He lay sick and unmoved, in pure opposition to everything. He knew how near to breaking was the vessel that held his life. He knew also how strong and durable it was. And he did not care. Better a thousand times take one's chance with death, than accept a life one did not want. But best of all to persist and persist and persist for ever, till one were satisfied in life.
He knew that Ursula was referred back to him. He knew his life rested with her. But he would rather not live than accept the love she proffered. The old way of love seemed a dreadful bondage, a sort of conscription. What it was in him he did not know, but the thought of love, marriage, and children, and a life lived together, in the horrible privacy of domestic and connubial satisfaction, was repulsive. He wanted something clearer, more open, cooler, as it were. The hot narrow intimacy between man and wife was abhorrent. The way they shut their doors, these married people, and shut themselves in to their own exclusive alliance with each other, even in love, disgusted him. It was a whole community of mistrustful couples insulated in private houses or private rooms, always in couples, and no further life, no further immediate, no disinterested relationship admitted: a kaleidoscope of couples, disjoined, separatist, meaningless entities of married couples. True, he hated promiscuity even worse than marriage, and a liaison was only another kind of coupling, reactionary from the legal marriage. Reaction was a greater bore than action.
On the whole, he hated sex, it was such a limitation. It was sex that turned a man into a broken half of a couple, the woman into the other broken half. And he wanted to be single in himself, the woman single in herself. He wanted sex to revert to the level of the other appetites, to be regarded as a functional process, not as a fulfilment. He believed in sex marriage. But beyond this, he wanted a further conjunction, where man had being and woman had being, two pure beings, each constituting the freedom of the other, balancing each other like two poles of one force, like two angels, or two demons.
He wanted so much to be free, not under the compulsion of any need for unification, or tortured by unsatisfied desire. Desire and aspiration should find their object without all this torture, as now, in a world of plenty of water, simple thirst is inconsiderable, satisfied almost unconsciously. And he wanted to be with Ursula as free as with himself, single and clear and cool, yet balanced, polarised with her. The merging, the clutching, the mingling of love was become madly abhorrent to him.
But it seemed to him, woman was always so horrible and clutching, she had such a lust for possession, a greed of self-importance in love. She wanted to have, to own, to control, to be dominant. Everything must be referred back to her, to Woman, the Great Mother of everything, out of whom proceeded everything and to whom everything must finally be rendered up.
It filled him with almost insane fury, this calm assumption of the Magna Mater, that all was hers, because she had borne it. Man was hers because she had borne him. A Mater Dolorosa, she had borne him, a Magna Mater, she now claimed him again, soul and body, sex, meaning, and all. He had a horror of the Magna Mater, she was detestable.
She was on a very high horse again, was woman, the Great Mother. Did he not know it in Hermione. Hermione, the humble, the subservient, what was she all the while but the Mater Dolorosa, in her subservience, claiming with horrible, insidious arrogance and female tyranny, her own again, claiming back the man she had borne in suffering. By her very suffering and humility she bound her son with chains, she held him her everlasting prisoner.
And Ursula, Ursula was the same—or the inverse. She too was the awful, arrogant queen of life, as if she were a queen bee on whom all the rest depended. He saw the yellow flare in her eyes, he knew the unthinkable overweening assumption of primacy in her. She was unconscious of it herself. She was only too ready to knock her head on the ground before a man. But this was only when she was so certain of her man, that she could worship him as a woman worships her own infant, with a worship of perfect possession.
It was intolerable, this possession at the hands of woman. Always a man must be considered as the broken off fragment of a woman, and the sex was the still aching scar of the laceration. Man must be added on to a woman, before he had any real place or wholeness.
And why? Why should we consider ourselves, men and women, as broken fragments of one whole? It is not true. We are not broken fragments of one whole. Rather we are the singling away into purity and clear being, of things that were mixed. Rather the sex is that which remains in us of the mixed, the unresolved. And passion is the further separating of this mixture, that which is manly being taken into the being of the man, that which is womanly passing to the woman, till the two are clear and whole as angels, the admixture of sex in the highest sense surpassed, leaving two single beings constellated together like two stars.
