Breadalby was a Georgian house with Corinthian pillars, standing among the softer, greener hills of Derbyshire, not far from Cromford. In front, it looked over a lawn, over a few trees, down to a string of fish-ponds in the hollow of the silent park. At the back were trees, among which were to be found the stables, and the big kitchen garden, behind which was a wood.
It was a very quiet place, some miles from the high-road, back from the Derwent Valley, outside the show scenery. Silent and forsaken, the golden stucco showed between the trees, the house-front looked down the park, unchanged and unchanging.
Of late, however, Hermione had lived a good deal at the house. She had turned away from London, away from Oxford, towards the silence of the country. Her father was mostly absent, abroad, she was either alone in the house, with her visitors, of whom there were always several, or she had with her her brother, a bachelor, and a Liberal member of Parliament. He always came down when the House was not sitting, seemed always to be present in Breadalby, although he was most conscientious in his attendance to duty.
The summer was just coming in when Ursula and Gudrun went to stay the second time with Hermione. Coming along in the car, after they had entered the park, they looked across the dip, where the fish-ponds lay in silence, at the pillared front of the house, sunny and small like an English drawing of the old school, on the brow of the green hill, against the trees. There were small figures on the green lawn, women in lavender and yellow moving to the shade of the enormous, beautifully balanced cedar tree.
‘Isn’t it complete!’ said Gudrun. ‘It is as final as an old aquatint.’ She spoke with some resentment in her voice, as if she were captivated unwillingly, as if she must admire against her will.
‘Do you love it?’ asked Ursula.
‘I don’t LOVE it, but in its way, I think it is quite complete.’
The motor-car ran down the hill and up again in one breath, and they were curving to the side door. A parlour-maid appeared, and then Hermione, coming forward with her pale face lifted, and her hands outstretched, advancing straight to the new-comers, her voice singing:
‘Here you are — I’m so glad to see you —’ she kissed Gudrun —‘so glad to see you —’ she kissed Ursula and remained with her arm round her. ‘Are you very tired?’
‘Not at all tired,’ said Ursula.
‘Are you tired, Gudrun?’
‘Not at all, thanks,’ said Gudrun.
‘No —’ drawled Hermione. And she stood and looked at them. The two girls were embarrassed because she would not move into the house, but must have her little scene of welcome there on the path. The servants waited.
‘Come in,’ said Hermione at last, having fully taken in the pair of them. Gudrun was the more beautiful and attractive, she had decided again, Ursula was more physical, more womanly. She admired Gudrun’s dress more. It was of green poplin, with a loose coat above it, of broad, dark-green and dark-brown stripes. The hat was of a pale, greenish straw, the colour of new hay, and it had a plaited ribbon of black and orange, the stockings were dark green, the shoes black. It was a good get-up, at once fashionable and individual. Ursula, in dark blue, was more ordinary, though she also looked well.
Hermione herself wore a dress of prune-coloured silk, with coral beads and coral coloured stockings. But her dress was both shabby and soiled, even rather dirty.
‘You would like to see your rooms now, wouldn’t you! Yes. We will go up now, shall we?’
Ursula was glad when she could be left alone in her room. Hermione lingered so long, made such a stress on one. She stood so near to one, pressing herself near upon one, in a way that was most embarrassing and oppressive. She seemed to hinder one’s workings.
Lunch was served on the lawn, under the great tree, whose thick, blackish boughs came down close to the grass. There were present a young Italian woman, slight and fashionable, a young, athletic-looking Miss Bradley, a learned, dry Baronet of fifty, who was always making witticisms and laughing at them heartily in a harsh, horse-laugh, there was Rupert Birkin, and then a woman secretary, a Fraulein Marz, young and slim and pretty.
The food was very good, that was one thing. Gudrun, critical of everything, gave it her full approval. Ursula loved the situation, the white table by the cedar tree, the scent of new sunshine, the little vision of the leafy park, with far-off deer feeding peacefully. There seemed a magic circle drawn about the place, shutting out the present, enclosing the delightful, precious past, trees and deer and silence, like a dream.
But in spirit she was unhappy. The talk went on like a rattle of small artillery, always slightly sententious, with a sententiousness that was only emphasised by the continual crackling of a witticism, the continual spatter of verbal jest, designed to give a tone of flippancy to a stream of conversation that was all critical and general, a canal of conversation rather than a stream.
The attitude was mental and very wearying. Only the elderly sociologist, whose mental fibre was so tough as to be insentient, seemed to be thoroughly happy. Birkin was down in the mouth. Hermione appeared, with amazing persistence, to wish to ridicule him and make him look ignominious in the eyes of everybody. And it was surprising how she seemed to succeed, how helpless he seemed against her. He looked completely insignificant. Ursula and Gudrun, both very unused, were mostly silent, listening to the slow, rhapsodic sing-song of Hermione, or the verbal sallies of Sir Joshua, or the prattle of Fraulein, or the responses of the other two women.
Luncheon was over, coffee was brought out on the grass, the party left the table and sat about in lounge chairs, in the shade or in the sunshine as they wished. Fraulein departed into the house, Hermione took up her embroidery, the little Contessa took a book, Miss Bradley was weaving a basket out of fine grass, and there they all were on the lawn in the early summer afternoon, working leisurely and spattering with half-intellectual, deliberate talk.
Suddenly there was the sound of the brakes and the shutting off of a motor-car.
‘There’s Salsie!’ sang Hermione, in her slow, amusing sing-song. And laying down her work, she rose slowly, and slowly passed over the lawn, round the bushes, out of sight.
‘Who is it?’ asked Gudrun.
‘Mr Roddice — Miss Roddice’s brother — at least, I suppose it’s he,’ said Sir Joshua.
‘Salsie, yes, it is her brother,’ said the little Contessa, lifting her head for a moment from her book, and speaking as if to give information, in her slightly deepened, guttural English.
They all waited. And then round the bushes came the tall form of Alexander Roddice, striding romantically like a Meredith hero who remembers Disraeli. He was cordial with everybody, he was at once a host, with an easy, offhand hospitality that he had learned for Hermione’s friends. He had just come down from London, from the House. At once the atmosphere of the House of Commons made itself felt over the lawn: the Home Secretary had said such and such a thing, and he, Roddice, on the other hand, thought such and such a thing, and had said so-and-so to the PM.
Now Hermione came round the bushes with Gerald Crich. He had come along with Alexander. Gerald was presented to everybody, was kept by Hermione for a few moments in full view, then he was led away, still by Hermione. He was evidently her guest of the moment.
There had been a split in the Cabinet; the minister for Education had resigned owing to adverse criticism. This started a conversation on education.
