Mrs Bolton also kept a cherishing eye on Connie, feeling she must extend to her her female and professional protection. She was always urging her ladyship to walk out, to drive to Uthwaite, to be in the air. For Connie had got into the habit of sitting still by the fire, pretending to read; or to sew feebly, and hardly going out at all.
It was a blowy day soon after Hilda had gone, that Mrs Bolton said: ‘Now why don’t you go for a walk through the wood, and look at the daffs behind the keeper’s cottage? They’re the prettiest sight you’d see in a day’s march. And you could put some in your room; wild daffs are always so cheerful-looking, aren’t they?’
Connie took it in good part, even daffs for daffodils. Wild daffodils! After all, one could not stew in one’s own juice. The spring came back…. ‘Seasons return, but not to me returns Day, or the sweet approach of Ev’n or Morn.’
And the keeper, his thin, white body, like a lonely pistil of an invisible flower! She had forgotten him in her unspeakable depression. But now something roused… ‘Pale beyond porch and portal’… the thing to do was to pass the porches and the portals.
She was stronger, she could walk better, and in the wood the wind would not be so tiring as it was across the park, flattening against her. She wanted to forget, to forget the world, and all the dreadful, carrion-bodied people. ‘Ye must be born again! I believe in the resurrection of the body! Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it shall by no means bring forth. When the crocus cometh forth I too will emerge and see the sun!’ In the wind of March endless phrases swept through her consciousness.
Little gusts of sunshine blew, strangely bright, and lit up the celandines at the wood’s edge, under the hazel-rods, they spangled out bright and yellow. And the wood was still, stiller, but yet gusty with crossing sun. The first windflowers were out, and all the wood seemed pale with the pallor of endless little anemones, sprinkling the shaken floor. ‘The world has grown pale with thy breath.’ But it was the breath of Persephone, this time; she was out of hell on a cold morning. Cold breaths of wind came, and overhead there was an anger of entangled wind caught among the twigs. It, too, was caught and trying to tear itself free, the wind, like Absalom. How cold the anemones looked, bobbing their naked white shoulders over crinoline skirts of green. But they stood it. A few first bleached little primroses too, by the path, and yellow buds unfolding themselves.
The roaring and swaying was overhead, only cold currents came down below. Connie was strangely excited in the wood, and the colour flew in her cheeks, and burned blue in her eyes. She walked ploddingly, picking a few primroses and the first violets, that smelled sweet and cold, sweet and cold. And she drifted on without knowing where she was.
Till she came to the clearing, at the end of the wood, and saw the green-stained stone cottage, looking almost rosy, like the flesh underneath a mushroom, its stone warmed in a burst of sun. And there was a sparkle of yellow jasmine by the door; the closed door. But no sound; no smoke from the chimney; no dog barking.
She went quietly round to the back, where the bank rose up; she had an excuse, to see the daffodils.
And they were there, the short-stemmed flowers, rustling and fluttering and shivering, so bright and alive, but with nowhere to hide their faces, as they turned them away from the wind.
They shook their bright, sunny little rags in bouts of distress. But perhaps they liked it really; perhaps they really liked the tossing.
Constance sat down with her back to a young pine-tree, that swayed against her with curious life, elastic, and powerful, rising up. The erect, alive thing, with its top in the sun! And she watched the daffodils turn golden, in a burst of sun that was warm on her hands and lap. Even she caught the faint, tarry scent of the flowers. And then, being so still and alone, she seemed to get into the current of her own proper destiny. She had been fastened by a rope, and jagging and snarring like a boat at its moorings; now she was loose and adrift.
The sunshine gave way to chill; the daffodils were in shadow, dipping silently. So they would dip through the day and the long cold night. So strong in their frailty!
She rose, a little stiff, took a few daffodils, and went down. She hated breaking the flowers, but she wanted just one or two to go with her. She would have to go back to Wragby and its walls, and now she hated it, especially its thick walls. Walls! Always walls! Yet one needed them in this wind.
When she got home Clifford asked her:
‘Where did you go?’
‘Right across the wood! Look, aren’t the little daffodils adorable? To think they should come out of the earth!’
‘Just as much out of air and sunshine,’ he said.
‘But modelled in the earth,’ she retorted, with a prompt contradiction, that surprised her a little.
The next afternoon she went to the wood again. She followed the broad riding that swerved round and up through the larches to a spring called John’s Well. It was cold on this hillside, and not a flower in the darkness of larches. But the icy little spring softly pressed upwards from its tiny well-bed of pure, reddish-white pebbles. How icy and clear it was! Brilliant! The new keeper had no doubt put in fresh pebbles. She heard the faint tinkle of water, as the tiny overflow trickled over and downhill. Even above the hissing boom of the larchwood, that spread its bristling, leafless, wolfish darkness on the down-slope, she heard the tinkle as of tiny water-bells.
This place was a little sinister, cold, damp. Yet the well must have been a drinking-place for hundreds of years. Now no more. Its tiny cleared space was lush and cold and dismal.
She rose and went slowly towards home. As she went she heard a faint tapping away on the right, and stood still to listen. Was it hammering, or a woodpecker? It was surely hammering.
She walked on, listening. And then she noticed a narrow track between young fir-trees, a track that seemed to lead nowhere. But she felt it had been used. She turned down it adventurously, between the thick young firs, which gave way soon to the old oak wood. She followed the track, and the hammering grew nearer, in the silence of the windy wood, for trees make a silence even in their noise of wind.
She saw a secret little clearing, and a secret little hut made of rustic poles. And she had never been here before! She realized it was the quiet place where the growing pheasants were reared; the keeper in his shirt-sleeves was kneeling, hammering. The dog trotted forward with a short, sharp bark, and the keeper lifted his face suddenly and saw her. He had a startled look in his eyes.
He straightened himself and saluted, watching her in silence, as she came forward with weakening limbs. He resented the intrusion; he cherished his solitude as his only and last freedom in life.
‘I wondered what the hammering was,’ she said, feeling weak and breathless, and a little afraid of him, as he looked so straight at her.
‘Ah’m gettin’ th’ coops ready for th’ young bods,’ he said, in broad vernacular.
She did not know what to say, and she felt weak. ‘I should like to sit down a bit,’ she said.
‘Come and sit ‘ere i’ th’ ‘ut,’ he said, going in front of her to the hut, pushing aside some timber and stuff, and drawing out a rustic chair, made of hazel sticks.
‘Am Ah t’ light yer a little fire?’ he asked, with the curious naïveté of the dialect.
‘Oh, don’t bother,’ she replied.
But he looked at her hands; they were rather blue. So he quickly took some larch twigs to the little brick fire-place in the corner, and in a moment the yellow flame was running up the chimney. He made a place by the brick hearth.
‘Sit ‘ere then a bit, and warm yer,’ he said.
She obeyed him. He had that curious kind of protective authority she obeyed at once. So she sat and warmed her hands at the blaze, and dropped logs on the fire, whilst outside he was hammering again. She did not really want to sit, poked in a corner by the fire; she would rather have watched from the door, but she was being looked after, so she had to submit.
The hut was quite cosy, panelled with unvarnished deal, having a little rustic table and stool beside her chair, and a carpenter’s bench, then a big box, tools, new boards, nails; and many things hung from pegs: axe, hatchet, traps, things in sacks, his coat. It had no window, the light came in through the open door. It was a jumble, but also it was a sort of little sanctuary.
She listened to the tapping of the man’s hammer; it was not so happy. He was oppressed. Here was a trespass on his privacy, and a dangerous one! A woman! He had reached the point where all he wanted on earth was to be alone. And yet he was powerless to preserve his privacy; he was a hired man, and these people were his masters.
Especially he did not want to come into contact with a woman again. He feared it; for he had a big wound from old contacts. He felt if he could not be alone, and if he could not be left alone, he would die. His recoil away from the outer world was complete; his last refuge was this wood; to hide himself there!
Connie grew warm by the fire, which she had made too big: then she grew hot. She went and sat on the stool in the doorway, watching the man at work. He seemed not to notice her, but he knew. Yet he worked on, as if absorbedly, and his brown dog sat on her tail near him, and surveyed the untrustworthy world.
Slender, quiet and quick, the man finished the coop he was making, turned it over, tried the sliding door, then set it aside. Then he rose, went for an old coop, and took it to the chopping log where he was working. Crouching, he tried the bars; some broke in his hands; he began to draw the nails. Then he turned the coop over and deliberated, and he gave absolutely no sign of awareness of the woman’s presence.
So Connie watched him fixedly. And the same solitary aloneness she had seen in him naked, she now saw in him clothed: solitary, and intent, like an animal that works alone, but also brooding, like a soul that recoils away, away from all human contact. Silently, patiently, he was recoiling away from her even now. It was the stillness, and the timeless sort of patience, in a man impatient and passionate, that touched Connie’s womb. She saw it in his bent head, the quick quiet hands, the crouching of his slender, sensitive loins; something patient and withdrawn. She felt his experience had been deeper and wider than her own; much deeper and wider, and perhaps more deadly. And this relieved her of herself; she felt almost irresponsible.
So she sat in the doorway of the hut in a dream, utterly unaware of time and of particular circumstances. She was so drifted away that he glanced up at her quickly, and saw the utterly still, waiting look on her face. To him it was a look of waiting. And a little thin tongue of fire suddenly flickered in his loins, at the root of his back, and he groaned in spirit. He dreaded with a repulsion almost of death, any further close human contact. He wished above all things she would go away, and leave him to his own privacy. He dreaded her will, her female will, and her modern female insistency. And above all he dreaded her cool, upper-class impudence of having her own way. For after all he was only a hired man. He hated her presence there.
Connie came to herself with sudden uneasiness. She rose. The afternoon was turning to evening, yet she could not go away. She went over to the man, who stood up at attention, his worn face stiff and blank, his eyes watching her.
‘It is so nice here, so restful,’ she said. ‘I have never been here before.’
‘I think I shall come and sit here sometimes.
‘Do you lock the hut when you’re not here?’
‘Yes, your Ladyship.’
‘Do you think I could have a key too, so that I could sit here sometimes? Are there two keys?’
‘Not as Ah know on, ther’ isna.’
He had lapsed into the vernacular. Connie hesitated; he was putting up an opposition. Was it his hut, after all?
‘Couldn’t we get another key?’ she asked in her soft voice, that underneath had the ring of a woman determined to get her way.
‘Another!’ he said, glancing at her with a flash of anger, touched with derision.
‘Yes, a duplicate,’ she said, flushing.
”Appen Sir Clifford ‘ud know,’ he said, putting her off.
‘Yes!’ she said, ‘He might have another. Otherwise we could have one made from the one you have. It would only take a day or so, I suppose. You could spare your key for so long.’
‘Ah canna tell yer, m’Lady! Ah know nob’dy as ma’es keys round ‘ere.’
Connie suddenly flushed with anger.
‘Very well!’ she said. ‘I’ll see to it.’
‘All right, your Ladyship.’
Their eyes met. His had a cold, ugly look of dislike and contempt, and indifference to what would happen. Hers were hot with rebuff.
But her heart sank, she saw how utterly he disliked her, when she went against him. And she saw him in a sort of desperation.
‘Afternoon, my Lady!’ He saluted and turned abruptly away. She had wakened the sleeping dogs of old voracious anger in him, anger against the self-willed female. And he was powerless, powerless. He knew it!
And she was angry against the self-willed male. A servant too! She walked sullenly home.
She found Mrs Bolton under the great beech-tree on the knoll, looking for her.
‘I just wondered if you’d be coming, my Lady,’ the woman said brightly.
‘Am I late?’ asked Connie.
‘Oh… only Sir Clifford was waiting for his tea.’
‘Why didn’t you make it then?’
‘Oh, I don’t think it’s hardly my place. I don’t think Sir Clifford would like it at all, my Lady.’
‘I don’t see why not,’ said Connie.
She went indoors to Clifford’s study, where the old brass kettle was simmering on the tray.
‘Am I late, Clifford?’ she said, putting down the few flowers and taking up the tea-caddy, as she stood before the tray in her hat and scarf. ‘I’m sorry! Why didn’t you let Mrs Bolton make the tea?’
‘I didn’t think of it,’ he said ironically. ‘I don’t quite see her presiding at the tea-table.’
‘Oh, there’s nothing sacrosanct about a silver tea-pot,’ said Connie.
He glanced up at her curiously.
‘What did you do all afternoon?’ he said.
‘Walked and sat in a sheltered place. Do you know there are still berries on the big holly-tree?’
She took off her scarf, but not her hat, and sat down to make tea. The toast would certainly be leathery. She put the tea-cosy over the tea-pot, and rose to get a little glass for her violets. The poor flowers hung over, limp on their stalks.
‘They’ll revive again!’ she said, putting them before him in their glass for him to smell.
‘Sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes,’ he quoted.
‘I don’t see a bit of connexion with the actual violets,’ she said. ‘The Elizabethans are rather upholstered.’
She poured him his tea.
‘Do you think there is a second key to that little hut not far from John’s Well, where the pheasants are reared?’ she said.
‘There may be. Why?’
‘I happened to find it today — and I’d never seen it before. I think it’s a darling place. I could sit there sometimes, couldn’t I?’
‘Was Mellors there?’
‘Yes! That’s how I found it: his hammering. He didn’t seem to like my intruding at all. In fact he was almost rude when I asked about a second key.’
‘What did he say?’
‘Oh, nothing: just his manner; and he said he knew nothing about keys.’
‘There may be one in Father’s study. Betts knows them all, they’re all there. I’ll get him to look.’
‘Oh do!’ she said.
‘So Mellors was almost rude?’
‘Oh, nothing, really! But I don’t think he wanted me to have the freedom of the castle, quite.’
‘I don’t suppose he did.’
‘Still, I don’t see why he should mind. It’s not his home, after all! It’s not his private abode. I don’t see why I shouldn’t sit there if I want to.’
‘Quite!’ said Clifford. ‘He thinks too much of himself, that man.’
‘Do you think he does?’
‘Oh, decidedly! He thinks he’s something exceptional. You know he had a wife he didn’t get on with, so he joined up in 1915 and was sent to India, I believe. Anyhow he was blacksmith to the cavalry in Egypt for a time; always was connected with horses, a clever fellow that way. Then some Indian colonel took a fancy to him, and he was made a lieutenant. Yes, they gave him a commission. I believe he went back to India with his colonel, and up to the north-west frontier. He was ill; he has a pension. He didn’t come out of the army till last year, I believe, and then, naturally, it isn’t easy for a man like that to get back to his own level. He’s bound to flounder. But he does his duty all right, as far as I’m concerned. Only I’m not having any of the Lieutenant Mellors touch.’
