When Ursula and Birkin were gone, Gudrun felt herself free in her contest with Gerald. As they grew more used to each other, he seemed to press upon her more and more. At first she could manage him, so that her own will was always left free. But very soon, he began to ignore her female tactics, he dropped his respect for her whims and her privacies, he began to exert his own will blindly, without submitting to hers.
Already a vital conflict had set in, which frightened them both. But he was alone, whilst already she had begun to cast round for external resource.
When Ursula had gone, Gudrun felt her own existence had become stark and elemental. She went and crouched alone in her bedroom, looking out of the window at the big, flashing stars. In front was the faint shadow of the mountain-knot. That was the pivot. She felt strange and inevitable, as if she were centred upon the pivot of all existence, there was no further reality.
Presently Gerald opened the door. She knew he would not be long before he came. She was rarely alone, he pressed upon her like a frost, deadening her.
'Are you alone in the dark?' he said. And she could tell by his tone he resented it, he resented this isolation she had drawn round herself. Yet, feeling static and inevitable, she was kind towards him.
'Would you like to light the candle?' she asked.
He did not answer, but came and stood behind her, in the darkness.
'Look,' she said, 'at that lovely star up there. Do you know its name?'
He crouched beside her, to look through the low window.
'No,' he said. 'It is very fine.'
'ISN'T it beautiful! Do you notice how it darts different coloured fires—it flashes really superbly—'
They remained in silence. With a mute, heavy gesture she put her hand on his knee, and took his hand.
'Are you regretting Ursula?' he asked.
'No, not at all,' she said. Then, in a slow mood, she asked:
'How much do you love me?'
He stiffened himself further against her.
'How much do you think I do?' he asked.
'I don't know,' she replied.
'But what is your opinion?' he asked.
There was a pause. At length, in the darkness, came her voice, hard and indifferent:
'Very little indeed,' she said coldly, almost flippant.
His heart went icy at the sound of her voice.
'Why don't I love you?' he asked, as if admitting the truth of her accusation, yet hating her for it.
'I don't know why you don't—I've been good to you. You were in a FEARFUL state when you came to me.'
Her heart was beating to suffocate her, yet she was strong and unrelenting.
'When was I in a fearful state?' he asked.
'When you first came to me. I HAD to take pity on you. But it was never love.'
It was that statement 'It was never love,' which sounded in his ears with madness.
'Why must you repeat it so often, that there is no love?' he said in a voice strangled with rage.
'Well you don't THINK you love, do you?' she asked.
He was silent with cold passion of anger.
'You don't think you CAN love me, do you?' she repeated almost with a sneer.
'No,' he said.
'You know you never HAVE loved me, don't you?'
'I don't know what you mean by the word 'love,' he replied.
'Yes, you do. You know all right that you have never loved me. Have you, do you think?'
'No,' he said, prompted by some barren spirit of truthfulness and obstinacy.
'And you never WILL love me,' she said finally, 'will you?'
There was a diabolic coldness in her, too much to bear.
'No,' he said.
'Then,' she replied, 'what have you against me!'
He was silent in cold, frightened rage and despair. 'If only I could kill her,' his heart was whispering repeatedly. 'If only I could kill her—I should be free.'
It seemed to him that death was the only severing of this Gordian knot.
'Why do you torture me?' he said.
She flung her arms round his neck.
'Ah, I don't want to torture you,' she said pityingly, as if she were comforting a child. The impertinence made his veins go cold, he was insensible. She held her arms round his neck, in a triumph of pity. And her pity for him was as cold as stone, its deepest motive was hate of him, and fear of his power over her, which she must always counterfoil.
'Say you love me,' she pleaded. 'Say you will love me for ever—won't you—won't you?'
But it was her voice only that coaxed him. Her senses were entirely apart from him, cold and destructive of him. It was her overbearing WILL that insisted.
'Won't you say you'll love me always?' she coaxed. 'Say it, even if it isn't true—say it Gerald, do.'
'I will love you always,' he repeated, in real agony, forcing the words out.
She gave him a quick kiss.
'Fancy your actually having said it,' she said with a touch of raillery.
He stood as if he had been beaten.
'Try to love me a little more, and to want me a little less,' she said, in a half contemptuous, half coaxing tone.
The darkness seemed to be swaying in waves across his mind, great waves of darkness plunging across his mind. It seemed to him he was degraded at the very quick, made of no account.
'You mean you don't want me?' he said.
'You are so insistent, and there is so little grace in you, so little fineness. You are so crude. You break me—you only waste me—it is horrible to me.'
'Horrible to you?' he repeated.
'Yes. Don't you think I might have a room to myself, now Ursula has gone? You can say you want a dressing room.'
'You do as you like—you can leave altogether if you like,' he managed to articulate.
'Yes, I know that,' she replied. 'So can you. You can leave me whenever you like—without notice even.'
The great tides of darkness were swinging across his mind, he could hardly stand upright. A terrible weariness overcame him, he felt he must lie on the floor. Dropping off his clothes, he got into bed, and lay like a man suddenly overcome by drunkenness, the darkness lifting and plunging as if he were lying upon a black, giddy sea. He lay still in this strange, horrific reeling for some time, purely unconscious.
At length she slipped from her own bed and came over to him. He remained rigid, his back to her. He was all but unconscious.
She put her arms round his terrifying, insentient body, and laid her cheek against his hard shoulder.
'Gerald,' she whispered. 'Gerald.'
There was no change in him. She caught him against her. She pressed her breasts against his shoulders, she kissed his shoulder, through the sleeping jacket. Her mind wondered, over his rigid, unliving body. She was bewildered, and insistent, only her will was set for him to speak to her.
'Gerald, my dear!' she whispered, bending over him, kissing his ear.
Her warm breath playing, flying rhythmically over his ear, seemed to relax the tension. She could feel his body gradually relaxing a little, losing its terrifying, unnatural rigidity. Her hands clutched his limbs, his muscles, going over him spasmodically.
The hot blood began to flow again through his veins, his limbs relaxed.
'Turn round to me,' she whispered, forlorn with insistence and triumph.
So at last he was given again, warm and flexible. He turned and gathered her in his arms. And feeling her soft against him, so perfectly and wondrously soft and recipient, his arms tightened on her. She was as if crushed, powerless in him. His brain seemed hard and invincible now like a jewel, there was no resisting him.
His passion was awful to her, tense and ghastly, and impersonal, like a destruction, ultimate. She felt it would kill her. She was being killed.
'My God, my God,' she cried, in anguish, in his embrace, feeling her life being killed within her. And when he was kissing her, soothing her, her breath came slowly, as if she were really spent, dying.
'Shall I die, shall I die?' she repeated to herself.
And in the night, and in him, there was no answer to the question.
And yet, next day, the fragment of her which was not destroyed remained intact and hostile, she did not go away, she remained to finish the holiday, admitting nothing. He scarcely ever left her alone, but followed her like a shadow, he was like a doom upon her, a continual 'thou shalt,' 'thou shalt not.' Sometimes it was he who seemed strongest, whist she was almost gone, creeping near the earth like a spent wind; sometimes it was the reverse. But always it was this eternal see-saw, one destroyed that the other might exist, one ratified because the other was nulled.
'In the end,' she said to herself, 'I shall go away from him.'
'I can be free of her,' he said to himself in his paroxysms of suffering.
And he set himself to be free. He even prepared to go away, to leave her in the lurch. But for the first time there was a flaw in his will.
'Where shall I go?' he asked himself.
'Can't you be self-sufficient?' he replied to himself, putting himself upon his pride.
'Self-sufficient!' he repeated.
It seemed to him that Gudrun was sufficient unto herself, closed round and completed, like a thing in a case. In the calm, static reason of his soul, he recognised this, and admitted it was her right, to be closed round upon herself, self-complete, without desire. He realised it, he admitted it, it only needed one last effort on his own part, to win for himself the same completeness. He knew that it only needed one convulsion of his will for him to be able to turn upon himself also, to close upon himself as a stone fixes upon itself, and is impervious, self-completed, a thing isolated.
