Connie went to the wood directly after lunch. It was really a lovely
day, the first dandelions making suns, the first daisies so white. The
hazel thicket was a lace-work, of half-open leaves, and the last dusty
perpendicular of the catkins. Yellow celandines now were in crowds,
flat open, pressed back in urgency, and the yellow glitter of themselves.
It was the yellow, the powerful yellow of early summer. And primroses
were broad, and full of pale abandon, thick-clustered primroses no longer
shy. The lush, dark green of hyacinths was a sea, with buds rising like
pale corn, while in the riding the forget-me-nots were fluffing up,
and columbines were unfolding their ink-purple ruches, and there were
bits of blue bird's eggshell under a bush. Everywhere the bud-knots
and the leap of life!
The cottage stood in the sun, off the wood's edge. In the little garden the double daffodils rose in tufts, near the wide-open door, and red double daisies made a border to the path. There was the bark of a dog, and Flossie came running.
The wide-open door! so he was at home. And the sunlight falling on the red-brick floor! As she went up the path, she saw him through the window, sitting at the table in his shirt-sleeves, eating. The dog wuffed softly, slowly wagging her tail.
He rose, and came to the door, wiping his mouth with a red handkerchief still chewing.
`May I come in?' she said.
The sun shone into the bare room, which still smelled of a mutton chop, done in a dutch oven before the fire, because the dutch oven still stood on the fender, with the black potato-saucepan on a piece of paper, beside it on the white hearth. The fire was red, rather low, the bar dropped, the kettle singing.
On the table was his plate, with potatoes and the remains of the chop; also bread in a basket, salt, and a blue mug with beer. The table-cloth was white oil-cloth, he stood in the shade.
`You are very late,' she said. `Do go on eating!'
She sat down on a wooden chair, in the sunlight by the door.
`I had to go to Uthwaite,' he said, sitting down at the table but not eating.
`Do eat,' she said. But he did not touch the food.
`Shall y'ave something?' he asked her. `Shall y'ave a cup of tea? t' kettle's on t' boil'---he half rose again from his chair.
`If you'll let me make it myself,' she said, rising. He seemed sad, and she felt she was bothering him.
`Well, tea-pot's in there'---he pointed to a little, drab corner cupboard; 'an' cups. An' tea's on t' mantel ower yer 'ead,'
She got the black tea-pot, and the tin of tea from the mantel-shelf. She rinsed the tea-pot with hot water, and stood a moment wondering where to empty it.
`Throw it out,' he said, aware of her. `It's clean.'
She went to the door and threw the drop of water down the path. How lovely it was here, so still, so really woodland. The oaks were putting out ochre yellow leaves: in the garden the red daisies were like red plush buttons. She glanced at the big, hollow sandstone slab of the threshold, now crossed by so few feet.
`But it's lovely here,' she said. `Such a beautiful stillness, everything alive and still.'
He was eating again, rather slowly and unwillingly, and she could feel he was discouraged. She made the tea in silence, and set the tea-pot on the hob, as she knew the people did. He pushed his plate aside and went to the back place; she heard a latch click, then he came back with cheese on a plate, and butter.
She set the two cups on the table; there were only two. `Will you have a cup of tea?' she said.
`If you like. Sugar's in th' cupboard, an' there's a little cream jug. Milk's in a jug in th' pantry.'
`Shall I take your plate away?' she asked him. He looked up at her with a faint ironical smile.
`Why...if you like,' he said, slowly eating bread and cheese. She went to the back, into the pent-house scullery, where the pump was. On the left was a door, no doubt the pantry door. She unlatched it, and almost smiled at the place he called a pantry; a long narrow white-washed slip of a cupboard. But it managed to contain a little barrel of beer, as well as a few dishes and bits of food. She took a little milk from the yellow jug.
`How do you get your milk?' she asked him, when she came back to the table.
`Flints! They leave me a bottle at the warren end. You know, where I met you!'
But he was discouraged. She poured out the tea, poising the cream-jug.