‘Of course,’ said Hermione, lifting her face like a rhapsodist, ‘there CAN be no reason, no EXCUSE for education, except the joy and beauty of knowledge in itself.’ She seemed to rumble and ruminate with subterranean thoughts for a minute, then she proceeded: ‘Vocational education ISN’T education, it is the close of education.’
Gerald, on the brink of discussion, sniffed the air with delight and prepared for action.
‘Not necessarily,’ he said. ‘But isn’t education really like gymnastics, isn’t the end of education the production of a well-trained, vigorous, energetic mind?’
‘Just as athletics produce a healthy body, ready for anything,’ cried Miss Bradley, in hearty accord.
Gudrun looked at her in silent loathing.
‘Well —’ rumbled Hermione, ‘I don’t know. To me the pleasure of knowing is so great, so WONDERFUL— nothing has meant so much to me in all life, as certain knowledge — no, I am sure — nothing.’
‘What knowledge, for example, Hermione?’ asked Alexander.
Hermione lifted her face and rumbled —
‘M— m — m — I don’t know . . . But one thing was the stars, when I really understood something about the stars. One feels so UPLIFTED, so UNBOUNDED . . .’
Birkin looked at her in a white fury.
‘What do you want to feel unbounded for?’ he said sarcastically. ‘You don’t want to BE unbounded.’
Hermione recoiled in offence.
‘Yes, but one does have that limitless feeling,’ said Gerald. ‘It’s like getting on top of the mountain and seeing the Pacific.’
‘Silent upon a peak in Dariayn,’ murmured the Italian, lifting her face for a moment from her book.
‘Not necessarily in Dariayn,’ said Gerald, while Ursula began to laugh.
Hermione waited for the dust to settle, and then she said, untouched:
‘Yes, it is the greatest thing in life — to KNOW. It is really to be happy, to be FREE.’
‘Knowledge is, of course, liberty,’ said Mattheson.
‘In compressed tabloids,’ said Birkin, looking at the dry, stiff little body of the Baronet. Immediately Gudrun saw the famous sociologist as a flat bottle, containing tabloids of compressed liberty. That pleased her. Sir Joshua was labelled and placed forever in her mind.
‘What does that mean, Rupert?’ sang Hermione, in a calm snub.
‘You can only have knowledge, strictly,’ he replied, ‘of things concluded, in the past. It’s like bottling the liberty of last summer in the bottled gooseberries.’
‘CAN one have knowledge only of the past?’ asked the Baronet, pointedly. ‘Could we call our knowledge of the laws of gravitation for instance, knowledge of the past?’
‘Yes,’ said Birkin.
‘There is a most beautiful thing in my book,’ suddenly piped the little Italian woman. ‘It says the man came to the door and threw his eyes down the street.’
There was a general laugh in the company. Miss Bradley went and looked over the shoulder of the Contessa.
‘See!’ said the Contessa.
‘Bazarov came to the door and threw his eyes hurriedly down the street,’ she read.
Again there was a loud laugh, the most startling of which was the Baronet’s, which rattled out like a clatter of falling stones.
‘What is the book?’ asked Alexander, promptly.
‘Fathers and Sons, by Turgenev,’ said the little foreigner, pronouncing every syllable distinctly. She looked at the cover, to verify herself.
‘An old American edition,’ said Birkin.
‘Ha! — of course — translated from the French,’ said Alexander, with a fine declamatory voice. ‘Bazarov ouvra la porte et jeta les yeux dans la rue.’
He looked brightly round the company.
‘I wonder what the “hurriedly” was,’ said Ursula.
They all began to guess.
And then, to the amazement of everybody, the maid came hurrying with a large tea-tray. The afternoon had passed so swiftly.
After tea, they were all gathered for a walk.
‘Would you like to come for a walk?’ said Hermione to each of them, one by one. And they all said yes, feeling somehow like prisoners marshalled for exercise. Birkin only refused.
‘Will you come for a walk, Rupert?’
‘But are you SURE?’
‘Quite sure.’ There was a second’s hesitation.
‘And why not?’ sang Hermione’s question. It made her blood run sharp, to be thwarted in even so trifling a matter. She intended them all to walk with her in the park.
‘Because I don’t like trooping off in a gang,’ he said.
Her voice rumbled in her throat for a moment. Then she said, with a curious stray calm:
‘Then we’ll leave a little boy behind, if he’s sulky.’
And she looked really gay, while she insulted him. But it merely made him stiff.
She trailed off to the rest of the company, only turning to wave her handkerchief to him, and to chuckle with laughter, singing out:
‘Good-bye, good-bye, little boy.’
‘Good-bye, impudent hag,’ he said to himself.
They all went through the park. Hermione wanted to show them the wild daffodils on a little slope. ‘This way, this way,’ sang her leisurely voice at intervals. And they had all to come this way. The daffodils were pretty, but who could see them? Ursula was stiff all over with resentment by this time, resentment of the whole atmosphere. Gudrun, mocking and objective, watched and registered everything.
They looked at the shy deer, and Hermione talked to the stag, as if he too were a boy she wanted to wheedle and fondle. He was male, so she must exert some kind of power over him. They trailed home by the fish-ponds, and Hermione told them about the quarrel of two male swans, who had striven for the love of the one lady. She chuckled and laughed as she told how the ousted lover had sat with his head buried under his wing, on the gravel.
When they arrived back at the house, Hermione stood on the lawn and sang out, in a strange, small, high voice that carried very far:
‘Rupert! Rupert!’ The first syllable was high and slow, the second dropped down. ‘Roo-o-opert.’
But there was no answer. A maid appeared.
‘Where is Mr Birkin, Alice?’ asked the mild straying voice of Hermione. But under the straying voice, what a persistent, almost insane WILL!
‘I think he’s in his room, madam.’
Hermione went slowly up the stairs, along the corridor, singing out in her high, small call:
‘Ru-oo-pert! Ru-oo pert!’
She came to his door, and tapped, still crying: ‘Roo-pert.’
‘Yes,’ sounded his voice at last.
‘What are you doing?’
The question was mild and curious.
There was no answer. Then he opened the door.
‘We’ve come back,’ said Hermione. ‘The daffodils are SO beautiful.’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen them.’
She looked at him with her long, slow, impassive look, along her cheeks.
‘Have you?’ she echoed. And she remained looking at him. She was stimulated above all things by this conflict with him, when he was like a sulky boy, helpless, and she had him safe at Breadalby. But underneath she knew the split was coming, and her hatred of him was subconscious and intense.
‘What were you doing?’ she reiterated, in her mild, indifferent tone. He did not answer, and she made her way, almost unconsciously into his room. He had taken a Chinese drawing of geese from the boudoir, and was copying it, with much skill and vividness.
‘You are copying the drawing,’ she said, standing near the table, and looking down at his work. ‘Yes. How beautifully you do it! You like it very much, don’t you?’