This knowledge threw him into a terrible chaos. Because, however much he might mentally WILL to be immune and self-complete, the desire for this state was lacking, and he could not create it. He could see that, to exist at all, he must be perfectly free of Gudrun, leave her if she wanted to be left, demand nothing of her, have no claim upon her.
But then, to have no claim upon her, he must stand by himself, in sheer nothingness. And his brain turned to nought at the idea. It was a state of nothingness. On the other hand, he might give in, and fawn to her. Or, finally, he might kill her. Or he might become just indifferent, purposeless, dissipated, momentaneous. But his nature was too serious, not gay enough or subtle enough for mocking licentiousness.
A strange rent had been torn in him; like a victim that is torn open and given to the heavens, so he had been torn apart and given to Gudrun. How should he close again? This wound, this strange, infinitely-sensitive opening of his soul, where he was exposed, like an open flower, to all the universe, and in which he was given to his complement, the other, the unknown, this wound, this disclosure, this unfolding of his own covering, leaving him incomplete, limited, unfinished, like an open flower under the sky, this was his cruellest joy. Why then should he forego it? Why should he close up and become impervious, immune, like a partial thing in a sheath, when he had broken forth, like a seed that has germinated, to issue forth in being, embracing the unrealised heavens.
He would keep the unfinished bliss of his own yearning even through the torture she inflicted upon him. A strange obstinacy possessed him. He would not go away from her whatever she said or did. A strange, deathly yearning carried him along with her. She was the determinating influence of his very being, though she treated him with contempt, repeated rebuffs, and denials, still he would never be gone, since in being near her, even, he felt the quickening, the going forth in him, the release, the knowledge of his own limitation and the magic of the promise, as well as the mystery of his own destruction and annihilation.
She tortured the open heart of him even as he turned to her. And she was tortured herself. It may have been her will was stronger. She felt, with horror, as if he tore at the bud of her heart, tore it open, like an irreverent persistent being. Like a boy who pulls off a fly's wings, or tears open a bud to see what is in the flower, he tore at her privacy, at her very life, he would destroy her as an immature bud, torn open, is destroyed.
She might open towards him, a long while hence, in her dreams, when she was a pure spirit. But now she was not to be violated and ruined. She closed against him fiercely.
They climbed together, at evening, up the high slope, to see the sunset. In the finely breathing, keen wind they stood and watched the yellow sun sink in crimson and disappear. Then in the east the peaks and ridges glowed with living rose, incandescent like immortal flowers against a brown-purple sky, a miracle, whilst down below the world was a bluish shadow, and above, like an annunciation, hovered a rosy transport in mid-air.
To her it was so beautiful, it was a delirium, she wanted to gather the glowing, eternal peaks to her breast, and die. He saw them, saw they were beautiful. But there arose no clamour in his breast, only a bitterness that was visionary in itself. He wished the peaks were grey and unbeautiful, so that she should not get her support from them. Why did she betray the two of them so terribly, in embracing the glow of the evening? Why did she leave him standing there, with the ice-wind blowing through his heart, like death, to gratify herself among the rosy snow-tips?
'What does the twilight matter?' he said. 'Why do you grovel before it? Is it so important to you?'
She winced in violation and in fury.
'Go away,' she cried, 'and leave me to it. It is beautiful, beautiful,' she sang in strange, rhapsodic tones. 'It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. Don't try to come between it and me. Take yourself away, you are out of place—'
He stood back a little, and left her standing there, statue-like, transported into the mystic glowing east. Already the rose was fading, large white stars were flashing out. He waited. He would forego everything but the yearning.
'That was the most perfect thing I have ever seen,' she said in cold, brutal tones, when at last she turned round to him. 'It amazes me that you should want to destroy it. If you can't see it yourself, why try to debar me?' But in reality, he had destroyed it for her, she was straining after a dead effect.
'One day,' he said, softly, looking up at her, 'I shall destroy YOU, as you stand looking at the sunset; because you are such a liar.'
There was a soft, voluptuous promise to himself in the words. She was chilled but arrogant.
'Ha!' she said. 'I am not afraid of your threats!' She denied herself to him, she kept her room rigidly private to herself. But he waited on, in a curious patience, belonging to his yearning for her.
'In the end,' he said to himself with real voluptuous promise, 'when it reaches that point, I shall do away with her.' And he trembled delicately in every limb, in anticipation, as he trembled in his most violent accesses of passionate approach to her, trembling with too much desire.
She had a curious sort of allegiance with Loerke, all the while, now, something insidious and traitorous. Gerald knew of it. But in the unnatural state of patience, and the unwillingness to harden himself against her, in which he found himself, he took no notice, although her soft kindliness to the other man, whom he hated as a noxious insect, made him shiver again with an access of the strange shuddering that came over him repeatedly.
He left her alone only when he went skiing, a sport he loved, and which she did not practise. The he seemed to sweep out of life, to be a projectile into the beyond. And often, when he went away, she talked to the little German sculptor. They had an invariable topic, in their art.
They were almost of the same ideas. He hated Mestrovic, was not satisfied with the Futurists, he liked the West African wooden figures, the Aztec art, Mexican and Central American. He saw the grotesque, and a curious sort of mechanical motion intoxicated him, a confusion in nature. They had a curious game with each other, Gudrun and Loerke, of infinite suggestivity, strange and leering, as if they had some esoteric understanding of life, that they alone were initiated into the fearful central secrets, that the world dared not know. Their whole correspondence was in a strange, barely comprehensible suggestivity, they kindled themselves at the subtle lust of the Egyptians or the Mexicans. The whole game was one of subtle inter-suggestivity, and they wanted to keep it on the plane of suggestion. From their verbal and physical nuances they got the highest satisfaction in the nerves, from a queer interchange of half-suggested ideas, looks, expressions and gestures, which were quite intolerable, though incomprehensible, to Gerald. He had no terms in which to think of their commerce, his terms were much too gross.
The suggestion of primitive art was their refuge, and the inner mysteries of sensation their object of worship. Art and Life were to them the Reality and the Unreality.
'Of course,' said Gudrun, 'life doesn't REALLY matter—it is one's art which is central. What one does in one's life has PEU DE RAPPORT, it doesn't signify much.'
'Yes, that is so, exactly,' replied the sculptor. 'What one does in one's art, that is the breath of one's being. What one does in one's life, that is a bagatelle for the outsiders to fuss about.'
It was curious what a sense of elation and freedom Gudrun found in this communication. She felt established for ever. Of course Gerald was BAGATELLE. Love was one of the temporal things in her life, except in so far as she was an artist. She thought of Cleopatra—Cleopatra must have been an artist; she reaped the essential from a man, she harvested the ultimate sensation, and threw away the husk; and Mary Stuart, and the great Rachel, panting with her lovers after the theatre, these were the exoteric exponents of love. After all, what was the lover but fuel for the transport of this subtle knowledge, for a female art, the art of pure, perfect knowledge in sensuous understanding.
One evening Gerald was arguing with Loerke about Italy and Tripoli. The Englishman was in a strange, inflammable state, the German was excited. It was a contest of words, but it meant a conflict of spirit between the two men. And all the while Gudrun could see in Gerald an arrogant English contempt for a foreigner. Although Gerald was quivering, his eyes flashing, his face flushed, in his argument there was a brusqueness, a savage contempt in his manner, that made Gudrun's blood flare up, and made Loerke keen and mortified. For Gerald came down like a sledge-hammer with his assertions, anything the little German said was merely contemptible rubbish.
At last Loerke turned to Gudrun, raising his hands in helpless irony, a shrug of ironical dismissal, something appealing and child-like.
'Sehen sie, gnadige Frau-' he began.
'Bitte sagen Sie nicht immer, gnadige Frau,' cried Gudrun, her eyes flashing, her cheeks burning. She looked like a vivid Medusa. Her voice was loud and clamorous, the other people in the room were startled.