`No milk,' he said; then he seemed to hear a noise, and looked keenly through the doorway.
`'Appen we'd better shut,' he said.
`It seems a pity,' she replied. `Nobody will come, will they?'
`Not unless it's one time in a thousand, but you never know.'
`And even then it's no matter,' she said. `It's only a cup of tea.'
`Where are the spoons?'
He reached over, and pulled open the table drawer. Connie sat at the table in the sunshine of the doorway.
`Flossie!' he said to the dog, who was lying on a little mat at the stair foot. `Go an' hark, hark!'
He lifted his finger, and his `hark!' was very vivid. The dog trotted out to reconnoitre.
`Are you sad today?' she asked him.
He turned his blue eyes quickly, and gazed direct on her.
`Sad! no, bored! I had to go getting summonses for two poachers I caught, and, oh well, I don't like people.'
He spoke cold, good English, and there was anger in his voice. `Do you hate being a game-keeper?' she asked.
`Being a game-keeper, no! So long as I'm left alone. But when I have to go messing around at the police-station, and various other places, and waiting for a lot of fools to attend to me...oh well, I get mad...' and he smiled, with a certain faint humour.
`Couldn't you be really independent?' she asked.
`Me? I suppose I could, if you mean manage to exist on my pension. I could! But I've got to work, or I should die. That is, I've got to have something that keeps me occupied. And I'm not in a good enough temper to work for myself. It's got to be a sort of job for somebody else, or I should throw it up in a month, out of bad temper. So altogether I'm very well off here, especially lately...'
He laughed at her again, with mocking humour.
`But why are you in a bad temper?' she asked. `Do you mean you are always in a bad temper?'
`Pretty well,' he said, laughing. `I don't quite digest my bile.'
`But what bile?' she said.
`Bile!' he said. `Don't you know what that is?' She was silent, and disappointed. He was taking no notice of her.
`I'm going away for a while next month,' she said.
`You are! Where to?'
`Venice! With Sir Clifford? For how long?'
`For a month or so,' she replied. `Clifford won't go.'
`He'll stay here?' he asked.
`Yes! He hates to travel as he is.'
`Ay, poor devil!' he said, with sympathy. There was a pause.
`You won't forget me when I'm gone, will you?' she asked. Again he lifted his eyes and looked full at her.
`Forget?' he said. `You know nobody forgets. It's not a question of memory;'
She wanted to say: `When then?' but she didn't. Instead, she said in a mute kind of voice: `I told Clifford I might have a child.'
Now he really looked at her, intense and searching.
`You did?' he said at last. `And what did he say?'
`Oh, he wouldn't mind. He'd be glad, really, so long as it seemed to be his.' She dared not look up at him.
He was silent a long time, then he gazed again on her face.
`No mention of me, of course?' he said.
`No. No mention of you,' she said.
`No, he'd hardly swallow me as a substitute breeder. Then where are you supposed to be getting the child?'
`I might have a love-affair in Venice,' she said.
`You might,' he replied slowly. `So that's why you're going?'
`Not to have the love-affair,' she said, looking up at him, pleading.
`Just the appearance of one,' he said.
There was silence. He sat staring out the window, with a faint grin, half mockery, half bitterness, on his face. She hated his grin.
`You've not taken any precautions against having a child then?' he asked her suddenly. `Because I haven't.'
`No,' she said faintly. `I should hate that.'
He looked at her, then again with the peculiar subtle grin out of the window. There was a tense silence.
At last he turned his head and said satirically:
`That was why you wanted me, then, to get a child?'
She hung her head.
`No. Not really,' she said. `What then, really?' he asked rather bitingly.
She looked up at him reproachfully, saying: `I don't know.'
He broke into a laugh.
`Then I'm damned if I do,' he said.
There was a long pause of silence, a cold silence.
