On a frosty morning with a little February sun, Clifford and Connie went for a walk across the park to the wood. That is, Clifford chuffed in his motor-chair, and Connie walked beside him.
The hard air was still sulphurous, but they were both used to it. Round the near horizon went the haze, opalescent with frost and smoke, and on the top lay the small blue sky; so that it was like being inside an enclosure, always inside. Life always a dream or a frenzy, inside an enclosure.
The sheep coughed in the rough, sere grass of the park, where frost lay bluish in the sockets of the tufts. Across the park ran a path to the wood-gate, a fine ribbon of pink. Clifford had had it newly gravelled with sifted gravel from the pit-bank. When the rock and refuse of the underworld had burned and given off its sulphur, it turned bright pink, shrimp-coloured on dry days, darker, crab-coloured on wet. Now it was pale shrimp-colour, with a bluish-white hoar of frost. It always pleased Connie, this underfoot of sifted, bright pink. It’s an ill wind that brings nobody good.
Clifford steered cautiously down the slope of the knoll from the hall, and Connie kept her hand on the chair. In front lay the wood, the hazel thicket nearest, the purplish density of oaks beyond. From the wood’s edge rabbits bobbed and nibbled. Rooks suddenly rose in a black train, and went trailing off over the little sky.
Connie opened the wood-gate, and Clifford puffed slowly through into the broad riding that ran up an incline between the clean-whipped thickets of the hazel. The wood was a remnant of the great forest where Robin Hood hunted, and this riding was an old, old thoroughfare coming across country. But now, of course, it was only a riding through the private wood. The road from Mansfield swerved round to the north.
In the wood everything was motionless, the old leaves on the ground keeping the frost on their underside. A jay called harshly, many little birds fluttered. But there was no game; no pheasants. They had been killed off during the war, and the wood had been left unprotected, till now Clifford had got his game-keeper again.
Clifford loved the wood; he loved the old oak-trees. He felt they were his own through generations. He wanted to protect them. He wanted this place inviolate, shut off from the world.
The chair chuffed slowly up the incline, rocking and jolting on the frozen clods. And suddenly, on the left, came a clearing where there was nothing but a ravel of dead bracken, a thin and spindly sapling leaning here and there, big sawn stumps, showing their tops and their grasping roots, lifeless. And patches of blackness where the woodmen had burned the brushwood and rubbish.
This was one of the places that Sir Geoffrey had cut during the war for trench timber. The whole knoll, which rose softly on the right of the riding, was denuded and strangely forlorn. On the crown of the knoll where the oaks had stood, now was bareness; and from there you could look out over the trees to the colliery railway, and the new works at Stacks Gate. Connie had stood and looked, it was a breach in the pure seclusion of the wood. It let in the world. But she didn’t tell Clifford.
This denuded place always made Clifford curiously angry. He had been through the war, had seen what it meant. But he didn’t get really angry till he saw this bare hill. He was having it replanted. But it made him hate Sir Geoffrey.
Clifford sat with a fixed face as the chair slowly mounted. When they came to the top of the rise he stopped; he would not risk the long and very jolty down-slope. He sat looking at the greenish sweep of the riding downwards, a clear way through the bracken and oaks. It swerved at the bottom of the hill and disappeared; but it had such a lovely easy curve, of knights riding and ladies on palfreys.
‘I consider this is really the heart of England,’ said Clifford to Connie, as he sat there in the dim February sunshine.
‘Do you?’ she said, seating herself in her blue knitted dress, on a stump by the path.
‘I do! This is the old England, the heart of it; and I intend to keep it intact.’
‘Oh yes!’ said Connie. But, as she said it she heard the eleven-o’clock hooters at Stacks Gate colliery. Clifford was too used to the sound to notice.
‘I want this wood perfect… untouched. I want nobody to trespass in it,’ said Clifford.
There was a certain pathos. The wood still had some of the mystery of wild, old England; but Sir Geoffrey’s cuttings during the war had given it a blow. How still the trees were, with their crinkly, innumerable twigs against the sky, and their grey, obstinate trunks rising from the brown bracken! How safely the birds flitted among them! And once there had been deer, and archers, and monks padding along on asses. The place remembered, still remembered.
Clifford sat in the pale sun, with the light on his smooth, rather blond hair, his reddish full face inscrutable.
‘I mind more, not having a son, when I come here, than any other time,’ he said.
‘But the wood is older than your family,’ said Connie gently.
‘Quite!’ said Clifford. ‘But we’ve preserved it. Except for us it would go… it would be gone already, like the rest of the forest. One must preserve some of the old England!’
‘Must one?’ said Connie. ‘If it has to be preserved, and preserved against the new England? It’s sad, I know.’
‘If some of the old England isn’t preserved, there’ll be no England at all,’ said Clifford. ‘And we who have this kind of property, and the feeling for it, must preserve it.’
There was a sad pause. ‘Yes, for a little while,’ said Connie.
‘For a little while! It’s all we can do. We can only do our bit. I feel every man of my family has done his bit here, since we’ve had the place. One may go against convention, but one must keep up tradition.’ Again there was a pause.
‘What tradition?’ asked Connie.
‘The tradition of England! Of this!’
‘Yes,’ she said slowly.
‘That’s why having a son helps; one is only a link in a chain,’ he said.
Connie was not keen on chains, but she said nothing. She was thinking of the curious impersonality of his desire for a son.
‘I’m sorry we can’t have a son,’ she said.
He looked at her steadily, with his full, pale-blue eyes.
‘It would almost be a good thing if you had a child by another man, he said. ‘If we brought it up at Wragby, it would belong to us and to the place. I don’t believe very intensely in fatherhood. If we had the child to rear, it would be our own, and it would carry on. Don’t you think it’s worth considering?’
Connie looked up at him at last. The child, her child, was just an ‘it’ to him. It… it… it!
‘But what about the other man?’ she asked.
‘Does it matter very much? Do these things really affect us very deeply? …You had that lover in Germany… what is it now? Nothing almost. It seems to me that it isn’t these little acts and little connexions we make in our lives that matter so very much. They pass away, and where are they? Where…. Where are the snows of yesteryear? …It’s what endures through one’s life that matters; my own life matters to me, in its long continuance and development. But what do the occasional connexions matter? And the occasional sexual connexions especially! If people don’t exaggerate them ridiculously, they pass like the mating of birds. And so they should. What does it matter? It’s the life-long companionship that matters. It’s the living together from day to day, not the sleeping together once or twice. You and I are married, no matter what happens to us. We have the habit of each other. And habit, to my thinking, is more vital than any occasional excitement. The long, slow, enduring thing… that’s what we live by… not the occasional spasm of any sort. Little by little, living together, two people fall into a sort of unison, they vibrate so intricately to one another. That’s the real secret of marriage, not sex; at least not the simple function of sex. You and I are interwoven in a marriage. If we stick to that we ought to be able to arrange this sex thing, as we arrange going to the dentist; since fate has given us a checkmate physically there.’
Connie sat and listened in a sort of wonder, and a sort of fear. She did not know if he was right or not. There was Michaelis, whom she loved; so she said to herself. But her love was somehow only an excursion from her marriage with Clifford; the long, slow habit of intimacy, formed through years of suffering and patience. Perhaps the human soul needs excursions, and must not be denied them. But the point of an excursion is that you come home again.
‘And wouldn’t you mind what man’s child I had?’ she asked.
‘Why, Connie, I should trust your natural instinct of decency and selection. You just wouldn’t let the wrong sort of fellow touch you.’
She thought of Michaelis! He was absolutely Clifford’s idea of the wrong sort of fellow.
‘But men and women may have different feelings about the wrong sort of fellow,’ she said.
‘No,’ he replied. ‘You care for me. I don’t believe you would ever care for a man who was purely antipathetic to me. Your rhythm wouldn’t let you.’
She was silent. Logic might be unanswerable because it was so absolutely wrong.
‘And should you expect me to tell you?’ she asked, glancing up at him almost furtively.
‘Not at all, I’d better not know…. But you do agree with me, don’t you, that the casual sex thing is nothing, compared to the long life lived together? Don’t you think one can just subordinate the sex thing to the necessities of a long life? Just use it, since that’s what we’re driven to? After all, do these temporary excitements matter? Isn’t the whole problem of life the slow building up of an integral personality, through the years? Living an integrated life? There’s no point in a disintegrated life. If lack of sex is going to disintegrate you, then go out and have a love-affair. If lack of a child is going to disintegrate you, then have a child if you possibly can. But only do these things so that you have an integrated life, that makes a long harmonious thing. And you and I can do that together… don’t you think? …If we adapt ourselves to the necessities, and at the same time weave the adaptation together into a piece with our steadily-lived life. Don’t you agree?’
Connie was a little overwhelmed by his words. She knew he was right theoretically. But when she actually touched her steadily-lived life with him she… hesitated. Was it actually her destiny to go on weaving herself into his life all the rest of her life? Nothing else?
Was it just that? She was to be content to weave a steady life with him, all one fabric, but perhaps brocaded with the occasional flower of an adventure. But how could she know what she would feel next year? How could one ever know? How could one say Yes? For years and years? The little yes, gone on a breath! Why should one be pinned down by that butterfly word? Of course it had to flutter away and be gone, to be followed by other yes’s and no’s! Like the straying of butterflies.
‘I think you’re right, Clifford. And as far as I can see I agree with you. Only life may turn quite a new face on it all.’
‘But until life turns a new face on it all, you do agree?’
‘Oh yes! I think I do, really.’
She was watching a brown spaniel that had run out of a side-path, and was looking towards them with lifted nose, making a soft, fluffy bark. A man with a gun strode swiftly, softly out after the dog, facing their way as if about to attack them; then stopped instead, saluted, and was turning downhill. It was only the new game-keeper, but he had frightened Connie, he seemed to emerge with such a swift menace. That was how she had seen him, like the sudden rush of a threat out of nowhere.
He was a man in dark green velveteens and gaiters… the old style, with a red face and red moustache and distant eyes. He was going quickly downhill.
‘Mellors!’ called Clifford.
