Chapter XXIII: Excurse
Next day Birkin sought Ursula out. It happened to be the half-day at the Grammar School. He appeared towards the end of the morning, and asked her, would she drive with him in the afternoon. She consented. But her face was closed and unresponding, and his heart sank.
The afternoon was fine and dim. He was driving the motor-car, and she sat beside him. But still her face was closed against him, unresponding. When she became like this, like a wall against him, his heart contracted.
His life now seemed so reduced, that he hardly cared any more. At moments it seemed to him he did not care a straw whether Ursula or Hermione or anybody else existed or did not exist. Why bother! Why strive for a coherent, satisfied life? Why not drift on in a series of accidents-like a picaresque novel? Why not? Why bother about human relationships? Why take them seriously-male or female? Why form any serious connections at all? Why not be casual, drifting along, taking all for what it was worth?
And yet, still, he was damned and doomed to the old effort at serious living.
'Look,' he said, 'what I bought.' The car was running along a broad white road, between autumn trees.
He gave her a little bit of screwed-up paper. She took it and opened it.
'How lovely,' she cried.
She examined the gift.
'How perfectly lovely!' she cried again. 'But why do you give them me?' She put the question offensively.
His face flickered with bored irritation. He shrugged his shoulders slightly.
'I wanted to,' he said, coolly.
'But why? Why should you?'
'Am I called on to find reasons?' he asked.
There was a silence, whilst she examined the rings that had been screwed up in the paper.
'I think they are BEAUTIFUL,' she said, 'especially this. This is wonderful-'
It was a round opal, red and fiery, set in a circle of tiny rubies.
'You like that best?' he said.
'I think I do.'
'I like the sapphire,' he said.
It was a rose-shaped, beautiful sapphire, with small brilliants.
'Yes,' she said, 'it is lovely.' She held it in the light. 'Yes, perhaps it IS the best-'
'The blue-' he said.
He suddenly swung the car out of the way of a farm-cart. It tilted on the bank. He was a careless driver, yet very quick. But Ursula was frightened. There was always that something regardless in him which terrified her. She suddenly felt he might kill her, by making some dreadful accident with the motor-car. For a moment she was stony with fear.
'Isn't it rather dangerous, the way you drive?' she asked him.
'No, it isn't dangerous,' he said. And then, after a pause: 'Don't you like the yellow ring at all?'
It was a squarish topaz set in a frame of steel, or some other similar mineral, finely wrought.
'Yes,' she said, 'I do like it. But why did you buy these rings?'
'I wanted them. They are second-hand.'
'You bought them for yourself?'
'No. Rings look wrong on my hands.'
'Why did you buy them then?'
'I bought them to give to you.'
'But why? Surely you ought to give them to Hermione! You belong to her.'
He did not answer. She remained with the jewels shut in her hand. She wanted to try them on her fingers, but something in her would not let her. And moreover, she was afraid her hands were too large, she shrank from the mortification of a failure to put them on any but her little finger. They travelled in silence through the empty lanes.
Driving in a motor-car excited her, she forgot his presence even.
'Where are we?' she asked suddenly.
'Not far from Worksop.'
'And where are we going?'
It was the answer she liked.
She opened her hand to look at the rings. They gave her SUCH pleasure, as they lay, the three circles, with their knotted jewels, entangled in her palm. She would have to try them on. She did so secretly, unwilling to let him see, so that he should not know her finger was too large for them. But he saw nevertheless. He always saw, if she wanted him not to. It was another of his hateful, watchful characteristics.
Only the opal, with its thin wire loop, would go on her ring finger. And she was superstitious. No, there was ill-portent enough, she would not accept this ring from him in pledge.
'Look,' she said, putting forward her hand, that was half-closed and shrinking. 'The others don't fit me.'
He looked at the red-glinting, soft stone, on her over-sensitive skin.
'Yes,' he said.
'But opals are unlucky, aren't they?' she said wistfully.
'No. I prefer unlucky things. Luck is vulgar. Who wants what LUCK would bring? I don't.'
'But why?' she laughed.
And, consumed with a desire to see how the other rings would look on her hand, she put them on her little finger.
'They can be made a little bigger,' he said.
'Yes,' she replied, doubtfully. And she sighed. She knew that, in accepting the rings, she was accepting a pledge. Yet fate seemed more than herself. She looked again at the jewels. They were very beautiful to her eyes-not as ornament, or wealth, but as tiny fragments of loveliness.
'I'm glad you bought them,' she said, putting her hand, half unwillingly, gently on his arm.
