When she got near the park-gate, she heard the click of the latch. He was there, then, in the darkness of the wood, and had seen her!
‘You are good and early,’ he said out of the dark. ‘Was everything all right?’
He shut the gate quietly after her, and made a spot of light on the dark ground, showing the pallid flowers still standing there open in the night. They went on apart, in silence.
‘Are you sure you didn’t hurt yourself this morning with that chair?’ she asked.
‘When you had that pneumonia, what did it do to you?’
‘Oh nothing! it left my heart not so strong and the lungs not so elastic. But it always does that.’
‘And you ought not to make violent physical efforts?’
She plodded on in an angry silence.
‘Did you hate Clifford?’ she said at last.
‘Hate him, no! I’ve met too many like him to upset myself hating him. I know beforehand I don’t care for his sort, and I let it go at that.’
‘What is his sort?’
‘Nay, you know better than I do. The sort of youngish gentleman a bit like a lady, and no balls.’
‘Balls! A man’s balls!’
She pondered this.
‘But is it a question of that?’ she said, a little annoyed.
‘You say a man’s got no brain, when he’s a fool: and no heart, when he’s mean; and no stomach when he’s a funker. And when he’s got none of that spunky wild bit of a man in him, you say he’s got no balls. When he’s a sort of tame.’
She pondered this.
‘And is Clifford tame?’ she asked.
‘Tame, and nasty with it: like most such fellows, when you come up against ’em.’
‘And do you think you’re not tame?’
‘Maybe not quite!’
At length she saw in the distance a yellow light.
She stood still.
‘There is a light!’ she said.
‘I always leave a light in the house,’ he said.
She went on again at his side, but not touching him, wondering why she was going with him at all.
He unlocked, and they went in, he bolting the door behind them. As if it were a prison, she thought! The kettle was singing by the red fire, there were cups on the table.
She sat in the wooden arm-chair by the fire. It was warm after the chill outside.
‘I’ll take off my shoes, they are wet,’ she said.
She sat with her stockinged feet on the bright steel fender. He went to the pantry, bringing food: bread and butter and pressed tongue. She was warm: she took off her coat. He hung it on the door.
‘Shall you have cocoa or tea or coffee to drink?’ he asked.
‘I don’t think I want anything,’ she said, looking at the table. ‘But you eat.’
‘Nay, I don’t care about it. I’ll just feed the dog.’
He tramped with a quiet inevitability over the brick floor, putting food for the dog in a brown bowl. The spaniel looked up at him anxiously.
‘Ay, this is thy supper, tha nedna look as if tha wouldna get it!’ he said.
He set the bowl on the stairfoot mat, and sat himself on a chair by the wall, to take off his leggings and boots. The dog instead of eating, came to him again, and sat looking up at him, troubled.
He slowly unbuckled his leggings. The dog edged a little nearer.
‘What’s amiss wi’ thee then? Art upset because there’s somebody else here? Tha’rt a female, tha art! Go an’ eat thy supper.’
He put his hand on her head, and the bitch leaned her head sideways against him. He slowly, softly pulled the long silky ear.
‘There!’ he said. ‘There! Go an’ eat thy supper! Go!’
He tilted his chair towards the pot on the mat, and the dog meekly went, and fell to eating.
‘Do you like dogs?’ Connie asked him.
‘No, not really. They’re too tame and clinging.’
He had taken off his leggings and was unlacing his heavy boots. Connie had turned from the fire. How bare the little room was! Yet over his head on the wall hung a hideous enlarged photograph of a young married couple, apparently him and a bold-faced young woman, no doubt his wife.
‘Is that you?’ Connie asked him.
He twisted and looked at the enlargement above his head.
‘Ay! Taken just afore we was married, when I was twenty-one.’ He looked at it impassively.
‘Do you like it?’ Connie asked him.
‘Like it? No! I never liked the thing. But she fixed it all up to have it done, like.’
He returned to pulling off his boots.
‘If you don’t like it, why do you keep it hanging there? Perhaps your wife would like to have it,’ she said.
He looked up at her with a sudden grin.
‘She carted off iverything as was worth taking from th’ ‘ouse,’ he said. ‘But she left THAT!’
‘Then why do you keep it? for sentimental reasons?’
‘Nay, I niver look at it. I hardly knowed it wor theer. It’s bin theer sin’ we come to this place.’
‘Why don’t you burn it?’ she said.
He twisted round again and looked at the enlarged photograph. It was framed in a brown-and-gilt frame, hideous. It showed a clean-shaven, alert, very young-looking man in a rather high collar, and a somewhat plump, bold young woman with hair fluffed out and crimped, and wearing a dark satin blouse.
‘It wouldn’t be a bad idea, would it?’ he said.
He had pulled off his boots, and put on a pair of slippers. He stood up on the chair, and lifted down the photograph. It left a big pale place on the greenish wall-paper.
‘No use dusting it now,’ he said, setting the thing against the wall.
He went to the scullery, and returned with hammer and pincers. Sitting where he had sat before, he started to tear off the back-paper from the big frame, and to pull out the sprigs that held the backboard in position, working with the immediate quiet absorption that was characteristic of him.
He soon had the nails out: then he pulled out the backboards, then the enlargement itself, in its solid white mount. He looked at the photograph with amusement.
‘Shows me for what I was, a young curate, and her for what she was, a bully,’ he said. ‘The prig and the bully!’
‘Let me look!’ said Connie.
He did look indeed very clean-shaven and very clean altogether, one of the clean young men of twenty years ago. But even in the photograph his eyes were alert and dauntless. And the woman was not altogether a bully, though her jowl was heavy. There was a touch of appeal in her.
‘One never should keep these things,’ said Connie. ‘That one shouldn’t! One should never have them made!’
He broke the cardboard photograph and mount over his knee, and when it was small enough, put it on the fire.
‘It’ll spoil the fire though,’ he said.
The glass and the backboard he carefully took upstairs.
The frame he knocked asunder with a few blows of the hammer, making the stucco fly. Then he took the pieces into the scullery.
‘We’ll burn that tomorrow,’ he said. ‘There’s too much plaster-moulding on it.’
Having cleared away, he sat down.
‘Did you love your wife?’ she asked him.
‘Love?’ he said. ‘Did you love Sir Clifford?’
But she was not going to be put off.
‘But you cared for her?’ she insisted.
‘Cared?’ He grinned.
‘Perhaps you care for her now,’ she said.
‘Me!’ His eyes widened. ‘Ah no, I can’t think of her,’ he said quietly.
But he shook his head.
‘Then why don’t you get a divorce? She’ll come back to you one day,’ said Connie.
He looked up at her sharply.
‘She wouldn’t come within a mile of me. She hates me a lot worse than I hate her.’
‘You’ll see she’ll come back to you.’
‘That she never will. That’s done! It would make me sick to see her.’
‘You will see her. And you’re not even legally separated, are you?’
‘Ah well, then she’ll come back, and you’ll have to take her in.’
He gazed at Connie fixedly. Then he gave the queer toss of his head.
‘You might be right. I was a fool ever to come back here. But I felt stranded and had to go somewhere. A man’s a poor bit of a wastrel blown about. But you’re right. I’ll get a divorce and get clear. I hate those things like death, officials and courts and judges. But I’ve got to get through with it. I’ll get a divorce.’
And she saw his jaw set. Inwardly she exulted. ‘I think I will have a cup of tea now,’ she said. He rose to make it. But his face was set. As they sat at table she asked him:
‘Why did you marry her? She was commoner than yourself. Mrs Bolton told me about her. She could never understand why you married her.’
He looked at her fixedly.
‘I’ll tell you,’ he said. ‘The first girl I had, I began with when I was sixteen. She was a school-master’s daughter over at Ollerton, pretty, beautiful really. I was supposed to be a clever sort of young fellow from Sheffield Grammar School, with a bit of French and German, very much up aloft. She was the romantic sort that hated commonness. She egged me on to poetry and reading: in a way, she made a man of me. I read and I thought like a house on fire, for her. And I was a clerk in Butterley offices, thin, white-faced fellow fuming with all the things I read. And about EVERYTHING I talked to her: but everything. We talked ourselves into Persepolis and Timbuctoo. We were the most literary-cultured couple in ten counties. I held forth with rapture to her, positively with rapture. I simply went up in smoke. And she adored me. The serpent in the grass was sex. She somehow didn’t have any; at least, not where it’s supposed to be. I got thinner and crazier. Then I said we’d got to be lovers. I talked her into it, as usual. So she let me. I was excited, and she never wanted it. She just didn’t want it. She adored me, she loved me to talk to her and kiss her: in that way she had a passion for me. But the other, she just didn’t want. And there are lots of women like her. And it was just the other that I did want. So there we split. I was cruel, and left her. Then I took on with another girl, a teacher, who had made a scandal by carrying on with a married man and driving him nearly out of his mind. She was a soft, white-skinned, soft sort of a woman, older than me, and played the fiddle. And she was a demon. She loved everything about love, except the sex. Clinging, caressing, creeping into you in every way: but if you forced her to the sex itself, she just ground her teeth and sent out hate. I forced her to it, and she could simply numb me with hate because of it. So I was balked again. I loathed all that. I wanted a woman who wanted me, and wanted IT.
‘Then came Bertha Coutts. They’d lived next door to us when I was a little lad, so I knew ’em all right. And they were common. Well, Bertha went away to some place or other in Birmingham; she said, as a lady’s companion; everybody else said, as a waitress or something in a hotel. Anyhow just when I was more than fed up with that other girl, when I was twenty-one, back comes Bertha, with airs and graces and smart clothes and a sort of bloom on her: a sort of sensual bloom that you’d see sometimes on a woman, or on a trolly. Well, I was in a state of murder. I chucked up my job at Butterley because I thought I was a weed, clerking there: and I got on as overhead blacksmith at Tevershall: shoeing horses mostly. It had been my dad’s job, and I’d always been with him. It was a job I liked: handling horses: and it came natural to me. So I stopped talking fine, as they call it, talking proper English, and went back to talking broad. I still read books, at home: but I blacksmithed and had a pony-trap of my own, and was My Lord Duckfoot. My dad left me three hundred pounds when he died. So I took on with Bertha, and I was glad she was common. I wanted her to be common. I wanted to be common myself. Well, I married her, and she wasn’t bad. Those other pure women had nearly taken all the balls out of me, but she was all right that way. She wanted me, and made no bones about it. And I was as pleased as punch. That was what I wanted: a woman who WANTED me to fuck her. So I fucked her like a good un. And I think she despised me a bit, for being so pleased about it, and bringin’ her her breakfast in bed sometimes. She sort of let things go, didn’t get me a proper dinner when I came home from work, and if I said anything, flew out at me. And I flew back, hammer and tongs. She flung a cup at me and I took her by the scruff of the neck and squeezed the life out of her. That sort of thing! But she treated me with insolence. And she got so’s she’d never have me when I wanted her: never. Always put me off, brutal as you like. And then when she’d put me right off, and I didn’t want her, she’d come all lovey-dovey, and get me. And I always went. But when I had her, she’d never come off when I did. Never! She’d just wait. If I kept back for half an hour, she’d keep back longer. And when I’d come and really finished, then she’d start on her own account, and I had to stop inside her till she brought herself off, wriggling and shouting, she’d clutch clutch with herself down there, an’ then she’d come off, fair in ecstasy. And then she’d say: That was lovely! Gradually I got sick of it: and she got worse. She sort of got harder and harder to bring off, and she’d sort of tear at me down there, as if it was a beak tearing at me. By God, you think a woman’s soft down there, like a fig. But I tell you the old rampers have beaks between their legs, and they tear at you with it till you’re sick. Self! Self! Self! all self! tearing and shouting! They talk about men’s selfishness, but I doubt if it can ever touch a woman’s blind beakishness, once she’s gone that way. Like an old trull! And she couldn’t help it. I told her about it, I told her how I hated it. And she’d even try. She’d try to lie still and let ME work the business. She’d try. But it was no good. She got no feeling off it, from my working. She had to work the thing herself, grind her own coffee. And it came back on her like a raving necessity, she had to let herself go, and tear, tear, tear, as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak, the very outside top tip, that rubbed and tore. That’s how old whores used to be, so men used to say. It was a low kind of self-will in her, a raving sort of self-will: like in a woman who drinks. Well in the end I couldn’t stand it. We slept apart. She herself had started it, in her bouts when she wanted to be clear of me, when she said I bossed her. She had started having a room for herself. But the time came when I wouldn’t have her coming to my room. I wouldn’t.
‘I hated it. And she hated me. My God, how she hated me before that child was born! I often think she conceived it out of hate. Anyhow, after the child was born I left her alone. And then came the war, and I joined up. And I didn’t come back till I knew she was with that fellow at Stacks Gate.’
He broke off, pale in the face.
‘And what is the man at Stacks Gate like?’ asked Connie.
‘A big baby sort of fellow, very low-mouthed. She bullies him, and they both drink.’
‘My word, if she came back!’
‘My God, yes! I should just go, disappear again.’
There was a silence. The pasteboard in the fire had turned to grey ash.
‘So when you did get a woman who wanted you,’ said Connie, ‘you got a bit too much of a good thing.’