'Please don't call me Mrs Crich,' she cried aloud.
The name, in Loerke's mouth particularly, had been an intolerable humiliation and constraint upon her, these many days.
The two men looked at her in amazement. Gerald went white at the cheek-bones.
'What shall I say, then?' asked Loerke, with soft, mocking insinuation.
'Sagen Sie nur nicht das,' she muttered, her cheeks flushed crimson. 'Not that, at least.'
She saw, by the dawning look on Loerke's face, that he had understood. She was NOT Mrs Crich! So-o-, that explained a great deal.
'Soll ich Fraulein sagen?' he asked, malevolently.
'I am not married,' she said, with some hauteur.
Her heart was fluttering now, beating like a bewildered bird. She knew she had dealt a cruel wound, and she could not bear it.
Gerald sat erect, perfectly still, his face pale and calm, like the face of a statue. He was unaware of her, or of Loerke or anybody. He sat perfectly still, in an unalterable calm. Loerke, meanwhile, was crouching and glancing up from under his ducked head.
Gudrun was tortured for something to say, to relieve the suspense. She twisted her face in a smile, and glanced knowingly, almost sneering, at Gerald.
'Truth is best,' she said to him, with a grimace.
But now again she was under his domination; now, because she had dealt him this blow; because she had destroyed him, and she did not know how he had taken it. She watched him. He was interesting to her. She had lost her interest in Loerke.
Gerald rose at length, and went over in a leisurely still movement, to the Professor. The two began a conversation on Goethe.
She was rather piqued by the simplicity of Gerald's demeanour this evening. He did not seem angry or disgusted, only he looked curiously innocent and pure, really beautiful. Sometimes it came upon him, this look of clear distance, and it always fascinated her.
She waited, troubled, throughout the evening. She thought he would avoid her, or give some sign. But he spoke to her simply and unemotionally, as he would to anyone else in the room. A certain peace, an abstraction possessed his soul.
She went to his room, hotly, violently in love with him. He was so beautiful and inaccessible. He kissed her, he was a lover to her. And she had extreme pleasure of him. But he did not come to, he remained remote and candid, unconscious. She wanted to speak to him. But this innocent, beautiful state of unconsciousness that had come upon him prevented her. She felt tormented and dark.
In the morning, however, he looked at her with a little aversion, some horror and some hatred darkening into his eyes. She withdrew on to her old ground. But still he would not gather himself together, against her.
Loerke was waiting for her now. The little artist, isolated in his own complete envelope, felt that here at last was a woman from whom he could get something. He was uneasy all the while, waiting to talk with her, subtly contriving to be near her. Her presence filled him with keenness and excitement, he gravitated cunningly towards her, as if she had some unseen force of attraction.
He was not in the least doubtful of himself, as regards Gerald. Gerald was one of the outsiders. Loerke only hated him for being rich and proud and of fine appearance. All these things, however, riches, pride of social standing, handsome physique, were externals. When it came to the relation with a woman such as Gudrun, he, Loerke, had an approach and a power that Gerald never dreamed of.
How should Gerald hope to satisfy a woman of Gudrun's calibre? Did he think that pride or masterful will or physical strength would help him? Loerke knew a secret beyond these things. The greatest power is the one that is subtle and adjusts itself, not one which blindly attacks. And he, Loerke, had understanding where Gerald was a calf. He, Loerke, could penetrate into depths far out of Gerald's knowledge. Gerald was left behind like a postulant in the ante-room of this temple of mysteries, this woman. But he Loerke, could he not penetrate into the inner darkness, find the spirit of the woman in its inner recess, and wrestle with it there, the central serpent that is coiled at the core of life.
What was it, after all, that a woman wanted? Was it mere social effect, fulfilment of ambition in the social world, in the community of mankind? Was it even a union in love and goodness? Did she want 'goodness'? Who but a fool would accept this of Gudrun? This was but the street view of her wants. Cross the threshold, and you found her completely, completely cynical about the social world and its advantages. Once inside the house of her soul and there was a pungent atmosphere of corrosion, an inflamed darkness of sensation, and a vivid, subtle, critical consciousness, that saw the world distorted, horrific.
What then, what next? Was it sheer blind force of passion that would satisfy her now? Not this, but the subtle thrills of extreme sensation in reduction. It was an unbroken will reacting against her unbroken will in a myriad subtle thrills of reduction, the last subtle activities of analysis and breaking down, carried out in the darkness of her, whilst the outside form, the individual, was utterly unchanged, even sentimental in its poses.
But between two particular people, any two people on earth, the range of pure sensational experience is limited. The climax of sensual reaction, once reached in any direction, is reached finally, there is no going on. There is only repetition possible, or the going apart of the two protagonists, or the subjugating of the one will to the other, or death.
Gerald had penetrated all the outer places of Gudrun's soul. He was to her the most crucial instance of the existing world, the NE PLUS ULTRA of the world of man as it existed for her. In him she knew the world, and had done with it. Knowing him finally she was the Alexander seeking new worlds. But there WERE no new worlds, there were no more MEN, there were only creatures, little, ultimate CREATURES like Loerke. The world was finished now, for her. There was only the inner, individual darkness, sensation within the ego, the obscene religious mystery of ultimate reduction, the mystic frictional activities of diabolic reducing down, disintegrating the vital organic body of life.
All this Gudrun knew in her subconsciousness, not in her mind. She knew her next step-she knew what she should move on to, when she left Gerald. She was afraid of Gerald, that he might kill her. But she did not intend to be killed. A fine thread still united her to him. It should not be HER death which broke it. She had further to go, a further, slow exquisite experience to reap, unthinkable subtleties of sensation to know, before she was finished.
Of the last series of subtleties, Gerald was not capable. He could not touch the quick of her. But where his ruder blows could not penetrate, the fine, insinuating blade of Loerke's insect-like comprehension could. At least, it was time for her now to pass over to the other, the creature, the final craftsman. She knew that Loerke, in his innermost soul, was detached from everything, for him there was neither heaven nor earth nor hell. He admitted no allegiance, he gave no adherence anywhere. He was single and, by abstraction from the rest, absolute in himself.
Whereas in Gerald's soul there still lingered some attachment to the rest, to the whole. And this was his limitation. He was limited, BORNE, subject to his necessity, in the last issue, for goodness, for righteousness, for oneness with the ultimate purpose. That the ultimate purpose might be the perfect and subtle experience of the process of death, the will being kept unimpaired, that was not allowed in him. And this was his limitation.
There was a hovering triumph in Loerke, since Gudrun had denied her marriage with Gerald. The artist seemed to hover like a creature on the wing, waiting to settle. He did not approach Gudrun violently, he was never ill-timed. But carried on by a sure instinct in the complete darkness of his soul, he corresponded mystically with her, imperceptibly, but palpably.
For two days, he talked to her, continued the discussions of art, of life, in which they both found such pleasure. They praised the by-gone things, they took a sentimental, childish delight in the achieved perfections of the past. Particularly they liked the late eighteenth century, the period of Goethe and of Shelley, and Mozart.
They played with the past, and with the great figures of the past, a sort of little game of chess, or marionettes, all to please themselves. They had all the great men for their marionettes, and they two were the God of the show, working it all. As for the future, that they never mentioned except one laughed out some mocking dream of the destruction of the world by a ridiculous catastrophe of man's invention: a man invented such a perfect explosive that it blew the earth in two, and the two halves set off in different directions through space, to the dismay of the inhabitants: or else the people of the world divided into two halves, and each half decided IT was perfect and right, the other half was wrong and must be destroyed; so another end of the world. Or else, Loerke's dream of fear, the world went cold, and snow fell everywhere, and only white creatures, polar-bears, white foxes, and men like awful white snow-birds, persisted in ice cruelty.
Apart from these stories, they never talked of the future. They delighted most either in mocking imaginations of destruction, or in sentimental, fine marionette-shows of the past. It was a sentimental delight to reconstruct the world of Goethe at Weimar, or of Schiller and poverty and faithful love, or to see again Jean Jacques in his quakings, or Voltaire at Ferney, or Frederick the Great reading his own poetry.
