Chapter XVIII: Rabbit
Gudrun knew that it was a critical thing for her to go to Shortlands. She knew it was equivalent to accepting Gerald Crich as a lover. And though she hung back, disliking the condition, yet she knew she would go on. She equivocated. She said to herself, in torment recalling the blow and the kiss, 'after all, what is it? What is a kiss? What even is a blow? It is an instant, vanished at once. I can go to Shortlands just for a time, before I go away, if only to see what it is like.' For she had an insatiable curiosity to see and to know everything.
She also wanted to know what Winifred was really like. Having heard the child calling from the steamer in the night, she felt some mysterious connection with her.
Gudrun talked with the father in the library. Then he sent for his daughter. She came accompanied by Mademoiselle.
'Winnie, this is Miss Brangwen, who will be so kind as to help you with your drawing and making models of your animals,' said the father.
The child looked at Gudrun for a moment with interest, before she came forward and with face averted offered her hand. There was a complete SANG FROID and indifference under Winifred's childish reserve, a certain irresponsible callousness.
'How do you do?' said the child, not lifting her face.
'How do you do?' said Gudrun.
Then Winifred stood aside, and Gudrun was introduced to Mademoiselle.
'You have a fine day for your walk,' said Mademoiselle, in a bright manner.
'QUITE fine,' said Gudrun.
Winifred was watching from her distance. She was as if amused, but rather unsure as yet what this new person was like. She saw so many new persons, and so few who became real to her. Mademoiselle was of no count whatever, the child merely put up with her, calmly and easily, accepting her little authority with faint scorn, compliant out of childish arrogance of indifference.
'Well, Winifred,' said the father, 'aren't you glad Miss Brangwen has come? She makes animals and birds in wood and in clay, that the people in London write about in the papers, praising them to the skies.'
Winifred smiled slightly.
'Who told you, Daddie?' she asked.
'Who told me? Hermione told me, and Rupert Birkin.'
'Do you know them?' Winifred asked of Gudrun, turning to her with faint challenge.
'Yes,' said Gudrun.
Winifred readjusted herself a little. She had been ready to accept Gudrun as a sort of servant. Now she saw it was on terms of friendship they were intended to meet. She was rather glad. She had so many half inferiors, whom she tolerated with perfect good-humour.
Gudrun was very calm. She also did not take these things very seriously. A new occasion was mostly spectacular to her. However, Winifred was a detached, ironic child, she would never attach herself. Gudrun liked her and was intrigued by her. The first meetings went off with a certain humiliating clumsiness. Neither Winifred nor her instructress had any social grace.
Soon, however, they met in a kind of make-belief world. Winifred did not notice human beings unless they were like herself, playful and slightly mocking. She would accept nothing but the world of amusement, and the serious people of her life were the animals she had for pets. On those she lavished, almost ironically, her affection and her companionship. To the rest of the human scheme she submitted with a faint bored indifference.
She had a pekinese dog called Looloo, which she loved.
'Let us draw Looloo,' said Gudrun, 'and see if we can get his Looliness, shall we?'
'Darling!' cried Winifred, rushing to the dog, that sat with contemplative sadness on the hearth, and kissing its bulging brow. 'Darling one, will you be drawn? Shall its mummy draw its portrait?' Then she chuckled gleefully, and turning to Gudrun, said: 'Oh let's!'
They proceeded to get pencils and paper, and were ready.
'Beautifullest,' cried Winifred, hugging the dog, 'sit still while its mummy draws its beautiful portrait.' The dog looked up at her with grievous resignation in its large, prominent eyes. She kissed it fervently, and said: 'I wonder what mine will be like. It's sure to be awful.'
As she sketched she chuckled to herself, and cried out at times:
'Oh darling, you're so beautiful!'