‘Ay! Seems so! Yet even then I’d rather have her than the never-never ones: the white love of my youth, and that other poison-smelling lily, and the rest.’
‘What about the rest?’ said Connie.
‘The rest? There is no rest. Only to my experience the mass of women are like this: most of them want a man, but don’t want the sex, but they put up with it, as part of the bargain. The more old-fashioned sort just lie there like nothing and let you go ahead. They don’t mind afterwards: then they like you. But the actual thing itself is nothing to them, a bit distasteful. Add most men like it that way. I hate it. But the sly sort of women who are like that pretend they’re not. They pretend they’re passionate and have thrills. But it’s all cockaloopy. They make it up. Then there’s the ones that love everything, every kind of feeling and cuddling and going off, every kind except the natural one. They always make you go off when you’re NOTin the only place you should be, when you go off. – Then there’s the hard sort, that are the devil to bring off at all, and bring themselves off, like my wife. They want to be the active party. – Then there’s the sort that’s just dead inside: but dead: and they know it. Then there’s the sort that puts you out before you really come, and go on writhing their loins till they bring themselves off against your thighs. But they’re mostly the Lesbian sort. It’s astonishing how Lesbian women are, consciously or unconsciously. Seems to me they’re nearly all Lesbian.’
‘And do you mind?’ asked Connie.
‘I could kill them. When I’m with a woman who’s really Lesbian, I fairly howl in my soul, wanting to kill her.’
‘And what do you do?’
‘Just go away as fast as I can.’
‘But do you think Lesbian women any worse than homosexual men?’
‘I do! Because I’ve suffered more from them. In the abstract, I’ve no idea. When I get with a Lesbian woman, whether she knows she’s one or not, I see red. No, no! But I wanted to have nothing to do with any woman any more. I wanted to keep to myself: keep my privacy and my decency.’
He looked pale, and his brows were sombre.
‘And were you sorry when I came along?’ she asked.
‘I was sorry and I was glad.’
‘And what are you now?’
‘I’m sorry, from the outside: all the complications and the ugliness and recrimination that’s bound to come, sooner or later. That’s when my blood sinks, and I’m low. But when my blood comes up, I’m glad. I’m even triumphant. I was really getting bitter. I thought there was no real sex left: never a woman who’d really come naturally with a man: except black women, and somehow, well, we’re white men: and they’re a bit like mud.’
‘And now, are you glad of me?’ she asked.
‘Yes! When I can forget the rest. When I can’t forget the rest, I want to get under the table and die.’
‘Why under the table?’
‘Why?’ he laughed. ‘Hide, I suppose. Baby!’
‘You do seem to have had awful experiences of women,’ she said.
‘You see, I couldn’t fool myself. That’s where most men manage. They take an attitude, and accept a lie. I could never fool myself. I knew what I wanted with a woman, and I could never say I’d got it when I hadn’t.’
‘But have you got it now?’
‘Looks as if I might have.’
‘Then why are you so pale and gloomy?’
‘Bellyful of remembering: and perhaps afraid of myself.’
She sat in silence. It was growing late.
‘And do you think it’s important, a man and a woman?’ she asked him.
‘For me it is. For me it’s the core of my life: if I have a right relation with a woman.’
‘And if you didn’t get it?’
‘Then I’d have to do without.’
Again she pondered, before she asked:
‘And do you think you’ve always been right with women?’
‘God, no! I let my wife get to what she was: my fault a good deal. I spoilt her. And I’m very mistrustful. You’ll have to expect it. It takes a lot to make me trust anybody, inwardly. So perhaps I’m a fraud too. I mistrust. And tenderness is not to be mistaken.’
She looked at him.
‘You don’t mistrust with your body, when your blood comes up,’ she said. ‘You don’t mistrust then, do you?’
‘No, alas! That’s how I’ve got into all the trouble. And that’s why my mind mistrusts so thoroughly.’
‘Let your mind mistrust. What does it matter!’
The dog sighed with discomfort on the mat. The ash-clogged fire sank.
‘We ARE a couple of battered warriors,’ said Connie.
‘Are you battered too?’ he laughed. ‘And here we are returning to the fray!’
‘Yes! I feel really frightened.’
He got up, and put her shoes to dry, and wiped his own and set them near the fire. In the morning he would grease them. He poked the ash of pasteboard as much as possible out of the fire. ‘Even burnt, it’s filthy,’ he said. Then he brought sticks and put them on the hob for the morning. Then he went out awhile with the dog.
When he came back, Connie said:
‘I want to go out too, for a minute.’
She went alone into the darkness. There were stars overhead. She could smell flowers on the night air. And she could feel her wet shoes getting wetter again. But she felt like going away, right away from him and everybody.
It was chilly. She shuddered, and returned to the house. He was sitting in front of the low fire.
‘Ugh! Cold!’ she shuddered.
He put the sticks on the fire, and fetched more, till they had a good crackling chimneyful of blaze. The rippling running yellow flame made them both happy, warmed their faces and their souls.
‘Never mind!’ she said, taking his hand as he sat silent and remote. ‘One does one’s best.’
‘Ay!’ He sighed, with a twist of a smile.
She slipped over to him, and into his arms, as he sat there before the fire.
‘Forget then!’ she whispered. ‘Forget!’
He held her close, in the running warmth of the fire. The flame itself was like a forgetting. And her soft, warm, ripe weight! Slowly his blood turned, and began to ebb back into strength and reckless vigour again.
‘And perhaps the women REALLY wanted to be there and love you properly, only perhaps they couldn’t. Perhaps it wasn’t all their fault,’ she said.
‘I know it. Do you think I don’t know what a broken-backed snake that’s been trodden on I was myself!’
She clung to him suddenly. She had not wanted to start all this again. Yet some perversity had made her.
‘But you’re not now,’ she said. ‘You’re not that now: a broken-backed snake that’s been trodden on.’
‘I don’t know what I am. There’s black days ahead.’
‘No!’ she protested, clinging to him. ‘Why? Why?’
‘There’s black days coming for us all and for everybody,’ he repeated with a prophetic gloom.
‘No! You’re not to say it!’
He was silent. But she could feel the black void of despair inside him. That was the death of all desire, the death of all love: this despair that was like the dark cave inside the men, in which their spirit was lost.
‘And you talk so coldly about sex,’ she said. ‘You talk as if you had only wanted your own pleasure and satisfaction.’
She was protesting nervously against him.
‘Nay!’ he said. ‘I wanted to have my pleasure and satisfaction of a woman, and I never got it: because I could never get my pleasure and satisfaction of HER unless she got hers of me at the same time. And it never happened. It takes two.’
‘But you never believed in your women. You don’t even believe really in me,’ she said.
‘I don’t know what believing in a woman means.’
‘That’s it, you see!’
She still was curled on his lap. But his spirit was grey and absent, he was not there for her. And everything she said drove him further.
‘But what DO you believe in?’ she insisted.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Nothing, like all the men I’ve ever known,’ she said.
They were both silent. Then he roused himself and said:
‘Yes, I do believe in something. I believe in being warmhearted. I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love, in fucking with a warm heart. I believe if men could fuck with warm hearts, and the women take it warm-heartedly, everything would come all right. It’s all this cold-hearted fucking that is death and idiocy.’
‘But you don’t fuck me cold-heartedly,’ she protested.
‘I don’t want to fuck you at all. My heart’s as cold as cold potatoes just now.’
‘Oh!’ she said, kissing him mockingly. ‘Let’s have them SAUT�ES.’ He laughed, and sat erect.
‘It’s a fact!’ he said. ‘Anything for a bit of warm-heartedness. But the women don’t like it. Even you don’t really like it. You like good, sharp, piercing cold-hearted fucking, and then pretending it’s all sugar. Where’s your tenderness for me? You’re as suspicious of me as a cat is of a dog. I tell you it takes two even to be tender and warm-hearted. You love fucking all right: but you want it to be called something grand and mysterious, just to flatter your own self-importance. Your own self-importance is more to you, fifty times more, than any man, or being together with a man.’
‘But that’s what I’d say of you. Your own self-importance is everything to you.’
‘Ay! Very well then!’ he said, moving as if he wanted to rise. ‘Let’s keep apart then. I’d rather die than do any more cold-hearted fucking.’
She slid away from him, and he stood up.
‘And do you think I want it?’ she said.
‘I hope you don’t,’ he replied. ‘But anyhow, you go to bed an’ I’ll sleep down here.’
She looked at him. He was pale, his brows were sullen, he was as distant in recoil as the cold pole. Men were all alike.
‘I can’t go home till morning,’ she said.
‘No! Go to bed. It’s a quarter to one.’
‘I certainly won’t,’ she said.
He went across and picked up his boots.
‘Then I’ll go out!’ he said.
He began to put on his boots. She stared at him.
‘Wait!’ she faltered. ‘Wait! What’s come between us?’
He was bent over, lacing his boot, and did not reply. The moments passed. A dimness came over her, like a swoon. All her consciousness died, and she stood there wide-eyed, looking at him from the unknown, knowing nothing any more.
He looked up, because of the silence, and saw her wide-eyed and lost. And as if a wind tossed him he got up and hobbled over to her, one shoe off and one shoe on, and took her in his arms, pressing her against his body, which somehow felt hurt right through. And there he held her, and there she remained.
Till his hands reached blindly down and felt for her, and felt under the clothing to where she was smooth and warm.
‘Ma lass!’ he murmured. ‘Ma little lass! Dunna let’s light! Dunna let’s niver light! I love thee an’ th’ touch on thee. Dunna argue wi’ me! Dunna! Dunna! Dunna! Let’s be together.’
She lifted her face and looked at him.
‘Don’t be upset,’ she said steadily. ‘It’s no good being upset. Do you really want to be together with me?’
She looked with wide, steady eyes into his face. He stopped, and went suddenly still, turning his face aside. All his body went perfectly still, but did not withdraw.
Then he lifted his head and looked into her eyes, with his odd, faintly mocking grin, saying: ‘Ay-ay! Let’s be together on oath.’
‘But really?’ she said, her eyes filling with tears.
‘Ay really! Heart an’ belly an’ cock.’
He still smiled faintly down at her, with the flicker of irony in his eyes, and a touch of bitterness.
She was silently weeping, and he lay with her and went into her there on the hearthrug, and so they gained a measure of equanimity. And then they went quickly to bed, for it was growing chill, and they had tired each other out. And she nestled up to him, feeling small and enfolded, and they both went to sleep at once, fast in one sleep. And so they lay and never moved, till the sun rose over the wood and day was beginning.
Then he woke up and looked at the light. The curtains were drawn. He listened to the loud wild calling of blackbirds and thrushes in the wood. It would be a brilliant morning, about half past five, his hour for rising. He had slept so fast! It was such a new day! The woman was still curled asleep and tender. His hand moved on her, and she opened her blue wondering eyes, smiling unconsciously into his face.
‘Are you awake?’ she said to him.
He was looking into her eyes. He smiled, and kissed her. And suddenly she roused and sat up.
‘Fancy that I am here!’ she said.
She looked round the whitewashed little bedroom with its sloping ceiling and gable window where the white curtains were closed. The room was bare save for a little yellow-painted chest of drawers, and a chair: and the smallish white bed in which she lay with him.
‘Fancy that we are here!’ she said, looking down at him. He was lying watching her, stroking her breasts with his fingers, under the thin nightdress. When he was warm and smoothed out, he looked young and handsome. His eyes could look so warm. And she was fresh and young like a flower.
‘I want to take this off!’ she said, gathering the thin batiste nightdress and pulling it over her head. She sat there with bare shoulders and longish breasts faintly golden. He loved to make her breasts swing softly, like bells.
‘You must take off your pyjamas too,’ she said.
‘Yes! Yes!’ she commanded.
And he took off his old cotton pyjama-jacket, and pushed down the trousers. Save for his hands and wrists and face and neck he was white as milk, with fine slender muscular flesh. To Connie he was suddenly piercingly beautiful again, as when she had seen him that afternoon washing himself.
Gold of sunshine touched the closed white curtain. She felt it wanted to come in.
‘Oh, do let’s draw the curtains! The birds are singing so! Do let the sun in,’ she said.
He slipped out of bed with his back to her, naked and white and thin, and went to the window, stooping a little, drawing the curtains and looking out for a moment. The back was white and fine, the small buttocks beautiful with an exquisite, delicate manliness, the back of the neck ruddy and delicate and yet strong.
There was an inward, not an outward strength in the delicate fine body.
‘But you are beautiful!’ she said. ‘So pure and fine! Come!’ She held her arms out.
He was ashamed to turn to her, because of his aroused nakedness.
He caught his shirt off the floor, and held it to him, coming to her.
‘No!’ she said still holding out her beautiful slim arms from her dropping breasts. ‘Let me see you!’
He dropped the shirt and stood still looking towards her. The sun through the low window sent in a beam that lit up his thighs and slim belly and the erect phallos rising darkish and hot-looking from the little cloud of vivid gold-red hair. She was startled and afraid.
‘How strange!’ she said slowly. ‘How strange he stands there! So big! and so dark and cock-sure! Is he like that?’