They talked together for hours, of literature and sculpture and painting, amusing themselves with Flaxman and Blake and Fuseli, with tenderness, and with Feuerbach and Bocklin. It would take them a life-time, they felt to live again, IN PETTO, the lives of the great artists. But they preferred to stay in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries.
They talked in a mixture of languages. The ground-work was French, in either case. But he ended most of his sentences in a stumble of English and a conclusion of German, she skilfully wove herself to her end in whatever phrase came to her. She took a peculiar delight in this conversation. It was full of odd, fantastic expression, of double meanings, of evasions, of suggestive vagueness. It was a real physical pleasure to her to make this thread of conversation out of the different-coloured stands of three languages.
And all the while they two were hovering, hesitating round the flame of some invisible declaration. He wanted it, but was held back by some inevitable reluctance. She wanted it also, but she wanted to put it off, to put it off indefinitely, she still had some pity for Gerald, some connection with him. And the most fatal of all, she had the reminiscent sentimental compassion for herself in connection with him. Because of what HAD been, she felt herself held to him by immortal, invisible threads-because of what HAD been, because of his coming to her that first night, into her own house, in his extremity, because—
Gerald was gradually overcome with a revulsion of loathing for Loerke. He did not take the man seriously, he despised him merely, except as he felt in Gudrun's veins the influence of the little creature. It was this that drove Gerald wild, the feeling in Gudrun's veins of Loerke's presence, Loerke's being, flowing dominant through her.
'What makes you so smitten with that little vermin?' he asked, really puzzled. For he, man-like, could not see anything attractive or important AT ALL in Loerke. Gerald expected to find some handsomeness or nobleness, to account for a woman's subjection. But he saw none here, only an insect-like repulsiveness.
Gudrun flushed deeply. It was these attacks she would never forgive.
'What do you mean?' she replied. 'My God, what a mercy I am NOT married to you!'
Her voice of flouting and contempt scotched him. He was brought up short. But he recovered himself.
'Tell me, only tell me,' he reiterated in a dangerous narrowed voice—'tell me what it is that fascinates you in him.'
'I am not fascinated,' she said, with cold repelling innocence.
'Yes, you are. You are fascinated by that little dry snake, like a bird gaping ready to fall down its throat.'
She looked at him with black fury.
'I don't choose to be discussed by you,' she said.
'It doesn't matter whether you choose or not,' he replied, 'that doesn't alter the fact that you are ready to fall down and kiss the feet of that little insect. And I don't want to prevent you—do it, fall down and kiss his feet. But I want to know, what it is that fascinates you—what is it?'
She was silent, suffused with black rage.
'How DARE you come brow-beating me,' she cried, 'how dare you, you little squire, you bully. What right have you over me, do you think?'
His face was white and gleaming, she knew by the light in his eyes that she was in his power—the wolf. And because she was in his power, she hated him with a power that she wondered did not kill him. In her will she killed him as he stood, effaced him.
'It is not a question of right,' said Gerald, sitting down on a chair. She watched the change in his body. She saw his clenched, mechanical body moving there like an obsession. Her hatred of him was tinged with fatal contempt.
'It's not a question of my right over you—though I HAVE some right, remember. I want to know, I only want to know what it is that subjugates you to that little scum of a sculptor downstairs, what it is that brings you down like a humble maggot, in worship of him. I want to know what you creep after.'
She stood over against the window, listening. Then she turned round.
'Do you?' she said, in her most easy, most cutting voice. 'Do you want to know what it is in him? It's because he has some understanding of a woman, because he is not stupid. That's why it is.'
A queer, sinister, animal-like smile came over Gerald's face.
'But what understanding is it?' he said. 'The understanding of a flea, a hopping flea with a proboscis. Why should you crawl abject before the understanding of a flea?'
There passed through Gudrun's mind Blake's representation of the soul of a flea. She wanted to fit it to Loerke. Blake was a clown too. But it was necessary to answer Gerald.
'Don't you think the understanding of a flea is more interesting than the understanding of a fool?' she asked.
'A fool!' he repeated.
'A fool, a conceited fool—a Dummkopf,' she replied, adding the German word.
'Do you call me a fool?' he replied. 'Well, wouldn't I rather be the fool I am, than that flea downstairs?'
She looked at him. A certain blunt, blind stupidity in him palled on her soul, limiting her.
'You give yourself away by that last,' she said.
He sat and wondered.
'I shall go away soon,' he said.
She turned on him.
'Remember,' she said, 'I am completely independent of you—completely. You make your arrangements, I make mine.'
He pondered this.
'You mean we are strangers from this minute?' he asked.
She halted and flushed. He was putting her in a trap, forcing her hand. She turned round on him.
'Strangers,' she said, 'we can never be. But if you WANT to make any movement apart from me, then I wish you to know you are perfectly free to do so. Do not consider me in the slightest.'
Even so slight an implication that she needed him and was depending on him still was sufficient to rouse his passion. As he sat a change came over his body, the hot, molten stream mounted involuntarily through his veins. He groaned inwardly, under its bondage, but he loved it. He looked at her with clear eyes, waiting for her.
She knew at once, and was shaken with cold revulsion. HOW could he look at her with those clear, warm, waiting eyes, waiting for her, even now? What had been said between them, was it not enough to put them worlds asunder, to freeze them forever apart! And yet he was all transfused and roused, waiting for her.
It confused her. Turning her head aside, she said:
'I shall always TELL you, whenever I am going to make any change—'
And with this she moved out of the room.
He sat suspended in a fine recoil of disappointment, that seemed gradually to be destroying his understanding. But the unconscious state of patience persisted in him. He remained motionless, without thought or knowledge, for a long time. Then he rose, and went downstairs, to play at chess with one of the students. His face was open and clear, with a certain innocent LAISSER-ALLER that troubled Gudrun most, made her almost afraid of him, whilst she disliked him deeply for it.
It was after this that Loerke, who had never yet spoken to her personally, began to ask her of her state.
'You are not married at all, are you?' he asked.
She looked full at him.
'Not in the least,' she replied, in her measured way. Loerke laughed, wrinkling up his face oddly. There was a thin wisp of his hair straying on his forehead, she noticed that his skin was of a clear brown colour, his hands, his wrists. And his hands seemed closely prehensile. He seemed like topaz, so strangely brownish and pellucid.
'Good,' he said.
Still it needed some courage for him to go on.
'Was Mrs Birkin your sister?' he asked.
'And was SHE married?'
'She was married.'
'Have you parents, then?'
'Yes,' said Gudrun, 'we have parents.'
And she told him, briefly, laconically, her position. He watched her closely, curiously all the while.
'So!' he exclaimed, with some surprise. 'And the Herr Crich, is he rich?'
'Yes, he is rich, a coal owner.'
'How long has your friendship with him lasted?'
There was a pause.
'Yes, I am surprised,' he said at length. 'The English, I thought they were so—cold. And what do you think to do when you leave here?'
'What do I think to do?' she repeated.
'Yes. You cannot go back to the teaching. No—' he shrugged his shoulders—'that is impossible. Leave that to the CANAILLE who can do nothing else. You, for your part—you know, you are a remarkable woman, eine seltsame Frau. Why deny it—why make any question of it? You are an extraordinary woman, why should you follow the ordinary course, the ordinary life?'
Gudrun sat looking at her hands, flushed. She was pleased that he said, so simply, that she was a remarkable woman. He would not say that to flatter her—he was far too self-opinionated and objective by nature. He said it as he would say a piece of sculpture was remarkable, because he knew it was so.
And it gratified her to hear it from him. Other people had such a passion to make everything of one degree, of one pattern. In England it was chic to be perfectly ordinary. And it was a relief to her to be acknowledged extraordinary. Then she need not fret about the common standards.
'You see,' she said, 'I have no money whatsoever.'
