By D. H. Lawrence
'Take off that mute, do!' cried Louisa, snatching her fingers from the piano keys, and turning abruptly to the violinist.
Helena looked slowly from her music.
'My dear Louisa,' she replied, 'it would be simply unendurable.' She stood tapping her white skirt with her bow in a kind of a pathetic forbearance.
'But I can't understand it,' cried Louisa, bouncing on her chair with the exaggeration of one who is indignant with a beloved. 'It is only lately you would even submit to muting your violin. At one time you would have refused flatly, and no doubt about it.'
'I have only lately submitted to many things,' replied Helena, who seemed weary and stupefied, but still sententious. Louisa drooped from her bristling defiance.
'At any rate,' she said, scolding in tones too naked with love, I don't like it.'
'Go on from Allegro,' said Helena, pointing with her bow to the place on Louisa's score of the Mozart sonata. Louisa obediently took the chords, and the music continued.
A young man, reclining in one of the wicker arm-chairs by the fire, turned luxuriously from the girls to watch the flames poise and dance with the music. He was evidently at his ease, yet he seemed a stranger in the room.
It was the sitting-room of a mean house standing in line with hundreds of others of the same kind, along a wide road in South London. Now and again the trams hummed by, but the room was foreign to the trams and to the sound of the London traffic. It was Helena's room, for which she was responsible. The walls were of the dead-green colour of August foliage; the green carpet, with its border of polished floor, lay like a square of grass in a setting of black loam. Ceiling and frieze and fireplace were smooth white. There was no other colouring.
The furniture, excepting the piano, had a transitory look; two light wicker arm-chairs by the fire, the two frail stands of dark, polished wood, the couple of flimsy chairs, and the case of books in the recess—all seemed uneasy, as if they might be tossed out to leave the room clear, with its green floor and walls, and its white rim of skirting-board, serene.
On the mantlepiece were white lustres, and a small soapstone Buddha from China, grey, impassive, locked in his renunciation. Besides these, two tablets of translucent stone beautifully clouded with rose and blood, and carved with Chinese symbols; then a litter of mementoes, rock-crystals, and shells and scraps of seaweed.
A stranger, entering, felt at a loss. He looked at the bare wall-spaces of dark green, at the scanty furniture, and was assured of his unwelcome. The only objects of sympathy in the room were the white lamp that glowed on a stand near the wall, and the large, beautiful fern, with narrow fronds, which ruffled its cloud of green within the gloom of the window-bay. These only, with the fire, seemed friendly.
The three candles on the dark piano burned softly, the music fluttered on, but, like numbed butterflies, stupidly. Helena played mechanically. She broke the music beneath her bow, so that it came lifeless, very hurting to hear. The young man frowned, and pondered. Uneasily, he turned again to the players.
The violinist was a girl of twenty-eight. Her white dress, high-waisted, swung as she forced the rhythm, determinedly swaying to the time as if her body were the white stroke of a metronome. It made the young man frown as he watched. Yet he continued to watch. She had a very strong, vigorous body. Her neck, pure white, arched in strength from the fine hollow between her shoulders as she held the violin. The long white lace of her sleeve swung, floated, after the bow.
Byrne could not see her face, more than the full curve of her cheek. He watched her hair, which at the back was almost of the colour of the soapstone idol, take the candlelight into its vigorous freedom in front and glisten over her forehead.
Suddenly Helena broke off the music, and dropped her arm in irritable resignation. Louisa looked round from the piano, surprised.
'Why,' she cried, 'wasn't it all right?'
Helena laughed wearily.
'It was all wrong,' she answered, as she put her violin tenderly to rest.
'Oh, I'm sorry I did so badly,' said Louisa in a huff. She loved Helena passionately.
'You didn't do badly at all,' replied her friend, in the same tired, apathetic tone. 'It was I.'
When she had closed the black lid of her violin-case, Helena stood a moment as if at a loss. Louisa looked up with eyes full of affection, like a dog that did not dare to move to her beloved. Getting no response, she drooped over the piano. At length Helena looked at her friend, then slowly closed her eyes. The burden of this excessive affection was too much for her. Smiling faintly, she said, as if she were coaxing a child:
'Play some Chopin, Louisa.'
'I shall only do that all wrong, like everything else,' said the elder plaintively. Louisa was thirty-five. She had been Helena's friend for years.
'Play the mazurkas,' repeated Helena calmly.
Louisa rummaged among the music. Helena blew out her violin-candle, and came to sit down on the side of the fire opposite to Byrne. The music began. Helena pressed her arms with her hands, musing.
'They are inflamed still' said the young man.
