Mrs. Bolton tried to soothe him.
"She'll be sheltering in the hut, till it's over. Don't worry, her Ladyship is all right."
"I don't like her being in the wood in a storm like this! I don't like her being in the wood at all! She's been gone now more than two hours. When did she go out?"
"A little while before you came in."
"I didn't see her in the park. God knows where she is and what has happened to her."
"Oh, nothing's happened to her. You'll see, she'll be home directly after the rain stops. It's just the rain that's keeping her."
But her ladyship did not come home directly the rain stopped. In fact time went by, the sun came out for his last yellow glimpse, and there still was no sign of her. The sun was set, it was growing dark, and the first dinner-gong had rung.
"It's no good!' said Clifford in a frenzy. "I'm going to send out Field and Betts to find her."
"Oh don't do that!" cried Mrs. Bolton. "They'll think there's a suicide or something. Oh don't start a lot of talk going.---Let me slip over to the hut and see if she's not there. I'll find her all right."
So, after some persuasion, Clifford allowed her to go.
And so Connie had come upon her in the drive, alone and palely loitering.
"You mustn't mind me coming to look for you, my Lady! But Sir Clifford worked himself up into such a state. He made sure you were struck by lightning, or killed by a falling tree. And he was determined to send Field and Betts to the wood to find the body. So I thought I'd better come, rather than set all the servants agog."
She spoke nervously. She could still see on Connie's face the smoothness and the half-dream of passion, and she could feel the irritation against herself.
"Quite!" said Connie. And she could say no more.
The two women plodded on through the wet world, in silence, while great drops splashed like explosions in the wood. Ben they came to the park, Connie strode ahead, and Mrs. Bolton panted a little. She was getting plumper.
"How foolish of Clifford to make a fuss!" said Connie at length, angrily, really speaking to herself.
"Oh, you know what men are! They like working themselves up. But he'll be all right as soon as he sees your Ladyship."
Connie was very angry that Mrs. Bolton knew her secret: for certainly she knew it.
Suddenly Constance stood still on the path.
"It's monstrous that I should have to be followed!" she said, her eyes flashing.
"Oh! your Ladyship, don't say that! He'd certainly have sent the two men, and they'd have come straight to the hut. I didn't know where it was, really."
Connie flushed darker with rage, at the suggestion. Yet, while her passion was on her, she could not lie. She could not even pretend there was nothing between herself and the keeper. She looked at the other woman, who stood so sly, with her head dropped: yet somehow, in her femaleness, an ally.
"Oh well!" she said. "I fit is so it is so. I don't mind!"
"Why, you're all right, my Lady! You've only been sheltering in the hut. It's absolutely nothing."
They went on to the house. Connie marched in to Clifford's room, furious with him, furious with his pale, over-wrought fee and prominent eyes.
"I must say, I don't think you need send the servants after me," she burst out.
"My God!" he exploded. "Where have you been, woman, You've been gone hours, hours, and in a storm like this! What the hell do you go to that-bloody wood for? What have you been up to? It's hours even since the rain stopped, hours! Do you know what time it is? You're enough to drive anybody mad. Where have you been? What in the name of hell have you been doing?"
"And what if I don't choose to tell you?" She pulled her hat from her head and shook her hair.
He lied at her with his eyes bulging, and yellow coming into the whites. It was very bad for him to get into these rages: Mrs. Bolton had a weary time with him, for days after. Connie felt a sudden qualm.
"But really!" she said, milder. "Anyone would think I'd been I don't know where! I just sat in the hut during all the storm, and made myself a little fire, and was happy."
She spoke now easily. After all, why work him up any more!
He looked at her suspiciously.
"And look at your hair!" he said; "look at yourself!"
"Yes!" she replied calmly. "I ran out in the rain with no clothes on."
He stared at her speechless.
"You must be mad!" he said.
"Why? To like a shower bath from the rain?"
"And how did you dry yourself?"
"On an old towel and at the fire."
He still stared at her in a dumbfounded way.
"And supposing anybody came," he said.
"Who would come?"
"Who? Why, anybody! And Mellors. Does he come? He must come in the evenings."
"Yes, he came later, when it had cleared up, to feed the pheasants with corn."
She spoke with amazing nonchalance. Mrs. Bolton, who was listening in the next room, heard in sheer admiration. To think a woman could carry it off so naturally!
"And suppose he'd come while you were running about in the rain with nothing on, like a maniac?"
"I suppose he'd have had the fright of his life, and cleared out as fast as he could."
Clifford still stared at her transfixed. What he thought in his under-consciousness he would never know. And he was too much taken aback to form one clear thought in his upper consciousness. He just simply accepted what she said, in a sort of blank. And he admired her. He could not help admiring her. She looked so flushed and handsome and smooth: love smooth.
"At least," he said, subsiding, "you'll be lucky if you've got off without a severe cold."