'Ach, money!' he cried, lifting his shoulders. 'When one is grown up, money is lying about at one's service. It is only when one is young that it is rare. Take no thought for money—that always lies to hand.'
'Does it?' she said, laughing.
'Always. The Gerald will give you a sum, if you ask him for it—'
She flushed deeply.
'I will ask anybody else,' she said, with some difficulty—'but not him.'
Loerke looked closely at her.
'Good,' he said. 'Then let it be somebody else. Only don't go back to that England, that school. No, that is stupid.'
Again there was a pause. He was afraid to ask her outright to go with him, he was not even quite sure he wanted her; and she was afraid to be asked. He begrudged his own isolation, was VERY chary of sharing his life, even for a day.
'The only other place I know is Paris,' she said, 'and I can't stand that.'
She looked with her wide, steady eyes full at Loerke. He lowered his head and averted his face.
'Paris, no!' he said. 'Between the RELIGION D'AMOUR, and the latest 'ism, and the new turning to Jesus, one had better ride on a carrousel all day. But come to Dresden. I have a studio there—I can give you work,—oh, that would be easy enough. I haven't seen any of your things, but I believe in you. Come to Dresden—that is a fine town to be in, and as good a life as you can expect of a town. You have everything there, without the foolishness of Paris or the beer of Munich.'
He sat and looked at her, coldly. What she liked about him was that he spoke to her simple and flat, as to himself. He was a fellow craftsman, a fellow being to her, first.
'No—Paris,' he resumed, 'it makes me sick. Pah—l'amour. I detest it. L'amour, l'amore, die Liebe—I detest it in every language. Women and love, there is no greater tedium,' he cried.
She was slightly offended. And yet, this was her own basic feeling. Men, and love—there was no greater tedium.
'I think the same,' she said.
'A bore,' he repeated. 'What does it matter whether I wear this hat or another. So love. I needn't wear a hat at all, only for convenience. Neither need I love except for convenience. I tell you what, gnadige Frau—' and he leaned towards her—then he made a quick, odd gesture, as of striking something aside—'gnadige Fraulein, never mind—I tell you what, I would give everything, everything, all your love, for a little companionship in intelligence—' his eyes flickered darkly, evilly at her. 'You understand?' he asked, with a faint smile. 'It wouldn't matter if she were a hundred years old, a thousand—it would be all the same to me, so that she can UNDERSTAND.' He shut his eyes with a little snap.
Again Gudrun was rather offended. Did he not think her good looking, then? Suddenly she laughed.
'I shall have to wait about eighty years to suit you, at that!' she said. 'I am ugly enough, aren't I?'
He looked at her with an artist's sudden, critical, estimating eye.
'You are beautiful,' he said, 'and I am glad of it. But it isn't that—it isn't that,' he cried, with emphasis that flattered her. 'It is that you have a certain wit, it is the kind of understanding. For me, I am little, chetif, insignificant. Good! Do not ask me to be strong and handsome, then. But it is the ME—' he put his fingers to his mouth, oddly—'it is the ME that is looking for a mistress, and my ME is waiting for the THEE of the mistress, for the match to my particular intelligence. You understand?'
'Yes,' she said, 'I understand.'
'As for the other, this amour—' he made a gesture, dashing his hand aside, as if to dash away something troublesome—'it is unimportant, unimportant. Does it matter, whether I drink white wine this evening, or whether I drink nothing? IT DOES NOT MATTER, it does not matter. So this love, this amour, this BAISER. Yes or no, soit ou soit pas, today, tomorrow, or never, it is all the same, it does not matter—no more than the white wine.'
He ended with an odd dropping of the head in a desperate negation. Gudrun watched him steadily. She had gone pale.
Suddenly she stretched over and seized his hand in her own.
'That is true,' she said, in rather a high, vehement voice, 'that is true for me too. It is the understanding that matters.'
He looked up at her almost frightened, furtive. Then he nodded, a little sullenly. She let go his hand: he had made not the lightest response. And they sat in silence.
'Do you know,' he said, suddenly looking at her with dark, self-important, prophetic eyes, 'your fate and mine, they will run together, till—' and he broke off in a little grimace.
'Till when?' she asked, blanched, her lips going white. She was terribly susceptible to these evil prognostications, but he only shook his head.
'I don't know,' he said, 'I don't know.'
Gerald did not come in from his skiing until nightfall, he missed the coffee and cake that she took at four o'clock. The snow was in perfect condition, he had travelled a long way, by himself, among the snow ridges, on his skis, he had climbed high, so high that he could see over the top of the pass, five miles distant, could see the Marienhutte, the hostel on the crest of the pass, half buried in snow, and over into the deep valley beyond, to the dusk of the pine trees. One could go that way home; but he shuddered with nausea at the thought of home;—one could travel on skis down there, and come to the old imperial road, below the pass. But why come to any road? He revolted at the thought of finding himself in the world again. He must stay up there in the snow forever. He had been happy by himself, high up there alone, travelling swiftly on skis, taking far flights, and skimming past the dark rocks veined with brilliant snow.
But he felt something icy gathering at his heart. This strange mood of patience and innocence which had persisted in him for some days, was passing away, he would be left again a prey to the horrible passions and tortures.
So he came down reluctantly, snow-burned, snow-estranged, to the house in the hollow, between the knuckles of the mountain tops. He saw its lights shining yellow, and he held back, wishing he need not go in, to confront those people, to hear the turmoil of voices and to feel the confusion of other presences. He was isolated as if there were a vacuum round his heart, or a sheath of pure ice.
The moment he saw Gudrun something jolted in his soul. She was looking rather lofty and superb, smiling slowly and graciously to the Germans. A sudden desire leapt in his heart, to kill her. He thought, what a perfect voluptuous fulfilment it would be, to kill her. His mind was absent all the evening, estranged by the snow and his passion. But he kept the idea constant within him, what a perfect voluptuous consummation it would be to strangle her, to strangle every spark of life out of her, till she lay completely inert, soft, relaxed for ever, a soft heap lying dead between his hands, utterly dead. Then he would have had her finally and for ever; there would be such a perfect voluptuous finality.
Gudrun was unaware of what he was feeling, he seemed so quiet and amiable, as usual. His amiability even made her feel brutal towards him.
She went into his room when he was partially undressed. She did not notice the curious, glad gleam of pure hatred, with which he looked at her. She stood near the door, with her hand behind her.
'I have been thinking, Gerald,' she said, with an insulting nonchalance, 'that I shall not go back to England.'
'Oh,' he said, 'where will you go then?'
But she ignored his question. She had her own logical statement to make, and it must be made as she had thought it.
'I can't see the use of going back,' she continued. 'It is over between me and you—'
She paused for him to speak. But he said nothing. He was only talking to himself, saying 'Over, is it? I believe it is over. But it isn't finished. Remember, it isn't finished. We must put some sort of a finish on it. There must be a conclusion, there must be finality.'
So he talked to himself, but aloud he said nothing whatever.
'What has been, has been,' she continued. 'There is nothing that I regret. I hope you regret nothing—'
She waited for him to speak.
'Oh, I regret nothing,' he said, accommodatingly.
'Good then,' she answered, 'good then. Then neither of us cherishes any regrets, which is as it should be.'
'Quite as it should be,' he said aimlessly.
She paused to gather up her thread again.
'Our attempt has been a failure,' she said. 'But we can try again, elsewhere.'
A little flicker of rage ran through his blood. It was as if she were rousing him, goading him. Why must she do it?
'Attempt at what?' he asked.
'At being lovers, I suppose,' she said, a little baffled, yet so trivial she made it all seem.
'Our attempt at being lovers has been a failure?' he repeated aloud.
To himself he was saying, 'I ought to kill her here. There is only this left, for me to kill her.' A heavy, overcharged desire to bring about her death possessed him. She was unaware.
'Hasn't it?' she asked. 'Do you think it has been a success?'
Again the insult of the flippant question ran through his blood like a current of fire.
'It had some of the elements of success, our relationship,' he replied. 'It—might have come off.'