‘How could they make him an officer when he speaks broad Derbyshire?’
‘He doesn’t… except by fits and starts. He can speak perfectly well, for him. I suppose he has an idea if he’s come down to the ranks again, he’d better speak as the ranks speak.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me about him before?’
‘Oh, I’ve no patience with these romances. They’re the ruin of all order. It’s a thousand pities they ever happened.’
Connie was inclined to agree. What was the good of discontented people who fitted in nowhere?
In the spell of fine weather Clifford, too, decided to go to the wood. The wind was cold, but not so tiresome, and the sunshine was like life itself, warm and full.
‘It’s amazing,’ said Connie, ‘how different one feels when there’s a really fresh fine day. Usually one feels the very air is half dead. People are killing the very air.’
‘Do you think people are doing it?’ he asked.
‘I do. The steam of so much boredom, and discontent and anger out of all the people, just kills the vitality in the air. I’m sure of it.’
‘Perhaps some condition of the atmosphere lowers the vitality of the people?’ he said.
‘No, it’s man that poisons the universe,’ she asserted.
‘Fouls his own nest,’ remarked Clifford.
The chair puffed on. In the hazel copse catkins were hanging pale gold, and in sunny places the wood-anemones were wide open, as if exclaiming with the joy of life, just as good as in past days, when people could exclaim along with them. They had a faint scent of apple-blossom. Connie gathered a few for Clifford.
He took them and looked at them curiously.
‘Thou still unravished bride of quietness,’ he quoted. ‘It seems to fit flowers so much better than Greek vases.’
‘Ravished is such a horrid word!’ she said. ‘It’s only people who ravish things.’
‘Oh, I don’t know… snails and things,’ he said.
‘Even snails only eat them, and bees don’t ravish.’
She was angry with him, turning everything into words. Violets were Juno’s eyelids, and windflowers were unravished brides. How she hated words, always coming between her and life: they did the ravishing, if anything did: ready-made words and phrases, sucking all the life-sap out of living things.
The walk with Clifford was not quite a success. Between him and Connie there was a tension that each pretended not to notice, but there it was. Suddenly, with all the force of her female instinct, she was shoving him off. She wanted to be clear of him, and especially of his consciousness, his words, his obsession with himself, his endless treadmill obsession with himself, and his own words.
The weather came rainy again. But after a day or two she went out in the rain, and she went to the wood. And once there, she went towards the hut. It was raining, but not so cold, and the wood felt so silent and remote, inaccessible in the dusk of rain.
She came to the clearing. No one there! The hut was locked. But she sat on the log doorstep, under the rustic porch, and snuggled into her own warmth. So she sat, looking at the rain, listening to the many noiseless noises of it, and to the strange soughings of wind in upper branches, when there seemed to be no wind. Old oak-trees stood around, grey, powerful trunks, rain-blackened, round and vital, throwing off reckless limbs. The ground was fairly free of undergrowth, the anemones sprinkled, there was a bush or two, elder, or guelder-rose, and a purplish tangle of bramble: the old russet of bracken almost vanished under green anemone ruffs. Perhaps this was one of the unravished places. Unravished! The whole world was ravished.
Some things can’t be ravished. You can’t ravish a tin of sardines. And so many women are like that; and men. But the earth…!
The rain was abating. It was hardly making darkness among the oaks any more. Connie wanted to go; yet she sat on. But she was getting cold; yet the overwhelming inertia of her inner resentment kept her there as if paralysed.
Ravished! How ravished one could be without ever being touched. Ravished by dead words become obscene, and dead ideas become obsessions.
A wet brown dog came running and did not bark, lifting a wet feather of a tail. The man followed in a wet black oilskin jacket, like a chauffeur, and face flushed a little. She felt him recoil in his quick walk, when he saw her. She stood up in the handbreadth of dryness under the rustic porch. He saluted without speaking, coming slowly near. She began to withdraw.
‘I’m just going,’ she said.
‘Was yer waitin’ to get in?’ he asked, looking at the hut, not at her.
‘No, I only sat a few minutes in the shelter,’ she said, with quiet dignity.
He looked at her. She looked cold.
‘Sir Clifford ‘adn’t got no other key then?’ he asked.
‘No, but it doesn’t matter. I can sit perfectly dry under this porch. Good afternoon!’ She hated the excess of vernacular in his speech.
He watched her closely, as she was moving away. Then he hitched up his jacket, and put his hand in his breeches pocket, taking out the key of the hut.
”Appen yer’d better ‘ave this key, an’ Ah mun fend for t’ bods some other road.’
She looked at him.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked.
‘I mean as ‘appen Ah can find anuther pleece as’ll du for rearin’ th’ pheasants. If yer want ter be ‘ere, yo’ll non want me messin’ abaht a’ th’ time.’
She looked at him, getting his meaning through the fog of the dialect.
‘Why don’t you speak ordinary English?’ she said coldly.
‘Me! Ah thowt it wor ordinary.’
She was silent for a few moments in anger.
‘So if yer want t’ key, yer’d better ta’e it. Or ‘appen Ah’d better gi’e ‘t yer termorrer, an’ clear all t’ stuff aht fust. Would that du for yer?’
She became more angry.
‘I didn’t want your key,’ she said. ‘I don’t want you to clear anything out at all. I don’t in the least want to turn you out of your hut, thank you! I only wanted to be able to sit here sometimes, like today. But I can sit perfectly well under the porch, so please say no more about it.’
He looked at her again, with his wicked blue eyes.
‘Why,’ he began, in the broad slow dialect. ‘Your Ladyship’s as welcome as Christmas ter th’ hut an’ th’ key an’ iverythink as is. On’y this time o’ th’ year ther’s bods ter set, an’ Ah’ve got ter be potterin’ abaht a good bit, seein’ after ’em, an’ a’. Winter time Ah ned ‘ardly come nigh th’ pleece. But what wi’ spring, an’ Sir Clifford wantin’ ter start th’ pheasants…. An’ your Ladyship’d non want me tinkerin’ around an’ about when she was ‘ere, all th’ time.’
She listened with a dim kind of amazement.
‘Why should I mind your being here?’ she asked.
He looked at her curiously.
‘T’ nuisance on me!’ he said briefly, but significantly. She flushed. ‘Very well!’ she said finally. ‘I won’t trouble you. But I don’t think I should have minded at all sitting and seeing you look after the birds. I should have liked it. But since you think it interferes with you, I won’t disturb you, don’t be afraid. You are Sir Clifford’s keeper, not mine.’
The phrase sounded queer, she didn’t know why. But she let it pass.
‘Nay, your Ladyship. It’s your Ladyship’s own ‘ut. It’s as your Ladyship likes an’ pleases, every time. Yer can turn me off at a wik’s notice. It wor only…’
‘Only what?’ she asked, baffled.
He pushed back his hat in an odd comic way.
‘On’y as ‘appen yo’d like the place ter yersen, when yer did come, an’ not me messin’ abaht.’
‘But why?’ she said, angry. ‘Aren’t you a civilized human being? Do you think I ought to be afraid of you? Why should I take any notice of you and your being here or not? Why is it important?’
He looked at her, all his face glimmering with wicked laughter.
‘It’s not, your Ladyship. Not in the very least,’ he said.
‘Well, why then?’ she asked.
‘Shall I get your Ladyship another key then?’
‘No thank you! I don’t want it.’
‘Ah’ll get it anyhow. We’d best ‘ave two keys ter th’ place.’
‘And I consider you are insolent,’ said Connie, with her colour up, panting a little.
‘Nay, nay!’ he said quickly. ‘Dunna yer say that! Nay, nay! I niver meant nuthink. Ah on’y thought as if yo’ come ‘ere, Ah s’d ‘ave ter clear out, an’ it’d mean a lot of work, settin’ up somewheres else. But if your Ladyship isn’t going ter take no notice o’ me, then… it’s Sir Clifford’s ‘ut, an’ everythink is as your Ladyship likes, everythink is as your Ladyship likes an’ pleases, barrin’ yer take no notice o’ me, doin’ th’ bits of jobs as Ah’ve got ter do.’
Connie went away completely bewildered. She was not sure whether she had been insulted and mortally offended, or not. Perhaps the man really only meant what he said; that he thought she would expect him to keep away. As if she would dream of it! And as if he could possibly be so important, he and his stupid presence.
She went home in confusion, not knowing what she thought or felt.
Connie was surprised at her own feeling of aversion from Clifford. What is more, she felt she had always really disliked him. Not hate: there was no passion in it. But a profound physical dislike. Almost, it seemed to her, she had married him because she disliked him, in a secret, physical sort of way. But of course, she had married him really because in a mental way he attracted her and excited her. He had seemed, in some way, her master, beyond her.
Now the mental excitement had worn itself out and collapsed, and she was aware only of the physical aversion. It rose up in her from her depths: and she realized how it had been eating her life away.
She felt weak and utterly forlorn. She wished some help would come from outside. But in the whole world there was no help. Society was terrible because it was insane. Civilized society is insane. Money and so-called love are its two great manias; money a long way first. The individual asserts himself in his disconnected insanity in these two modes: money and love. Look at Michaelis! His life and activity were just insanity. His love was a sort of insanity.
And Clifford the same. All that talk! All that writing! All that wild struggling to push himself forwards! It was just insanity. And it was getting worse, really maniacal.
Connie felt washed-out with fear. But at least, Clifford was shifting his grip from her on to Mrs Bolton. He did not know it. Like many insane people, his insanity might be measured by the things he was not aware of: the great desert tracts in his consciousness.
Mrs Bolton was admirable in many ways. But she had that queer sort of bossiness, endless assertion of her own will, which is one of the signs of insanity in modern woman. She thought she was utterly subservient and living for others. Clifford fascinated her because he always, or so often, frustrated her will, as if by a finer instinct. He had a finer, subtler will of self-assertion than herself. This was his charm for her.
Perhaps that had been his charm, too, for Connie.
‘It’s a lovely day, today!’ Mrs Bolton would say in her caressive, persuasive voice. ‘I should think you’d enjoy a little run in your chair today, the sun’s just lovely.’
‘Yes? Will you give me that book — there, that yellow one. And I think I’ll have those hyacinths taken out.’
‘Why they’re so beautiful!’ She pronounced it with the ‘y’ sound: be-yutiful! ‘And the scent is simply gorgeous.’
‘The scent is what I object to,’ he said. ‘It’s a little funereal.’
‘Do you think so!’ she exclaimed in surprise, just a little offended, but impressed. And she carried the hyacinths out of the room, impressed by his higher fastidiousness.
‘Shall I shave you this morning, or would you rather do it yourself?’ Always the same soft, caressive, subservient, yet managing voice.
‘I don’t know. Do you mind waiting a while. I’ll ring when I’m ready.’
‘Very good, Sir Clifford!’ she replied, so soft and submissive, withdrawing quietly. But every rebuff stored up new energy of will in her.
When he rang, after a time, she would appear at once. And then he would say:
‘I think I’d rather you shaved me this morning.’
Her heart gave a little thrill, and she replied with extra softness:
‘Very good, Sir Clifford!’
She was very deft, with a soft, lingering touch, a little slow. At first he had resented the infinitely soft touch of her fingers on his face. But now he liked it, with a growing voluptuousness. He let her shave him nearly every day: her face near his, her eyes so very concentrated, watching that she did it right. And gradually her fingertips knew his cheeks and lips, his jaw and chin and throat perfectly. He was well-fed and well-liking, his face and throat were handsome enough and he was a gentleman.
She was handsome too, pale, her face rather long and absolutely still, her eyes bright, but revealing nothing. Gradually, with infinite softness, almost with love, she was getting him by the throat, and he was yielding to her.
She now did almost everything for him, and he felt more at home with her, less ashamed of accepting her menial offices, than with Connie. She liked handling him. She loved having his body in her charge, absolutely, to the last menial offices. She said to Connie one day: ‘All men are babies, when you come to the bottom of them. Why, I’ve handled some of the toughest customers as ever went down Tevershall pit. But let anything ail them so that you have to do for them, and they’re babies, just big babies. Oh, there’s not much difference in men!’
At first Mrs Bolton had thought there really was something different in a gentleman, a real gentleman, like Sir Clifford. So Clifford had got a good start of her. But gradually, as she came to the bottom of him, to use her own term, she found he was like the rest, a baby grown to man’s proportions: but a baby with a queer temper and a fine manner and power in its control, and all sorts of odd knowledge that she had never dreamed of, with which he could still bully her.
Connie was sometimes tempted to say to him: ‘For God’s sake, don’t sink so horribly into the hands of that woman!’ But she found she didn’t care for him enough to say it, in the long run.
It was still their habit to spend the evening together, till ten o’clock. Then they would talk, or read together, or go over his manuscript. But the thrill had gone out of it. She was bored by his manuscripts. But she still dutifully typed them out for him. But in time Mrs Bolton would do even that.
For Connie had suggested to Mrs Bolton that she should learn to use a typewriter. And Mrs Bolton, always ready, had begun at once, and practised assiduously. So now Clifford would sometimes dictate a letter to her, and she would take it down rather slowly, but correctly. And he was very patient, spelling for her the difficult words, or the occasional phrases in French. She was so thrilled, it was almost a pleasure to instruct her.
Now Connie would sometimes plead a headache as an excuse for going up to her room after dinner.
‘Perhaps Mrs Bolton will play piquet with you,’ she said to Clifford.
‘Oh, I shall be perfectly all right. You go to your own room and rest, darling.’
But no sooner had she gone, than he rang for Mrs Bolton, and asked her to take a hand at piquet or bezique, or even chess. He had taught her all these games. And Connie found it curiously objectionable to see Mrs Bolton, flushed and tremulous like a little girl, touching her queen or her knight with uncertain fingers, then drawing away again. And Clifford, faintly smiling with a half-teasing superiority, saying to her:
‘You must say j’adoube!’
She looked up at him with bright, startled eyes, then murmured shyly, obediently:
Yes, he was educating her. And he enjoyed it, it gave him a sense of power. And she was thrilled. She was coming bit by bit into possession of all that the gentry knew, all that made them upper class: apart from the money. That thrilled her. And at the same time, she was making him want to have her there with him. It was a subtle deep flattery to him, her genuine thrill.
To Connie, Clifford seemed to be coming out in his true colours: a little vulgar, a little common, and uninspired; rather fat. Ivy Bolton’s tricks and humble bossiness were also only too transparent. But Connie did wonder at the genuine thrill which the woman got out of Clifford. To say she was in love with him would be putting it wrongly. She was thrilled by her contact with a man of the upper class, this titled gentleman, this author who could write books and poems, and whose photograph appeared in the illustrated newspapers. She was thrilled to a weird passion. And his ‘educating’ her roused in her a passion of excitement and response much deeper than any love affair could have done. In truth, the very fact that there could be no love affair left her free to thrill to her very marrow with this other passion, the peculiar passion of knowing, knowing as he knew.