"Oh, I haven't got a cold," she replied. She was thinking to herself of the other man's words: Tha's got the nicest woman's arse of anybody! She wished, she dearly wished she could tell Clifford that this had been said her, during the famous thunderstorm. However! She bore herself rather like an offended queen, and went upstairs to change.
That evening, Clifford wanted to be nice to her. He was reading one of the latest scientific-religious books: he had a streak of a spurious sort of religion in him, and was egocentrically concerned with the future of his own ego. It was like his habit to make conversation to Connie about some book, since the conversation between them had to be made, almost chemically. They had almost chemically to concoct it in their heads.
"What do you think of this, by the way?" he said, reaching for his book. "You'd have no need to cool your ardent body by running out in the rain, if only we have a few more aeons of evolution behind us. Ah, here it is!---'The universe shows us two aspects: on one side it is physically wasting, on the other it is spiritually ascending.'''
Connie listened, expecting more. But Clifford was waiting. She looked at him in surprise.
"And if it spiritually ascends," she said, "what does it leave down below, in the place where its tail used to be?"
"Ah!" he said. "Take the man for what he means. Ascending is the opposite of his wasting, I presume."
"Spiritually blown out, so to speak!"
"No, but seriously, without joking: do you think there is anything in it?"
She looked at him again.
"Physically wasting?" she said. "I see you getting fatter, and I'm sot wasting myself. Do you think the sun is smaller than he used to be? He's not to me. And I suppose the apple Adam offered Eve wasn't really much bigger, if any, than one of our orange pippins. Do you think it was?"
"Well, hear how he goes on: 'It is thus slowly passing, with a slowness inconceivable in our measures of time, to new creative conditions, amid which the physical world, as we at present know it, will he represented by a ripple barely to be distinguished from nonentity'.''
She listened with a glisten of amusement. All sorts of improper things suggested themselves. But she only said:
"What silly hocus-pocus! As if his little conceited consciousness could know what was happening as slowly as all that! It only means he's a physical failure on the earth, so he wants to make the whole universe a physical failure. Priggish little impertinence!"
"Oh, but listen! Don't interrupt the great man's solemn words!---The present type of order in the world has risen from an unimaginable part, and will find its grave in an unimaginable future. There remains the inexhaustive realm of abstract forms, and creativity with its shifting character ever determined afresh by its own creatures, and God, upon whose wisdom all forms of order depend.---There, that's how he winds up!"
Connie sat listening contemptuously.
"He's spiritually blown out," she said. "What a lot of stuff! Unimaginables, and types of order in graves, and realms of abstract forms, and creativity with a shifty character, and God mixed up with forms of order! Why, it's idiotic!"
"I must say, it is a little vaguely conglomerate, a mixture of gases, so to speak," said Clifford. "Still, I think there is something in the idea that the universe is physically wasting and spiritually ascending."
"Do you? Then let it ascend, so long as it leaves me safely and solidly physically here below."
"Do you like your physique?" he asked.
"I love it!" And through her mind went the words: It's the nicest, nicest woman's arse as is!
"But that is really rather extraordinary, because there's no denying it's an encumbrance. But then I suppose a woman doesn't take a supreme pleasure in the life of the mind."
"Supreme pleasure?" she said, looking up at him. "Is that sort of idiocy the supreme pleasure of the life of the mind? No thank you! Give me the body. I believe the life of the body is a greater reality than the life of the mind: when the body is really wakened to life. But so many people, like your famous wind-machine, have only got minds tacked on to their physical corpses."
He looked at her in wonder.
"The life of the body," he said, "is just the life of the animals."
"And that's better than the life of professional corpses. But it's not true! the human body is only just coming to real life. With the Greeks it gave a lovely flicker, then Plato and Aristotle killed it, and Jesus finished it off. But now the body is coming really to life, it is really rising from the tomb. And It will be a lovely, lovely life in the lovely universe, the life of the human body."
"My dear, you speak as if you were ushering it all in! True, you am going away on a holiday: but don't please be quite so indecently elated about it. Believe me, whatever God there is is slowly eliminating the guts and alimentary system from the human being, to evolve a higher, more spiritual being."
"Why should I believe you, Clifford, when I feel that whatever God there is has at last wakened up in my guts, as you call them, and is rippling so happily there, like dawn. Why should I believe you, when I feel so very much the contrary?"
"Oh, exactly! And what has caused this extraordinary change in you? running out stark naked in the rain, and playing Bacchante? desire for sensation, or the anticipation of going to Venice?"
"Both! Do you think it is horrid of me to be so thrilled at going off?" she said.
"Rather horrid to show it so plainly."
"Then I'll hide it."
"Oh, don't trouble! You almost communicate a thrill to me. I almost feel that it is I who am going off."
"Well, why don't you come?"
"We've gone over all that. And as a matter of fact, I suppose your greatest thrill comes from being able to say a temporary farewell to all this. Nothing so thrilling, for the moment, as Good-bye-to-all!---But every parting means a meeting elsewhere. And every meeting is a new bondage."
"I'm not going to enter any new bondages."