But he paused before concluding the last phrase. Even as he began the sentence, he did not believe in what he was going to say. He knew it never could have been a success.
'No,' she replied. 'You cannot love.'
'And you?' he asked.
Her wide, dark-filled eyes were fixed on him, like two moons of darkness.
'I couldn't love YOU,' she said, with stark cold truth.
A blinding flash went over his brain, his body jolted. His heart had burst into flame. His consciousness was gone into his wrists, into his hands. He was one blind, incontinent desire, to kill her. His wrists were bursting, there would be no satisfaction till his hands had closed on her.
But even before his body swerved forward on her, a sudden, cunning comprehension was expressed on her face, and in a flash she was out of the door. She ran in one flash to her room and locked herself in. She was afraid, but confident. She knew her life trembled on the edge of an abyss. But she was curiously sure of her footing. She knew her cunning could outwit him.
She trembled, as she stood in her room, with excitement and awful exhilaration. She knew she could outwit him. She could depend on her presence of mind, and on her wits. But it was a fight to the death, she knew it now. One slip, and she was lost. She had a strange, tense, exhilarated sickness in her body, as one who is in peril of falling from a great height, but who does not look down, does not admit the fear.
'I will go away the day after tomorrow,' she said.
She only did not want Gerald to think that she was afraid of him, that she was running away because she was afraid of him. She was not afraid of him, fundamentally. She knew it was her safeguard to avoid his physical violence. But even physically she was not afraid of him. She wanted to prove it to him. When she had proved it, that, whatever he was, she was not afraid of him; when she had proved THAT, she could leave him forever. But meanwhile the fight between them, terrible as she knew it to be, was inconclusive. And she wanted to be confident in herself. However many terrors she might have, she would be unafraid, uncowed by him. He could never cow her, nor dominate her, nor have any right over her; this she would maintain until she had proved it. Once it was proved, she was free of him forever.
But she had not proved it yet, neither to him nor to herself. And this was what still bound her to him. She was bound to him, she could not live beyond him. She sat up in bed, closely wrapped up, for many hours, thinking endlessly to herself. It was as if she would never have done weaving the great provision of her thoughts.
'It isn't as if he really loved me,' she said to herself. 'He doesn't. Every woman he comes across he wants to make her in love with him. He doesn't even know that he is doing it. But there he is, before every woman he unfurls his male attractiveness, displays his great desirability, he tries to make every woman think how wonderful it would be to have him for a lover. His very ignoring of the women is part of the game. He is never UNCONSCIOUS of them. He should have been a cockerel, so he could strut before fifty females, all his subjects. But really, his Don Juan does NOT interest me. I could play Dona Juanita a million times better than he plays Juan. He bores me, you know. His maleness bores me. Nothing is so boring, so inherently stupid and stupidly conceited. Really, the fathomless conceit of these men, it is ridiculous—the little strutters.
'They are all alike. Look at Birkin. Built out of the limitation of conceit they are, and nothing else. Really, nothing but their ridiculous limitation and intrinsic insignificance could make them so conceited.
'As for Loerke, there is a thousand times more in him than in a Gerald. Gerald is so limited, there is a dead end to him. He would grind on at the old mills forever. And really, there is no corn between the millstones any more. They grind on and on, when there is nothing to grind—saying the same things, believing the same things, acting the same things. Oh, my God, it would wear out the patience of a stone.
'I don't worship Loerke, but at any rate, he is a free individual. He is not stiff with conceit of his own maleness. He is not grinding dutifully at the old mills. Oh God, when I think of Gerald, and his work—those offices at Beldover, and the mines—it makes my heart sick. What HAVE I to do with it—and him thinking he can be a lover to a woman! One might as well ask it of a self-satisfied lamp-post. These men, with their eternal jobs—and their eternal mills of God that keep on grinding at nothing! It is too boring, just boring. However did I come to take him seriously at all!
'At least in Dresden, one will have one's back to it all. And there will be amusing things to do. It will be amusing to go to these eurythmic displays, and the German opera, the German theatre. It WILL be amusing to take part in German Bohemian life. And Loerke is an artist, he is a free individual. One will escape from so much, that is the chief thing, escape so much hideous boring repetition of vulgar actions, vulgar phrases, vulgar postures. I don't delude myself that I shall find an elixir of life in Dresden. I know I shan't. But I shall get away from people who have their own homes and their own children and their own acquaintances and their own this and their own that. I shall be among people who DON'T own things and who HAVEN'T got a home and a domestic servant in the background, who haven't got a standing and a status and a degree and a circle of friends of the same. Oh God, the wheels within wheels of people, it makes one's head tick like a clock, with a very madness of dead mechanical monotony and meaninglessness. How I HATE life, how I hate it. How I hate the Geralds, that they can offer one nothing else.
'Shortlands!—Heavens! Think of living there, one week, then the next, and THEN THE THIRD—'
'No, I won't think of it—it is too much.'
And she broke off, really terrified, really unable to bear any more.
The thought of the mechanical succession of day following day, day following day, AD INFINITUM, was one of the things that made her heart palpitate with a real approach of madness. The terrible bondage of this tick-tack of time, this twitching of the hands of the clock, this eternal repetition of hours and days—oh God, it was too awful to contemplate. And there was no escape from it, no escape.
She almost wished Gerald were with her to save her from the terror of her own thoughts. Oh, how she suffered, lying there alone, confronted by the terrible clock, with its eternal tick-tack. All life, all life resolved itself into this: tick-tack, tick-tack, tick-tack; then the striking of the hour; then the tick-tack, tick-tack, and the twitching of the clock-fingers.
Gerald could not save her from it. He, his body, his motion, his life—it was the same ticking, the same twitching across the dial, a horrible mechanical twitching forward over the face of the hours. What were his kisses, his embraces. She could hear their tick-tack, tick-tack.
Ha—ha—she laughed to herself, so frightened that she was trying to laugh it off—ha—ha, how maddening it was, to be sure, to be sure!
Then, with a fleeting self-conscious motion, she wondered if she would be very much surprised, on rising in the morning, to realise that her hair had turned white. She had FELT it turning white so often, under the intolerable burden of her thoughts, und her sensations. Yet there it remained, brown as ever, and there she was herself, looking a picture of health.
Perhaps she was healthy. Perhaps it was only her unabateable health that left her so exposed to the truth. If she were sickly she would have her illusions, imaginations. As it was, there was no escape. She must always see and know and never escape. She could never escape. There she was, placed before the clock-face of life. And if she turned round as in a railway station, to look at the bookstall, still she could see, with her very spine, she could see the clock, always the great white clock-face. In vain she fluttered the leaves of books, or made statuettes in clay. She knew she was not REALLY reading. She was not REALLY working. She was watching the fingers twitch across the eternal, mechanical, monotonous clock-face of time. She never really lived, she only watched. Indeed, she was like a little, twelve-hour clock, vis-a-vis with the enormous clock of eternity—there she was, like Dignity and Impudence, or Impudence and Dignity.
The picture pleased her. Didn't her face really look like a clock dial—rather roundish and often pale, and impassive. She would have got up to look, in the mirror, but the thought of the sight of her own face, that was like a twelve-hour clock-dial, filled her with such deep terror, that she hastened to think of something else.
Oh, why wasn't somebody kind to her? Why wasn't there somebody who would take her in their arms, and hold her to their breast, and give her rest, pure, deep, healing rest. Oh, why wasn't there somebody to take her in their arms and fold her safe and perfect, for sleep. She wanted so much this perfect enfolded sleep. She lay always so unsheathed in sleep. She would lie always unsheathed in sleep, unrelieved, unsaved. Oh, how could she bear it, this endless unrelief, this eternal unrelief.
Gerald! Could he fold her in his arms and sheathe her in sleep? Ha! He needed putting to sleep himself—poor Gerald. That was all he needed. What did he do, he made the burden for her greater, the burden of her sleep was the more intolerable, when he was there. He was an added weariness upon her unripening nights, her unfruitful slumbers. Perhaps he got some repose from her. Perhaps he did. Perhaps this was what he was always dogging her for, like a child that is famished, crying for the breast. Perhaps this was the secret of his passion, his forever unquenched desire for her—that he needed her to put him to sleep, to give him repose.