The man looked down the front of his slender white body, and laughed. Between the slim breasts the hair was dark, almost black. But at the root of the belly, where the phallos rose thick and arching, it was gold-red, vivid in a little cloud.
‘So proud!’ she murmured, uneasy. ‘And so lordly! Now I know why men are so overbearing! But he’s lovely, REALLY. Like another being! A bit terrifying! But lovely really! And he comes to ME! – ‘ She caught her lower lip between her teeth, in fear and excitement.
The man looked down in silence at the tense phallos, that did not change. – ‘Ay!’ he said at last, in a little voice. ‘Ay ma lad! tha’re theer right enough. Yi, tha mun rear thy head! Theer on thy own, eh? an’ ta’es no count O’ nob’dy! Tha ma’es nowt O’ me, John Thomas. Art boss? of me? Eh well, tha’re more cocky than me, an’ tha says less. John Thomas! Dost want HER? Dost want my lady Jane? Tha’s dipped me in again, tha hast. Ay, an’ tha comes up smilin’. – Ax ‘er then! Ax lady Jane! Say: Lift up your heads, O ye gates, that the king of glory may come in. Ay, th’ cheek on thee! Cunt, that’s what tha’re after. Tell lady Jane tha wants cunt. John Thomas, an’ th’ cunt O’ lady Jane! – ‘
‘Oh, don’t tease him,’ said Connie, crawling on her knees on the bed towards him and putting her arms round his white slender loins, and drawing him to her so that her hanging, swinging breasts touched the tip of the stirring, erect phallos, and caught the drop of moisture. She held the man fast.
‘Lie down!’ he said. ‘Lie down! Let me come!’ He was in a hurry now.
And afterwards, when they had been quite still, the woman had to uncover the man again, to look at the mystery of the phallos.
‘And now he’s tiny, and soft like a little bud of life!’ she said, taking the soft small penis in her hand. ‘Isn’t he somehow lovely! so on his own, so strange! And so innocent! And he comes so far into me! You must NEVER insult him, you know. He’s mine too. He’s not only yours. He’s mine! And so lovely and innocent!’ And she held the penis soft in her hand.
‘Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in kindred love,’ he said.
‘Of course!’ she said. ‘Even when he’s soft and little I feel my heart simply tied to him. And how lovely your hair is here! quite, quite different!’
‘That’s John Thomas’s hair, not mine!’ he said.
‘John Thomas! John Thomas!’ and she quickly kissed the soft penis, that was beginning to stir again.
‘Ay!’ said the man, stretching his body almost painfully. ‘He’s got his root in my soul, has that gentleman! An’ sometimes I don’ know what ter do wi’ him. Ay, he’s got a will of his own, an’ it’s hard to suit him. Yet I wouldn’t have him killed.’
‘No wonder men have always been afraid of him!’ she said. ‘He’s rather terrible.’
The quiver was going through the man’s body, as the stream of consciousness again changed its direction, turning downwards. And he was helpless, as the penis in slow soft undulations filled and surged and rose up, and grew hard, standing there hard and overweening, in its curious towering fashion. The woman too trembled a little as she watched.
‘There! Take him then! He’s thine,’ said the man.
And she quivered, and her own mind melted out. Sharp soft waves of unspeakable pleasure washed over her as he entered her, and started the curious molten thrilling that spread and spread till she was carried away with the last, blind flush of extremity.
He heard the distant hooters of Stacks Gate for seven o’clock. It was Monday morning. He shivered a little, and with his face between her breasts pressed her soft breasts up over his ears, to deafen him.
She had not even heard the hooters. She lay perfectly still, her soul washed transparent.
‘You must get up, mustn’t you?’ he muttered.
‘What time?’ came her colourless voice.
‘Seven-o’clock blowers a bit sin’.’
‘I suppose I must.’
She was resenting as she always did, the compulsion from outside.
He sat up and looked blankly out of the window. ‘You do love me, don’t you?’ she asked calmly. He looked down at her.
‘Tha knows what tha knows. What dost ax for!’ he said, a little fretfully.
‘I want you to keep me, not to let me go,’ she said.
His eyes seemed full of a warm, soft darkness that could not think.
‘Now in your heart. Then I want to come and live with you, always, soon.’
He sat naked on the bed, with his head dropped, unable to think.
‘Don’t you want it?’ she asked.
‘Ay!’ he said.
Then with the same eyes darkened with another flame of consciousness, almost like sleep, he looked at her.
‘Dunna ax me nowt now,’ he said. ‘Let me be. I like thee. I luv thee when tha lies theer. A woman’s a lovely thing when ‘er’s deep ter fuck, and cunt’s good. Ah luv thee, thy legs, an’ th’ shape on thee, an’ th’ womanness on thee. Ah luv th’ womanness on thee. Ah luv thee wi’ my bas an’ wi’ my heart. But dunna ax me nowt. Dunna ma’e me say nowt. Let me stop as I am while I can. Tha can ax me iverything after. Now let me be, let me be!’
And softly, he laid his hand over her mound of Venus, on the soft brown maiden-hair, and himself-sat still and naked on the bed, his face motionless in physical abstraction, almost like the face of Buddha. Motionless, and in the invisible flame of another consciousness, he sat with his hand on her, and waited for the turn.
After a while, he reached for his shirt and put it on, dressed himself swiftly in silence, looked at her once as she still lay naked and faintly golden like a Gloire de Dijon rose on the bed, and was gone. She heard him downstairs opening the door.
And still she lay musing, musing. It was very hard to go: to go out of his arms. He called from the foot of the stairs: ‘Half past seven!’ She sighed, and got out of bed. The bare little room! Nothing in it at all but the small chest of drawers and the smallish bed. But the board floor was scrubbed clean. And in the corner by the window gable was a shelf with some books, and some from a circulating library. She looked. There were books about Bolshevist Russia, books of travel, a volume about the atom and the electron, another about the composition of the earth’s core, and the causes of earthquakes: then a few novels: then three books on India. So! He was a reader after all.
The sun fell on her naked limbs through the gable window. Outside she saw the dog Flossie roaming round. The hazel-brake was misted with green, and dark-green dogs-mercury under. It was a clear clean morning with birds flying and triumphantly singing. If only she could stay! If only there weren’t the other ghastly world of smoke and iron! If only HE would make her a world.
She came downstairs, down the steep, narrow wooden stairs. Still she would be content with this little house, if only it were in a world of its own.
He was washed and fresh, and the fire was burning. ‘Will you eat anything?’ he said.
‘No! Only lend me a comb.’
She followed him into the scullery, and combed her hair before the handbreadth of mirror by the back door. Then she was ready to go.
She stood in the little front garden, looking at the dewy flowers, the grey bed of pinks in bud already.
‘I would like to have all the rest of the world disappear,’ she said, ‘and live with you here.’
‘It won’t disappear,’ he said.
They went almost in silence through the lovely dewy wood. But they were together in a world of their own.
It was bitter to her to go on to Wragby.
‘I want soon to come and live with you altogether,’ she said as she left him.
He smiled, unanswering.
She got home quietly and unremarked, and went up to her room.
There was a letter from Hilda on the breakfast-tray. “Father is going to London this week, and I shall call for you on Thursday week, June 17th. You must be ready so that we can go at once. I don’t want to waste time at Wragby, it’s an awful place. I shall probably stay the night at Retford with the Colemans, so I should be with you for lunch, Thursday. Then we could start at teatime, and sleep perhaps in Grantham. It is no use our spending an evening with Clifford. If he hates your going, it would be no pleasure to him.”
So! She was being pushed round on the chess-board again.
Clifford hated her going, but it was only because he didn’t feel safe in her absence. Her presence, for some reason, made him feel safe, and free to do the things he was occupied with. He was a great deal at the pits, and wrestling in spirit with the almost hopeless problems of getting out his coal in the most economical fashion and then selling it when he’d got it out. He knew he ought to find some way of using it, or converting it, so that he needn’t sell it, or needn’t have the chagrin of failing to sell it. But if he made electric power, could he sell that or use it? And to convert into oil was as yet too costly and too elaborate. To keep industry alive there must be more industry, like a madness.
It was a madness, and it required a madman to succeed in it. Well, he was a little mad. Connie thought so. His very intensity and acumen in the affairs of the pits seemed like a manifestation of madness to her, his very inspirations were the inspirations of insanity.
He talked to her of all his serious schemes, and she listened in a kind of wonder, and let him talk. Then the flow ceased, and he turned on the loudspeaker, and became a blank, while apparently his schemes coiled on inside him like a kind of dream.
And every night now he played pontoon, that game of the Tommies, with Mrs Bolton, gambling with sixpences. And again, in the gambling he was gone in a kind of unconsciousness, or blank intoxication, or intoxication of blankness, whatever it was. Connie could not bear to see him. But when she had gone to bed, he and Mrs Bolton would gamble on till two and three in the morning, safely, and with strange lust. Mrs Bolton was caught in the lust as much as Clifford: the more so, as she nearly always lost.
She told Connie one day: “I lost twenty-three shillings to Sir Clifford last night.”
“And did he take the money from you?” asked Connie aghast.
“Why of course, my Lady! Debt of honour!'”
Connie expostulated roundly, and was angry with both of them. The upshot was, Sir Clifford raised Mrs Bolton’s wages a hundred a year, and she could gamble on that. Meanwhile, it seemed to Connie, Clifford was really going deader.
She told him at length she was leaving on the seventeenth.
“Seventeenth!” he said. “And when will you be back?”
“By the twentieth of July at the latest.”
“Yes! the twentieth of July.”
Strangely and blankly he looked at her, with the vagueness of a child, but with the queer blank cunning of an old man.
“You won’t let me down, now, will you?” he said.
“While you’re away, I mean, you’re sure to come back?”
“I’m as sure as I can be of anything, that I shall come back.”
“Yes! Well! Twentieth of July!”
He looked at her so strangely.
Yet he really wanted her to go. That was so curious. He wanted her to go, positively, to have her little adventures and perhaps come home pregnant, and all that. At the same time, he was afraid of her going.
She was quivering, watching her real opportunity for leaving him altogether, waiting till the time, herself himself should be ripe.
She sat and talked to the keeper of her going abroad.
“And then when I come back,” she said, “I can tell Clifford I must leave him. And you and I can go away. They never need even know it is you. We can go to another country, shall we? To Africa or Australia. Shall we?”
She was quite thrilled by her plan.
“You’ve never been to the Colonies, have you?” he asked her.
“No! Have you?”
“I’ve been in India, and South Africa, and Egypt.”
“Why shouldn’t we go to South Africa?”
“We might!” he said slowly.
“Or don’t you want to?” she asked.
“I don’t care. I don’t much care what I do.”
“Doesn’t it make you happy? Why not? We shan’t be poor. I have about six hundred a year, I wrote and asked. It’s not much, but it’s enough, isn’t it?”
“It’s riches to me.”
“Oh, how lovely it will be!”
“But I ought to get divorced, and so ought you, unless we’re going to have complications.”
There was plenty to think about.
Another day she asked him about himself. They were in the hut, and there was a thunderstorm.
“And weren’t you happy, when you were a lieutenant and an officer and a gentleman?”
“Happy? All right. I liked my Colonel.”
“Did you love him?”
“Yes! I loved him.”
“And did he love you?”
“Yes! In a way, he loved me.”
“Tell me about him.”
“What is there to tell? He had risen from the ranks. He loved the army. And he had never married. He was twenty years older than me. He was a very intelligent man: and alone in the army, as such a man is: a passionate man in his way: and a very clever officer. I lived under his spell while I was with him. I sort of let him run my life. And I never regret it.”
“And did you mind very much when he died?”
“I was as near death myself. But when I came to, I knew another part of me was finished. But then I had always known it would finish in death. All things do, as far as that goes.”
She sat and ruminated. The thunder crashed outside. It was like being in a little ark in the Flood.
“You seem to have such a lot behind you,” she said.
“Do I? It seems to me I’ve died once or twice already. Yet here I am, pegging on, and in for more trouble.”
She was thinking hard, yet listening to the storm.
“And weren’t you happy as an officer and a gentleman, when your Colonel was dead?”
“No! They were a mingy lot.” He laughed suddenly. “The Colonel used to say: Lad, the English middle classes have to chew every mouthful thirty times because their guts are so narrow, a bit as big as a pea would give them a stoppage. They’re the mingiest set of ladylike snipe ever invented: full of conceit of themselves, frightened even if their boot-laces aren’t correct, rotten as high game, and always in the right. That’s what finishes me up. Kow-tow, kow-tow, arse-licking till their tongues are tough: yet they’re always in the right. Prigs on top of everything. Prigs! A generation of ladylike prigs with half a ball each—“
Connie laughed. The rain was rushing down.
“He hated them!”
“No,” said he. “He didn’t bother. He just disliked them. There’s a difference. Because, as he said, the Tommies are getting just as priggish and half-balled and narrow-gutted. It’s the fate of mankind, to go that way.”
“The common people too, the working people?”
