The week passed away. On the Saturday it rained, a soft drizzling rain that held off at times. In one of the intervals Gudrun and Ursula set out for a walk, going towards Willey Water. The atmosphere was grey and translucent, the birds sang sharply on the young twigs, the earth would be quickening and hastening in growth. The two girls walked swiftly, gladly, because of the soft, subtle rush of morning that filled the wet haze. By the road the black-thorn was in blossom, white and wet, its tiny amber grains burning faintly in the white smoke of blossom. Purple twigs were darkly luminous in the grey air, high hedges glowed like living shadows, hovering nearer, coming into creation. The morning was full of a new creation.
When the sisters came to Willey Water, the lake lay all grey and visionary, stretching into the moist, translucent vista of trees and meadow. Fine electric activity in sound came from the dumbles below the road, the birds piping one against the other, and water mysteriously plashing, issuing from the lake.
The two girls drifted swiftly along. In front of them, at the corner of the lake, near the road, was a mossy boat-house under a walnut tree, and a little landing-stage where a boat was moored, wavering like a shadow on the still grey water, below the green, decayed poles. All was shadowy with coming summer.
Suddenly, from the boat-house, a white figure ran out, frightening in its swift sharp transit, across the old landing-stage. It launched in a white arc through the air, there was a bursting of the water, and among the smooth ripples a swimmer was making out to space, in a centre of faintly heaving motion. The whole otherworld, wet and remote, he had to himself. He could move into the pure translucency of the grey, uncreated water.
Gudrun stood by the stone wall, watching.
'How I envy him,' she said, in low, desirous tones.
'Ugh!' shivered Ursula. 'So cold!'
'Yes, but how good, how really fine, to swim out there!' The sisters stood watching the swimmer move further into the grey, moist, full space of the water, pulsing with his own small, invading motion, and arched over with mist and dim woods.
'Don't you wish it were you?' asked Gudrun, looking at Ursula.
'I do,' said Ursula. 'But I'm not sure—it's so wet.'
'No,' said Gudrun, reluctantly. She stood watching the motion on the bosom of the water, as if fascinated. He, having swum a certain distance, turned round and was swimming on his back, looking along the water at the two girls by the wall. In the faint wash of motion, they could see his ruddy face, and could feel him watching them.
'It is Gerald Crich,' said Ursula.
'I know,' replied Gudrun.
And she stood motionless gazing over the water at the face which washed up and down on the flood, as he swam steadily. From his separate element he saw them and he exulted to himself because of his own advantage, his possession of a world to himself. He was immune and perfect. He loved his own vigorous, thrusting motion, and the violent impulse of the very cold water against his limbs, buoying him up. He could see the girls watching him a way off, outside, and that pleased him. He lifted his arm from the water, in a sign to them.
'He is waving,' said Ursula.
'Yes,' replied Gudrun. They watched him. He waved again, with a strange movement of recognition across the difference.
'Like a Nibelung,' laughed Ursula. Gudrun said nothing, only stood still looking over the water.
Gerald suddenly turned, and was swimming away swiftly, with a side stroke. He was alone now, alone and immune in the middle of the waters, which he had all to himself. He exulted in his isolation in the new element, unquestioned and unconditioned. He was happy, thrusting with his legs and all his body, without bond or connection anywhere, just himself in the watery world.
Gudrun envied him almost painfully. Even this momentary possession of pure isolation and fluidity seemed to her so terribly desirable that she felt herself as if damned, out there on the high-road.
'God, what it is to be a man!' she cried.
'What?' exclaimed Ursula in surprise.
'The freedom, the liberty, the mobility!' cried Gudrun, strangely flushed and brilliant. 'You're a man, you want to do a thing, you do it. You haven't the THOUSAND obstacles a woman has in front of her.'
Ursula wondered what was in Gudrun's mind, to occasion this outburst. She could not understand.
'What do you want to do?' she asked.
'Nothing,' cried Gudrun, in swift refutation. 'But supposing I did. Supposing I want to swim up that water. It is impossible, it is one of the impossibilities of life, for me to take my clothes off now and jump in. But isn't it RIDICULOUS, doesn't it simply prevent our living!'
She was so hot, so flushed, so furious, that Ursula was puzzled.
