He set off down the bank, and she went unwillingly with him. Yet she would not have stayed away, either.
'We know each other well, you and I, already,' he said. She did not answer.
In the large darkish kitchen of the mill, the labourer's wife was talking shrilly to Hermione and Gerald, who stood, he in white and she in a glistening bluish foulard, strangely luminous in the dusk of the room; whilst from the cages on the walls, a dozen or more canaries sang at the top of their voices. The cages were all placed round a small square window at the back, where the sunshine came in, a beautiful beam, filtering through green leaves of a tree. The voice of Mrs Salmon shrilled against the noise of the birds, which rose ever more wild and triumphant, and the woman's voice went up and up against them, and the birds replied with wild animation.
'Here's Rupert!' shouted Gerald in the midst of the din. He was suffering badly, being very sensitive in the ear.
'O-o-h them birds, they won't let you speak—!' shrilled the labourer's wife in disgust. 'I'll cover them up.'
And she darted here and there, throwing a duster, an apron, a towel, a table-cloth over the cages of the birds.
'Now will you stop it, and let a body speak for your row,' she said, still in a voice that was too high.
The party watched her. Soon the cages were covered, they had a strange funereal look. But from under the towels odd defiant trills and bubblings still shook out.
'Oh, they won't go on,' said Mrs Salmon reassuringly. 'They'll go to sleep now.'
'Really,' said Hermione, politely.
'They will,' said Gerald. 'They will go to sleep automatically, now the impression of evening is produced.'
'Are they so easily deceived?' cried Ursula.
'Oh, yes,' replied Gerald. 'Don't you know the story of Fabre, who, when he was a boy, put a hen's head under her wing, and she straight away went to sleep? It's quite true.'
'And did that make him a naturalist?' asked Birkin.
'Probably,' said Gerald.
Meanwhile Ursula was peeping under one of the cloths. There sat the canary in a corner, bunched and fluffed up for sleep.
'How ridiculous!' she cried. 'It really thinks the night has come! How absurd! Really, how can one have any respect for a creature that is so easily taken in!'
'Yes,' sang Hermione, coming also to look. She put her hand on Ursula's arm and chuckled a low laugh. 'Yes, doesn't he look comical?' she chuckled. 'Like a stupid husband.'
Then, with her hand still on Ursula's arm, she drew her away, saying, in her mild sing-song:
'How did you come here? We saw Gudrun too.'
'I came to look at the pond,' said Ursula, 'and I found Mr Birkin there.'
'Did you? This is quite a Brangwen land, isn't it!'
'I'm afraid I hoped so,' said Ursula. 'I ran here for refuge, when I saw you down the lake, just putting off.'
'Did you! And now we've run you to earth.'
Hermione's eyelids lifted with an uncanny movement, amused but overwrought. She had always her strange, rapt look, unnatural and irresponsible.
'I was going on,' said Ursula. 'Mr Birkin wanted me to see the rooms. Isn't it delightful to live here? It is perfect.'
'Yes,' said Hermione, abstractedly. Then she turned right away from Ursula, ceased to know her existence.
'How do you feel, Rupert?' she sang in a new, affectionate tone, to Birkin.
'Very well,' he replied.
'Were you quite comfortable?' The curious, sinister, rapt look was on Hermione's face, she shrugged her bosom in a convulsed movement, and seemed like one half in a trance.
'Quite comfortable,' he replied.
There was a long pause, whilst Hermione looked at him for a long time, from under her heavy, drugged eyelids.
'And you think you'll be happy here?' she said at last.
'I'm sure I shall.'
'I'm sure I shall do anything for him as I can,' said the labourer's wife. 'And I'm sure our master will; so I HOPE he'll find himself comfortable.'
Hermione turned and looked at her slowly.
'Thank you so much,' she said, and then she turned completely away again. She recovered her position, and lifting her face towards him, and addressing him exclusively, she said:
'Have you measured the rooms?'
'No,' he said, 'I've been mending the punt.'
'Shall we do it now?' she said slowly, balanced and dispassionate.
'Have you got a tape measure, Mrs Salmon?' he said, turning to the woman.
'Yes sir, I think I can find one,' replied the woman, bustling immediately to a basket. 'This is the only one I've got, if it will do.'
Hermione took it, though it was offered to him.
'Thank you so much,' she said. 'It will do very nicely. Thank you so much.' Then she turned to Birkin, saying with a little gay movement: 'Shall we do it now, Rupert?'
'What about the others, they'll be bored,' he said reluctantly.
'Do you mind?' said Hermione, turning to Ursula and Gerald vaguely.
'Not in the least,' they replied.
