CHAPTER VI. Creme de Menthe 5 страница

'London. So are you, I suppose.'

'Yes--'

Gerald's eyes went over Birkin's face in curiosity.

'We'll travel together if you like,' he said.

'Don't you usually go first?' asked Birkin.

'I can't stand the crowd,' replied Gerald. 'But third'll be all right.

There's a restaurant car, we can have some tea.'

The two men looked at the station clock, having nothing further to say.

'What were you reading in the paper?' Birkin asked.

Gerald looked at him quickly.

'Isn't it funny, what they DO put in the newspapers,' he said. 'Here

are two leaders--' he held out his DAILY TELEGRAPH, 'full of the

ordinary newspaper cant--' he scanned the columns down--'and then

there's this little--I dunno what you'd call it, essay,

almost--appearing with the leaders, and saying there must arise a man

who will give new values to things, give us new truths, a new attitude

to life, or else we shall be a crumbling nothingness in a few years, a

country in ruin--'

'I suppose that's a bit of newspaper cant, as well,' said Birkin.

'It sounds as if the man meant it, and quite genuinely,' said Gerald.

'Give it to me,' said Birkin, holding out his hand for the paper.

The train came, and they went on board, sitting on either side a little

table, by the window, in the restaurant car. Birkin glanced over his

paper, then looked up at Gerald, who was waiting for him.

'I believe the man means it,' he said, 'as far as he means anything.'

'And do you think it's true? Do you think we really want a new gospel?'

asked Gerald.

Birkin shrugged his shoulders.

'I think the people who say they want a new religion are the last to

accept anything new. They want novelty right enough. But to stare

straight at this life that we've brought upon ourselves, and reject it,

absolutely smash up the old idols of ourselves, that we sh'll never do.

You've got very badly to want to get rid of the old, before anything

new will appear--even in the self.'

Gerald watched him closely.

'You think we ought to break up this life, just start and let fly?' he

asked.

'This life. Yes I do. We've got to bust it completely, or shrivel

inside it, as in a tight skin. For it won't expand any more.'

There was a queer little smile in Gerald's eyes, a look of amusement,

calm and curious.

'And how do you propose to begin? I suppose you mean, reform the whole

order of society?' he asked.

Birkin had a slight, tense frown between the brows. He too was

impatient of the conversation.

'I don't propose at all,' he replied. 'When we really want to go for

something better, we shall smash the old. Until then, any sort of

proposal, or making proposals, is no more than a tiresome game for

self-important people.'

The little smile began to die out of Gerald's eyes, and he said,

looking with a cool stare at Birkin:

'So you really think things are very bad?'

'Completely bad.'

The smile appeared again.

'In what way?'

'Every way,' said Birkin. 'We are such dreary liars. Our one idea is to

lie to ourselves. We have an ideal of a perfect world, clean and

straight and sufficient. So we cover the earth with foulness; life is a

blotch of labour, like insects scurrying in filth, so that your collier

can have a pianoforte in his parlour, and you can have a butler and a

motor-car in your up-to-date house, and as a nation we can sport the

Ritz, or the Empire, Gaby Deslys and the Sunday newspapers. It is very

dreary.'

Gerald took a little time to re-adjust himself after this tirade.

'Would you have us live without houses--return to nature?' he asked.

'I would have nothing at all. People only do what they want to do--and

what they are capable of doing. If they were capable of anything else,

there would be something else.'

Again Gerald pondered. He was not going to take offence at Birkin.

'Don't you think the collier's PIANOFORTE, as you call it, is a symbol

for something very real, a real desire for something higher, in the



collier's life?'

'Higher!' cried Birkin. 'Yes. Amazing heights of upright grandeur. It

makes him so much higher in his neighbouring collier's eyes. He sees

himself reflected in the neighbouring opinion, like in a Brocken mist,

several feet taller on the strength of the pianoforte, and he is

satisfied. He lives for the sake of that Brocken spectre, the

reflection of himself in the human opinion. You do the same. If you are

of high importance to humanity you are of high importance to yourself.

That is why you work so hard at the mines. If you can produce coal to

cook five thousand dinners a day, you are five thousand times more

important than if you cooked only your own dinner.'

'I suppose I am,' laughed Gerald.

'Can't you see,' said Birkin, 'that to help my neighbour to eat is no

more than eating myself. "I eat, thou eatest, he eats, we eat, you eat,

they eat"--and what then? Why should every man decline the whole verb.