‘It’s a marvellous drawing,’ he said.
‘Is it? I’m so glad you like it, because I’ve always been fond of it. The Chinese Ambassador gave it me.’
‘I know,’ he said.
‘But why do you copy it?’ she asked, casual and sing-song. ‘Why not do something original?’
‘I want to know it,’ he replied. ‘One gets more of China, copying this picture, than reading all the books.’
‘And what do you get?’
She was at once roused, she laid as it were violent hands on him, to extract his secrets from him. She MUST know. It was a dreadful tyranny, an obsession in her, to know all he knew. For some time he was silent, hating to answer her. Then, compelled, he began:
‘I know what centres they live from — what they perceive and feel — the hot, stinging centrality of a goose in the flux of cold water and mud — the curious bitter stinging heat of a goose’s blood, entering their own blood like an inoculation of corruptive fire — fire of the cold-burning mud — the lotus mystery.’
Hermione looked at him along her narrow, pallid cheeks. Her eyes were strange and drugged, heavy under their heavy, drooping lids. Her thin bosom shrugged convulsively. He stared back at her, devilish and unchanging. With another strange, sick convulsion, she turned away, as if she were sick, could feel dissolution setting-in in her body. For with her mind she was unable to attend to his words, he caught her, as it were, beneath all her defences, and destroyed her with some insidious occult potency.
‘Yes,’ she said, as if she did not know what she were saying. ‘Yes,’ and she swallowed, and tried to regain her mind. But she could not, she was witless, decentralised. Use all her will as she might, she could not recover. She suffered the ghastliness of dissolution, broken and gone in a horrible corruption. And he stood and looked at her unmoved. She strayed out, pallid and preyed-upon like a ghost, like one attacked by the tomb-influences which dog us. And she was gone like a corpse, that has no presence, no connection. He remained hard and vindictive.
Hermione came down to dinner strange and sepulchral, her eyes heavy and full of sepulchral darkness, strength. She had put on a dress of stiff old greenish brocade, that fitted tight and made her look tall and rather terrible, ghastly. In the gay light of the drawing-room she was uncanny and oppressive. But seated in the half-light of the diningroom, sitting stiffly before the shaded candles on the table, she seemed a power, a presence. She listened and attended with a drugged attention.
The party was gay and extravagant in appearance, everybody had put on evening dress except Birkin and Joshua Mattheson. The little Italian Contessa wore a dress of tissue, of orange and gold and black velvet in soft wide stripes, Gudrun was emerald green with strange net-work, Ursula was in yellow with dull silver veiling, Miss Bradley was of grey, crimson and jet, Fraulein Marz wore pale blue. It gave Hermione a sudden convulsive sensation of pleasure, to see these rich colours under the candle-light. She was aware of the talk going on, ceaselessly, Joshua’s voice dominating; of the ceaseless pitter-patter of women’s light laughter and responses; of the brilliant colours and the white table and the shadow above and below; and she seemed in a swoon of gratification, convulsed with pleasure and yet sick, like a REVENANT. She took very little part in the conversation, yet she heard it all, it was all hers.
They all went together into the drawing-room, as if they were one family, easily, without any attention to ceremony. Fraulein handed the coffee, everybody smoked cigarettes, or else long warden pipes of white clay, of which a sheaf was provided.
‘Will you smoke? — cigarettes or pipe?’ asked Fraulein prettily. There was a circle of people, Sir Joshua with his eighteenth-century appearance, Gerald the amused, handsome young Englishman, Alexander tall and the handsome politician, democratic and lucid, Hermione strange like a long Cassandra, and the women lurid with colour, all dutifully smoking their long white pipes, and sitting in a half-moon in the comfortable, soft-lighted drawing-room, round the logs that flickered on the marble hearth.
The talk was very often political or sociological, and interesting, curiously anarchistic. There was an accumulation of powerful force in the room, powerful and destructive. Everything seemed to be thrown into the melting pot, and it seemed to Ursula they were all witches, helping the pot to bubble. There was an elation and a satisfaction in it all, but it was cruelly exhausting for the new-comers, this ruthless mental pressure, this powerful, consuming, destructive mentality that emanated from Joshua and Hermione and Birkin and dominated the rest.
But a sickness, a fearful nausea gathered possession of Hermione. There was a lull in the talk, as it was arrested by her unconscious but all-powerful will.
‘Salsie, won’t you play something?’ said Hermione, breaking off completely. ‘Won’t somebody dance? Gudrun, you will dance, won’t you? I wish you would. Anche tu, Palestra, ballerai? — si, per piacere. You too, Ursula.’
Hermione rose and slowly pulled the gold-embroidered band that hung by the mantel, clinging to it for a moment, then releasing it suddenly. Like a priestess she looked, unconscious, sunk in a heavy half-trance.
A servant came, and soon reappeared with armfuls of silk robes and shawls and scarves, mostly oriental, things that Hermione, with her love for beautiful extravagant dress, had collected gradually.
‘The three women will dance together,’ she said.
‘What shall it be?’ asked Alexander, rising briskly.
‘Vergini Delle Rocchette,’ said the Contessa at once.
‘They are so languid,’ said Ursula.
‘The three witches from Macbeth,’ suggested Fraulein usefully. It was finally decided to do Naomi and Ruth and Orpah. Ursula was Naomi, Gudrun was Ruth, the Contessa was Orpah. The idea was to make a little ballet, in the style of the Russian Ballet of Pavlova and Nijinsky.
The Contessa was ready first, Alexander went to the piano, a space was cleared. Orpah, in beautiful oriental clothes, began slowly to dance the death of her husband. Then Ruth came, and they wept together, and lamented, then Naomi came to comfort them. It was all done in dumb show, the women danced their emotion in gesture and motion. The little drama went on for a quarter of an hour.
Ursula was beautiful as Naomi. All her men were dead, it remained to her only to stand alone in indomitable assertion, demanding nothing. Ruth, woman-loving, loved her. Orpah, a vivid, sensational, subtle widow, would go back to the former life, a repetition. The interplay between the women was real and rather frightening. It was strange to see how Gudrun clung with heavy, desperate passion to Ursula, yet smiled with subtle malevolence against her, how Ursula accepted silently, unable to provide any more either for herself or for the other, but dangerous and indomitable, refuting her grief.
Hermione loved to watch. She could see the Contessa’s rapid, stoat-like sensationalism, Gudrun’s ultimate but treacherous cleaving to the woman in her sister, Ursula’s dangerous helplessness, as if she were helplessly weighted, and unreleased.
‘That was very beautiful,’ everybody cried with one accord. But Hermione writhed in her soul, knowing what she could not know. She cried out for more dancing, and it was her will that set the Contessa and Birkin moving mockingly in Malbrouk.