The man faced lightly round, and saluted with a quick little gesture, a soldier!
‘Will you turn the chair round and get it started? That makes it easier,’ said Clifford.
The man at once slung his gun over his shoulder, and came forward with the same curious swift, yet soft movements, as if keeping invisible. He was moderately tall and lean, and was silent. He did not look at Connie at all, only at the chair.
‘Connie, this is the new game-keeper, Mellors. You haven’t spoken to her ladyship yet, Mellors?’
‘No, Sir!’ came the ready, neutral words.
The man lifted his hat as he stood, showing his thick, almost fair hair. He stared straight into Connie’s eyes, with a perfect, fearless, impersonal look, as if he wanted to see what she was like. He made her feel shy. She bent her head to him shyly, and he changed his hat to his left hand and made her a slight bow, like a gentleman; but he said nothing at all. He remained for a moment still, with his hat in his hand.
‘But you’ve been here some time, haven’t you?’ Connie said to him.
‘Eight months, Madam… your Ladyship!’ he corrected himself calmly.
‘And do you like it?’
She looked him in the eyes. His eyes narrowed a little, with irony, perhaps with impudence.
‘Why, yes, thank you, your Ladyship! I was reared here….’
He gave another slight bow, turned, put his hat on, and strode to take hold of the chair. His voice on the last words had fallen into the heavy broad drag of the dialect… perhaps also in mockery, because there had been no trace of dialect before. He might almost be a gentleman. Anyhow, he was a curious, quick, separate fellow, alone, but sure of himself.
Clifford started the little engine, the man carefully turned the chair, and set it nose-forwards to the incline that curved gently to the dark hazel thicket.
‘Is that all then, Sir Clifford?’ asked the man.
‘No, you’d better come along in case she sticks. The engine isn’t really strong enough for the uphill work.’ The man glanced round for his dog… a thoughtful glance. The spaniel looked at him and faintly moved its tail. A little smile, mocking or teasing her, yet gentle, came into his eyes for a moment, then faded away, and his face was expressionless. They went fairly quickly down the slope, the man with his hand on the rail of the chair, steadying it. He looked like a free soldier rather than a servant. And something about him reminded Connie of Tommy Dukes.
When they came to the hazel grove, Connie suddenly ran forward, and opened the gate into the park. As she stood holding it, the two men looked at her in passing, Clifford critically, the other man with a curious, cool wonder; impersonally wanting to see what she looked like. And she saw in his blue, impersonal eyes a look of suffering and detachment, yet a certain warmth. But why was he so aloof, apart?
Clifford stopped the chair, once through the gate, and the man came quickly, courteously, to close it.
‘Why did you run to open?’ asked Clifford in his quiet, calm voice, that showed he was displeased. ‘Mellors would have done it.’
‘I thought you would go straight ahead,’ said Connie. ‘And leave you to run after us?’ said Clifford.
‘Oh, well, I like to run sometimes!’
Mellors took the chair again, looking perfectly unheeding, yet Connie felt he noted everything. As he pushed the chair up the steepish rise of the knoll in the park, he breathed rather quickly, through parted lips. He was rather frail really. Curiously full of vitality, but a little frail and quenched. Her woman’s instinct sensed it.
Connie fell back, let the chair go on. The day had greyed over; the small blue sky that had poised low on its circular rims of haze was closed in again, the lid was down, there was a raw coldness. It was going to snow. All grey, all grey! The world looked worn out.
The chair waited at the top of the pink path. Clifford looked round for Connie.
‘Not tired, are you?’ he said.
‘Oh, no!’ she said.
But she was. A strange, weary yearning, a dissatisfaction had started in her. Clifford did not notice: those were not things he was aware of. But the stranger knew. To Connie, everything in her world and life seemed worn out, and her dissatisfaction was older than the hills.
They came to the house, and around to the back, where there were no steps. Clifford managed to swing himself over on to the low, wheeled house-chair; he was very strong and agile with his arms. Then Connie lifted the burden of his dead legs after him.
The keeper, waiting at attention to be dismissed, watched everything narrowly, missing nothing. He went pale, with a sort of fear, when he saw Connie lifting the inert legs of the man in her arms, into the other chair, Clifford pivoting round as she did so. He was frightened.
‘Thanks, then, for the help, Mellors,’ said Clifford casually, as he began to wheel down the passage to the servants’ quarters.
‘Nothing else, Sir?’ came the neutral voice, like one in a dream.
‘Nothing, good morning!’
‘Good morning, Sir.’
‘Good morning! It was kind of you to push the chair up that hill…. I hope it wasn’t heavy for you,’ said Connie, looking back at the keeper outside the door.
His eyes came to hers in an instant, as if wakened up. He was aware of her.
‘Oh no, not heavy!’ he said quickly. Then his voice dropped again into the broad sound of the vernacular: ‘Good mornin’ to your Ladyship!’
‘Who is your game-keeper?’ Connie asked at lunch.
‘Mellors! You saw him,’ said Clifford.
‘Yes, but where did he come from?’
‘Nowhere! He was a Tevershall boy… son of a collier, I believe.’
‘And was he a collier himself?’
‘Blacksmith on the pit-bank, I believe: overhead smith. But he was keeper here for two years before the war… before he joined up. My father always had a good opinion of him, so when he came back, and went to the pit for a blacksmith’s job, I just took him back here as keeper. I was really very glad to get him… its almost impossible to find a good man round here for a gamekeeper… and it needs a man who knows the people.’
‘And isn’t he married?’
‘He was. But his wife went off with… with various men… but finally with a collier at Stacks Gate, and I believe she’s living there still.’
‘So this man is alone?’
‘More or less! He has a mother in the village… and a child, I believe.’
Clifford looked at Connie, with his pale, slightly prominent blue eyes, in which a certain vagueness was coming. He seemed alert in the foreground, but the background was like the Midlands atmosphere, haze, smoky mist. And the haze seemed to be creeping forward. So when he stared at Connie in his peculiar way, giving her his peculiar, precise information, she felt all the background of his mind filling up with mist, with nothingness. And it frightened her. It made him seem impersonal, almost to idiocy.
And dimly she realized one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is really only the mechanism of the re-assumed habit. Slowly, slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise, which only slowly deepens its terrible ache, till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then that the terrible after-effects have to be encountered at their worst.
So it was with Clifford. Once he was ‘well’, once he was back at Wragby, and writing his stories, and feeling sure of life, in spite of all, he seemed to forget, and to have recovered all his equanimity. But now, as the years went by, slowly, slowly, Connie felt the bruise of fear and horror coming up, and spreading in him. For a time it had been so deep as to be numb, as it were non-existent. Now slowly it began to assert itself in a spread of fear, almost paralysis. Mentally he still was alert. But the paralysis, the bruise of the too-great shock, was gradually spreading in his affective self.
And as it spread in him, Connie felt it spread in her. An inward dread, an emptiness, an indifference to everything gradually spread in her soul. When Clifford was roused, he could still talk brilliantly and, as it were, command the future: as when, in the wood, he talked about her having a child, and giving an heir to Wragby. But the day after, all the brilliant words seemed like dead leaves, crumpling up and turning to powder, meaning really nothing, blown away on any gust of wind. They were not the leafy words of an effective life, young with energy and belonging to the tree. They were the hosts of fallen leaves of a life that is ineffectual.
So it seemed to her everywhere. The colliers at Tevershall were talking again of a strike, and it seemed to Connie there again it was not a manifestation of energy, it was the bruise of the war that had been in abeyance, slowly rising to the surface and creating the great ache of unrest, and stupor of discontent. The bruise was deep, deep, deep… the bruise of the false inhuman war. It would take many years for the living blood of the generations to dissolve the vast black clot of bruised blood, deep inside their souls and bodies. And it would need a new hope.
Poor Connie! As the years drew on it was the fear of nothingness in her life that affected her. Clifford’s mental life and hers gradually began to feel like nothingness. Their marriage, their integrated life based on a habit of intimacy, that he talked about: there were days when it all became utterly blank and nothing. It was words, just so many words. The only reality was nothingness, and over it a hypocrisy of words.
There was Clifford’s success: the bitch-goddess! It was true he was almost famous, and his books brought him in a thousand pounds. His photograph appeared everywhere. There was a bust of him in one of the galleries, and a portrait of him in two galleries. He seemed the most modern of modern voices. With his uncanny lame instinct for publicity, he had become in four or five years one of the best known of the young ‘intellectuals’. Where the intellect came in, Connie did not quite see. Clifford was really clever at that slightly humorous analysis of people and motives which leaves everything in bits at the end. But it was rather like puppies tearing the sofa cushions to bits; except that it was not young and playful, but curiously old, and rather obstinately conceited. It was weird and it was nothing. This was the feeling that echoed and re-echoed at the bottom of Connie’s soul: it was all flag, a wonderful display of nothingness. At the same time a display. A display! A display! A display!
Michaelis had seized upon Clifford as the central figure for a play; already he had sketched in the plot, and written the first act. For Michaelis was even better than Clifford at making a display of nothingness. It was the last bit of passion left in these men: the passion for making a display. Sexually they were passionless, even dead. And now it was not money that Michaelis was after. Clifford had never been primarily out for money, though he made it where he could, for money is the seal and stamp of success. And success was what they wanted. They wanted, both of them, to make a real display… a man’s own very display of himself that should capture for a time the vast populace.
It was strange… the prostitution to the bitch-goddess. To Connie, since she was really outside of it, and since she had grown numb to the thrill of it, it was again nothingness. Even the prostitution to the bitch-goddess was nothingness, though the men prostituted themselves innumerable times. Nothingness even that.
Michaelis wrote to Clifford about the play. Of course she knew about it long ago. And Clifford was again thrilled. He was going to be displayed again this time, somebody was going to display him, and to advantage. He invited Michaelis down to Wragby with Act I.