First person singular is enough for me.'

'You've got to start with material things,' said Gerald. Which

statement Birkin ignored.

'And we've got to live for SOMETHING, we're not just cattle that can

graze and have done with it,' said Gerald.

'Tell me,' said Birkin. 'What do you live for?'

Gerald's face went baffled.

'What do I live for?' he repeated. 'I suppose I live to work, to

produce something, in so far as I am a purposive being. Apart from

that, I live because I am living.'

'And what's your work? Getting so many more thousands of tons of coal

out of the earth every day. And when we've got all the coal we want,

and all the plush furniture, and pianofortes, and the rabbits are all

stewed and eaten, and we're all warm and our bellies are filled and

we're listening to the young lady performing on the pianoforte--what

then? What then, when you've made a real fair start with your material

things?'

Gerald sat laughing at the words and the mocking humour of the other

man. But he was cogitating too.

'We haven't got there yet,' he replied. 'A good many people are still

waiting for the rabbit and the fire to cook it.'

'So while you get the coal I must chase the rabbit?' said Birkin,

mocking at Gerald.

'Something like that,' said Gerald.

Birkin watched him narrowly. He saw the perfect good-humoured

callousness, even strange, glistening malice, in Gerald, glistening

through the plausible ethics of productivity.

'Gerald,' he said, 'I rather hate you.'

'I know you do,' said Gerald. 'Why do you?'

Birkin mused inscrutably for some minutes.

'I should like to know if you are conscious of hating me,' he said at

last. 'Do you ever consciously detest me--hate me with mystic hate?

There are odd moments when I hate you starrily.'

Gerald was rather taken aback, even a little disconcerted. He did not

quite know what to say.

'I may, of course, hate you sometimes,' he said. 'But I'm not aware of

it--never acutely aware of it, that is.'

'So much the worse,' said Birkin.

Gerald watched him with curious eyes. He could not quite make him out.

'So much the worse, is it?' he repeated.

There was a silence between the two men for some time, as the train ran

on. In Birkin's face was a little irritable tension, a sharp knitting

of the brows, keen and difficult. Gerald watched him warily, carefully,

rather calculatingly, for he could not decide what he was after.

Suddenly Birkin's eyes looked straight and overpowering into those of

the other man.

'What do you think is the aim and object of your life, Gerald?' he

asked.

Again Gerald was taken aback. He could not think what his friend was

getting at. Was he poking fun, or not?

'At this moment, I couldn't say off-hand,' he replied, with faintly

ironic humour.

'Do you think love is the be-all and the end-all of life?' Birkin

asked, with direct, attentive seriousness.

'Of my own life?' said Gerald.

'Yes.'

There was a really puzzled pause.

'I can't say,' said Gerald. 'It hasn't been, so far.'

'What has your life been, so far?'

'Oh--finding out things for myself--and getting experiences--and making

things GO.'

Birkin knitted his brows like sharply moulded steel.

'I find,' he said, 'that one needs some one REALLY pure single

activity--I should call love a single pure activity. But I DON'T really

love anybody--not now.'

'Have you ever really loved anybody?' asked Gerald.

'Yes and no,' replied Birkin.

'Not finally?' said Gerald.

'Finally--finally--no,' said Birkin.

'Nor I,' said Gerald.

'And do you want to?' said Birkin.

Gerald looked with a long, twinkling, almost sardonic look into the

eyes of the other man.

'I don't know,' he said.

'I do--I want to love,' said Birkin.

'You do?'

'Yes. I want the finality of love.'

'The finality of love,' repeated Gerald. And he waited for a moment.

'Just one woman?' he added. The evening light, flooding yellow along

the fields, lit up Birkin's face with a tense, abstract steadfastness.

Gerald still could not make it out.

'Yes, one woman,' said Birkin.

But to Gerald it sounded as if he were insistent rather than confident.

'I don't believe a woman, and nothing but a woman, will ever make my

life,' said Gerald.

'Not the centre and core of it--the love between you and a woman?'

asked Birkin.

Gerald's eyes narrowed with a queer dangerous smile as he watched the

other man.

'I never quite feel it that way,' he said.

'You don't? Then wherein does life centre, for you?'