He smiled, slightly. He wanted her to come to him. But he was angry at the bottom of his soul, and indifferent. He knew she had a passion for him, really. But it was not finally interesting. There were depths of passion when one became impersonal and indifferent, unemotional. Whereas Ursula was still at the emotional personal level-always so abominably personal. He had taken her as he had never been taken himself. He had taken her at the roots of her darkness and shame-like a demon, laughing over the fountain of mystic corruption which was one of the sources of her being, laughing, shrugging, accepting, accepting finally. As for her, when would she so much go beyond herself as to accept him at the quick of death?
She now became quite happy. The motor-car ran on, the afternoon was soft and dim. She talked with lively interest, analysing people and their motives-Gudrun, Gerald. He answered vaguely. He was not very much interested any more in personalities and in people-people were all different, but they were all enclosed nowadays in a definite limitation, he said; there were only about two great ideas, two great streams of activity remaining, with various forms of reaction therefrom. The reactions were all varied in various people, but they followed a few great laws, and intrinsically there was no difference. They acted and reacted involuntarily according to a few great laws, and once the laws, the great principles, were known, people were no longer mystically interesting. They were all essentially alike, the differences were only variations on a theme. None of them transcended the given terms.
Ursula did not agree-people were still an adventure to her-but-perhaps not as much as she tried to persuade herself. Perhaps there was something mechanical, now, in her interest. Perhaps also her interest was destructive, her analysing was a real tearing to pieces. There was an under-space in her where she did not care for people and their idiosyncracies, even to destroy them. She seemed to touch for a moment this undersilence in herself, she became still, and she turned for a moment purely to Birkin.
'Won't it be lovely to go home in the dark?' she said. 'We might have tea rather late-shall we?-and have high tea? Wouldn't that be rather nice?'
'I promised to be at Shortlands for dinner,' he said.
'But-it doesn't matter-you can go tomorrow-'
'Hermione is there,' he said, in rather an uneasy voice. 'She is going away in two days. I suppose I ought to say good-bye to her. I shall never see her again.'
Ursula drew away, closed in a violent silence. He knitted his brows, and his eyes began to sparkle again in anger.
'You don't mind, do you?' he asked irritably.
'No, I don't care. Why should I? Why should I mind?' Her tone was jeering and offensive.
'That's what I ask myself,' he said; 'why SHOULD you mind! But you seem to.' His brows were tense with violent irritation.
'I ASSURE you I don't, I don't mind in the least. Go where you belong-it's what I want you to do.'
'Ah you fool!' he cried, 'with your "go where you belong." It's finished between Hermione and me. She means much more to YOU, if it comes to that, than she does to me. For you can only revolt in pure reaction from her-and to be her opposite is to be her counterpart.'
'Ah, opposite!' cried Ursula. 'I know your dodges. I am not taken in by your word-twisting. You belong to Hermione and her dead show. Well, if you do, you do. I don't blame you. But then you've nothing to do with me.
In his inflamed, overwrought exasperation, he stopped the car, and they sat there, in the middle of the country lane, to have it out. It was a crisis of war between them, so they did not see the ridiculousness of their situation.
'If you weren't a fool, if only you weren't a fool,' he cried in bitter despair, 'you'd see that one could be decent, even when one has been wrong. I WAS wrong to go on all those years with Hermione—it was a deathly process. But after all, one can have a little human decency. But no, you would tear my soul out with your jealousy at the very mention of Hermione's name.'
'I jealous! I—jealous! You ARE mistaken if you think that. I'm not jealous in the least of Hermione, she is nothing to me, not THAT!' And Ursula snapped her fingers. 'No, it's you who are a liar. It's you who must return, like a dog to his vomit. It is what Hermione STANDS FOR that I HATE. I HATE it. It is lies, it is false, it is death. But you want it, you can't help it, you can't help yourself. You belong to that old, deathly way of living—then go back to it. But don't come to me, for I've nothing to do with it.'
And in the stress of her violent emotion, she got down from the car and went to the hedgerow, picking unconsciously some flesh-pink spindleberries, some of which were burst, showing their orange seeds.
'Ah, you are a fool,' he cried, bitterly, with some contempt.