There was no mistake that the woman was in some way in love with him: whatever force we give to the word love. She looked so handsome and so young, and her grey eyes were sometimes marvellous. At the same time, there was a lurking soft satisfaction about her, even of triumph, and private satisfaction. Ugh, that private satisfaction. How Connie loathed it!
But no wonder Clifford was caught by the woman! She absolutely adored him, in her persistent fashion, and put herself absolutely at his service, for him to use as he liked. No wonder he was flattered!
Connie heard long conversations going on between the two. Or rather, it was mostly Mrs Bolton talking. She had unloosed to him the stream of gossip about Tevershall village. It was more than gossip. It was Mrs Gaskell and George Eliot and Miss Mitford all rolled in one, with a great deal more, that these women left out.’ Once started, Mrs Bolton was better than any book, about the lives of the people. She knew them all so intimately, and had such a peculiar, flamey zest in all their affairs, it was wonderful, if just a trifle humiliating to listen to her. At first she had not ventured to ‘talk Tevershall’, as she called it, to Clifford. But once started, it went on. Clifford was listening for ‘material’, and he found it in plenty. Connie realized that his so-called genius was just this: a perspicuous talent for personal gossip, clever and apparently detached. Mrs Bolton, of course, was very warm when she ‘talked Tevershall’. Carried away, in fact. And it was marvellous, the things that happened and that she knew about. She would have run to dozens of volumes.
Connie was fascinated, listening to her. But afterwards always a little ashamed. She ought not to listen with this queer rabid curiosity. After all, one may hear the most private affairs of other people, but only in a spirit of respect for the struggling, battered thing which any human soul is, and in a spirit of fine, discriminative sympathy. For even satire is a form of sympathy. It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore, the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life: for it is in the passional secret places of life, above all, that the tide of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and freshening.
But the novel, like gossip, can also excite spurious sympathies and recoils, mechanical and deadening to the psyche. The novel can glorify the most corrupt feelings, so long as they are conventionally ‘pure’. Then the novel, like gossip, becomes at last vicious, and, like gossip, all the more vicious because it is always ostensibly on the side of the angels. Mrs Bolton’s gossip was always on the side of the angels. ‘And he was such a bad fellow, and she was such a nice woman.’ Whereas, as Connie could see even from Mrs Bolton’s gossip, the woman had been merely a mealy-mouthed sort, and the man angrily honest. But angry honesty made a ‘bad man’ of him, and mealy-mouthedness made a ‘nice woman’ of her, in the vicious, conventional channelling of sympathy by Mrs Bolton.
For this reason, the gossip was humiliating. And for the same reason, most novels, especially popular ones, are humiliating too. The public responds now only to an appeal to its vices.
Nevertheless, one got a new vision of Tevershall village from Mrs Bolton’s talk. A terrible, seething welter of ugly life it seemed: not at all the flat drabness it looked from outside. Clifford of course knew by sight most of the people mentioned, Connie knew only one or two. But it sounded really more like a Central African jungle than an English village.
‘I suppose you heard as Miss Allsopp was married last week! Would you ever! Miss Allsopp, old James’ daughter, the boot-and-shoe Allsopp. You know they built a house up at Pye Croft. The old man died last year from a fall; eighty-three, he was, an’ nimble as a lad. An’ then he slipped on Bestwood Hill, on a slide as the lads ‘ad made last winter, an’ broke his thigh, and that finished him, poor old man, it did seem a shame. Well, he left all his money to Tattie: didn’t leave the boys a penny. An’ Tattie, I know, is five years — yes, she’s fifty-three last autumn. And you know they were such Chapel people, my word! She taught Sunday school for thirty years, till her father died. And then she started carrying on with a fellow from Kinbrook, I don’t know if you know him, an oldish fellow with a red nose, rather dandified, Willcock, as works in Harrison’s woodyard. Well he’s sixty-five, if he’s a day, yet you’d have thought they were a pair of young turtle-doves, to see them, arm in arm, and kissing at the gate: yes, an’ she sitting on his knee right in the bay window on Pye Croft Road, for anybody to see. And he’s got sons over forty: only lost his wife two years ago. If old James Allsopp hasn’t risen from his grave, it’s because there is no rising: for he kept her that strict! Now they’re married and gone to live down at Kinbrook, and they say she goes round in a dressing-gown from morning to night, a veritable sight. I’m sure it’s awful, the way the old ones go on! Why they’re a lot worse than the young, and a sight more disgusting. I lay it down to the pictures, myself. But you can’t keep them away. I was always saying: go to a good instructive film, but do for goodness sake keep away from these melodramas and love films. Anyhow keep the children away! But there you are, grown-ups are worse than the children: and the old ones beat the band. Talk about morality! Nobody cares a thing. Folks does as they like, and much better off they are for it, I must say. But they’re having to draw their horns in nowadays, now th’ pits are working so bad, and they haven’t got the money. And the grumbling they do, it’s awful, especially the women. The men are so good and patient! What can they do, poor chaps! But the women, oh, they do carry on! They go and show off, giving contributions for a wedding present for Princess Mary, and then when they see all the grand things that’s been given, they simply rave: “who’s she, any better than anybody else! Why doesn’t Swan & Edgar give me one fur coat, instead of giving her six. I wish I’d kept my ten shillings! What’s she going to give me, I should like to know? Here I can’t get a new spring coat, my dad’s working that bad, and she gets van-loads. It’s time as poor folks had some money to spend, rich ones ‘as ‘ad it long enough. I want a new spring coat, I do, an’ wheer am I going to get it?” I say to them, be thankful you’re well fed and well clothed, without all the new finery you want! And they fly back at me: “Why isn’t Princess Mary thankful to go about in her old rags, then, an’ have nothing! Folks like her get van-loads, an’ I can’t have a new spring coat. It’s a damned shame. Princess! Bloomin’ rot about Princess! It’s munney as matters, an’ cos she’s got lots, they give her more! Nobody’s givin’ me any, an’ I’ve as much right as anybody else. Don’t talk to me about education. It’s munney as matters. I want a new spring coat, I do, an’ I shan’t get it, cos there’s no munney….” That’s all they care about, clothes. They think nothing of giving seven or eight guineas for a winter coat — colliers’ daughters, mind you — and two guineas for a child’s summer hat. And then they go to the Primitive Chapel in their two-guinea hat, girls as would have been proud of a three-and-sixpenny one in my day. I heard that at the Primitive Methodist anniversary this year, when they have a built-up platform for the Sunday School children, like a grandstand going almost up to th’ ceiling, I heard Miss Thompson, who has the first class of girls in the Sunday School, say there’d be over a thousand pounds in new Sunday clothes sitting on that platform! And times are what they are! But you can’t stop them. They’re mad for clothes. And boys the same. The lads spend every penny on themselves, clothes, smoking, drinking in the Miners’ Welfare, jaunting off to Sheffield two or three times a week. Why, it’s another world. And they fear nothing, and they respect nothing, the young don’t. The older men are that patient and good, really, they let the women take everything. And this is what it leads to. The women are positive demons. But the lads aren’t like their dads. They’re sacrificing nothing, they aren’t: they’re all for self. If you tell them they ought to be putting a bit by, for a home, they say: That’ll keep, that will, I’m goin’ t’ enjoy myself while I can. Owt else’ll keep! Oh, they’re rough an’ selfish, if you like. Everything falls on the older men, an’ it’s a bad outlook all round.’
Clifford began to get a new idea of his own village. The place had always frightened him, but he had thought it more or less stable. Now — ?
‘Is there much Socialism, Bolshevism, among the people?’ he asked.
‘Oh!’ said Mrs Bolton, ‘you hear a few loud-mouthed ones. But they’re mostly women who’ve got into debt. The men take no notice. I don’t believe you’ll ever turn our Tevershall men into reds. They’re too decent for that. But the young ones blether sometimes. Not that they care for it really. They only want a bit of money in their pocket, to spend at the Welfare, or go gadding to Sheffield. That’s all they care. When they’ve got no money, they’ll listen to the reds spouting. But nobody believes in it, really.’
‘So you think there’s no danger?’
‘Oh no! Not if trade was good, there wouldn’t be. But if things were bad for a long spell, the young ones might go funny. I tell you, they’re a selfish, spoilt lot. But I don’t see how they’d ever do anything. They aren’t ever serious about anything, except showing off on motor-bikes and dancing at the Palais-de-danse in Sheffield. You can’t make them serious. The serious ones dress up in evening clothes and go off to the Pally to show off before a lot of girls and dance these new Charlestons and what not. I’m sure sometimes the bus’ll be full of young fellows in evening suits, collier lads, off to the Pally: let alone those that have gone with their girls in motors or on motor-bikes. They don’t give a serious thought to a thing — save Doncaster races, and the Derby: for they all of them bet on every race. And football! But even football’s not what it was, not by a long chalk. It’s too much like hard work, they say. No, they’d rather be off on motor-bikes to Sheffield or Nottingham, Saturday afternoons.’
‘But what do they do when they get there?’
‘Oh, hang around — and have tea in some fine tea-place like the Mikado — and go to the Pally or the pictures or the Empire, with some girl. The girls are as free as the lads. They do just what they like.’
‘And what do they do when they haven’t the money for these things?’
‘They seem to get it, somehow. And they begin talking nasty then. But I don’t see how you’re going to get bolshevism, when all the lads want is just money to enjoy themselves, and the girls the same, with fine clothes: and they don’t care about another thing. They haven’t the brains to be socialists. They haven’t enough seriousness to take anything really serious, and they never will have.’
Connie thought, how extremely like all the rest of the classes the lower classes sounded. Just the same thing over again, Tevershall or Mayfair or Kensington. There was only one class nowadays: moneyboys. The moneyboy and the moneygirl, the only difference was how much you’d got, and how much you wanted.
Under Mrs Bolton’s influence, Clifford began to take a new interest in the mines. He began to feel he belonged. A new sort of self-assertion came into him. After all, he was the real boss in Tevershall, he was really the pits. It was a new sense of power, something he had till now shrunk from with dread.
Tevershall pits were running thin. There were only two collieries: Tevershall itself, and New London. Tevershall had once been a famous mine, and had made famous money. But its best days were over. New London was never very rich, and in ordinary times just got along decently. But now times were bad, and it was pits like New London that got left.
‘There’s a lot of Tevershall men left and gone to Stacks Gate and Whiteover,’ said Mrs Bolton. ‘You’ve not seen the new works at Stacks Gate, opened after the war, have you, Sir Clifford? Oh, you must go one day, they’re something quite new: great big chemical works at the pit-head, doesn’t look a bit like a colliery. They say they get more money out of the chemical by-products than out of the coal — I forget what it is. And the grand new houses for the men, fair mansions! Of course it’s brought a lot of riff-raff from all over the country. But a lot of Tevershall men got on there, and doin’ well, a lot better than our own men. They say Tevershall’s done, finished: only a question of a few more years, and it’ll have to shut down. And New London’ll go first. My word, won’t it be funny when there’s no Tevershall pit working. It’s bad enough during a strike, but my word, if it closes for good, it’ll be like the end of the world. Even when I was a girl it was the best pit in the country, and a man counted himself lucky if he could get on here. Oh, there’s been some money made in Tevershall. And now the men say it’s a sinking ship, and it’s time they all got out. Doesn’t it sound awful! But of course there’s a lot as’ll never go till they have to. They don’t like these new fangled mines, such a depth, and all machinery to work them. Some of them simply dreads those iron men, as they call them, those machines for hewing the coal, where men always did it before. And they say it’s wasteful as well. But what goes in waste is saved in wages, and a lot more. It seems soon there’ll be no use for men on the face of the earth, it’ll be all machines. But they say that’s what folks said when they had to give up the old stocking frames. I can remember one or two. But my word, the more machines, the more people, that’s what it looks like! They say you can’t get the same chemicals out of Tevershall coal as you can out of Stacks Gate, and that’s funny, they’re not three miles apart. But they say so. But everybody says it’s a shame something can’t be started, to keep the men going a bit better, and employ the girls. All the girls traipsing off to Sheffield every day! My word, it would be something to talk about if Tevershall Collieries took a new lease of life, after everybody saying they’re finished, and a sinking ship, and the men ought to leave them like rats leave a sinking ship. But folks talk so much, of course there was a boom during the war. When Sir Geoffrey made a trust of himself and got the money safe for ever, somehow. So they say! But they say even the masters and the owners don’t get much out of it now. You can hardly believe it, can you! Why I always thought the pits would go on for ever and ever. Who’d have thought, when I was a girl! But New England’s shut down, so is Colwick Wood: yes, it’s fair haunting to go through that coppy and see Colwick Wood standing there deserted among the trees, and bushes growing up all over the pit-head, and the lines red rusty. It’s like death itself, a dead colliery. Why, whatever should we do if Tevershall shut down — ? It doesn’t bear thinking of. Always that throng it’s been, except at strikes, and even then the fan-wheels didn’t stand, except when they fetched the ponies up. I’m sure it’s a funny world, you don’t know where you are from year to year, you really don’t.’
It was Mrs Bolton’s talk that really put a new fight into Clifford. His income, as she pointed out to him, was secure, from his father’s trust, even though it was not large. The pits did not really concern him. It was the other world he wanted to capture, the world of literature and fame; the popular world, not the working world.
Now he realized the distinction between popular success and working success: the populace of pleasure and the populace of work. He, as a private individual, had been catering with his stories for the populace of pleasure. And he had caught on. But beneath the populace of pleasure lay the populace of work, grim, grimy, and rather terrible. They too had to have their providers. And it was a much grimmer business, providing for the populace of work, than for the populace of pleasure. While he was doing his stories, and ‘getting on’ in the world, Tevershall was going to the wall.
He realized now that the bitch-goddess of Success had two main appetites: one for flattery, adulation, stroking and tickling such as writers and artists gave her; but the other a grimmer appetite for meat and bones. And the meat and bones for the bitch-goddess were provided by the men who made money in industry.
Yes, there were two great groups of dogs wrangling for the bitch-goddess: the group of the flatterers, those who offered her amusement, stories, films, plays: and the other, much less showy, much more savage breed, those who gave her meat, the real substance of money. The well-groomed showy dogs of amusement wrangled and snarled among themselves for the favours of the bitch-goddess. But it was nothing to the silent fight-to-the-death that went on among the indispensables, the bone-bringers.
But under Mrs Bolton’s influence, Clifford was tempted to enter this other fight, to capture the bitch-goddess by brute means of industrial production. Somehow, he got his pecker up.