'I don't know--that's what I want somebody to tell me. As far as I can

make out, it doesn't centre at all. It is artificially held TOGETHER by

the social mechanism.'

Birkin pondered as if he would crack something.

'I know,' he said, 'it just doesn't centre. The old ideals are dead as

nails--nothing there. It seems to me there remains only this perfect

union with a woman--sort of ultimate marriage--and there isn't anything

else.'

'And you mean if there isn't the woman, there's nothing?' said Gerald.

'Pretty well that--seeing there's no God.'

'Then we're hard put to it,' said Gerald. And he turned to look out of

the window at the flying, golden landscape.

Birkin could not help seeing how beautiful and soldierly his face was,

with a certain courage to be indifferent.

'You think its heavy odds against us?' said Birkin.

'If we've got to make our life up out of a woman, one woman, woman

only, yes, I do,' said Gerald. 'I don't believe I shall ever make up MY

life, at that rate.'

Birkin watched him almost angrily.

'You are a born unbeliever,' he said.

'I only feel what I feel,' said Gerald. And he looked again at Birkin

almost sardonically, with his blue, manly, sharp-lighted eyes. Birkin's

eyes were at the moment full of anger. But swiftly they became

troubled, doubtful, then full of a warm, rich affectionateness and

laughter.

'It troubles me very much, Gerald,' he said, wrinkling his brows.

'I can see it does,' said Gerald, uncovering his mouth in a manly,

quick, soldierly laugh.

Gerald was held unconsciously by the other man. He wanted to be near

him, he wanted to be within his sphere of influence. There was

something very congenial to him in Birkin. But yet, beyond this, he did

not take much notice. He felt that he, himself, Gerald, had harder and

more durable truths than any the other man knew. He felt himself older,

more knowing. It was the quick-changing warmth and venality and

brilliant warm utterance he loved in his friend. It was the rich play

of words and quick interchange of feelings he enjoyed. The real content

of the words he never really considered: he himself knew better.

Birkin knew this. He knew that Gerald wanted to be FOND of him without

taking him seriously. And this made him go hard and cold. As the train

ran on, he sat looking at the land, and Gerald fell away, became as

nothing to him.

Birkin looked at the land, at the evening, and was thinking: 'Well, if

mankind is destroyed, if our race is destroyed like Sodom, and there is

this beautiful evening with the luminous land and trees, I am

satisfied. That which informs it all is there, and can never be lost.

After all, what is mankind but just one expression of the

incomprehensible. And if mankind passes away, it will only mean that

this particular expression is completed and done. That which is

expressed, and that which is to be expressed, cannot be diminished.

There it is, in the shining evening. Let mankind pass away--time it

did. The creative utterances will not cease, they will only be there.

Humanity doesn't embody the utterance of the incomprehensible any more.

Humanity is a dead letter. There will be a new embodiment, in a new

way. Let humanity disappear as quick as possible.'

Gerald interrupted him by asking,

'Where are you staying in London?'

Birkin looked up.

'With a man in Soho. I pay part of the rent of a flat, and stop there

when I like.'

'Good idea--have a place more or less your own,' said Gerald.

'Yes. But I don't care for it much. I'm tired of the people I am bound

to find there.'

'What kind of people?'

'Art--music--London Bohemia--the most pettifogging calculating Bohemia

that ever reckoned its pennies. But there are a few decent people,

decent in some respects. They are really very thorough rejecters of the

world--perhaps they live only in the gesture of rejection and

negation--but negatively something, at any rate.'

'What are they?--painters, musicians?'

'Painters, musicians, writers--hangers-on, models, advanced young

people, anybody who is openly at outs with the conventions, and belongs

to nowhere particularly. They are often young fellows down from the

University, and girls who are living their own lives, as they say.'

'All loose?' said Gerald.

Birkin could see his curiosity roused.

'In one way. Most bound, in another. For all their shockingness, all on

one note.'

He looked at Gerald, and saw how his blue eyes were lit up with a

little flame of curious desire. He saw too how good-looking he was.

Gerald was attractive, his blood seemed fluid and electric. His blue

eyes burned with a keen, yet cold light, there was a certain beauty, a

beautiful passivity in all his body, his moulding.

'We might see something of each other--I am in London for two or three

days,' said Gerald.

'Yes,' said Birkin, 'I don't want to go to the theatre, or the music

hall--you'd better come round to the flat, and see what you can make of

Halliday and his crowd.'