“All the lot. Their spunk is gone dead. Motor-cars and cinemas and aeroplanes suck that last bit out of them. I tell you, every generation breeds a more rabbity generation, with indiarubber tubing for guts and tin legs and tin faces. Tin people! It’s all a steady sort of bolshevism just killing off the human thing, and worshipping the mechanical thing. Money, money, money! All the modern lot get their real kick out of killing the old human feeling out of man, making mincemeat of the old Adam and the old Eve. They’re all alike. The world is all alike: kill off the human reality, a quid for every foreskin, two quid for each pair of balls. What is cunt but machine-fucking!—It’s all alike. Pay ’em money to cut off the world’s cock. Pay money, money, money to them that will take spunk out of mankind, and leave ’em all little twiddling machines.”
He sat there in the hut, his face pulled to mocking irony. Yet even then, he had one ear set backwards, listening to the storm over the wood. It made him feel so alone.
“But won’t it ever come to an end?” she said.
“Ay, it will. It’ll achieve its own salvation. When the last real man is killed, and they’re all tame: white, black, yellow, all colours of tame ones: then they’ll all be insane. Because the root of sanity is in the balls. Then they’ll all be insane, and they’ll make their grand auto da fe. You know auto da fe means act of faith? Ay, well, they’ll make their own grand little act of faith. They’ll offer one another up.”
“You mean kill one another?”
“I do, duckie! If we go on at our present rate then in a hundred years’ time there won’t be ten thousand people in this island: there may not be ten. They’ll have lovingly wiped each other out. The thunder was rolling further away.
“How nice!” she said.
“Quite nice! To contemplate the extermination of the human species and the long pause that follows before some other species crops up, it calms you more than anything else. And if we go on in this way, with everybody, intellectuals, artists, government, industrialists and workers all frantically killing off the last human feeling, the last bit of their intuition, the last healthy instinct; if it goes on in algebraical progression, as it is going on: then ta-tah! to the human species! Goodbye! darling! the serpent swallows itself and leaves a void, considerably messed up, but not hopeless. Very nice! When savage wild dogs bark in Wragby, and savage wild pit-ponies stamp on Tevershall pit-bank! te deum laudamus!”
Connie laughed, but not very happily.
“Then you ought to be pleased that they are all bolshevists,” she said. “You ought to be pleased that they hurry on towards the end.”
“So I am. I don’t stop ’em. Because I couldn’t if I would.”
“Then why are you so bitter?”
“I’m not! If my cock gives its last crow, I don’t mind.”
“But if you have a child?” she said.
He dropped his head.
“Why,” he said at last. “It seems to me a wrong and bitter thing to do, to bring a child into this world.”
“No! Don’t say it! Don’t say it!” she pleaded. “I think I’m going to have one. Say you’ll he pleased.” She laid her hand on his.
“I’m pleased for you to be pleased,” he said. “But for me it seems a ghastly treachery to the unborn creature.”
“Ah no!” she said, shocked. “Then you can’t ever really want me! You can’t want me, if you feel that!”
Again he was silent, his face sullen. Outside there was only the threshing of the rain.
“It’s not quite true!” she whispered. “It’s not quite true! There’s another truth.” She felt he was bitter now partly because she was leaving him, deliberately going away to Venice. And this half pleased her.
She pulled open his clothing and uncovered his belly, and kissed his navel. Then she laid her cheek on his belly and pressed her arm round his warm, silent loins. They were alone in the flood.
“Tell me you want a child, in hope!” she murmured, pressing her face against his belly. “Tell me you do!”
“Why!” he said at last: and she felt the curious quiver of changing consciousness and relaxation going through his body. “Why I’ve thought sometimes if one but tried, here among th’ colliers even! They’re workin’ bad now, an’ not earnin’ much. If a man could say to ’em: Dunna think o’ nowt but th’ money. When it comes ter wants, we want but little. Let’s not live for money—“
She softly rubbed her cheek on his belly, and gathered his balls in her hand. The penis stirred softly, with strange life, but did not rise up. The rain beat bruisingly outside.
“Let’s live for summat else. Let’s not live ter make money, neither for us-selves nor for anybody else. Now we’re forced to. We’re forced to make a bit for us-selves, an’ a fair lot for th’ bosses. Let’s stop it! Bit by bit, let’s stop it. We needn’t rant an’ rave. Bit by bit, let’s drop the whole industrial life an’ go back. The least little bit o’ money’ll do. For everybody, me an’ you, bosses an’ masters, even th’ king. The least little bit o’ money’ll really do. Just make up your mind to it, an’ you’ve got out o’ th’ mess.” He paused, then went on:
“An’ I’d tell ’em: Look! Look at Joe! He moves lovely! Look how he moves, alive and aware. He’s beautiful! An’ look at Jonah! He’s clumsy, he’s ugly, because he’s niver willin’ to rouse himself I’d tell ’em: Look! look at yourselves! one shoulder higher than t’other, legs twisted, feet all lumps! What have yer done ter yerselves, wi’ the blasted work? Spoilt yerselves. No need to work that much. Take yer clothes off an’ look at yourselves. Yer ought ter be alive an’ beautiful, an’ yer ugly an’ half dead. So I’d tell ’em. An’ I’d get my men to wear different clothes: appen close red trousers, bright red, an’ little short white jackets. Why, if men had red, fine legs, that alone would change them in a month. They’d begin to be men again, to be men! An’ the women could dress as they liked. Because if once the men walked with legs close bright scarlet, and buttocks nice and showing scarlet under a little white jacket: then the women ‘ud begin to be women. It’s because th’ men aren’t men, that th’ women have to be.—An’ in time pull down Tevershall and build a few beautiful buildings, that would hold us all. An’ clean the country up again. An’ not have many children, because the world is overcrowded.
“But I wouldn’t preach to the men: only strip ’em an’ say: Look at yourselves! That’s workin’ for money!–Hark at yourselves! That’s working for money. You’ve been working for money! Look at Tevershall! It’s horrible. That’s because it was built while you was working for money. Look at your girls! They don’t care about you, you don’t care about them. It’s because you’ve spent your time working an’ caring for money. You can’t talk nor move nor live, you can’t properly be with a woman. You’re not alive. Look at yourselves!”
There fell a complete silence. Connie was half listening, and threading in the hair at the root of his belly a few forget-me-nots that she had gathered on the way to the hut. Outside, the world had gone still, and a little icy.
“You’ve got four kinds of hair,” she said to him. “On your chest it’s nearly black, and your hair isn’t dark on your head: but your moustache is hard and dark red, and your hair here, your love-hair, is like a little brush of bright red-gold mistletoe. It’s the loveliest of all!”
He looked down and saw the milky bits of forget-me-nots in the hair on his groin.
“Ay! That’s where to put forget-me-nots, in the man-hair, or the maiden-hair. But don’t you care about the future?”
She looked up at him.
“Oh, I do, terribly!” she said.
“Because when I feel the human world is doomed, has doomed itself by its own mingy beastliness, then I feel the Colonies aren’t far enough. The moon wouldn’t be far enough, because even there you could look back and see the earth, dirty, beastly, unsavoury among all the stars: made foul by men. Then I feel I’ve swallowed gall, and it’s eating my inside out, and nowhere’s far enough away to get away. But when I get a turn, I forget it all again. Though it’s a shame, what’s been done to people these last hundred years: men turned into nothing but labour-insects, and all their manhood taken away, and all their real life. I’d wipe the machines off the face of the earth again, and end the industrial epoch absolutely, like a black mistake. But since I can’t, an’ nobody can, I’d better hold my peace, an’ try an’ live my own life: if I’ve got one to live, which I rather doubt.”
The thunder had ceased outside, but the rain which had abated, suddenly came striking down, with a last blench of lightning and mutter of departing storm. Connie was uneasy. He had talked so long now, and he was really talking to himself not to her. Despair seemed to come down on him completely, and she was feeling happy, she hated despair. She knew her leaving him, which he had only just realized inside himself had plunged him back into this mood. And she triumphed a little.
She opened the door and looked at the straight heavy rain, like a steel curtain, and had a sudden desire to rush out into it, to rush away. She got up, and began swiftly pulling off her stockings, then her dress and underclothing, and he held his breath. Her pointed keen animal breasts tipped and stirred as she moved. She was ivory-coloured in the greenish light. She slipped on her rubber shoes again and ran out with a wild little laugh, holding up her breasts to the heavy rain and spreading her arms, and running blurred in the rain with the eurhythmic dance movements she had learned so long ago in Dresden. It was a strange pallid figure lifting and falling, bending so the rain beat and glistened on the full haunches, swaying up again and coming belly-forward through the rain, then stooping again so that only the full loins and buttocks were offered in a kind of homage towards him, repeating a wild obeisance.
He laughed wryly, and threw off his clothes. It was too much. He jumped out, naked and white, with a little shiver, into the hard slanting rain. Flossie sprang before him with a frantic little bark. Connie, her hair all wet and sticking to her head, turned her hot face and saw him. Her blue eyes blazed with excitement as she turned and ran fast, with a strange charging movement, out of the clearing and down the path, the wet boughs whipping her. She ran, and he saw nothing but the round wet head, the wet back leaning forward in flight, the rounded buttocks twinkling: a wonderful cowering female nakedness in flight.
She was nearly at the wide riding when he came up and flung his naked arm round her soft, naked-wet middle. She gave a shriek and straightened herself and the heap of her soft, chill flesh came up against his body. He pressed it all up against him, madly, the heap of soft, chilled female flesh that became quickly warm as flame, in contact. The rain streamed on them till they smoked. He gathered her lovely, heavy posteriors one in each hand and pressed them in towards him in a frenzy, quivering motionless in the rain. Then suddenly he tipped her up and fell with her on the path, in the roaring silence of the rain, and short and sharp, he took her, short and sharp and finished, like an animal.
He got up in an instant, wiping the rain from his eyes.
“Come in,” he said, and they started running back to the hut. He ran straight and swift: he didn’t like the rain. But she came slower, gathering forget-me-nots and campion and bluebells, running a few steps and watching him fleeing away from her.
When she came with her flowers, panting to the hut, he had already started a fire, and the twigs were crackling. Her sharp breasts rose and fell, her hair was plastered down with rain, her face was flushed ruddy and her body glistened and trickled. Wide-eyed and breathless, with a small wet head and full, trickling, naïve haunches, she looked another creature.
He took the old sheet and rubbed her down, she standing like a child. Then he rubbed himself having shut the door of the hut. The fire was blazing up. She ducked her head in the other end of the sheet, and rubbed her wet hair.
“We’re drying ourselves together on the same towel, we shall quarrel!” he said.
She looked up for a moment, her hair all odds and ends.
“No!” she said, her eyes wide. “It’s not a towel, it’s a sheet.” And she went on busily rubbing her head, while he busily rubbed his.
Still panting with their exertions, each wrapped in an army blanket, but the front of the body open to the fire, they sat on a log side by side before the blaze, to get quiet. Connie hated the feel of the blanket against her skin. But now the sheet was all wet.
She dropped her blanket and kneeled on the clay hearth, holding her head to the fire, and shaking her hair to dry it. He watched the beautiful curving drop of her haunches. That fascinated him today. How it sloped with a rich down-slope to the heavy roundness of her buttocks! And in between, folded in the secret warmth, the secret entrances!
He stroked her tail with his hand, long and subtly taking in the curves and the globe-fullness.
“Tha’s got such a nice tail on thee,’ he said, in the throaty caressive dialect. “Tha’s got the nicest arse of anybody. It’s the nicest, nicest woman’s arse as is! An’ ivery bit of it is woman, woman sure as nuts. Tha’rt not one o’ them button-arsed lasses as should be lads, are ter! Tha’s got a real soft sloping bottom on thee, as a man loves in ‘is guts. It’s a bottom as could hold the world up, it is!”
All the while he spoke he exquisitely stroked the rounded tail, till it seemed as if a slippery sort of fire came from it into his hands. And his finger-tips touched the two secret openings to her body, time after time, with a soft little brush of fire.
“An’ if tha shits an’ if tha pisses, I’m glad. I don’t want a woman as couldna shit nor piss.”
Connie could not help a sudden snort of astonished laughter, but he went on unmoved.
“Tha’rt real, tha art! Tha’art real, even a bit of a bitch. Here tha shits an’ here tha pisses: an’ I lay my hand on ’em both an’ like thee for it. I like thee for it. Tha’s got a proper, woman’s arse, proud of itself. It’s none ashamed of itself this isna.”
He laid his hand close and firm over her secret places, in a kind of close greeting.
“I like it,” he said. “I like it! An’ if I only lived ten minutes, an’ stroked thy arse an’ got to know it, I should reckon I’d lived one life, see ter! Industrial system or not! Here’s one o’ my lifetimes.”
She turned round and climbed into his lap, clinging to him. “Kiss me!’ she whispered.
And she knew the thought of their separation was latent in both their minds, and at last she was sad.
She sat on his thighs, her head against his breast, and her ivory-gleaming legs loosely apart, the fire glowing unequally upon them. Sitting with his head dropped, he looked at the folds of her body in the fire-glow, and at the fleece of soft brown hair that hung down to a point between her open thighs. He reached to the table behind, and took up her bunch of flowers, still so wet that drops of rain fell on to her.
“Flowers stops out of doors all weathers,” he said. “They have no houses.”
“Not even a hut!” she murmured.
With quiet fingers he threaded a few forget-me-not flowers in the fine brown fleece of the mound of Venus.