She glanced up suddenly, her blue eyes, usually so heavy and tired, lighting up with a small smile.
'Yes,' she answered, and she pushed back her sleeve, revealing a fine, strong arm, which was scarlet on the outer side from shoulder to wrist, like some long, red-burned fruit. The girl laid her cheek on the smarting soft flesh caressively.
'It is quite hot,' she smiled, again caressing her sun-scalded arm with peculiar joy.
'Funny to see a sunburn like that in mid-winter,' he replied, frowning. 'I can't think why it should last all these months. Don't you ever put anything on to heal it?'
She smiled at him again, almost pitying, then put her mouth lovingly on the burn.
'It comes out every evening like this,' she said softly, with curious joy.
'And that was August, and now it's February!' he exclaimed. 'It must be psychological, you know. You make it come—the smart; you invoke it.'
She looked up at him, suddenly cold.
'I! I never think of it,' she answered briefly, with a kind of sneer.
The young man's blood ran back from her at her acid tone. But the mortification was physical only. Smiling quickly, gently—'
'Never?' he re-echoed.
There was silence between them for some moments, whilst Louisa continued to play the piano for their benefit. At last:
'Drat it,' she exclaimed, flouncing round on the piano-stool.
The two looked up at her.
'Ye did run well—what hath hindered you?' laughed Byrne.
'You!' cried Louisa. 'Oh, I can't play any more,' she added, dropping her arms along her skirt pathetically. Helena laughed quickly.
'Oh I can't, Helen!' pleaded Louisa.
'My dear,' said Helena, laughing briefly, 'you are really under no obligation whatever.'
With the little groan of one who yields to a desire contrary to her self-respect, Louisa dropped at the feet of Helena, laid her arm and her head languishingly on the knee of her friend. The latter gave no sign, but continued to gaze in the fire. Byrne, on the other side of the hearth, sprawled in his chair, smoking a reflective cigarette.
The room was very quiet, silent even of the tick of a clock. Outside, the traffic swept by, and feet pattered along the pavement. But this vulgar storm of life seemed shut out of Helena's room, that remained indifferent, like a church. Two candles burned dimly as on an altar, glistening yellow on the dark piano. The lamp was blown out, and the flameless fire, a red rubble, dwindled in the grate, so that the yellow glow of the candles seemed to shine even on the embers. Still no one spoke.
At last Helena shivered slightly in her chair, though did not change her position. She sat motionless.
'Will you make coffee, Louisa?' she asked. Louisa lifted herself, looked at her friend, and stretched slightly.
'Oh!' she groaned voluptuously. 'This is so comfortable!'
'Don't trouble then, I'll go. No, don't get up,' said Helena, trying to disengage herself. Louisa reached and put her hands on Helena's wrists.
'I will go,' she drawled, almost groaning with voluptuousness and appealing love.
Then, as Helena still made movements to rise, the elder woman got up slowly, leaning as she did so all her weight on her friend.
'Where is the coffee?' she asked, affecting the dullness of lethargy. She was full of small affectations, being consumed with uneasy love.
'I think, my dear,' replied Helena, 'it is in its usual place.'
'Oh—o-o-oh!' yawned Louisa, and she dragged herself out.
The two had been intimate friends for years, had slept together, and played together and lived together. Now the friendship was coming to an end.
'After all,' said Byrne, when the door was closed, 'if you're alive you've got to live.'
Helena burst into a titter of amusement at this sudden remark.
'Wherefore?' she asked indulgently.
'Because there's no such thing as passive existence,' he replied, grinning.
She curled her lip in amused indulgence of this very young man.
'I don't see it at all,' she said.
'You can't, he protested, 'any more than a tree can help budding in April—it can't help itself, if it's alive; same with you.'
'Well, then'—and again there was the touch of a sneer—'if I can't help myself, why trouble, my friend?'
'Because—because I suppose I can't help myself—if it bothers me, it does. You see, I'—he smiled brilliantly—'am April.'
She paid very little attention to him, but began in a peculiar reedy, metallic tone, that set his nerves quivering:
'But I am not a bare tree. All my dead leaves, they hang to me—and—and go through a kind of danse macabre—'
'But you bud underneath—like beech,' he said quickly.
'Really, my friend,' she said coldly, 'I am too tired to bud.'
'No,' he pleaded, 'no!' With his thick brows knitted, he surveyed her anxiously. She had received a great blow in August, and she still was stunned. Her face, white and heavy, was like a mask, almost sullen. She looked in the fire, forgetting him.
'You want March,' he said—he worried endlessly over her—'to rip off your old leaves. I s'll have to be March,' he laughed.