And again chuckling, she rushed to embrace the dog, in penitence, as if she were doing him some subtle injury. He sat all the time with the resignation and fretfulness of ages on his dark velvety face. She drew slowly, with a wicked concentration in her eyes, her head on one side, an intense stillness over her. She was as if working the spell of some enchantment. Suddenly she had finished. She looked at the dog, and then at her drawing, and then cried, with real grief for the dog, and at the same time with a wicked exultation:
'My beautiful, why did they?'
She took her paper to the dog, and held it under his nose. He turned his head aside as in chagrin and mortification, and she impulsively kissed his velvety bulging forehead.
''s a Loolie, 's a little Loozie! Look at his portrait, darling, look at his portrait, that his mother has done of him.' She looked at her paper and chuckled. Then, kissing the dog once more, she rose and came gravely to Gudrun, offering her the paper.
It was a grotesque little diagram of a grotesque little animal, so wicked and so comical, a slow smile came over Gudrun's face, unconsciously. And at her side Winifred chuckled with glee, and said:
'It isn't like him, is it? He's much lovelier than that. He's SO beautiful-mmm, Looloo, my sweet darling.' And she flew off to embrace the chagrined little dog. He looked up at her with reproachful, saturnine eyes, vanquished in his extreme agedness of being. Then she flew back to her drawing, and chuckled with satisfaction.
'It isn't like him, is it?' she said to Gudrun.
'Yes, it's very like him,' Gudrun replied.
The child treasured her drawing, carried it about with her, and showed it, with a silent embarrassment, to everybody.
'Look,' she said, thrusting the paper into her father's hand.
'Why that's Looloo!' he exclaimed. And he looked down in surprise, hearing the almost inhuman chuckle of the child at his side.
Gerald was away from home when Gudrun first came to Shortlands. But the first morning he came back he watched for her. It was a sunny, soft morning, and he lingered in the garden paths, looking at the flowers that had come out during his absence. He was clean and fit as ever, shaven, his fair hair scrupulously parted at the side, bright in the sunshine, his short, fair moustache closely clipped, his eyes with their humorous kind twinkle, which was so deceptive. He was dressed in black, his clothes sat well on his well-nourished body. Yet as he lingered before the flower-beds in the morning sunshine, there was a certain isolation, a fear about him, as of something wanting.
Gudrun came up quickly, unseen. She was dressed in blue, with woollen yellow stockings, like the Bluecoat boys. He glanced up in surprise. Her stockings always disconcerted him, the pale-yellow stockings and the heavy heavy black shoes. Winifred, who had been playing about the garden with Mademoiselle and the dogs, came flitting towards Gudrun. The child wore a dress of black-and-white stripes. Her hair was rather short, cut round and hanging level in her neck.
'We're going to do Bismarck, aren't we?' she said, linking her hand through Gudrun's arm.
'Yes, we're going to do Bismarck. Do you want to?'
'Oh yes-oh I do! I want most awfully to do Bismarck. He looks SO splendid this morning, so FIERCE. He's almost as big as a lion.' And the child chuckled sardonically at her own hyperbole. 'He's a real king, he really is.'
'Bon jour, Mademoiselle,' said the little French governess, wavering up with a slight bow, a bow of the sort that Gudrun loathed, insolent.
'Winifred veut tant faire le portrait de Bismarck-! Oh, mais toute la matinee-"We will do Bismarck this morning!"-Bismarck, Bismarck, toujours Bismarck! C'est un lapin, n'est-ce pas, mademoiselle?'
'Oui, c'est un grand lapin blanc et noir. Vous ne l'avez pas vu?' said Gudrun in her good, but rather heavy French.
'Non, mademoiselle, Winifred n'a jamais voulu me le faire voir. Tant de fois je le lui ai demande, "Qu'est ce donc que ce Bismarck, Winifred?" Mais elle n'a pas voulu me le dire. Son Bismarck, c'etait un mystere.'
'Oui, c'est un mystere, vraiment un mystere! Miss Brangwen, say that Bismarck is a mystery,' cried Winifred.
'Bismarck, is a mystery, Bismarck, c'est un mystere, der Bismarck, er ist ein Wunder,' said Gudrun, in mocking incantation.