Michaelis came: in summer, in a pale-coloured suit and white suede gloves, with mauve orchids for Connie, very lovely, and Act I was a great success. Even Connie was thrilled… thrilled to what bit of marrow she had left. And Michaelis, thrilled by his power to thrill, was really wonderful… and quite beautiful, in Connie’s eyes. She saw in him that ancient motionlessness of a race that can’t be disillusioned any more, an extreme, perhaps, of impurity that is pure. On the far side of his supreme prostitution to the bitch-goddess he seemed pure, pure as an African ivory mask that dreams impurity into purity, in its ivory curves and planes.
His moment of sheer thrill with the two Chatterleys, when he simply carried Connie and Clifford away, was one of the supreme moments of Michaelis’ life. He had succeeded: he had carried them away. Even Clifford was temporarily in love with him… if that is the way one can put it.
So next morning Mick was more uneasy than ever; restless, devoured, with his hands restless in his trousers pockets. Connie had not visited him in the night… and he had not known where to find her. Coquetry! …At his moment of triumph.
He went up to her sitting-room in the morning. She knew he would come. And his restlessness was evident. He asked her about his play… did she think it good? He had to hear it praised: that affected him with the last thin thrill of passion beyond any sexual orgasm. And she praised it rapturously. Yet all the while, at the bottom of her soul, she knew it was nothing.
‘Look here!’ he said suddenly at last. ‘Why don’t you and I make a clean thing of it? Why don’t we marry?’
‘But I am married,’ she said, amazed, and yet feeling nothing.
‘Oh that! …He’ll divorce you all right…. Why don’t you and I marry? I want to marry. I know it would be the best thing for me… marry and lead a regular life. I lead the deuce of a life, simply tearing myself to pieces. Look here, you and I, we’re made for one another… hand and glove. Why don’t we marry? Do you see any reason why we shouldn’t?’
Connie looked at him amazed: and yet she felt nothing. These men, they were all alike, they left everything out. They just went off from the top of their heads as if they were squibs, and expected you to be carried heavenwards along with their own thin sticks.
‘But I am married already,’ she said. ‘I can’t leave Clifford, you know.’
‘Why not? But why not?’ he cried. ‘He’ll hardly know you’ve gone, after six months. He doesn’t know that anybody exists, except himself. Why the man has no use for you at all, as far as I can see; he’s entirely wrapped up in himself.’
Connie felt there was truth in this. But she also felt that Mick was hardly making a display of selflessness.
‘Aren’t all men wrapped up in themselves?’ she asked.
‘Oh, more or less, I allow. A man’s got to be, to get through. But that’s not the point. The point is, what sort of a time can a man give a woman? Can he give her a damn good time, or can’t he? If he can’t he’s no right to the woman….’ He paused and gazed at her with his full, hazel eyes, almost hypnotic. ‘Now I consider,’ he added, ‘I can give a woman the darndest good time she can ask for. I think I can guarantee myself.’
‘And what sort of a good time?’ asked Connie, gazing on him still with a sort of amazement, that looked like thrill; and underneath feeling nothing at all.
‘Every sort of a good time, damn it, every sort! Dress, jewels up to a point, any nightclub you like, know anybody you want to know, live the pace… travel and be somebody wherever you go…. Darn it, every sort of good time.’
He spoke it almost in a brilliancy of triumph, and Connie looked at him as if dazzled, and really feeling nothing at all. Hardly even the surface of her mind was tickled at the glowing prospects he offered her. Hardly even her most outside self responded, that at any other time would have been thrilled. She just got no feeling from it, she couldn’t ‘go off’. She just sat and stared and looked dazzled, and felt nothing, only somewhere she smelt the extraordinarily unpleasant smell of the bitch-goddess.
Mick sat on tenterhooks, leaning forward in his chair, glaring at her almost hysterically: and whether he was more anxious out of vanity for her to say Yes! Or whether he was more panic-stricken for fear she should say Yes! — Who can tell?
‘I should have to think about it,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t say now. It may seem to you Clifford doesn’t count, but he does. When you think how disabled he is….’
‘Oh damn it all! If a fellow’s going to trade on his disabilities, I might begin to say how lonely I am, and always have been, and all the rest of the my-eye-Betty-Martin sob-stuff! Damn it all, if a fellow’s got nothing but disabilities to recommend him….’
He turned aside, working his hands furiously in his trousers pockets. That evening he said to her:
‘You’re coming round to my room tonight, aren’t you? I don’t darn know where your room is.’
‘All right!’ she said.
He was a more excited lover that night, with his strange, small boy’s frail nakedness. Connie found it impossible to come to her crisis before he had really finished his. And he roused a certain craving passion in her, with his little boy’s nakedness and softness; she had to go on after he had finished, in the wild tumult and heaving of her loins, while he heroically kept himself up, and present in her, with all his will and self-offering, till she brought about her own crisis, with weird little cries.
When at last he drew away from her, he said, in a bitter, almost sneering little voice:
‘You couldn’t go off at the same time as a man, could you? You’d have to bring yourself off! You’d have to run the show!’
This little speech, at the moment, was one of the shocks of her life. Because that passive sort of giving himself was so obviously his only real mode of intercourse.
‘What do you mean?’ she said.
‘You know what I mean. You keep on for hours after I’ve gone off… and I have to hang on with my teeth till you bring yourself off by your own exertions.’
She was stunned by this unexpected piece of brutality, at the moment when she was glowing with a sort of pleasure beyond words, and a sort of love for him. Because, after all, like so many modern men, he was finished almost before he had begun. And that forced the woman to be active.
‘But you want me to go on, to get my own satisfaction?’ she said.
He laughed grimly: ‘I want it!’ he said. ‘That’s good! I want to hang on with my teeth clenched, while you go for me!’
‘But don’t you?’ she insisted.
He avoided the question. ‘All the darned women are like that,’ he said. ‘Either they don’t go off at all, as if they were dead in there… or else they wait till a chap’s really done, and then they start in to bring themselves off, and a chap’s got to hang on. I never had a woman yet who went off just at the same moment as I did.’
Connie only half heard this piece of novel, masculine information. She was only stunned by his feeling against her… his incomprehensible brutality. She felt so innocent.
‘But you want me to have my satisfaction too, don’t you?’ she repeated.
‘Oh, all right! I’m quite willing. But I’m darned if hanging on waiting for a woman to go off is much of a game for a man….’
This speech was one of the crucial blows of Connie’s life. It killed something in her. She had not been so very keen on Michaelis; till he started it, she did not want him. It was as if she never positively wanted him. But once he had started her, it seemed only natural for her to come to her own crisis with him. Almost she had loved him for it… almost that night she loved him, and wanted to marry him.
Perhaps instinctively he knew it, and that was why he had to bring down the whole show with a smash; the house of cards. Her whole sexual feeling for him, or for any man, collapsed that night. Her life fell apart from his as completely as if he had never existed.
And she went through the days drearily. There was nothing now but this empty treadmill of what Clifford called the integrated life, the long living together of two people, who are in the habit of being in the same house with one another.
Nothingness! To accept the great nothingness of life seemed to be the one end of living. All the many busy and important little things that make up the grand sum-total of nothingness!
‘Why don’t men and women really like one another nowadays?’ Connie asked Tommy Dukes, who was more or less her oracle.
‘Oh, but they do! I don’t think since the human species was invented, there has ever been a time when men and women have liked one another as much as they do today. Genuine liking! Take myself. I really like women better than men; they are braver, one can be more frank with them.’
Connie pondered this.
‘Ah, yes, but you never have anything to do with them!’ she said.
‘I? What am I doing but talking perfectly sincerely to a woman at this moment?’
‘And what more could I do if you were a man, than talk perfectly sincerely to you?’
‘Nothing perhaps. But a woman….’
‘A woman wants you to like her and talk to her, and at the same time love her and desire her; and it seems to me the two things are mutually exclusive.’
‘But they shouldn’t be!’
‘No doubt water ought not to be so wet as it is; it overdoes it in wetness. But there it is! I like women and talk to them, and therefore I don’t love them and desire them. The two things don’t happen at the same time in me.’
‘I think they ought to.’
‘All right. The fact that things ought to be something else than what they are, is not my department.
Connie considered this. ‘It isn’t true,’ she said. ‘Men can love women and talk to them. I don’t see how they can love them without talking, and being friendly and intimate. How can they?’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I don’t know. What’s the use of my generalizing? I only know my own case. I like women, but I don’t desire them. I like talking to them; but talking to them, though it makes me intimate in one direction, sets me poles apart from them as far as kissing is concerned. So there you are! But don’t take me as a general example, probably I’m just a special case: one of the men who like women, but don’t love women, and even hate them if they force me into a pretence of love, or an entangled appearance.
‘But doesn’t it make you sad?’
‘Why should it? Not a bit! I look at Charlie May, and the rest of the men who have affairs…. No, I don’t envy them a bit! If fate sent me a woman I wanted, well and good. Since I don’t know any woman I want, and never see one… why, I presume I’m cold, and really like some women very much.’
‘Do you like me?’
‘Very much! And you see there’s no question of kissing between us, is there?’
‘None at all!’ said Connie. ‘But oughtn’t there to be?’
‘Why, in God’s name? I like Clifford, but what would you say if I went and kissed him?’
‘But isn’t there a difference?’
‘Where does it lie, as far as we’re concerned? We’re all intelligent human beings, and the male and female business is in abeyance. Just in abeyance. How would you like me to start acting up like a continental male at this moment, and parading the sex thing?’
‘I should hate it.’
‘Well then! I tell you, if I’m really a male thing at all, I never run across the female of my species. And I don’t miss her, I just like women. Who’s going to force me into loving or pretending to love them, working up the sex game?’
‘No, I’m not. But isn’t something wrong?’
‘You may feel it, I don’t.’
‘Yes, I feel something is wrong between men and women. A woman has no glamour for a man any more.’
‘Has a man for a woman?’
She pondered the other side of the question.
‘Not much,’ she said truthfully.
‘Then let’s leave it all alone, and just be decent and simple, like proper human beings with one another. Be damned to the artificial sex-compulsion! I refuse it!’
Connie knew he was right, really. Yet it left her feeling so forlorn, so forlorn and stray. Like a chip on a dreary pond, she felt. What was the point, of her or anything?