“There!” he said. “There’s forget-me-nots in the right place!”
She looked down at the milky odd little flowers among the brown maiden-hair at the lower tip of her body.
“Doesn’t it look pretty!” she said.
“Pretty as life,” he replied.
And he stuck a pink campion-bud among the hair.
“There! That’s me where you won’t forget me! That’s Moses in the bull-rushes.”
“You don’t mind, do you, that I’m going away?” she asked wistfully, looking up into his face.
But his face was inscrutable, under the heavy brows. He kept it quite blank.
“You do as you wish,” he said.
And he spoke in good English.
“But I won’t go if you don’t wish it,” she said, clinging to him.
There was silence. He leaned and put another piece of wood on the fire. The flame glowed on his silent, abstracted face. She waited, but he said nothing.
“Only I thought it would be a good way to begin a break with Clifford. I do want a child. And it would give me a chance to, to—,” she resumed.
“To let them think a few lies,” he said.
“Yes, that among other things. Do you want them to think the truth?”
“I don’t care what they think.”
“I do! I don’t want them handling me with their unpleasant cold minds, not while I’m still at Wragby. They can think what they like when I’m finally gone.”
He was silent.
“But Sir Clifford expects you to come back to him?”
“Oh, I must come back,” she said: and there was silence.
“And would you have a child in Wragby?” he asked.
She closed her arm round his neck.
“If you wouldn’t take me away, I should have to,” she said.
“Take you where to?”
“Anywhere! away! But right away from Wragby.”
“Why, when I come back.”
“But what’s the good of coming back, doing the thing twice, if you’re once gone?” he said.
“Oh, I must come back. I’ve promised! I’ve promised so faithfully. Besides, I come back to you, really.”
“To your husband’s game-keeper?”
“I don’t see that that matters,” she said.
“No?” He mused a while. “And when would you think of going away again, then; finally? When exactly?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’d come back from Venice. And then we’d prepare everything.”
“Oh, I’d tell Clifford. I’d have to tell him.”
He remained silent. She put her arms round his neck.
“Don’t make it difficult for me,” she pleaded.
“Make what difficult?”
“For me to go to Venice and arrange things.”
A little smile, half a grin, flickered on his face.
“I don’t make it difficult,” he said. “I only want to find out just what you are after. But you don’t really know yourself. You want to take time: get away and look at it. I don’t blame you. I think you’re wise. You may prefer to stay mistress of Wragby. I don’t blame you. I’ve no Wragbys to offer. In fact, you know what you’ll get out of me. No, no, I think you’re right! I really do! And I’m not keen on coming to live on you, being kept by you. There’s that too.”
She felt somehow as if he were giving her tit for tat.
“But you want me, don’t you?” she asked.
“Do you want me?”
“You know I do. That’s evident.”
“Quite! And when do you want me?”
“You know we can arrange it all when I come back. Now I’m out of breath with you. I must get calm and clear.”
“Quite! Get calm and clear!”
She was a little offended.
“But you trust me, don’t you?” she said.
She heard the mockery in his tone.
“Tell me then,” she said flatly; “do you think it would be better if I don’t go to Venice?”
“I’m sure it’s better if you do go to Venice,” he replied in the cool, slightly mocking voice.
“You know it’s next Thursday?” she said.
She now began to muse. At last she said:
“And we shall know better where we are when I come back, shan’t we?”
The curious gulf of silence between them!
“I’ve been to the lawyer about my divorce,” he said, a little constrainedly.
She gave a slight shudder.
“Have you!” she said. “And what did he say?”
“He said I ought to have done it before; that may be a difficulty. But since I was in the army, he thinks it will go through all right. If only it doesn’t bring her down on my head!”
“Will she have to know?”
“Yes! she is served with a notice: so is the man she lives with, the co-respondent.”
“Isn’t it hateful, all the performances! I suppose I’d have to go through it with Clifford.”
There was a silence.
“And of course,” he said, “I have to live an exemplary life for the next six or eight months. So if you go to Venice, there’s temptation removed for a week or two, at least.”
“Am I temptation!” she said, stroking his face. “I’m so glad I’m temptation to you! Don’t let’s think about it! You frighten me when you start thinking: you roll me out flat. Don’t let’s think about it. We can think so much when we are apart. That’s the whole point! I’ve been thinking, I must come to you for another night before I go. I must come once more to the cottage. Shall I come on Thursday night?”
“Isn’t that when your sister will be there?”
“Yes! But she said we would start at tea-time. So we could start at tea-time. But she could sleep somewhere else and I could sleep with you.”
“But then she’d have to know.”
“Oh, I shall tell her. I’ve more or less told her already. I must talk it all over with Hilda. She’s a great help, so sensible.”
He was thinking of her plan.
“So you’d start off from Wragby at tea-time, as if you were going to London? Which way were you going?”
“By Nottingham and Grantham.”
“And then your sister would drop you somewhere and you’d walk or drive back here? Sounds very risky, to me.”
“Does it? Well, then, Hilda could bring me back. She could sleep at Mansfield, and bring me back here in the evening, and fetch me again in the morning. It’s quite easy.”
“And the people who see you?”
“I’ll wear goggles and a veil.”
He pondered for some time.
“Well,” he said. “You please yourself as usual.”
“But wouldn’t it please you?”
“Oh yes! It’d please me all right,” he said a little grimly. “I might as well smite while the iron’s hot.”
“Do you know what I thought?” she said suddenly. “It suddenly came to me. You are the “”Knight of the Burning Pestle!’
“Ay! And you? Are you the Lady of the Red-Hot Mortar?”
“Yes!” she said. “Yes! You’re Sir Pestle and I’m Lady Mortar.”
“All right, then I’m knighted. John Thomas is Sir John, to your Lady Jane.”
“Yes! John Thomas is knighted! I’m my-lady-maiden-hair, and you must have flowers too. Yes!”
She threaded two pink campions in the bush of red-gold hair above his penis.
“There!” she said. “Charming! Charming! Sir John!”
And she pushed a bit of forget-me-not in the dark hair of his breast.
“And you won’t forget me there, will you?” She kissed him on the breast, and made two bits of forget-me-not lodge one over each nipple, kissing him again.
“Make a calendar of me!” he said. He laughed, and the flowers shook from his breast.
“Wait a bit!” he said.
He rose, and opened the door of the hut. Flossie, lying in the porch, got up and looked at him.
“Ay, it’s me!” he said.
The rain had ceased. There was a wet, heavy, perfumed stillness. Evening was approaching.
He went out and down the little path in the opposite direction from the riding. Connie watched his thin, white figure, and it looked to her like a ghost, an apparition moving away from her.
When she could see it no more, her heart sank. She stood in the door of the hut, with a blanket round her, looking into the drenched, motionless silence.
But he was coming back, trotting strangely, and carrying flowers. She was a little afraid of him, as if he were not quite human. And when he came near, his eyes looked into hers, but she could not understand the meaning.
He had brought columbines and campions, and new-mown hay, and oak-tufts and honeysuckle in small bud. He fastened fluffy young oak-sprays round her breasts, sticking in tufts of bluebells and campion: and in her navel he poised a pink campion flower, and in her maiden-hair were forget-me-nots and woodruff.
“That’s you in all your glory!” he said. “Lady Jane, at her wedding with John Thomas.”
And he stuck flowers in the hair of his own body, and wound a bit of creeping-jenny round his penis, and stuck a single bell of a hyacinth in his navel. She watched him with amusement, his odd intentness. And she pushed a campion flower in his moustache, where it stuck, dangling under his nose.
“This is John Thomas marryin’ Lady Jane,” he said. “An’ we mun let Constance an’ Oliver go their ways. Maybe—“
He spread out his hand with a gesture, and then he sneezed, sneezing away the flowers from his nose and his navel. He sneezed again.
“Maybe what?” she said, waiting for him to go on.
He looked at her a little bewildered.
“Eh?” he said.
“Maybe what? Go on with what you were going to say,” she insisted.
“Ay, what was I going to say?”
He had forgotten. And it was one of the disappointments of her life, that he never finished.
A yellow ray of sun shone over the trees.
“Sun!” he said. “And time you went. Time, my Lady, time! What’s that as flies without wings, your Ladyship? Time! Time!”
He reached for his shirt.
“Say goodnight! to John Thomas,” he said, looking down at his penis. “He’s safe in the arms of creeping Jenny! Not much burning pestle about him just now.”
And he put his flannel shirt over his head.
“A man’s most dangerous moment,” he said, when his head had emerged, “is when he’s getting into his shirt. Then he puts his head in a bag. That’s why I prefer those American shirts, that you put on like a jacket.” She still stood watching him. He stepped into his short drawers, and buttoned them round the waist.
“Look at Jane!” he said. “In all her blossoms! Who’ll put blossoms on you next year, Jinny? Me, or somebody else? ‘Good-bye, my bluebell, farewell to you!’ I hate that song, it’s early war days.” He then sat down, and was pulling on his stockings. She still stood unmoving. He laid his hand on the slope of her buttocks. “Pretty little Lady Jane!” he said. “Perhaps in Venice you’ll find a man who’ll put jasmine in your maiden-hair, and a pomegranate flower in your navel. Poor little lady Jane!”
“Don’t say those things!” she said. “You only say them to hurt me.”
He dropped his head. Then he said, in dialect:
“Ay, maybe I do, maybe I do! Well then, I’ll say nowt, an’ ha’ done wi’t. But tha mun dress thysen, an’ go back to thy stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand. Time’s up! Time’s up for Sir John, an’ for little Lady Jane! Put thy shimmy on, Lady Chatterley! Tha might be anybody, standin’ there be-out even a shimmy, an’ a few rags o’ flowers. There then, there then, I’ll undress thee, tha bob-tailed young throstle.'” And he took the leaves from her hair, kissing her damp hair, and the flowers from her breasts, and kissed her breasts, and kissed her navel, and kissed her maiden-hair, where he left the flowers threaded. “They mun stop while they will,” he said. “So! There tha’rt bare again, nowt but a bare-arsed lass an’ a bit of a Lady Jane! Now put thy shimmy on, for tha mun go, or else Lady Chatterley’s goin’ to be late for dinner, an’ where ‘ave yer been to my pretty maid!”
She never knew how to answer him when he was in this condition of the vernacular. So she dressed herself and prepared to go a little ignominiously home to Wragby. Or so she felt it: a little ignominiously home.
He would accompany her to the broad riding. His young pheasants were all right under the shelter.
When he and she came out on to the riding, there was Mrs Bolton faltering palely towards them.
“Oh, my Lady, we wondered if anything had happened!”
“No! Nothing has happened.”
Mrs Bolton looked into the man’s face, that was smooth and new-looking with love. She met his half-laughing, half-mocking eyes. He always laughed at mischance. But he looked at her kindly.
“Evening, Mrs Bolton! Your Ladyship will be all right now, so I can leave you. Good-night to your Ladyship! Good-night, Mrs Bolton!”
He saluted and turned away.
Connie arrived home to an ordeal of cross-questioning. Clifford had been out at tea-time, had come in just before the storm, and where was her ladyship? Nobody knew, only Mrs Bolton suggested she had gone for a walk into the wood. Into the wood, in such a storm! Clifford for once let himself get into a state of nervous frenzy. He started at every flash of lightning, and blenched at every roll of thunder. He looked at the icy thunder-rain as if it dare the end of the world. He got more and more worked up.
Mrs Bolton tried to soothe him.
‘She’ll be sheltering in the hut, till it’s over. Don’t worry, her Ladyship is all right.’
‘I don’t like her being in the wood in a storm like this! I don’t like her being in the wood at all! She’s been gone now more than two hours. When did she go out?’
‘A little while before you came in.’
‘I didn’t see her in the park. God knows where she is and what has happened to her.’
‘Oh, nothing’s happened to her. You’ll see, she’ll be home directly after the rain stops. It’s just the rain that’s keeping her.’
But her ladyship did not come home directly after the rain stopped. In fact time went by, the sun came out for his last yellow glimpse, and there still was no sign of her. The sun was set, it was growing dark, and the first dinner-gong had rung.
‘It’s no good!’ said Clifford in a frenzy. ‘I’m going to send out Field and Betts to find her.’
‘Oh don’t do that!’ cried Mrs Bolton. ‘They’ll think there’s a suicide or something. Oh don’t start a lot of talk going. Let me slip over to the hut and see if she’s not there. I’ll find her all right.’
So, after some persuasion, Clifford allowed her to go.
And so Connie had come upon her in the drive, alone and palely loitering.
‘You mustn’t mind me coming to look for you, my Lady! But Sir Clifford worked himself up into such a state. He made sure you were struck by lightning, or killed by a falling tree. And he was determined to send Field and Betts to the wood to find the body. So I thought I’d better come, rather than set all the servants agog.
She spoke nervously. She could still see on Connie’s face the smoothness and the half-dream of passion, and she could feel the irritation against herself.
‘Quite!’ said Connie. And she could say no more.
The two women plodded on through the wet world, in silence, while great drops splashed like explosions in the wood. When they came to the park, Connie strode ahead, and Mrs Bolton panted a little. She was getting plumper.
