They met again in the cafe several hours later. Gerald went through the push doors into the large, lofty room where the faces and heads of the drinkers showed dimly through the haze of smoke, reflected more dimly, and repeated ad infinitum in the great mirrors on the walls, so that one seemed to enter a vague, dim world of shadowy drinkers humming within an atmosphere of blue tobacco smoke. There was, however, the red plush of the seats to give substance within the bubble of pleasure.
Gerald moved in his slow, observant, glistening-attentive motion down between the tables and the people whose shadowy faces looked up as he passed. He seemed to be entering in some strange element, passing into an illuminated new region, among a host of licentious souls. He was pleased, and entertained. He looked over all the dim, evanescent, strangely illuminated faces that bent across the tables. Then he saw Birkin rise and signal to him.
At Birkin’s table was a girl with dark, soft, fluffy hair cut short in the artist fashion, hanging level and full almost like the Egyptian princess’s. She was small and delicately made, with warm colouring and large, dark hostile eyes. There was a delicacy, almost a beauty in all her form, and at the same time a certain attractive grossness of spirit, that made a little spark leap instantly alight in Gerald’s eyes.
Birkin, who looked muted, unreal, his presence left out, introduced her as Miss Darrington. She gave her hand with a sudden, unwilling movement, looking all the while at Gerald with a dark, exposed stare. A glow came over him as he sat down.
The waiter appeared. Gerald glanced at the glasses of the other two. Birkin was drinking something green, Miss Darrington had a small liqueur glass that was empty save for a tiny drop.
‘Won’t you have some more —?’
‘Brandy,’ she said, sipping her last drop and putting down the glass. The waiter disappeared.
‘No,’ she said to Birkin. ‘He doesn’t know I’m back. He’ll be terrified when he sees me here.’
She spoke her r’s like w’s, lisping with a slightly babyish pronunciation which was at once affected and true to her character. Her voice was dull and toneless.
‘Where is he then?’ asked Birkin.
‘He’s doing a private show at Lady Snellgrove’s,’ said the girl. ‘Warens is there too.’
There was a pause.
‘Well, then,’ said Birkin, in a dispassionate protective manner, ‘what do you intend to do?’
The girl paused sullenly. She hated the question.
‘I don’t intend to do anything,’ she replied. ‘I shall look for some sittings tomorrow.’
‘Who shall you go to?’ asked Birkin.
‘I shall go to Bentley’s first. But I believe he’s angwy with me for running away.’
‘That is from the Madonna?’
‘Yes. And then if he doesn’t want me, I know I can get work with Carmarthen.’
‘Lord Carmarthen — he does photographs.’
‘Chiffon and shoulders —’
‘Yes. But he’s awfully decent.’ There was a pause.
‘And what are you going to do about Julius?’ he asked.
‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I shall just ignore him.’
‘You’ve done with him altogether?’ But she turned aside her face sullenly, and did not answer the question.
Another young man came hurrying up to the table.
‘Hallo Birkin! Hallo PUSSUM, when did you come back?’ he said eagerly.
‘Does Halliday know?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t care either.’
‘Ha-ha! The wind still sits in that quarter, does it? Do you mind if I come over to this table?’
‘I’m talking to Wupert, do you mind?’ she replied, coolly and yet appealingly, like a child.
‘Open confession — good for the soul, eh?’ said the young man. ‘Well, so long.’
And giving a sharp look at Birkin and at Gerald, the young man moved off, with a swing of his coat skirts.
All this time Gerald had been completely ignored. And yet he felt that the girl was physically aware of his proximity. He waited, listened, and tried to piece together the conversation.
‘Are you staying at the flat?’ the girl asked, of Birkin.
‘For three days,’ replied Birkin. ‘And you?’
‘I don’t know yet. I can always go to Bertha’s.’ There was a silence.
Suddenly the girl turned to Gerald, and said, in a rather formal, polite voice, with the distant manner of a woman who accepts her position as a social inferior, yet assumes intimate CAMARADERIE with the male she addresses:
‘Do you know London well?’
‘I can hardly say,’ he laughed. ‘I’ve been up a good many times, but I was never in this place before.’
‘You’re not an artist, then?’ she said, in a tone that placed him an outsider.