She ignored him again because of his presumption. He waited awhile, then broke out once more.
'You must start again—you must. Always you rustle your red leaves of a blasted summer. You are not dead. Even if you want to be, you're not. Even if it's a bitter thing to say, you have to say it: you are not dead....'
Smiling a peculiar, painful smile, as if he hurt her, she turned to gaze at a photograph that hung over the piano. It was the profile of a handsome man in the prime of life. He was leaning slightly forward, as if yielding beneath a burden of life, or to the pull of fate. He looked out musingly, and there was no hint of rebellion in the contours of the regular features. The hair was brushed back, soft and thick, straight from his fine brow. His nose was small and shapely, his chin rounded, cleft, rather beautifully moulded. Byrne gazed also at the photo. His look became distressed and helpless.
'You cannot say you are dead with Siegmund,' he cried brutally. She shuddered, clasped her burning arms on her breast, and looked into the fire. 'You are not dead with Siegmund,' he persisted, 'so you can't say you live with him. You may live with his memory. But Siegmund is dead, and his memory is not he—himself,' He made a fierce gesture of impatience. 'Siegmund now—he is not a memory—he is not your dead red leaves—he is Siegmund Dead! And you do not know him, because you are alive, like me, so Siegmund Dead is a stranger to you.'
With her head bowed down, cowering like a sulky animal, she looked at him under her brows. He stared fiercely back at her, but beneath her steady, glowering gaze he shrank, then turned aside.
'You stretch your hands blindly to the dead; you look backwards. No, you never touch the thing,' he cried.
'I have the arms of Louisa always round my neck,' came her voice, like the cry of a cat. She put her hands on her throat as if she must relieve an ache. He saw her lip raised in a kind of disgust, a revulsion from life. She was very sick after the tragedy.
He frowned, and his eyes dilated.
'Folk are good; they are good for one. You never have looked at them. You would linger hours over a blue weed, and let all the people down the road go by. Folks are better than a garden in full blossom—'
She watched him again. A certain beauty in his speech, and his passionate way, roused her when she did not want to be roused, when moving from her torpor was painful. At last—
'You are merciless, you know, Cecil,' she said.
'And I will be,' protested Byrne, flinging his hand at her. She laughed softly, wearily.
For some time they were silent. She gazed once more at the photograph over the piano, and forgot all the present. Byrne, spent for the time being, was busy hunting for some life-interest to give her. He ignored the simplest—that of love—because he was even more faithful than she to the memory of Siegmund, and blinder than most to his own heart.
'I do wish I had Siegmund's violin,' she said quietly, but with great intensity. Byrne glanced at her, then away. His heart beat sulkily. His sanguine, passionate spirit dropped and slouched under her contempt. He, also, felt the jar, heard the discord. She made him sometimes pant with her own horror. He waited, full of hate and tasting of ashes, for the arrival of Louisa with the coffee.
Siegmund's violin, desired of Helena, lay in its case beside Siegmund's lean portmanteau in the white dust of the lumber-room in Highgate. It was worth twenty pounds, but Beatrice had not yet roused herself to sell it; she kept the black case out of sight.
Siegmund's violin lay in the dark, folded up, as he had placed it for the last time, with hasty, familiar hands, in its red silk shroud. After two dead months the first string had snapped, sharply striking the sensitive body of the instrument. The second string had broken near Christmas, but no one had heard the faint moan of its going. The violin lay mute in the dark, a faint odour of must creeping over the smooth, soft wood. Its twisted, withered strings lay crisped from the anguish of breaking, smothered under the silk folds. The fragrance of Siegmund himself, with which the violin was steeped, slowly changed into an odour of must.
Siegmund died out even from his violin. He had infused it with his life, till its fibres had been as the tissue of his own flesh. Grasping his violin, he seemed to have his fingers on the strings of his heart and of the heart of Helena. It was his little beloved that drank his being and turned it into music. And now Siegmund was dead; only an odour of must remained of him in his violin.
It lay folded in silk in the dark, waiting. Six months before it had longed for rest; during the last nights of the season, when Siegmund's fingers had pressed too hard, when Siegmund's passion, and joy, and fear had hurt, too, the soft body of his little beloved, the violin had sickened for rest. On that last night of opera, without pity Siegmund had struck the closing phrases from the fiddle, harsh in his impatience, wild in anticipation.
The curtain came down, the great singers bowed, and Siegmund felt the spattering roar of applause quicken his pulse. It was hoarse, and savage, and startling on his inflamed soul, making him shiver with anticipation, as if something had brushed his hot nakedness. Quickly, with hands of habitual tenderness, he put his violin away.