"Don't boast, while the gods are listening," he said.
She pulled up short.
"No! I won't boast!" she said.
But she was thrilled, none the less, to be going off: to feel bonds snap. She couldn't help it.
Clifford, who couldn't sleep, gambled all night with Mrs. Bolton, till she was too sleepy almost to live.
And the day came round for Hilda to arrive. Connie had arranged with Mellors that if everything promised well for their night together, she would hang a green shawl out of the window. If there were frustration, a red one.
Mrs. Bolton helped Connie to pack.
"It will be so good for your Ladyship to have a change."
"I think it will. You don't mind having Sir Clifford on your hands alone for a time, do you?"
"Oh no! I can manage him quite all right. I mean, I can do all he needs me to do. Don't you think he's better than he used to be?"
"Oh much! You do wonders with him."
"Do I though! But men are all alike: just babies, and you have to flatter them and wheedle them and let them think they're having their own way. Don't you find it so, my Lady?"
"I'm afraid I haven't much experience."
Connie paused in her occupation.
"Even your husband, did you have to manage him, and wheedle him like a baby?" she asked, looking at the other woman.
Mrs. Bolton paused too.
"Well!" she said. "I had to do a good bit of coaxing, with him too. But he always knew what I was after, I must say that. But he generally gave in to me."
"He was never the lord and master thing?"
"No! At least there'd be a look in his eyes sometimes, and then I knew I'd got to give in. But usually he gave in to me. No, he was never lord and master. But neither was I. I knew when I could go no further with him, and then I gave in: though it cost me a good bit, sometimes."
"And what if you had held out against him?"
"Oh, I don't know, I never did. Even when he was in the wrong, if he was fixed, I gave in. You see, I never wanted to break what was between us. And if you really set your will against a man, that finishes it. If you care for a man, you have to give in to him once he's really determined; whether you're in the right or not, you have to give in. Else you break something. But I must say, Ted 'ud give in to me sometimes, when I was set on a thing, and in the wrong. So I suppose it cuts both ways."
"And that's how you are with all your patients?" asked Connie.
"Oh, That's different. I don't care at all, in the same way. I know what's good for them, or I try to, and then I just contrive to manage them for their own good. It's not like anybody as you're really fond of. It's quite different. Once you've been really fond of a man, you can be affectionate to almost any man, if he needs you at all. But it's not the same thing. You don't really care. I doubt, once you've really cared, if you can ever really care again."
These words frightened Connie.
"Do you think one can only care once?" she asked.
"Or never. Most women never care, never begin to. They don't know what it means. Nor men either. But when I see a woman as cares, my heart stands still for her."
"And do you think men easily take offence?"
"Yes! If you wound them on their pride. But aren't women the same? Only our two prides are a bit different."
Connie pondered this. She began again to have some misgiving about her gag away. After all, was she not giving her man the go-by, if only for a short time? And he knew it. That's why he was so queer and sarcastic.
Still! the human existence is a good deal controlled by the machine of external circumstance. She was in the power of this machine. She couldn't extricate herself all in five minutes. She didn't even want to.
Hilda arrived in good time on Thursday morning, in a nimble two-seater car, with her suit-case strapped firmly behind. She looked as demure and maidenly as ever, but she had the same will of her own. She had the very hell of a will of her own, as her husband had found out. But the husband was now divorcing her. Yes, she even made it easy for him to do that, though she had no lover. For the time being, she was 'off' men. She was very well content to be quite her own mistress: and mistress of her two children, whom she was going to bring up 'properly', whatever that may mean.
Connie was only allowed a suit-case, also. But she had sent on a trunk to her father, who was going by train. No use taking a car to Venice. And Italy much too hot to motor in, in July. He was going comfortably by train. He had just come down from Scotland.
So, like a demure arcadian field-marshal, Hilda arranged the material part of the journey. She and Connie sat in the upstairs room, chatting.
"But Hilda!" said Connie, a little frightened. "I want to stay near here tonight. Not here: near here!"
Hilda fixed her sister with grey, inscrutable eyes. She seemed so calm: and she was so often furious.
"Where, near here?" she asked softly.
"Well, you know I love somebody, don't you?"
"I gathered there was something."
"Well he lives near here, and I want to spend this last night with him must! I've promised."
Connie became insistent.
Hilda bent her Minerva-like head in silence. Then she looked up.
"Do you want to tell me who he is?" she said.
"He's our game-keeper," faltered Connie, and she flushed vividly, like a shamed child.
"Connie!" said Hilda, lifting her nose slightly with disgust: a she had from her mother.
"I know: but he's lovely really. He really understands tenderness," said Connie, trying to apologize for him.
Hilda, like a ruddy, rich-coloured Athena, bowed her head and pondered She was really violently angry. But she dared not show it, because Connie, taking after her father, would straight away become obstreperous and unmanageable.
It was true, Hilda did not like Clifford: his cool assurance that he was somebody! She thought he made use of Connie shamefully and impudently. She had hoped her sister would leave him. But, being solid Scotch middle class, she loathed any "lowering' of oneself or the family. She looked up at last.