‘No,’ he replied.
‘He’s a soldier, and an explorer, and a Napoleon of industry,’ said Birkin, giving Gerald his credentials for Bohemia.
‘Are you a soldier?’ asked the girl, with a cold yet lively curiosity.
‘No, I resigned my commission,’ said Gerald, ‘some years ago.’
‘He was in the last war,’ said Birkin.
‘Were you really?’ said the girl.
‘And then he explored the Amazon,’ said Birkin, ‘and now he is ruling over coal-mines.’
The girl looked at Gerald with steady, calm curiosity. He laughed, hearing himself described. He felt proud too, full of male strength. His blue, keen eyes were lit up with laughter, his ruddy face, with its sharp fair hair, was full of satisfaction, and glowing with life. He piqued her.
‘How long are you staying?’ she asked him.
‘A day or two,’ he replied. ‘But there is no particular hurry.’
Still she stared into his face with that slow, full gaze which was so curious and so exciting to him. He was acutely and delightfully conscious of himself, of his own attractiveness. He felt full of strength, able to give off a sort of electric power. And he was aware of her dark, hot-looking eyes upon him. She had beautiful eyes, dark, fully-opened, hot, naked in their looking at him. And on them there seemed to float a film of disintegration, a sort of misery and sullenness, like oil on water. She wore no hat in the heated cafe, her loose, simple jumper was strung on a string round her neck. But it was made of rich peach-coloured crepe-de-chine, that hung heavily and softly from her young throat and her slender wrists. Her appearance was simple and complete, really beautiful, because of her regularity and form, her soft dark hair falling full and level on either side of her head, her straight, small, softened features, Egyptian in the slight fulness of their curves, her slender neck and the simple, rich-coloured smock hanging on her slender shoulders. She was very still, almost null, in her manner, apart and watchful.
She appealed to Gerald strongly. He felt an awful, enjoyable power over her, an instinctive cherishing very near to cruelty. For she was a victim. He felt that she was in his power, and he was generous. The electricity was turgid and voluptuously rich, in his limbs. He would be able to destroy her utterly in the strength of his discharge. But she was waiting in her separation, given.
They talked banalities for some time. Suddenly Birkin said:
‘There’s Julius!’ and he half rose to his feet, motioning to the newcomer. The girl, with a curious, almost evil motion, looked round over her shoulder without moving her body. Gerald watched her dark, soft hair swing over her ears. He felt her watching intensely the man who was approaching, so he looked too. He saw a pale, full-built young man with rather long, solid fair hair hanging from under his black hat, moving cumbrously down the room, his face lit up with a smile at once naive and warm, and vapid. He approached towards Birkin, with a haste of welcome.
It was not till he was quite close that he perceived the girl. He recoiled, went pale, and said, in a high squealing voice:
‘Pussum, what are YOU doing here?’
The cafe looked up like animals when they hear a cry. Halliday hung motionless, an almost imbecile smile flickering palely on his face. The girl only stared at him with a black look in which flared an unfathomable hell of knowledge, and a certain impotence. She was limited by him.
‘Why have you come back?’ repeated Halliday, in the same high, hysterical voice. ‘I told you not to come back.’
The girl did not answer, only stared in the same viscous, heavy fashion, straight at him, as he stood recoiled, as if for safety, against the next table.
‘You know you wanted her to come back — come and sit down,’ said Birkin to him.
‘No I didn’t want her to come back, and I told her not to come back. What have you come for, Pussum?’
‘For nothing from YOU,’ she said in a heavy voice of resentment.
‘Then why have you come back at ALL?’ cried Halliday, his voice rising to a kind of squeal.
‘She comes as she likes,’ said Birkin. ‘Are you going to sit down, or are you not?’
‘No, I won’t sit down with Pussum,’ cried Halliday.
‘I won’t hurt you, you needn’t be afraid,’ she said to him, very curtly, and yet with a sort of protectiveness towards him, in her voice.
Halliday came and sat at the table, putting his hand on his heart, and crying:
‘Oh, it’s given me such a turn! Pussum, I wish you wouldn’t do these things. Why did you come back?’
‘Not for anything from you,’ she repeated.