In one way, Mrs Bolton made a man of him, as Connie never did. Connie kept him apart, and made him sensitive and conscious of himself and his own states. Mrs Bolton made him aware only of outside things. Inwardly he began to go soft as pulp. But outwardly he began to be effective.
He even roused himself to go to the mines once more: and when he was there, he went down in a tub, and in a tub he was hauled out into the workings. Things he had learned before the war, and seemed utterly to have forgotten, now came back to him. He sat there, crippled, in a tub, with the underground manager showing him the seam with a powerful torch. And he said little. But his mind began to work.
He began to read again his technical works on the coal-mining industry, he studied the government reports, and he read with care the latest things on mining and the chemistry of coal and of shale which were written in German. Of course the most valuable discoveries were kept secret as far as possible. But once you started a sort of research in the field of coal-mining, a study of methods and means, a study of by-products and the chemical possibilities of coal, it was astounding the ingenuity and the almost uncanny cleverness of the modern technical mind, as if really the devil himself had lent fiend’s wits to the technical scientists of industry. It was far more interesting than art, than literature, poor emotional half-witted stuff, was this technical science of industry. In this field, men were like gods, or demons, inspired to discoveries, and fighting to carry them out. In this activity, men were beyond any mental age calculable. But Clifford knew that when it did come to the emotional and human life, these self-made men were of a mental age of about thirteen, feeble boys. The discrepancy was enormous and appalling.
But let that be. Let man slide down to general idiocy in the emotional and ‘human’ mind, Clifford did not care. Let all that go hang. He was interested in the technicalities of modern coal-mining, and in pulling Tevershall out of the hole.
He went down to the pit day after day, he studied, he put the general manager, and the overhead manager, and the underground manager, and the engineers through a mill they had never dreamed of. Power! He felt a new sense of power flowing through him: power over all these men, over the hundreds and hundreds of colliers. He was finding out: and he was getting things into his grip.
And he seemed verily to be re-born. Now life came into him! He had been gradually dying, with Connie, in the isolated private life of the artist and the conscious being. Now let all that go. Let it sleep. He simply felt life rush into him out of the coal, out of the pit. The very stale air of the colliery was better than oxygen to him. It gave him a sense of power, power. He was doing something: and he was going to do something. He was going to win, to win: not as he had won with his stories, mere publicity, amid a whole sapping of energy and malice. But a man’s victory.
At first he thought the solution lay in electricity: convert the coal into electric power. Then a new idea came. The Germans invented a new locomotive engine with a self feeder, that did not need a fireman. And it was to be fed with a new fuel, that burnt in small quantities at a great heat, under peculiar conditions.
The idea of a new concentrated fuel that burnt with a hard slowness at a fierce heat was what first attracted Clifford. There must be some sort of external stimulus of the burning of such fuel, not merely air supply. He began to experiment, and got a clever young fellow, who had proved brilliant in chemistry, to help him.
And he felt triumphant. He had at last got out of himself. He had fulfilled his life-long secret yearning to get out of himself. Art had not done it for him. Art had only made it worse. But now, now he had done it.
He was not aware how much Mrs Bolton was behind him. He did not know how much he depended on her. But for all that, it was evident that when he was with her his voice dropped to an easy rhythm of intimacy, almost a trifle vulgar.
With Connie, he was a little stiff. He felt he owed her everything, and he showed her the utmost respect and consideration, so long as she gave him mere outward respect. But it was obvious he had a secret dread of her. The new Achilles in him had a heel, and in this heel the woman, the woman like Connie, his wife, could lame him fatally. He went in a certain half-subservient dread of her, and was extremely nice to her. But his voice was a little tense when he spoke to her, and he began to be silent whenever she was present.
Only when he was alone with Mrs Bolton did he really feel a lord and a master, and his voice ran on with her almost as easily and garrulously as her own could run. And he let her shave him or sponge all his body as if he were a child, really as if he were a child.
Connie was a good deal alone now, fewer people came to Wragby. Clifford no longer wanted them. He had turned against even the cronies. He was queer. He preferred the radio, which he had installed at some expense, with a good deal of success at last. He could sometimes get Madrid or Frankfurt, even there in the uneasy Midlands.
And he would sit alone for hours listening to the loudspeaker bellowing forth. It amazed and stunned Connie. But there he would sit, with a blank entranced expression on his face, like a person losing his mind, and listen, or seem to listen, to the unspeakable thing.
Was he really listening? Or was it a sort of soporific he took, whilst something else worked on underneath in him? Connie did now know. She fled up to her room, or out of doors to the wood. A kind of terror filled her sometimes, a terror of the incipient insanity of the whole civilized species.
But now that Clifford was drifting off to this other weirdness of industrial activity, becoming almost a creature, with a hard, efficient shell of an exterior and a pulpy interior, one of the amazing crabs and lobsters of the modern, industrial and financial world, invertebrates of the crustacean order, with shells of steel, like machines, and inner bodies of soft pulp, Connie herself was really completely stranded.
She was not even free, for Clifford must have her there. He seemed to have a nervous terror that she should leave him. The curious pulpy part of him, the emotional and humanly-individual part, depended on her with terror, like a child, almost like an idiot. She must be there, there at Wragby, a Lady Chatterley, his wife. Otherwise he would be lost like an idiot on a moor.
This amazing dependence Connie realized with a sort of horror. She heard him with his pit managers, with the members of his Board, with young scientists, and she was amazed at his shrewd insight into things, his power, his uncanny material power over what is called practical men. He had become a practical man himself and an amazingly astute and powerful one, a master. Connie attributed it to Mrs Bolton’s influence upon him, just at the crisis in his life.
But this astute and practical man was almost an idiot when left alone to his own emotional life. He worshipped Connie. She was his wife, a higher being, and he worshipped her with a queer, craven idolatry, like a savage, a worship based on enormous fear, and even hate of the power of the idol, the dread idol. All he wanted was for Connie to swear, to swear not to leave him, not to give him away.
‘Clifford,’ she said to him – but this was after she had the key to the hut – ‘Would you really like me to have a child one day?’
He looked at her with a furtive apprehension in his rather prominent pale eyes.
‘I shouldn’t mind, if it made no difference between us,’ he said.
‘No difference to what?’ she asked.
‘To you and me; to our love for one another. If it’s going to affect that, then I’m all against it. Why, I might even one day have a child of my own!’
She looked at him in amazement.
‘I mean, it might come back to me one of these days.’
She still stared in amazement, and he was uncomfortable.
‘So you would not like it if I had a child?’ she said.
‘I tell you,’ he replied quickly, like a cornered dog, ‘I am quite willing, provided it doesn’t touch your love for me. If it would touch that, I am dead against it.’
Connie could only be silent in cold fear and contempt. Such talk was really the gabbling of an idiot. He no longer knew what he was talking about.
‘Oh, it wouldn’t make any difference to my feeling for you,’ she said, with a certain sarcasm.
‘There!’ he said. ‘That is the point! In that case I don’t mind in the least. I mean it would be awfully nice to have a child running about the house, and feel one was building up a future for it. I should have something to strive for then, and I should know it was your child, shouldn’t I, dear? And it would seem just the same as my own. Because it is you who count in these matters. You know that, don’t you, dear? I don’t enter, I am a cypher. You are the great I-am! as far as life goes. You know that, don’t you? I mean, as far as I am concerned. I mean, but for you I am absolutely nothing. I live for your sake and your future. I am nothing to myself’
Connie heard it all with deepening dismay and repulsion. It was one of the ghastly half-truths that poison human existence. What man in his senses would say such things to a woman! But men aren’t in their senses. What man with a spark of honour would put this ghastly burden of life-responsibility upon a woman, and leave her there, in the void?
Moreover, in half an hour’s time, Connie heard Clifford talking to Mrs Bolton, in a hot, impulsive voice, revealing himself in a sort of passionless passion to the woman, as if she were half mistress, half foster-mother to him. And Mrs Bolton was carefully dressing him in evening clothes, for there were important business guests in the house.
Connie really sometimes felt she would die at this time. She felt she was being crushed to death by weird lies, and by the amazing cruelty of idiocy. Clifford’s strange business efficiency in a way over-awed her, and his declaration of private worship put her into a panic. There was nothing between them. She never even touched him nowadays, and he never touched her. He never even took her hand and held it kindly. No, and because they were so utterly out of touch, he tortured her with his declaration of idolatry. It was the cruelty of utter impotence. And she felt her reason would give way, or she would die.
She fled as much as possible to the wood. One afternoon, as she sat brooding, watching the water bubbling coldly in John’s Well, the keeper had strode up to her.
‘I got you a key made, my Lady!’ he said, saluting, and he offered her the key.
‘Thank you so much!’ she said, startled.
‘The hut’s not very tidy, if you don’t mind,’ he said. ‘I cleared it what I could.’
‘But I didn’t want you to trouble!’ she said.
‘Oh, it wasn’t any trouble. I am setting the hens in about a week. But they won’t be scared of you. I s’ll have to see to them morning and night, but I shan’t bother you any more than I can help.’
‘But you wouldn’t bother me,’ she pleaded. ‘I’d rather not go to the hut at all, if I am going to be in the way.’
He looked at her with his keen blue eyes. He seemed kindly, but distant. But at least he was sane, and wholesome, if even he looked thin and ill. A cough troubled him.
‘You have a cough,’ she said.
‘Nothing – a cold! The last pneumonia left me with a cough, but it’s nothing.’
He kept distant from her, and would not come any nearer.
She went fairly often to the hut, in the morning or in the afternoon, but he was never there. No doubt he avoided her on purpose. He wanted to keep his own privacy.
He had made the hut tidy, put the little table and chair near the fireplace, left a little pile of kindling and small logs, and put the tools and traps away as far as possible, effacing himself. Outside, by the clearing, he had built a low little roof of boughs and straw, a shelter for the birds, and under it stood the live coops. And, one day when she came, she found two brown hens sitting alert and fierce in the coops, sitting on pheasants’ eggs, and fluffed out so proud and deep in all the heat of the pondering female blood. This almost broke Connie’s heart. She, herself was so forlorn and unused, not a female at all, just a mere thing of terrors.
Then all the live coops were occupied by hens, three brown and a grey and a black. All alike, they clustered themselves down on the eggs in the soft nestling ponderosity of the female urge, the female nature, fluffing out their feathers. And with brilliant eyes they watched Connie, as she crouched before them, and they gave short sharp clucks of anger and alarm, but chiefly of female anger at being approached.
Connie found corn in the corn-bin in the hut. She offered it to the hens in her hand. They would not eat it. Only one hen pecked at her hand with a fierce little jab, so Connie was frightened. But she was pining to give them something, the brooding mothers who neither fed themselves nor drank. She brought water in a little tin, and was delighted when one of the hens drank.
Now she came every day to the hens, they were the only things in the world that warmed her heart. Clifford’s protestations made her go cold from head to foot. Mrs Bolton’s voice made her go cold, and the sound of the business men who came. An occasional letter from Michaelis affected her with the same sense of chill. She felt she would surely die if it lasted much longer.
Yet it was spring, and the bluebells were coming in the wood, and the leaf-buds on the hazels were opening like the spatter of green rain. How terrible it was that it should be spring, and everything cold-hearted, cold-hearted. Only the hens, fluffed so wonderfully on the eggs, were warm with their hot, brooding female bodies! Connie felt herself living on the brink of fainting all the time.
Then, one day, a lovely sunny day with great tufts of primroses under the hazels, and many violets dotting the paths, she came in the afternoon to the coops and there was one tiny, tiny perky chicken tinily prancing round in front of a coop, and the mother hen clucking in terror. The slim little chick was greyish brown with dark markings, and it was the most alive little spark of a creature in seven kingdoms at that moment. Connie crouched to watch in a sort of ecstasy. Life, life! pure, sparky, fearless new life! New life! So tiny and so utterly without fear! Even when it scampered a little, scrambling into the coop again, and disappeared under the hen’s feathers in answer to the mother hen’s wild alarm-cries, it was not really frightened, it took it as a game, the game of living. For in a moment a tiny sharp head was poking through the gold-brown feathers of the hen, and eyeing the Cosmos.
Connie was fascinated. And at the same time, never had she felt so acutely the agony of her own female forlornness. It was becoming unbearable.
She had only one desire now, to go to the clearing in the wood. The rest was a kind of painful dream. But sometimes she was kept all day at Wragby, by her duties as hostess. And then she felt as if she too were going blank, just blank and insane.
One evening, guests or no guests, she escaped after tea. It was late, and she fled across the park like one who fears to be called back. The sun was setting rosy as she entered the wood, but she pressed on among the flowers. The light would last long overhead.
She arrived at the clearing flushed and semi-conscious. The keeper was there, in his shirt-sleeves, just closing up the coops for the night, so the little occupants would be safe. But still one little trio was pattering about on tiny feet, alert drab mites, under the straw shelter, refusing to be called in by the anxious mother.
‘I had to come and see the chickens!’ she said, panting, glancing shyly at the keeper, almost unaware of him. ‘Are there any more?’
‘Thurty-six so far!’ he said. ‘Not bad!’
He too took a curious pleasure in watching the young things come out.
Connie crouched in front of the last coop. The three chicks had run in. But still their cheeky heads came poking sharply through the yellow feathers, then withdrawing, then only one beady little head eyeing forth from the vast mother-body.
‘I’d love to touch them,’ she said, putting her fingers gingerly through the bars of the coop. But the mother-hen pecked at her hand fiercely, and Connie drew back startled and frightened.
‘How she pecks at me! She hates me!’ she said in a wondering voice. ‘But I wouldn’t hurt them!’
The man standing above her laughed, and crouched down beside her, knees apart, and put his hand with quiet confidence slowly into the coop. The old hen pecked at him, but not so savagely. And slowly, softly, with sure gentle fingers, he felt among the old bird’s feathers and drew out a faintly-peeping chick in his closed hand.
‘There!’ he said, holding out his hand to her. She took the little drab thing between her hands, and there it stood, on its impossible little stalks of legs, its atom of balancing life trembling through its almost weightless feet into Connie’s hands. But it lifted its handsome, clean-shaped little head boldly, and looked sharply round, and gave a little ‘peep’. ‘So adorable! So cheeky!’ she said softly.
The keeper, squatting beside her, was also watching with an amused face the bold little bird in her hands. Suddenly he saw a tear fall on to her wrist.
And he stood up, and stood away, moving to the other coop. For suddenly he was aware of the old flame shooting and leaping up in his loins, that he had hoped was quiescent for ever. He fought against it, turning his back to her. But it leapt, and leapt downwards, circling in his knees.