"You'll regret it," she said,
"I shan't," cried Connie, flushed red. "He's quite the exception. I really love him. He's lovely as a lover."
Hilda still pondered.
"You'll get over him quite soon," she said, "and live to be ashamed of yourself because of him."
"I shan't! I hope I'm going to have a child of his."
"Connie!" said Hilda, hard as a hammer-stroke, and pale with anger.
"I shall if I possibly can. I should be fearfully proud if I had a child by him."
It was no use talking to her. Hilda pondered.
"And doesn't Clifford suspect?" she said.
"Oh no! Why should he?"
"I've no doubt you've given him plenty of occasion for suspicion," said Hilda.
"Not at all."
"And tonight's business seems quite gratuitous folly. Where does the man live?"
"In the cottage at the other end of the wood."
"Is he a bachelor?"
"No! His wife left him."
"I don't know. Older than me."
Hilda became more angry at every reply, angry as her mother used to be, in a kind of paroxysm. But still she hid it.
"I would give up tonight's escapade if I were you," she advised calmly.
"I can't! I must stay with him tonight, or I can't go to Venice at all. I just can't."
Hilda heard her father over again, and she gave way, out of mere diplomacy. And she consented to drive to Mansfield, both of them, to dinner, to bring Connie back to the lane-end after dark, and to fetch her from the lane-end the next morning, herself sleeping in Mansfield, only half an hour away, good going. But she was furious. She stored it up against her sister, this balk in her plans.
Connie flung an emerald-green shawl over her window-sill.
On the strength of her anger, Hilda warmed toward Clifford. After all, he had a mind. And if he had no sex, functionally, all the better: so much the less to quarrel about! Hilda wanted no more of that sex business, where men became nasty, selfish little horrors. Connie really had less to put up with than many women if she did but know it.
And Clifford decided that Hilda, after all, was a decidedly intelligent woman, and would make a man a first-rate helpmate, if he were going in for politics for example. Yes, she had none of Connie's silliness, Connie was more a child: you had to make excuses for her, because she was not altogether dependable.
There was an early cup of tea in the hall, where doors were open to let in the sun. Everybody seemed to be panting a little.
"Good-bye, Connie girl! Come back to me safely."
"Good-bye, Clifford! Yes, I shan't be long." Connie was almost tender.
"Good-bye, Hilda! You will keep an eye on her, won't you?"
"I'll even keep two!" said Hilda. "She shan't go very far astray."
"It's a promise!"
"Good-bye, Mrs. Bolton! I know you'll look after Sir Clifford nobly."
"I'll do what I can, your Ladyship."
"And write to me if there is any news, and tell me about Sir Clifford, how he is."
"Very good, your Ladyship, I will. And have a good time, and come back and cheer us up."
Everybody waved. The car went off Connie looked back and saw Clifford, sitting at the top of the steps in his house-chair. After all, he was her husband: Wragby was her home: circumstance had done it.
Mrs. Chambers held the gate and wished her ladyship a happy holiday. The car slipped out of the dark spinney that masked the park, on to the highroad where the colliers were trailing home. Hilda turned to the Crosshill Road, that was not a main road, but ran to Mansfield. Connie put on goggles. They ran beside the railway, which was in a cutting below them. Then they crossed the cutting on a bridge.
"That's the lane to the cottage!" said Connie.
Hilda glanced at it impatiently.
"It's a frightful pity we can't go straight off!' she said. We could have been in Pall Mall by nine o'clock."
"I'm sorry for your sake," said Connie, from behind her goggles.
They were soon at Mansfield, that once-romantic, now utterly disheartening colliery town. Hilda stopped at the hotel named in the motor-car book, and took a room. The whole thing was utterly uninteresting, and she was almost too angry to talk. However, Connie had to tell her something of the man's history.
"He! He! What name do you call him by? You only say he," said Hilda.
"I've never called him by any name: nor he me: which is curious, when you come to think of it. Unless we say Lady Jane and John Thomas. But his name is Oliver Mellors."
"And how would you like to be Mrs. Oliver Mellors, instead of Lady Chatterley?"
"I'd love it."
There was nothing to be done with Connie. And anyhow, if the man had been a lieutenant in the army in India for four or five years, he must be more or less presentable. Apparently he had character. Hilda began to relent a little.
"But you'll be through with him in awhile," she said, "and then you'll be ashamed of having been connected with him. One can't mix up with the working people."
"But you are such a socialist! you're always on the side of the working classes."
"I may be on their side in a political crisis, but being on their side makes me know how impossible it is to mix one's life with theirs. Not out of snobbery, but just because the whole rhythm is different."
Hilda had lived among the real political intellectuals, so she was disastrously unanswerable.
The nondescript evening in the hotel dragged out, and at last they had a nondescript dinner. Then Connie slipped a few things into a little silk bag, and combed her hair once more.