'Ja, er ist ein Wunder,' repeated Winifred, with odd seriousness, under which lay a wicked chuckle.
'Ist er auch ein Wunder?' came the slightly insolent sneering of Mademoiselle.
'Doch!' said Winifred briefly, indifferent.
'Doch ist er nicht ein Konig. Beesmarck, he was not a king, Winifred, as you have said. He was only-il n'etait que chancelier.'
'Qu'est ce qu'un chancelier?' said Winifred, with slightly contemptuous indifference.
'A chancelier is a chancellor, and a chancellor is, I believe, a sort of judge,' said Gerald coming up and shaking hands with Gudrun. 'You'll have made a song of Bismarck soon,' said he.
Mademoiselle waited, and discreetly made her inclination, and her greeting.
'So they wouldn't let you see Bismarck, Mademoiselle?' he said.
'Ay, very mean of them. What are you going to do to him, Miss Brangwen? I want him sent to the kitchen and cooked.'
'Oh no,' cried Winifred.
'We're going to draw him,' said Gudrun.
'Draw him and quarter him and dish him up,' he said, being purposely fatuous.
'Oh no,' cried Winifred with emphasis, chuckling.
Gudrun detected the tang of mockery in him, and she looked up and smiled into his face. He felt his nerves caressed. Their eyes met in knowledge.
'How do you like Shortlands?' he asked.
'Oh, very much,' she said, with nonchalance.
'Glad you do. Have you noticed these flowers?'
He led her along the path. She followed intently. Winifred came, and the governess lingered in the rear. They stopped before some veined salpiglossis flowers.
'Aren't they wonderful?' she cried, looking at them absorbedly. Strange how her reverential, almost ecstatic admiration of the flowers caressed his nerves. She stooped down, and touched the trumpets, with infinitely fine and delicate-touching finger-tips. It filled him with ease to see her. When she rose, her eyes, hot with the beauty of the flowers, looked into his.
'What are they?' she asked.
'Sort of petunia, I suppose,' he answered. 'I don't really know them.'
'They are quite strangers to me,' she said.
They stood together in a false intimacy, a nervous contact. And he was in love with her.
She was aware of Mademoiselle standing near, like a little French beetle, observant and calculating. She moved away with Winifred, saying they would go to find Bismarck.
Gerald watched them go, looking all the while at the soft, full, still body of Gudrun, in its silky cashmere. How silky and rich and soft her body must be. An excess of appreciation came over his mind, she was the all-desirable, the all-beautiful. He wanted only to come to her, nothing more. He was only this, this being that should come to her, and be given to her.
At the same time he was finely and acutely aware of Mademoiselle's neat, brittle finality of form. She was like some elegant beetle with thin ankles, perched on her high heels, her glossy black dress perfectly correct, her dark hair done high and admirably. How repulsive her completeness and her finality was! He loathed her.
Yet he did admire her. She was perfectly correct. And it did rather annoy him, that Gudrun came dressed in startling colours, like a macaw, when the family was in mourning. Like a macaw she was! He watched the lingering way she took her feet from the ground. And her ankles were pale yellow, and her dress a deep blue. Yet it pleased him. It pleased him very much. He felt the challenge in her very attire-she challenged the whole world. And he smiled as to the note of a trumpet.
Gudrun and Winifred went through the house to the back, where were the stables and the out-buildings. Everywhere was still and deserted. Mr Crich had gone out for a short drive, the stableman had just led round Gerald's horse. The two girls went to the hutch that stood in a corner, and looked at the great black-and-white rabbit.
'Isn't he beautiful! Oh, do look at him listening! Doesn't he look silly!' she laughed quickly, then added 'Oh, do let's do him listening, do let us, he listens with so much of himself;-don't you darling Bismarck?'
'Can we take him out?' said Gudrun.
'He's very strong. He really is extremely strong.' She looked at Gudrun, her head on one side, in odd calculating mistrust.
'But we'll try, shall we?'