In the old age, before sex was, we were mixed, each one a mixture. The process of singling into individuality resulted into the great polarisation of sex. The womanly drew to one side, the manly to the other. But the separation was imperfect even them. And so our world-cycle passes. There is now to come the new day, when we are beings each of us, fulfilled in difference. The man is pure man, the woman pure woman, they are perfectly polarised. But there is no longer any of the horrible merging, mingling self-abnegation of love. There is only the pure duality of polarisation, each one free from any contamination of the other. In each, the individual is primal, sex is subordinate, but perfectly polarised. Each has a single, separate being, with its own laws. The man has his pure freedom, the woman hers. Each acknowledges the perfection of the polarised sex-circuit. Each admits the different nature in the other.
So Birkin meditated whilst he was ill. He liked sometimes to be ill enough to take to his bed. For then he got better very quickly, and things came to him clear and sure.
Whilst he was laid up, Gerald came to see him. The two men had a deep, uneasy feeling for each other. Gerald's eyes were quick and restless, his whole manner tense and impatient, he seemed strung up to some activity. According to conventionality, he wore black clothes, he looked formal, handsome and COMME IL FAUT. His hair was fair almost to whiteness, sharp like splinters of light, his face was keen and ruddy, his body seemed full of northern energy. Gerald really loved Birkin, though he never quite believed in him. Birkin was too unreal;—clever, whimsical, wonderful, but not practical enough. Gerald felt that his own understanding was much sounder and safer. Birkin was delightful, a wonderful spirit, but after all, not to be taken seriously, not quite to be counted as a man among men.
'Why are you laid up again?' he asked kindly, taking the sick man's hand. It was always Gerald who was protective, offering the warm shelter of his physical strength.
'For my sins, I suppose,' Birkin said, smiling a little ironically.
'For your sins? Yes, probably that is so. You should sin less, and keep better in health?'
'You'd better teach me.'
He looked at Gerald with ironic eyes.
'How are things with you?' asked Birkin.
'With me?' Gerald looked at Birkin, saw he was serious, and a warm light came into his eyes.
'I don't know that they're any different. I don't see how they could be. There's nothing to change.'
'I suppose you are conducting the business as successfully as ever, and ignoring the demand of the soul.'
'That's it,' said Gerald. 'At least as far as the business is concerned. I couldn't say about the soul, I'am sure.'
'Surely you don't expect me to?' laughed Gerald.
'No. How are the rest of your affairs progressing, apart from the business?'
'The rest of my affairs? What are those? I couldn't say; I don't know what you refer to.'
'Yes, you do,' said Birkin. 'Are you gloomy or cheerful? And what about Gudrun Brangwen?'
'What about her?' A confused look came over Gerald. 'Well,' he added, 'I don't know. I can only tell you she gave me a hit over the face last time I saw her.'
'A hit over the face! What for?'
'That I couldn't tell you, either.'
'Really! But when?'
'The night of the party—when Diana was drowned. She was driving the cattle up the hill, and I went after her—you remember.'
'Yes, I remember. But what made her do that? You didn't definitely ask her for it, I suppose?'
'I? No, not that I know of. I merely said to her, that it was dangerous to drive those Highland bullocks—as it IS. She turned in such a way, and said—"I suppose you think I'm afraid of you and your cattle, don't you?" So I asked her "why," and for answer she flung me a back-hander across the face.'
Birkin laughed quickly, as if it pleased him. Gerald looked at him, wondering, and began to laugh as well, saying:
'I didn't laugh at the time, I assure you. I was never so taken aback in my life.'
'And weren't you furious?'
'Furious? I should think I was. I'd have murdered her for two pins.'
'H'm!' ejaculated Birkin. 'Poor Gudrun, wouldn't she suffer afterwards for having given herself away!' He was hugely delighted.
'Would she suffer?' asked Gerald, also amused now.
Both men smiled in malice and amusement.
'Badly, I should think; seeing how self-conscious she is.'
'She is self-conscious, is she? Then what made her do it? For I certainly think it was quite uncalled-for, and quite unjustified.'
'I suppose it was a sudden impulse.'
'Yes, but how do you account for her having such an impulse? I'd done her no harm.'
Birkin shook his head.
'The Amazon suddenly came up in her, I suppose,' he said.
'Well,' replied Gerald, 'I'd rather it had been the Orinoco.'
They both laughed at the poor joke. Gerald was thinking how Gudrun had said she would strike the last blow too. But some reserve made him keep this back from Birkin.
'And you resent it?' Birkin asked.
'I don't resent it. I don't care a tinker's curse about it.' He was silent a moment, then he added, laughing. 'No, I'll see it through, that's all. She seemed sorry afterwards.'
'Did she? You've not met since that night?'
Gerald's face clouded.
