The days went by, and she received no sign. Was he going to ignore her, was he going to take no further notice of her secret? A dreary weight of anxiety and acrid bitterness settled on her. And yet Ursula knew she was only deceiving herself, and that he would proceed. She said no word to anybody.
Then, sure enough, there came a note from him, asking if she would come to tea with Gudrun, to his rooms in town.
'Why does he ask Gudrun as well?' she asked herself at once. 'Does he want to protect himself, or does he think I would not go alone?' She was tormented by the thought that he wanted to protect himself. But at the end of all, she only said to herself:
'I don't want Gudrun to be there, because I want him to say something more to me. So I shan't tell Gudrun anything about it, and I shall go alone. Then I shall know.'
She found herself sitting on the tram-car, mounting up the hill going out of the town, to the place where he had his lodging. She seemed to have passed into a kind of dream world, absolved from the conditions of actuality. She watched the sordid streets of the town go by beneath her, as if she were a spirit disconnected from the material universe. What had it all to do with her? She was palpitating and formless within the flux of the ghost life. She could not consider any more, what anybody would say of her or think about her. People had passed out of her range, she was absolved. She had fallen strange and dim, out of the sheath of the material life, as a berry falls from the only world it has ever known, down out of the sheath on to the real unknown.
Birkin was standing in the middle of the room, when she was shown in by the landlady. He too was moved outside himself. She saw him agitated and shaken, a frail, unsubstantial body silent like the node of some violent force, that came out from him and shook her almost into a swoon.
'You are alone?' he said.
'Yes—Gudrun could not come.'
He instantly guessed why.
And they were both seated in silence, in the terrible tension of the room. She was aware that it was a pleasant room, full of light and very restful in its form—aware also of a fuchsia tree, with dangling scarlet and purple flowers.
'How nice the fuchsias are!' she said, to break the silence.
'Aren't they! Did you think I had forgotten what I said?'
A swoon went over Ursula's mind.
'I don't want you to remember it—if you don't want to,' she struggled to say, through the dark mist that covered her.
There was silence for some moments.
'No,' he said. 'It isn't that. Only—if we are going to know each other, we must pledge ourselves for ever. If we are going to make a relationship, even of friendship, there must be something final and infallible about it.'
There was a clang of mistrust and almost anger in his voice. She did not answer. Her heart was too much contracted. She could not have spoken.
Seeing she was not going to reply, he continued, almost bitterly, giving himself away:
'I can't say it is love I have to offer—and it isn't love I want. It is something much more impersonal and harder—and rarer.'
There was a silence, out of which she said:
'You mean you don't love me?'
She suffered furiously, saying that.
'Yes, if you like to put it like that. Though perhaps that isn't true. I don't know. At any rate, I don't feel the emotion of love for you—no, and I don't want to. Because it gives out in the last issues.'
'Love gives out in the last issues?' she asked, feeling numb to the lips.
'Yes, it does. At the very last, one is alone, beyond the influence of love. There is a real impersonal me, that is beyond love, beyond any emotional relationship. So it is with you. But we want to delude ourselves that love is the root. It isn't. It is only the branches. The root is beyond love, a naked kind of isolation, an isolated me, that does NOT meet and mingle, and never can.'
She watched him with wide, troubled eyes. His face was incandescent in its abstract earnestness.
'And you mean you can't love?' she asked, in trepidation.
'Yes, if you like. I have loved. But there is a beyond, where there is not love.'
She could not submit to this. She felt it swooning over her. But she could not submit.
'But how do you know—if you have never REALLY loved?' she asked.
'It is true, what I say; there is a beyond, in you, in me, which is further than love, beyond the scope, as stars are beyond the scope of vision, some of them.'
'Then there is no love,' cried Ursula.
'Ultimately, no, there is something else. But, ultimately, there IS no love.'
Ursula was given over to this statement for some moments. Then she half rose from her chair, saying, in a final, repellent voice:
'Then let me go home—what am I doing here?'
'There is the door,' he said. 'You are a free agent.'