'Thanks--I should like to,' laughed Gerald. 'What are you doing

tonight?'

'I promised to meet Halliday at the Pompadour. It's a bad place, but

there is nowhere else.'

'Where is it?' asked Gerald.

'Piccadilly Circus.'

'Oh yes--well, shall I come round there?'

'By all means, it might amuse you.'

The evening was falling. They had passed Bedford. Birkin watched the

country, and was filled with a sort of hopelessness. He always felt

this, on approaching London.

His dislike of mankind, of the mass of mankind, amounted almost to an

illness.

'"Where the quiet coloured end of evening smiles Miles and miles--"' he

was murmuring to himself, like a man condemned to death. Gerald, who

was very subtly alert, wary in all his senses, leaned forward and asked

smilingly:

'What were you saying?' Birkin glanced at him, laughed, and repeated:

'"Where the quiet coloured end of evening smiles, Miles and miles,

Over pastures where the something something sheep Half asleep--"'

Gerald also looked now at the country. And Birkin, who, for some reason

was now tired and dispirited, said to him:

'I always feel doomed when the train is running into London. I feel

such a despair, so hopeless, as if it were the end of the world.'

'Really!' said Gerald. 'And does the end of the world frighten you?'

Birkin lifted his shoulders in a slow shrug.

'I don't know,' he said. 'It does while it hangs imminent and doesn't

fall. But people give me a bad feeling--very bad.'

There was a roused glad smile in Gerald's eyes.

'Do they?' he said. And he watched the other man critically.

In a few minutes the train was running through the disgrace of

outspread London. Everybody in the carriage was on the alert, waiting

to escape. At last they were under the huge arch of the station, in the

tremendous shadow of the town. Birkin shut himself together--he was in

now.

The two men went together in a taxi-cab.

'Don't you feel like one of the damned?' asked Birkin, as they sat in a

little, swiftly-running enclosure, and watched the hideous great

street.

'No,' laughed Gerald.

'It is real death,' said Birkin.

CHAPTER VI.

CREME DE MENTHE

They met again in the cafe several hours later. Gerald went through the

push doors into the large, lofty room where the faces and heads of the

drinkers showed dimly through the haze of smoke, reflected more dimly,

and repeated ad infinitum in the great mirrors on the walls, so that

one seemed to enter a vague, dim world of shadowy drinkers humming

within an atmosphere of blue tobacco smoke. There was, however, the red

plush of the seats to give substance within the bubble of pleasure.

Gerald moved in his slow, observant, glistening-attentive motion down

between the tables and the people whose shadowy faces looked up as he

passed. He seemed to be entering in some strange element, passing into

an illuminated new region, among a host of licentious souls. He was

pleased, and entertained. He looked over all the dim, evanescent,

strangely illuminated faces that bent across the tables. Then he saw

Birkin rise and signal to him.

At Birkin's table was a girl with dark, soft, fluffy hair cut short in

the artist fashion, hanging level and full almost like the Egyptian

princess's. She was small and delicately made, with warm colouring and

large, dark hostile eyes. There was a delicacy, almost a beauty in all

her form, and at the same time a certain attractive grossness of

spirit, that made a little spark leap instantly alight in Gerald's

eyes.

Birkin, who looked muted, unreal, his presence left out, introduced her

as Miss Darrington. She gave her hand with a sudden, unwilling

movement, looking all the while at Gerald with a dark, exposed stare. A

glow came over him as he sat down.

The waiter appeared. Gerald glanced at the glasses of the other two.

Birkin was drinking something green, Miss Darrington had a small

liqueur glass that was empty save for a tiny drop.

'Won't you have some more--?'

'Brandy,' she said, sipping her last drop and putting down the glass.

The waiter disappeared.

'No,' she said to Birkin. 'He doesn't know I'm back. He'll be terrified

when he sees me here.'

She spoke her r's like w's, lisping with a slightly babyish

pronunciation which was at once affected and true to her character. Her

voice was dull and toneless.

'Where is he then?' asked Birkin.

'He's doing a private show at Lady Snellgrove's,' said the girl.

'Warens is there too.'

There was a pause.

'Well, then,' said Birkin, in a dispassionate protective manner, 'what

do you intend to do?'

The girl paused sullenly. She hated the question.