Gerald was excited by the desperate cleaving of Gudrun to Naomi. The essence of that female, subterranean recklessness and mockery penetrated his blood. He could not forget Gudrun’s lifted, offered, cleaving, reckless, yet withal mocking weight. And Birkin, watching like a hermit crab from its hole, had seen the brilliant frustration and helplessness of Ursula. She was rich, full of dangerous power. She was like a strange unconscious bud of powerful womanhood. He was unconsciously drawn to her. She was his future.
Alexander played some Hungarian music, and they all danced, seized by the spirit. Gerald was marvellously exhilarated at finding himself in motion, moving towards Gudrun, dancing with feet that could not yet escape from the waltz and the two-step, but feeling his force stir along his limbs and his body, out of captivity. He did not know yet how to dance their convulsive, rag-time sort of dancing, but he knew how to begin. Birkin, when he could get free from the weight of the people present, whom he disliked, danced rapidly and with a real gaiety. And how Hermione hated him for this irresponsible gaiety.
‘Now I see,’ cried the Contessa excitedly, watching his purely gay motion, which he had all to himself. ‘Mr Birkin, he is a changer.’
Hermione looked at her slowly, and shuddered, knowing that only a foreigner could have seen and have said this.
‘Cosa vuol’dire, Palestra?’ she asked, sing-song.
‘Look,’ said the Contessa, in Italian. ‘He is not a man, he is a chameleon, a creature of change.’
‘He is not a man, he is treacherous, not one of us,’ said itself over in Hermione’s consciousness. And her soul writhed in the black subjugation to him, because of his power to escape, to exist, other than she did, because he was not consistent, not a man, less than a man. She hated him in a despair that shattered her and broke her down, so that she suffered sheer dissolution like a corpse, and was unconscious of everything save the horrible sickness of dissolution that was taking place within her, body and soul.
The house being full, Gerald was given the smaller room, really the dressing-room, communicating with Birkin’s bedroom. When they all took their candles and mounted the stairs, where the lamps were burning subduedly, Hermione captured Ursula and brought her into her own bedroom, to talk to her. A sort of constraint came over Ursula in the big, strange bedroom. Hermione seemed to be bearing down on her, awful and inchoate, making some appeal. They were looking at some Indian silk shirts, gorgeous and sensual in themselves, their shape, their almost corrupt gorgeousness. And Hermione came near, and her bosom writhed, and Ursula was for a moment blank with panic. And for a moment Hermione’s haggard eyes saw the fear on the face of the other, there was again a sort of crash, a crashing down. And Ursula picked up a shirt of rich red and blue silk, made for a young princess of fourteen, and was crying mechanically:
‘Isn’t it wonderful — who would dare to put those two strong colours together —’
Then Hermione’s maid entered silently and Ursula, overcome with dread, escaped, carried away by powerful impulse.
Birkin went straight to bed. He was feeling happy, and sleepy. Since he had danced he was happy. But Gerald would talk to him. Gerald, in evening dress, sat on Birkin’s bed when the other lay down, and must talk.
‘Who are those two Brangwens?’ Gerald asked.
‘They live in Beldover.’
‘In Beldover! Who are they then?’
‘Teachers in the Grammar School.’
There was a pause.
‘They are!’ exclaimed Gerald at length. ‘I thought I had seen them before.’
‘It disappoints you?’ said Birkin.
‘Disappoints me! No — but how is it Hermione has them here?’
‘She knew Gudrun in London — that’s the younger one, the one with the darker hair — she’s an artist — does sculpture and modelling.’
‘She’s not a teacher in the Grammar School, then — only the other?’
‘Both — Gudrun art mistress, Ursula a class mistress.’
‘And what’s the father?’
‘Handicraft instructor in the schools.’
‘Class-barriers are breaking down!’
Gerald was always uneasy under the slightly jeering tone of the other.
‘That their father is handicraft instructor in a school! What does it matter to me?’
Birkin laughed. Gerald looked at his face, as it lay there laughing and bitter and indifferent on the pillow, and he could not go away.
‘I don’t suppose you will see very much more of Gudrun, at least. She is a restless bird, she’ll be gone in a week or two,’ said Birkin.
‘Where will she go?’
‘London, Paris, Rome — heaven knows. I always expect her to sheer off to Damascus or San Francisco; she’s a bird of paradise. God knows what she’s got to do with Beldover. It goes by contraries, like dreams.’
Gerald pondered for a few moments.
‘How do you know her so well?’ he asked.
‘I knew her in London,’ he replied, ‘in the Algernon Strange set. She’ll know about Pussum and Libidnikov and the rest — even if she doesn’t know them personally. She was never quite that set — more conventional, in a way. I’ve known her for two years, I suppose.’
‘And she makes money, apart from her teaching?’ asked Gerald.
‘Some — irregularly. She can sell her models. She has a certain reclame.’
‘How much for?’
‘A guinea, ten guineas.’
‘And are they good? What are they?’
‘I think sometimes they are marvellously good. That is hers, those two wagtails in Hermione’s boudoir — you’ve seen them — they are carved in wood and painted.’
‘I thought it was savage carving again.’
‘No, hers. That’s what they are — animals and birds, sometimes odd small people in everyday dress, really rather wonderful when they come off. They have a sort of funniness that is quite unconscious and subtle.’
‘She might be a well-known artist one day?’ mused Gerald.
‘She might. But I think she won’t. She drops her art if anything else catches her. Her contrariness prevents her taking it seriously — she must never be too serious, she feels she might give herself away. And she won’t give herself away — she’s always on the defensive. That’s what I can’t stand about her type. By the way, how did things go off with Pussum after I left you? I haven’t heard anything.’
‘Oh, rather disgusting. Halliday turned objectionable, and I only just saved myself from jumping in his stomach, in a real old-fashioned row.’
Birkin was silent.
‘Of course,’ he said, ‘Julius is somewhat insane. On the one hand he’s had religious mania, and on the other, he is fascinated by obscenity. Either he is a pure servant, washing the feet of Christ, or else he is making obscene drawings of Jesus — action and reaction — and between the two, nothing. He is really insane. He wants a pure lily, another girl, with a baby face, on the one hand, and on the other, he MUST have the Pussum, just to defile himself with her.’
‘That’s what I can’t make out,’ said Gerald. ‘Does he love her, the Pussum, or doesn’t he?’
‘He neither does nor doesn’t. She is the harlot, the actual harlot of adultery to him. And he’s got a craving to throw himself into the filth of her. Then he gets up and calls on the name of the lily of purity, the baby-faced girl, and so enjoys himself all round. It’s the old story — action and reaction, and nothing between.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Gerald, after a pause, ‘that he does insult the Pussum so very much. She strikes me as being rather foul.’
‘But I thought you liked her,’ exclaimed Birkin. ‘I always felt fond of her. I never had anything to do with her, personally, that’s true.’