'Yes, I am. I AM a fool. And thank God for it. I'm too big a fool to swallow your cleverness. God be praised. You go to your women—go to them—they are your sort—you've always had a string of them trailing after you—and you always will. Go to your spiritual brides—but don't come to me as well, because I'm not having any, thank you. You're not satisfied, are you? Your spiritual brides can't give you what you want, they aren't common and fleshy enough for you, aren't they? So you come to me, and keep them in the background! You will marry me for daily use. But you'll keep yourself well provided with spiritual brides in the background. I know your dirty little game.' Suddenly a flame ran over her, and she stamped her foot madly on the road, and he winced, afraid that she would strike him. 'And I, I'M not spiritual enough, I'M not as spiritual as that Hermione—!' Her brows knitted, her eyes blazed like a tiger's. 'Then go to her, that's all I say, GO to her, GO. Ha, she spiritual—SPIRITUAL, she! A dirty materialist as she is. SHE spiritual? What does she care for, what is her spirituality? What IS it?' Her fury seemed to blaze out and burn his face. He shrank a little. 'I tell you it's DIRT, DIRT, and nothing BUT dirt. And it's dirt you want, you crave for it. Spiritual! Is THAT spiritual, her bullying, her conceit, her sordid materialism? She's a fishwife, a fishwife, she is such a materialist. And all so sordid. What does she work out to, in the end, with all her social passion, as you call it. Social passion—what social passion has she?—show it me!—where is it? She wants petty, immediate POWER, she wants the illusion that she is a great woman, that is all. In her soul she's a devilish unbeliever, common as dirt. That's what she is at the bottom. And all the rest is pretence—but you love it. You love the sham spirituality, it's your food. And why? Because of the dirt underneath. Do you think I don't know the foulness of your sex life—and her's?—I do. And it's that foulness you want, you liar. Then have it, have it. You're such a liar.'
She turned away, spasmodically tearing the twigs of spindleberry from the hedge, and fastening them, with vibrating fingers, in the bosom of her coat.
He stood watching in silence. A wonderful tenderness burned in him, at the sight of her quivering, so sensitive fingers: and at the same time he was full of rage and callousness.
'This is a degrading exhibition,' he said coolly.
'Yes, degrading indeed,' she said. 'But more to me than to you.'
'Since you choose to degrade yourself,' he said. Again the flash came over her face, the yellow lights concentrated in her eyes.
'YOU!' she cried. 'You! You truth-lover! You purity-monger! It STINKS, your truth and your purity. It stinks of the offal you feed on, you scavenger dog, you eater of corpses. You are foul, FOUL and you must know it. Your purity, your candour, your goodness—yes, thank you, we've had some. What you are is a foul, deathly thing, obscene, that's what you are, obscene and perverse. You, and love! You may well say, you don't want love. No, you want YOURSELF, and dirt, and death—that's what you want. You are so PERVERSE, so death-eating. And then—'
'There's a bicycle coming,' he said, writhing under her loud denunciation.
She glanced down the road.
'I don't care,' she cried.
Nevertheless she was silent. The cyclist, having heard the voices raised in altercation, glanced curiously at the man, and the woman, and at the standing motor-car as he passed.
'—Afternoon,' he said, cheerfully.
'Good-afternoon,' replied Birkin coldly.
They were silent as the man passed into the distance.
A clearer look had come over Birkin's face. He knew she was in the main right. He knew he was perverse, so spiritual on the one hand, and in some strange way, degraded, on the other. But was she herself any better? Was anybody any better?
'It may all be true, lies and stink and all,' he said. 'But Hermione's spiritual intimacy is no rottener than your emotional-jealous intimacy. One can preserve the decencies, even to one's enemies: for one's own sake. Hermione is my enemy—to her last breath! That's why I must bow her off the field.'
'You! You and your enemies and your bows! A pretty picture you make of yourself. But it takes nobody in but yourself. I JEALOUS! I! What I say,' her voice sprang into flame, 'I say because it is TRUE, do you see, because you are YOU, a foul and false liar, a whited sepulchre. That's why I say it. And YOU hear it.'
'And be grateful,' he added, with a satirical grimace.
'Yes,' she cried, 'and if you have a spark of decency in you, be grateful.'
'Not having a spark of decency, however—' he retorted.
'No,' she cried, 'you haven't a SPARK. And so you can go your way, and I'll go mine. It's no good, not the slightest. So you can leave me now, I don't want to go any further with you—leave me—'
'You don't even know where you are,' he said.
'Oh, don't bother, I assure you I shall be all right. I've got ten shillings in my purse, and that will take me back from anywhere YOU have brought me to.' She hesitated. The rings were still on her fingers, two on her little finger, one on her ring finger. Still she hesitated.
'Very good,' he said. 'The only hopeless thing is a fool.'
'You are quite right,' she said.
Still she hesitated. Then an ugly, malevolent look came over her face, she pulled the rings from her fingers, and tossed them at him. One touched his face, the others hit his coat, and they scattered into the mud.