The two sisters went on, up the road. They were passing between the trees just below Shortlands. They looked up at the long, low house, dim and glamorous in the wet morning, its cedar trees slanting before the windows. Gudrun seemed to be studying it closely.
'Don't you think it's attractive, Ursula?' asked Gudrun.
'Very,' said Ursula. 'Very peaceful and charming.'
'It has form, too—it has a period.'
'Oh, eighteenth century, for certain; Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Austen, don't you think?'
'Don't you think so?' repeated Gudrun.
'Perhaps. But I don't think the Criches fit the period. I know Gerald is putting in a private electric plant, for lighting the house, and is making all kinds of latest improvements.'
Gudrun shrugged her shoulders swiftly.
'Of course,' she said, 'that's quite inevitable.'
'Quite,' laughed Ursula. 'He is several generations of youngness at one go. They hate him for it. He takes them all by the scruff of the neck, and fairly flings them along. He'll have to die soon, when he's made every possible improvement, and there will be nothing more to improve. He's got GO, anyhow.'
'Certainly, he's got go,' said Gudrun. 'In fact I've never seen a man that showed signs of so much. The unfortunate thing is, where does his GO go to, what becomes of it?'
'Oh I know,' said Ursula. 'It goes in applying the latest appliances!'
'Exactly,' said Gudrun.
'You know he shot his brother?' said Ursula.
'Shot his brother?' cried Gudrun, frowning as if in disapprobation.
'Didn't you know? Oh yes!—I thought you knew. He and his brother were playing together with a gun. He told his brother to look down the gun, and it was loaded, and blew the top of his head off. Isn't it a horrible story?'
'How fearful!' cried Gudrun. 'But it is long ago?'
'Oh yes, they were quite boys,' said Ursula. 'I think it is one of the most horrible stories I know.'
'And he of course did not know that the gun was loaded?'
'Yes. You see it was an old thing that had been lying in the stable for years. Nobody dreamed it would ever go off, and of course, no one imagined it was loaded. But isn't it dreadful, that it should happen?'
'Frightful!' cried Gudrun. 'And isn't it horrible too to think of such a thing happening to one, when one was a child, and having to carry the responsibility of it all through one's life. Imagine it, two boys playing together—then this comes upon them, for no reason whatever—out of the air. Ursula, it's very frightening! Oh, it's one of the things I can't bear. Murder, that is thinkable, because there's a will behind it. But a thing like that to HAPPEN to one—'
'Perhaps there WAS an unconscious will behind it,' said Ursula. 'This playing at killing has some primitive DESIRE for killing in it, don't you think?'
'Desire!' said Gudrun, coldly, stiffening a little. 'I can't see that they were even playing at killing. I suppose one boy said to the other, "You look down the barrel while I pull the trigger, and see what happens." It seems to me the purest form of accident.'
'No,' said Ursula. 'I couldn't pull the trigger of the emptiest gun in the world, not if some-one were looking down the barrel. One instinctively doesn't do it—one can't.'
Gudrun was silent for some moments, in sharp disagreement.
'Of course,' she said coldly. 'If one is a woman, and grown up, one's instinct prevents one. But I cannot see how that applies to a couple of boys playing together.'
Her voice was cold and angry.
'Yes,' persisted Ursula. At that moment they heard a woman's voice a few yards off say loudly:
'Oh damn the thing!' They went forward and saw Laura Crich and Hermione Roddice in the field on the other side of the hedge, and Laura Crich struggling with the gate, to get out. Ursula at once hurried up and helped to lift the gate.
'Thanks so much,' said Laura, looking up flushed and amazon-like, yet rather confused. 'It isn't right on the hinges.'
'No,' said Ursula. 'And they're so heavy.'
'Surprising!' cried Laura.
'How do you do,' sang Hermione, from out of the field, the moment she could make her voice heard. 'It's nice now. Are you going for a walk? Yes. Isn't the young green beautiful? So beautiful—quite burning. Good morning—good morning—you'll come and see me?—thank you so much—next week—yes—good-bye, g-o-o-d b-y-e.'