'Yes, if you like. But he's a fearful kicker!'
They took the key to unlock the door. The rabbit exploded in a wild rush round the hutch.
'He scratches most awfully sometimes,' cried Winifred in excitement. 'Oh do look at him, isn't he wonderful!' The rabbit tore round the hutch in a hurry. 'Bismarck!' cried the child, in rousing excitement. 'How DREADFUL you are! You are beastly.' Winifred looked up at Gudrun with some misgiving in her wild excitement. Gudrun smiled sardonically with her mouth. Winifred made a strange crooning noise of unaccountable excitement. 'Now he's still!' she cried, seeing the rabbit settled down in a far corner of the hutch. 'Shall we take him now?' she whispered excitedly, mysteriously, looking up at Gudrun and edging very close. 'Shall we get him now?-' she chuckled wickedly to herself.
They unlocked the door of the hutch. Gudrun thrust in her arm and seized the great, lusty rabbit as it crouched still, she grasped its long ears. It set its four feet flat, and thrust back. There was a long scraping sound as it was hauled forward, and in another instant it was in mid-air, lunging wildly, its body flying like a spring coiled and released, as it lashed out, suspended from the ears. Gudrun held the black-and-white tempest at arms' length, averting her face. But the rabbit was magically strong, it was all she could do to keep her grasp. She almost lost her presence of mind.
'Bismarck, Bismarck, you are behaving terribly,' said Winifred in a rather frightened voice, 'Oh, do put him down, he's beastly.'
Gudrun stood for a moment astounded by the thunder-storm that had sprung into being in her grip. Then her colour came up, a heavy rage came over her like a cloud. She stood shaken as a house in a storm, and utterly overcome. Her heart was arrested with fury at the mindlessness and the bestial stupidity of this struggle, her wrists were badly scored by the claws of the beast, a heavy cruelty welled up in her.
Gerald came round as she was trying to capture the flying rabbit under her arm. He saw, with subtle recognition, her sullen passion of cruelty.
'You should let one of the men do that for you,' he said hurrying up.
'Oh, he's SO horrid!' cried Winifred, almost frantic.
He held out his nervous, sinewy hand and took the rabbit by the ears, from Gudrun.
'It's most FEARFULLY strong,' she cried, in a high voice, like the crying a seagull, strange and vindictive.
The rabbit made itself into a ball in the air, and lashed out, flinging itself into a bow. It really seemed demoniacal. Gudrun saw Gerald's body tighten, saw a sharp blindness come into his eyes.
'I know these beggars of old,' he said.
The long, demon-like beast lashed out again, spread on the air as if it were flying, looking something like a dragon, then closing up again, inconceivably powerful and explosive. The man's body, strung to its efforts, vibrated strongly. Then a sudden sharp, white-edged wrath came up in him. Swift as lightning he drew back and brought his free hand down like a hawk on the neck of the rabbit. Simultaneously, there came the unearthly abhorrent scream of a rabbit in the fear of death. It made one immense writhe, tore his wrists and his sleeves in a final convulsion, all its belly flashed white in a whirlwind of paws, and then he had slung it round and had it under his arm, fast. It cowered and skulked. His face was gleaming with a smile.
'You wouldn't think there was all that force in a rabbit,' he said, looking at Gudrun. And he saw her eyes black as night in her pallid face, she looked almost unearthly. The scream of the rabbit, after the violent tussle, seemed to have torn the veil of her consciousness. He looked at her, and the whitish, electric gleam in his face intensified.
'I don't really like him,' Winifred was crooning. 'I don't care for him as I do for Loozie. He's hateful really.'
A smile twisted Gudrun's face, as she recovered. She knew she was revealed. 'Don't they make the most fearful noise when they scream?' she cried, the high note in her voice, like a sea-gull's cry.
'Abominable,' he said.
'He shouldn't be so silly when he has to be taken out,' Winifred was saying, putting out her hand and touching the rabbit tentatively, as it skulked under his arm, motionless as if it were dead.