'No,' he said. 'We've been—you can imagine how it's been, since the accident.'
'Yes. Is it calming down?'
'I don't know. It's a shock, of course. But I don't believe mother minds. I really don't believe she takes any notice. And what's so funny, she used to be all for the children—nothing mattered, nothing whatever mattered but the children. And now, she doesn't take any more notice than if it was one of the servants.'
'No? Did it upset YOU very much?'
'It's a shock. But I don't feel it very much, really. I don't feel any different. We've all got to die, and it doesn't seem to make any great difference, anyhow, whether you die or not. I can't feel any GRIEF you know. It leaves me cold. I can't quite account for it.'
'You don't care if you die or not?' asked Birkin.
Gerald looked at him with eyes blue as the blue-fibred steel of a weapon. He felt awkward, but indifferent. As a matter of fact, he did care terribly, with a great fear.
'Oh,' he said, 'I don't want to die, why should I? But I never trouble. The question doesn't seem to be on the carpet for me at all. It doesn't interest me, you know.'
'TIMOR MORTIS CONTURBAT ME,' quoted Birkin, adding—'No, death doesn't really seem the point any more. It curiously doesn't concern one. It's like an ordinary tomorrow.'
Gerald looked closely at his friend. The eyes of the two men met, and an unspoken understanding was exchanged.
Gerald narrowed his eyes, his face was cool and unscrupulous as he looked at Birkin, impersonally, with a vision that ended in a point in space, strangely keen-eyed and yet blind.
'If death isn't the point,' he said, in a strangely abstract, cold, fine voice—'what is?' He sounded as if he had been found out.
'What is?' re-echoed Birkin. And there was a mocking silence.
'There's long way to go, after the point of intrinsic death, before we disappear,' said Birkin.
'There is,' said Gerald. 'But what sort of way?' He seemed to press the other man for knowledge which he himself knew far better than Birkin did.
'Right down the slopes of degeneration—mystic, universal degeneration. There are many stages of pure degradation to go through: agelong. We live on long after our death, and progressively, in progressive devolution.'
Gerald listened with a faint, fine smile on his face, all the time, as if, somewhere, he knew so much better than Birkin, all about this: as if his own knowledge were direct and personal, whereas Birkin's was a matter of observation and inference, not quite hitting the nail on the head:—though aiming near enough at it. But he was not going to give himself away. If Birkin could get at the secrets, let him. Gerald would never help him. Gerald would be a dark horse to the end.
'Of course,' he said, with a startling change of conversation, 'it is father who really feels it. It will finish him. For him the world collapses. All his care now is for Winnie—he must save Winnie. He says she ought to be sent away to school, but she won't hear of it, and he'll never do it. Of course she IS in rather a queer way. We're all of us curiously bad at living. We can do things—but we can't get on with life at all. It's curious—a family failing.'
'She oughtn't to be sent away to school,' said Birkin, who was considering a new proposition.
'She oughtn't. Why?'
'She's a queer child—a special child, more special even than you. And in my opinion special children should never be sent away to school. Only moderately ordinary children should be sent to school—so it seems to me.'
'I'm inclined to think just the opposite. I think it would probably make her more normal if she went away and mixed with other children.'
'She wouldn't mix, you see. YOU never really mixed, did you? And she wouldn't be willing even to pretend to. She's proud, and solitary, and naturally apart. If she has a single nature, why do you want to make her gregarious?'
'No, I don't want to make her anything. But I think school would be good for her.'
'Was it good for you?'
Gerald's eyes narrowed uglily. School had been torture to him. Yet he had not questioned whether one should go through this torture. He seemed to believe in education through subjection and torment.
'I hated it at the time, but I can see it was necessary,' he said. 'It brought me into line a bit—and you can't live unless you do come into line somewhere.'
'Well,' said Birkin, 'I begin to think that you can't live unless you keep entirely out of the line. It's no good trying to toe the line, when your one impulse is to smash up the line. Winnie is a special nature, and for special natures you must give a special world.'
'Yes, but where's your special world?' said Gerald.
'Make it. Instead of chopping yourself down to fit the world, chop the world down to fit yourself. As a matter of fact, two exceptional people make another world. You and I, we make another, separate world. You don't WANT a world same as your brothers-in-law. It's just the special quality you value. Do you WANT to be normal or ordinary! It's a lie. You want to be free and extraordinary, in an extraordinary world of liberty.'