‘You’ve said that before,’ he cried in a high voice.
She turned completely away from him, to Gerald Crich, whose eyes were shining with a subtle amusement.
‘Were you ever vewy much afwaid of the savages?’ she asked in her calm, dull childish voice.
‘No — never very much afraid. On the whole they’re harmless — they’re not born yet, you can’t feel really afraid of them. You know you can manage them.’
‘Do you weally? Aren’t they very fierce?’
‘Not very. There aren’t many fierce things, as a matter of fact. There aren’t many things, neither people nor animals, that have it in them to be really dangerous.’
‘Except in herds,’ interrupted Birkin.
‘Aren’t there really?’ she said. ‘Oh, I thought savages were all so dangerous, they’d have your life before you could look round.’
‘Did you?’ he laughed. ‘They are over-rated, savages. They’re too much like other people, not exciting, after the first acquaintance.’
‘Oh, it’s not so very wonderfully brave then, to be an explorer?’
‘No. It’s more a question of hardships than of terrors.’
‘Oh! And weren’t you ever afraid?’
‘In my life? I don’t know. Yes, I’m afraid of some things — of being shut up, locked up anywhere — or being fastened. I’m afraid of being bound hand and foot.’
She looked at him steadily with her dark eyes, that rested on him and roused him so deeply, that it left his upper self quite calm. It was rather delicious, to feel her drawing his self-revelations from him, as from the very innermost dark marrow of his body. She wanted to know. And her dark eyes seemed to be looking through into his naked organism. He felt, she was compelled to him, she was fated to come into contact with him, must have the seeing him and knowing him. And this roused a curious exultance. Also he felt, she must relinquish herself into his hands, and be subject to him. She was so profane, slave-like, watching him, absorbed by him. It was not that she was interested in what he said; she was absorbed by his self-revelation, by HIM, she wanted the secret of him, the experience of his male being.
Gerald’s face was lit up with an uncanny smile, full of light and rousedness, yet unconscious. He sat with his arms on the table, his sunbrowned, rather sinister hands, that were animal and yet very shapely and attractive, pushed forward towards her. And they fascinated her. And she knew, she watched her own fascination.
Other men had come to the table, to talk with Birkin and Halliday. Gerald said in a low voice, apart, to Pussum:
‘Where have you come back from?’
‘From the country,’ replied Pussum, in a very low, yet fully resonant voice. Her face closed hard. Continually she glanced at Halliday, and then a black flare came over her eyes. The heavy, fair young man ignored her completely; he was really afraid of her. For some moments she would be unaware of Gerald. He had not conquered her yet.
‘And what has Halliday to do with it?’ he asked, his voice still muted.
She would not answer for some seconds. Then she said, unwillingly:
‘He made me go and live with him, and now he wants to throw me over. And yet he won’t let me go to anybody else. He wants me to live hidden in the country. And then he says I persecute him, that he can’t get rid of me.’
‘Doesn’t know his own mind,’ said Gerald.
‘He hasn’t any mind, so he can’t know it,’ she said. ‘He waits for what somebody tells him to do. He never does anything he wants to do himself — because he doesn’t know what he wants. He’s a perfect baby.’
Gerald looked at Halliday for some moments, watching the soft, rather degenerate face of the young man. Its very softness was an attraction; it was a soft, warm, corrupt nature, into which one might plunge with gratification.
‘But he has no hold over you, has he?’ Gerald asked.
‘You see he MADE me go and live with him, when I didn’t want to,’ she replied. ‘He came and cried to me, tears, you never saw so many, saying HE COULDN’T bear it unless I went back to him. And he wouldn’t go away, he would have stayed for ever. He made me go back. Then every time he behaves in this fashion. And now I’m going to have a baby, he wants to give me a hundred pounds and send me into the country, so that he would never see me nor hear of me again. But I’m not going to do it, after —’
A queer look came over Gerald’s face.
‘Are you going to have a child?’ he asked incredulous. It seemed, to look at her, impossible, she was so young and so far in spirit from any child-bearing.
She looked full into his face, and her dark, inchoate eyes had now a furtive look, and a look of a knowledge of evil, dark and indomitable. A flame ran secretly to his heart.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it beastly?’