He turned again to look at her. She was kneeling and holding her two hands slowly forward, blindly, so that the chicken should run in to the mother-hen again. And there was something so mute and forlorn in her, compassion flamed in his bowels for her.
Without knowing, he came quickly towards her and crouched beside her again, taking the chick from her hands, because she was afraid of the hen, and putting it back in the coop. At the back of his loins the fire suddenly darted stronger.
He glanced apprehensively at her. Her face was averted, and she was crying blindly, in all the anguish of her generation’s forlornness. His heart melted suddenly, like a drop of fire, and he put out his hand and laid his fingers on her knee.
‘You shouldn’t cry,’ he said softly.
But then she put her hands over her face and felt that really her heart was broken and nothing mattered any more.
He laid his hand on her shoulder, and softly, gently, it began to travel down the curve of her back, blindly, with a blind stroking motion, to the curve of her crouching loins. And there his hand softly, softly, stroked the curve of her flank, in the blind instinctive caress.
She had found her scrap of handkerchief and was blindly trying to dry her face.
‘Shall you come to the hut?’ he said, in a quiet, neutral voice.
And closing his hand softly on her upper arm, he drew her up and led her slowly to the hut, not letting go of her till she was inside. Then he cleared aside the chair and table, and took a brown, soldier’s blanket from the tool chest, spreading it slowly. She glanced at his face, as she stood motionless.
His face was pale and without expression, like that of a man submitting to fate.
‘You lie there,’ he said softly, and he shut the door, so that it was dark, quite dark.
With a queer obedience, she lay down on the blanket. Then she felt the soft, groping, helplessly desirous hand touching her body, feeling for her face. The hand stroked her face softly, softly, with infinite soothing and assurance, and at last there was the soft touch of a kiss on her cheek.
She lay quite still, in a sort of sleep, in a sort of dream. Then she quivered as she felt his hand groping softly, yet with queer thwarted clumsiness among her clothing. Yet the hand knew, too, how to unclothe her where it wanted. He drew down the thin silk sheath, slowly, carefully, right down and over her feet. Then with a quiver of exquisite pleasure he touched the warm soft body, and touched her navel for a moment in a kiss. And he had to come in to her at once, to enter the peace on earth of her soft, quiescent body. It was the moment of pure peace for him, the entry into the body of the woman.
She lay still, in a kind of sleep, always in a kind of sleep. The activity, the orgasm was his, all his; she could strive for herself no more. Even the tightness of his arms round her, even the intense movement of his body, and the springing of his seed in her, was a kind of sleep, from which she did not begin to rouse till he had finished and lay softly panting against her breast.
Then she wondered, just dimly wondered, why? Why was this necessary? Why had it lifted a great cloud from her and given her peace? Was it real? Was it real?
Her tormented modern-woman’s brain still had no rest. Was it real? And she knew, if she gave herself to the man, it was real. But if she kept herself for herself it was nothing. She was old; millions of years old, she felt. And at last, she could bear the burden of herself no more. She was to be had for the taking. To be had for the taking.
The man lay in a mysterious stillness. What was he feeling? What was he thinking? She did not know. He was a strange man to her, she did not know him. She must only wait, for she did not dare to break his mysterious stillness. He lay there with his arms round her, his body on hers, his wet body touching hers, so close. And completely unknown. Yet not unpeaceful. His very stillness was peaceful.
She knew that, when at last he roused and drew away from her. It was like an abandonment. He drew her dress in the darkness down over her knees and stood a few moments, apparently adjusting his own clothing. Then he quietly opened the door and went out.
She saw a very brilliant little moon shining above the afterglow over the oaks. Quickly she got up and arranged herself she was tidy. Then she went to the door of the hut.
All the lower wood was in shadow, almost darkness. Yet the sky overhead was crystal. But it shed hardly any light. He came through the lower shadow towards her, his face lifted like a pale blotch.
‘Shall we go then?’ he said.
‘I’ll go with you to the gate.’
He arranged things his own way. He locked the door of the hut and came after her.
‘You aren’t sorry, are you?’ he asked, as he went at her side.
‘No! No! Are you?’ she said.
‘For that! No!’ he said. Then after a while he added: ‘But there’s the rest of things.’
‘What rest of things?’ she said.
‘Sir Clifford. Other folks. All the complications.’
‘Why complications?’ she said, disappointed.
‘It’s always so. For you as well as for me. There’s always complications.’ He walked on steadily in the dark.
‘And are you sorry?’ she said.
‘In a way!’ he replied, looking up at the sky. ‘I thought I’d done with it all. Now I’ve begun again.’
‘Life!’ she re-echoed, with a queer thrill.
‘It’s life,’ he said. ‘There’s no keeping clear. And if you do keep clear you might almost as well die. So if I’ve got to be broken open again, I have.’
She did not quite see it that way, but still ‘It’s just love,’ she said cheerfully.
‘Whatever that may be,’ he replied.
They went on through the darkening wood in silence, till they were almost at the gate.
‘But you don’t hate me, do you?’ she said wistfully.
‘Nay, nay,’ he replied. And suddenly he held her fast against his breast again, with the old connecting passion. ‘Nay, for me it was good, it was good. Was it for you?’
‘Yes, for me too,’ she answered, a little untruthfully, for she had not been conscious of much.
He kissed her softly, softly, with the kisses of warmth.
‘If only there weren’t so many other people in the world,’ he said lugubriously.
She laughed. They were at the gate to the park. He opened it for her.
‘I won’t come any further,’ he said.
‘No!’ And she held out her hand, as if to shake hands. But he took it in both his.
‘Shall I come again?’ she asked wistfully.
She left him and went across the park.
He stood back and watched her going into the dark, against the pallor of the horizon. Almost with bitterness he watched her go. She had connected him up again, when he had wanted to be alone. She had cost him that bitter privacy of a man who at last wants only to be alone.
He turned into the dark of the wood. All was still, the moon had set. But he was aware of the noises of the night, the engines at Stacks Gate, the traffic on the main road. Slowly he climbed the denuded knoll. And from the top he could see the country, bright rows of lights at Stacks Gate, smaller lights at Tevershall pit, the yellow lights of Tevershall and lights everywhere, here and there, on the dark country, with the distant blush of furnaces, faint and rosy, since the night was clear, the rosiness of the outpouring of white-hot metal. Sharp, wicked electric lights at Stacks Gate! An undefinable quick of evil in them! And all the unease, the ever-shifting dread of the industrial night in the Midlands. He could hear the winding-engines at Stacks Gate turning down the seven-o’clock miners. The pit worked three shifts.
He went down again into the darkness and seclusion of the wood. But he knew that the seclusion of the wood was illusory. The industrial noises broke the solitude, the sharp lights, though unseen, mocked it. A man could no longer be private and withdrawn. The world allows no hermits. And now he had taken the woman, and brought on himself a new cycle of pain and doom. For he knew by experience what it meant.
It was not woman’s fault, nor even love’s fault, nor the fault of sex. The fault lay there, out there, in those evil electric lights and diabolical rattlings of engines. There, in the world of the mechanical greedy, greedy mechanism and mechanized greed, sparkling with lights and gushing hot metal and roaring with traffic, there lay the vast evil thing, ready to destroy whatever did not conform. Soon it would destroy the wood, and the bluebells would spring no more. All vulnerable things must perish under the rolling and running of iron.
He thought with infinite tenderness of the woman. Poor forlorn thing, she was nicer than she knew, and oh! so much too nice for the tough lot she was in contact with. Poor thing, she too had some of the vulnerability of the wild hyacinths, she wasn’t all tough rubber-goods and platinum, like the modern girl. And they would do her in! As sure as life, they would do her in, as they do in all naturally tender life. Tender! Somewhere she was tender, tender with a tenderness of the growing hyacinths, something that has gone out of the celluloid women of today. But he would protect her with his heart for a little while. For a little while, before the insentient iron world and the Mammon of mechanized greed did them both in, her as well as him.
He went home with his gun and his dog, to the dark cottage, lit the lamp, started the fire, and ate his supper of bread and cheese, young onions and beer. He was alone, in a silence he loved. His room was clean and tidy, but rather stark. Yet the fire was bright, the hearth white, the petroleum lamp hung bright over the table, with its white oil-cloth. He tried to read a book about India, but tonight he could not read. He sat by the fire in his shirt-sleeves, not smoking, but with a mug of beer in reach. And he thought about Connie.
To tell the truth, he was sorry for what had happened, perhaps most for her sake. He had a sense of foreboding. No sense of wrong or sin; he was troubled by no conscience in that respect. He knew that conscience was chiefly tear of society, or fear of oneself. He was not afraid of himself. But he was quite consciously afraid of society, which he knew by instinct to be a malevolent, partly-insane beast.
The woman! If she could be there with him, arid there were nobody else in the world! The desire rose again, his penis began to stir like a live bird. At the same time an oppression, a dread of exposing himself and her to that outside Thing that sparkled viciously in the electric lights, weighed down his shoulders. She, poor young thing, was just a young female creature to him; but a young female creature whom he had gone into and whom he desired again.
Stretching with the curious yawn of desire, for he had been alone and apart from man or woman for four years, he rose and took his coat again, and his gun, lowered the lamp and went out into the starry night, with the dog. Driven by desire and by dread of the malevolent Thing outside, he made his round in the wood, slowly, softly. He loved the darkness arid folded himself into it. It fitted the turgidity of his desire which, in spite of all, was like a riches; the stirring restlessness of his penis, the stirring fire in his loins! Oh, if only there were other men to be with, to fight that sparkling electric Thing outside there, to preserve the tenderness of life, the tenderness of women, and the natural riches of desire. If only there were men to fight side by side with! But the men were all outside there, glorying in the Thing, triumphing or being trodden down in the rush of mechanized greed or of greedy mechanism.
Constance, for her part, had hurried across the park, home, almost without thinking. As yet she had no afterthought. She would be in time for dinner.
She was annoyed to find the doors fastened, however, so that she had to ring. Mrs Bolton opened.
‘Why there you are, your Ladyship! I was beginning to wonder if you’d gone lost!’ she said a little roguishly. ‘Sir Clifford hasn’t asked for you, though; he’s got Mr Linley in with him, talking over something. It looks as if he’d stay to dinner, doesn’t it, my Lady?’
‘It does rather,’ said Connie.
‘Shall I put dinner back a quarter of an hour? That would give you time to dress in comfort.’
‘Perhaps you’d better.’
Mr Linley was the general manager of the collieries, an elderly man from the north, with not quite enough punch to suit Clifford; not up to post-war conditions, nor post-war colliers either, with their ‘ca’ canny’ creed. But Connie liked Mr Linley, though she was glad to be spared the toadying of his wife.
Linley stayed to dinner, and Connie was the hostess men liked so much, so modest, yet so attentive and aware, with big, wide blue eyes arid a soft repose that sufficiently hid what she was really thinking. Connie had played this woman so much, it was almost second nature to her; but still, decidedly second. Yet it was curious how everything disappeared from her consciousness while she played it.
She waited patiently till she could go upstairs and think her own thoughts. She was always waiting, it seemed to be her FORTE.
Once in her room, however, she felt still vague and confused. She didn’t know what to think. What sort of a man was he, really? Did he really like her? Not much, she felt. Yet he was kind. There was something, a sort of warm naive kindness, curious and sudden, that almost opened her womb to him. But she felt he might be kind like that to any woman. Though even so, it was curiously soothing, comforting. And he was a passionate man, wholesome and passionate. But perhaps he wasn’t quite individual enough; he might be the same with any woman as he had been with her. It really wasn’t personal. She was only really a female to him.
But perhaps that was better. And after all, he was kind to the female in her, which no man had ever been. Men were very kind to the PERSONshe was, but rather cruel to the female, despising her or ignoring her altogether. Men were awfully kind to Constance Reid or to Lady Chatterley; but not to her womb they weren’t kind. And he took no notice of Constance or of Lady Chatterley; he just softly stroked her loins or her breasts.
She went to the wood next day. It was a grey, still afternoon, with the dark-green dogs-mercury spreading under the hazel copse, and all the trees making a silent effort to open their buds. Today she could almost feel it in her own body, the huge heave of the sap in the massive trees, upwards, up, up to the bud-a, there to push into little flamey oak-leaves, bronze as blood. It was like a ride running turgid upward, and spreading on the sky.
She came to the clearing, but he was not there. She had only half expected him. The pheasant chicks were running lightly abroad, light as insects, from the coops where the fellow hens clucked anxiously. Connie sat and watched them, and waited. She only waited. Even the chicks she hardly saw. She waited.
The time passed with dream-like slowness, and he did not come. She had only half expected him. He never came in the afternoon. She must go home to tea. But she had to force herself to leave.
As she went home, a fine drizzle of rain fell.
‘Is it raining again?’ said Clifford, seeing her shake her hat.
She poured tea in silence, absorbed in a sort of obstinacy. She did want to see the keeper today, to see if it were really real. If it were really real.
‘Shall I read a little to you afterwards?’ said Clifford.
She looked at him. Had he sensed something?
‘The spring makes me feel queer – I thought I might rest a little,’ she said.
‘Just as you like. Not feeling really unwell, are you?’
‘No! Only rather tired – with the spring. Will you have Mrs Bolton to play something with you?’
‘No! I think I’ll listen in.’
She heard the curious satisfaction in his voice. She went upstairs to her bedroom. There she heard the loudspeaker begin to bellow, in an idiotically velveteen-genteel sort of voice, something about a series of street-cries, the very cream of genteel affectation imitating old criers. She pulled on her old violet coloured mackintosh, and slipped out of the house at the side door.
The drizzle of rain was like a veil over the world, mysterious, hushed, not cold. She got very warm as she hurried across the park. She had to open her light waterproof.
The wood was silent, still and secret in the evening drizzle of rain, full of the mystery of eggs and half-open buds, half unsheathed flowers. In the dimness of it all trees glistened naked and dark as if they had unclothed themselves, and the green things on earth seemed to hum with greenness.
There was still no one at the clearing. The chicks had nearly all gone under the mother-hens, only one or two last adventurous ones still dibbed about in the dryness under the straw roof shelter. And they were doubtful of themselves.
So! He still had not been. He was staying away on purpose. Or perhaps something was wrong. Perhaps she should go to the cottage and see.
But she was born to wait. She opened the hut with her key. It was all tidy, the corn put in the bin, the blankets folded on the shelf, the straw neat in a corner; a new bundle of straw. The hurricane lamp hung on a nail. The table and chair had been put back where she had lain.
She sat down on a stool in the doorway. How still everything was! The fine rain blew very softly, filmily, but the wind made no noise. Nothing made any sound. The trees stood like powerful beings, dim, twilit, silent and alive. How alive everything was!