"After all, Hilda," she said, "love can be wonderful: when you feel you live, and are in the very middle of creation." It was almost like bragging on her part.
"I suppose every mosquito feels the same," said Hilda. "Do you think it does? How nice for it!'
The evening was wonderfully clear and long-lingering, even in the small town. It would be half-light all night. With a face like a mask, from resentment, Hilda started her car again, and the two sped back on their traces, taking the other road, through Bolsover.
Connie wore her goggles and disguising cap, and she sat in silence. Because of Hilda's Opposition, she was fiercely on the sidle of the man, she would stand by him through thick and thin.
They had their head-lights on, by the time they passed Crosshill, and the small lit-up train that chuffed past in the cutting made it seem like real night. Hilda had calculated the turn into the lane at the bridge-end. She slowed up rather suddenly and swerved off the road, the lights glaring white into the grassy, overgrown lane. Connie looked out. She saw a shadowy figure, and she opened the door.
"Here we are!" she said softly.
But Hilda had switched off the lights, and was absorbed backing, making the turn.
"Nothing on the bridge?" she asked shortly. "You're all right," said the mall's voice. She backed on to the bridge, reversed, let the car run forwards a few yards along the road, then backed into the lane, under a wych-elm tree, crushing the grass and bracken. Then all the lights went out. Connie stepped down. The man stood under the trees.
"Did you wait long?" Connie asked.
"Not so very," he replied.
They both waited for Hilda to get out. But Hilda shut the door of the car and sat tight.
"This is my sister Hilda. Won't you come and speak to her? Hilda! This is Mr Mellors."
The keeper lifted his hat, but went no nearer.
"Do walk down to the cottage with us, Hilda," Connie pleaded. "It's not far."
"What about the car?"
"People do leave them on the lanes. You have the key."
Hilda was silent, deliberating. Then she looked backwards down the lane.
"Can I back round the bush?" she said.
"Oh yes!" said the keeper.
She backed slowly round the curve, out of sight of the road, locked the car, and got down. It was night, but luminous dark. The hedges rose high and wild, by the unused lane, and very dark seeming. There was a fresh sweet scent on the air. The keeper went ahead, then came Connie, then Hilda, and in silence. He lit up the difficult places with a flash-light torch, and they went on again, while an owl softly hooted over the oaks, and Flossie padded silently around. Nobody could speak. There was nothing to say.
At length Connie saw the yellow light of the house, and her heart beat fast. She was a little frightened. They trailed on, still in Indian file.
He unlocked the door and preceded them into the warm but bare little room. The fire burned low and red in the grate. The table was set with two plates and two glasses on a proper white table-cloth for Once. Hilda shook her hair and looked round the bare, cheerless room. Then she summoned her courage and looked at the man.
He was moderately tall, and thin, and she thought him good-looking. He kept a quiet distance of his own, and seemed absolutely unwilling to speak.
"Do sit down, Hilda," said Connie.
"Do!" he said. "Can I make you tea or anything, or will you drink a glass of beer? It's moderately cool."
"Beer!" said Connie.
"Beer for me, please!" said Hilda, with a mock sort of shyness. He looked at her and blinked.
He took a blue jug and tramped to the scullery. When he came back with the beer, his face had changed again.
Connie sat down by the door, and Hilda sat in his seat, with the back to the wall, against the window corner.
"That is his chair," said Connie softly. And Hilda rose as if it had burnt her.
"Sit yer still, sit yer still! Ta'e ony cheer as yo'n a mind to, none of us is th' big bear," he said, with complete equanimity.
And he brought Hilda a glass, and poured her beer first from the blue jug.
"As for cigarettes," he said, "I've got none, but 'appen you've got your own. I dunna smoke, mysen. Shall y' eat summat?' He turned direct to Connie. `Shall t'eat a smite o' summat, if I bring it thee? Tha can usually do wi' a bite." He spoke the vernacular with a curious calm assurance, as if he were the landlord of the Inn.
"What is there?" asked Connie, flushing.
"Boiled ham, cheese, pickled wa'---nuts, if yer like.---Nowt much."
"Yes," said Connie. "Won't you, Hilda?"
Hilda looked up at him.
"Why do you speak Yorkshire?" she said softly.
"That! That's non Yorkshire, that's Derby."
He looked back at her with that faint, distant grin.
"Derby, then! Why do you speak Derby? You spoke natural English at first."
"Did Ah though? An' canna Ah change if Ah'm a mind to 't? Nay, nay, let me talk Derby if it suits me. If yo'n nowt against it."
"It sounds a little affected," said Hilda.
"Ay, 'appen so! An' up i' Tevershall yo'd sound affected." He looked again at her, with a queer calculating distance, along his cheek-bone: as if to say: Yi, an' who are you?
He tramped away to the pantry for the food.
The sisters sat in silence. He brought another plate, and knife and fork. Then he said:
"An' if it's the same to you, I s'll ta'e my coat off like I allers do."