The theatre-goers were tired, and life drained rapidly out of the opera-house. The members of the orchestra rose, laughing, mingling their weariness with good wishes for the holiday, with sly warning and suggestive advice, pressing hands warmly ere they disbanded. Other years Siegmund had lingered, unwilling to take the long farewell of his associates of the orchestra. Other years he had left the opera-house with a little pain of regret. Now he laughed, and took his comrades' hands, and bade farewells, all distractedly, and with impatience. The theatre, awesome now in its emptiness, he left gladly, hastening like a flame stretched level on the wind.
With his black violin-case he hurried down the street, then halted to pity the flowers massed pallid under the gaslight of the market-hall. For himself, the sea and the sunlight opened great spaces tomorrow. The moon was full above the river. He looked at it as a man in abstraction watches some clear thing; then he came to a standstill. It was useless to hurry to his train. The traffic swung past the lamplight shone warm on all the golden faces; but Siegmund had already left the city. His face was silver and shadows to the moon; the river, in its soft grey, shaking golden sequins among the folds of its shadows, fell open like a garment before him, to reveal the white moon-glitter brilliant as living flesh. Mechanically, overcast with the reality of the moonlight, he took his seat in the train, and watched the moving of things. He was in a kind of trance, his consciousness seeming suspended. The train slid out amongst lights and dark places. Siegmund watched the endless movement, fascinated.
This was one of the crises of his life. For years he had suppressed his soul, in a kind of mechanical despair doing his duty and enduring the rest. Then his soul had been softly enticed from its bondage. Now he was going to break free altogether, to have at least a few days purely for his own joy. This, to a man of his integrity, meant a breaking of bonds, a severing of blood-ties, a sort of new birth. In the excitement of this last night his life passed out of his control, and he sat at the carriage-window, motionless, watching things move.
He felt busy within him a strong activity which he could not help. Slowly the body of his past, the womb which had nourished him in one fashion for so many years, was casting him forth. He was trembling in all his being, though he knew not with what. All he could do now was to watch the lights go by, and to let the translation of himself continue.
When at last the train ran out into the full, luminous night, and Siegmund saw the meadows deep in moonlight, he quivered with a low anticipation. The elms, great grey shadows, seemed to loiter in their cloaks across the pale fields. He had not seen them so before. The world was changing.
The train stopped, and with a little effort he rose to go home. The night air was cool and sweet. He drank it thirstily. In the road again he lifted his face to the moon. It seemed to help him; in its brilliance amid the blonde heavens it seemed to transcend fretfulness. It would front the waves with silver as they slid to the shore, and Helena, looking along the coast, waiting, would lift her white hands with sudden joy. He laughed, and the moon hurried laughing alongside, through the black masses of the trees.
He had forgotten he was going home for this night. The chill wetness of his little white garden-gate reminded him, and a frown came on his face. As he closed the door, and found himself in the darkness of the hall, the sense of his fatigue came fully upon him. It was an effort to go to bed. Nevertheless, he went very quietly into the drawing-room. There the moonlight entered, and he thought the whiteness was Helena. He held his breath and stiffened, then breathed again. 'Tomorrow,' he thought, as he laid his violin-case across the arms of a wicker chair. But he had a physical feeling of the presence of Helena: in his shoulders he seemed to be aware of her. Quickly, half lifting his arms, he turned to the moonshine. 'Tomorrow!' he exclaimed quietly; and he left the room stealthily, for fear of disturbing the children.
In the darkness of the kitchen burned a blue bud of light. He quickly turned up the gas to a broad yellow flame, and sat down at table. He was tired, excited, and vexed with misgiving. As he lay in his arm-chair, he looked round with disgust.
The table was spread with a dirty cloth that had great brown stains betokening children. In front of him was a cup and saucer, and a small plate with a knife laid across it. The cheese, on another plate, was wrapped in a red-bordered, fringed cloth, to keep off the flies, which even then were crawling round, on the sugar, on the loaf, on the cocoa-tin. Siegmund looked at his cup. It was chipped, and a stain had gone under the glaze, so that it looked like the mark of a dirty mouth. He fetched a glass of water.
The room was drab and dreary. The oil-cloth was worn into a hole near the door. Boots and shoes of various sizes were scattered over the floor, while the sofa was littered with children's clothing. In the black stove the ash lay dead; on the range were chips of wood, and newspapers, and rubbish of papers, and crusts of bread, and crusts of bread-and-jam. As Siegmund walked across the floor, he crushed two sweets underfoot. He had to grope under sofa and dresser to find his slippers; and he was in evening dress.