Night was drawing near again; she would have to go. He was avoiding her.
But suddenly he came striding into the clearing, in his black oilskin jacket like a chauffeur, shining with wet. He glanced quickly at the hut, half-saluted, then veered aside and went on to the coops. There he crouched in silence, looking carefully at everything, then carefully shutting the hens and chicks up safe against the night.
At last he came slowly towards her. She still sat on her stool. He stood before her under the porch.
‘You come then,’ he said, using the intonation of the dialect.
‘Yes,’ she said, looking up at him. ‘You’re late!’
‘Ay!’ he replied, looking away into the wood.
She rose slowly, drawing aside her stool.
‘Did you want to come in?’ she asked.
He looked down at her shrewdly.
‘Won’t folks be thinkin’ somethink, you comin’ here every night?’ he said.
‘Why?’ She looked up at him, at a loss. ‘I said I’d come. Nobody knows.’
‘They soon will, though,’ he replied. ‘An’ what then?’
She was at a loss for an answer.
‘Why should they know?’ she said.
‘Folks always does,’ he said fatally.
Her lip quivered a little.
‘Well I can’t help it,’ she faltered.
‘Nay,’ he said. ‘You can help it by not comin’ – if yer want to,’ he added, in a lower tone.
‘But I don’t want to,’ she murmured.
He looked away into the wood, and was silent.
‘But what when folks finds out?’ he asked at last. ‘Think about it! Think how lowered you’ll feel, one of your husband’s servants.’
She looked up at his averted face.
‘Is it,’ she stammered, ‘is it that you don’t want me?’
‘Think!’ he said. ‘Think what if folks find out Sir Clifford an’ a’ – an’ everybody talkin’ – ‘
‘Well, I can go away.’
‘Anywhere! I’ve got money of my own. My mother left me twenty thousand pounds in trust, and I know Clifford can’t touch it. I can go away.’
‘But ‘appen you don’t want to go away.’
‘Yes, yes! I don’t care what happens to me.’
‘Ay, you think that! But you’ll care! You’ll have to care, everybody has. You’ve got to remember your Ladyship is carrying on with a game-keeper. It’s not as if I was a gentleman. Yes, you’d care. You’d care.’
‘I shouldn’t. What do I care about my ladyship! I hate it really. I feel people are jeering every time they say it. And they are, they are! Even you jeer when you say it.’
For the first time he looked straight at her, and into her eyes. ‘I don’t jeer at you,’ he said.
As he looked into her eyes she saw his own eyes go dark, quite dark, the pupils dilating.
‘Don’t you care about a’ the risk?’ he asked in a husky voice. ‘You should care. Don’t care when it’s too late!’
There was a curious warning pleading in his voice.
‘But I’ve nothing to lose,’ she said fretfully. ‘If you knew what it is, you’d think I’d be glad to lose it. But are you afraid for yourself?’
‘Ay!’ he said briefly. ‘I am. I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid O’ things.’
‘What things?’ she asked.
He gave a curious backward jerk of his head, indicating the outer world.
‘Things! Everybody! The lot of ’em.’
Then he bent down and suddenly kissed her unhappy face.
‘Nay, I don’t care,’ he said. ‘Let’s have it, an’ damn the rest. But if you was to feel sorry you’d ever done it – !’
‘Don’t put me off,’ she pleaded.
He put his fingers to her cheek and kissed her again suddenly.
‘Let me come in then,’ he said softly. ‘An’ take off your mackintosh.’
He hung up his gun, slipped out of his wet leather jacket, and reached for the blankets.
‘I brought another blanket,’ he said, ‘so we can put one over us if you like.’
‘I can’t stay long,’ she said. ‘Dinner is half-past seven.’
He looked at her swiftly, then at his watch.
‘All right,’ he said.
He shut the door, and lit a tiny light in the hanging hurricane lamp. ‘One time we’ll have a long time,’ he said.
He put the blankets down carefully, one folded for her head. Then he sat down a moment on the stool, and drew her to him, holding her close with one arm, feeling for her body with his free hand. She heard the catch of his intaken breath as he found her. Under her frail petticoat she was naked.
‘Eh! what it is to touch thee!’ he said, as his finger caressed the delicate, warm, secret skin of her waist and hips. He put his face down and rubbed his cheek against her belly and against her thighs again and again. And again she wondered a little over the sort of rapture it was to him. She did not understand the beauty he found in her, through touch upon her living secret body, almost the ecstasy of beauty. For passion alone is awake to it. And when passion is dead, or absent, then the magnificent throb of beauty is incomprehensible and even a little despicable; warm, live beauty of contact, so much deeper than the beauty of vision. She felt the glide of his cheek on her thighs and belly and buttocks, and the close brushing of his moustache and his soft thick hair, and her knees began to quiver. Far down in her she felt a new stirring, a new nakedness emerging. And she was half afraid. Half she wished he would not caress her so. He was encompassing her somehow. Yet she was waiting, waiting.
And when he came into her, with an intensification of relief and consummation that was pure peace to him, still she was waiting. She felt herself a little left out. And she knew, partly it was her own fault. She willed herself into this separateness. Now perhaps she was condemned to it. She lay still, feeling his motion within her, his deep-sunk intentness, the sudden quiver of him at the springing of his seed, then the slow-subsiding thrust. That thrust of the buttocks, surely it was a little ridiculous. If you were a woman, and a part in all the business, surely that thrusting of the man’s buttocks was supremely ridiculous. Surely the man was intensely ridiculous in this posture and this act!
But she lay still, without recoil. Even when he had finished, she did not rouse herself to get a grip on her own satisfaction, as she had done with Michaelis; she lay still, and the tears slowly filled and ran from her eyes.
He lay still, too. But he held her close and tried to cover her poor naked legs with his legs, to keep them warm. He lay on her with a close, undoubting warmth.
‘Are yer cold?’ he asked, in a soft, small voice, as if she were close, so close. Whereas she was left out, distant.
‘No! But I must go,’ she said gently.
He sighed, held her closer, then relaxed to rest again.
He had not guessed her tears. He thought she was there with him.
‘I must go,’ she repeated.
He lifted himself kneeled beside her a moment, kissed the inner side of her thighs, then drew down her skirts, buttoning his own clothes unthinking, not even turning aside, in the faint, faint light from the lantern.
‘Tha mun come ter th’ cottage one time,’ he said, looking down at her with a warm, sure, easy face.
But she lay there inert, and was gazing up at him thinking: Stranger! Stranger! She even resented him a little.
He put on his coat and looked for his hat, which had fallen, then he slung on his gun.
‘Come then!’ he said, looking down at her with those warm, peaceful sort of eyes.
She rose slowly. She didn’t want to go. She also rather resented staying. He helped her with her thin waterproof and saw she was tidy.
Then he opened the door. The outside was quite dark. The faithful dog under the porch stood up with pleasure seeing him. The drizzle of rain drifted greyly past upon the darkness. It was quite dark.
‘Ah mun ta’e th’ lantern,’ he said. ‘The’ll be nob’dy.’
He walked just before her in the narrow path, swinging the hurricane lamp low, revealing the wet grass, the black shiny tree-roots like snakes, wan flowers. For the rest, all was grey rain-mist and complete darkness.
‘Tha mun come to the cottage one time,’ he said, ‘shall ta? We might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.’
It puzzled her, his queer, persistent wanting her, when there was nothing between them, when he never really spoke to her, and in spite of herself she resented the dialect. His ‘tha mun come’ seemed not addressed to her, but some common woman. She recognized the foxglove leaves of the riding and knew, more or less, where they were.
‘It’s quarter past seven,’ he said, ‘you’ll do it.’ He had changed his voice, seemed to feel her distance. As they turned the last bend in the riding towards the hazel wall and the gate, he blew out the light. ‘We’ll see from here,’ be said, taking her gently by the arm.
But it was difficult, the earth under their feet was a mystery, but he felt his way by tread: he was used to it. At the gate he gave her his electric torch. ‘It’s a bit lighter in the park,’ he said; ‘but take it for fear you get off th’ path.’
It was true, there seemed a ghost-glimmer of greyness in the open space of the park. He suddenly drew her to him and whipped his hand under her dress again, feeling her warm body with his wet, chill hand.
‘I could die for the touch of a woman like thee,’ he said in his throat. ‘If tha’ would stop another minute.’
She felt the sudden force of his wanting her again.
‘No, I must run,’ she said, a little wildly.
‘Ay,’ he replied, suddenly changed, letting her go.
She turned away, and on the instant she turned back to him saying: ‘Kiss me.’
He bent over her indistinguishable and kissed her on the left eye. She held her mouth and he softly kissed it, but at once drew away. He hated mouth kisses.
‘I’ll come tomorrow,’ she said, drawing away; ‘if I can,’ she added.
‘Ay! not so late,’ he replied out of the darkness. Already she could not see him at all.
‘Goodnight,’ she said.
‘Goodnight, your Ladyship,’ his voice.
She stopped and looked back into the wet dark. She could just see the bulk of him. ‘Why did you say that?’ she said.
‘Nay,’ he replied. ‘Goodnight then, run!’
She plunged on in the dark-grey tangible night. She found the side-door open, and slipped into her room unseen. As she closed the door the gong sounded, but she would take her bath all the same – she must take her bath. ‘But I won’t be late any more,’ she said to herself; ‘it’s too annoying.’
The next day she did not go to the wood. She went instead with Clifford to Uthwaite. He could occasionally go out now in the car, and had got a strong young man as chauffeur, who could help him out of the car if need be. He particularly wanted to see his godfather, Leslie Winter, who lived at Shipley Hall, not far from Uthwaite. Winter was an elderly gentleman now, wealthy, one of the wealthy coal-owners who had had their hey-day in King Edward’s time. King Edward had stayed more than once at Shipley, for the shooting. It was a handsome old stucco hall, very elegantly appointed, for Winter was a bachelor and prided himself on his style; but the place was beset by collieries. Leslie Winter was attached to Clifford, but personally did not entertain a great respect for him, because of the photographs in illustrated papers and the literature. The old man was a buck of the King Edward school, who thought life was life and the scribbling fellows were something else. Towards Connie the Squire was always rather gallant; he thought her an attractive demure maiden and rather wasted on Clifford, and it was a thousand pities she stood no chance of bringing forth an heir to Wragby. He himself had no heir.
Connie wondered what he would say if he knew that Clifford’s game-keeper had been having intercourse with her, and saying to her ‘tha mun come to th’ cottage one time.’ He would detest and despise her, for he had come almost to hate the shoving forward of the working classes. A man of her own class he would not mind, for Connie was gifted from nature with this appearance of demure, submissive maidenliness, and perhaps it was part of her nature. Winter called her ‘dear child’ and gave her a rather lovely miniature of an eighteenth-century lady, rather against her will.
But Connie was preoccupied with her affair with the keeper. After all, Mr Winter, who was really a gentleman and a man of the world, treated her as a person and a discriminating individual; he did not lump her together with all the rest of his female womanhood in his ‘thee’ and ‘tha’.
She did not go to the wood that day nor the next, nor the day following. She did not go so long as she felt, or imagined she felt, the man waiting for her, wanting her. But the fourth day she was terribly unsettled and uneasy. She still refused to go to the wood and open her thighs once more to the man. She thought of all the things she might do – drive to Sheffield, pay visits, and the thought of all these things was repellent. At last she decided to take a walk, not towards the wood, but in the opposite direction; she would go to Marehay, through the little iron gate in the other side of the park fence. It was a quiet grey day of spring, almost warm. She walked on unheeding, absorbed in thoughts she was not even conscious of She was not really aware of anything outside her, till she was startled by the loud barking of the dog at Marehay Farm. Marehay Farm! Its pastures ran up to Wragby park fence, so they were neighbours, but it was some time since Connie had called.
‘Bell!’ she said to the big white bull-terrier. ‘Bell! have you forgotten me? Don’t you know me?’ She was afraid of dogs, and Bell stood back and bellowed, and she wanted to pass through the farmyard on to the warren path.
Mrs Flint appeared. She was a woman of Constance’s own age, had been a school-teacher, but Connie suspected her of being rather a false little thing.
‘Why, it’s Lady Chatterley! Why!’ And Mrs Flint’s eyes glowed again, and she flushed like a young girl. ‘Bell, Bell. Why! barking at Lady Chatterley! Bell! Be quiet!’ She darted forward and slashed at the dog with a white cloth she held in her hand, then came forward to Connie.
‘She used to know me,’ said Connie, shaking hands. The Flints were Chatterley tenants.
‘Of course she knows your Ladyship! She’s just showing off,’ said Mrs Flint, glowing and looking up with a sort of flushed confusion, ‘but it’s so long since she’s seen you. I do hope you are better.’
‘Yes thanks, I’m all right.’
‘We’ve hardly seen you all winter. Will you come in and look at the baby?’
‘Well!’ Connie hesitated. ‘Just for a minute.’
Mrs Flint flew wildly in to tidy up, and Connie came slowly after her, hesitating in the rather dark kitchen where the kettle was boiling by the fire. Back came Mrs Flint.
‘I do hope you’ll excuse me,’ she said. ‘Will you come in here?’
They went into the living-room, where a baby was sitting on the rag hearth rug, and the table was roughly set for tea. A young servant-girl backed down the passage, shy and awkward.
The baby was a perky little thing of about a year, with red hair like its father, and cheeky pale-blue eyes. It was a girl, and not to be daunted. It sat among cushions and was surrounded with rag dolls and other toys in modern excess.
‘Why, what a dear she is!’ said Connie, ‘and how she’s grown! A big girl! A big girl!’
She had given it a shawl when it was born, and celluloid ducks for Christmas.
‘There, Josephine! Who’s that come to see you? Who’s this, Josephine? Lady Chatterley – you know Lady Chatterley, don’t you?’
The queer pert little mite gazed cheekily at Connie. Ladyships were still all the same to her.
‘Come! Will you come to me?’ said Connie to the baby.
The baby didn’t care one way or another, so Connie picked her up and held her in her lap. How warm and lovely it was to hold a child in one’s lap, and the soft little arms, the unconscious cheeky little legs.
‘I was just having a rough cup of tea all by myself. Luke’s gone to market, so I can have it when I like. Would you care for a cup, Lady Chatterley? I don’t suppose it’s what you’re used to, but if you would…’
Connie would, though she didn’t want to be reminded of what she was used to. There was a great relaying of the table, and the best cups brought and the best tea-pot.
‘If only you wouldn’t take any trouble,’ said Connie.
But if Mrs Flint took no trouble, where was the fun! So Connie played with the child and was amused by its little female dauntlessness, and got a deep voluptuous pleasure out of its soft young warmth. Young life! And so fearless! So fearless, because so defenceless. All the other people, so narrow with fear!