‘Don’t you want it?’ he asked.
‘I don’t,’ she replied emphatically.
‘But —’ he said, ‘how long have you known?’
‘Ten weeks,’ she said.
All the time she kept her dark, inchoate eyes full upon him. He remained silent, thinking. Then, switching off and becoming cold, he asked, in a voice full of considerate kindness:
‘Is there anything we can eat here? Is there anything you would like?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I should adore some oysters.’
‘All right,’ he said. ‘We’ll have oysters.’ And he beckoned to the waiter.
Halliday took no notice, until the little plate was set before her. Then suddenly he cried:
‘Pussum, you can’t eat oysters when you’re drinking brandy.’
‘What has it go to do with you?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, nothing,’ he cried. ‘But you can’t eat oysters when you’re drinking brandy.’
‘I’m not drinking brandy,’ she replied, and she sprinkled the last drops of her liqueur over his face. He gave an odd squeal. She sat looking at him, as if indifferent.
‘Pussum, why do you do that?’ he cried in panic. He gave Gerald the impression that he was terrified of her, and that he loved his terror. He seemed to relish his own horror and hatred of her, turn it over and extract every flavour from it, in real panic. Gerald thought him a strange fool, and yet piquant.
‘But Pussum,’ said another man, in a very small, quick Eton voice, ‘you promised not to hurt him.’
‘I haven’t hurt him,’ she answered.
‘What will you drink?’ the young man asked. He was dark, and smooth-skinned, and full of a stealthy vigour.
‘I don’t like porter, Maxim,’ she replied.
‘You must ask for champagne,’ came the whispering, gentlemanly voice of the other.
Gerald suddenly realised that this was a hint to him.
‘Shall we have champagne?’ he asked, laughing.
‘Yes please, dwy,’ she lisped childishly.
Gerald watched her eating the oysters. She was delicate and finicking in her eating, her fingers were fine and seemed very sensitive in the tips, so she put her food apart with fine, small motions, she ate carefully, delicately. It pleased him very much to see her, and it irritated Birkin. They were all drinking champagne. Maxim, the prim young Russian with the smooth, warm-coloured face and black, oiled hair was the only one who seemed to be perfectly calm and sober. Birkin was white and abstract, unnatural, Gerald was smiling with a constant bright, amused, cold light in his eyes, leaning a little protectively towards the Pussum, who was very handsome, and soft, unfolded like some red lotus in dreadful flowering nakedness, vainglorious now, flushed with wine and with the excitement of men. Halliday looked foolish. One glass of wine was enough to make him drunk and giggling. Yet there was always a pleasant, warm naivete about him, that made him attractive.
‘I’m not afwaid of anything except black-beetles,’ said the Pussum, looking up suddenly and staring with her black eyes, on which there seemed an unseeing film of flame, fully upon Gerald. He laughed dangerously, from the blood. Her childish speech caressed his nerves, and her burning, filmed eyes, turned now full upon him, oblivious of all her antecedents, gave him a sort of licence.
‘I’m not,’ she protested. ‘I’m not afraid of other things. But black-beetles — ugh!’ she shuddered convulsively, as if the very thought were too much to bear.
‘Do you mean,’ said Gerald, with the punctiliousness of a man who has been drinking, ‘that you are afraid of the sight of a black-beetle, or you are afraid of a black-beetle biting you, or doing you some harm?’
‘Do they bite?’ cried the girl.
‘How perfectly loathsome!’ exclaimed Halliday.
‘I don’t know,’ replied Gerald, looking round the table. ‘Do black-beetles bite? But that isn’t the point. Are you afraid of their biting, or is it a metaphysical antipathy?’
The girl was looking full upon him all the time with inchoate eyes.
‘Oh, I think they’re beastly, they’re horrid,’ she cried. ‘If I see one, it gives me the creeps all over. If one were to crawl on me, I’m SURE I should die — I’m sure I should.’
‘I hope not,’ whispered the young Russian.
‘I’m sure I should, Maxim,’ she asseverated.
‘Then one won’t crawl on you,’ said Gerald, smiling and knowing. In some strange way he understood her.
‘It’s metaphysical, as Gerald says,’ Birkin stated.
There was a little pause of uneasiness.
