The week passed away. On the Saturday it rained, a soft drizzling rain that held off at times. In one of the intervals Gudrun and Ursula set out for a walk, going towards Willey Water. The atmosphere
was grey and translucent
, the birds sang sharply
on the young twigs, the earth
would be quickening and hastening in growth. The two girls walked swiftly, gladly, because of the soft, subtle
rush of morning that filled the wet haze
. By the road the black-thorn was in blossom
, white and wet, its tiny amber
grains burning faintly in the white smoke of blossom
. Purple twigs were darkly luminous
in the grey air, high hedges glowed like living shadows, hovering nearer, coming into creation
. The morning was full of a new creation
When the sisters came to Willey Water, the lake lay all grey and visionary
, stretching into the moist, translucent vista
of trees and meadow
. Fine electric
activity in sound
came from the dumbles below the road, the birds piping one against the other, and water mysteriously plashing, issuing from the lake.
The two girls drifted swiftly along. In front of them, at the corner
of the lake, near the road, was a mossy boat-house under a walnut tree, and a little landing-stage where a boat was moored, wavering like a shadow
on the still grey water, below the green, decayed poles. All was shadowy
with coming summer.
Suddenly, from the boat-house, a white figure
ran out, frightening in its swift sharp transit
, across the old landing-stage. It launched in a white arc through
the air, there was a bursting of the water, and among the smooth
ripples a swimmer was making out to space, in a centre of faintly heaving motion
. The whole otherworld, wet and remote
, he had to himself. He could move into the pure translucency of the grey, uncreated water.
Gudrun stood by the stone wall, watching.
'How I envy
him,' she said, in low, desirous
'Ugh!' shivered Ursula. 'So cold!'
'Yes, but how good, how really fine, to swim out there!' The sisters stood watching the swimmer move further into the grey, moist, full space of the water, pulsing with his own small, invading motion
, and arched over with mist and dim
'Don't you wish it were you?' asked Gudrun, looking at Ursula.
'I do,' said Ursula. 'But I'm not sure-it's so wet.'
'No,' said Gudrun, reluctantly
. She stood watching the motion
on the bosom of the water, as if fascinated
. He, having swum a certain distance
, turned round and was swimming on his back, looking along the water at the two girls by the wall. In the faint
wash of motion
, they could see his ruddy
face, and could feel him watching them.
'It is Gerald Crich,' said Ursula.
'I know,' replied Gudrun.
And she stood motionless
gazing over the water at the face which washed up and down on the flood
, as he swam steadily
. From his separate element
he saw them and he exulted to himself because of his own advantage
, his possession
of a world to himself. He was immune
. He loved his own vigorous
, thrusting motion
, and the violent impulse
of the very cold water against his limbs, buoying him up. He could see the girls watching him a way off, outside, and that pleased him. He lifted his arm from the water, in a sign to them.
'He is waving,' said Ursula.
'Yes,' replied Gudrun. They watched him. He waved again, with a strange movement
across the difference
'Like a Nibelung,' laughed Ursula. Gudrun said nothing, only stood still looking over the water.
turned, and was swimming away swiftly, with a side stroke
. He was alone now, alone and immune
in the middle of the waters, which he had all to himself. He exulted in his isolation
in the new element
, unquestioned and unconditioned. He was happy, thrusting with his legs and all his body, without bond
anywhere, just himself in the watery world.
Gudrun envied him almost painfully. Even this momentary possession
of pure isolation
and fluidity seemed to her so terribly desirable
that she felt herself as if damned, out there on the high-road.
'God, what it is to be a man!' she cried.
'What?' exclaimed Ursula in surprise
, the liberty
, the mobility
!' cried Gudrun, strangely flushed and brilliant
. 'You're a man, you want to do a thing, you do it. You haven't the THOUSAND obstacles a woman has in front of her.'
Ursula wondered what was in Gudrun's mind
, to occasion
this outburst. She could not understand
'What do you want to do?' she asked.