'I don't intend to do anything,' she replied. 'I shall look for some

sittings tomorrow.'

'Who shall you go to?' asked Birkin.

'I shall go to Bentley's first. But I believe he's angwy with me for

running away.'

'That is from the Madonna?'

'Yes. And then if he doesn't want me, I know I can get work with

Carmarthen.'

'Carmarthen?'

'Lord Carmarthen--he does photographs.'

'Chiffon and shoulders--'

'Yes. But he's awfully decent.' There was a pause.

'And what are you going to do about Julius?' he asked.

'Nothing,' she said. 'I shall just ignore him.'

'You've done with him altogether?' But she turned aside her face

sullenly, and did not answer the question.

Another young man came hurrying up to the table.

'Hallo Birkin! Hallo PUSSUM, when did you come back?' he said eagerly.

'Today.'

'Does Halliday know?'

'I don't know. I don't care either.'

'Ha-ha! The wind still sits in that quarter, does it? Do you mind if I

come over to this table?'

'I'm talking to Wupert, do you mind?' she replied, coolly and yet

appealingly, like a child.

'Open confession--good for the soul, eh?' said the young man. 'Well, so

long.'

And giving a sharp look at Birkin and at Gerald, the young man moved

off, with a swing of his coat skirts.

All this time Gerald had been completely ignored. And yet he felt that

the girl was physically aware of his proximity. He waited, listened,

and tried to piece together the conversation.

'Are you staying at the flat?' the girl asked, of Birkin.

'For three days,' replied Birkin. 'And you?'

'I don't know yet. I can always go to Bertha's.' There was a silence.

Suddenly the girl turned to Gerald, and said, in a rather formal,

polite voice, with the distant manner of a woman who accepts her

position as a social inferior, yet assumes intimate CAMARADERIE with

the male she addresses:

'Do you know London well?'

'I can hardly say,' he laughed. 'I've been up a good many times, but I

was never in this place before.'

'You're not an artist, then?' she said, in a tone that placed him an

outsider.

'No,' he replied.

'He's a soldier, and an explorer, and a Napoleon of industry,' said

Birkin, giving Gerald his credentials for Bohemia.

'Are you a soldier?' asked the girl, with a cold yet lively curiosity.

'No, I resigned my commission,' said Gerald, 'some years ago.'

'He was in the last war,' said Birkin.

'Were you really?' said the girl.

'And then he explored the Amazon,' said Birkin, 'and now he is ruling

over coal-mines.'

The girl looked at Gerald with steady, calm curiosity. He laughed,

hearing himself described. He felt proud too, full of male strength.

His blue, keen eyes were lit up with laughter, his ruddy face, with its

sharp fair hair, was full of satisfaction, and glowing with life. He

piqued her.

'How long are you staying?' she asked him.

'A day or two,' he replied. 'But there is no particular hurry.'

Still she stared into his face with that slow, full gaze which was so

curious and so exciting to him. He was acutely and delightfully

conscious of himself, of his own attractiveness. He felt full of

strength, able to give off a sort of electric power. And he was aware

of her dark, hot-looking eyes upon him. She had beautiful eyes, dark,

fully-opened, hot, naked in their looking at him. And on them there

seemed to float a film of disintegration, a sort of misery and

sullenness, like oil on water. She wore no hat in the heated cafe, her

loose, simple jumper was strung on a string round her neck. But it was

made of rich peach-coloured crepe-de-chine, that hung heavily and

softly from her young throat and her slender wrists. Her appearance was

simple and complete, really beautiful, because of her regularity and

form, her soft dark hair falling full and level on either side of her

head, her straight, small, softened features, Egyptian in the slight

fulness of their curves, her slender neck and the simple, rich-coloured

smock hanging on her slender shoulders. She was very still, almost

null, in her manner, apart and watchful.

She appealed to Gerald strongly. He felt an awful, enjoyable power over

her, an instinctive cherishing very near to cruelty. For she was a

victim. He felt that she was in his power, and he was generous. The

electricity was turgid and voluptuously rich, in his limbs. He would be

able to destroy her utterly in the strength of his discharge. But she

was waiting in her separation, given.

They talked banalities for some time. Suddenly Birkin said:

'There's Julius!' and he half rose to his feet, motioning to the

newcomer. The girl, with a curious, almost evil motion, looked round

over her shoulder without moving her body. Gerald watched her dark,

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