered, laughing.
Suddenly she lifted her mouth to be kissed. Her lips were taut and quivering and strenuous, his were soft, deep and delicate. He waited a few moments in the kiss. Then a shade of sadness went over his soul.
‘Your mouth is so hard,’ he said, in faint reproach.
‘And yours is so soft and nice,’ she said gladly.
‘But why do you always grip your lips?’ he asked, regretful.
‘Never mind,’ she said swiftly. ‘It is my way.’
She knew he loved her; she was sure of him. Yet she could not let go a certain hold over herself, she could not bear him to question her. She gave herself up in delight to being loved by him. She knew that, in spite of his joy when she abandoned herself, he was a little bit saddened too. She could give herself up to his activity. But she could not be herself, she DARED not come forth quite nakedly to his nakedness, abandoning all adjustment, lapsing in pure faith with him. She abandoned herself to HIM, or she took hold of him and gathered her joy of him. And she enjoyed him fully. But they were never QUITE together, at the same moment, one was always a little left out. Nevertheless she was glad in hope, glorious and free, full of life and liberty. And he was still and soft and patient, for the time.
They made their preparations to leave the next day. First they went to Gudrun’s room, where she and Gerald were just dressed ready for the evening indoors.
‘Prune,’ said Ursula, ‘I think we shall go away tomorrow. I can’t stand the snow any more. It hurts my skin and my soul.’
‘Does it really hurt your soul, Ursula?’ asked Gudrun, in some surprise. ‘I can believe quite it hurts your skin — it is TERRIBLE. But I thought it was ADMIRABLE for the soul.’
‘No, not for mine. It just injures it,’ said Ursula.
‘Really!’ cried Gudrun.
There was a silence in the room. And Ursula and Birkin could feel that Gudrun and Gerald were relieved by their going.
‘You will go south?’ said Gerald, a little ring of uneasiness in his voice.
‘Yes,’ said Birkin, turning away. There was a queer, indefinable hostility between the two men, lately. Birkin was on the whole dim and indifferent, drifting along in a dim, easy flow, unnoticing and patient, since he came abroad, whilst Gerald on the other hand, was intense and gripped into white light, agonistes. The two men revoked one another.
Gerald and Gudrun were very kind to the two who were departing, solicitous for their welfare as if they were two children. Gudrun came to Ursula’s bedroom with three pairs of the coloured stockings for which she was notorious, and she threw them on the bed. But these were thick silk stockings, vermilion, cornflower blue, and grey, bought in Paris. The grey ones were knitted, seamless and heavy. Ursula was in raptures. She knew Gudrun must be feeling VERY loving, to give away such treasures.
‘I can’t take them from you, Prune,’ she cried. ‘I can’t possibly deprive you of them — the jewels.’
‘AREN’T they jewels!’ cried Gudrun, eyeing her gifts with an envious eye. ‘AREN’T they real lambs!’
‘Yes, you MUST keep them,’ said Ursula.
‘I don’t WANT them, I’ve got three more pairs. I WANT you to keep them — I want you to have them. They’re yours, there —’
And with trembling, excited hands she put the coveted stockings under Ursula’s pillow.
‘One gets the greatest joy of all out of really lovely stockings,’ said Ursula.
‘One does,’ replied Gudrun; ‘the greatest joy of all.’
And she sat down in the chair. It was evident she had come for a last talk. Ursula, not knowing what she wanted, waited in silence.
‘Do you FEEL, Ursula,’ Gudrun began, rather sceptically, that you are going-away-for-ever, never-to-return, sort of thing?’
‘Oh, we shall come back,’ said Ursula. ‘It isn’t a question of train-journeys.’
‘Yes, I know. But spiritually, so to speak, you are going away from us all?’
‘I don’t know a bit what is going to happen,’ she said. ‘I only know we are going somewhere.’
‘And you are glad?’ she asked.
Ursula meditated for a moment.
‘I believe I am VERY glad,’ she replied.
But Gudrun read the unconscious brightness on her sister’s face, rather than the uncertain tones of her speech.
‘But don’t you think you’ll WANT the old connection with the world — father and the rest of us, and all that it means, England and the world of thought — don’t you think you’ll NEED that, really to make a world?’
Ursula was silent, trying to imagine.
‘I think,’ she said at length, involuntarily, ‘that Rupert is right — one wants a new space to be in, and one falls away from the old.’
Gudrun watched her sister with impassive face and steady eyes.
‘One wants a new space to be in, I quite agree,’ she said. ‘But I think that a new world is a development from this world, and that to isolate oneself with one other person, isn’t to find a new world at all, but only to secure oneself in one’s illusions.’
Ursula looked out of the window. In her soul she began to wrestle, and she was frightened. She was always frightened of words, because she knew that mere word-force could always make her believe what she did not believe.
‘Perhaps,’ she said, full of mistrust, of herself and everybody. ‘But,’ she added, ‘I do think that one can’t have anything new whilst one cares for the old — do you know what I mean? — even fighting the old is belonging to it. I know, one is tempted to stop with the world, just to fight it. But then it isn’t worth it.’
Gudrun considered herself.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘In a way, one is of the world if one lives in it. But isn’t it really an illusion to think you can get out of it? After all, a cottage in the Abruzzi, or wherever it may be, isn’t a new world. No, the only thing to do with the world, is to see it through.’
Ursula looked away. She was so frightened of argument.