He was suspended finely and perfectly in this extremity. She hung motionless for some seconds, then she sat down again.
'If there is no love, what is there?' she cried, almost jeering.
'Something,' he said, looking at her, battling with his soul, with all his might.
He was silent for a long time, unable to be in communication with her while she was in this state of opposition.
'There is,' he said, in a voice of pure abstraction; 'a final me which is stark and impersonal and beyond responsibility. So there is a final you. And it is there I would want to meet you—not in the emotional, loving plane—but there beyond, where there is no speech and no terms of agreement. There we are two stark, unknown beings, two utterly strange creatures, I would want to approach you, and you me. And there could be no obligation, because there is no standard for action there, because no understanding has been reaped from that plane. It is quite inhuman,—so there can be no calling to book, in any form whatsoever—because one is outside the pale of all that is accepted, and nothing known applies. One can only follow the impulse, taking that which lies in front, and responsible for nothing, asked for nothing, giving nothing, only each taking according to the primal desire.'
Ursula listened to this speech, her mind dumb and almost senseless, what he said was so unexpected and so untoward.
'It is just purely selfish,' she said.
'If it is pure, yes. But it isn't selfish at all. Because I don't KNOW what I want of you. I deliver MYSELF over to the unknown, in coming to you, I am without reserves or defences, stripped entirely, into the unknown. Only there needs the pledge between us, that we will both cast off everything, cast off ourselves even, and cease to be, so that that which is perfectly ourselves can take place in us.'
She pondered along her own line of thought.
'But it is because you love me, that you want me?' she persisted.
'No it isn't. It is because I believe in you—if I DO believe in you.'
'Aren't you sure?' she laughed, suddenly hurt.
He was looking at her steadfastly, scarcely heeding what she said.
'Yes, I must believe in you, or else I shouldn't be here saying this,' he replied. 'But that is all the proof I have. I don't feel any very strong belief at this particular moment.'
She disliked him for this sudden relapse into weariness and faithlessness.
'But don't you think me good-looking?' she persisted, in a mocking voice.
He looked at her, to see if he felt that she was good-looking.
'I don't FEEL that you're good-looking,' he said.
'Not even attractive?' she mocked, bitingly.
He knitted his brows in sudden exasperation.
'Don't you see that it's not a question of visual appreciation in the least,' he cried. 'I don't WANT to see you. I've seen plenty of women, I'm sick and weary of seeing them. I want a woman I don't see.'
'I'm sorry I can't oblige you by being invisible,' she laughed.
'Yes,' he said, 'you are invisible to me, if you don't force me to be visually aware of you. But I don't want to see you or hear you.'
'What did you ask me to tea for, then?' she mocked.
But he would take no notice of her. He was talking to himself.
'I want to find you, where you don't know your own existence, the you that your common self denies utterly. But I don't want your good looks, and I don't want your womanly feelings, and I don't want your thoughts nor opinions nor your ideas—they are all bagatelles to me.'
'You are very conceited, Monsieur,' she mocked. 'How do you know what my womanly feelings are, or my thoughts or my ideas? You don't even know what I think of you now.'
'Nor do I care in the slightest.'
'I think you are very silly. I think you want to tell me you love me, and you go all this way round to do it.'
'All right,' he said, looking up with sudden exasperation. 'Now go away then, and leave me alone. I don't want any more of your meretricious persiflage.'
'Is it really persiflage?' she mocked, her face really relaxing into laughter. She interpreted it, that he had made a deep confession of love to her. But he was so absurd in his words, also.
They were silent for many minutes, she was pleased and elated like a child. His concentration broke, he began to look at her simply and naturally.
'What I want is a strange conjunction with you—' he said quietly; 'not meeting and mingling—you are quite right—but an equilibrium, a pure balance of two single beings—as the stars balance each other.'
She looked at him. He was very earnest, and earnestness was always rather ridiculous, commonplace, to her. It made her feel unfree and uncomfortable. Yet she liked him so much. But why drag in the stars.
'Isn't this rather sudden?' she mocked.
He began to laugh.