‘I liked her all right, for a couple of days,’ said Gerald. ‘But a week of her would have turned me over. There’s a certain smell about the skin of those women, that in the end is sickening beyond words — even if you like it at first.’
‘I know,’ said Birkin. Then he added, rather fretfully, ‘But go to bed, Gerald. God knows what time it is.’
Gerald looked at his watch, and at length rose off the bed, and went to his room. But he returned in a few minutes, in his shirt.
‘One thing,’ he said, seating himself on the bed again. ‘We finished up rather stormily, and I never had time to give her anything.’
‘Money?’ said Birkin. ‘She’ll get what she wants from Halliday or from one of her acquaintances.’
‘But then,’ said Gerald, ‘I’d rather give her her dues and settle the account.’
‘She doesn’t care.’
‘No, perhaps not. But one feels the account is left open, and one would rather it were closed.’
‘Would you?’ said Birkin. He was looking at the white legs of Gerald, as the latter sat on the side of the bed in his shirt. They were white-skinned, full, muscular legs, handsome and decided. Yet they moved Birkin with a sort of pathos, tenderness, as if they were childish.
‘I think I’d rather close the account,’ said Gerald, repeating himself vaguely.
‘It doesn’t matter one way or another,’ said Birkin.
‘You always say it doesn’t matter,’ said Gerald, a little puzzled, looking down at the face of the other man affectionately.
‘Neither does it,’ said Birkin.
‘But she was a decent sort, really —’
‘Render unto Caesarina the things that are Caesarina’s,’ said Birkin, turning aside. It seemed to him Gerald was talking for the sake of talking. ‘Go away, it wearies me — it’s too late at night,’ he said.
‘I wish you’d tell me something that DID matter,’ said Gerald, looking down all the time at the face of the other man, waiting for something. But Birkin turned his face aside.
‘All right then, go to sleep,’ said Gerald, and he laid his hand affectionately on the other man’s shoulder, and went away.
In the morning when Gerald awoke and heard Birkin move, he called out: ‘I still think I ought to give the Pussum ten pounds.’
‘Oh God!’ said Birkin, ‘don’t be so matter-of-fact. Close the account in your own soul, if you like. It is there you can’t close it.’
‘How do you know I can’t?’
Gerald meditated for some moments.
‘It seems to me the right thing to do, you know, with the Pussums, is to pay them.’
‘And the right thing for mistresses: keep them. And the right thing for wives: live under the same roof with them. Integer vitae scelerisque purus —’ said Birkin.
‘There’s no need to be nasty about it,’ said Gerald.
‘It bores me. I’m not interested in your peccadilloes.’
‘And I don’t care whether you are or not — I am.’
The morning was again sunny. The maid had been in and brought the water, and had drawn the curtains. Birkin, sitting up in bed, looked lazily and pleasantly out on the park, that was so green and deserted, romantic, belonging to the past. He was thinking how lovely, how sure, how formed, how final all the things of the past were — the lovely accomplished past — this house, so still and golden, the park slumbering its centuries of peace. And then, what a snare and a delusion, this beauty of static things — what a horrible, dead prison Breadalby really was, what an intolerable confinement, the peace! Yet it was better than the sordid scrambling conflict of the present. If only one might create the future after one’s own heart — for a little pure truth, a little unflinching application of simple truth to life, the heart cried out ceaselessly.
‘I can’t see what you will leave me at all, to be interested in,’ came Gerald’s voice from the lower room. ‘Neither the Pussums, nor the mines, nor anything else.’
‘You be interested in what you can, Gerald. Only I’m not interested myself,’ said Birkin.
‘What am I to do at all, then?’ came Gerald’s voice.
‘What you like. What am I to do myself?’
In the silence Birkin could feel Gerald musing this fact.
‘I’m blest if I know,’ came the good-humoured answer.
‘You see,’ said Birkin, ‘part of you wants the Pussum, and nothing but the Pussum, part of you wants the mines, the business, and nothing but the business — and there you are — all in bits —’
‘And part of me wants something else,’ said Gerald, in a queer, quiet, real voice.
‘What?’ said Birkin, rather surprised.
‘That’s what I hoped you could tell me,’ said Gerald.
There was a silence for some time.
‘I can’t tell you — I can’t find my own way, let alone yours. You might marry,’ Birkin replied.
‘Who — the Pussum?’ asked Gerald.
‘Perhaps,’ said Birkin. And he rose and went to the window.
‘That is your panacea,’ said Gerald. ‘But you haven’t even tried it on yourself yet, and you are sick enough.’
‘I am,’ said Birkin. ‘Still, I shall come right.’
‘Yes,’ Birkin answered obstinately.
‘And no,’ added Gerald. ‘No, no, no, my boy.’
There was a silence between them, and a strange tension of hostility. They always kept a gap, a distance between them, they wanted always to be free each of the other. Yet there was a curious heart-straining towards each other.
‘Salvator femininus,’ said Gerald, satirically.
‘Why not?’ said Birkin.
‘No reason at all,’ said Gerald, ‘if it really works. But whom will you marry?’
‘A woman,’ said Birkin.
‘Good,’ said Gerald.
Birkin and Gerald were the last to come down to breakfast. Hermione liked everybody to be early. She suffered when she felt her day was diminished, she felt she had missed her life. She seemed to grip the hours by the throat, to force her life from them. She was rather pale and ghastly, as if left behind, in the morning. Yet she had her power, her will was strangely pervasive. With the entrance of the two young men a sudden tension was felt.
She lifted her face, and said, in her amused sing-song:
‘Good morning! Did you sleep well? I’m so glad.’
And she turned away, ignoring them. Birkin, who knew her well, saw that she intended to discount his existence.
‘Will you take what you want from the sideboard?’ said Alexander, in a voice slightly suggesting disapprobation. ‘I hope the things aren’t cold. Oh no! Do you mind putting out the flame under the chafingdish, Rupert? Thank you.’
Even Alexander was rather authoritative where Hermione was cool. He took his tone from her, inevitably. Birkin sat down and looked at the table. He was so used to this house, to this room, to this atmosphere, through years of intimacy, and now he felt in complete opposition to it all, it had nothing to do with him. How well he knew Hermione, as she sat there, erect and silent and somewhat bemused, and yet so potent, so powerful! He knew her statically, so finally, that it was almost like a madness. It was difficult to believe one was not mad, that one was not a figure in the hall of kings in some Egyptian tomb, where the dead all sat immemorial and tremendous. How utterly he knew Joshua Mattheson, who was talking in his harsh, yet rather mincing voice, endlessly, endlessly, always with a strong mentality working, always interesting, and yet always known, everything he said known beforehand, however novel it was, and clever. Alexander the up-to-date host, so bloodlessly free-and-easy, Fraulein so prettily chiming in just as she should, the little Italian Countess taking notice of everybody, only playing her little game, objective and cold, like a weasel watching everything, and extracting her own amusement, never giving herself in the slightest; then Miss Bradley, heavy and rather subservient, treated with cool, almost amused contempt by Hermione, and therefore slighted by everybody — how known it all was, like a game with the figures set out, the same figures, the Queen of chess, the knights, the pawns, the same now as they were hundreds of years ago, the same figures moving round in one of the innumerable permutations that make up the game. But the game is known, its going on is like a madness, it is so exhausted.