'And take your rings,' she said, 'and go and buy yourself a female elsewhere—there are plenty to be had, who will be quite glad to share your spiritual mess,—or to have your physical mess, and leave your spiritual mess to Hermione.'
With which she walked away, desultorily, up the road. He stood motionless, watching her sullen, rather ugly walk. She was sullenly picking and pulling at the twigs of the hedge as she passed. She grew smaller, she seemed to pass out of his sight. A darkness came over his mind. Only a small, mechanical speck of consciousness hovered near him.
He felt tired and weak. Yet also he was relieved. He gave up his old position. He went and sat on the bank. No doubt Ursula was right. It was true, really, what she said. He knew that his spirituality was concomitant of a process of depravity, a sort of pleasure in self-destruction. There really WAS a certain stimulant in self-destruction, for him—especially when it was translated spiritually. But then he knew it—he knew it, and had done. And was not Ursula's way of emotional intimacy, emotional and physical, was it not just as dangerous as Hermione's abstract spiritual intimacy? Fusion, fusion, this horrible fusion of two beings, which every woman and most men insisted on, was it not nauseous and horrible anyhow, whether it was a fusion of the spirit or of the emotional body? Hermione saw herself as the perfect Idea, to which all men must come: And Ursula was the perfect Womb, the bath of birth, to which all men must come! And both were horrible. Why could they not remain individuals, limited by their own limits? Why this dreadful all-comprehensiveness, this hateful tyranny? Why not leave the other being, free, why try to absorb, or melt, or merge? One might abandon oneself utterly to the MOMENTS, but not to any other being.
He could not bear to see the rings lying in the pale mud of the road. He picked them up, and wiped them unconsciously on his hands. They were the little tokens of the reality of beauty, the reality of happiness in warm creation. But he had made his hands all dirty and gritty.
There was a darkness over his mind. The terrible knot of consciousness that had persisted there like an obsession was broken, gone, his life was dissolved in darkness over his limbs and his body. But there was a point of anxiety in his heart now. He wanted her to come back. He breathed lightly and regularly like an infant, that breathes innocently, beyond the touch of responsibility.
She was coming back. He saw her drifting desultorily under the high hedge, advancing towards him slowly. He did not move, he did not look again. He was as if asleep, at peace, slumbering and utterly relaxed.
She came up and stood before him, hanging her head.
'See what a flower I found you,' she said, wistfully holding a piece of purple-red bell-heather under his face. He saw the clump of coloured bells, and the tree-like, tiny branch: also her hands, with their over-fine, over-sensitive skin.
'Pretty!' he said, looking up at her with a smile, taking the flower. Everything had become simple again, quite simple, the complexity gone into nowhere. But he badly wanted to cry: except that he was weary and bored by emotion.
Then a hot passion of tenderness for her filled his heart. He stood up and looked into her face. It was new and oh, so delicate in its luminous wonder and fear. He put his arms round her, and she hid her face on his shoulder.
It was peace, just simple peace, as he stood folding her quietly there on the open lane. It was peace at last. The old, detestable world of tension had passed away at last, his soul was strong and at ease.
She looked up at him. The wonderful yellow light in her eyes now was soft and yielded, they were at peace with each other. He kissed her, softly, many, many times. A laugh came into her eyes.
'Did I abuse you?' she asked.
He smiled too, and took her hand, that was so soft and given.
'Never mind,' she said, 'it is all for the good.' He kissed her again, softly, many times.
'Isn't it?' she said.
'Certainly,' he replied. 'Wait! I shall have my own back.'
She laughed suddenly, with a wild catch in her voice, and flung her arms around him.
'You are mine, my love, aren't you?' she cried straining him close.
'Yes,' he said, softly.
His voice was so soft and final, she went very still, as if under a fate which had taken her. Yes, she acquiesced—but it was accomplished without her acquiescence. He was kissing her quietly, repeatedly, with a soft, still happiness that almost made her heart stop beating.
'My love!' she cried, lifting her face and looking with frightened, gentle wonder of bliss. Was it all real? But his eyes were beautiful and soft and immune from stress or excitement, beautiful and smiling lightly to her, smiling with her. She hid her face on his shoulder, hiding before him, because he could see her so completely. She knew he loved her, and she was afraid, she was in a strange element, a new heaven round about her. She wished he were passionate, because in passion she was at home. But this was so still and frail, as space is more frightening than force.
Again, quickly, she lifted her head.
'Do you love me?' she said, quickly, impulsively.
'Yes,' he replied, not heeding her motion, only her stillness.