‘And are you afraid of nothing else, Pussum?’ asked the young Russian, in his quick, hushed, elegant manner.
‘Not weally,’ she said. ‘I am afwaid of some things, but not weally the same. I’m not afwaid of BLOOD.’
‘Not afwaid of blood!’ exclaimed a young man with a thick, pale, jeering face, who had just come to the table and was drinking whisky.
The Pussum turned on him a sulky look of dislike, low and ugly.
‘Aren’t you really afraid of blud?’ the other persisted, a sneer all over his face.
‘No, I’m not,’ she retorted.
‘Why, have you ever seen blood, except in a dentist’s spittoon?’ jeered the young man.
‘I wasn’t speaking to you,’ she replied rather superbly.
‘You can answer me, can’t you?’ he said.
For reply, she suddenly jabbed a knife across his thick, pale hand. He started up with a vulgar curse.
‘Show’s what you are,’ said the Pussum in contempt.
‘Curse you,’ said the young man, standing by the table and looking down at her with acrid malevolence.
‘Stop that,’ said Gerald, in quick, instinctive command.
The young man stood looking down at her with sardonic contempt, a cowed, self-conscious look on his thick, pale face. The blood began to flow from his hand.
‘Oh, how horrible, take it away!’ squealed Halliday, turning green and averting his face.
‘D’you feel ill?’ asked the sardonic young man, in some concern. ‘Do you feel ill, Julius? Garn, it’s nothing, man, don’t give her the pleasure of letting her think she’s performed a feat — don’t give her the satisfaction, man — it’s just what she wants.’
‘Oh!’ squealed Halliday.
‘He’s going to cat, Maxim,’ said the Pussum warningly. The suave young Russian rose and took Halliday by the arm, leading him away. Birkin, white and diminished, looked on as if he were displeased. The wounded, sardonic young man moved away, ignoring his bleeding hand in the most conspicuous fashion.
‘He’s an awful coward, really,’ said the Pussum to Gerald. ‘He’s got such an influence over Julius.’
‘Who is he?’ asked Gerald.
‘He’s a Jew, really. I can’t bear him.’
‘Well, he’s quite unimportant. But what’s wrong with Halliday?’
‘Julius’s the most awful coward you’ve ever seen,’ she cried. ‘He always faints if I lift a knife — he’s tewwified of me.’
‘H’m!’ said Gerald.
‘They’re all afwaid of me,’ she said. ‘Only the Jew thinks he’s going to show his courage. But he’s the biggest coward of them all, really, because he’s afwaid what people will think about him — and Julius doesn’t care about that.’
‘They’ve a lot of valour between them,’ said Gerald good-humouredly.
The Pussum looked at him with a slow, slow smile. She was very handsome, flushed, and confident in dreadful knowledge. Two little points of light glinted on Gerald’s eyes.
‘Why do they call you Pussum, because you’re like a cat?’ he asked her.
‘I expect so,’ she said.
The smile grew more intense on his face.
‘You are, rather; or a young, female panther.’
‘Oh God, Gerald!’ said Birkin, in some disgust.
They both looked uneasily at Birkin.
‘You’re silent tonight, Wupert,’ she said to him, with a slight insolence, being safe with the other man.
Halliday was coming back, looking forlorn and sick.
‘Pussum,’ he said, ‘I wish you wouldn’t do these things — Oh!’ He sank in his chair with a groan.
‘You’d better go home,’ she said to him.
‘I WILL go home,’ he said. ‘But won’t you all come along. Won’t you come round to the flat?’ he said to Gerald. ‘I should be so glad if you would. Do — that’ll be splendid. I say?’ He looked round for a waiter. ‘Get me a taxi.’ Then he groaned again. ‘Oh I do feel — perfectly ghastly! Pussum, you see what you do to me.’
‘Then why are you such an idiot?’ she said with sullen calm.
‘But I’m not an idiot! Oh, how awful! Do come, everybody, it will be so splendid. Pussum, you are coming. What? Oh but you MUST come, yes, you must. What? Oh, my dear girl, don’t make a fuss now, I feel perfectly — Oh, it’s so ghastly — Ho! — er! Oh!’
‘You know you can’t drink,’ she said to him, coldly.