'Best to read the terms of the contract, before we sign,' he said.
A young grey cat that had been sleeping on the sofa jumped down and stretched, rising on its long legs, and arching its slim back. Then it sat considering for a moment, erect and kingly. And then, like a dart, it had shot out of the room, through the open window-doors, and into the garden.
'What's he after?' said Birkin, rising.
The young cat trotted lordly down the path, waving his tail. He was an ordinary tabby with white paws, a slender young gentleman. A crouching, fluffy, brownish-grey cat was stealing up the side of the fence. The Mino walked statelily up to her, with manly nonchalance. She crouched before him and pressed herself on the ground in humility, a fluffy soft outcast, looking up at him with wild eyes that were green and lovely as great jewels. He looked casually down on her. So she crept a few inches further, proceeding on her way to the back door, crouching in a wonderful, soft, self-obliterating manner, and moving like a shadow.
He, going statelily on his slim legs, walked after her, then suddenly, for pure excess, he gave her a light cuff with his paw on the side of her face. She ran off a few steps, like a blown leaf along the ground, then crouched unobtrusively, in submissive, wild patience. The Mino pretended to take no notice of her. He blinked his eyes superbly at the landscape. In a minute she drew herself together and moved softly, a fleecy brown-grey shadow, a few paces forward. She began to quicken her pace, in a moment she would be gone like a dream, when the young grey lord sprang before her, and gave her a light handsome cuff. She subsided at once, submissively.
'She is a wild cat,' said Birkin. 'She has come in from the woods.'
The eyes of the stray cat flared round for a moment, like great green fires staring at Birkin. Then she had rushed in a soft swift rush, half way down the garden. There she paused to look round. The Mino turned his face in pure superiority to his master, and slowly closed his eyes, standing in statuesque young perfection. The wild cat's round, green, wondering eyes were staring all the while like uncanny fires. Then again, like a shadow, she slid towards the kitchen.
In a lovely springing leap, like a wind, the Mino was upon her, and had boxed her twice, very definitely, with a white, delicate fist. She sank and slid back, unquestioning. He walked after her, and cuffed her once or twice, leisurely, with sudden little blows of his magic white paws.
'Now why does he do that?' cried Ursula in indignation.
'They are on intimate terms,' said Birkin.
'And is that why he hits her?'
'Yes,' laughed Birkin, 'I think he wants to make it quite obvious to her.'
'Isn't it horrid of him!' she cried; and going out into the garden she called to the Mino:
'Stop it, don't bully. Stop hitting her.'
The stray cat vanished like a swift, invisible shadow. The Mino glanced at Ursula, then looked from her disdainfully to his master.
'Are you a bully, Mino?' Birkin asked.
The young slim cat looked at him, and slowly narrowed its eyes. Then it glanced away at the landscape, looking into the distance as if completely oblivious of the two human beings.
'Mino,' said Ursula, 'I don't like you. You are a bully like all males.'
'No,' said Birkin, 'he is justified. He is not a bully. He is only insisting to the poor stray that she shall acknowledge him as a sort of fate, her own fate: because you can see she is fluffy and promiscuous as the wind. I am with him entirely. He wants superfine stability.'
'Yes, I know!' cried Ursula. 'He wants his own way—I know what your fine words work down to—bossiness, I call it, bossiness.'
The young cat again glanced at Birkin in disdain of the noisy woman.
'I quite agree with you, Miciotto,' said Birkin to the cat. 'Keep your male dignity, and your higher understanding.'
Again the Mino narrowed his eyes as if he were looking at the sun. Then, suddenly affecting to have no connection at all with the two people, he went trotting off, with assumed spontaneity and gaiety, his tail erect, his white feet blithe.
'Now he will find the belle sauvage once more, and entertain her with his superior wisdom,' laughed Birkin.
Ursula looked at the man who stood in the garden with his hair blowing and his eyes smiling ironically, and she cried:
'Oh it makes me so cross, this assumption of male superiority! And it is such a lie! One wouldn't mind if there were any justification for it.'
'The wild cat,' said Birkin, 'doesn't mind. She perceives that it is justified.'