She knew it was true. She broke away.
'So you ought,' she said, turning round to look at the road. 'Did you find the rings?'
'Where are they?'
'In my pocket.'
She put her hand into his pocket and took them out.
She was restless.
'Shall we go?' she said.
'Yes,' he answered. And they mounted to the car once more, and left behind them this memorable battle-field.
They drifted through the wild, late afternoon, in a beautiful motion that was smiling and transcendent. His mind was sweetly at ease, the life flowed through him as from some new fountain, he was as if born out of the cramp of a womb.
'Are you happy?' she asked him, in her strange, delighted way.
'Yes,' he said.
'So am I,' she cried in sudden ecstacy, putting her arm round him and clutching him violently against her, as he steered the motor-car.
'Don't drive much more,' she said. 'I don't want you to be always doing something.'
'No,' he said. 'We'll finish this little trip, and then we'll be free.'
'We will, my love, we will,' she cried in delight, kissing him as he turned to her.
He drove on in a strange new wakefulness, the tension of his consciousness broken. He seemed to be conscious all over, all his body awake with a simple, glimmering awareness, as if he had just come awake, like a thing that is born, like a bird when it comes out of an egg, into a new universe.
They dropped down a long hill in the dusk, and suddenly Ursula recognised on her right hand, below in the hollow, the form of Southwell Minster.
'Are we here!' she cried with pleasure.
The rigid, sombre, ugly cathedral was settling under the gloom of the coming night, as they entered the narrow town, the golden lights showed like slabs of revelation, in the shop-windows.
'Father came here with mother,' she said, 'when they first knew each other. He loves it—he loves the Minster. Do you?'
'Yes. It looks like quartz crystals sticking up out of the dark hollow. We'll have our high tea at the Saracen's Head.'
As they descended, they heard the Minster bells playing a hymn, when the hour had struck six.
Glory to thee my God this night
For all the blessings of the light—
So, to Ursula's ear, the tune fell out, drop by drop, from the unseen sky on to the dusky town. It was like dim, bygone centuries sounding. It was all so far off. She stood in the old yard of the inn, smelling of straw and stables and petrol. Above, she could see the first stars. What was it all? This was no actual world, it was the dream-world of one's childhood—a great circumscribed reminiscence. The world had become unreal. She herself was a strange, transcendent reality.
They sat together in a little parlour by the fire.
'Is it true?' she said, wondering.
'Everything—is everything true?'
'The best is true,' he said, grimacing at her.
'Is it?' she replied, laughing, but unassured.
She looked at him. He seemed still so separate. New eyes were opened in her soul. She saw a strange creature from another world, in him. It was as if she were enchanted, and everything were metamorphosed. She recalled again the old magic of the Book of Genesis, where the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair. And he was one of these, one of these strange creatures from the beyond, looking down at her, and seeing she was fair.
He stood on the hearth-rug looking at her, at her face that was upturned exactly like a flower, a fresh, luminous flower, glinting faintly golden with the dew of the first light. And he was smiling faintly as if there were no speech in the world, save the silent delight of flowers in each other. Smilingly they delighted in each other's presence, pure presence, not to be thought of, even known. But his eyes had a faintly ironical contraction.
And she was drawn to him strangely, as in a spell. Kneeling on the hearth-rug before him, she put her arms round his loins, and put her face against his thigh. Riches! Riches! She was overwhelmed with a sense of a heavenful of riches.
'We love each other,' she said in delight.
'More than that,' he answered, looking down at her with his glimmering, easy face.
Unconsciously, with her sensitive fingertips, she was tracing the back of his thighs, following some mysterious life-flow there. She had discovered something, something more than wonderful, more wonderful than life itself. It was the strange mystery of his life-motion, there, at the back of the thighs, down the flanks. It was a strange reality of his being, the very stuff of being, there in the straight downflow of the thighs. It was here she discovered him one of the sons of God such as were in the beginning of the world, not a man, something other, something more.
This was release at last. She had had lovers, she had known passion. But this was neither love nor passion. It was the daughters of men coming back to the sons of God, the strange inhuman sons of God who are in the beginning.
Her face was now one dazzle of released, golden light, as she looked up at him, and laid her hands full on his thighs, behind, as he stood before her. He looked down at her with a rich bright brow like a diadem above his eyes. She was beautiful as a new marvellous flower opened at his knees, a paradisal flower she was, beyond womanhood, such a flower of luminousness. Yet something was tight and unfree in him. He did not like this crouching, this radiance—not altogether.
It was all achieved, for her. She had found one of the sons of God from the Beginning, and he had found one of the first most luminous daughters of men.