It was her youth which rebelled. These men seemed so old and cold. Everything seemed old and cold. And Michaelis let one down so; he was no good. The men didn’t want one; they just didn’t really want a woman, even Michaelis didn’t.
And the bounders who pretended they did, and started working the sex game, they were worse than ever.
It was just dismal, and one had to put up with it. It was quite true, men had no real glamour for a woman: if you could fool yourself into thinking they had, even as she had fooled herself over Michaelis, that was the best you could do. Meanwhile you just lived on and there was nothing to it. She understood perfectly well why people had cocktail parties, and jazzed, and Charlestoned till they were ready to drop. You had to take it out some way or other, your youth, or it ate you up. But what a ghastly thing, this youth! You felt as old as Methuselah, and yet the thing fizzed somehow, and didn’t let you be comfortable. A mean sort of life! And no prospect! She almost wished she had gone off with Mick, and made her life one long cocktail party, and jazz evening. Anyhow that was better than just mooning yourself into the grave.
On one of her bad days she went out alone to walk in the wood, ponderously, heeding nothing, not even noticing where she was. The report of a gun not far off startled and angered her.
Then, as she went, she heard voices, and recoiled. People! She didn’t want people. But her quick ear caught another sound, and she roused; it was a child sobbing. At once she attended; someone was ill-treating a child. She strode swinging down the wet drive, her sullen resentment uppermost. She felt just prepared to make a scene.
Turning the corner, she saw two figures in the drive beyond her: the keeper, and a little girl in a purple coat and moleskin cap, crying.
‘Ah, shut it up, tha false little bitch!’ came the man’s angry voice, and the child sobbed louder.
Constance strode nearer, with blazing eyes. The man turned and looked at her, saluting coolly, but he was pale with anger.
‘What’s the matter? Why is she crying?’ demanded Constance, peremptory but a little breathless.
A faint smile like a sneer came on the man’s face. ‘Nay, yo’ mun ax ‘er,’ he replied callously, in broad vernacular.
Connie felt as if he had hit her in the face, and she changed colour. Then she gathered her defiance, and looked at him, her dark blue eyes blazing rather vaguely.
‘I asked you,’ she panted.
He gave a queer little bow, lifting his hat. ‘You did, your Ladyship,’ he said; then, with a return to the vernacular: ‘but I canna tell yer.’ And he became a soldier, inscrutable, only pale with annoyance.
Connie turned to the child, a ruddy, black-haired thing of nine or ten. ‘What is it, dear? Tell me why you’re crying!’ she said, with the conventionalized sweetness suitable. More violent sobs, self-conscious. Still more sweetness on Connie’s part.
‘There, there, don’t you cry! Tell me what they’ve done to you!’ …an intense tenderness of tone. At the same time she felt in the pocket of her knitted jacket, and luckily found a sixpence.
‘Don’t you cry then!’ she said, bending in front of the child. ‘See what I’ve got for you!’
Sobs, snuffles, a fist taken from a blubbered face, and a black shrewd eye cast for a second on the sixpence. Then more sobs, but subduing. ‘There, tell me what’s the matter, tell me!’ said Connie, putting the coin into the child’s chubby hand, which closed over it.
‘It’s the… it’s the… pussy!’
Shudders of subsiding sobs.
‘What pussy, dear?’
After a silence the shy fist, clenching on sixpence, pointed into the bramble brake.
Connie looked, and there, sure enough, was a big black cat, stretched out grimly, with a bit of blood on it.
‘Oh!’ she said in repulsion.
‘A poacher, your Ladyship,’ said the man satirically.
She glanced at him angrily. ‘No wonder the child cried,’ she said, ‘if you shot it when she was there. No wonder she cried!’
He looked into Connie’s eyes, laconic, contemptuous, not hiding his feelings. And again Connie flushed; she felt she had been making a scene, the man did not respect her.
‘What is your name?’ she said playfully to the child. ‘Won’t you tell me your name?’
Sniffs; then very affectedly in a piping voice: ‘Connie Mellors!’
‘Connie Mellors! Well, that’s a nice name! And did you come out with your Daddy, and he shot a pussy? But it was a bad pussy!’
The child looked at her, with bold, dark eyes of scrutiny, sizing her up, and her condolence.
‘I wanted to stop with my Gran,’ said the little girl.
‘Did you? But where is your Gran?’
The child lifted an arm, pointing down the drive. ‘At th’ cottidge.’
‘At the cottage! And would you like to go back to her?’
Sudden, shuddering quivers of reminiscent sobs. ‘Yes!’
‘Come then, shall I take you? Shall I take you to your Gran? Then your Daddy can do what he has to do.’ She turned to the man. ‘It is your little girl, isn’t it?’
He saluted, and made a slight movement of the head in affirmation.
‘I suppose I can take her to the cottage?’ asked Connie.
‘If your Ladyship wishes.’
Again he looked into her eyes, with that calm, searching detached glance. A man very much alone, and on his own.
‘Would you like to come with me to the cottage, to your Gran, dear?’
The child peeped up again. ‘Yes!’ she simpered.
Connie disliked her; the spoilt, false little female. Nevertheless she wiped her face and took her hand. The keeper saluted in silence.
‘Good morning!’ said Connie.
It was nearly a mile to the cottage, and Connie senior was well bored by Connie junior by the time the game-keeper’s picturesque little home was in sight. The child was already as full to the brim with tricks as a little monkey, and so self-assured.
At the cottage the door stood open, and there was a rattling heard inside. Connie lingered, the child slipped her hand, and ran indoors.
‘Why, are yer back a’ready!’
The grandmother had been blackleading the stove, it was Saturday morning. She came to the door in her sacking apron, a blacklead-brush in her hand, and a black smudge on her nose. She was a little, rather dry woman.
‘Why, whatever?’ she said, hastily wiping her arm across her face as she saw Connie standing outside.
‘Good morning!’ said Connie. ‘She was crying, so I just brought her home.’
The grandmother looked around swiftly at the child:
‘Why, wheer was yer Dad?’
The little girl clung to her grandmother’s skirts and simpered.
‘He was there,’ said Connie, ‘but he’d shot a poaching cat, and the child was upset.’
‘Oh, you’d no right t’ave bothered, Lady Chatterley, I’m sure! I’m sure it was very good of you, but you shouldn’t ‘ave bothered. Why, did ever you see!’ — and the old woman turned to the child: ‘Fancy Lady Chatterley takin’ all that trouble over yer! Why, she shouldn’t ‘ave bothered!’
‘It was no bother, just a walk,’ said Connie smiling.
‘Why, I’m sure ’twas very kind of you, I must say! So she was crying! I knew there’d be something afore they got far. She’s frightened of ‘im, that’s wheer it is. Seems ‘e’s almost a stranger to ‘er, fair a stranger, and I don’t think they’re two as ‘d hit it off very easy. He’s got funny ways.’
Connie didn’t know what to say.
‘Look, Gran!’ simpered the child.
The old woman looked down at the sixpence in the little girl’s hand.
‘An’ sixpence an’ all! Oh, your Ladyship, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t. Why, isn’t Lady Chatterley good to yer! My word, you’re a lucky girl this morning!’
She pronounced the name, as all the people did: Chat’ley. — Isn’t Lady Chat’ley good to you!’ — Connie couldn’t help looking at the old woman’s nose, and the latter again vaguely wiped her face with the back of her wrist, but missed the smudge.
Connie was moving away ‘Well, thank you ever so much, Lady Chat’ley, I’m sure. Say thank you to Lady Chat’ley!’ — this last to the child.
‘Thank you,’ piped the child.
‘There’s a dear!’ laughed Connie, and she moved away, saying ‘Good morning’, heartily relieved to get away from the contact.
Curious, she thought, that that thin, proud man should have that little, sharp woman for a mother!
And the old woman, as soon as Connie had gone, rushed to the bit of mirror in the scullery, and looked at her face. Seeing it, she stamped her foot with impatience. ‘Of course she had to catch me in my coarse apron, and a dirty face! Nice idea she’d get of me!’
Connie went slowly home to Wragby. ‘Home!’ …It was a warm word to use for that great, weary warren. But then it was a word that had had its day. It was somehow cancelled. All the great words, it seemed to Connie, were cancelled for her generation: love, joy, happiness, home, mother, father, husband, all these great, dynamic words were half dead now, and dying from day to day. Home was a place you lived in, love was a thing you didn’t fool yourself about, joy was a word you applied to a good Charleston, happiness was a term of hypocrisy used to bluff other people, a father was an individual who enjoyed his own existence, a husband was a man you lived with and kept going in spirits. As for sex, the last of the great words, it was just a cocktail term for an excitement that bucked you up for a while, then left you more raggy than ever. Frayed! It was as if the very material you were made of was cheap stuff, and was fraying out to nothing.
All that really remained was a stubborn stoicism: and in that there was a certain pleasure. In the very experience of the nothingness of life, phase after phase, étape after étape, there was a certain grisly satisfaction. So that’s that! Always this was the last utterance: home, love, marriage, Michaelis: So that’s that! And when one died, the last words to life would be: So that’s that!
Money? Perhaps one couldn’t say the same there. Money one always wanted. Money, Success, the bitch-goddess, as Tommy Dukes persisted in calling it, after Henry James, that was a permanent necessity. You couldn’t spend your last sou, and say finally: So that’s that! No, if you lived even another ten minutes, you wanted a few more sous for something or other. Just to keep the business mechanically going, you needed money. You had to have it. Money you have to have. You needn’t really have anything else. So that’s that!
Since, of course, it’s not your own fault you are alive. Once you are alive, money is a necessity, and the only absolute necessity. All the rest you can get along without, at a pinch. But not money. Emphatically, that’s that!
She thought of Michaelis, and the money she might have had with him; and even that she didn’t want. She preferred the lesser amount which she helped Clifford to make by his writing. That she actually helped to make. — ‘Clifford and I together, we make twelve hundred a year out of writing’; so she put it to herself. Make money! Make it! Out of nowhere. Wring it out of the thin air! The last feat to be humanly proud of! The rest all-my-eye-Betty-Martin.