`Well,' he said at last. `It's as your Ladyship likes. If you get the baby, Sir Clifford's welcome to it. I shan't have lost anything. On the contrary, I've had a very nice experience, very nice indeed!'---and he stretched in a half-suppressed sort of yawn. `If you've made use of me,' he said, `it's not the first time I've been made use of; and I don't suppose it's ever been as pleasant as this time; though of course one can't feel tremendously dignified about it.'---He stretched again, curiously, his muscles quivering, and his jaw oddly set.
`But I didn't make use of you,' she said, pleading.
`At your Ladyship's service,' he replied.
`No,' she said. `I liked your body.'
`Did you?' he replied, and he laughed. `Well, then, we're quits, because I liked yours.'
He looked at her with queer darkened eyes.
`Would you like to go upstairs now?' he asked her, in a strangled sort of voice.
`No, not here. Not now!' she said heavily, though if he had used any power over her, she would have gone, for she had no strength against him.
He turned his face away again, and seemed to forget her. `I want to touch you like you touch me,' she said. `I've never really touched your body.'
He looked at her, and smiled again. `Now?' he said. `No! No! Not here! At the hut. Would you mind?'
`How do I touch you?' he asked.
`When you feel me.'
He looked at her, and met her heavy, anxious eyes.
`And do you like it when I feel you?' he asked, laughing at her still.
`Yes, do you?' she said.
`Oh, me!' Then he changed his tone. `Yes,' he said. `You know without asking.' Which was true.
She rose and picked up her hat. `I must go,' she said.
`Will you go?' he replied politely.
She wanted him to touch her, to say something to her, but he said nothing, only waited politely.
`Thank you for the tea,' she said.
`I haven't thanked your Ladyship for doing me the honours of my tea-pot,' he said.
She went down the path, and he stood in the doorway, faintly grinning. Flossie came running with her tail lifted. And Connie had to plod dumbly across into the wood, knowing he was standing there watching her, with that incomprehensible grin on his face.
She walked home very much downcast and annoyed. She didn't at all like his saying he had been made use of because, in a sense, it was true. But he oughtn't to have said it. Therefore, again, she was divided between two feelings: resentment against him, and a desire to make it up with him.
She passed a very uneasy and irritated tea-time, and at once went up to her room. But when she was there it was no good; she could neither sit nor stand. She would have to do something about it. She would have to go back to the hut; if he was not there, well and good.
She slipped out of the side door, and took her way direct and a little sullen. When she came to the clearing she was terribly uneasy. But there he was again, in his shirt-sleeves, stooping, letting the hens out of the coops, among the chicks that were now growing a little gawky, but were much more trim than hen-chickens.
She went straight across to him. `You see I've come!' she said.
`Ay, I see it!' he said, straightening his back, and looking at her with a faint amusement.
`Do you let the hens out now?' she asked.
`Yes, they've sat themselves to skin and bone,' he said. `An' now they're not all that anxious to come out an' feed. There's no self in a sitting hen; she's all in the eggs or the chicks.'
The poor mother-hens; such blind devotion! even to eggs not their own! Connie looked at them in compassion. A helpless silence fell between the man and the woman.
`Shall us go i' th' 'ut?' he asked.
`Do you want me?' she asked, in a sort of mistrust.
`Ay, if you want to come.'
She was silent.
`Come then!' he said.
And she went with him to the hut. It was quite dark when he had shut the door, so he made a small light in the lantern, as before.
`Have you left your underthings off?' he asked her.
`Ay, well, then I'll take my things off too.'
He spread the blankets, putting one at the side for a coverlet. She took off her hat, and shook her hair. He sat down, taking off his shoes and gaiters, and undoing his cord breeches.
`Lie down then!' he said, when he stood in his shirt. She obeyed in silence, and he lay beside her, and pulled the blanket over them both.
`There!' he said.
And he lifted her dress right back, till he came even to her breasts. He kissed them softly, taking the nipples in his lips in tiny caresses.
`Eh, but tha'rt nice, tha'rt nice!' he said, suddenly rubbing his face with a snuggling movement against her warm belly.
And she put her arms round him under his shirt, but she was afraid, afraid of his thin, smooth, naked body, that seemed so powerful, afraid of the violent muscles. She shrank, afraid.