It would be the same, while ever Beatrice was Beatrice and Siegmund her husband. He ate his bread and cheese mechanically, wondering why he was miserable, why he was not looking forward with joy to the morrow. As he ate, he closed his eyes, half wishing he had not promised Helena, half wishing he had no tomorrow.
Leaning back in his chair, he felt something in the way. It was a small teddy-bear and half of a strong white comb. He grinned to himself. This was the summary of his domestic life—a broken, coarse comb, a child crying because her hair was lugged, a wife who had let the hair go till now, when she had got into a temper to see the job through; and then the teddy-bear, pathetically cocking a black worsted nose, and lifting absurd arms to him.
He wondered why Gwen had gone to bed without her pet. She would want the silly thing. The strong feeling of affection for his children came over him, battling with something else. He sank in his chair, and gradually his baffled mind went dark. He sat, overcome with weariness and trouble, staring blankly into the space. His own stifling roused him. Straightening his shoulders, he took a deep breath, then relaxed again. After a while he rose, took the teddy-bear, and went slowly to bed.
Gwen and Marjory, aged nine and twelve, slept together in a small room. It was fairly light. He saw his favourite daughter lying quite uncovered, her wilful head thrown back, her mouth half open. Her black hair was tossed across the pillow: he could see the action. Marjory snuggled under the sheet. He placed the teddy-bear between the two girls.
As he watched them, he hated the children for being so dear to him. Either he himself must go under, and drag on an existence he hated, or they must suffer. But he had agreed to spend this holiday with Helena, and meant to do so. As he turned, he saw himself like a ghost cross the mirror. He looked back; he peered at himself. His hair still grew thick and dark from his brow: he could not see the grey at the temples. His eyes were dark and tender, and his mouth, under the black moustache, was full of youth.
He rose, looked at the children, frowned, and went to his own small room. He was glad to be shut alone in the little cubicle of darkness.
Outside the world lay in a glamorous pallor, casting shadows that made the farm, the trees, the bulks of villas, look like live creatures. The same pallor went through all the night, glistening on Helena as she lay curled up asleep at the core of the glamour, like the moon; on the sea rocking backwards and forwards till it rocked her island as she slept. She was so calm and full of her own assurance. It was a great rest to be with her. With her, nothing mattered but love and the beauty of things. He felt parched and starving. She had rest and love, like water and manna for him. She was so strong in her self-possession, in her love of beautiful things and of dreams.
The clock downstairs struck two.
'I must get to sleep,' he said.
He dragged his portmanteau from beneath the bed and began to pack it. When at last it was finished, he shut it with a snap. The click sounded final. He stood up, stretched himself, and sighed.
'I am fearfully tired,' he said.
But that was persuasive. When he was undressed he sat in his pyjamas for some time, rapidly beating his fingers on his knee.
'Thirty-eight years old,' he said to himself, 'and disconsolate as a child!' He began to muse of the morrow.
When he seemed to be going to sleep, he woke up to find thoughts labouring over his brain, like bees on a hive. Recollections, swift thoughts, flew in and alighted upon him, as wild geese swing down and take possession of a pond. Phrases from the opera tyrannized over him; he played the rhythm with all his blood. As he turned over in this torture, he sighed, and recognized a movement of the De Beriot concerto which Helena had played for her last lesson. He found himself watching her as he had watched then, felt again the wild impatience when she was wrong, started again as, amid the dipping and sliding of her bow, he realized where his thoughts were going. She was wrong, he was hasty; and he felt her blue eyes looking intently at him.
Both started as his daughter Vera entered suddenly. She was a handsome girl of nineteen. Crossing the room, brushing Helena as if she were a piece of furniture in the way, Vera had asked her father a question, in a hard, insulting tone, then had gone out again, just as if Helena had not been in the room.
Helena stood fingering the score of Pelleas. When Vera had gone, she asked, in the peculiar tone that made Siegmund shiver:
'Why do you consider the music of Pelleas cold?'
Siegmund had struggled to answer. So they passed everything off, without mention, after Helena's fashion, ignoring all that might be humiliating; and to her much was humiliating.
For years she had come as pupil to Siegmund, first as a friend of the household. Then she and Louisa went occasionally to whatever hall or theatre had Siegmund in the orchestra, so that shortly the three formed the habit of coming home together. Then Helena had invited Siegmund to her home; then the three friends went walks together; then the two went walks together, whilst Louisa sheltered them.
Helena had come to read his loneliness and the humiliation of his lot. He had felt her blue eyes, heavily, steadily gazing into his soul, and he had lost himself to her.