Gerald looked at Birkin with subtle eyes of knowledge. But he would never openly admit what he felt. He knew more than Birkin, in one direction—much more. And this gave him his gentle love for the other man, as if Birkin were in some way young, innocent, child-like: so amazingly clever, but incurably innocent.
'Yet you are so banal as to consider me chiefly a freak,' said Birkin pointedly.
'A freak!' exclaimed Gerald, startled. And his face opened suddenly, as if lighted with simplicity, as when a flower opens out of the cunning bud. 'No—I never consider you a freak.' And he watched the other man with strange eyes, that Birkin could not understand. 'I feel,' Gerald continued, 'that there is always an element of uncertainty about you—perhaps you are uncertain about yourself. But I'm never sure of you. You can go away and change as easily as if you had no soul.'
He looked at Birkin with penetrating eyes. Birkin was amazed. He thought he had all the soul in the world. He stared in amazement. And Gerald, watching, saw the amazing attractive goodliness of his eyes, a young, spontaneous goodness that attracted the other man infinitely, yet filled him with bitter chagrin, because he mistrusted it so much. He knew Birkin could do without him—could forget, and not suffer. This was always present in Gerald's consciousness, filling him with bitter unbelief: this consciousness of the young, animal-like spontaneity of detachment. It seemed almost like hypocrisy and lying, sometimes, oh, often, on Birkin's part, to talk so deeply and importantly.
Quite other things were going through Birkin's mind. Suddenly he saw himself confronted with another problem—the problem of love and eternal conjunction between two men. Of course this was necessary—it had been a necessity inside himself all his life—to love a man purely and fully. Of course he had been loving Gerald all along, and all along denying it.
He lay in the bed and wondered, whilst his friend sat beside him, lost in brooding. Each man was gone in his own thoughts.
'You know how the old German knights used to swear a BLUTBRUDERSCHAFT,' he said to Gerald, with quite a new happy activity in his eyes.
'Make a little wound in their arms, and rub each other's blood into the cut?' said Gerald.
'Yes—and swear to be true to each other, of one blood, all their lives. That is what we ought to do. No wounds, that is obsolete. But we ought to swear to love each other, you and I, implicitly, and perfectly, finally, without any possibility of going back on it.'
He looked at Gerald with clear, happy eyes of discovery. Gerald looked down at him, attracted, so deeply bondaged in fascinated attraction, that he was mistrustful, resenting the bondage, hating the attraction.
'We will swear to each other, one day, shall we?' pleaded Birkin. 'We will swear to stand by each other—be true to each other—ultimately—infallibly—given to each other, organically—without possibility of taking back.'
Birkin sought hard to express himself. But Gerald hardly listened. His face shone with a certain luminous pleasure. He was pleased. But he kept his reserve. He held himself back.
'Shall we swear to each other, one day?' said Birkin, putting out his hand towards Gerald.
Gerald just touched the extended fine, living hand, as if withheld and afraid.
'We'll leave it till I understand it better,' he said, in a voice of excuse.
Birkin watched him. A little sharp disappointment, perhaps a touch of contempt came into his heart.
'Yes,' he said. 'You must tell me what you think, later. You know what I mean? Not sloppy emotionalism. An impersonal union that leaves one free.'
They lapsed both into silence. Birkin was looking at Gerald all the time. He seemed now to see, not the physical, animal man, which he usually saw in Gerald, and which usually he liked so much, but the man himself, complete, and as if fated, doomed, limited. This strange sense of fatality in Gerald, as if he were limited to one form of existence, one knowledge, one activity, a sort of fatal halfness, which to himself seemed wholeness, always overcame Birkin after their moments of passionate approach, and filled him with a sort of contempt, or boredom. It was the insistence on the limitation which so bored Birkin in Gerald. Gerald could never fly away from himself, in real indifferent gaiety. He had a clog, a sort of monomania.
There was silence for a time. Then Birkin said, in a lighter tone, letting the stress of the contact pass:
'Can't you get a good governess for Winifred?—somebody exceptional?'
'Hermione Roddice suggested we should ask Gudrun to teach her to draw and to model in clay. You know Winnie is astonishingly clever with that plasticine stuff. Hermione declares she is an artist.' Gerald spoke in the usual animated, chatty manner, as if nothing unusual had passed. But Birkin's manner was full of reminder.
'Really! I didn't know that. Oh well then, if Gudrun WOULD teach her, it would be perfect—couldn't be anything better—if Winifred is an artist. Because Gudrun somewhere is one. And every true artist is the salvation of every other.'