And when he said, with a sort of little sigh: `Eh, tha'rt nice!' something in her quivered, and something in her spirit stiffened in resistance: stiffened from the terribly physical intimacy, and from the peculiar haste of his possession. And this time the sharp ecstasy of her own passion did not overcome her; she lay with her ends inert on his striving body, and do what she might, her spirit seemed to look on from the top of her head, and the butting of his haunches seemed ridiculous to her, and the sort of anxiety of his penis to come to its little evacuating crisis seemed farcical. Yes, this was love, this ridiculous bouncing of the buttocks, and the wilting of the poor, insignificant, moist little penis. This was the divine love! After all, the moderns were right when they felt contempt for the performance; for it was a performance. It was quite true, as some poets said, that the God who created man must have had a sinister sense of humour, creating him a reasonable being, yet forcing him to take this ridiculous posture, and driving him with blind craving for this ridiculous performance. Even a Maupassant found it a humiliating anti-climax. Men despised the intercourse act, and yet did it.
Cold and derisive her queer female mind stood apart, and though she lay perfectly still, her impulse was to heave her loins, and throw the man out, escape his ugly grip, and the butting over-riding of his absurd haunches. His body was a foolish, impudent, imperfect thing, a little disgusting in its unfinished clumsiness. For surely a complete evolution would eliminate this performance, this `function'.
And yet when he had finished, soon over, and lay very very still, receding into silence, and a strange motionless distance, far, farther than the horizon of her awareness, her heart began to weep. She could feel him ebbing away, ebbing away, leaving her there like a stone on a shore. He was withdrawing, his spirit was leaving her. He knew.
And in real grief, tormented by her own double consciousness and reaction, she began to weep. He took no notice, or did not even know. The storm of weeping swelled and shook her, and shook him.
`Ay!' he said. `It was no good that time. You wasn't there.'---So he knew! Her sobs became violent.
`But what's amiss?' he said. `It's once in a while that way.'
`I...I can't love you,' she sobbed, suddenly feeling her heart breaking.
`Canna ter? Well, dunna fret! There's no law says as tha's got to. Ta'e it for what it is.'
He still lay with his hand on her breast. But she had drawn both her hands from him.
His words were small comfort. She sobbed aloud.
`Nay, nay!' he said. `Ta'e the thick wi' th' thin. This wor a bit o' thin for once.'
She wept bitterly, sobbing. `But I want to love you, and I can't. It only seems horrid.'
He laughed a little, half bitter, half amused.
`It isna horrid,' he said, `even if tha thinks it is. An' tha canna ma'e it horrid. Dunna fret thysen about lovin' me. Tha'lt niver force thysen to `t. There's sure to be a bad nut in a basketful. Tha mun ta'e th' rough wi' th' smooth.'
He took his hand away from her breast, not touching her. And now she was untouched she took an almost perverse satisfaction in it. She hated the dialect: the thee and the tha and the thysen. He could get up if he liked, and stand there, above her, buttoning down those absurd corduroy breeches, straight in front of her. After all, Michaelis had had the decency to turn away. This man was so assured in himself he didn't know what a clown other people found him, a half-bred fellow.
Yet, as he was drawing away, to rise silently and leave her, she clung to him in terror.
`Don't! Don't go! Don't leave me! Don't be cross with me! Hold me! Hold me fast!' she whispered in blind frenzy, not even knowing what she said, and clinging to him with uncanny force. It was from herself she wanted to be saved, from her own inward anger and resistance. Yet how powerful was that inward resistance that possessed her!