So she plodded home to Clifford, to join forces with him again, to make another story out of nothingness: and a story meant money. Clifford seemed to care very much whether his stories were considered first-class literature or not. Strictly, she didn’t care. Nothing in it! said her father. Twelve hundred pounds last year! was the retort simple and final.
If you were young, you just set your teeth, and bit on and held on, till the money began to flow from the invisible; it was a question of power. It was a question of will; a subtle, subtle, powerful emanation of will out of yourself brought back to you the mysterious nothingness of money: a word on a bit of paper. It was a sort of magic, certainly it was triumph. The bitch-goddess! Well, if one had to prostitute oneself, let it be to a bitch-goddess! One could always despise her even while one prostituted oneself to her, which was good.
Clifford, of course, had still many childish taboos and fetishes. He wanted to be thought ‘really good’, which was all cock-a-hoopy nonsense. What was really good was what actually caught on. It was no good being really good and getting left with it. It seemed as if most of the ‘really good’ men just missed the bus. After all you only lived one life, and if you missed the bus, you were just left on the pavement, along with the rest of the failures.
Connie was contemplating a winter in London with Clifford, next winter. He and she had caught the bus all right, so they might as well ride on top for a bit, and show it.
The worst of it was, Clifford tended to become vague, absent, and to fall into fits of vacant depression. It was the wound to his psyche coming out. But it made Connie want to scream. Oh God, if the mechanism of the consciousness itself was going to go wrong, then what was one to do? Hang it all, one did one’s bit! Was one to be let down absolutely?
Sometimes she wept bitterly, but even as she wept she was saying to herself: Silly fool, wetting hankies! As if that would get you anywhere!
Since Michaelis, she had made up her mind she wanted nothing. That seemed the simplest solution of the otherwise insoluble. She wanted nothing more than what she’d got; only she wanted to get ahead with what she’d got: Clifford, the stories, Wragby, the Lady-Chatterley business, money and fame, such as it was… she wanted to go ahead with it all. Love, sex, all that sort of stuff, just water-ices! Lick it up and forget it. If you don’t hang on to it in your mind, it’s nothing. Sex especially… nothing! Make up your mind to it, and you’ve solved the problem. Sex and a cocktail: they both lasted about as long, had the same effect, and amounted to about the same thing.
But a child, a baby! That was still one of the sensations. She would venture very gingerly on that experiment. There was the man to consider, and it was curious, there wasn’t a man in the world whose children you wanted. Mick’s children! Repulsive thought! As lief have a child to a rabbit! Tommy Dukes? …He was very nice, but somehow you couldn’t associate him with a baby, another generation. He ended in himself. And out of all the rest of Clifford’s pretty wide acquaintance, there was not a man who did not rouse her contempt, when she thought of having a child by him. There were several who would have been quite possible as lover, even Mick. But to let them breed a child on you! Ugh! Humiliation and abomination.
So that was that!
Nevertheless, Connie had the child at the back of her mind. Wait! Wait! She would sift the generations of men through her sieve, and see if she couldn’t find one who would do. — ‘Go ye into the streets and by ways of Jerusalem, and see if you can find a man.’ It had been impossible to find a man in the Jerusalem of the prophet, though there were thousands of male humans. But a man! C’est une autre chose!
She had an idea that he would have to be a foreigner: not an Englishman, still less an Irishman. A real foreigner.
But wait! Wait! Next winter she would get Clifford to London; the following winter she would get him abroad to the South of France, Italy. Wait! She was in no hurry about the child. That was her own private affair, and the one point on which, in her own queer, female way, she was serious to the bottom of her soul. She was not going to risk any chance comer, not she! One might take a lover almost at any moment, but a man who should beget a child on one… wait! Wait! It’s a very different matter. — ‘Go ye into the streets and byways of Jerusalem….’ It was not a question of love; it was a question of a man. Why, one might even rather hate him, personally. Yet if he was the man, what would one’s personal hate matter? This business concerned another part of oneself.
It had rained as usual, and the paths were too sodden for Clifford’s chair, but Connie would go out. She went out alone every day now, mostly in the wood, where she was really alone. She saw nobody there.
This day, however, Clifford wanted to send a message to the keeper, and as the boy was laid up with influenza, somebody always seemed to have influenza at Wragby, Connie said she would call at the cottage.
The air was soft and dead, as if all the world were slowly dying. Grey and clammy and silent, even from the shuffling of the collieries, for the pits were working short time, and today they were stopped altogether. The end of all things!
In the wood all was utterly inert and motionless, only great drops fell from the bare boughs, with a hollow little crash. For the rest, among the old trees was depth within depth of grey, hopeless inertia, silence, nothingness.
Connie walked dimly on. From the old wood came an ancient melancholy, somehow soothing to her, better than the harsh insentience of the outer world. She liked the inwardness of the remnant of forest, the unspeaking reticence of the old trees. They seemed a very power of silence, and yet a vital presence. They, too, were waiting: obstinately, stoically waiting, and giving off a potency of silence. Perhaps they were only waiting for the end; to be cut down, cleared away, the end of the forest, for them the end of all things. But perhaps their strong and aristocratic silence, the silence of strong trees, meant something else.
As she came out of the wood on the north side, the keeper’s cottage, a rather dark, brown stone cottage, with gables and a handsome chimney, looked uninhabited, it was so silent and alone. But a thread of smoke rose from the chimney, and the little railed-in garden in the front of the house was dug and kept very tidy. The door was shut.
Now she was here she felt a little shy of the man, with his curious far-seeing eyes. She did not like bringing him orders, and felt like going away again. She knocked softly, no one came. She knocked again, but still not loudly. There was no answer. She peeped through the window, and saw the dark little room, with its almost sinister privacy, not wanting to be invaded.
She stood and listened, and it seemed to her she heard sounds from the back of the cottage. Having failed to make herself heard, her mettle was roused, she would not be defeated.
So she went round the side of the house. At the back of the cottage the land rose steeply, so the back yard was sunken, and enclosed by a low stone wall. She turned the corner of the house and stopped. In the little yard two paces beyond her, the man was washing himself, utterly unaware. He was naked to the hips, his velveteen breeches slipping down over his slender loins. And his white slim back was curved over a big bowl of soapy water, in which he ducked his head, shaking his head with a queer, quick little motion, lifting his slender white arms, and pressing the soapy water from his ears, quick, subtle as a weasel playing with water, and utterly alone. Connie backed away round the corner of the house, and hurried away to the wood. In spite of herself, she had had a shock. After all, merely a man washing himself, commonplace enough, Heaven knows!
Yet in some curious way it was a visionary experience: it had hit her in the middle of the body. She saw the clumsy breeches slipping down over the pure, delicate, white loins, the bones showing a little, and the sense of aloneness, of a creature purely alone, overwhelmed her. Perfect, white, solitary nudity of a creature that lives alone, and inwardly alone. And beyond that, a certain beauty of a pure creature. Not the stuff of beauty, not even the body of beauty, but a lambency, the warm, white flame of a single life, revealing itself in contours that one might touch: a body!
Connie had received the shock of vision in her womb, and she knew it; it lay inside her. But with her mind she was inclined to ridicule. A man washing himself in a back yard! No doubt with evil-smelling yellow soap! She was rather annoyed; why should she be made to stumble on these vulgar privacies?
So she walked away from herself, but after a while she sat down on a stump. She was too confused to think. But in the coil of her confusion, she was determined to deliver her message to the fellow. She would not be balked. She must give him time to dress himself, but not time to go out. He was probably preparing to go out somewhere.
So she sauntered slowly back, listening. As she came near, the cottage looked just the same. A dog barked, and she knocked at the door, her heart beating in spite of herself.
She heard the man coming lightly downstairs. He opened the door quickly, and startled her. He looked uneasy himself, but instantly a laugh came on his face.
‘Lady Chatterley!’ he said. ‘Will you come in?’
His manner was so perfectly easy and good, she stepped over the threshold into the rather dreary little room.
‘I only called with a message from Sir Clifford,’ she said in her soft, rather breathless voice.
The man was looking at her with those blue, all-seeing eyes of his, which made her turn her face aside a little. He thought her comely, almost beautiful, in her shyness, and he took command of the situation himself at once.
‘Would you care to sit down?’ he asked, presuming she would not. The door stood open.
‘No thanks! Sir Clifford wondered if you would…’ and she delivered her message, looking unconsciously into his eyes again. And now his eyes looked warm and kind, particularly to a woman, wonderfully warm, and kind, and at ease.
‘Very good, your Ladyship. I will see to it at once.’
Taking an order, his whole self had changed, glazed over with a sort of hardness and distance. Connie hesitated, she ought to go. But she looked round the clean, tidy, rather dreary little sitting-room with something like dismay.
‘Do you live here quite alone?’ she asked.
‘Quite alone, your Ladyship.’
‘But your mother…?’
‘She lives in her own cottage in the village.’
‘With the child?’ asked Connie.
‘With the child!’
And his plain, rather worn face took on an indefinable look of derision. It was a face that changed all the time, baking.
‘No,’ he said, seeing Connie stand at a loss, ‘my mother comes and cleans up for me on Saturdays; I do the rest myself.’
Again Connie looked at him. His eyes were smiling again, a little mockingly, but warm and blue, and somehow kind. She wondered at him. He was in trousers and flannel shirt and a grey tie, his hair soft and damp, his face rather pale and worn-looking. When the eyes ceased to laugh they looked as if they had suffered a great deal, still without losing their warmth. But a pallor of isolation came over him, she was not really there for him.
She wanted to say so many things, and she said nothing. Only she looked up at him again, and remarked:
‘I hope I didn’t disturb you?’
The faint smile of mockery narrowed his eyes.
‘Only combing my hair, if you don’t mind. I’m sorry I hadn’t a coat on, but then I had no idea who was knocking. Nobody knocks here, and the unexpected sounds ominous.’
He went in front of her down the garden path to hold the gate. In his shirt, without the clumsy velveteen coat, she saw again how slender he was, thin, stooping a little. Yet, as she passed him, there was something young and bright in his fair hair, and his quick eyes. He would be a man about thirty-seven or eight.