And he took off his coat, and hung it on the peg, then sat down to table in his shirt-sleeves: a shirt of thin, cream-coloured flannel.
"'elp yerselves!" he said. "'elp yerselves! Dunna wait f'r axin'!"
He cut the bread, then sat motionless. Hilda felt, as Connie once used to, his power of silence and distance. She saw his smallish, sensitive, loose hand on the table. He was no simple working man, not he: he was acting! acting!
"Still!' she said, as she took a little cheese. "It would be more natural if you spoke to us in normal English, not in vernacular."
He looked at her, feeling her devil of a will.
"Would it?" he said in the normal English. "Would it? Would anything that was said between you and me be quite natural, unless you said you wished me to hell before your sister ever saw me again: and unless I said something almost as unpleasant back again? Would anything else be natural?"
"Oh yes!" said Hilda. "Just good manners would be quite natural."
"Second nature, so to speak!" he said: then he began to laugh. "Nay," he said. "I'm weary o' manners. Let me be!"
Hilda was frankly baffled and furiously annoyed. After all, he might show that he realized he was being honoured. Instead of which, with his play-acting and lordly airs, he seemed to think it was he who was conferring the honour. Just impudence! Poor misguided Connie, in the man's clutches!
The three ate in silence. Hilda looked to see what his table-manners were like. She could not help realizing that he was instinctively much more delicate and well-bred than herself. She had a certain Scottish clumsiness. And moreover, he had all the quiet self-contained assurance of the English, no loose edges. It would be very difficult to get the better of him.
But neither would he get the better of her.
"And do you really think," she said, a little more humanly, "it's worth the risk."
"Is what worth what risk?"
"This escapade with my sister."
He flickered his irritating grin.
"Yo' maun ax 'er!"
Then he looked at Connie.
"Tha comes o' thine own accord, lass, doesn't ter? It's non me as forces thee?"
Connie looked at Hilda.
"I wish you wouldn't cavil, Hilda."
"Naturally I don't want to. But someone has to think about things. You've got to have some sort of continuity in your life. You can't just go making a mess."
There was a moment's pause.
"Eh, continuity!" he said. "An' what by that? What continuity ave yer got i' your life? I thought you was gettin' divorced. What continuity's that? Continuity o' yer own stubbornness. I can see that much. An' what good's it goin' to do yer? You'll be sick o' yer continuity afore yer a fat sight older. A stubborn woman an er own self-will: ay, they make a fast continuity, they do. Thank heaven, it isn't me as `as got th' 'andlin' of yer!"
"What right have you to speak like that to me?" said Hilda.
"Right! What right ha' yo' ter start harnessin' other folks i' your continuity? Leave folks to their own continuities."
"My dear man, do you think I am concerned with you?" said Hilda softly.
"Ay," he said. "Yo' are. For it's a force-put. Yo' more or less my sister-in-law."
"Still far from it, I assure you."
"Not a' that far, I assure you. I've got my own sort o' continuity, back your life! Good as yours, any day. An' if your sister there comes ter me for a bit o' cunt an' tenderness, she knows what she's after. She's been in my bed afore: which you 'aven't, thank the Lord, with your continuity." There was a dead pause, before he added: "---Eh, I don't wear me breeches arse-forrards. An' if I get a windfall, I thank my stars. A man gets a lot of enjoyment out o' that lass theer, which is more than anybody gets out o' th' likes o' you. Which is a pity, for you might appen a' bin a good apple, 'stead of a handsome crab. Women like you needs proper graftin'."
He was looking at her with an odd, flickering smile, faintly sensual and appreciative.
"And men like you," she said, "ought to be segregated: justifying their own vulgarity and selfish lust."
"Ay, ma'am! It's a mercy there's a few men left like me. But you deserve what you get: to be left severely alone."
Hilda had risen and gone to the door. He rose and took his coat from the peg.
"I can find my way quite well alone," she said.
"I doubt you can't," he replied easily.
They tramped in ridiculous file down the lane again, in silence. An owl still hooted. He knew he ought to shoot it.
The car stood untouched, a little dewy. Hilda got in and started the engine. The other two waited.
"All I mean," she said from her entrenchment, "is that I doubt if you'll find it's been worth it, either of you!"
"One man's meat is another man's poison," he said, out of the darkness. "But it's meat an' drink for me."
The lights flared out.
"Don't make me wait in the morning, Connie."
"No, I won't. Goodnight!"
The car rose slowly on to the highroad, then slid swiftly away, leaving the night silent.
Connie timidly took his arm, and they went down the lane. He did not speak. At length she drew him to a standstill.
"Kiss me!" she murmured.
"Nay, wait a bit! Let me simmer down," he said.
That amused her. She still kept hold of his arm, and they went quickly down the lane, in silence. She was so glad to be with him, just now. She shivered, knowing that Hilda might have snatched her away. He was inscrutably silent.
When they were in the cottage again, she almost jumped with pleasure, that she should be free of her sister.
"But you were horrid to Hilda," she said to him.