She traced with her hands the line of his loins and thighs, at the back, and a living fire ran through her, from him, darkly. It was a dark flood of electric passion she released from him, drew into herself. She had established a rich new circuit, a new current of passional electric energy, between the two of them, released from the darkest poles of the body and established in perfect circuit. It was a dark fire of electricity that rushed from him to her, and flooded them both with rich peace, satisfaction.
'My love,' she cried, lifting her face to him, her eyes, her mouth open in transport.
'My love,' he answered, bending and kissing her, always kissing her.
She closed her hands over the full, rounded body of his loins, as he stooped over her, she seemed to touch the quick of the mystery of darkness that was bodily him. She seemed to faint beneath, and he seemed to faint, stooping over her. It was a perfect passing away for both of them, and at the same time the most intolerable accession into being, the marvellous fullness of immediate gratification, overwhelming, out-flooding from the source of the deepest life-force, the darkest, deepest, strangest life-source of the human body, at the back and base of the loins.
After a lapse of stillness, after the rivers of strange dark fluid richness had passed over her, flooding, carrying away her mind and flooding down her spine and down her knees, past her feet, a strange flood, sweeping away everything and leaving her an essential new being, she was left quite free, she was free in complete ease, her complete self. So she rose, stilly and blithe, smiling at him. He stood before her, glimmering, so awfully real, that her heart almost stopped beating. He stood there in his strange, whole body, that had its marvellous fountains, like the bodies of the sons of God who were in the beginning. There were strange fountains of his body, more mysterious and potent than any she had imagined or known, more satisfying, ah, finally, mystically-physically satisfying. She had thought there was no source deeper than the phallic source. And now, behold, from the smitten rock of the man's body, from the strange marvellous flanks and thighs, deeper, further in mystery than the phallic source, came the floods of ineffable darkness and ineffable riches.
They were glad, and they could forget perfectly. They laughed, and went to the meal provided. There was a venison pasty, of all things, a large broad-faced cut ham, eggs and cresses and red beet-root, and medlars and apple-tart, and tea.
'What GOOD things!' she cried with pleasure. 'How noble it looks!—shall I pour out the tea?—'
She was usually nervous and uncertain at performing these public duties, such as giving tea. But today she forgot, she was at her ease, entirely forgetting to have misgivings. The tea-pot poured beautifully from a proud slender spout. Her eyes were warm with smiles as she gave him his tea. She had learned at last to be still and perfect.
'Everything is ours,' she said to him.
'Everything,' he answered.
She gave a queer little crowing sound of triumph.
'I'm so glad!' she cried, with unspeakable relief.
'So am I,' he said. 'But I'm thinking we'd better get out of our responsibilities as quick as we can.'
'What responsibilities?' she asked, wondering.
'We must drop our jobs, like a shot.'
A new understanding dawned into her face.
'Of course,' she said, 'there's that.'
'We must get out,' he said. 'There's nothing for it but to get out, quick.'
She looked at him doubtfully across the table.
'But where?' she said.
'I don't know,' he said. 'We'll just wander about for a bit.'
Again she looked at him quizzically.
'I should be perfectly happy at the Mill,' she said.
'It's very near the old thing,' he said. 'Let us wander a bit.'
His voice could be so soft and happy-go-lucky, it went through her veins like an exhilaration. Nevertheless she dreamed of a valley, and wild gardens, and peace. She had a desire too for splendour—an aristocratic extravagant splendour. Wandering seemed to her like restlessness, dissatisfaction.
'Where will you wander to?' she asked.
'I don't know. I feel as if I would just meet you and we'd set off—just towards the distance.'
'But where can one go?' she asked anxiously. 'After all, there is only the world, and none of it is very distant.'
'Still,' he said, 'I should like to go with you—nowhere. It would be rather wandering just to nowhere. That's the place to get to—nowhere. One wants to wander away from the world's somewheres, into our own nowhere.'
Still she meditated.
'You see, my love,' she said, 'I'm so afraid that while we are only people, we've got to take the world that's given—because there isn't any other.'
'Yes there is,' he said. 'There's somewhere where we can be free—somewhere where one needn't wear much clothes—none even—where one meets a few people who have gone through enough, and can take things for granted—where you be yourself, without bothering. There is somewhere—there are one or two people—'
'But where—?' she sighed.
'Somewhere—anywhere. Let's wander off. That's the thing to do—let's wander off.'
'Yes—' she said, thrilled at the thought of travel. But to her it was only travel.
'To be free,' he said. 'To be free, in a free place, with a few other people!'