What then! Was she his mother? Had she asked for a child, whom she must nurse through the nights, for her lover. She despised him, she despised him, she hardened her heart. An infant crying in the night, this Don Juan.
Ooh, but how she hated the infant crying in the night. She would murder it gladly. She would stifle it and bury it, as Hetty Sorrell did. No doubt Hetty Sorrell's infant cried in the night—no doubt Arthur Donnithorne's infant would. Ha—the Arthur Donnithornes, the Geralds of this world. So manly by day, yet all the while, such a crying of infants in the night. Let them turn into mechanisms, let them. Let them become instruments, pure machines, pure wills, that work like clock-work, in perpetual repetition. Let them be this, let them be taken up entirely in their work, let them be perfect parts of a great machine, having a slumber of constant repetition. Let Gerald manage his firm. There he would be satisfied, as satisfied as a wheelbarrow that goes backwards and forwards along a plank all day—she had seen it.
The wheel-barrow—the one humble wheel—the unit of the firm. Then the cart, with two wheels; then the truck, with four; then the donkey-engine, with eight, then the winding-engine, with sixteen, and so on, till it came to the miner, with a thousand wheels, and then the electrician, with three thousand, and the underground manager, with twenty thousand, and the general manager with a hundred thousand little wheels working away to complete his make-up, and then Gerald, with a million wheels and cogs and axles.
Poor Gerald, such a lot of little wheels to his make-up! He was more intricate than a chronometer-watch. But oh heavens, what weariness! What weariness, God above! A chronometer-watch—a beetle—her soul fainted with utter ennui, from the thought. So many wheels to count and consider and calculate! Enough, enough—there was an end to man's capacity for complications, even. Or perhaps there was no end.
Meanwhile Gerald sat in his room, reading. When Gudrun was gone, he was left stupefied with arrested desire. He sat on the side of the bed for an hour, stupefied, little strands of consciousness appearing and reappearing. But he did not move, for a long time he remained inert, his head dropped on his breast.
Then he looked up and realised that he was going to bed. He was cold. Soon he was lying down in the dark.
But what he could not bear was the darkness. The solid darkness confronting him drove him mad. So he rose, and made a light. He remained seated for a while, staring in front. He did not think of Gudrun, he did not think of anything.
Then suddenly he went downstairs for a book. He had all his life been in terror of the nights that should come, when he could not sleep. He knew that this would be too much for him, to have to face nights of sleeplessness and of horrified watching the hours.
So he sat for hours in bed, like a statue, reading. His mind, hard and acute, read on rapidly, his body understood nothing. In a state of rigid unconsciousness, he read on through the night, till morning, when, weary and disgusted in spirit, disgusted most of all with himself, he slept for two hours.
Then he got up, hard and full of energy. Gudrun scarcely spoke to him, except at coffee when she said:
'I shall be leaving tomorrow.'
'We will go together as far as Innsbruck, for appearance's sake?' he asked.
'Perhaps,' she said.
She said 'Perhaps' between the sips of her coffee. And the sound of her taking her breath in the word, was nauseous to him. He rose quickly to be away from her.
He went and made arrangements for the departure on the morrow. Then, taking some food, he set out for the day on the skis. Perhaps, he said to the Wirt, he would go up to the Marienhutte, perhaps to the village below.
To Gudrun this day was full of a promise like spring. She felt an approaching release, a new fountain of life rising up in her. It gave her pleasure to dawdle through her packing, it gave her pleasure to dip into books, to try on her different garments, to look at herself in the glass. She felt a new lease of life was come upon her, and she was happy like a child, very attractive and beautiful to everybody, with her soft, luxuriant figure, and her happiness. Yet underneath was death itself.
In the afternoon she had to go out with Loerke. Her tomorrow was perfectly vague before her. This was what gave her pleasure. She might be going to England with Gerald, she might be going to Dresden with Loerke, she might be going to Munich, to a girl-friend she had there. Anything might come to pass on the morrow. And today was the white, snowy iridescent threshold of all possibility. All possibility—that was the charm to her, the lovely, iridescent, indefinite charm,—pure illusion All possibility—because death was inevitable, and NOTHING was possible but death.
She did not want things to materialise, to take any definite shape. She wanted, suddenly, at one moment of the journey tomorrow, to be wafted into an utterly new course, by some utterly unforeseen event, or motion. So that, although she wanted to go out with Loerke for the last time into the snow, she did not want to be serious or businesslike.
And Loerke was not a serious figure. In his brown velvet cap, that made his head as round as a chestnut, with the brown-velvet flaps loose and wild over his ears, and a wisp of elf-like, thin black hair blowing above his full, elf-like dark eyes, the shiny, transparent brown skin crinkling up into odd grimaces on his small-featured face, he looked an odd little boy-man, a bat. But in his figure, in the greeny loden suit, he looked CHETIF and puny, still strangely different from the rest.
He had taken a little toboggan, for the two of them, and they trudged between the blinding slopes of snow, that burned their now hardening faces, laughing in an endless sequence of quips and jests and polyglot fancies. The fancies were the reality to both of them, they were both so happy, tossing about the little coloured balls of verbal humour and whimsicality. Their natures seemed to sparkle in full interplay, they were enjoying a pure game. And they wanted to keep it on the level of a game, their relationship: SUCH a fine game.
Loerke did not take the toboganning very seriously. He put no fire and intensity into it, as Gerald did. Which pleased Gudrun. She was weary, oh so weary of Gerald's gripped intensity of physical motion. Loerke let the sledge go wildly, and gaily, like a flying leaf, and when, at a bend, he pitched both her and him out into the snow, he only waited for them both to pick themselves up unhurt off the keen white ground, to be laughing and pert as a pixie. She knew he would be making ironical, playful remarks as he wandered in hell—if he were in the humour. And that pleased her immensely. It seemed like a rising above the dreariness of actuality, the monotony of contingencies.
They played till the sun went down, in pure amusement, careless and timeless. Then, as the little sledge twirled riskily to rest at the bottom of the slope,
'Wait!' he said suddenly, and he produced from somewhere a large thermos flask, a packet of Keks, and a bottle of Schnapps.
'Oh Loerke,' she cried. 'What an inspiration! What a COMBLE DE JOIE INDEED! What is the Schnapps?'
He looked at it, and laughed.
'Heidelbeer!' he said.
'No! From the bilberries under the snow. Doesn't it look as if it were distilled from snow. Can you—' she sniffed, and sniffed at the bottle—'can you smell bilberries? Isn't it wonderful? It is exactly as if one could smell them through the snow.'
She stamped her foot lightly on the ground. He kneeled down and whistled, and put his ear to the snow. As he did so his black eyes twinkled up.
'Ha! Ha!' she laughed, warmed by the whimsical way in which he mocked at her verbal extravagances. He was always teasing her, mocking her ways. But as he in his mockery was even more absurd than she in her extravagances, what could one do but laugh and feel liberated.
She could feel their voices, hers and his, ringing silvery like bells in the frozen, motionless air of the first twilight. How perfect it was, how VERY perfect it was, this silvery isolation and interplay.
She sipped the hot coffee, whose fragrance flew around them like bees murmuring around flowers, in the snowy air, she drank tiny sips of the Heidelbeerwasser, she ate the cold, sweet, creamy wafers. How good everything was! How perfect everything tasted and smelled and sounded, here in this utter stillness of snow and falling twilight.
'You are going away tomorrow?' his voice came at last.
There was a pause, when the evening seemed to rise in its silent, ringing pallor infinitely high, to the infinite which was near at hand.
That was the question—WOHIN? Whither? WOHIN? What a lovely word! She NEVER wanted it answered. Let it chime for ever.
'I don't know,' she said, smiling at him.