That day, three weeks before the end of the season, when Vera had so insulted Helena, the latter had said, as she put on her coat, looking at him all the while with heavy blue eyes: 'I think, Siegmund, I cannot come here any more. Your home is not open to me any longer.' He had writhed in confusion and humiliation. As she pressed his hand, closely and for a long time, she said: 'I will write to you.' Then she left him.
Siegmund had hated his life that day. Soon she wrote. A week later, when he lay resting his head on her lap in Richmond Park, she said:
'You are so tired, Siegmund.' She stroked his face, and kissed him softly. Siegmund lay in the molten daze of love. But Helena was, if it is not to debase the word, virtuous: an inconsistent virtue, cruel and ugly for Siegmund.
'You are so tired, dear. You must come away with me and rest, the first week in August.'
His blood had leapt, and whatever objections he raised, such as having no money, he allowed to be overridden. He was going to Helena, to the Isle of Wight, tomorrow.
Helena, with her blue eyes so full of storm, like the sea, but, also like the sea, so eternally self-sufficient, solitary; with her thick white throat, the strongest and most wonderful thing on earth, and her small hands, silken and light as wind-flowers, would be his tomorrow, along with the sea and the downs. He clung to the exquisite flame which flooded him....
But it died out, and he thought of the return to London, to Beatrice, and the children. How would it be? Beatrice, with her furious dark eyes, and her black hair loosely knotted back, came to his mind as she had been the previous day, flaring with temper when he said to her:
'I shall be going away tomorrow for a few days' holiday.'
She asked for detail, some of which he gave. Then, dissatisfied and inflamed, she broke forth in her suspicion and her abuse, and her contempt, while two large-eyed children stood listening by. Siegmund hated his wife for drawing on him the grave, cold looks of condemnation from his children.
Something he had said touched Beatrice. She came of good family, had been brought up like a lady, educated in a convent school in France. He evoked her old pride. She drew herself up with dignity, and called the children away. He wondered if he could bear a repetition of that degradation. It bled him of his courage and self-respect.
In the morning Beatrice was disturbed by the sharp sneck of the hall door. Immediately awake, she heard his quick, firm step hastening down the gravel path. In her impotence, discarded like a worn out object, she lay for the moment stiff with bitterness.
'I am nothing, I am nothing,' she said to herself. She lay quite rigid for a time.
There was no sound anywhere. The morning sunlight pierced vividly through the slits of the blind. Beatrice lay rocking herself, breathing hard, her finger-nails pressing into her palm. Then came the sound of a train slowing down in the station, and directly the quick 'chuff-chuff-chuff' of its drawing out. Beatrice imagined the sunlight on the puffs of steam, and the two lovers, her husband and Helena, rushing through the miles of morning sunshine.
'God strike her dead! Mother of God, strike her down!' she said aloud, in a low tone. She hated Helena.
Irene, who lay with her mother, woke up and began to question her.
In the miles of morning sunshine, Siegmund's shadows, his children, Beatrice, his sorrow, dissipated like mist, and he was elated as a young man setting forth to travel. When he had passed Portsmouth Town everything had vanished but the old gay world of romance. He laughed as he looked out of the carriage window.
Below, in the street, a military band passed glittering. A brave sound floated up, and again he laughed, loving the tune, the clash and glitter of the band, the movement of scarlet, blithe soldiers beyond the park. People were drifting brightly from church. How could it be Sunday! It was no time; it was Romance, going back to Tristan.
Women, like crocus flowers, in white and blue and lavender, moved gaily. Everywhere fluttered the small flags of holiday. Every form danced lightly in the sunshine.
And beyond it all were the silent hillsides of the island, with Helena. It was so wonderful, he could bear to be patient. She would be all in white, with her cool, thick throat left bare to the breeze, her face shining, smiling as she dipped her head because of the sun, which glistened on her uncovered hair.
He breathed deeply, stirring at the thought. But he would not grow impatient. The train had halted over the town, where scarlet soldiers, and ludicrous blue sailors, and all the brilliant women from church shook like a kaleidoscope down the street. The train crawled on, drawing near to the sea, for which Siegmund waited breathless. It was so like Helena, blue, beautiful, strong in its reserve.
Another moment they were in the dirty station. Then the day flashed out, and Siegmund mated with joy. He felt the sea heaving below him. He looked round, and the sea was blue as a periwinkle flower, while gold and white and blood-red sails lit here and there upon the blueness. Standing on the deck, he gave himself to the breeze and to the sea, feeling like one of the ruddy sails—as if he were part of it all. All his body radiated amid the large, magnificent sea-moon like a piece of colour.
The little ship began to pulse, to tremble. White with the softness of a bosom, the water rose up frothing and swaying gently. Ships drew near the inquisitive birds; the old Victory shook her myriad pointed flags of yellow and scarlet; the straight old houses of the quay passed by.