There was Gerald, an amused look on his face; the game pleased him. There was Gudrun, watching with steady, large, hostile eyes; the game fascinated her, and she loathed it. There was Ursula, with a slightly startled look on her face, as if she were hurt, and the pain were just outside her consciousness.
Suddenly Birkin got up and went out.
‘That’s enough,’ he said to himself involuntarily.
Hermione knew his motion, though not in her consciousness. She lifted her heavy eyes and saw him lapse suddenly away, on a sudden, unknown tide, and the waves broke over her. Only her indomitable will remained static and mechanical, she sat at the table making her musing, stray remarks. But the darkness had covered her, she was like a ship that has gone down. It was finished for her too, she was wrecked in the darkness. Yet the unfailing mechanism of her will worked on, she had that activity.
‘Shall we bathe this morning?’ she said, suddenly looking at them all.
‘Splendid,’ said Joshua. ‘It is a perfect morning.’
‘Oh, it is beautiful,’ said Fraulein.
‘Yes, let us bathe,’ said the Italian woman.
‘We have no bathing suits,’ said Gerald.
‘Have mine,’ said Alexander. ‘I must go to church and read the lessons. They expect me.’
‘Are you a Christian?’ asked the Italian Countess, with sudden interest.
‘No,’ said Alexander. ‘I’m not. But I believe in keeping up the old institutions.’
‘They are so beautiful,’ said Fraulein daintily.
‘Oh, they are,’ cried Miss Bradley.
They all trailed out on to the lawn. It was a sunny, soft morning in early summer, when life ran in the world subtly, like a reminiscence. The church bells were ringing a little way off, not a cloud was in the sky, the swans were like lilies on the water below, the peacocks walked with long, prancing steps across the shadow and into the sunshine of the grass. One wanted to swoon into the by-gone perfection of it all.
‘Good-bye,’ called Alexander, waving his gloves cheerily, and he disappeared behind the bushes, on his way to church.
‘Now,’ said Hermione, ‘shall we all bathe?’
‘I won’t,’ said Ursula.
‘You don’t want to?’ said Hermione, looking at her slowly.
‘No. I don’t want to,’ said Ursula.
‘Nor I,’ said Gudrun.
‘What about my suit?’ asked Gerald.
‘I don’t know,’ laughed Hermione, with an odd, amused intonation. ‘Will a handkerchief do — a large handkerchief?’
‘That will do,’ said Gerald.
‘Come along then,’ sang Hermione.
The first to run across the lawn was the little Italian, small and like a cat, her white legs twinkling as she went, ducking slightly her head, that was tied in a gold silk kerchief. She tripped through the gate and down the grass, and stood, like a tiny figure of ivory and bronze, at the water’s edge, having dropped off her towelling, watching the swans, which came up in surprise. Then out ran Miss Bradley, like a large, soft plum in her dark-blue suit. Then Gerald came, a scarlet silk kerchief round his loins, his towels over his arms. He seemed to flaunt himself a little in the sun, lingering and laughing, strolling easily, looking white but natural in his nakedness. Then came Sir Joshua, in an overcoat, and lastly Hermione, striding with stiff grace from out of a great mantle of purple silk, her head tied up in purple and gold. Handsome was her stiff, long body, her straight-stepping white legs, there was a static magnificence about her as she let the cloak float loosely away from her striding. She crossed the lawn like some strange memory, and passed slowly and statelily towards the water.
There were three ponds, in terraces descending the valley, large and smooth and beautiful, lying in the sun. The water ran over a little stone wall, over small rocks, splashing down from one pond to the level below. The swans had gone out on to the opposite bank, the reeds smelled sweet, a faint breeze touched the skin.
Gerald had dived in, after Sir Joshua, and had swum to the end of the pond. There he climbed out and sat on the wall. There was a dive, and the little Countess was swimming like a rat, to join him. They both sat in the sun, laughing and crossing their arms on their breasts. Sir Joshua swam up to them, and stood near them, up to his arm-pits in the water. Then Hermione and Miss Bradley swam over, and they sat in a row on the embankment.
‘Aren’t they terrifying? Aren’t they really terrifying?’ said Gudrun. ‘Don’t they look saurian? They are just like great lizards. Did you ever see anything like Sir Joshua? But really, Ursula, he belongs to the primeval world, when great lizards crawled about.’
Gudrun looked in dismay on Sir Joshua, who stood up to the breast in the water, his long, greyish hair washed down into his eyes, his neck set into thick, crude shoulders. He was talking to Miss Bradley, who, seated on the bank above, plump and big and wet, looked as if she might roll and slither in the water almost like one of the slithering sealions in the Zoo.
Ursula watched in silence. Gerald was laughing happily, between Hermione and the Italian. He reminded her of Dionysos, because his hair was really yellow, his figure so full and laughing. Hermione, in her large, stiff, sinister grace, leaned near him, frightening, as if she were not responsible for what she might do. He knew a certain danger in her, a convulsive madness. But he only laughed the more, turning often to the little Countess, who was flashing up her face at him.
They all dropped into the water, and were swimming together like a shoal of seals. Hermione was powerful and unconscious in the water, large and slow and powerful. Palestra was quick and silent as a water rat, Gerald wavered and flickered, a white natural shadow. Then, one after the other, they waded out, and went up to the house.
But Gerald lingered a moment to speak to Gudrun.
‘You don’t like the water?’ he said.
She looked at him with a long, slow inscrutable look, as he stood before her negligently, the water standing in beads all over his skin.
‘I like it very much,’ she replied.
He paused, expecting some sort of explanation.
‘And you swim?’
‘Yes, I swim.’
Still he would not ask her why she would not go in then. He could feel something ironic in her. He walked away, piqued for the first time.
‘Why wouldn’t you bathe?’ he asked her again, later, when he was once more the properly-dressed young Englishman.
She hesitated a moment before answering, opposing his persistence.
‘Because I didn’t like the crowd,’ she replied.
He laughed, her phrase seemed to re-echo in his consciousness. The flavour of her slang was piquant to him. Whether he would or not, she signified the real world to him. He wanted to come up to her standards, fulfil her expectations. He knew that her criterion was the only one that mattered. The others were all outsiders, instinctively, whatever they might be socially. And Gerald could not help it, he was bound to strive to come up to her criterion, fulfil her idea of a man and a human-being.