He took her in his arms again and drew her to him, and suddenly she became small in his arms, small and nestling. It was gone, the resistance was gone, and she began to melt in a marvellous peace. And as she melted small and wonderful in his arms, she became infinitely desirable to him, all his blood-vessels seemed to scald with intense yet tender desire, for her, for her softness, for the penetrating beauty of her in his arms, passing into his blood. And softly, with that marvellous swoon-like caress of his hand in pure soft desire, softly he stroked the silky slope of her loins, down, down between her soft warm buttocks, coming nearer and nearer to the very quick of her. And she felt him like a flame of desire, yet tender, and she felt herself melting in the flame. She let herself go. She felt his penis risen against her with silent amazing force and assertion and she let herself go to him She yielded with a quiver that was like death, she went all open to him. And oh, if he were not tender to her now, how cruel, for she was all open to him and helpless!
She quivered again at the potent inexorable entry inside her, so strange and terrible. It might come with the thrust of a sword in her softly-opened body, and that would be death. She clung in a sudden anguish of terror. But it came with a strange slow thrust of peace, the dark thrust of peace and a ponderous, primordial tenderness, such as made the world in the beginning. And her terror subsided in her breast, her breast dared to be gone in peace, she held nothing. She dared to let go everything, all herself and be gone in the flood.
And it seemed she was like the sea, nothing but dark waves rising and heaving, heaving with a great swell, so that slowly her whole darkness was in motion, and she was Ocean rolling its dark, dumb mass. Oh, and far down inside her the deeps parted and rolled asunder, in long, fair-travelling billows, and ever, at the quick of her, the depths parted and rolled asunder, from the centre of soft plunging, as the plunger went deeper and deeper, touching lower, and she was deeper and deeper and deeper disclosed, the heavier the billows of her rolled away to some shore, uncovering her, and closer and closer plunged the palpable unknown, and further and further rolled the waves of herself away from herself leaving her, till suddenly, in a soft, shuddering convulsion, the quick of all her plasm was touched, she knew herself touched, the consummation was upon her, and she was gone. She was gone, she was not, and she was born: a woman.
Ah, too lovely, too lovely! In the ebbing she realized all the loveliness. Now all her body clung with tender love to the unknown man, and blindly to the wilting penis, as it so tenderly, frailly, unknowingly withdrew, after the fierce thrust of its potency. As it drew out and left her body, the secret, sensitive thing, she gave an unconscious cry of pure loss, and she tried to put it back. It had been so perfect! And she loved it so!
And only now she became aware of the small, bud-like reticence and tenderness of the penis, and a little cry of wonder and poignancy escaped her again, her woman's heart crying out over the tender frailty of that which had been the power.
`It was so lovely!' she moaned. `It was so lovely!' But he said nothing, only softly kissed her, lying still above her. And she moaned with a sort Of bliss, as a sacrifice, and a newborn thing.
And now in her heart the queer wonder of him was awakened.
A man! The strange potency of manhood upon her! Her hands strayed over him, still a little afraid. Afraid of that strange, hostile, slightly repulsive thing that he had been to her, a man. And now she touched him, and it was the sons of god with the daughters of men. How beautiful he felt, how pure in tissue! How lovely, how lovely, strong, and yet pure and delicate, such stillness of the sensitive body! Such utter stillness of potency and delicate flesh. How beautiful! How beautiful! Her hands came timorously down his back, to the soft, smallish globes of the buttocks. Beauty! What beauty! a sudden little flame of new awareness went through her. How was it possible, this beauty here, where she had previously only been repelled? The unspeakable beauty to the touch of the warm, living buttocks! The life within life, the sheer warm, potent loveliness. And the strange weight of the balls between his legs! What a mystery! What a strange heavy weight of mystery, that could lie soft and heavy in one's hand! The roots, root of all that is lovely, the primeval root of all full beauty.
She clung to him, with a hiss of wonder that was almost awe, terror. He held her close, but he said nothing. He would never say anything. She crept nearer to him, nearer, only to be near to the sensual wonder of him. And out of his utter, incomprehensible stillness, she felt again the slow momentous, surging rise of the phallus again, the other power. And her heart melted out with a kind of awe.
And this time his being within her was all soft and iridescent, purely soft and iridescent, such as no consciousness could seize. Her whole self quivered unconscious and alive, like plasm. She could not know what it was. She could not remember what it had been. Only that it had been more lovely than anything ever could be. Only that. And afterwards she was utterly still, utterly unknowing, she was not aware for how long. And he was still with her, in an unfathomable silence along with her. And of this, they would never speak.