'I thought they got on so badly, as a rule.'
'Perhaps. But only artists produce for each other the world that is fit to live in. If you can arrange THAT for Winifred, it is perfect.'
'But you think she wouldn't come?'
'I don't know. Gudrun is rather self-opinionated. She won't go cheap anywhere. Or if she does, she'll pretty soon take herself back. So whether she would condescend to do private teaching, particularly here, in Beldover, I don't know. But it would be just the thing. Winifred has got a special nature. And if you can put into her way the means of being self-sufficient, that is the best thing possible. She'll never get on with the ordinary life. You find it difficult enough yourself, and she is several skins thinner than you are. It is awful to think what her life will be like unless she does find a means of expression, some way of fulfilment. You can see what mere leaving it to fate brings. You can see how much marriage is to be trusted to—look at your own mother.'
'Do you think mother is abnormal?'
'No! I think she only wanted something more, or other than the common run of life. And not getting it, she has gone wrong perhaps.'
'After producing a brood of wrong children,' said Gerald gloomily.
'No more wrong than any of the rest of us,' Birkin replied. 'The most normal people have the worst subterranean selves, take them one by one.'
'Sometimes I think it is a curse to be alive,' said Gerald with sudden impotent anger.
'Well,' said Birkin, 'why not! Let it be a curse sometimes to be alive—at other times it is anything but a curse. You've got plenty of zest in it really.'
'Less than you'd think,' said Gerald, revealing a strange poverty in his look at the other man.
There was silence, each thinking his own thoughts.
'I don't see what she has to distinguish between teaching at the Grammar School, and coming to teach Win,' said Gerald.
'The difference between a public servant and a private one. The only nobleman today, king and only aristocrat, is the public, the public. You are quite willing to serve the public—but to be a private tutor—'
'I don't want to serve either—'
'No! And Gudrun will probably feel the same.'
Gerald thought for a few minutes. Then he said:
'At all events, father won't make her feel like a private servant. He will be fussy and greatful enough.'
'So he ought. And so ought all of you. Do you think you can hire a woman like Gudrun Brangwen with money? She is your equal like anything—probably your superior.'
'Is she?' said Gerald.
'Yes, and if you haven't the guts to know it, I hope she'll leave you to your own devices.'
'Nevertheless,' said Gerald, 'if she is my equal, I wish she weren't a teacher, because I don't think teachers as a rule are my equal.'
'Nor do I, damn them. But am I a teacher because I teach, or a parson because I preach?'
Gerald laughed. He was always uneasy on this score. He did not WANT to claim social superiority, yet he WOULD not claim intrinsic personal superiority, because he would never base his standard of values on pure being. So he wobbled upon a tacit assumption of social standing. No, Birkin wanted him to accept the fact of intrinsic difference between human beings, which he did not intend to accept. It was against his social honour, his principle. He rose to go.
'I've been neglecting my business all this while,' he said smiling.
'I ought to have reminded you before,' Birkin replied, laughing and mocking.
'I knew you'd say something like that,' laughed Gerald, rather uneasily.
'Yes, Rupert. It wouldn't do for us all to be like you are—we should soon be in the cart. When I am above the world, I shall ignore all businesses.'
'Of course, we're not in the cart now,' said Birkin, satirically.
'Not as much as you make out. At any rate, we have enough to eat and drink—'
'And be satisfied,' added Birkin.
Gerald came near the bed and stood looking down at Birkin whose throat was exposed, whose tossed hair fell attractively on the warm brow, above the eyes that were so unchallenged and still in the satirical face. Gerald, full-limbed and turgid with energy, stood unwilling to go, he was held by the presence of the other man. He had not the power to go away.
'So,' said Birkin. 'Good-bye.' And he reached out his hand from under the bed-clothes, smiling with a glimmering look.
'Good-bye,' said Gerald, taking the warm hand of his friend in a firm grasp. 'I shall come again. I miss you down at the mill.'
'I'll be there in a few days,' said Birkin.
The eyes of the two men met again. Gerald's, that were keen as a hawk's, were suffused now with warm light and with unadmitted love, Birkin looked back as out of a darkness, unsounded and unknown, yet with a kind of warmth, that seemed to flow over Gerald's brain like a fertile sleep.
'Good-bye then. There's nothing I can do for you?'
Birkin watched the black-clothed form of the other man move out of the door, the bright head was gone, he turned over to sleep.