After lunch, when all the others had withdrawn, Hermione and Gerald and Birkin lingered, finishing their talk. There had been some discussion, on the whole quite intellectual and artificial, about a new state, a new world of man. Supposing this old social state WERE broken and destroyed, then, out of the chaos, what then?
The great social idea, said Sir Joshua, was the SOCIAL equality of man. No, said Gerald, the idea was, that every man was fit for his own little bit of a task — let him do that, and then please himself. The unifying principle was the work in hand. Only work, the business of production, held men together. It was mechanical, but then society WAS a mechanism. Apart from work they were isolated, free to do as they liked.
‘Oh!’ cried Gudrun. ‘Then we shan’t have names any more — we shall be like the Germans, nothing but Herr Obermeister and Herr Untermeister. I can imagine it —“I am Mrs Colliery-Manager Crich — I am Mrs Member-of-Parliament Roddice. I am Miss Art-Teacher Brangwen.” Very pretty that.’
‘Things would work very much better, Miss Art-Teacher Brangwen,’ said Gerald.
‘What things, Mr Colliery-Manager Crich? The relation between you and me, PAR EXEMPLE?’
‘Yes, for example,’ cried the Italian. ‘That which is between men and women —!’
‘That is non-social,’ said Birkin, sarcastically.
‘Exactly,’ said Gerald. ‘Between me and a woman, the social question does not enter. It is my own affair.’
‘A ten-pound note on it,’ said Birkin.
‘You don’t admit that a woman is a social being?’ asked Ursula of Gerald.
‘She is both,’ said Gerald. ‘She is a social being, as far as society is concerned. But for her own private self, she is a free agent, it is her own affair, what she does.’
‘But won’t it be rather difficult to arrange the two halves?’ asked Ursula.
‘Oh no,’ replied Gerald. ‘They arrange themselves naturally — we see it now, everywhere.’
‘Don’t you laugh so pleasantly till you’re out of the wood,’ said Birkin.
Gerald knitted his brows in momentary irritation.
‘Was I laughing?’ he said.
‘IF,’ said Hermione at last, ‘we could only realise, that in the SPIRIT we are all one, all equal in the spirit, all brothers there — the rest wouldn’t matter, there would be no more of this carping and envy and this struggle for power, which destroys, only destroys.’
This speech was received in silence, and almost immediately the party rose from the table. But when the others had gone, Birkin turned round in bitter declamation, saying:
‘It is just the opposite, just the contrary, Hermione. We are all different and unequal in spirit — it is only the SOCIAL differences that are based on accidental material conditions. We are all abstractly or mathematically equal, if you like. Every man has hunger and thirst, two eyes, one nose and two legs. We’re all the same in point of number. But spiritually, there is pure difference and neither equality nor inequality counts. It is upon these two bits of knowledge that you must found a state. Your democracy is an absolute lie — your brotherhood of man is a pure falsity, if you apply it further than the mathematical abstraction. We all drank milk first, we all eat bread and meat, we all want to ride in motor-cars — therein lies the beginning and the end of the brotherhood of man. But no equality.
‘But I, myself, who am myself, what have I to do with equality with any other man or woman? In the spirit, I am as separate as one star is from another, as different in quality and quantity. Establish a state on THAT. One man isn’t any better than another, not because they are equal, but because they are intrinsically OTHER, that there is no term of comparison. The minute you begin to compare, one man is seen to be far better than another, all the inequality you can imagine is there by nature. I want every man to have his share in the world’s goods, so that I am rid of his importunity, so that I can tell him: “Now you’ve got what you want — you’ve got your fair share of the world’s gear. Now, you one-mouthed fool, mind yourself and don’t obstruct me.”’
Hermione was looking at him with leering eyes, along her cheeks. He could feel violent waves of hatred and loathing of all he said, coming out of her. It was dynamic hatred and loathing, coming strong and black out of the unconsciousness. She heard his words in her unconscious self, CONSCIOUSLY she was as if deafened, she paid no heed to them.
‘It SOUNDS like megalomania, Rupert,’ said Gerald, genially.
Hermione gave a queer, grunting sound. Birkin stood back.
‘Yes, let it,’ he said suddenly, the whole tone gone out of his voice, that had been so insistent, bearing everybody down. And he went away.
But he felt, later, a little compunction. He had been violent, cruel with poor Hermione. He wanted to recompense her, to make it up. He had hurt her, he had been vindictive. He wanted to be on good terms with her again.
He went into her boudoir, a remote and very cushiony place. She was sitting at her table writing letters. She lifted her face abstractedly when he entered, watched him go to the sofa, and sit down. Then she looked down at her paper again.
He took up a large volume which he had been reading before, and became minutely attentive to his author. His back was towards Hermione. She could not go on with her writing. Her whole mind was a chaos, darkness breaking in upon it, and herself struggling to gain control with her will, as a swimmer struggles with the swirling water. But in spite of her efforts she was borne down, darkness seemed to break over her, she felt as if her heart was bursting. The terrible tension grew stronger and stronger, it was most fearful agony, like being walled up.
And then she realised that his presence was the wall, his presence was destroying her. Unless she could break out, she must die most fearfully, walled up in horror. And he was the wall. She must break down the wall — she must break him down before her, the awful obstruction of him who obstructed her life to the last. It must be done, or she must perish most horribly.
Terribly shocks ran over her body, like shocks of electricity, as if many volts of electricity suddenly struck her down. She was aware of him sitting silently there, an unthinkable evil obstruction. Only this blotted out her mind, pressed out her very breathing, his silent, stooping back, the back of his head.
A terrible voluptuous thrill ran down her arms — she was going to know her voluptuous consummation. Her arms quivered and were strong, immeasurably and irresistibly strong. What delight, what delight in strength, what delirium of pleasure! She was going to have her consummation of voluptuous ecstasy at last. It was coming! In utmost terror and agony, she knew it was upon her now, in extremity of bliss. Her hand closed on a blue, beautiful ball of lapis lazuli that stood on her desk for a paper-weight. She rolled it round in her hand as she rose silently. Her heart was a pure flame in her breast, she was purely unconscious in ecstasy. She moved towards him and stood behind him for a moment in ecstasy. He, closed within the spell, remained motionless and unconscious.
Then swiftly, in a flame that drenched down her body like fluid lightning and gave her a perfect, unutterable consummation, unutterable satisfaction, she brought down the ball of jewel stone with all her force, crash on his head. But her fingers were in the way and deadened the blow. Nevertheless, down went his head on the table on which his book lay, the stone slid aside and over his ear, it was one convulsion of pure bliss for her, lit up by the crushed pain of her fingers. But it was not somehow complete. She lifted her arm high to aim once more, straight down on the head that lay dazed on the table. She must smash it, it must be smashed before her ecstasy was consummated, fulfilled for ever. A thousand lives, a thousand deaths mattered nothing now, only the fulfilment of this perfect ecstasy.