She plodded on into the wood, knowing he was looking after her; he upset her so much, in spite of herself.
And he, as he went indoors, was thinking: ‘She’s nice, she’s real! She’s nicer than she knows.’
She wondered very much about him; he seemed so unlike a game-keeper, so unlike a working-man anyhow; although he had something in common with the local people. But also something very uncommon.
‘The game-keeper, Mellors, is a curious kind of person,’ she said to Clifford; ‘he might almost be a gentleman.’
‘Might he?’ said Clifford. ‘I hadn’t noticed.’
‘But isn’t there something special about him?’ Connie insisted.
‘I think he’s quite a nice fellow, but I know very little about him. He only came out of the army last year, less than a year ago. From India, I rather think. He may have picked up certain tricks out there, perhaps he was an officer’s servant, and improved on his position. Some of the men were like that. But it does them no good, they have to fall back into their old places when they get home again.’
Connie gazed at Clifford contemplatively. She saw in him the peculiar tight rebuff against anyone of the lower classes who might be really climbing up, which she knew was characteristic of his breed.
‘But don’t you think there is something special about him?’ she asked.
‘Frankly, no! Nothing I had noticed.’
He looked at her curiously, uneasily, half-suspiciously. And she felt he wasn’t telling her the real truth; he wasn’t telling himself the real truth, that was it. He disliked any suggestion of a really exceptional human being. People must be more or less at his level, or below it.
Connie felt again the tightness, niggardliness of the men of her generation. They were so tight, so scared of life!
When Connie went up to her bedroom she did what she had not done for a long time: took off all her clothes, and looked at herself naked in the huge mirror. She did not know what she was looking for, or at, very definitely, yet she moved the lamp till it shone full on her.
And she thought, as she had thought so often, what a frail, easily hurt, rather pathetic thing a human body is, naked; somehow a little unfinished, incomplete!
She had been supposed to have rather a good figure, but now she was out of fashion: a little too female, not enough like an adolescent boy. She was not very tall, a bit Scottish and short; but she had a certain fluent, down-slipping grace that might have been beauty. Her skin was faintly tawny, her limbs had a certain stillness, her body should have had a full, down-slipping richness; but it lacked something.
Instead of ripening its firm, down-running curves, her body was flattening and going a little harsh. It was as if it had not had enough sun and warmth; it was a little greyish and sapless.
Disappointed of its real womanhood, it had not succeeded in becoming boyish, and unsubstantial, and transparent; instead it had gone opaque.
Her breasts were rather small, and dropping pear-shaped. But they were unripe, a little bitter, without meaning hanging there. And her belly had lost the fresh, round gleam it had had when she was young, in the days of her German boy, who really loved her physically. Then it was young and expectant, with a real look of its own. Now it was going slack, and a little flat, thinner, but with a slack thinness. Her thighs, too, they used to look so quick and glimpsy in their female roundness, somehow they too were going flat, slack, meaningless.
Her body was going meaningless, going dull and opaque, so much insignificant substance. It made her feel immensely depressed and hopeless. What hope was there? She was old, old at twenty-seven, with no gleam and sparkle in the flesh. Old through neglect and denial, yes, denial. Fashionable women kept their bodies bright like delicate porcelain, by external attention. There was nothing inside the porcelain; but she was not even as bright as that. The mental life! Suddenly she hated it with a rushing fury, the swindle!
She looked in the other mirror’s reflection at her back, her waist, her loins. She was getting thinner, but to her it was not becoming. The crumple of her waist at the back, as she bent back to look, was a little weary; and it used to be so gay-looking. And the longish slope of her haunches and her buttocks had lost its gleam and its sense of richness. Gone! Only the German boy had loved it, and he was ten years dead, very nearly. How time went by! Ten years dead, and she was only twenty-seven. The healthy boy with his fresh, clumsy sensuality that she had then been so scornful of! Where would she find it now? It was gone out of men. They had their pathetic, two-seconds spasms like Michaelis; but no healthy human sensuality, that warms the blood and freshens the whole being.
Still she thought the most beautiful part of her was the long-sloping fall of the haunches from the socket of the back, and the slumberous, round stillness of the buttocks. Like hillocks of sand, the Arabs say, soft and downward-slipping with a long slope. Here the life still lingered hoping. But here too she was thinner, and going unripe, astringent.
But the front of her body made her miserable. It was already beginning to slacken, with a slack sort of thinness, almost withered, going old before it had ever really lived. She thought of the child she might somehow bear. Was she fit, anyhow?
She slipped into her nightdress, and went to bed, where she sobbed bitterly. And in her bitterness burned a cold indignation against Clifford, and his writings and his talk: against all the men of his sort who defrauded a woman even of her own body.
Unjust! Unjust! The sense of deep physical injustice burned to her very soul.
But in the morning, all the same, she was up at seven, and going downstairs to Clifford. She had to help him in all the intimate things, for he had no man, and refused a woman-servant. The housekeeper’s husband, who had known him as a boy, helped him, and did any heavy lifting; but Connie did the personal things, and she did them willingly. It was a demand on her, but she had wanted to do what she could.
So she hardly ever went away from Wragby, and never for more than a day or two; when Mrs Betts, the housekeeper, attended to Clifford. He, as was inevitable in the course of time, took all the service for granted. It was natural he should.
And yet, deep inside herself, a sense of injustice, of being defrauded, had begun to burn in Connie. The physical sense of injustice is a dangerous feeling, once it is awakened. It must have outlet, or it eats away the one in whom it is aroused. Poor Clifford, he was not to blame. His was the greater misfortune. It was all part of the general catastrophe.
And yet was he not in a way to blame? This lack of warmth, this lack of the simple, warm, physical contact, was he not to blame for that? He was never really warm, nor even kind, only thoughtful, considerate, in a well-bred, cold sort of way! But never warm as a man can be warm to a woman, as even Connie’s father could be warm to her, with the warmth of a man who did himself well, and intended to, but who still could comfort a woman with a bit of his masculine glow.
But Clifford was not like that. His whole race was not like that. They were all inwardly hard and separate, and warmth to them was just bad taste. You had to get on without it, and hold your own; which was all very well if you were of the same class and race. Then you could keep yourself cold and be very estimable, and hold your own, and enjoy the satisfaction of holding it. But if you were of another class and another race it wouldn’t do; there was no fun merely holding your own, and feeling you belonged to the ruling class. What was the point, when even the smartest aristocrats had really nothing positive of their own to hold, and their rule was really a farce, not rule at all? What was the point? It was all cold nonsense.
A sense of rebellion smouldered in Connie. What was the good of it all? What was the good of her sacrifice, her devoting her life to Clifford? What was she serving, after all? A cold spirit of vanity, that had no warm human contacts, and that was as corrupt as any low-born Jew, in craving for prostitution to the bitch-goddess, Success. Even Clifford’s cool and contactless assurance that he belonged to the ruling class didn’t prevent his tongue lolling out of his mouth, as he panted after the bitch-goddess. After all, Michaelis was really more dignified in the matter, and far, far more successful. Really, if you looked closely at Clifford, he was a buffoon, and a buffoon is more humiliating than a bounder.
As between the two men, Michaelis really had far more use for her than Clifford had. He had even more need of her. Any good nurse can attend to crippled legs! And as for the heroic effort, Michaelis was a heroic rat, and Clifford was very much of a poodle showing off.
There were people staying in the house, among them Clifford’s Aunt Eva, Lady Bennerley. She was a thin woman of sixty, with a red nose, a widow, and still something of a grande dame. She belonged to one of the best families, and had the character to carry it off. Connie liked her, she was so perfectly simple and frank, as far as she intended to be frank, and superficially kind. Inside herself she was a past-mistress in holding her own, and holding other people a little lower. She was not at all a snob: far too sure of herself. She was perfect at the social sport of coolly holding her own, and making other people defer to her.
She was kind to Connie, and tried to worm into her woman’s soul with the sharp gimlet of her well-born observations.
‘You’re quite wonderful, in my opinion,’ she said to Connie. ‘You’ve done wonders for Clifford. I never saw any budding genius myself, and there he is, all the rage.’ Aunt Eva was quite complacently proud of Clifford’s success. Another feather in the family cap! She didn’t care a straw about his books, but why should she?
‘Oh, I don’t think it’s my doing,’ said Connie.
‘It must be! Can’t be anybody else’s. And it seems to me you don’t get enough out of it.’
‘Look at the way you are shut up here. I said to Clifford: If that child rebels one day you’ll have yourself to thank!’
‘But Clifford never denies me anything,’ said Connie.
‘Look here, my dear child’ — and Lady Bennerley laid her thin hand on Connie’s arm. ‘A woman has to live her life, or live to repent not having lived it. Believe me!’ And she took another sip of brandy, which maybe was her form of repentance.
‘But I do live my life, don’t I?’
‘Not in my idea! Clifford should bring you to London, and let you go about. His sort of friends are all right for him, but what are they for you? If I were you I should think it wasn’t good enough. You’ll let your youth slip by, and you’ll spend your old age, and your middle age too, repenting it.’
Her ladyship lapsed into contemplative silence, soothed by the brandy.
But Connie was not keen on going to London, and being steered into the smart world by Lady Bennerley. She didn’t feel really smart, it wasn’t interesting. And she did feel the peculiar, withering coldness under it all; like the soil of Labrador, which has gay little flowers on its surface, and a foot down is frozen.
Tommy Dukes was at Wragby, and another man, Harry Winterslow, and Jack Strangeways with his wife Olive. The talk was much more desultory than when only the cronies were there, and everybody was a bit bored, for the weather was bad, and there was only billiards, and the pianola to dance to.
Olive was reading a book about the future, when babies would be bred in bottles, and women would be ‘immunized’.
‘Jolly good thing too!’ she said. ‘Then a woman can live her own life.’ Strangeways wanted children, and she didn’t.
‘How’d you like to be immunized?’ Winterslow asked her, with an ugly smile.