'Does she!' cried Ursula. 'And tell it to the Horse Marines.'
'To them also.'
'It is just like Gerald Crich with his horse—a lust for bullying—a real Wille zur Macht—so base, so petty.'
'I agree that the Wille zur Macht is a base and petty thing. But with the Mino, it is the desire to bring this female cat into a pure stable equilibrium, a transcendent and abiding RAPPORT with the single male. Whereas without him, as you see, she is a mere stray, a fluffy sporadic bit of chaos. It is a volonte de pouvoir, if you like, a will to ability, taking pouvoir as a verb.'
'Ah—! Sophistries! It's the old Adam.'
'Oh yes. Adam kept Eve in the indestructible paradise, when he kept her single with himself, like a star in its orbit.'
'Yes—yes—' cried Ursula, pointing her finger at him. 'There you are—a star in its orbit! A satellite—a satellite of Mars—that's what she is to be! There—there—you've given yourself away! You want a satellite, Mars and his satellite! You've said it—you've said it—you've dished yourself!'
He stood smiling in frustration and amusement and irritation and admiration and love. She was so quick, and so lambent, like discernible fire, and so vindictive, and so rich in her dangerous flamy sensitiveness.
'I've not said it at all,' he replied, 'if you will give me a chance to speak.'
'No, no!' she cried. 'I won't let you speak. You've said it, a satellite, you're not going to wriggle out of it. You've said it.'
'You'll never believe now that I HAVEN'T said it,' he answered. 'I neither implied nor indicated nor mentioned a satellite, nor intended a satellite, never.'
'YOU PREVARICATOR!' she cried, in real indignation.
'Tea is ready, sir,' said the landlady from the doorway.
They both looked at her, very much as the cats had looked at them, a little while before.
'Thank you, Mrs Daykin.'
An interrupted silence fell over the two of them, a moment of breach.
'Come and have tea,' he said.
'Yes, I should love it,' she replied, gathering herself together.
They sat facing each other across the tea table.
'I did not say, nor imply, a satellite. I meant two single equal stars balanced in conjunction—'
'You gave yourself away, you gave away your little game completely,' she cried, beginning at once to eat. He saw that she would take no further heed of his expostulation, so he began to pour the tea.
'What GOOD things to eat!' she cried.
'Take your own sugar,' he said.
He handed her her cup. He had everything so nice, such pretty cups and plates, painted with mauve-lustre and green, also shapely bowls and glass plates, and old spoons, on a woven cloth of pale grey and black and purple. It was very rich and fine. But Ursula could see Hermione's influence.
'Your things are so lovely!' she said, almost angrily.
'I like them. It gives me real pleasure to use things that are attractive in themselves—pleasant things. And Mrs Daykin is good. She thinks everything is wonderful, for my sake.'
'Really,' said Ursula, 'landladies are better than wives, nowadays. They certainly CARE a great deal more. It is much more beautiful and complete here now, than if you were married.'
'But think of the emptiness within,' he laughed.
'No,' she said. 'I am jealous that men have such perfect landladies and such beautiful lodgings. There is nothing left them to desire.'
'In the house-keeping way, we'll hope not. It is disgusting, people marrying for a home.'
'Still,' said Ursula, 'a man has very little need for a woman now, has he?'
'In outer things, maybe—except to share his bed and bear his children. But essentially, there is just the same need as there ever was. Only nobody takes the trouble to be essential.'
'How essential?' she said.
'I do think,' he said, 'that the world is only held together by the mystic conjunction, the ultimate unison between people—a bond. And the immediate bond is between man and woman.'
'But it's such old hat,' said Ursula. 'Why should love be a bond? No, I'm not having any.'
'If you are walking westward,' he said, 'you forfeit the northern and eastward and southern direction. If you admit a unison, you forfeit all the possibilities of chaos.'
'But love is freedom,' she declared.
'Don't cant to me,' he replied. 'Love is a direction which excludes all other directions. It's a freedom TOGETHER, if you like.'