She had a cup of tea, which was rather strong, and very good bread and butter, and bottled damsons. Mrs Flint flushed and glowed and bridled with excitement, as if Connie were some gallant knight. And they had a real female chat, and both of them enjoyed it.
‘It’s a poor little tea, though,’ said Mrs Flint.
‘It’s much nicer than at home,’ said Connie truthfully.
‘Oh-h!’ said Mrs Flint, not believing, of course.
But at last Connie rose.
‘I must go,’ she said. ‘My husband has no idea where I am. He’ll be wondering all kinds of things.’
‘He’ll never think you’re here,’ laughed Mrs Flint excitedly. ‘He’ll be sending the crier round.’
‘Goodbye, Josephine,’ said Connie, kissing the baby and ruffling its red, wispy hair.
Mrs Flint insisted on opening the locked and barred front door. Connie emerged in the farm’s little front garden, shut in by a privet hedge. There were two rows of auriculas by the path, very velvety and rich.
‘Lovely auriculas,’ said Connie.
‘Recklesses, as Luke calls them,’ laughed Mrs Flint. ‘Have some.’
And eagerly she picked the velvet and primrose flowers.
‘Enough! Enough!’ said Connie.
They came to the little garden gate.
‘Which way were you going?’ asked Mrs Flint.
‘By the Warren.’
‘Let me see! Oh yes, the cows are in the gin close. But they’re not up yet. But the gate’s locked, you’ll have to climb.’
‘I can climb,’ said Connie.
‘Perhaps I can just go down the close with you.’
They went down the poor, rabbit-bitten pasture. Birds were whistling in wild evening triumph in the wood. A man was calling up the last cows, which trailed slowly over the path-worn pasture.
‘They’re late, milking, tonight,’ said Mrs Flint severely. ‘They know Luke won’t be back till after dark.’
They came to the fence, beyond which the young fir-wood bristled dense. There was a little gate, but it was locked. In the grass on the inside stood a bottle, empty.
‘There’s the keeper’s empty bottle for his milk,’ explained Mrs Flint. ‘We bring it as far as here for him, and then he fetches it himself’
‘When?’ said Connie.
‘Oh, any time he’s around. Often in the morning. Well, goodbye Lady Chatterley! And do come again. It was so lovely having you.’
Connie climbed the fence into the narrow path between the dense, bristling young firs. Mrs Flint went running back across the pasture, in a sun-bonnet, because she was really a schoolteacher. Constance didn’t like this dense new part of the wood; it seemed gruesome and choking. She hurried on with her head down, thinking of the Flints’ baby. It was a dear little thing, but it would be a bit bow-legged like its father. It showed already, but perhaps it would grow out of it. How warm and fulfilling somehow to have a baby, and how Mrs Flint had showed it off! She had something anyhow that Connie hadn’t got, and apparently couldn’t have. Yes, Mrs Flint had flaunted her motherhood. And Connie had been just a bit, just a little bit jealous. She couldn’t help it.
She started out of her muse, and gave a little cry of fear. A man was there.
It was the keeper. He stood in the path like Balaam’s ass, barring her way.
‘How’s this?’ he said in surprise.
‘How did you come?’ she panted.
‘How did you? Have you been to the hut?’
‘No! No! I went to Marehay.’
He looked at her curiously, searchingly, and she hung her head a little guiltily.
‘And were you going to the hut now?’ he asked rather sternly. ‘No! I mustn’t. I stayed at Marehay. No one knows where I am. I’m late. I’ve got to run.’
‘Giving me the slip, like?’ he said, with a faint ironic smile. ‘No! No. Not that. Only – ‘
‘Why, what else?’ he said. And he stepped up to her and put his arms around her. She felt the front of his body terribly near to her, and alive.
‘Oh, not now, not now,’ she cried, trying to push him away.
‘Why not? It’s only six o’clock. You’ve got half an hour. Nay! Nay! I want you.’
He held her fast and she felt his urgency. Her old instinct was to fight for her freedom. But something else in her was strange and inert and heavy. His body was urgent against her, and she hadn’t the heart any more to fight.
He looked around.
‘Come – come here! Through here,’ he said, looking penetratingly into the dense fir-trees, that were young and not more than half-grown.
He looked back at her. She saw his eyes, tense and brilliant, fierce, not loving. But her will had left her. A strange weight was on her limbs. She was giving way. She was giving up.
He led her through the wall of prickly trees, that were difficult to come through, to a place where was a little space and a pile of dead boughs. He threw one or two dry ones down, put his coat and waistcoat over them, and she had to lie down there under the boughs of the tree, like an animal, while he waited, standing there in his shirt and breeches, watching her with haunted eyes. But still he was provident – he made her lie properly, properly. Yet he broke the band of her underclothes, for she did not help him, only lay inert.
He too had bared the front part of his body and she felt his naked flesh against her as he came into her. For a moment he was still inside her, turgid there and quivering. Then as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her new strange thrills rippling inside her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite, exquisite and melting her all molten inside. It was like bells rippling up and up to a culmination. She lay unconscious of the wild little cries she uttered at the last. But it was over too soon, too soon, and she could no longer force her own conclusion with her own activity. This was different, different. She could do nothing. She could no longer harden and grip for her own satisfaction upon him. She could only wait, wait and moan in spirit as she felt him withdrawing, withdrawing and contracting, coming to the terrible moment when he would slip out of her and be gone. Whilst all her womb was open and soft, and softly clamouring, like a sea-anemone under the tide, clamouring for him to come in again and make a fulfilment for her. She clung to him unconscious iii passion, and he never quite slipped from her, and she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring, and strange rhythms flushing up into her with a strange rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swelling till it filled all her cleaving consciousness, and then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay there crying in unconscious inarticulate cries. The voice out of the uttermost night, the life! The man heard it beneath him with a kind of awe, as his life sprang out into her. And as it subsided, he subsided too and lay utterly still, unknowing, while her grip on him slowly relaxed, and she lay inert. And they lay and knew nothing, not even of each other, both lost. Till at last he began to rouse and become aware of his defenceless nakedness, and she was aware that his body was loosening its clasp on her. He was coming apart; but in her breast she felt she could not bear him to leave her uncovered. He must cover her now for ever.
But he drew away at last, and kissed her and covered her over, and began to cover himself She lay looking up to the boughs of the tree, unable as yet to move. He stood and fastened up his breeches, looking round. All was dense and silent, save for the awed dog that lay with its paws against its nose. He sat down again on the brushwood and took Connie’s hand in silence.
She turned and looked at him. ‘We came off together that time,’ he said.
She did not answer.
‘It’s good when it’s like that. Most folks live their lives through and they never know it,’ he said, speaking rather dreamily.
She looked into his brooding face.
‘Do they?’ she said. ‘Are you glad?’
He looked back into her eyes. ‘Glad,’ he said, ‘Ay, but never mind.’ He did not want her to talk. And he bent over her and kissed her, and she felt, so he must kiss her for ever.
At last she sat up.
‘Don’t people often come off together?’ she asked with naive curiosity.
‘A good many of them never. You can see by the raw look of them.’ He spoke unwittingly, regretting he had begun.
‘Have you come off like that with other women?’
He looked at her amused.
‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘I don’t know.’
And she knew he would never tell her anything he didn’t want to tell her. She watched his face, and the passion for him moved in her bowels. She resisted it as far as she could, for it was the loss of herself to herself.
He put on his waistcoat and his coat, and pushed a way through to the path again.
The last level rays of the sun touched the wood. ‘I won’t come with you,’ he said; ‘better not.’
She looked at him wistfully before she turned. His dog was waiting so anxiously for him to go, and he seemed to have nothing whatever to say. Nothing left.
Connie went slowly home, realizing the depth of the other thing in her. Another self was alive in her, burning molten and soft in her womb and bowels, and with this self she adored him. She adored him till her knees were weak as she walked. In her womb and bowels she was flowing and alive now and vulnerable, and helpless in adoration of him as the most naive woman. It feels like a child, she said to herself it feels like a child in me. And so it did, as if her womb, that had always been shut, had opened and filled with new life, almost a burden, yet lovely.
‘If I had a child!’ she thought to herself; ‘if I had him inside me as a child!’ – and her limbs turned molten at the thought, and she realized the immense difference between having a child to oneself and having a child to a man whom one’s bowels yearned towards. The former seemed in a sense ordinary: but to have a child to a man whom one adored in one’s bowels and one’s womb, it made her feel she was very different from her old self and as if she was sinking deep, deep to the centre of all womanhood and the sleep of creation.
It was not the passion that was new to her, it was the yearning adoration. She knew she had always feared it, for it left her helpless; she feared it still, lest if she adored him too much, then she would lose herself become effaced, and she did not want to be effaced, a slave, like a savage woman. She must not become a slave. She feared her adoration, yet she would not at once fight against it. She knew she could fight it. She had a devil of self-will in her breast that could have fought the full soft heaving adoration of her womb and crushed it. She could even now do it, or she thought so, and she could then take up her passion with her own will.
Ah yes, to be passionate like a Bacchante, like a Bacchanal fleeing through the woods, to call on Iacchos, the bright phallos that had no independent personality behind it, but was pure god-servant to the woman! The man, the individual, let him not dare intrude. He was but a temple-servant, the bearer and keeper of the bright phallos, her own.
So, in the flux of new awakening, the old hard passion flamed in her for a time, and the man dwindled to a contemptible object, the mere phallos-bearer, to be torn to pieces when his service was performed. She felt the force of the Bacchae in her limbs and her body, the woman gleaming and rapid, beating down the male; but while she felt this, her heart was heavy. She did not want it, it was known and barren, birthless; the adoration was her treasure.
It was so fathomless, so soft, so deep and so unknown. No, no, she would give up her hard bright female power; she was weary of it, stiffened with it; she would sink in the new bath of life, in the depths of her womb and her bowels that sang the voiceless song of adoration. It was early yet to begin to fear the man.
‘I walked over by Marehay, and I had tea with Mrs Flint,’ she said to Clifford. ‘I wanted to see the baby. It’s so adorable, with hair like red cobwebs. Such a dear! Mr Flint had gone to market, so she and I and the baby had tea together. Did you wonder where I was?’
‘Well, I wondered, but I guessed you had dropped in somewhere to tea,’ said Clifford jealously. With a sort of second sight he sensed something new in her, something to him quite incomprehensible, hut he ascribed it to the baby. He thought that all that ailed Connie was that she did not have a baby, automatically bring one forth, so to speak.
‘I saw you go across the park to the iron gate, my Lady,’ said Mrs Bolton; ‘so I thought perhaps you’d called at the Rectory.’
‘I nearly did, then I turned towards Marehay instead.’
The eyes of the two women met: Mrs Bolton’s grey and bright and searching; Connie’s blue and veiled and strangely beautiful. Mrs Bolton was almost sure she had a lover, yet how could it be, and who could it be? Where was there a man?
‘Oh, it’s so good for you, if you go out and see a bit of company sometimes,’ said Mrs Bolton. ‘I was saying to Sir Clifford, it would do her ladyship a world of good if she’d go out among people more.’
‘Yes, I’m glad I went, and such a quaint dear cheeky baby, Clifford,’ said Connie. ‘It’s got hair just like spider-webs, and bright orange, and the oddest, cheekiest, pale-blue china eyes. Of course it’s a girl, or it wouldn’t be so bold, bolder than any little Sir Francis Drake.’
‘You’re right, my Lady – a regular little Flint. They were always a forward sandy-headed family,’ said Mrs Bolton.
‘Wouldn’t you like to see it, Clifford? I’ve asked them to tea for you to see it.’
‘Who?’ he asked, looking at Connie in great uneasiness. ‘Mrs Flint and the baby, next Monday.’
‘You can have them to tea up in your room,’ he said.
‘Why, don’t you want to see the baby?’ she cried.
‘Oh, I’ll see it, but I don’t want to sit through a tea-time with them.’
‘Oh,’ cried Connie, looking at him with wide veiled eyes.
She did not really see him, he was somebody else.
‘You can have a nice cosy tea up in your room, my Lady, and Mrs Flint will be more comfortable than if Sir Clifford was there,’ said Mrs Bolton.
She was sure Connie had a lover, and something in her soul exulted. But who was he? Who was he? Perhaps Mrs Flint would provide a clue.
Connie would not take her bath this evening. The sense of his flesh touching her, his very stickiness upon her, was dear to her, and in a sense holy.
Clifford was very uneasy. He would not let her go after dinner, and she had wanted so much to be alone. She looked at him, but was curiously submissive.
‘Shall we play a game, or shall I read to you, or what shall it be?’ he asked uneasily.
‘You read to me,’ said Connie.
‘What shall I read – verse or prose? Or drama?’
‘Read Racine,’ she said.
It had been one of his stunts in the past, to read Racine in the real French grand manner, but he was rusty now, and a little self-conscious; he really preferred the loudspeaker. But Connie was sewing, sewing a little frock silk of primrose silk, cut out of one of her dresses, for Mrs Flint’s baby. Between coming home and dinner she had cut it out, and she sat in the soft quiescent rapture of herself sewing, while the noise of the reading went on.
Inside herself she could feel the humming of passion, like the after-humming of deep bells.
Clifford said something to her about the Racine. She caught the sense after the words had gone.
‘Yes! Yes!’ she said, looking up at him. ‘It is splendid.’
Again he was frightened at the deep blue blaze of her eyes, and of her soft stillness, sitting there. She had never been so utterly soft and still. She fascinated him helplessly, as if some perfume about her intoxicated him. So he went on helplessly with his reading, and the throaty sound of the French was like the wind in the chimneys to her. Of the Racine she heard not one syllable.
She was gone in her own soft rapture, like a forest soughing with the dim, glad moan of spring, moving into bud. She could feel in the same world with her the man, the nameless man, moving on beautiful feet, beautiful in the phallic mystery. And in herself in all her veins, she felt him and his child. His child was in all her veins, like a twilight.
‘For hands she hath none, nor eyes, nor feet, nor golden Treasure of hair…’
She was like a forest, like the dark interlacing of the oakwood, humming inaudibly with myriad unfolding buds. Meanwhile the birds of desire were asleep in the vast interlaced intricacy of her body.
But Clifford’s voice went on, clapping and gurgling with unusual sounds. How extraordinary it was! How extraordinary he was, bent there over the book, queer and rapacious and civilized, with broad shoulders and no real legs! What a strange creature, with the sharp, cold inflexible will of some bird, and no warmth, no warmth at all! One of those creatures of the afterwards, that have no soul, but an extra-alert will, cold will. She shuddered a little, afraid of him. But then, the soft warm flame of life was stronger than he, and the real things were hidden from him.