Outside the harbour, like fierce creatures of the sea come wildly up to look, the battleships laid their black snouts on the water. Siegmund laughed at them. He felt the foam on his face like a sparkling, felt the blue sea gathering round.
On the left stood the round fortress, quaintly chequered, and solidly alone in the walk of water, amid the silent flight of the golden-and crimson-winged boats.
Siegmund watched the bluish bulk of the island. Like the beautiful women in the myths, his love hid in its blue haze. It seemed impossible. Behind him, the white wake trailed myriads of daisies. On either hand the grim and wicked battleships watched along their sharp noses. Beneath him the clear green water swung and puckered as if it were laughing. In front, Sieglinde's island drew near and nearer, creeping towards him, bringing him Helena.
Meadows and woods appeared, houses crowded down to the shore to meet him; he was in the quay, and the ride was over. Siegmund regretted it. But Helena was on the island, which rode like an anchored ship under the fleets of cloud that had launched whilst Siegmund was on water. As he watched the end of the pier loom higher, large ponderous trains of cloud cast over him the shadows of their bulk, and he shivered in the chill wind.
His travelling was very slow. The sky's dark shipping pressed closer and closer, as if all the clouds had come to harbour. Over the flat lands near Newport the wind moaned like the calling of many violoncellos. All the sky was grey. Siegmund waited drearily on Newport station, where the wind swept coldly. It was Sunday, and the station and the island were desolate, having lost their purposes.
Siegmund put on his overcoat and sat down. All his morning's blaze of elation was gone, though there still glowed a great hope. He had slept only two hours of the night. An empty man, he had drunk joy, and now the intoxication was dying out.
At three o'clock of the afternoon he sat alone in the second-class carriage, looking out. A few raindrops struck the pane, then the blurred dazzle of a shower came in a burst of wind, and hid the downs and the reeds that shivered in the marshy places. Siegmund sat in a chilly torpor. He counted the stations. Beneath his stupor his heart was thudding heavily with excitement, surprising him, for his brain felt dead.
The train slowed down: Yarmouth! One more station, then. Siegmund watched the platform, shiny with rain, slide past. On the dry grey under the shelter, one white passenger was waiting. Suddenly Siegmund's heart leaped up, wrenching wildly. He burst open the door, and caught hold of Helena. She dilated, gave a palpitating cry as he dragged her into the carriage.
'You here!' he exclaimed, in a strange tone. She was shivering with cold. Her almost naked arms were blue. She could not answer Siegmund's question, but lay clasped against him, shivering away her last chill as his warmth invaded her. He laughed in his heart as she nestled in to him.
'Is it a dream now, dear?' he whispered. Helena clasped him tightly, shuddering because of the delicious suffusing of his warmth through her.
Almost immediately they heard the grinding of the brakes.
'Here we are, then!' exclaimed Helena, dropping into her conventional, cheerful manner at once. She put straight her hat, while he gathered his luggage.
Until tea-time there was a pause in their progress. Siegmund was tingling with an exquisite vividness, as if he had taken some rare stimulant. He wondered at himself. It seemed that every fibre in his body was surprised with joy, as each tree in a forest at dawn utters astonished cries of delight.
When Helena came back, she sat opposite to him to see him. His naive look of joy was very sweet to her. His eyes were dark blue, showing the fibrils, like a purple-veined flower at twilight, and somehow, mysteriously, joy seemed to quiver in the iris. Helena appreciated him, feature by feature. She liked his clear forehead, with its thick black hair, and his full mouth, and his chin. She loved his hands, that were small, but strong and nervous, and very white. She liked his breast, that breathed so strong and quietly, and his arms, and his thighs, and his knees.
For him, Helena was a presence. She was ambushed, fused in an aura of his love. He only saw she was white, and strong, and full fruited, he only knew her blue eyes were rather awful to him.
Outside, the sea-mist was travelling thicker and thicker inland. Their lodging was not far from the bay. As they sat together at tea, Siegmund's eyes dilated, and he looked frowning at Helena.
'What is it?' he asked, listening uneasily.
Helena looked up at him, from pouring out the tea. His little anxious look of distress amused her.
'The noise, you mean? Merely the fog-horn, dear—not Wotan's wrath, nor Siegfried's dragon....'
The fog was white at the window. They sat waiting. After a few seconds the sound came low, swelling, like the mooing of some great sea animal, alone, the last of the monsters. The whole fog gave off the sound for a second or two, then it died down into an intense silence. Siegmund and Helena looked at each other. His eyes were full of trouble. To see a big, strong man anxious-eyed as a child because of a strange sound amused her. But he was tired.