'Yes,' she said wistfully. Those 'few other people' depressed her.
'It isn't really a locality, though,' he said. 'It's a perfected relation between you and me, and others—the perfect relation—so that we are free together.'
'It is, my love, isn't it,' she said. 'It's you and me. It's you and me, isn't it?' She stretched out her arms to him. He went across and stooped to kiss her face. Her arms closed round him again, her hands spread upon his shoulders, moving slowly there, moving slowly on his back, down his back slowly, with a strange recurrent, rhythmic motion, yet moving slowly down, pressing mysteriously over his loins, over his flanks. The sense of the awfulness of riches that could never be impaired flooded her mind like a swoon, a death in most marvellous possession, mystic-sure. She possessed him so utterly and intolerably, that she herself lapsed out. And yet she was only sitting still in the chair, with her hands pressed upon him, and lost.
Again he softly kissed her.
'We shall never go apart again,' he murmured quietly. And she did not speak, but only pressed her hands firmer down upon the source of darkness in him.
They decided, when they woke again from the pure swoon, to write their resignations from the world of work there and then. She wanted this.
He rang the bell, and ordered note-paper without a printed address. The waiter cleared the table.
'Now then,' he said, 'yours first. Put your home address, and the date—then "Director of Education, Town Hall—Sir—" Now then!—I don't know how one really stands—I suppose one could get out of it in less than month—Anyhow "Sir—I beg to resign my post as classmistress in the Willey Green Grammar School. I should be very grateful if you would liberate me as soon as possible, without waiting for the expiration of the month's notice." That'll do. Have you got it? Let me look. "Ursula Brangwen." Good! Now I'll write mine. I ought to give them three months, but I can plead health. I can arrange it all right.'
He sat and wrote out his formal resignation.
'Now,' he said, when the envelopes were sealed and addressed, 'shall we post them here, both together? I know Jackie will say, "Here's a coincidence!" when he receives them in all their identity. Shall we let him say it, or not?'
'I don't care,' she said.
'No—?' he said, pondering.
'It doesn't matter, does it?' she said.
'Yes,' he replied. 'Their imaginations shall not work on us. I'll post yours here, mine after. I cannot be implicated in their imaginings.'
He looked at her with his strange, non-human singleness.
'Yes, you are right,' she said.
She lifted her face to him, all shining and open. It was as if he might enter straight into the source of her radiance. His face became a little distracted.
'Shall we go?' he said.
'As you like,' she replied.
They were soon out of the little town, and running through the uneven lanes of the country. Ursula nestled near him, into his constant warmth, and watched the pale-lit revelation racing ahead, the visible night. Sometimes it was a wide old road, with grass-spaces on either side, flying magic and elfin in the greenish illumination, sometimes it was trees looming overhead, sometimes it was bramble bushes, sometimes the walls of a crew-yard and the butt of a barn.
'Are you going to Shortlands to dinner?' Ursula asked him suddenly. He started.
'Good God!' he said. 'Shortlands! Never again. Not that. Besides we should be too late.'
'Where are we going then—to the Mill?'
'If you like. Pity to go anywhere on this good dark night. Pity to come out of it, really. Pity we can't stop in the good darkness. It is better than anything ever would be—this good immediate darkness.'
She sat wondering. The car lurched and swayed. She knew there was no leaving him, the darkness held them both and contained them, it was not to be surpassed Besides she had a full mystic knowledge of his suave loins of darkness, dark-clad and suave, and in this knowledge there was some of the inevitability and the beauty of fate, fate which one asks for, which one accepts in full.
He sat still like an Egyptian Pharoah, driving the car. He felt as if he were seated in immemorial potency, like the great carven statues of real Egypt, as real and as fulfilled with subtle strength, as these are, with a vague inscrutable smile on the lips. He knew what it was to have the strange and magical current of force in his back and loins, and down his legs, force so perfect that it stayed him immobile, and left his face subtly, mindlessly smiling. He knew what it was to be awake and potent in that other basic mind, the deepest physical mind. And from this source he had a pure and magic control, magical, mystical, a force in darkness, like electricity.
It was very difficult to speak, it was so perfect to sit in this pure living silence, subtle, full of unthinkable knowledge and unthinkable force, upheld immemorially in timeless force, like the immobile, supremely potent Egyptians, seated forever in their living, subtle silence.
'We need not go home,' he said. 'This car has seats that let down and make a bed, and we can lift the hood.'
She was glad and frightened. She cowered near to him.
'But what about them at home?' she said.
'Send a telegram.'