‘But there CAN be something else, can’t there?’ she said. ‘One can see it through in one’s soul, long enough before it sees itself through in actuality. And then, when one has seen one’s soul, one is something else.’
‘CAN one see it through in one’s soul?’ asked Gudrun. ‘If you mean that you can see to the end of what will happen, I don’t agree. I really can’t agree. And anyhow, you can’t suddenly fly off on to a new planet, because you think you can see to the end of this.’
Ursula suddenly straightened herself.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes — one knows. One has no more connections here. One has a sort of other self, that belongs to a new planet, not to this. You’ve got to hop off.’
Gudrun reflected for a few moments. Then a smile of ridicule, almost of contempt, came over her face.
‘And what will happen when you find yourself in space?’ she cried in derision. ‘After all, the great ideas of the world are the same there. You above everybody can’t get away from the fact that love, for instance, is the supreme thing, in space as well as on earth.’
‘No,’ said Ursula, ‘it isn’t. Love is too human and little. I believe in something inhuman, of which love is only a little part. I believe what we must fulfil comes out of the unknown to us, and it is something infinitely more than love. It isn’t so merely HUMAN.’
Gudrun looked at Ursula with steady, balancing eyes. She admired and despised her sister so much, both! Then, suddenly she averted her face, saying coldly, uglily:
‘Well, I’ve got no further than love, yet.’
Over Ursula’s mind flashed the thought: ‘Because you never HAVE loved, you can’t get beyond it.’
Gudrun rose, came over to Ursula and put her arm round her neck.
‘Go and find your new world, dear,’ she said, her voice clanging with false benignity. ‘After all, the happiest voyage is the quest of Rupert’s Blessed Isles.’
Her arm rested round Ursula’s neck, her fingers on Ursula’s cheek for a few moments. Ursula was supremely uncomfortable meanwhile. There was an insult in Gudrun’s protective patronage that was really too hurting. Feeling her sister’s resistance, Gudrun drew awkwardly away, turned over the pillow, and disclosed the stockings again.
‘Ha — ha!’ she laughed, rather hollowly. ‘How we do talk indeed — new worlds and old —!’
And they passed to the familiar worldly subjects.
Gerald and Birkin had walked on ahead, waiting for the sledge to overtake them, conveying the departing guests.
‘How much longer will you stay here?’ asked Birkin, glancing up at Gerald’s very red, almost blank face.
‘Oh, I can’t say,’ Gerald replied. ‘Till we get tired of it.’
‘You’re not afraid of the snow melting first?’ asked Birkin.
‘Does it melt?’ he said.
‘Things are all right with you then?’ said Birkin.
Gerald screwed up his eyes a little.
‘All right?’ he said. ‘I never know what those common words mean. All right and all wrong, don’t they become synonymous, somewhere?’
‘Yes, I suppose. How about going back?’ asked Birkin.
‘Oh, I don’t know. We may never get back. I don’t look before and after,’ said Gerald.
‘NOR pine for what is not,’ said Birkin.
Gerald looked into the distance, with the small-pupilled, abstract eyes of a hawk.
‘No. There’s something final about this. And Gudrun seems like the end, to me. I don’t know — but she seems so soft, her skin like silk, her arms heavy and soft. And it withers my consciousness, somehow, it burns the pith of my mind.’ He went on a few paces, staring ahead, his eyes fixed, looking like a mask used in ghastly religions of the barbarians. ‘It blasts your soul’s eye,’ he said, ‘and leaves you sightless. Yet you WANT to be sightless, you WANT to be blasted, you don’t want it any different.’
He was speaking as if in a trance, verbal and blank. Then suddenly he braced himself up with a kind of rhapsody, and looked at Birkin with vindictive, cowed eyes, saying:
‘Do you know what it is to suffer when you are with a woman? She’s so beautiful, so perfect, you find her SO GOOD, it tears you like a silk, and every stroke and bit cuts hot — ha, that perfection, when you blast yourself, you blast yourself! And then —’ he stopped on the snow and suddenly opened his clenched hands —‘it’s nothing — your brain might have gone charred as rags — and —’ he looked round into the air with a queer histrionic movement ‘it’s blasting — you understand what I mean — it is a great experience, something final — and then — you’re shrivelled as if struck by electricity.’ He walked on in silence. It seemed like bragging, but like a man in extremity bragging truthfully.
‘Of course,’ he resumed, ‘I wouldn’t NOT have had it! It’s a complete experience. And she’s a wonderful woman. But — how I hate her somewhere! It’s curious —’
Birkin looked at him, at his strange, scarcely conscious face. Gerald seemed blank before his own words.
‘But you’ve had enough now?’ said Birkin. ‘You have had your experience. Why work on an old wound?’
‘Oh,’ said Gerald, ‘I don’t know. It’s not finished —’
And the two walked on.
‘I’ve loved you, as well as Gudrun, don’t forget,’ said Birkin bitterly. Gerald looked at him strangely, abstractedly.
‘Have you?’ he said, with icy scepticism. ‘Or do you think you have?’ He was hardly responsible for what he said.
The sledge came. Gudrun dismounted and they all made their farewell. They wanted to go apart, all of them. Birkin took his place, and the sledge drove away leaving Gudrun and Gerald standing on the snow, waving. Something froze Birkin’s heart, seeing them standing there in the isolation of the snow, growing smaller and more isolated.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23