'No,' she said, 'love includes everything.'
'Sentimental cant,' he replied. 'You want the state of chaos, that's all. It is ultimate nihilism, this freedom-in-love business, this freedom which is love and love which is freedom. As a matter of fact, if you enter into a pure unison, it is irrevocable, and it is never pure till it is irrevocable. And when it is irrevocable, it is one way, like the path of a star.'
'Ha!' she cried bitterly. 'It is the old dead morality.'
'No,' he said, 'it is the law of creation. One is committed. One must commit oneself to a conjunction with the other—for ever. But it is not selfless—it is a maintaining of the self in mystic balance and integrity—like a star balanced with another star.'
'I don't trust you when you drag in the stars,' she said. 'If you were quite true, it wouldn't be necessary to be so far-fetched.'
'Don't trust me then,' he said, angry. 'It is enough that I trust myself.'
'And that is where you make another mistake,' she replied. 'You DON'T trust yourself. You don't fully believe yourself what you are saying. You don't really want this conjunction, otherwise you wouldn't talk so much about it, you'd get it.'
He was suspended for a moment, arrested.
'How?' he said.
'By just loving,' she retorted in defiance.
He was still a moment, in anger. Then he said:
'I tell you, I don't believe in love like that. I tell you, you want love to administer to your egoism, to subserve you. Love is a process of subservience with you—and with everybody. I hate it.'
'No,' she cried, pressing back her head like a cobra, her eyes flashing. 'It is a process of pride—I want to be proud—'
'Proud and subservient, proud and subservient, I know you,' he retorted dryly. 'Proud and subservient, then subservient to the proud—I know you and your love. It is a tick-tack, tick-tack, a dance of opposites.'
'Are you sure?' she mocked wickedly, 'what my love is?'
'Yes, I am,' he retorted.
'So cocksure!' she said. 'How can anybody ever be right, who is so cocksure? It shows you are wrong.'
He was silent in chagrin.
They had talked and struggled till they were both wearied out.
'Tell me about yourself and your people,' he said.
And she told him about the Brangwens, and about her mother, and about Skrebensky, her first love, and about her later experiences. He sat very still, watching her as she talked. And he seemed to listen with reverence. Her face was beautiful and full of baffled light as she told him all the things that had hurt her or perplexed her so deeply. He seemed to warm and comfort his soul at the beautiful light of her nature.
'If she REALLY could pledge herself,' he thought to himself, with passionate insistence but hardly any hope. Yet a curious little irresponsible laughter appeared in his heart.
'We have all suffered so much,' he mocked, ironically.
She looked up at him, and a flash of wild gaiety went over her face, a strange flash of yellow light coming from her eyes.
'Haven't we!' she cried, in a high, reckless cry. 'It is almost absurd, isn't it?'
'Quite absurd,' he said. 'Suffering bores me, any more.'
'So it does me.'
He was almost afraid of the mocking recklessness of her splendid face. Here was one who would go to the whole lengths of heaven or hell, whichever she had to go. And he mistrusted her, he was afraid of a woman capable of such abandon, such dangerous thoroughness of destructivity. Yet he chuckled within himself also.
She came over to him and put her hand on his shoulder, looking down at him with strange golden-lighted eyes, very tender, but with a curious devilish look lurking underneath.
'Say you love me, say "my love" to me,' she pleaded
He looked back into her eyes, and saw. His face flickered with sardonic comprehension.
'I love you right enough,' he said, grimly. 'But I want it to be something else.'
'But why? But why?' she insisted, bending her wonderful luminous face to him. 'Why isn't it enough?'
'Because we can go one better,' he said, putting his arms round her.
'No, we can't,' she said, in a strong, voluptuous voice of yielding. 'We can only love each other. Say "my love" to me, say it, say it.'
She put her arms round his neck. He enfolded her, and kissed her subtly, murmuring in a subtle voice of love, and irony, and submission:
'Yes,—my love, yes,—my love. Let love be enough then. I love you then—I love you. I'm bored by the rest.'
'Yes,' she murmured, nestling very sweet and close to him.