‘How foolish of Clifford to make a fuss!’ said Connie at length, angrily, really speaking to herself.
‘Oh, you know what men are! They like working themselves up. But he’ll be all right as soon as he sees your Ladyship.’
Connie was very angry that Mrs Bolton knew her secret: for certainly she knew it.
Suddenly Constance stood still on the path.
‘It’s monstrous that I should have to be followed!’ she said, her eyes flashing.
‘Oh! your Ladyship, don’t say that! He’d certainly have sent the two men, and they’d have come straight to the hut. I didn’t know where it was, really.’
Connie flushed darker with rage, at the suggestion. Yet, while her passion was on her, she could not lie. She could not even pretend there was nothing between herself and the keeper. She looked at the other woman, who stood so sly, with her head dropped: yet somehow, in her femaleness, an ally.
‘Oh well!’ she said. ‘If it is so it is so. I don’t mind!’
‘Why, you’re all right, my Lady! You’ve only been sheltering in the hut. It’s absolutely nothing.’
They went on to the house. Connie marched in to Clifford’s room, furious with him, furious with his pale, over-wrought fee and prominent eyes.
‘I must say, I don’t think you need send the servants after me,’ she burst out.
‘My God!’ he exploded. ‘Where have you been, woman? You’ve been gone hours, hours, and in a storm like this! What the hell do you go to that-bloody wood for? What have you been up to? It’s hours even since the rain stopped, hours! Do you know what time it is? You’re enough to drive anybody mad. Where have you been? What in the name of hell have you been doing?’
‘And what if I don’t choose to tell you?’ She pulled her hat from her head and shook her hair.
He lied at her with his eyes bulging, and yellow coming into the whites. It was very bad for him to get into these rages: Mrs Bolton had a weary time with him, for days after. Connie felt a sudden qualm.
‘But really!’ she said, milder. ‘Anyone would think I’d been I don’t know where! I just sat in the hut during all the storm, and made myself a little fire, and was happy.’
She spoke now easily. After all, why work him up any more!
He looked at her suspiciously.
And look at your hair!’ he said; ‘look at yourself!’
‘Yes!’ she replied calmly. ‘I ran out in the rain with no clothes on.’
He stared at her speechless.
‘You must be mad!’ he said.
‘Why? To like a shower bath from the rain?’
‘And how did you dry yourself?’
‘On an old towel and at the fire.’
He still stared at her in a dumbfounded way.
‘And supposing anybody came,’ he said.
‘Who would come?’
‘Who? Why, anybody! And Mellors. Does he come? He must come in the evenings.’
‘Yes, he came later, when it had cleared up, to feed the pheasants with corn.’
She spoke with amazing nonchalance. Mrs Bolton, who was listening in the next room, heard in sheer admiration. To think a woman could carry it off so naturally!
‘And suppose he’d come while you were running about in the rain with nothing on, like a maniac?’
‘I suppose he’d have had the fright of his life, and cleared out as fast as he could.’
Clifford still stared at her transfixed. What he thought in his under-consciousness he would never know. And he was too much taken aback to form one clear thought in his upper consciousness. He just simply accepted what she said, in a sort of blank. And he admired her. He could not help admiring her. She looked so flushed and handsome and smooth: love smooth.
‘At least,’ he said, subsiding, ‘you’ll be lucky if you’ve got off without a severe cold.’
‘Oh, I haven’t got a cold,’ she replied. She was thinking to herself of the other man’s words: Tha’s got the nicest woman’s arse of anybody! She wished, she dearly wished she could tell Clifford that this had been said her, during the famous thunderstorm. However! She bore herself rather like an offended queen, and went upstairs to change.
That evening, Clifford wanted to be nice to her. He was reading one of the latest scientific-religious books: he had a streak of a spurious sort of religion in him, and was egocentrically concerned with the future of his own ego. It was like his habit to make conversation to Connie about some book, since the conversation between them had to be made, almost chemically. They had almost chemically to concoct it in their heads.
‘What do you think of this, by the way?’ he said, reaching for his book. ‘You’d have no need to cool your ardent body by running out in the rain, if only we have a few more aeons of evolution behind us. Ah, here it is!–The universe shows us two aspects: on one side it is physically wasting, on the other it is spiritually ascending.
Connie listened, expecting more. But Clifford was waiting. She looked at him in surprise.
‘And if it spiritually ascends,’ she said, ‘what does it leave down below, in the place where its tail used to be?’
‘Ah!’ he said. ‘Take the man for what he means. ASCENDING is the opposite of his WASTING, I presume.’
‘Spiritually blown out, so to speak!’
‘No, but seriously, without joking: do you think there is anything in it?’
She looked at him again.
‘Physically wasting?’ she said. ‘I see you getting fatter, and I’m sot wasting myself. Do you think the sun is smaller than he used to be? He’s not to me. And I suppose the apple Adam offered Eve wasn’t really much bigger, if any, than one of our orange pippins. Do you think it was?’
‘Well, hear how he goes on: It is thus slowly passing, with a slowness inconceivable in our measures of time, to new creative conditions, amid which the physical world, as we at present know it, will he represented by a ripple barely to be distinguished from nonentity.
She listened with a glisten of amusement. All sorts of improper things suggested themselves. But she only said:
‘What silly hocus-pocus! As if his little conceited consciousness could know what was happening as slowly as all that! It only means HE’S a physical failure on the earth, so he wants to make the whole universe a physical failure. Priggish little impertinence!’
‘Oh, but listen! Don’t interrupt the great man’s solemn words!–The present type of order in the world has risen from an unimaginable part, and will find its grave in an unimaginable future. There remains the inexhaustive realm of abstract forms, and creativity with its shifting character ever determined afresh by its own creatures, and God, upon whose wisdom all forms of order depend.–There, that’s how he winds up!’
Connie sat listening contemptuously.
‘He’s spiritually blown out,’ she said. ‘What a lot of stuff! Unimaginables, and types of order in graves, and realms of abstract forms, and creativity with a shifty character, and God mixed up with forms of order! Why, it’s idiotic!’
‘I must say, it is a little vaguely conglomerate, a mixture of gases, so to speak,’ said Clifford. ‘Still, I think there is something in the idea that the universe is physically wasting and spiritually ascending.’
‘Do you? Then let it ascend, so long as it leaves me safely and solidly physically here below.’
‘Do you like your physique?’ he asked.
‘I love it!’ And through her mind went the words: It’s the nicest, nicest woman’s arse as is!
‘But that is really rather extraordinary, because there’s no denying it’s an encumbrance. But then I suppose a woman doesn’t take a supreme pleasure in the life of the mind.’
‘Supreme pleasure?’ she said, looking up at him. ‘Is that sort of idiocy the supreme pleasure of the life of the mind? No thank you! Give me the body. I believe the life of the body is a greater reality than the life of the mind: when the body is really wakened to life. But so many people, like your famous wind-machine, have only got minds tacked on to their physical corpses.’
He looked at her in wonder.
‘The life of the body,’ he said, ‘is just the life of the animals.’
‘And that’s better than the life of professional corpses. But it’s not true! the human body is only just coming to real life. With the Greeks it gave a lovely flicker, then Plato and Aristotle killed it, and Jesus finished it off. But now the body is coming really to life, it is really rising from the tomb. And it will be a lovely, lovely life in the lovely universe, the life of the human body.’
‘My dear, you speak as if you were ushering it all in! True, you are going away on a holiday: but don’t please be quite so indecently elated about it. Believe me, whatever God there is is slowly eliminating the guts and alimentary system from the human being, to evolve a higher, more spiritual being.’
‘Why should I believe you, Clifford, when I feel that whatever God there is has at last wakened up in my guts, as you call them, and is rippling so happily there, like dawn. Why should I believe you, when I feel so very much the contrary?’
‘Oh, exactly! And what has caused this extraordinary change in you? running out stark naked in the rain, and playing Bacchante? desire for sensation, or the anticipation of going to Venice?’
‘Both! Do you think it is horrid of me to be so thrilled at going off?’ she said.
‘Rather horrid to show it so plainly.’
‘Then I’ll hide it.’
‘Oh, don’t trouble! You almost communicate a thrill to me. I almost feel that it is I who am going off.’
‘Well, why don’t you come?’
‘We’ve gone over all that. And as a matter of fact, I suppose your greatest thrill comes from being able to say a temporary farewell to all this. Nothing so thrilling, for the moment, as Good-bye-to-all!–But every parting means a meeting elsewhere. And every meeting is a new bondage.’
‘I’m not going to enter any new bondages.’
‘Don’t boast, while the gods are listening,’ he said.
She pulled up short.
‘No! I won’t boast!’ she said.
But she was thrilled, none the less, to be going off: to feel bonds snap. She couldn’t help it.
Clifford, who couldn’t sleep, gambled all night with Mrs Bolton, till she was too sleepy almost to live.
And the day came round for Hilda to arrive. Connie had arranged with Mellors that if everything promised well for their night together, she would hang a green shawl out of the window. If there were frustration, a red one.
Mrs Bolton helped Connie to pack.
‘It will be so good for your Ladyship to have a change.’
‘I think it will. You don’t mind having Sir Clifford on your hands alone for a time, do you?’
‘Oh no! I can manage him quite all right. I mean, I can do all he needs me to do. Don’t you think he’s better than he used to be?’
‘Oh much! You do wonders with him.’
‘Do I though! But men are all alike: just babies, and you have to flatter them and wheedle them and let them think they’re having their own way. Don’t you find it so, my Lady?’
‘I’m afraid I haven’t much experience.’
Connie paused in her occupation.
‘Even your husband, did you have to manage him, and wheedle him like a baby?’ she asked, looking at the other woman.
Mrs Bolton paused too.
‘Well!’ she said. ‘I had to do a good bit of coaxing, with him too. But he always knew what I was after, I must say that. But he generally gave in to me.’
‘He was never the lord and master thing?’
‘No! At least there’d be a look in his eyes sometimes, and then I knew I’D got to give in. But usually he gave in to me. No, he was never lord and master. But neither was I. I knew when I could go no further with him, and then I gave in: though it cost me a good bit, sometimes.’
‘And what if you had held out against him?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, I never did. Even when he was in the wrong, if he was fixed, I gave in. You see, I never wanted to break what was between us. And if you really set your will against a man, that finishes it. If you care for a man, you have to give in to him once he’s really determined; whether you’re in the right or not, you have to give in. Else you break something. But I must say, Ted ‘ud give in to me sometimes, when I was set on a thing, and in the wrong. So I suppose it cuts both ways.’
‘And that’s how you are with all your patients?’ asked Connie.
‘Oh, that’s different. I don’t care at all, in the same way. I know what’s good for them, or I try to, and then I just contrive to manage them for their own good. It’s not like anybody as you’re really fond of. It’s quite different. Once you’ve been really fond of a man, you can be affectionate to almost any man, if he needs you at all. But it’s not the same thing. You don’t really CARE. I doubt, once you’ve REALLY cared, if you can ever really care again.’
These words frightened Connie.
‘Do you think one can only care once?’ she asked.
‘Or never. Most women never care, never begin to. They don’t know what it means. Nor men either. But when I see a woman as cares, my heart stands still for her.’
‘And do you think men easily take offence?’
‘Yes! If you wound them on their pride. But aren’t women the same? Only our two prides are a bit different.’
Connie pondered this. She began again to have some misgiving about her gag away. After all, was she not giving her man the go-by, if only for a short time? And he knew it. That’s why he was so queer and sarcastic.
Still! the human existence is a good deal controlled by the machine of external circumstance. She was in the power of this machine. She couldn’t extricate herself all in five minutes. She didn’t even want to.
Hilda arrived in good time on Thursday morning, in a nimble two-seater car, with her suit-case strapped firmly behind. She looked as demure and maidenly as ever, but she had the same will of her own. She had the very hell of a will of her own, as her husband had found out. But the husband was now divorcing her.
Yes, she even made it easy for him to do that, though she had no lover. For the time being, she was ‘off’ men. She was very well content to be quite her own mistress: and mistress of her two children, whom she was going to bring up ‘properly’, whatever that may mean.
Connie was only allowed a suit-case, also. But she had sent on a trunk to her father, who was going by train. No use taking a car to Venice. And Italy much too hot to motor in, in July. He was going comfortably by train. He had just come down from Scotland.
So, like a demure arcadian field-marshal, Hilda arranged the material part of the journey. She and Connie sat in the upstairs room, chatting.
‘But Hilda!’ said Connie, a little frightened. ‘I want to stay near here tonight. Not here: near here!’
Hilda fixed her sister with grey, inscrutable eyes. She seemed so calm: and she was so often furious.
‘Where, near here?’ she asked softly.
‘Well, you know I love somebody, don’t you?’
‘I gathered there was something.’
‘Well he lives near here, and I want to spend this last night with him, must! I’ve promised.’
Connie became insistent.
Hilda bent her Minerva-like head in silence. Then she looked up.
‘Do you want to tell me who he is?’ she said.
‘He’s our game-keeper,’ faltered Connie, and she flushed vividly, like a shamed child.
‘Connie!’ said Hilda, lifting her nose slightly with disgust: a [thing] she had from her mother.