‘I tell you it isn’t drink — it’s your disgusting behaviour, Pussum, it’s nothing else. Oh, how awful! Libidnikov, do let us go.’
‘He’s only drunk one glass — only one glass,’ came the rapid, hushed voice of the young Russian.
They all moved off to the door. The girl kept near to Gerald, and seemed to be at one in her motion with him. He was aware of this, and filled with demon-satisfaction that his motion held good for two. He held her in the hollow of his will, and she was soft, secret, invisible in her stirring there.
They crowded five of them into the taxi-cab. Halliday lurched in first, and dropped into his seat against the other window. Then the Pussum took her place, and Gerald sat next to her. They heard the young Russian giving orders to the driver, then they were all seated in the dark, crowded close together, Halliday groaning and leaning out of the window. They felt the swift, muffled motion of the car.
The Pussum sat near to Gerald, and she seemed to become soft, subtly to infuse herself into his bones, as if she were passing into him in a black, electric flow. Her being suffused into his veins like a magnetic darkness, and concentrated at the base of his spine like a fearful source of power. Meanwhile her voice sounded out reedy and nonchalant, as she talked indifferently with Birkin and with Maxim. Between her and Gerald was this silence and this black, electric comprehension in the darkness. Then she found his hand, and grasped it in her own firm, small clasp. It was so utterly dark, and yet such a naked statement, that rapid vibrations ran through his blood and over his brain, he was no longer responsible. Still her voice rang on like a bell, tinged with a tone of mockery. And as she swung her head, her fine mane of hair just swept his face, and all his nerves were on fire, as with a subtle friction of electricity. But the great centre of his force held steady, a magnificent pride to him, at the base of his spine.
They arrived at a large block of buildings, went up in a lift, and presently a door was being opened for them by a Hindu. Gerald looked in surprise, wondering if he were a gentleman, one of the Hindus down from Oxford, perhaps. But no, he was the man-servant.
‘Make tea, Hasan,’ said Halliday.
‘There is a room for me?’ said Birkin.
To both of which questions the man grinned, and murmured.
He made Gerald uncertain, because, being tall and slender and reticent, he looked like a gentleman.
‘Who is your servant?’ he asked of Halliday. ‘He looks a swell.’
‘Oh yes — that’s because he’s dressed in another man’s clothes. He’s anything but a swell, really. We found him in the road, starving. So I took him here, and another man gave him clothes. He’s anything but what he seems to be — his only advantage is that he can’t speak English and can’t understand it, so he’s perfectly safe.’
‘He’s very dirty,’ said the young Russian swiftly and silently.
Directly, the man appeared in the doorway.
‘What is it?’ said Halliday.
The Hindu grinned, and murmured shyly:
‘Want to speak to master.’
Gerald watched curiously. The fellow in the doorway was goodlooking and clean-limbed, his bearing was calm, he looked elegant, aristocratic. Yet he was half a savage, grinning foolishly. Halliday went out into the corridor to speak with him.
‘What?’ they heard his voice. ‘What? What do you say? Tell me again. What? Want money? Want MORE money? But what do you want money for?’ There was the confused sound of the Hindu’s talking, then Halliday appeared in the room, smiling also foolishly, and saying:
‘He says he wants money to buy underclothing. Can anybody lend me a shilling? Oh thanks, a shilling will do to buy all the underclothes he wants.’ He took the money from Gerald and went out into the passage again, where they heard him saying, ‘You can’t want more money, you had three and six yesterday. You mustn’t ask for any more. Bring the tea in quickly.’
Gerald looked round the room. It was an ordinary London sitting-room in a flat, evidently taken furnished, rather common and ugly. But there were several negro statues, wood-carvings from West Africa, strange and disturbing, the carved negroes looked almost like the foetus of a human being. One was a woman sitting naked in a strange posture, and looking tortured, her abdomen stuck out. The young Russian explained that she was sitting in child-birth, clutching the ends of the band that hung from her neck, one in each hand, so that she could bear down, and help labour. The strange, transfixed, rudimentary face of the woman again reminded Gerald of a foetus, it was also rather wonderful, conveying the suggestion of the extreme of physical sensation, beyond the limits of mental consciousness.