‘I hope I am; naturally,’ she said. ‘Anyhow the future’s going to have more sense, and a woman needn’t be dragged down by her functions.’
‘Perhaps she’ll float off into space altogether,’ said Dukes.
‘I do think sufficient civilization ought to eliminate a lot of the physical disabilities,’ said Clifford. ‘All the love-business for example, it might just as well go. I suppose it would if we could breed babies in bottles.’
‘No!’ cried Olive. ‘That might leave all the more room for fun.’
‘I suppose,’ said Lady Bennerley, contemplatively, ‘if the love-business went, something else would take its place. Morphia, perhaps. A little morphine in all the air. It would be wonderfully refreshing for everybody.’
‘The government releasing ether into the air on Saturdays, for a cheerful weekend!’ said Jack. ‘Sounds all right, but where should we be by Wednesday?’
‘So long as you can forget your body you are happy,’ said Lady Bennerley. ‘And the moment you begin to be aware of your body, you are wretched. So, if civilization is any good, it has to help us to forget our bodies, and then time passes happily without our knowing it.’
‘Help us to get rid of our bodies altogether,’ said Winterslow. ‘It’s quite time man began to improve on his own nature, especially the physical side of it.’
‘Imagine if we floated like tobacco smoke,’ said Connie.
‘It won’t happen,’ said Dukes. ‘Our old show will come flop; our civilization is going to fall. It’s going down the bottomless pit, down the chasm. And believe me, the only bridge across the chasm will be the phallus!’
‘Oh do! Do be impossible, General!’ cried Olive.
‘I believe our civilization is going to collapse,’ said Aunt Eva.
‘And what will come after it?’ asked Clifford.
‘I haven’t the faintest idea, but something, I suppose,’ said the elderly lady.
‘Connie says people like wisps of smoke, and Olive says immunized women, and babies in bottles, and Dukes says the phallus is the bridge to what comes next. I wonder what it will really be?’ said Clifford.
‘Oh, don’t bother! Let’s get on with today,’ said Olive. ‘Only hurry up with the breeding bottle, and let us poor women off.’
‘There might even be real men, in the next phase,’ said Tommy. ‘Real, intelligent, wholesome men, and wholesome nice women! Wouldn’t that be a change, an enormous change from us? We’re not men, and the women aren’t women. We’re only cerebrating make-shifts, mechanical and intellectual experiments. There may even come a civilization of genuine men and women, instead of our little lot of clever-jacks, all at the intelligence-age of seven. It would be even more amazing than men of smoke or babies in bottles.’
‘Oh, when people begin to talk about real women, I give up,’ said Olive.
‘Certainly nothing but the spirit in us is worth having,’ said Winterslow.
‘Spirits!’ said Jack, drinking his whisky and soda.
‘Think so? Give me the resurrection of the body!’ said Dukes.
‘But it’ll come, in time, when we’ve shoved the cerebral stone away a bit, the money and the rest. Then we’ll get a democracy of touch, instead of a democracy of pocket.’
Something echoed inside Connie: ‘Give me the democracy of touch, the resurrection of the body!’ She didn’t at all know what it meant, but it comforted her, as meaningless things may do.
Anyhow everything was terribly silly, and she was exasperatedly bored by it all, by Clifford, by Aunt Eva, by Olive and Jack, and Winterslow, and even by Dukes. Talk, talk, talk! What hell it was, the continual rattle of it!
Then, when all the people went, it was no better. She continued plodding on, but exasperation and irritation had got hold of her lower body, she couldn’t escape. The days seemed to grind by, with curious painfulness, yet nothing happened. Only she was getting thinner; even the housekeeper noticed it, and asked her about herself. Even Tommy Dukes insisted she was not well, though she said she was all right. Only she began to be afraid of the ghastly white tombstones, that peculiar loathsome whiteness of Carrara marble, detestable as false teeth, which stuck up on the hillside, under Tevershall church, and which she saw with such grim painfulness from the park. The bristling of the hideous false teeth of tombstones on the hill affected her with a grisly kind of horror. She felt the time not far off when she would be buried there, added to the ghastly host under the tombstones and the monuments, in these filthy Midlands.
She needed help, and she knew it: so she wrote a little cri du coeur to her sister, Hilda. ‘I’m not well lately, and I don’t know what’s the matter with me.’
Down posted Hilda from Scotland, where she had taken up her abode. She came in March, alone, driving herself in a nimble two-seater. Up the drive she came, tooting up the incline, then sweeping round the oval of grass, where the two great wild beech-trees stood, on the flat in front of the house.
Connie had run out to the steps. Hilda pulled up her car, got out, and kissed her sister.
‘But Connie!’ she cried. ‘Whatever is the matter?’
‘Nothing!’ said Connie, rather shamefacedly; but she knew how she had suffered in contrast to Hilda. Both sisters had the same rather golden, glowing skin, and soft brown hair, and naturally strong, warm physique. But now Connie was thin and earthy-looking, with a scraggy, yellowish neck, that stuck out of her jumper.
‘But you’re ill, child!’ said Hilda, in the soft, rather breathless voice that both sisters had alike. Hilda was nearly, but not quite, two years older than Connie.
‘No, not ill. Perhaps I’m bored,’ said Connie a little pathetically.
The light of battle glowed in Hilda’s face; she was a woman, soft and still as she seemed, of the old amazon sort, not made to fit with men.
‘This wretched place!’ she said softly, looking at poor, old, lumbering Wragby with real hate. She looked soft and warm herself, as a ripe pear, and she was an amazon of the real old breed.
She went quietly in to Clifford. He thought how handsome she looked, but also he shrank from her. His wife’s family did not have his sort of manners, or his sort of etiquette. He considered them rather outsiders, but once they got inside they made him jump through the hoop.
He sat square and well-groomed in his chair, his hair sleek and blond, and his face fresh, his blue eyes pale, and a little prominent, his expression inscrutable, but well-bred. Hilda thought it sulky and stupid, and he waited. He had an air of aplomb, but Hilda didn’t care what he had an air of; she was up in arms, and if he’d been Pope or Emperor it would have been just the same.
‘Connie’s looking awfully unwell,’ she said in her soft voice, fixing him with her beautiful, glowering grey eyes. She looked so maidenly, so did Connie; but he well knew the tone of Scottish obstinacy underneath.
‘She’s a little thinner,’ he said.
‘Haven’t you done anything about it?’
‘Do you think it necessary?’ he asked, with his suavest English stiffness, for the two things often go together.
Hilda only glowered at him without replying; repartee was not her forte, nor Connie’s; so she glowered, and he was much more uncomfortable than if she had said things.
‘I’ll take her to a doctor,’ said Hilda at length. ‘Can you suggest a good one round here?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t.’
‘Then I’ll take her to London, where we have a doctor we trust.’
Though boiling with rage, Clifford said nothing.
‘I suppose I may as well stay the night,’ said Hilda, pulling off her gloves, ‘and I’ll drive her to town tomorrow.’
Clifford was yellow at the gills with anger, and at evening the whites of his eyes were a little yellow too. He ran to liver. But Hilda was consistently modest and maidenly.
‘You must have a nurse or somebody, to look after you personally. You should really have a manservant,’ said Hilda as they sat, with apparent calmness, at coffee after dinner. She spoke in her soft, seemingly gentle way, but Clifford felt she was hitting him on the head with a bludgeon.
‘You think so?’ he said coldly.
‘I’m sure! It’s necessary. Either that, or Father and I must take Connie away for some months. This can’t go on.’
‘What can’t go on?’
‘Haven’t you looked at the child!’ asked Hilda, gazing at him full stare. He looked rather like a huge, boiled crayfish at the moment; or so she thought.
‘Connie and I will discuss it,’ he said.
‘I’ve already discussed it with her,’ said Hilda.
Clifford had been long enough in the hands of nurses; he hated them, because they left him no real privacy. And a manservant! …He couldn’t stand a man hanging round him. Almost better any woman. But why not Connie?
The two sisters drove off in the morning, Connie looking rather like an Easter lamb, rather small beside Hilda, who held the wheel. Sir Malcolm was away, but the Kensington house was open.
The doctor examined Connie carefully, and asked her all about her life. ‘I see your photograph, and Sir Clifford’s, in the illustrated papers sometimes. Almost notorieties, aren’t you? That’s how the quiet little girls grow up, though you’re only a quiet little girl even now, in spite of the illustrated papers. No, no! There’s nothing organically wrong, but it won’t do! It won’t do! Tell Sir Clifford he’s got to bring you to town, or take you abroad, and amuse you. You’ve got to be amused, got to! Your vitality is much too low; no reserves, no reserves. The nerves of the heart a bit queer already: oh, yes! Nothing but nerves; I’d put you right in a month at Cannes or Biarritz. But it mustn’t go on, mustn’t, I tell you, or I won’t be answerable for consequences. You’re spending your life without renewing it. You’ve got to be amused, properly, healthily amused. You’re spending your vitality without making any. Can’t go on, you know. Depression! Avoid depression!’
Hilda set her jaw, and that meant something.
Michaelis heard they were in town, and came running with roses. ‘Why, whatever’s wrong?’ he cried. ‘You’re a shadow of yourself. Why, I never saw such a change! Why ever didn’t you let me know? Come to Nice with me! Come down to Sicily! Go on, come to Sicily with me. It’s lovely there just now. You want sun! You want life! Why, you’re wasting away! Come away with me! Come to Africa! Oh, hang Sir Clifford! Chuck him, and come along with me. I’ll marry you the minute he divorces you. Come along and try a life! God’s love! That place Wragby would kill anybody. Beastly place! Foul place! Kill anybody! Come away with me into the sun! It’s the sun you want, of course, and a bit of normal life.’
But Connie’s heart simply stood still at the thought of abandoning Clifford there and then. She couldn’t do it. No… no! She just couldn’t. She had to go back to Wragby.
Michaelis was disgusted. Hilda didn’t like Michaelis, but she almost preferred him to Clifford. Back went the sisters to the Midlands.