‘I know: but he’s lovely really. He really understands tenderness,’ said Connie, trying to apologize for him.
Hilda, like a ruddy, rich-coloured Athena, bowed her head and pondered. She was really violently angry. But she dared not show it, because Connie, taking after her father, would straight away become obstreperous and unmanageable.
It was true, Hilda did not like Clifford: his cool assurance that he was somebody! She thought he made use of Connie shamefully and impudently. She had hoped her sister WOULD leave him. But, being solid Scotch middle class, she loathed any ‘lowering’ of oneself or the family. She looked up at last.
‘You’ll regret it,’ she said,
‘I shan’t,’ cried Connie, flushed red. ‘He’s quite the exception. I REALLY love him. He’s lovely as a lover.’
Hilda still pondered.
‘You’ll get over him quite soon,’ she said, ‘and live to be ashamed of yourself because of him.’
‘I shan’t! I hope I’m going to have a child of his.’
‘CONNIE!’ said Hilda, hard as a hammer-stroke, and pale with anger.
‘I shall if I possibly can. I should be fearfully proud if I had a child by him.’
It was no use talking to her. Hilda pondered.
‘And doesn’t Clifford suspect?’ she said.
‘Oh no! Why should he?’
‘I’ve no doubt you’ve given him plenty of occasion for suspicion,’ said Hilda.
‘Not at all.’
‘And tonight’s business seems quite gratuitous folly. Where does the man live?’
‘In the cottage at the other end of the wood.’
‘Is he a bachelor?’
‘No! His wife left him.’
‘I don’t know. Older than me.’
Hilda became more angry at every reply, angry as her mother used to be, in a kind of paroxysm. But still she hid it.
‘I would give up tonight’s escapade if I were you,’ she advised calmly.
‘I can’t! I MUST stay with him tonight, or I can’t go to Venice at all. I just can’t.’
Hilda heard her father over again, and she gave way, out of mere diplomacy. And she consented to drive to Mansfield, both of them, to dinner, to bring Connie back to the lane-end after dark, and to fetch her from the lane-end the next morning, herself sleeping in Mansfield, only half an hour away, good going.
But she was furious. She stored it up against her sister, this balk in her plans.
Connie flung an emerald-green shawl over her window-sill.
On the strength of her anger, Hilda warmed toward Clifford.
After all, he had a mind. And if he had no sex, functionally, all the better: so much the less to quarrel about! Hilda wanted no more of that sex business, where men became nasty, selfish little horrors. Connie really had less to put up with than many women if she did but know it.
And Clifford decided that Hilda, after all, was a decidedly intelligent woman, and would make a man a first-rate helpmate, if he were going in for politics for example. Yes, she had none of Connie’s silliness, Connie was more a child: you had to make excuses for her, because she was not altogether dependable.
There was an early cup of tea in the hall, where doors were open to let in the sun. Everybody seemed to be panting a little.
‘Good-bye, Connie girl! Come back to me safely.’
‘Good-bye, Clifford! Yes, I shan’t be long.’ Connie was almost tender.
‘Good-bye, Hilda! You will keep an eye on her, won’t you?’
‘I’ll even keep two!’ said Hilda. ‘She shan’t go very far astray.’
‘It’s a promise!’
‘Good-bye, Mrs Bolton! I know you’ll look after Sir Clifford nobly.’
‘I’ll do what I can, your Ladyship.’
‘And write to me if there is any news, and tell me about Sir Clifford, how he is.’
‘Very good, your Ladyship, I will. And have a good time, and come back and cheer us up.’
Everybody waved. The car went off, Connie looked back and saw Clifford, sitting at the top of the steps in his house-chair. After all, he was her husband: Wragby was her home: circumstance had done it.
Mrs Chambers held the gate and wished her ladyship a happy holiday. The car slipped out of the dark spinney that masked the park, on to the highroad where the colliers were trailing home. Hilda turned to the Crosshill Road, that was not a main road, but ran to Mansfield. Connie put on goggles. They ran beside the railway, which was in a cutting below them. Then they crossed the cutting on a bridge.
‘That’s the lane to the cottage!’ said Connie.
Hilda glanced at it impatiently.
‘It’s a frightful pity we can’t go straight off!’ she said. ‘We could have been in Pall Mall by nine o’clock.’
‘I’m sorry for your sake,’ said Connie, from behind her goggles.
They were soon at Mansfield, that once-romantic, now utterly disheartening colliery town. Hilda stopped at the hotel named in the motor-car book, and took a room. The whole thing was utterly uninteresting, and she was almost too angry to talk. However, Connie HAD to tell her something of the man’s history.
‘HE! HE! What name do you call him by? You only say HE,’ said Hilda.
‘I’ve never called him by any name: nor he me: which is curious, when you come to think of it. Unless we say Lady Jane and John Thomas. But his name is Oliver Mellors.’
‘And how would you like to be Mrs Oliver Mellors, instead of Lady Chatterley?’
‘I’d love it.’
There was nothing to be done with Connie. And anyhow, if the man had been a lieutenant in the army in India for four or five years, he must be more or less presentable. Apparently he had character. Hilda began to relent a little.
‘But you’ll be through with him in awhile,’ she said, ‘and then you’ll be ashamed of having been connected with him. One CAN’T mix up with the working people.’
‘But you are such a socialist! you’re always on the side of the working classes.’
‘I may be on their side in a political crisis, but being on their side makes me know how impossible it is to mix one’s life with theirs. Not out of snobbery, but just because the whole rhythm is different.’
Hilda had lived among the real political intellectuals, so she was disastrously unanswerable.
The nondescript evening in the hotel dragged out, and at last they had a nondescript dinner. Then Connie slipped a few things into a little silk bag, and combed her hair once more.
‘After all, Hilda,’ she said, ‘love can be wonderful: when you feel you LIVE, and are in the very middle of creation.’ It was almost like bragging on her part.
‘I suppose every mosquito feels the same,’ said Hilda.
‘Do you think it does? How nice for it!’
The evening was wonderfully clear and long-lingering, even in the small town. It would be half-light all night. With a face like a mask, from resentment, Hilda started her car again, and the two sped back on their traces, taking the other road, through Bolsover.
Connie wore her goggles and disguising cap, and she sat in silence. Because of Hilda’s Opposition, she was fiercely on the side of the man, she would stand by him through thick and thin.
They had their head-lights on, by the time they passed Crosshill, and the small lit-up train that chuffed past in the cutting made it seem like real night. Hilda had calculated the turn into the lane at the bridge-end. She slowed up rather suddenly and swerved off the road, the lights glaring white into the grassy, overgrown lane. Connie looked out. She saw a shadowy figure, and she opened the door.
‘Here we are!’ she said softly.
But Hilda had switched off the lights, and was absorbed backing, making the turn.
‘Nothing on the bridge?’ she asked shortly. ‘You’re all right,’ said the man’s voice. She backed on to the bridge, reversed, let the car run forwards a few yards along the road, then backed into the lane, under a wych-elm tree, crushing the grass and bracken. Then all the lights went out. Connie stepped down. The man stood under the trees.
‘Did you wait long?’ Connie asked.
‘Not so very,’ he replied.
They both waited for Hilda to get out. But Hilda shut the door of the car and sat tight.
‘This is my sister Hilda. Won’t you come and speak to her? Hilda! This is Mr Mellors.’
The keeper lifted his hat, but went no nearer.
‘Do walk down to the cottage with us, Hilda,’ Connie pleaded. ‘It’s not far.’
‘What about the car?’
‘People do leave them on the lanes. You have the key.’
Hilda was silent, deliberating. Then she looked backwards down the lane.
‘Can I back round the bush?’ she said.
‘Oh yes!’ said the keeper.
She backed slowly round the curve, out of sight of the road, locked the car, and got down. It was night, but luminous dark. The hedges rose high and wild, by the unused lane, and very dark seeming. There was a fresh sweet scent on the air. The keeper went ahead, then came Connie, then Hilda, and in silence. He lit up the difficult places with a flash-light torch, and they went on again, while an owl softly hooted over the oaks, and Flossie padded silently around. Nobody could speak. There was nothing to say.
At length Connie saw the yellow light of the house, and her heart beat fast. She was a little frightened. They trailed on, still in Indian file.
He unlocked the door and preceded them into the warm but bare little room. The fire burned low and red in the grate. The table was set with two plates and two glasses on a proper white table-cloth for once. Hilda shook her hair and looked round the bare, cheerless room. Then she summoned her courage and looked at the man.
He was moderately tall, and thin, and she thought him good-looking. He kept a quiet distance of his own, and seemed absolutely unwilling to speak.
‘Do sit down, Hilda,’ said Connie.
‘Do!’ he said. ‘Can I make you tea or anything, or will you drink a glass of beer? It’s moderately cool.’
‘Beer!’ said Connie.
‘Beer for me, please!’ said Hilda, with a mock sort of shyness. He looked at her and blinked.
He took a blue jug and tramped to the scullery. When he came back with the beer, his face had changed again.
Connie sat down by the door, and Hilda sat in his seat, with the back to the wall, against the window corner.
‘That is his chair,’ said Connie softly.’ And Hilda rose as if it had burnt her.
‘Sit yer still, sit yer still! Ta’e ony cheer as yo’n a mind to, none of us is th’ big bear,’ he said, with complete equanimity.
And he brought Hilda a glass, and poured her beer first from the blue jug.
‘As for cigarettes,’ he said, ‘I’ve got none, but ‘appen you’ve got your own. I dunna smoke, mysen. Shall y’ eat summat?’ He turned direct to Connie. ‘Shall t’eat a smite o’ summat, if I bring it thee? Tha can usually do wi’ a bite.’ He spoke the vernacular with a curious calm assurance, as if he were the landlord of the Inn.
‘What is there?’ asked Connie, flushing.
‘Boiled ham, cheese, pickled wa’nuts, if yer like.–Nowt much.’
‘Yes,’ said Connie. ‘Won’t you, Hilda?’
Hilda looked up at him.
‘Why do you speak Yorkshire?’ she said softly.
‘That! That’s non Yorkshire, that’s Derby.’
He looked back at her with that faint, distant grin.
‘Derby, then! Why do you speak Derby? You spoke natural English at first.’
‘Did Ah though? An’ canna Ah change if Ah’m a mind to ‘t? Nay, nay, let me talk Derby if it suits me. If yo’n nowt against it.’
‘It sounds a little affected,’ said Hilda.
‘Ay, ‘appen so! An’ up i’ Tevershall yo’d sound affected.’ He looked again at her, with a queer calculating distance, along his cheek-bone: as if to say: Yi, an’ who are you?
He tramped away to the pantry for the food.
The sisters sat in silence. He brought another plate, and knife and fork. The he said:
‘An’ if it’s the same to you, I s’ll ta’e my coat off like I allers do.’
And he took off his coat, and hung it on the peg, then sat down to table in his shirt-sleeves: a shirt of thin, cream-coloured flannel.
Elp yerselves!’ he said. Elp yerselves! Dunna wait f’r axin’!’ He cut the bread, then sat motionless. Hilda felt, as Connie once used to, his power of silence and distance. She saw his smallish, sensitive, loose hand on the table. He was no simple working man, not he: he was acting! acting!
‘Still!’ she said, as she took a little cheese. ‘It would be more natural if you spoke to us in normal English, not in vernacular.’
He looked at her, feeling her devil of a will.
‘Would it?’ he said in the normal English. ‘Would it? Would anything that was said between you and me be quite natural, unless you said you wished me to hell before your sister ever saw me again: and unless I said something almost as unpleasant back again? Would anything else be natural?’
‘Oh yes!’ said Hilda. ‘Just good manners would be quite natural.’
‘Second nature, so to speak!’ he said: then he began to laugh. ‘Nay,’ he said. ‘I’m weary o’ manners. Let me be!’
Hilda was frankly baffled and furiously annoyed. After all, he might show that he realized he was being honoured. Instead of which, with his play-acting and lordly airs, he seemed to think it was he who was conferring the honour. Just impudence! Poor misguided Connie, in the man’s clutches!
The three ate in silence. Hilda looked to see what his table-manners were like. She could not help realizing that he was instinctively much more delicate and well-bred than herself. She had a certain Scottish clumsiness. And moreover, he had all the quiet self-contained assurance of the English, no loose edges. It would be very difficult to get the better of him.
But neither would he get the better of her.
‘And do you really think,’ she said, a little more humanly, ‘it’s worth the risk.’
‘Is what worth what risk?’
‘This escapade with my sister.’
He flickered his irritating grin.
‘Yo’ maun ax ‘er!’ Then he looked at Connie.
‘Tha comes o’ thine own accord, lass, doesn’t ter? It’s non me as forces thee?’
Connie looked at Hilda.
‘I wish you wouldn’t cavil, Hilda.’
‘Naturally I don’t want to. But someone has to think about things. You’ve got to have some sort of continuity in your life. You can’t just go making a mess.’
There was a moment’s pause.
‘Eh, continuity!’ he said. ‘An’ what by that? What continuity ‘ave yer got i’ YOUR life? I thought you was gettin’ divorced. What continuity’s that? Continuity o’ yer own stubbornness. I can see that much. An’ what good’s it goin’ to do yer? You’ll be sick o’ yer continuity afore yer a fat sight older. A stubborn woman an’ ‘er own self-will: ay, they make a fast continuity, they do. Thank heaven, it isn’t me as ‘as got th’ ‘andlin’ of yer!’