'Nothing,' cried Gudrun, in swift refutation
. 'But supposing I did. Supposing I want to swim up that water. It is impossible
, it is one of the impossibilities of life, for me to take my clothes off now and jump in. But isn't it RIDICULOUS, doesn't it simply prevent
She was so hot, so flushed, so furious
, that Ursula was puzzled
The two sisters went on, up the road. They were passing between the trees just below Shortlands. They looked up at the long, low house, dim
in the wet morning, its cedar trees slanting before the windows. Gudrun seemed to be studying it closely.
'Don't you think it's attractive
, Ursula?' asked Gudrun.
'Very,' said Ursula. 'Very peaceful
'It has form, too-it has a period
'Oh, eighteenth century
, for certain
; Dorothy Wordsworth and Jane Austen, don't you think?'
'Don't you think so?' repeated
'Perhaps. But I don't think the Criches fit
. I know Gerald is putting in a private electric
plant, for lighting the house, and is making all kinds of latest improvements.'
Gudrun shrugged her shoulders swiftly.
'Of course,' she said, 'that's quite inevitable
'Quite,' laughed Ursula. 'He is several
generations of youngness at one go. They hate him for it. He takes them all by the scruff of the neck, and fairly flings them along. He'll have to die soon, when he's made every possible improvement
, and there will be nothing more to improve
. He's got GO, anyhow.'
'Certainly, he's got go,' said Gudrun. 'In fact
I've never seen a man that showed signs of so much. The unfortunate
thing is, where does his GO go to, what becomes of it?'
'Oh I know,' said Ursula. 'It goes in applying the latest appliances!'
'Exactly,' said Gudrun.
'You know he shot his brother?' said Ursula.
'Shot his brother?' cried Gudrun, frowning as if in disapprobation
'Didn't you know? Oh yes!-I thought
you knew. He and his brother were playing together with a gun. He told his brother to look down the gun, and it was loaded, and blew the top of his head off. Isn't it a horrible
'How fearful!' cried Gudrun. 'But it is long ago?'
'Oh yes, they were quite boys,' said Ursula. 'I think it is one of the most horrible
stories I know.'
'And he of course did not know that the gun was loaded?'
'Yes. You see it was an old thing that had been lying in the stable
for years. Nobody dreamed it would ever go off, and of course, no one imagined it was loaded. But isn't it dreadful
, that it should happen?'
'Frightful!' cried Gudrun. 'And isn't it horrible
too to think of such a thing happening to one, when one was a child, and having to carry
of it all through
one's life. Imagine it, two boys playing together-then this comes upon them, for no reason
whatever-out of the air. Ursula, it's very frightening! Oh, it's one of the things I can't bear. Murder, that is thinkable, because there's a will behind it. But a thing like that to HAPPEN to one-'
'Perhaps there WAS an unconscious
will behind it,' said Ursula. 'This playing at killing has some primitive
DESIRE for killing in it, don't you think?'
'Desire!' said Gudrun, coldly, stiffening a little. 'I can't see that they were even playing at killing. I suppose
one boy said to the other, "You look down the barrel
while I pull the trigger
, and see what happens." It seems to me the purest form of accident
'No,' said Ursula. 'I couldn't pull the trigger
of the emptiest gun in the world, not if some-one were looking down the barrel
. One instinctively doesn't do it-one can't.'
Gudrun was silent for some moments, in sharp disagreement
'Of course,' she said coldly. 'If one is a woman, and grown up, one's instinct
prevents one. But I cannot see how that applies to a couple
of boys playing together.'
Her voice was cold and angry
'Yes,' persisted Ursula. At that moment
they heard a woman's voice a few yards off say loudly:
'Oh damn the thing!' They went forward
and saw Laura Crich and Hermione Roddice in the field on the other side of the hedge
, and Laura Crich struggling with the gate, to get out. Ursula at once hurried up and helped to lift the gate.
'Thanks so much,' said Laura, looking up flushed and amazon-like, yet rather confused
. 'It isn't right
on the hinges.'