The reading finished. She was startled. She looked up, and was more startled still to see Clifford watching her with pale, uncanny eyes, like hate.
‘Thank you SO much! You do read Racine beautifully!’ she said softly.
‘Almost as beautifully as you listen to him,’ he said cruelly. ‘What are you making?’ he asked.
‘I’m making a child’s dress, for Mrs Flint’s baby.’
He turned away. A child! A child! That was all her obsession.
‘After all,’ he said in a declamatory voice, ‘one gets all one wants out of Racine. Emotions that are ordered and given shape are more important than disorderly emotions.
She watched him with wide, vague, veiled eyes. ‘Yes, I’m sure they are,’ she said.
‘The modern world has only vulgarized emotion by letting it loose. What we need is classic control.’
‘Yes,’ she said slowly, thinking of him listening with vacant face to the emotional idiocy of the radio. ‘People pretend to have emotions, and they really feel nothing. I suppose that is being romantic.’
‘Exactly!’ he said.
As a matter of fact, he was tired. This evening had tired him. He would rather have been with his technical books, or his pit-manager, or listening-in to the radio.
Mrs Bolton came in with two glasses of malted milk: for Clifford, to make him sleep, and for Connie, to fatten her again. It was a regular night-cap she had introduced.
Connie was glad to go, when she had drunk her glass, and thankful she needn’t help Clifford to bed. She took his glass and put it on the tray, then took the tray, to leave it outside.
‘Goodnight Clifford! DO sleep well! The Racine gets into one like a dream. Goodnight!’
She had drifted to the door. She was going without kissing him goodnight. He watched her with sharp, cold eyes. So! She did not even kiss him goodnight, after he had spent an evening reading to her. Such depths of callousness in her! Even if the kiss was but a formality, it was on such formalities that life depends. She was a Bolshevik, really. Her instincts were Bolshevistic! He gazed coldly and angrily at the door whence she had gone. Anger!
And again the dread of the night came on him. He was a network of nerves, anden he was not braced up to work, and so full of energy: or when he was not listening-in, and so utterly neuter: then he was haunted by anxiety and a sense of dangerous impending void. He was afraid. And Connie could keep the fear off him, if she would. But it was obvious she wouldn’t, she wouldn’t. She was callous, cold and callous to all that he did for her. He gave up his life for her, and she was callous to him. She only wanted her own way. ‘The lady loves her will.’
Now it was a baby she was obsessed by. Just so that it should be her own, all her own, and not his!
Clifford was so healthy, considering. He looked so well and ruddy in the face, his shoulders were broad and strong, his chest deep, he had put on flesh. And yet, at the same time, he was afraid of death. A terrible hollow seemed to menace him somewhere, somehow, a void, and into this void his energy would collapse. Energyless, he felt at times he was dead, really dead.
So his rather prominent pale eyes had a queer look, furtive, and yet a little cruel, so cold: and at the same time, almost impudent. It was a very odd look, this look of impudence: as if he were triumphing over life in spite of life. ‘Who knoweth the mysteries of the will – for it can triumph even against the angels – ‘
But his dread was the nights when he could not sleep. Then it was awful indeed, when annihilation pressed in on him on every side. Then it was ghastly, to exist without having any life: lifeless, in the night, to exist.
But now he could ring for Mrs Bolton. And she would always come. That was a great comfort. She would come in her dressing gown, with her hair in a plait down her back, curiously girlish and dim, though the brown plait was streaked with grey. And she would make him coffee or camomile tea, and she would play chess or piquet with him. She had a woman’s queer faculty of playing even chess well enough, when she was three parts asleep, well enough to make her worth beating. So, in the silent intimacy of the night, they sat, or she sat and he lay on the bed, with the reading-lamp shedding its solitary light on them, she almost gone in sleep, he almost gone in a sort of fear, and they played, played together – then they had a cup of coffee and a biscuit together, hardly speaking, in the silence of night, but being a reassurance to one another.
And this night she was wondering who Lady Chatterley’s lover was. And she was thinking of her own Ted, so long dead, yet for her never quite dead. And when she thought of him, the old, old grudge against the world rose up, but especially against the masters, that they had killed him. They had not really killed him. Yet, to her, emotionally, they had. And somewhere deep in herself because of it, she was a nihilist, and really anarchic.
In her half-sleep, thoughts of her Ted and thoughts of Lady Chatterley’s unknown lover commingled, and then she felt she shared with the other woman a great grudge against Sir Clifford and all he stood for. At the same time she was playing piquet with him, and they were gambling sixpences. And it was a source of satisfaction to be playing piquet with a baronet, and even losing sixpences to him.
When they played cards, they always gambled. It made him forget himself. And he usually won. Tonight too he was winning. So he would not go to sleep till the first dawn appeared. Luckily it began to appear at half past four or thereabouts.
Connie was in bed, and fast asleep all this time. But the keeper, too, could not rest. He had closed the coops and made his round of the wood, then gone home and eaten supper. But he did not go to bed. Instead he sat by the fire and thought.
He thought of his boyhood in Tevershall, and of his five or six years of married life. He thought of his wife, and always bitterly. She had seemed so brutal. But he had not seen her now since 1915, in the spring when he joined up. Yet there she was, not three miles away, and more brutal than ever. He hoped never to see her again while he lived.
He thought of his life abroad, as a soldier. India, Egypt, then India again: the blind, thoughtless life with the horses: the colonel who had loved him and whom he had loved: the several years that he had been an officer, a lieutenant with a very fair chance of being a captain. Then the death of the colonel from pneumonia, and his own narrow escape from death: his damaged health: his deep restlessness: his leaving the army and coming back to England to be a working man again.
He was temporizing with life. He had thought he would be safe, at least for a time, in this wood. There was no shooting as yet: he had to rear the pheasants. He would have no guns to serve. He would be alone, and apart from life, which was all he wanted. He had to have some sort of a background. And this was his native place. There was even his mother, though she had never meant very much to him. And he could go on in life, existing from day to day, without connexion and without hope. For he did not know what to do with himself.
He did not know what to do with himself. Since he had been an officer for some years, and had mixed among the other officers and civil servants, with their wives and families, he had lost all ambition to ‘get on’. There was a toughness, a curious rubbernecked toughness and unlivingness about the middle and upper classes, as he had known them, which just left him feeling cold and different from them.
So, he had come back to his own class. To find there, what he had forgotten during his absence of years, a pettiness and a vulgarity of manner extremely distasteful. He admitted now at last, how important manner was. He admitted, also, how important it was even TO PRETEND not to care about the halfpence and the small things of life. But among the common people there was no pretence. A penny more or less on the bacon was worse than a change in the Gospel. He could not stand it.
And again, there was the wage-squabble. Having lived among the owning classes, he knew the utter futility of expecting any solution of the wage-squabble. There was no solution, short of death. The only thing was not to care, not to care about the wages.
Yet, if you were poor and wretched you HAD to care. Anyhow, it was becoming the only thing they did care about. The CARE about money was like a great cancer, eating away the individuals of all classes. He refused to CARE about money.
And what then? What did life offer apart from the care of money? Nothing.
Yet he could live alone, in the wan satisfaction of being alone, and raise pheasants to be shot ultimately by fat men after breakfast. It was futility, futility to the NTH power.
But why care, why bother? And he had not cared nor bothered till now, when this woman had come into his life. He was nearly ten years older than she. And he was a thousand years older in experience, starting from the bottom. The connexion between them was growing closer. He could see the day when it would clinch up and they would have to make a life together. ‘For the bonds of love are ill to loose!’
And what then? What then? Must he start again, with nothing to start on? Must he entangle this woman? Must he have the horrible broil with her lame husband? And also some sort of horrible broil with his own brutal wife, who hated him? Misery! Lots of misery! And he was no longer young and merely buoyant. Neither was he the insouciant sort. Every bitterness and every ugliness would hurt him: and the woman!
But even if they got clear of Sir Clifford and of his own wife, even if they got clear, what were they going to do? What was he, himself going to do? What was he going to do with his life? For he must do something. He couldn’t be a mere hanger-on, on her money and his own very small pension.
It was the insoluble. He could only think of going to America, to try a new air. He disbelieved in the dollar utterly. But perhaps, perhaps there was something else.
He could not rest nor even go to bed. After sitting in a stupor of bitter thoughts until midnight, he got suddenly from his chair and reached for his coat and gun.
‘Come on, lass,’ he said to the dog. ‘We’re best outside.’
It was a starry night, but moonless. He went on a slow, scrupulous, soft-stepping and stealthy round. The only thing he had to contend with was the colliers setting snares for rabbits, particularly the Stacks Gate colliers, on the Marehay side. But it was breeding season, and even colliers respected it a little. Nevertheless the stealthy beating of the round in search of poachers soothed his nerves and took his mind off his thoughts.
But when he had done his slow, cautious beating of his bounds – it was nearly a five-mile walk – he was tired. He went to the top of the knoll and looked out. There was no sound save the noise, the faint shuffling noise from Stacks Gate colliery, that never ceased working: and there were hardly any lights, save the brilliant electric rows at the works. The world lay darkly and fumily sleeping. It was half past two. But even in its sleep it was an uneasy, cruel world, stirring with the noise of a train or some great lorry on the road, and flashing with some rosy lightning flash from the furnaces. It was a world of iron and coal, the cruelty of iron and the smoke of coal, and the endless, endless greed that drove it all. Only greed, greed stirring in its sleep.
It was cold, and he was coughing. A fine cold draught blew over the knoll. He thought of the woman. Now he would have given all he had or ever might have to hold her warm in his arms, both of them wrapped in one blanket, and sleep. All hopes of eternity and all gain from the past he would have given to have her there, to be wrapped warm with him in one blanket, and sleep, only sleep. It seemed the sleep with the woman in his arms was the only necessity.
He went to the hut, and wrapped himself in the blanket and lay on the floor to sleep. But he could not, he was cold. And besides, he felt cruelly his own unfinished nature. He felt his own unfinished condition of aloneness cruelly. He wanted her, to touch her, to hold her fast against him in one moment of completeness and sleep.
He got up again and went out, towards the park gates this time: then slowly along the path towards the house. It was nearly four o’clock, still clear and cold, but no sign of dawn. He was used to the dark, he could see well.
Slowly, slowly the great house drew him, as a magnet. He wanted to be near her. It was not desire, not that. It was the cruel sense of unfinished aloneness, that needed a silent woman folded in his arms. Perhaps he could find her. Perhaps he could even call her out to him: or find some way in to her. For the need was imperious.
He slowly, silently climbed the incline to the hall. Then he came round the great trees at the top of the knoll, on to the drive, which made a grand sweep round a lozenge of grass in front of the entrance. He could already see the two magnificent beeches which stood in this big level lozenge in front of the house, detaching themselves darkly in the dark air.
There was the house, low and long and obscure, with one light burning downstairs, in Sir Clifford’s room. But which room she was in, the woman who held the other end of the frail thread which drew him so mercilessly, that he did not know.
He went a little nearer, gun in hand, and stood motionless on the drive, watching the house. Perhaps even now he could find her, come at her in some way. The house was not impregnable: he was as clever as burglars are. Why not come to her?
He stood motionless, waiting, while the dawn faintly and imperceptibly paled behind him. He saw the light in the house go out. But he did not see Mrs Bolton come to the window and draw back the old curtain of dark-blue silk, and stand herself in the dark room, looking out on the half-dark of the approaching day, looking for the longed-for dawn, waiting, waiting for Clifford to be really reassured that it was daybreak. For when he was sure of daybreak, he would sleep almost at once.
She stood blind with sleep at the window, waiting. And as she stood, she started, and almost cried out. For there was a man out there on the drive, a black figure in the twilight. She woke up greyly, and watched, but without making a sound to disturb Sir Clifford.
The daylight began to rustle into the world, and the dark figure seemed to go smaller and more defined. She made out the gun and gaiters and baggy jacket – it would be Oliver Mellors, the keeper. ‘Yes, for there was the dog nosing around like a shadow, and waiting for him’!
And what did the man want? Did he want to rouse the house? What was he standing there for, transfixed, looking up at the house like a love-sick male dog outside the house where the bitch is?
Goodness! The knowledge went through Mrs Bolton like a shot. He was Lady Chatterley’s lover! He! He!
To think of it! Why, she, Ivy Bolton, had once been a tiny bit in love with him herself. When he was a lad of sixteen and she a woman of twenty-six. It was when she was studying, and he had helped her a lot with the anatomy and things she had had to learn. He’d been a clever boy, had a scholarship for Sheffield Grammar School, and learned French and things: and then after all had become an overhead blacksmith shoeing horses, because he was fond of horses, he said: but really because he was frightened to go out and face the world, only he’d never admit it.
But he’d been a nice lad, a nice lad, had helped her a lot, so clever at making things clear to you. He was quite as clever as Sir Clifford: and always one for the women. More with women than men, they said.
Till he’d gone and married that Bertha Coutts, as if to spite himself. Some people do marry to spite themselves, because they’re disappointed of something. And no wonder it had been a failure. – For years he was gone, all the time of the war: and a lieutenant and all: quite the gentleman, really quite the gentleman! – Then to come back to Tevershall and go as a game-keeper! Really, some people can’t take their chances when they’ve got them! And talking broad Derbyshire again like the worst, when she, Ivy Bolton, knew he spoke like any gentleman, REALLY.
Well, well! So her ladyship had fallen for him! Well her ladyship wasn’t the first: there was something about him. But fancy! A Tevershall lad born and bred, and she her ladyship in Wragby Hall! My word, that was a slap back at the high-and-mighty Chatterleys!
But he, the keeper, as the day grew, had realized: it’s no good! It’s no good trying to get rid of your own aloneness. You’ve got to stick to it all your life. Only at times, at times, the gap will be filled in. At times! But you have to wait for the times. Accept your own aloneness and stick to it, all your life. And then accept the times when the gap is filled in, when they come. But they’ve got to come. You can’t force them.
With a sudden snap the bleeding desire that had drawn him after her broke. He had broken it, because it must be so. There must be a coming together on both sides. And if she wasn’t coming to him, he wouldn’t track her down. He mustn’t. He must go away, till she came.
He turned slowly, ponderingly, accepting again the isolation. He knew it was better so. She must come to him: it was no use his trailing after her. No use!
Mrs Bolton saw him disappear, saw his dog run after him.
‘Well, well!’ she said. ‘He’s the one man I never thought of; and the one man I might have thought of. He was nice to me when he was a lad, after I lost Ted. Well, well! Whatever would he say if he knew!’
And she glanced triumphantly at the already sleeping Clifford, as she stepped softly from the room.
* * *
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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.