She was not swift, she could only move slowly. A strong spirit in him woke him and made him lift his face and twist to look at her. Her arm was raised, the hand clasping the ball of lapis lazuli. It was her left hand, he realised again with horror that she was left-handed. Hurriedly, with a burrowing motion, he covered his head under the thick volume of Thucydides, and the blow came down, almost breaking his neck, and shattering his heart.
He was shattered, but he was not afraid. Twisting round to face her he pushed the table over and got away from her. He was like a flask that is smashed to atoms, he seemed to himself that he was all fragments, smashed to bits. Yet his movements were perfectly coherent and clear, his soul was entire and unsurprised.
‘No you don’t, Hermione,’ he said in a low voice. ‘I don’t let you.’
He saw her standing tall and livid and attentive, the stone clenched tense in her hand.
‘Stand away and let me go,’ he said, drawing near to her.
As if pressed back by some hand, she stood away, watching him all the time without changing, like a neutralised angel confronting him.
‘It is not good,’ he said, when he had gone past her. ‘It isn’t I who will die. You hear?’
He kept his face to her as he went out, lest she should strike again. While he was on his guard, she dared not move. And he was on his guard, she was powerless. So he had gone, and left her standing.
She remained perfectly rigid, standing as she was for a long time. Then she staggered to the couch and lay down, and went heavily to sleep. When she awoke, she remembered what she had done, but it seemed to her, she had only hit him, as any woman might do, because he tortured her. She was perfectly right. She knew that, spiritually, she was right. In her own infallible purity, she had done what must be done. She was right, she was pure. A drugged, almost sinister religious expression became permanent on her face.
Birkin, barely conscious, and yet perfectly direct in his motion, went out of the house and straight across the park, to the open country, to the hills. The brilliant day had become overcast, spots of rain were falling. He wandered on to a wild valley-side, where were thickets of hazel, many flowers, tufts of heather, and little clumps of young firtrees, budding with soft paws. It was rather wet everywhere, there was a stream running down at the bottom of the valley, which was gloomy, or seemed gloomy. He was aware that he could not regain his consciousness, that he was moving in a sort of darkness.
Yet he wanted something. He was happy in the wet hillside, that was overgrown and obscure with bushes and flowers. He wanted to touch them all, to saturate himself with the touch of them all. He took off his clothes, and sat down naked among the primroses, moving his feet softly among the primroses, his legs, his knees, his arms right up to the arm-pits, lying down and letting them touch his belly, his breasts. It was such a fine, cool, subtle touch all over him, he seemed to saturate himself with their contact.
But they were too soft. He went through the long grass to a clump of young fir-trees, that were no higher than a man. The soft sharp boughs beat upon him, as he moved in keen pangs against them, threw little cold showers of drops on his belly, and beat his loins with their clusters of soft-sharp needles. There was a thistle which pricked him vividly, but not too much, because all his movements were too discriminate and soft. To lie down and roll in the sticky, cool young hyacinths, to lie on one’s belly and cover one’s back with handfuls of fine wet grass, soft as a breath, soft and more delicate and more beautiful than the touch of any woman; and then to sting one’s thigh against the living dark bristles of the fir-boughs; and then to feel the light whip of the hazel on one’s shoulders, stinging, and then to clasp the silvery birch-trunk against one’s breast, its smoothness, its hardness, its vital knots and ridges — this was good, this was all very good, very satisfying. Nothing else would do, nothing else would satisfy, except this coolness and subtlety of vegetation travelling into one’s blood. How fortunate he was, that there was this lovely, subtle, responsive vegetation, waiting for him, as he waited for it; how fulfilled he was, how happy!
As he dried himself a little with his handkerchief, he thought about Hermione and the blow. He could feel a pain on the side of his head. But after all, what did it matter? What did Hermione matter, what did people matter altogether? There was this perfect cool loneliness, so lovely and fresh and unexplored. Really, what a mistake he had made, thinking he wanted people, thinking he wanted a woman. He did not want a woman — not in the least. The leaves and the primroses and the trees, they were really lovely and cool and desirable, they really came into the blood and were added on to him. He was enrichened now immeasurably, and so glad.
It was quite right of Hermione to want to kill him. What had he to do with her? Why should he pretend to have anything to do with human beings at all? Here was his world, he wanted nobody and nothing but the lovely, subtle, responsive vegetation, and himself, his own living self.
It was necessary to go back into the world. That was true. But that did not matter, so one knew where one belonged. He knew now where he belonged. This was his place, his marriage place. The world was extraneous.
He climbed out of the valley, wondering if he were mad. But if so, he preferred his own madness, to the regular sanity. He rejoiced in his own madness, he was free. He did not want that old sanity of the world, which was become so repulsive. He rejoiced in the new-found world of his madness. It was so fresh and delicate and so satisfying.
As for the certain grief he felt at the same time, in his soul, that was only the remains of an old ethic, that bade a human being adhere to humanity. But he was weary of the old ethic, of the human being, and of humanity. He loved now the soft, delicate vegetation, that was so cool and perfect. He would overlook the old grief, he would put away the old ethic, he would be free in his new state.
He was aware of the pain in his head becoming more and more difficult every minute. He was walking now along the road to the nearest station. It was raining and he had no hat. But then plenty of cranks went out nowadays without hats, in the rain.
He wondered again how much of his heaviness of heart, a certain depression, was due to fear, fear lest anybody should have seen him naked lying against the vegetation. What a dread he had of mankind, of other people! It amounted almost to horror, to a sort of dream terror — his horror of being observed by some other people. If he were on an island, like Alexander Selkirk, with only the creatures and the trees, he would be free and glad, there would be none of this heaviness, this misgiving. He could love the vegetation and be quite happy and unquestioned, by himself.
He had better send a note to Hermione: she might trouble about him, and he did not want the onus of this. So at the station, he wrote saying:
I will go on to town — I don’t want to come back to Breadalby for the present. But it is quite all right — I don’t want you to mind having biffed me, in the least. Tell the others it is just one of my moods. You were quite right, to biff me — because I know you wanted to. So there’s the end of it.
In the train, however, he felt ill. Every motion was insufferable pain, and he was sick. He dragged himself from the station into a cab, feeling his way step by step, like a blind man, and held up only by a dim will.
For a week or two he was ill, but he did not let Hermione know, and she thought he was sulking; there was a complete estrangement between them. She became rapt, abstracted in her conviction of exclusive righteousness. She lived in and by her own self-esteem, conviction of her own rightness of spirit.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23