"She should ha' been slapped in time."
"But why? and she's so nice."
He didn't answer, went round doing the evening chores, with a quiet, inevitable sort of motion. He was outwardly angry, but not with her. So Connie felt. And his anger gave him a peculiar handsomeness, an inwardness and glisten that thrilled her and made her limbs so molten.
Still he took no notice of her.
Till he sat down and began to unlace his boots. Then he looked up at her from under his brows, on which the anger still sat firm.
"Shan't you go up?" he said. "There's a candle!"
He jerked his head swiftly to indicate the candle burning on the table. She took it obediently, and he watched the full curve of her hips as she went up the first stairs.
It was a night of sensual passion, in which she was a little startled and almost unwilling: yet pierced again with piercing thrills of sensuality, different, sharper, more terrible than the thrills of tenderness, but, at the moment, more desirable. Though a little frightened, she let him have his way, and the reckless, shameless sensuality shook her to her foundations, stripped her to the very last, and made a different woman of her. It was not really love. It was not voluptuousness. It was sensuality sharp and searing as fire, burning the soul to tinder.
Burning out the shames, the deepest, oldest shames, in the most secret places. It cost her an effort to let him have his way and his will of her. She had to be a passive, consenting thing, like a slave, a physical slave. Yet the passion licked round her, consuming, and when the sensual flame of it pressed through her bowels and breast, she really thought she was dying: yet a poignant, marvellous death.
She had often wondered what Abélard meant, when he said that in their year of love he and Héloïse had passed through all the stages and refinements of passion. The same thing, a thousand years ago: ten thousand years ago! The same on the Greek vases, everywhere! The refinements of passion, the extravagances of sensuality! And necessary, forever necessary, to burn out false shames and smelt out the heaviest ore of the body into purity. With the fire of sheer sensuality.
In the short summer night she learnt so much. She would have thought a woman would have died of shame. Instead of which, the shame died. Shame, which is fear: the deep Organic shame, the old, old physical fear which crouches in the bodily roots of us, and can only be chased away by the sensual fire, at last it was roused up and routed by the phallic hunt of the man, and she came to the very heart of the jungle of herself. She felt, now, she had come to the real bed-rock of her nature, and was essentially shameless. She was her sensual self, naked and unashamed. She felt a triumph, almost a vainglory. So! That was how it was! That was life! That was how oneself really was! There was nothing left to disguise or be ashamed of. She shared her ultimate nakedness with a man, another being.
And what a reckless devil the man was! really like a devil! One had to be strong to bear him. But it took some getting at, the core of the physical jungle, the last and deepest recess of organic shame. The phallus alone could explore it. And how he had pressed in on her!
And how, in fear, she had hated it. But how she had really wanted it! She knew now. At the bottom of her soul, fundamentally, she had needed this phallic hunting Out, she had secretly wanted it, and she had believed that she would never get it. Now suddenly there it was, and a man was sharing her last and final nakedness, she was shameless.
What liars poets and everybody were! They made one think one wanted sentiment. When what one supremely wanted was this piercing, consuming, rather awful sensuality. To find a man who dared do it, without shame or sin or final misgiving! If he had been ashamed afterwards, and made one feel ashamed, how awful! What a pity most men are so doggy, a bit shameful, like Clifford! Like Michaelis even! Both sensually a bit doggy and humiliating. The supreme pleasure of the mind! And what is that to a woman? What is it, really, to the man either! He becomes merely messy and doggy, even in his mind. It needs sheer sensuality even to purify and quicken the mind. Sheer fiery sensuality, not messiness.
Ah, God, how rare a thing a man is! They are all dogs that trot and sniff and copulate. To have found a man who was not afraid and not ashamed! She looked at him now, sleeping so like a wild animal asleep, gone, gone in the remoteness of it. She nestled down, not to be away from him.
Till his rousing waked her completely. He was sitting up in bed, looking down at her. She saw her own nakedness in his eyes, immediate knowledge of her. And the fluid, male knowledge of herself seemed to flow to her from his eyes and wrap her voluptuously. Oh, how voluptuous and lovely it was to have limbs and body half-asleep, heavy and suffused with passion.
"Is it time to wake up?" she said.
"Half past six."
She had to be at the lane-end at eight. Always, always, always this compulsion on one!
"I might make the breakfast and bring it up here; should I?" he said.
Flossie whimpered gently below. He got up and threw off his pajamas, and rubbed himself with a towel. When the human being is full of courage and full of life, how beautiful it is! So she thought, as she watched him in silence.
"Draw the curtain, will you?"
The sun was shining already on the tender green leaves of morning, and the wood stood bluey-fresh, in the nearness. She sat up in bed, looking dreamily out through the dormer window, her naked arms pushing her naked breasts together. He was dressing himself. She was half-dreaming of life, a life together with him: just a life.
He was going, fleeing from her dangerous, crouching nakedness.
"Have I lost my nightie altogether?" she said.
He pushed his hand down in the bed, and pulled out the bit of flimsy silk.