'He's not dead, is he Gerald?' she asked.
'No, he ought to be,' he said.
'Yes, he ought!' cried the child, with a sudden flush of amusement. And she touched the rabbit with more confidence. 'His heart is beating SO fast. Isn't he funny? He really is.'
'Where do you want him?' asked Gerald.
'In the little green court,' she said.
Gudrun looked at Gerald with strange, darkened eyes, strained with underworld knowledge, almost supplicating, like those of a creature which is at his mercy, yet which is his ultimate victor. He did not know what to say to her. He felt the mutual hellish recognition. And he felt he ought to say something, to cover it. He had the power of lightning in his nerves, she seemed like a soft recipient of his magical, hideous white fire. He was unconfident, he had qualms of fear.
'Did he hurt you?' he asked.
'No,' she said.
'He's an insensible beast,' he said, turning his face away.
They came to the little court, which was shut in by old red walls in whose crevices wall-flowers were growing. The grass was soft and fine and old, a level floor carpeting the court, the sky was blue overhead. Gerald tossed the rabbit down. It crouched still and would not move. Gudrun watched it with faint horror.
'Why doesn't it move?' she cried.
'It's skulking,' he said.
She looked up at him, and a slight sinister smile contracted her white face.
'Isn't it a FOOL!' she cried. 'Isn't it a sickening FOOL?' The vindictive mockery in her voice made his brain quiver. Glancing up at him, into his eyes, she revealed again the mocking, white-cruel recognition. There was a league between them, abhorrent to them both. They were implicated with each other in abhorrent mysteries.
'How many scratches have you?' he asked, showing his hard forearm, white and hard and torn in red gashes.
'How really vile!' she cried, flushing with a sinister vision. 'Mine is nothing.'
She lifted her arm and showed a deep red score down the silken white flesh.
'What a devil!' he exclaimed. But it was as if he had had knowledge of her in the long red rent of her forearm, so silken and soft. He did not want to touch her. He would have to make himself touch her, deliberately. The long, shallow red rip seemed torn across his own brain, tearing the surface of his ultimate consciousness, letting through the forever unconscious, unthinkable red ether of the beyond, the obscene beyond.
'It doesn't hurt you very much, does it?' he asked, solicitous.
'Not at all,' she cried.
And suddenly the rabbit, which had been crouching as if it were a flower, so still and soft, suddenly burst into life. Round and round the court it went, as if shot from a gun, round and round like a furry meteorite, in a tense hard circle that seemed to bind their brains. They all stood in amazement, smiling uncannily, as if the rabbit were obeying some unknown incantation. Round and round it flew, on the grass under the old red walls like a storm.
And then quite suddenly it settled down, hobbled among the grass, and sat considering, its nose twitching like a bit of fluff in the wind. After having considered for a few minutes, a soft bunch with a black, open eye, which perhaps was looking at them, perhaps was not, it hobbled calmly forward and began to nibble the grass with that mean motion of a rabbit's quick eating.
'It's mad,' said Gudrun. 'It is most decidedly mad.'
'The question is,' he said, 'what is madness? I don't suppose it is rabbit-mad.'
'Don't you think it is?' she asked.
'No. That's what it is to be a rabbit.'
There was a queer, faint, obscene smile over his face. She looked at him and saw him, and knew that he was initiate as she was initiate. This thwarted her, and contravened her, for the moment.
'God be praised we aren't rabbits,' she said, in a high, shrill voice.
The smile intensified a little, on his face.
'Not rabbits?' he said, looking at her fixedly.
Slowly her face relaxed into a smile of obscene recognition.
'Ah Gerald,' she said, in a strong, slow, almost man-like way. '-All that, and more.' Her eyes looked up at him with shocking nonchalance.
He felt again as if she had torn him across the breast, dully, finally. He turned aside.
'Eat, eat my darling!' Winifred was softly conjuring the rabbit, and creeping forward to touch it. It hobbled away from her. 'Let its mother stroke its fur then, darling, because it is so mysterious-'