When awareness of the outside began to come back, she clung to his breast, murmuring `My love! My love!' And he held her silently. And she curled on his breast, perfect.
But his silence was fathomless. His hands held her like flowers, so still aid strange. `Where are you?' she whispered to him.
`Where are you? Speak to me! Say something to me!'
He kissed her softly, murmuring: `Ay, my lass!'
But she did not know what he meant, she did not know where he was. In his silence he seemed lost to her.
`You love me, don't you?' she murmured.
`Ay, tha knows!' he said. `But tell me!' she pleaded.
`Ay! Ay! 'asn't ter felt it?' he said dimly, but softly and surely. And she clung close to him, closer. He was so much more peaceful in love than she was, and she wanted him to reassure her.
`You do love me!' she whispered, assertive. And his hands stroked her softly, as if she were a flower, without the quiver of desire, but with delicate nearness. And still there haunted her a restless necessity to get a grip on love.
`Say you'll always love me!' she pleaded.
`Ay!' he said, abstractedly. And she felt her questions driving him away from her.
`Mustn't we get up?' he said at last.
`No!' she said.
But she could feel his consciousness straying, listening to the noises outside.
`It'll be nearly dark,' he said. And she heard the pressure of circumstances in his voice. She kissed him, with a woman's grief at yielding up her hour.
He rose, and turned up the lantern, then began to pull on his clothes, quickly disappearing inside them. Then he stood there, above her, fastening his breeches and looking down at her with dark, wide-eyes, his face a little flushed and his hair ruffled, curiously warm and still and beautiful in the dim light of the lantern, so beautiful, she would never tell him how beautiful. It made her want to cling fast to him, to hold him, for there was a warm, half-sleepy remoteness in his beauty that made her want to cry out and clutch him, to have him. She would never have him. So she lay on the blanket with curved, soft naked haunches, and he had no idea what she was thinking, but to him too she was beautiful, the soft, marvellous thing he could go into, beyond everything.
`I love thee that I call go into thee,' he said.
`Do you like me?' she said, her heart beating.
`It heals it all up, that I can go into thee. I love thee that tha opened to me. I love thee that I came into thee like that.'
He bent down and kissed her soft flank, rubbed his cheek against it, then covered it up.
`And will you never leave me?' she said.
`Dunna ask them things,' he said.
`But you do believe I love you?' she said.
`Tha loved me just now, wider than iver tha thout tha would. But who knows what'll 'appen, once tha starts thinkin' about it!'
`No, don't say those things!---And you don't really think that I wanted to make use of you, do you?'
`To have a child---?'
`Now anybody can 'ave any childt i' th' world,' he said, as he sat down fastening on his leggings.
`Ah no!' she cried. `You don't mean it?'
`Eh well!' he said, looking at her under his brows. `This wor t' best.'
She lay still. He softly opened the door. The sky was dark blue, with crystalline, turquoise rim. He went out, to shut up the hens, speaking softly to his dog. And she lay and wondered at the wonder of life, and of being.
When he came back she was still lying there, glowing like a gipsy. He sat on the stool by her.
`Tha mun come one naight ter th' cottage, afore tha goos; sholl ter?' he asked, lifting his eyebrows as he looked at her, his hands dangling between his knees.
`Sholl ter?' she echoed, teasing.
He smiled. `Ay, sholl ter?' he repeated.
`Ay!' she said, imitating the dialect sound.
`Yi!' he said.
`Yi!' she repeated.
`An' slaip wi' me,' he said. `It needs that. When sholt come?'
`When sholl I?' she said.
`Nay,' he said, `tha canna do't. When sholt come then?'
`'Appen Sunday,' she said.
`'Appen a' Sunday! Ay!'
He laughed at her quickly.
`Nay, tha canna,' he protested.
`Why canna I?' she said.