'Which room shall we do first?' she said, turning again to Birkin, with the same gaiety, now she was going to DO something with him.
'We'll take them as they come,' he said.
'Should I be getting your teas ready, while you do that?' said the labourer's wife, also gay because SHE had something to do.
'Would you?' said Hermione, turning to her with the curious motion of intimacy that seemed to envelop the woman, draw her almost to Hermione's breast, and which left the others standing apart. 'I should be so glad. Where shall we have it?'
'Where would you like it? Shall it be in here, or out on the grass?'
'Where shall we have tea?' sang Hermione to the company at large.
'On the bank by the pond. And WE'LL carry the things up, if you'll just get them ready, Mrs Salmon,' said Birkin.
'All right,' said the pleased woman.
The party moved down the passage into the front room. It was empty, but clean and sunny. There was a window looking on to the tangled front garden.
'This is the dining room,' said Hermione. 'We'll measure it this way, Rupert—you go down there—'
'Can't I do it for you,' said Gerald, coming to take the end of the tape.
'No, thank you,' cried Hermione, stooping to the ground in her bluish, brilliant foulard. It was a great joy to her to DO things, and to have the ordering of the job, with Birkin. He obeyed her subduedly. Ursula and Gerald looked on. It was a peculiarity of Hermione's, that at every moment, she had one intimate, and turned all the rest of those present into onlookers. This raised her into a state of triumph.
They measured and discussed in the dining-room, and Hermione decided what the floor coverings must be. It sent her into a strange, convulsed anger, to be thwarted. Birkin always let her have her way, for the moment.
Then they moved across, through the hall, to the other front room, that was a little smaller than the first.
'This is the study,' said Hermione. 'Rupert, I have a rug that I want you to have for here. Will you let me give it to you? Do—I want to give it you.'
'What is it like?' he asked ungraciously.
'You haven't seen it. It is chiefly rose red, then blue, a metallic, mid-blue, and a very soft dark blue. I think you would like it. Do you think you would?'
'It sounds very nice,' he replied. 'What is it? Oriental? With a pile?'
'Yes. Persian! It is made of camel's hair, silky. I think it is called Bergamos—twelve feet by seven—. Do you think it will do?'
'It would DO,' he said. 'But why should you give me an expensive rug? I can manage perfectly well with my old Oxford Turkish.'
'But may I give it to you? Do let me.'
'How much did it cost?'
She looked at him, and said:
'I don't remember. It was quite cheap.'
He looked at her, his face set.
'I don't want to take it, Hermione,' he said.
'Do let me give it to the rooms,' she said, going up to him and putting her hand on his arm lightly, pleadingly. 'I shall be so disappointed.'
'You know I don't want you to give me things,' he repeated helplessly.
'I don't want to give you THINGS,' she said teasingly. 'But will you have this?'
'All right,' he said, defeated, and she triumphed.
They went upstairs. There were two bedrooms to correspond with the rooms downstairs. One of them was half furnished, and Birkin had evidently slept there. Hermione went round the room carefully, taking in every detail, as if absorbing the evidence of his presence, in all the inanimate things. She felt the bed and examined the coverings.
'Are you SURE you were quite comfortable?' she said, pressing the pillow.
'Perfectly,' he replied coldly.
'And were you warm? There is no down quilt. I am sure you need one. You mustn't have a great pressure of clothes.'
'I've got one,' he said. 'It is coming down.'
They measured the rooms, and lingered over every consideration. Ursula stood at the window and watched the woman carrying the tea up the bank to the pond. She hated the palaver Hermione made, she wanted to drink tea, she wanted anything but this fuss and business.
At last they all mounted the grassy bank, to the picnic. Hermione poured out tea. She ignored now Ursula's presence. And Ursula, recovering from her ill-humour, turned to Gerald saying:
'Oh, I hated you so much the other day, Mr Crich,'
'What for?' said Gerald, wincing slightly away.
'For treating your horse so badly. Oh, I hated you so much!'
'What did he do?' sang Hermione.
'He made his lovely sensitive Arab horse stand with him at the railway-crossing whilst a horrible lot of trucks went by; and the poor thing, she was in a perfect frenzy, a perfect agony. It was the most horrible sight you can imagine.'
'Why did you do it, Gerald?' asked Hermione, calm and interrogative.
'She must learn to stand—what use is she to me in this country, if she shies and goes off every time an engine whistles.'
'But why inflict unnecessary torture?' said Ursula. 'Why make her stand all that time at the crossing? You might just as well have ridden back up the road, and saved all that horror. Her sides were bleeding where you had spurred her. It was too horrible—!'