He caught the smile from her.
'One never does,' he said.
'One never does,' she repeated.
There was a silence, wherein he ate biscuits rapidly, as a rabbit eats leaves.
'But,' he laughed, 'where will you take a ticket to?'
'Oh heaven!' she cried. 'One must take a ticket.'
Here was a blow. She saw herself at the wicket, at the railway station. Then a relieving thought came to her. She breathed freely.
'But one needn't go,' she cried.
'Certainly not,' he said.
'I mean one needn't go where one's ticket says.'
That struck him. One might take a ticket, so as not to travel to the destination it indicated. One might break off, and avoid the destination. A point located. That was an idea!
'Then take a ticket to London,' he said. 'One should never go there.'
'Right,' she answered.
He poured a little coffee into a tin can.
'You won't tell me where you will go?' he asked.
'Really and truly,' she said, 'I don't know. It depends which way the wind blows.'
He looked at her quizzically, then he pursed up his lips, like Zephyrus, blowing across the snow.
'It goes towards Germany,' he said.
'I believe so,' she laughed.
Suddenly, they were aware of a vague white figure near them. It was Gerald. Gudrun's heart leapt in sudden terror, profound terror. She rose to her feet.
'They told me where you were,' came Gerald's voice, like a judgment in the whitish air of twilight.
'MARIA! You come like a ghost,' exclaimed Loerke.
Gerald did not answer. His presence was unnatural and ghostly to them.
Loerke shook the flask—then he held it inverted over the snow. Only a few brown drops trickled out.
'All gone!' he said.
To Gerald, the smallish, odd figure of the German was distinct and objective, as if seen through field glasses. And he disliked the small figure exceedingly, he wanted it removed.
Then Loerke rattled the box which held the biscuits.
'Biscuits there are still,' he said.
And reaching from his seated posture in the sledge, he handed them to Gudrun. She fumbled, and took one. He would have held them to Gerald, but Gerald so definitely did not want to be offered a biscuit, that Loerke, rather vaguely, put the box aside. Then he took up the small bottle, and held it to the light.
'Also there is some Schnapps,' he said to himself.
Then suddenly, he elevated the battle gallantly in the air, a strange, grotesque figure leaning towards Gudrun, and said:
'Gnadiges Fraulein,' he said, 'wohl—'
There was a crack, the bottle was flying, Loerke had started back, the three stood quivering in violent emotion.
Loerke turned to Gerald, a devilish leer on his bright-skinned face.
'Well done!' he said, in a satirical demoniac frenzy. 'C'est le sport, sans doute.'
The next instant he was sitting ludicrously in the snow, Gerald's fist having rung against the side of his head. But Loerke pulled himself together, rose, quivering, looking full at Gerald, his body weak and furtive, but his eyes demoniacal with satire.
'Vive le heros, vive—'
But he flinched, as, in a black flash Gerald's fist came upon him, banged into the other side of his head, and sent him aside like a broken straw.
But Gudrun moved forward. She raised her clenched hand high, and brought it down, with a great downward stroke on to the face and on to the breast of Gerald.
A great astonishment burst upon him, as if the air had broken. Wide, wide his soul opened, in wonder, feeling the pain. Then it laughed, turning, with strong hands outstretched, at last to take the apple of his desire. At last he could finish his desire.
He took the throat of Gudrun between his hands, that were hard and indomitably powerful. And her throat was beautifully, so beautifully soft, save that, within, he could feel the slippery chords of her life. And this he crushed, this he could crush. What bliss! Oh what bliss, at last, what satisfaction, at last! The pure zest of satisfaction filled his soul. He was watching the unconsciousness come unto her swollen face, watching the eyes roll back. How ugly she was! What a fulfilment, what a satisfaction! How good this was, oh how good it was, what a God-given gratification, at last! He was unconscious of her fighting and struggling. The struggling was her reciprocal lustful passion in this embrace, the more violent it became, the greater the frenzy of delight, till the zenith was reached, the crisis, the struggle was overborne, her movement became softer, appeased.
Loerke roused himself on the snow, too dazed and hurt to get up. Only his eyes were conscious.
'Monsieur!' he said, in his thin, roused voice: 'Quand vous aurez fini—'
A revulsion of contempt and disgust came over Gerald's soul. The disgust went to the very bottom of him, a nausea. Ah, what was he doing, to what depths was he letting himself go! As if he cared about her enough to kill her, to have her life on his hands!
A weakness ran over his body, a terrible relaxing, a thaw, a decay of strength. Without knowing, he had let go his grip, and Gudrun had fallen to her knees. Must he see, must he know?
A fearful weakness possessed him, his joints were turned to water. He drifted, as on a wind, veered, and went drifting away.
'I didn't want it, really,' was the last confession of disgust in his soul, as he drifted up the slope, weak, finished, only sheering off unconsciously from any further contact. 'I've had enough—I want to go to sleep. I've had enough.' He was sunk under a sense of nausea.
He was weak, but he did not want to rest, he wanted to go on and on, to the end. Never again to stay, till he came to the end, that was all the desire that remained to him. So he drifted on and on, unconscious and weak, not thinking of anything, so long as he could keep in action.
The twilight spread a weird, unearthly light overhead, bluish-rose in colour, the cold blue night sank on the snow. In the valley below, behind, in the great bed of snow, were two small figures: Gudrun dropped on her knees, like one executed, and Loerke sitting propped up near her. That was all.
Gerald stumbled on up the slope of snow, in the bluish darkness, always climbing, always unconsciously climbing, weary though he was. On his left was a steep slope with black rocks and fallen masses of rock and veins of snow slashing in and about the blackness of rock, veins of snow slashing vaguely in and about the blackness of rock. Yet there was no sound, all this made no noise.
To add to his difficulty, a small bright moon shone brilliantly just ahead, on the right, a painful brilliant thing that was always there, unremitting, from which there was no escape. He wanted so to come to the end—he had had enough. Yet he did not sleep.
He surged painfully up, sometimes having to cross a slope of black rock, that was blown bare of snow. Here he was afraid of falling, very much afraid of falling. And high up here, on the crest, moved a wind that almost overpowered him with a sleep-heavy iciness. Only it was not here, the end, and he must still go on. His indefinite nausea would not let him stay.
Having gained one ridge, he saw the vague shadow of something higher in front. Always higher, always higher. He knew he was following the track towards the summit of the slopes, where was the marienhutte, and the descent on the other side. But he was not really conscious. He only wanted to go on, to go on whilst he could, to move, to keep going, that was all, to keep going, until it was finished. He had lost all his sense of place. And yet in the remaining instinct of life, his feet sought the track where the skis had gone.
He slithered down a sheer snow slope. That frightened him. He had no alpenstock, nothing. But having come safely to rest, he began to walk on, in the illuminated darkness. It was as cold as sleep. He was between two ridges, in a hollow. So he swerved. Should he climb the other ridge, or wander along the hollow? How frail the thread of his being was stretched! He would perhaps climb the ridge. The snow was firm and simple. He went along. There was something standing out of the snow. He approached, with dimmest curiosity.
It was a half-buried Crucifix, a little Christ under a little sloping hood, at the top of a pole. He sheered away. Somebody was going to murder him. He had a great dread of being murdered. But it was a dread which stood outside him, like his own ghost.
Yet why be afraid? It was bound to happen. To be murdered! He looked round in terror at the snow, the rocking, pale, shadowy slopes of the upper world. He was bound to be murdered, he could see it. This was the moment when the death was uplifted, and there was no escape.
Lord Jesus, was it then bound to be—Lord Jesus! He could feel the blow descending, he knew he was murdered. Vaguely wandering forward, his hands lifted as if to feel what would happen, he was waiting for the moment when he would stop, when it would cease. It was not over yet.
He had come to the hollow basin of snow, surrounded by sheer slopes and precipices, out of which rose a track that brought one to the top of the mountain. But he wandered unconsciously, till he slipped and fell down, and as he fell something broke in his soul, and immediately he went to sleep.