‘What right have you to speak like that to me?’ said Hilda.
‘Right! What right ha’ yo’ ter start harnessin’ other folks i’ your continuity? Leave folks to their own continuities.’
‘My dear man, do you think I am concerned with you?’ said Hilda softly.
‘Ay,’ he said. ‘Yo’ are. For it’s a force-put. Yo’ more or less my sister-in-law.’
‘Still far from it, I assure you.’
‘Not a’ that far, I assure YOU. I’ve got my own sort o’ continuity, back your life! Good as yours, any day. An’ if your sister there comes ter me for a bit o’ cunt an’ tenderness, she knows what she’s after. She’s been in my bed afore: which you ‘aven’t, thank the Lord, with your continuity.’ There was a dead pause, before he added: ‘–Eh, I don’t wear me breeches arse-forrards. An’ if I get a windfall, I thank my stars. A man gets a lot of enjoyment out o’ that lass theer, which is more than anybody gets out o’ th’ likes o’ you. Which is a pity, for you might appen a’ bin a good apple, ‘stead of a handsome crab. Women like you needs proper graftin’.’
He was looking at her with an odd, flickering smile, faintly sensual and appreciative.
‘And men like you,’ she said, ‘ought to be segregated: justifying their own vulgarity and selfish lust.’
‘Ay, ma’am! It’s a mercy there’s a few men left like me. But you deserve what you get: to be left severely alone.’
Hilda had risen and gone to the door. He rose and took his coat from the peg.
‘I can find my way quite well alone,’ she said.
‘I doubt you can’t,’ he replied easily.
They tramped in ridiculous file down the lane again, in silence. An owl still hooted. He knew he ought to shoot it.
The car stood untouched, a little dewy. Hilda got in and started the engine. The other two waited.
‘All I mean,’ she said from her entrenchment, ‘is that I doubt if you’ll find it’s been worth it, either of you!’
‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison,’ he said, out of the darkness. ‘But it’s meat an’ drink to me.’
The lights flared out.
‘Don’t make me wait in the morning,’
‘No, I won’t. Goodnight!’
The car rose slowly on to the highroad, then slid swiftly away, leaving the night silent.
Connie timidly took his arm, and they went down the lane. He did not speak. At length she drew him to a standstill.
‘Kiss me!’ she murmured.
‘Nay, wait a bit! Let me simmer down,’ he said.
That amused her. She still kept hold of his arm, and they went quickly down the lane, in silence. She was so glad to be with him, just now. She shivered, knowing that Hilda might have snatched her away. He was inscrutably silent.
When they were in the cottage again, she almost jumped with pleasure, that she should be free of her sister.
‘But you were horrid to Hilda,’ she said to him.
‘She should ha’ been slapped in time.’
‘But why? and she’s SO nice.’
He didn’t answer, went round doing the evening chores, with a quiet, inevitable sort of motion. He was outwardly angry, but not with her. So Connie felt. And his anger gave him a peculiar handsomeness, an inwardness and glisten that thrilled her and made her limbs go molten.
Still he took no notice of her.
Till he sat down and began to unlace his boots. Then he looked up at her from under his brows, on which the anger still sat firm.
‘Shan’t you go up?’ he said. ‘There’s a candle!’
He jerked his head swiftly to indicate the candle burning on the table. She took it obediently, and he watched the full curve of her hips as she went up the first stairs.
It was a night of sensual passion, in which she was a little startled and almost unwilling: yet pierced again with piercing thrills of sensuality, different, sharper, more terrible than the thrills of tenderness, but, at the moment, more desirable. Though a little frightened, she let him have his way, and the reckless, shameless sensuality shook her to her foundations, stripped her to the very last, and made a different woman of her. It was not really love. It was not voluptuousness. It was sensuality sharp and searing as fire, burning the soul to tinder.
Burning out the shames, the deepest, oldest shames, in the most secret places. It cost her an effort to let him have his way and his will of her. She had to be a passive, consenting thing, like a slave, a physical slave. Yet the passion licked round her, consuming, and when the sensual flame of it pressed through her bowels and breast, she really thought she was dying: yet a poignant, marvellous death.
She had often wondered what Abélard meant, when he said that in their year of love he and Héloïse had passed through all the stages and refinements of passion. The same thing, a thousand years ago: ten thousand years ago! The same on the Greek vases, everywhere! The refinements of passion, the extravagances of sensuality! And necessary, forever necessary, to burn out false shames and smelt out the heaviest ore of the body into purity. With the fire of sheer sensuality.
In the short summer night she learnt so much. She would have thought a woman would have died of shame. Instead of which, the shame died. Shame, which is fear: the deep organic shame, the old, old physical fear which crouches in the bodily roots of us, and can only be chased away by the sensual fire, at last it was roused up and routed by the phallic hunt of the man, and she came to the very heart of the jungle of herself. She felt, now, she had come to the real bed-rock of her nature, and was essentially shameless. She was her sensual self, naked and unashamed. She felt a triumph, almost a vainglory. So! That was how it was! That was life! That was how oneself really was! There was nothing left to disguise or be ashamed of. She shared her ultimate nakedness with a man, another being.
And what a reckless devil the man was! really like a devil! One had to be strong to bear him. But it took some getting at, the core of the physical jungle, the last and deepest recess of organic shame. The phallos alone could explore it. And how he had pressed in on her!
And how, in fear, she had hated it. But how she had really wanted it! She knew now. At the bottom of her soul, fundamentally, she had needed this phallic hunting Out, she had secretly wanted it, and she had believed that she would never get it. Now suddenly there it was, and a man was sharing her last and final nakedness, she was shameless.
What liars poets and everybody were! They made one think one wanted sentiment. When what one supremely wanted was this piercing, consuming, rather awful sensuality. To find a man who dared do it, without shame or sin or final misgiving! If he had been ashamed afterwards, and made one feel ashamed, how awful! What a pity most men are so doggy, a bit shameful, like Clifford! Like Michaelis even! Both sensually a bit doggy and humiliating. The supreme pleasure of the mind! And what is that to a woman? What is it, really, to the man either! He becomes merely messy and doggy, even in his mind. It needs sheer sensuality even to purify and quicken the mind. Sheer fiery sensuality, not messiness.
Ah, God, how rare a thing a man is! They are all dogs that trot and sniff and copulate. To have found a man who was not afraid and not ashamed! She looked at him now, sleeping so like a wild animal asleep, gone, gone in the remoteness of it. She nestled down, not to be away from him.
Till his rousing waked her completely. He was sitting up in bed, looking down at her. She saw her own nakedness in his eyes, immediate knowledge of her. And the fluid, male knowledge of herself seemed to flow to her from his eyes and wrap her voluptuously. Oh, how voluptuous and lovely it was to have limbs and body half-asleep, heavy and suffused with passion.
‘Is it time to wake up?’ she said.
‘Half past six.’
She had to be at the lane-end at eight. Always, always, always this compulsion on one!
‘I might make the breakfast and bring it up here; should I?’ he said.
Flossie whimpered gently below. He got up and threw off his pyjamas, and rubbed himself with a towel. When the human being is full of courage and full of life, how beautiful it is! So she thought, as she watched him in silence.
‘Draw the curtain, will you?’
The sun was shining already on the tender green leaves of morning, and the wood stood bluey-fresh, in the nearness. She sat up in bed, looking dreamily out through the dormer window, her naked arms pushing her naked breasts together. He was dressing himself. She was half-dreaming of life, a life together with him: just a life.
He was going, fleeing from her dangerous, crouching nakedness.
‘Have I lost my nightie altogether?’ she said.
He pushed his hand down in the bed, and pulled out the bit of flimsy silk.
‘I knowed I felt silk at my ankles,’ he said.
But the night-dress was slit almost in two.
‘Never mind!’ she said. ‘It belongs here, really. I’ll leave it.’
‘Ay, leave it, I can put it between my legs at night, for company. There’s no name nor mark on it, is there?’
She slipped on the torn thing, and sat dreamily looking out of the window. The window was open, the air of morning drifted in, and the sound of birds. Birds flew continuously past. Then she saw Flossie roaming out. It was morning.
Downstairs she heard him making the fire, pumping water, going out at the back door. By and by came the smell of bacon, and at length he came upstairs with a huge black tray that would only just go through the door. He set the tray on the bed, and poured out the tea. Connie squatted in her torn nightdress, and fell on her food hungrily. He sat on the one chair, with his plate on his knees.
‘How good it is!’ she said. ‘How nice to have breakfast together.’
He ate in silence, his mind on the time that was quickly passing. That made her remember.
‘Oh, how I wish I could stay here with you, and Wragby were a million miles away! It’s Wragby I’m going away from really. You know that, don’t you?’
‘And you promise we will live together and have a life together, you and me! You promise me, don’t you?’
‘Ay! When we can.’
‘Yes! And we WILL! we WILL, won’t we?’ she leaned over, making the tea spill, catching his wrist.
‘Ay!’ he said, tidying up the tea.
‘We can’t possibly NOT live together now, can we?’ she said appealingly.
He looked up at her with his flickering grin.
‘No!’ he said. ‘Only you’ve got to start in twenty-five minutes.’
‘Have I?’ she cried. Suddenly he held up a warning finger, and rose to his feet.
Flossie had given a short bark, then three loud sharp yaps of warning.
Silent, he put his plate on the tray and went downstairs. Constance heard him go down the garden path. A bicycle bell tinkled outside there.
‘Morning, Mr Mellors! Registered letter!’
‘Oh ay! Got a pencil?’
There was a pause.
‘Canada!’ said the stranger’s voice.
‘Ay! That’s a mate o’ mine out there in British Columbia. Dunno what he’s got to register.’
Appen sent y’a fortune, like.’
‘More like wants summat.’
‘Well! Lovely day again!’
After a time he came upstairs again, looking a little angry.
‘Postman,’ he said.
‘Very early!’ she replied.
‘Rural round; he’s mostly here by seven, when he does come.’
‘Did your mate send you a fortune?’
‘No! Only some photographs and papers about a place out there in British Columbia.’
‘Would you go there?’
‘I thought perhaps we might.’
‘Oh yes! I believe it’s lovely!’ But he was put out by the postman’s coming.
‘Them damn bikes, they’re on you afore you know where you are. I hope he twigged nothing.’
‘After all, what could he twig!’
‘You must get up now, and get ready. I’m just goin’ ter look round outside.’
She saw him go reconnoitring into the lane, with dog and gun. She went downstairs and washed, and was ready by the time he came back, with the few things in the little silk bag.
He locked up, and they set off, but through the wood, not down the lane. He was being wary.
‘Don’t you think one lives for times like last night?’ she said to him.
‘Ay! But there’s the rest o’ times to think on,’ he replied, rather short.
They plodded on down the overgrown path, he in front, in silence.
‘And we WILL live together and make a life together, won’t we?’ she pleaded.
‘Ay!’ he replied, striding on without looking round. ‘When t’ time comes! Just now you’re off to Venice or somewhere.’
She followed him dumbly, with sinking heart. Oh, now she was WAEto go!
At last he stopped.
‘I’ll just strike across here,’ he said, pointing to the right.
But she flung her arms round his neck, and clung to him.
‘But you’ll keep the tenderness for me, won’t you?’ she whispered. ‘I loved last night. But you’ll keep the tenderness for me, won’t you?’
He kissed her and held her close for a moment. Then he sighed, and kissed her again.
‘I must go an’ look if th’ car’s there.’
He strode over the low brambles and bracken, leaving a trail through the fern. For a minute or two he was gone. Then he came striding back.
‘Car’s not there yet,’ he said. ‘But there’s the baker’s cart on t’ road.’
He seemed anxious and troubled.
They heard a car softly hoot as it came nearer. It slowed up on the bridge.
She plunged with utter mournfulness in his track through the fern, and came to a huge holly hedge. He was just behind her.
‘Here! Go through there!’ he said, pointing to a gap. ‘I shan’t come out.
She looked at him in despair. But he kissed her and made her go. She crept in sheer misery through the holly and through the wooden fence, stumbled down the little ditch and up into the lane, where Hilda was just getting out of the car in vexation.
‘Why you’re there!’ said Hilda. ‘Where’s HE?’
‘He’s not coming.’
Connie’s face was running with tears as she got into the car with her little bag. Hilda snatched up the motoring helmet with the disfiguring goggles.
‘Put it on!’ she said. And Connie pulled on the disguise, then the long motoring coat, and she sat down, a goggling inhuman, unrecognizable creature. Hilda started the car with a businesslike motion. They heaved out of the lane, and were away down the road. Connie had looked round, but there was no sight of him. Away! Away! She sat in bitter tears. The parting had come so suddenly, so unexpectedly. It was like death.
‘Thank goodness you’ll be away from him for some time!’ said Hilda, turning to avoid Crosshill village.
* * *
Click here to read more of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence in the Crisis Chronicles Online Library.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States between 1923 and 1977 (inclusive) without a copyright notice.