'I have to use her,' he replied. 'And if I'm going to be sure of her at ALL, she'll have to learn to stand noises.'
'Why should she?' cried Ursula in a passion. 'She is a living creature, why should she stand anything, just because you choose to make her? She has as much right to her own being, as you have to yours.'
'There I disagree,' said Gerald. 'I consider that mare is there for my use. Not because I bought her, but because that is the natural order. It is more natural for a man to take a horse and use it as he likes, than for him to go down on his knees to it, begging it to do as it wishes, and to fulfil its own marvellous nature.'
Ursula was just breaking out, when Hermione lifted her face and began, in her musing sing-song:
'I do think—I do really think we must have the COURAGE to use the lower animal life for our needs. I do think there is something wrong, when we look on every living creature as if it were ourselves. I do feel, that it is false to project our own feelings on every animate creature. It is a lack of discrimination, a lack of criticism.'
'Quite,' said Birkin sharply. 'Nothing is so detestable as the maudlin attributing of human feelings and consciousness to animals.'
'Yes,' said Hermione, wearily, 'we must really take a position. Either we are going to use the animals, or they will use us.'
'That's a fact,' said Gerald. 'A horse has got a will like a man, though it has no MIND strictly. And if your will isn't master, then the horse is master of you. And this is a thing I can't help. I can't help being master of the horse.'
'If only we could learn how to use our will,' said Hermione, 'we could do anything. The will can cure anything, and put anything right. That I am convinced of—if only we use the will properly, intelligibly.'
'What do you mean by using the will properly?' said Birkin.
'A very great doctor taught me,' she said, addressing Ursula and Gerald vaguely. 'He told me for instance, that to cure oneself of a bad habit, one should FORCE oneself to do it, when one would not do it—make oneself do it—and then the habit would disappear.'
'How do you mean?' said Gerald.
'If you bite your nails, for example. Then, when you don't want to bite your nails, bite them, make yourself bite them. And you would find the habit was broken.'
'Is that so?' said Gerald.
'Yes. And in so many things, I have MADE myself well. I was a very queer and nervous girl. And by learning to use my will, simply by using my will, I MADE myself right.'
Ursula looked all the white at Hermione, as she spoke in her slow, dispassionate, and yet strangely tense voice. A curious thrill went over the younger woman. Some strange, dark, convulsive power was in Hermione, fascinating and repelling.
'It is fatal to use the will like that,' cried Birkin harshly, 'disgusting. Such a will is an obscenity.'
Hermione looked at him for a long time, with her shadowed, heavy eyes. Her face was soft and pale and thin, almost phosphorescent, her jaw was lean.
'I'm sure it isn't,' she said at length. There always seemed an interval, a strange split between what she seemed to feel and experience, and what she actually said and thought. She seemed to catch her thoughts at length from off the surface of a maelstrom of chaotic black emotions and reactions, and Birkin was always filled with repulsion, she caught so infallibly, her will never failed her. Her voice was always dispassionate and tense, and perfectly confident. Yet she shuddered with a sense of nausea, a sort of seasickness that always threatened to overwhelm her mind. But her mind remained unbroken, her will was still perfect. It almost sent Birkin mad. But he would never, never dare to break her will, and let loose the maelstrom of her subconsciousness, and see her in her ultimate madness. Yet he was always striking at her.
'And of course,' he said to Gerald, 'horses HAVEN'T got a complete will, like human beings. A horse has no ONE will. Every horse, strictly, has two wills. With one will, it wants to put itself in the human power completely—and with the other, it wants to be free, wild. The two wills sometimes lock—you know that, if ever you've felt a horse bolt, while you've been driving it.'
'I have felt a horse bolt while I was driving it,' said Gerald, 'but it didn't make me know it had two wills. I only knew it was frightened.'
Hermione had ceased to listen. She simply became oblivious when these subjects were started.
'Why should a horse want to put itself in the human power?' asked Ursula. 'That is quite incomprehensible to me. I don't believe it ever wanted it.'
'Yes it did. It's the last, perhaps highest, love-impulse: resign your will to the higher being,' said Birkin.
'What curious notions you have of love,' jeered Ursula.
'And woman is the same as horses: two wills act in opposition inside her. With one will, she wants to subject herself utterly. With the other she wants to bolt, and pitch her rider to perdition.'
'Then I'm a bolter,' said Ursula, with a burst of laughter.
'It's a dangerous thing to domesticate even horses, let alone women,' said Birkin. 'The dominant principle has some rare antagonists.'
'Good thing too,' said Ursula.
'Quite,' said Gerald, with a faint smile. 'There's more fun.'