Gudrun and Ursula stood and watched her slowly waving her head up and down, and waving her hand slowly in dismissal, smiling a strange affected smile, making a tall queer, frightening figure, with her heavy fair hair slipping to her eyes. Then they moved off, as if they had been dismissed like inferiors. The four women parted.
As soon as they had gone far enough, Ursula said, her cheeks burning,
'I do think she's impudent.'
'Who, Hermione Roddice?' asked Gudrun. 'Why?'
'The way she treats one—impudence!'
'Why, Ursula, what did you notice that was so impudent?' asked Gudrun rather coldly.
'Her whole manner. Oh, It's impossible, the way she tries to bully one. Pure bullying. She's an impudent woman. "You'll come and see me," as if we should be falling over ourselves for the privilege.'
'I can't understand, Ursula, what you are so much put out about,' said Gudrun, in some exasperation. 'One knows those women are impudent—these free women who have emancipated themselves from the aristocracy.'
'But it is so UNNECESSARY—so vulgar,' cried Ursula.
'No, I don't see it. And if I did—pour moi, elle n'existe pas. I don't grant her the power to be impudent to me.'
'Do you think she likes you?' asked Ursula.
'Well, no, I shouldn't think she did.'
'Then why does she ask you to go to Breadalby and stay with her?'
Gudrun lifted her shoulders in a low shrug.
'After all, she's got the sense to know we're not just the ordinary run,' said Gudrun. 'Whatever she is, she's not a fool. And I'd rather have somebody I detested, than the ordinary woman who keeps to her own set. Hermione Roddice does risk herself in some respects.'
Ursula pondered this for a time.
'I doubt it,' she replied. 'Really she risks nothing. I suppose we ought to admire her for knowing she CAN invite us—school teachers—and risk nothing.'
'Precisely!' said Gudrun. 'Think of the myriads of women that daren't do it. She makes the most of her privileges—that's something. I suppose, really, we should do the same, in her place.'
'No,' said Ursula. 'No. It would bore me. I couldn't spend my time playing her games. It's infra dig.'
The two sisters were like a pair of scissors, snipping off everything that came athwart them; or like a knife and a whetstone, the one sharpened against the other.
'Of course,' cried Ursula suddenly, 'she ought to thank her stars if we will go and see her. You are perfectly beautiful, a thousand times more beautiful than ever she is or was, and to my thinking, a thousand times more beautifully dressed, for she never looks fresh and natural, like a flower, always old, thought-out; and we ARE more intelligent than most people.'
'Undoubtedly!' said Gudrun.
'And it ought to be admitted, simply,' said Ursula.
'Certainly it ought,' said Gudrun. 'But you'll find that the really chic thing is to be so absolutely ordinary, so perfectly commonplace and like the person in the street, that you really are a masterpiece of humanity, not the person in the street actually, but the artistic creation of her—'
'How awful!' cried Ursula.
'Yes, Ursula, it IS awful, in most respects. You daren't be anything that isn't amazingly A TERRE, SO much A TERRE that it is the artistic creation of ordinariness.'
'It's very dull to create oneself into nothing better,' laughed Ursula.
'Very dull!' retorted Gudrun. 'Really Ursula, it is dull, that's just the word. One longs to be high-flown, and make speeches like Corneille, after it.'
Gudrun was becoming flushed and excited over her own cleverness.
'Strut,' said Ursula. 'One wants to strut, to be a swan among geese.'
'Exactly,' cried Gudrun, 'a swan among geese.'
'They are all so busy playing the ugly duckling,' cried Ursula, with mocking laughter. 'And I don't feel a bit like a humble and pathetic ugly duckling. I do feel like a swan among geese—I can't help it. They make one feel so. And I don't care what THEY think of me. FE M'EN FICHE.'
Gudrun looked up at Ursula with a queer, uncertain envy and dislike.
'Of course, the only thing to do is to despise them all—just all,' she said.
The sisters went home again, to read and talk and work, and wait for Monday, for school. Ursula often wondered what else she waited for, besides the beginning and end of the school week, and the beginning and end of the holidays. This was a whole life! Sometimes she had periods of tight horror, when it seemed to her that her life would pass away, and be gone, without having been more than this. But she never really accepted it. Her spirit was active, her life like a shoot that is growing steadily, but which has not yet come above ground.