"I knowed I felt silk at my ankles," he said.
But the night-dress was slit almost in two.
"Never mind!" she said. "It belongs here, really. I'll leave it."
"Ay, leave it, I can put it between my legs at night, for company. There's no name nor mark on it, is there?"
She slipped on the torn thing, and sat dreamily looking out of the window. The window was Open, the air of morning drifted in, and the sound of birds. Birds flew continuously past. Then she saw Flossie roaming out. It was morning.
Downstairs she heard him making the fire, pumping water, going out at the back door. By and by came the smell of bacon, and at length he came upstairs with a huge black tray that would only just go through the door. He set the tray on the bed, and poured out the tea. Connie squatted in her torn nightdress, and fell on her food hungrily. He sat on the one chair, with his plate on his knees.
"How good it is!" she said. "How nice to have breakfast together."
He ate in silence, his mind on the time that was quickly passing. That made her remember.
"Oh, how I wish I could stay here with you, and Wragby were a million miles away! It's Wragby I'm going away from really. You know that, don't you?"
"And you promise we will live together and have a life together, you and me! You promise me, don't you?"
"Ay! When we can."
"Yes! And we will! we will, won't we?" she leaned over, making the tea spill, catching his wrist.
"Ay!" he said, tidying up the tea.
"We can't possibly not live together now, can we?" she said appealingly.
He looked up at her with his flickering grin.
"No!" he said. "Only you've got to start in twenty-five minutes."
"Have I?" she cried. Suddenly he held up a warning finger, and rose to his feet.
Flossie had given a short bark, then three loud sharp yaps of warning.
Silent, he put his plate on the tray and went downstairs. Constance heard him go down the garden path. A bicycle bell tinkled outside there.
"Morning, Mr. Mellors! Registered letter!'
"Oh ay! Got a pencil?"
There was a pause.
"Canada!" said the stranger's voice.
"Ay! That's a mate o' mine out there in British Columbia. Dunno what he's got to register."
"'Appen sent y'a fortune, like."
"More like wants summat."
"Well! Lovely day again!"
After a time he came upstairs again, looking a little angry.
"Postman," he said.
"Very early!" she replied.
"Rural round; he's mostly here by seven, when he does come."
"Did your mate send you a fortune?"
"No! Only some photographs and papers about a place out there in British Columbia."
"Would you go there?"
"I thought perhaps we might."
"Oh yes! I believe it's lovely!" But he was put out by the postman's coming.
"Them damn bikes, they're on you afore you know where you are. I hope he twigged nothing."
"After all, what could he twig!"
"You must get up now, and get ready. I'm just goin' ter look round outside."
She saw him go reconnoitring into the lane, with dog and gun. She went downstairs and washed, and was ready by the time he came back, with the few things in the little silk bag.
He locked up, and they set off, but through the wood, not down the lane. He was being wary.
"Don't you think one lives for times like last night?" she said to him.
"Ay! But there's the rest o'times to think on," he replied, rather short.
They plodded on down the overgrown path, he in front, in silence.
"And we will live together and make a life together, won't we?" she pleaded.
"Ay!" he replied, striding on without looking round. "When t' time comes! Just now you're off to Venice or somewhere."
She followed him dumbly, with sinking heart. Oh, now she was wae to go!
At last he stopped.
"I'll just strike across here," he said, pointing to the right.
But she flung her arms round his neck, and clung to him.
"But you'll keep the tenderness for me, won't you?" she whispered. "I loved last night. But you'll keep the tenderness for me, won't you?"
He kissed her and held her close for a moment. Then he sighed, and kissed her again.
"I must go an' look if th' car's there."
He strode over the low brambles and bracken, leaving a trail through the fern. For a minute or two he was gone. Then he came striding back.
"Car's not there yet," he said. "But there's the baker's cart on t' road."
He seemed anxious and troubled.
They heard a car softly hoot as it came nearer. It slowed up on the bridge.
She plunged with utter mournfulness in his track through the fern, and came to a huge holly hedge. He was just behind her.
"Here! Go through there!" he said, pointing to a gap. "I shan't come out."
She looked at him in despair. But he kissed her and made her go. She crept in sheer misery through the holly and through the wooden fence, stumbled down the little ditch and up into the lane, where Hilda was just getting out of the car in vexation.
"Why you're there!" said Hilda. "Where's he?"
"He's not coming."
Connie's face was running with tears as she got into the car with her little bag. Hilda snatched up the motoring helmet with the disfiguring goggles.
"Put it on!" she said. And Connie pulled on the disguise, then the long motoring coat, and she sat down, a goggling inhuman, unrecognizable creature. Hilda started the car with a businesslike motion. They heaved out of the lane, and were away down the road. Connie had looked round, but there was no sight of him. Away! Away! She sat in bitter tears. The parting had come so suddenly, so unexpectedly. It was like death.
"Thank goodness you'll be away from him for some time!" said Hilda, turning to avoid Crosshill village.