Hermione could bear no more. She rose, saying in her easy sing-song:
'Isn't the evening beautiful! I get filled sometimes with such a great sense of beauty, that I feel I can hardly bear it.'
Ursula, to whom she had appealed, rose with her, moved to the last impersonal depths. And Birkin seemed to her almost a monster of hateful arrogance. She went with Hermione along the bank of the pond, talking of beautiful, soothing things, picking the gentle cowslips.
'Wouldn't you like a dress,' said Ursula to Hermione, 'of this yellow spotted with orange—a cotton dress?'
'Yes,' said Hermione, stopping and looking at the flower, letting the thought come home to her and soothe her. 'Wouldn't it be pretty? I should LOVE it.'
And she turned smiling to Ursula, in a feeling of real affection.
But Gerald remained with Birkin, wanting to probe him to the bottom, to know what he meant by the dual will in horses. A flicker of excitement danced on Gerald's face.
Hermione and Ursula strayed on together, united in a sudden bond of deep affection and closeness.
'I really do not want to be forced into all this criticism and analysis of life. I really DO want to see things in their entirety, with their beauty left to them, and their wholeness, their natural holiness. Don't you feel it, don't you feel you CAN'T be tortured into any more knowledge?' said Hermione, stopping in front of Ursula, and turning to her with clenched fists thrust downwards.
'Yes,' said Ursula. 'I do. I am sick of all this poking and prying.'
'I'm so glad you are. Sometimes,' said Hermione, again stopping arrested in her progress and turning to Ursula, 'sometimes I wonder if I OUGHT to submit to all this realisation, if I am not being weak in rejecting it. But I feel I CAN'T—I CAN'T. It seems to destroy EVERYTHING. All the beauty and the—and the true holiness is destroyed—and I feel I can't live without them.'
'And it would be simply wrong to live without them,' cried Ursula. 'No, it is so IRREVERENT to think that everything must be realised in the head. Really, something must be left to the Lord, there always is and always will be.'
'Yes,' said Hermione, reassured like a child, 'it should, shouldn't it? And Rupert—' she lifted her face to the sky, in a muse—'he CAN only tear things to pieces. He really IS like a boy who must pull everything to pieces to see how it is made. And I can't think it is right—it does seem so irreverent, as you say.'
'Like tearing open a bud to see what the flower will be like,' said Ursula.
'Yes. And that kills everything, doesn't it? It doesn't allow any possibility of flowering.'
'Of course not,' said Ursula. 'It is purely destructive.'
'It is, isn't it!'
Hermione looked long and slow at Ursula, seeming to accept confirmation from her. Then the two women were silent. As soon as they were in accord, they began mutually to mistrust each other. In spite of herself, Ursula felt herself recoiling from Hermione. It was all she could do to restrain her revulsion.
They returned to the men, like two conspirators who have withdrawn to come to an agreement. Birkin looked up at them. Ursula hated him for his cold watchfulness. But he said nothing.
'Shall we be going?' said Hermione. 'Rupert, you are coming to Shortlands to dinner? Will you come at once, will you come now, with us?'
'I'm not dressed,' replied Birkin. 'And you know Gerald stickles for convention.'
'I don't stickle for it,' said Gerald. 'But if you'd got as sick as I have of rowdy go-as-you-please in the house, you'd prefer it if people were peaceful and conventional, at least at meals.'
'All right,' said Birkin.
'But can't we wait for you while you dress?' persisted Hermione.
'If you like.'
He rose to go indoors. Ursula said she would take her leave.
'Only,' she said, turning to Gerald, 'I must say that, however man is lord of the beast and the fowl, I still don't think he has any right to violate the feelings of the inferior creation. I still think it would have been much more sensible and nice of you if you'd trotted back up the road while the train went by, and been considerate.'
'I see,' said Gerald, smiling, but somewhat annoyed. 'I must remember another time.'
'They all think I'm an interfering female,' thought Ursula to herself, as she went away. But she was in arms against them.
She ran home plunged in thought. She had been very much moved by Hermione, she had really come into contact with her, so that there was a sort of league between the two women. And yet she could not bear her. But she put the thought away. 'She's really good,' she said to herself. 'She really wants what is right.' And she tried to feel at one with Hermione, and to shut off from Birkin. She was strictly hostile to him. But she was held to him by some bond, some deep principle. This at once irritated her and saved her.
Only now and again, violent little shudders would come over her, out of her subconsciousness, and she knew it was the fact that she had stated her challenge to Birkin, and he had, consciously or unconsciously, accepted. It was a fight to the death between them—or to new life: though in what the conflict lay, no one could say.