Hilda talked to Clifford, who still had yellow eyeballs when they got back. He, too, in his way, was overwrought; but he had to listen to all Hilda said, to all the doctor had said, not what Michaelis had said, of course, and he sat mum through the ultimatum.
‘Here is the address of a good manservant, who was with an invalid patient of the doctor’s till he died last month. He is really a good man, and fairly sure to come.’
‘But I’m not an invalid, and I will not have a manservant,’ said Clifford, poor devil.
‘And here are the addresses of two women; I saw one of them, she would do very well; a woman of about fifty, quiet, strong, kind, and in her way cultured….’
Clifford only sulked, and would not answer.
‘Very well, Clifford. If we don’t settle something by to-morrow, I shall telegraph to Father, and we shall take Connie away.’
‘Will Connie go?’ asked Clifford.
‘She doesn’t want to, but she knows she must. Mother died of cancer, brought on by fretting. We’re not running any risks.’
So next day Clifford suggested Mrs Bolton, Tevershall parish nurse. Apparently Mrs Betts had thought of her. Mrs Bolton was just retiring from her parish duties to take up private nursing jobs. Clifford had a queer dread of delivering himself into the hands of a stranger, but this Mrs Bolton had once nursed him through scarlet fever, and he knew her.
The two sisters at once called on Mrs Bolton, in a newish house in a row, quite select for Tevershall. They found a rather good-looking woman of forty-odd, in a nurse’s uniform, with a white collar and apron, just making herself tea in a small crowded sitting-room.
Mrs Bolton was most attentive and polite, seemed quite nice, spoke with a bit of a broad slur, but in heavily correct English, and from having bossed the sick colliers for a good many years, had a very good opinion of herself, and a fair amount of assurance. In short, in her tiny way, one of the governing class in the village, very much respected.
‘Yes, Lady Chatterley’s not looking at all well! Why, she used to be that bonny, didn’t she now? But she’s been failing all winter! Oh, it’s hard, it is. Poor Sir Clifford! Eh, that war, it’s a lot to answer for.’
And Mrs Bolton would come to Wragby at once, if Dr Shardlow would let her off. She had another fortnight’s parish nursing to do, by rights, but they might get a substitute, you know.
Hilda posted off to Dr Shardlow, and on the following Sunday Mrs Bolton drove up in Leiver’s cab to Wragby with two trunks. Hilda had talks with her; Mrs Bolton was ready at any moment to talk. And she seemed so young! The way the passion would flush in her rather pale cheek. She was forty-seven.
Her husband, Ted Bolton, had been killed in the pit, twenty-two years ago, twenty-two years last Christmas, just at Christmas time, leaving her with two children, one a baby in arms. Oh, the baby was married now, Edith, to a young man in Boots Cash Chemists in Sheffield. The other one was a schoolteacher in Chesterfield; she came home weekends, when she wasn’t asked out somewhere. Young folks enjoyed themselves nowadays, not like when she, Ivy Bolton, was young.
Ted Bolton was twenty-eight when he was killed in an explosion down th’ pit. The butty in front shouted to them all to lie down quick, there were four of them. And they all lay down in time, only Ted, and it killed him. Then at the inquiry, on the masters’ side they said Ted had been frightened, and trying to run away, and not obeying orders, so it was like his fault really. So the compensation was only three hundred pounds, and they made out as if it was more of a gift than legal compensation, because it was really the man’s own fault. And they wouldn’t let her have the money down; she wanted to have a little shop. But they said she’d no doubt squander it, perhaps in drink! So she had to draw it thirty shillings a week. Yes, she had to go every Monday morning down to the offices, and stand there a couple of hours waiting her turn; yes, for almost four years she went every Monday. And what could she do with two little children on her hands? But Ted’s mother was very good to her. When the baby could toddle she’d keep both the children for the day, while she, Ivy Bolton, went to Sheffield, and attended classes in ambulance, and then the fourth year she even took a nursing course and got qualified. She was determined to be independent and keep her children. So she was assistant at Uthwaite hospital, just a little place, for a while. But when the Company, the Tevershall Colliery Company, really Sir Geoffrey, saw that she could get on by herself, they were very good to her, gave her the parish nursing, and stood by her, she would say that for them. And she’d done it ever since, till now it was getting a bit much for her; she needed something a bit lighter, there was such a lot of traipsing around if you were a district nurse.
‘Yes, the Company’s been very good to me, I always say it. But I should never forget what they said about Ted, for he was as steady and fearless a chap as ever set foot on the cage, and it was as good as branding him a coward. But there, he was dead, and could say nothing to none of ’em.’
It was a queer mixture of feelings the woman showed as she talked. She liked the colliers, whom she had nursed for so long; but she felt very superior to them. She felt almost upper class; and at the same time a resentment against the ruling class smouldered in her. The masters! In a dispute between masters and men, she was always for the men. But when there was no question of contest, she was pining to be superior, to be one of the upper class. The upper classes fascinated her, appealing to her peculiar English passion for superiority. She was thrilled to come to Wragby; thrilled to talk to Lady Chatterley, my word, different from the common colliers’ wives! She said so in so many words. Yet one could see a grudge against the Chatterleys peep out in her; the grudge against the masters.
‘Why, yes, of course, it would wear Lady Chatterley out! It’s a mercy she had a sister to come and help her. Men don’t think, high and low alike, they take what a woman does for them for granted. Oh, I’ve told the colliers off about it many a time. But it’s very hard for Sir Clifford, you know, crippled like that. They were always a haughty family, standoffish in a way, as they’ve a right to be. But then to be brought down like that! And it’s very hard on Lady Chatterley, perhaps harder on her. What she misses! I only had Ted three years, but my word, while I had him I had a husband I could never forget. He was one in a thousand, and jolly as the day. Who’d ever have thought he’d get killed? I don’t believe it to this day somehow, I’ve never believed it, though I washed him with my own hands. But he was never dead for me, he never was. I never took it in.’
This was a new voice in Wragby, very new for Connie to hear; it roused a new ear in her.
For the first week or so, Mrs Bolton, however, was very quiet at Wragby, her assured, bossy manner left her, and she was nervous. With Clifford she was shy, almost frightened, and silent. He liked that, and soon recovered his self-possession, letting her do things for him without even noticing her.
‘She’s a useful nonentity!’ he said. Connie opened her eyes in wonder, but she did not contradict him. So different are impressions on two different people!
And he soon became rather superb, somewhat lordly with the nurse. She had rather expected it, and he played up without knowing. So susceptible we are to what is expected of us! The colliers had been so like children, talking to her, and telling her what hurt them, while she bandaged them, or nursed them. They had always made her feel so grand, almost super-human in her administrations. Now Clifford made her feel small, and like a servant, and she accepted it without a word, adjusting herself to the upper classes.
She came very mute, with her long, handsome face, and downcast eyes, to administer to him. And she said very humbly: ‘Shall I do this now, Sir Clifford? Shall I do that?’
‘No, leave it for a time. I’ll have it done later.’
‘Very well, Sir Clifford.’
‘Come in again in half an hour.’
‘Very well, Sir Clifford.’
‘And just take those old papers out, will you?’
‘Very well, Sir Clifford.’
She went softly, and in half an hour she came softly again. She was bullied, but she didn’t mind. She was experiencing the upper classes. She neither resented nor disliked Clifford; he was just part of a phenomenon, the phenomenon of the high-class folks, so far unknown to her, but now to be known. She felt more at home with Lady Chatterley, and after all it’s the mistress of the house matters most.
Mrs Bolton helped Clifford to bed at night, and slept across the passage from his room, and came if he rang for her in the night. She also helped him in the morning, and soon valeted him completely, even shaving him, in her soft, tentative woman’s way. She was very good and competent, and she soon knew how to have him in her power. He wasn’t so very different from the colliers after all, when you lathered his chin, and softly rubbed the bristles. The stand-offishness and the lack of frankness didn’t bother her; she was having a new experience.
Clifford, however, inside himself, never quite forgave Connie for giving up her personal care of him to a strange hired woman. It killed, he said to himself, the real flower of the intimacy between him and her. But Connie didn’t mind that. The fine flower of their intimacy was to her rather like an orchid, a bulb stuck parasitic on her tree of life, and producing, to her eyes, a rather shabby flower.
Now she had more time to herself. She could softly play the piano, up in her room, and sing: ‘Touch not the nettle, for the bonds of love are ill to loose.’ She had not realized till lately how ill to loose they were, these bonds of love. But thank Heaven she had loosened them! She was so glad to be alone, not always to have to talk to him. When he was alone he tapped-tapped-tapped on a typewriter, to infinity. But when he was not ‘working’, and she was there, he talked, always talked; infinite small analysis of people and motives, and results, characters and personalities, till now she had had enough. For years she had loved it, until she had had enough, and then suddenly it was too much. She was thankful to be alone.
It was as if thousands and thousands of little roots and threads of consciousness in him and her had grown together into a tangled mass, till they could crowd no more, and the plant was dying. Now quietly, subtly, she was unravelling the tangle of his consciousness and hers, breaking the threads gently, one by one, with patience and impatience to get clear. But the bonds of such love are more ill to loose even than most bonds; though Mrs Bolton’s coming had been a great help.
But he still wanted the old intimate evenings of talk with Connie: talk or reading aloud. But now she could arrange that Mrs Bolton should come at ten to disturb them. At ten o’clock Connie could go upstairs and be alone. Clifford was in good hands with Mrs Bolton.
Mrs Bolton ate with Mrs Betts in the housekeeper’s room, since they were all agreeable. And it was curious how much closer the servants’ quarters seemed to have come; right up to the doors of Clifford’s study, when before they were so remote. For Mrs Betts would sometimes sit in Mrs Bolton’s room, and Connie heard their lowered voices, and felt somehow the strong, other vibration of the working people almost invading the sitting-room, when she and Clifford were alone. So changed was Wragby merely by Mrs Bolton’s coming.
And Connie felt herself released, in another world, she felt she breathed differently. But still she was afraid of how many of her roots, perhaps mortal ones, were tangled with Clifford’s. Yet still, she breathed freer, a new phase was going to begin in her life.
* * *
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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.