Nothing more was said. They ran on in silence. But with a sort of second consciousness he steered the car towards a destination. For he had the free intelligence to direct his own ends. His arms and his breast and his head were rounded and living like those of the Greek, he had not the unawakened straight arms of the Egyptian, nor the sealed, slumbering head. A lambent intelligence played secondarily above his pure Egyptian concentration in darkness.
They came to a village that lined along the road. The car crept slowly along, until he saw the post-office. Then he pulled up.
'I will send a telegram to your father,' he said. 'I will merely say "spending the night in town," shall I?'
'Yes,' she answered. She did not want to be disturbed into taking thought.
She watched him move into the post-office. It was also a shop, she saw. Strange, he was. Even as he went into the lighted, public place he remained dark and magic, the living silence seemed the body of reality in him, subtle, potent, indiscoverable. There he was! In a strange uplift of elation she saw him, the being never to be revealed, awful in its potency, mystic and real. This dark, subtle reality of him, never to be translated, liberated her into perfection, her own perfected being. She too was dark and fulfilled in silence.
He came out, throwing some packages into the car.
'There is some bread, and cheese, and raisins, and apples, and hard chocolate,' he said, in his voice that was as if laughing, because of the unblemished stillness and force which was the reality in him. She would have to touch him. To speak, to see, was nothing. It was a travesty to look and to comprehend the man there. Darkness and silence must fall perfectly on her, then she could know mystically, in unrevealed touch. She must lightly, mindlessly connect with him, have the knowledge which is death of knowledge, the reality of surety in not-knowing.
Soon they had run on again into the darkness. She did not ask where they were going, she did not care. She sat in a fullness and a pure potency that was like apathy, mindless and immobile. She was next to him, and hung in a pure rest, as a star is hung, balanced unthinkably. Still there remained a dark lambency of anticipation. She would touch him. With perfect fine finger-tips of reality she would touch the reality in him, the suave, pure, untranslatable reality of his loins of darkness. To touch, mindlessly in darkness to come in pure touching upon the living reality of him, his suave perfect loins and thighs of darkness, this was her sustaining anticipation.
And he too waited in the magical steadfastness of suspense, for her to take this knowledge of him as he had taken it of her. He knew her darkly, with the fullness of dark knowledge. Now she would know him, and he too would be liberated. He would be night-free, like an Egyptian, steadfast in perfectly suspended equilibrium, pure mystic nodality of physical being. They would give each other this star-equilibrium which alone is freedom.
She saw that they were running among trees—great old trees with dying bracken undergrowth. The palish, gnarled trunks showed ghostly, and like old priests in the hovering distance, the fern rose magical and mysterious. It was a night all darkness, with low cloud. The motor-car advanced slowly.
'Where are we?' she whispered.
'In Sherwood Forest.'
It was evident he knew the place. He drove softly, watching. Then they came to a green road between the trees. They turned cautiously round, and were advancing between the oaks of the forest, down a green lane. The green lane widened into a little circle of grass, where there was a small trickle of water at the bottom of a sloping bank. The car stopped.
'We will stay here,' he said, 'and put out the lights.'
He extinguished the lamps at once, and it was pure night, with shadows of trees like realities of other, nightly being. He threw a rug on to the bracken, and they sat in stillness and mindless silence. There were faint sounds from the wood, but no disturbance, no possible disturbance, the world was under a strange ban, a new mystery had supervened. They threw off their clothes, and he gathered her to him, and found her, found the pure lambent reality of her forever invisible flesh. Quenched, inhuman, his fingers upon her unrevealed nudity were the fingers of silence upon silence, the body of mysterious night upon the body of mysterious night, the night masculine and feminine, never to be seen with the eye, or known with the mind, only known as a palpable revelation of living otherness.
She had her desire of him, she touched, she received the maximum of unspeakable communication in touch, dark, subtle, positively silent, a magnificent gift and give again, a perfect acceptance and yielding, a mystery, the reality of that which can never be known, vital, sensual reality that can never be transmuted into mind content, but remains outside, living body of darkness and silence and subtlety, the mystic body of reality. She had her desire fulfilled. He had his desire fulfilled. For she was to him what he was to her, the immemorial magnificence of mystic, palpable, real otherness.
They slept the chilly night through under the hood of the car, a night of unbroken sleep. It was already high day when he awoke. They looked at each other and laughed, then looked away, filled with darkness and secrecy. Then they kissed and remembered the magnificence of the night. It was so magnificent, such an inheritance of a universe of dark reality, that they were afraid to seem to remember. They hid away the remembrance and the knowledge.