‘Aren’t they rather obscene?’ he asked, disapproving.
‘I don’t know,’ murmured the other rapidly. ‘I have never defined the obscene. I think they are very good.’
Gerald turned away. There were one or two new pictures in the room, in the Futurist manner; there was a large piano. And these, with some ordinary London lodging-house furniture of the better sort, completed the whole.
The Pussum had taken off her hat and coat, and was seated on the sofa. She was evidently quite at home in the house, but uncertain, suspended. She did not quite know her position. Her alliance for the time being was with Gerald, and she did not know how far this was admitted by any of the men. She was considering how she should carry off the situation. She was determined to have her experience. Now, at this eleventh hour, she was not to be baulked. Her face was flushed as with battle, her eye was brooding but inevitable.
The man came in with tea and a bottle of Kummel. He set the tray on a little table before the couch.
‘Pussum,’ said Halliday, ‘pour out the tea.’
She did not move.
‘Won’t you do it?’ Halliday repeated, in a state of nervous apprehension.
‘I’ve not come back here as it was before,’ she said. ‘I only came because the others wanted me to, not for your sake.’
‘My dear Pussum, you know you are your own mistress. I don’t want you to do anything but use the flat for your own convenience — you know it, I’ve told you so many times.’
She did not reply, but silently, reservedly reached for the tea-pot. They all sat round and drank tea. Gerald could feel the electric connection between him and her so strongly, as she sat there quiet and withheld, that another set of conditions altogether had come to pass. Her silence and her immutability perplexed him. HOW was he going to come to her? And yet he felt it quite inevitable. He trusted completely to the current that held them. His perplexity was only superficial, new conditions reigned, the old were surpassed; here one did as one was possessed to do, no matter what it was.
Birkin rose. It was nearly one o’clock.
‘I’m going to bed,’ he said. ‘Gerald, I’ll ring you up in the morning at your place or you ring me up here.’
‘Right,’ said Gerald, and Birkin went out.
When he was well gone, Halliday said in a stimulated voice, to Gerald:
‘I say, won’t you stay here — oh do!’
‘You can’t put everybody up,’ said Gerald.
‘Oh but I can, perfectly — there are three more beds besides mine — do stay, won’t you. Everything is quite ready — there is always somebody here — I always put people up — I love having the house crowded.’
‘But there are only two rooms,’ said the Pussum, in a cold, hostile voice, ‘now Rupert’s here.’
‘I know there are only two rooms,’ said Halliday, in his odd, high way of speaking. ‘But what does that matter?’
He was smiling rather foolishly, and he spoke eagerly, with an insinuating determination.
‘Julius and I will share one room,’ said the Russian in his discreet, precise voice. Halliday and he were friends since Eton.
‘It’s very simple,’ said Gerald, rising and pressing back his arms, stretching himself. Then he went again to look at one of the pictures. Every one of his limbs was turgid with electric force, and his back was tense like a tiger’s, with slumbering fire. He was very proud.
The Pussum rose. She gave a black look at Halliday, black and deadly, which brought the rather foolishly pleased smile to that young man’s face. Then she went out of the room, with a cold good-night to them all generally.
There was a brief interval, they heard a door close, then Maxim said, in his refined voice:
‘That’s all right.’
He looked significantly at Gerald, and said again, with a silent nod:
‘That’s all right — you’re all right.’
Gerald looked at the smooth, ruddy, comely face, and at the strange, significant eyes, and it seemed as if the voice of the young Russian, so small and perfect, sounded in the blood rather than in the air.
‘I’M all right then,’ said Gerald.
‘Yes! Yes! You’re all right,’ said the Russian.
Halliday continued to smile, and to say nothing.
Suddenly the Pussum appeared again in the door, her small, childish face looking sullen and vindictive.
‘I know you want to catch me out,’ came her cold, rather resonant voice. ‘But I don’t care, I don’t care how much you catch me out.’
She turned and was gone again. She had been wearing a loose dressing-gown of purple silk, tied round her waist. She looked so small and childish and vulnerable, almost pitiful. And yet the black looks of her eyes made Gerald feel drowned in some potent darkness that almost frightened him.
The men lit another cigarette and talked casually.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23