'No,' said Ursula. 'And they're so heavy.'
'Surprising!' cried Laura.
'How do you do,' sang Hermione, from out of the field, the moment
she could make her voice heard. 'It's nice now. Are you going for a walk? Yes. Isn't the young green beautiful? So beautiful-quite burning. Good morning-good morning-you'll come and see me?-thank you so much-next week-yes-good-bye, g-o-o-d b-y-e.'
Gudrun and Ursula stood and watched her slowly waving her head up and down, and waving her hand slowly in dismissal
, smiling a strange affected
smile, making a tall queer, frightening figure
, with her heavy fair
hair slipping to her eyes. Then they moved off, as if they had been dismissed like inferiors. The four women parted.
As soon as they had gone far enough, Ursula said, her cheeks burning,
'I do think she's impudent
'Who, Hermione Roddice?' asked Gudrun. 'Why?'
'The way she treats one-impudence!'
'Why, Ursula, what did you notice
that was so impudent
?' asked Gudrun rather coldly.
'But it is so UNNECESSARY-so vulgar
,' cried Ursula.
'No, I don't see it. And if I did-pour moi, elle n'existe pas. I don't grant
her the power
to be impudent
'Do you think she likes you?' asked Ursula.
'Well, no, I shouldn't think she did.'
'Then why does she ask you to go to Breadalby and stay with her?'
Gudrun lifted her shoulders in a low shrug.
'After all, she's got the sense to know we're not just the ordinary
run,' said Gudrun. 'Whatever she is, she's not a fool. And I'd rather have somebody I detested, than the ordinary
woman who keeps to her own set. Hermione Roddice does risk
herself in some respects.'
Ursula pondered this for a time.
it,' she replied. 'Really she risks nothing. I suppose
we ought to admire
her for knowing she CAN invite us-school teachers-and risk
'Precisely!' said Gudrun. 'Think of the myriads of women that daren't do it. She makes the most of her privileges-that's something. I suppose
, really, we should do the same, in her place.'
'No,' said Ursula. 'No. It would bore
me. I couldn't spend my time playing her games. It's infra dig.'
The two sisters were like a pair
of scissors, snipping off everything that came athwart
them; or like a knife and a whetstone, the one sharpened against the other.
'Of course,' cried Ursula suddenly
, 'she ought to thank her stars if we will go and see her. You are perfectly beautiful, a thousand times more beautiful than ever she is or was, and to my thinking, a thousand times more beautifully dressed, for she never looks fresh
, like a flower, always old, thought
-out; and we ARE more intelligent
than most people.'
'How awful!' cried Ursula.
'Yes, Ursula, it IS awful, in most respects. You daren't be anything that isn't amazingly A TERRE, SO much A TERRE that it is the artistic creation
'It's very dull
oneself into nothing better,' laughed Ursula.
!' retorted Gudrun. 'Really Ursula, it is dull
, that's just the word. One longs to be high-flown
, and make speeches like Corneille, after it.'
Gudrun was becoming
flushed and excited over her own cleverness
'Strut,' said Ursula. 'One wants to strut
, to be a swan
'Exactly,' cried Gudrun, 'a swan
'They are all so busy playing the ugly duckling,' cried Ursula, with mocking
laughter. 'And I don't feel a bit like a humble
ugly duckling. I do feel like a swan
among geese-I can't help it. They make one feel so. And I don't care what THEY think of me. FE M'EN FICHE.'
Gudrun looked up at Ursula with a queer, uncertain envy
'Of course, the only thing to do is to despise
them all-just all,' she said.
The sisters went home again, to read and talk and work, and wait for Monday, for school. Ursula often wondered what else she waited for, besides the beginning and end of the school week, and the beginning and end of the holidays. This was a whole life! Sometimes she had periods of tight horror
, when it seemed to her that her life would pass away, and be gone, without having been more than this. But she never really accepted it. Her spirit
, her life like a shoot that is growing steadily
, but which has not yet come above ground.