'I assure you, it is only a fog-horn,' she laughed.
'Of course. But it is a depressing sort of sound.'
'Is it?' she said curiously. 'Why? Well—yes—I think I can understand its being so to some people. It's something like the call of the horn across the sea to Tristan.'
She hummed softly, then three times she sang the horn-call. Siegmund, with his face expressionless as a mask, sat staring out at the mist. The boom of the siren broke in upon them. To him, the sound was full of fatality. Helena waited till the noise died down, then she repeated her horn-call.
'Yet it is very much like the fog-horn,' she said, curiously interested.
'This time next week, Helena!' he said.
She suddenly went heavy, and stretched across to clasp his hand as it lay upon the table.
'I shall be calling to you from Cornwall,' she said.
He did not reply. So often she did not take his meaning, but left him alone with his sense of tragedy. She had no idea how his life was wrenched from its roots, and when he tried to tell her, she balked him, leaving him inwardly quite lonely.
'There is no next week,' she declared, with great cheerfulness. 'There is only the present.'
At the same moment she rose and slipped across to him. Putting her arms round his neck, she stood holding his head to her bosom, pressing it close, with her hand among his hair. His nostrils and mouth were crushed against her breast. He smelled the silk of her dress and the faint, intoxicating odour of her person. With shut eyes he owned heavily to himself again that she was blind to him. But some other self urged with gladness, no matter how blind she was, so that she pressed his face upon her.
She stroked and caressed his hair, tremblingly clasped his head against her breast, as if she would never release him; then she bent to kiss his forehead. He took her in his arms, and they were still for awhile.
Now he wanted to blind himself with her, to blaze up all his past and future in a passion worth years of living.
After tea they rested by the fire, while she told him all the delightful things she had found. She had a woman's curious passion for details, a woman's peculiar attachment to certain dear trifles. He listened, smiling, revived by her delight, and forgetful of himself. She soothed him like sunshine, and filled him with pleasure; but he hardly attended to her words.
'Shall we go out, or are you too tired? No, you are tired—you are very tired,' said Helena.
She stood by his chair, looking down on him tenderly.
'No,' he replied, smiling brilliantly at her, and stretching his handsome limbs in relief—'no, not at all tired now.'
Helena continued to look down on him in quiet, covering tenderness. But she quailed before the brilliant, questioning gaze of his eyes.
'You must go to bed early tonight,' she said, turning aside her face, ruffling his soft black hair. He stretched slightly, stiffening his arms, and smiled without answering. It was a very keen pleasure to be thus alone with her and in her charge. He rose, bidding her wrap herself up against the fog.
'You are sure you're not too tired?' she reiterated.
Outside, the sea-mist was white and woolly. They went hand in hand. It was cold, so she thrust her hand with his into the pocket of his overcoat, while they walked together.
'I like the mist,' he said, pressing her hand in his pocket.
'I don't dislike it,' she replied, shrinking nearer to him.
'It puts us together by ourselves,' he said. She plodded alongside, bowing her head, not replying. He did not mind her silence.
'It couldn't have happened better for us than this mist,' he said.
She laughed curiously, almost with a sound of tears.
'Why?' she asked, half tenderly, half bitterly.
'There is nothing else but you, and for you there is nothing else but me—look!'
He stood still. They were on the downs, so that Helena found herself quite alone with the man in a world of mist. Suddenly she flung herself sobbing against his breast. He held her closely, tenderly, not knowing what it was all about, but happy and unafraid.
In one hollow place the siren from the Needles seemed to bellow full in their ears. Both Siegmund and Helena felt their emotion too intense. They turned from it.
'What is the pitch?' asked Helena.
'Where it is horizontal? It slides up a chromatic scale,' said Siegmund.
'Yes, but the settled pitch—is it about E?'
'E!' exclaimed Siegmund. 'More like F.'
'Nay, listen!' said Helena.
They stood still and waited till there came the long booing of the fog-horn.
'There!' exclaimed Siegmund, imitating the sound. 'That is not E.' He repeated the sound. 'It is F.'
'Surely it is E,' persisted Helena.
'Even F sharp,' he rejoined, humming the note.
She laughed, and told him to climb the chromatic scale.
'But you agree?' he said.
'I do not,' she replied.
The fog was cold. It seemed to rob them of their courage to talk.
'What is the note in Tristan?' Helena made an effort to ask.
'That is not the same,' he replied.
'No, dear, that is not the same,' she said in low, comforting tones. He quivered at the caress. She put her arms round him reached up her face yearningly for a kiss. He forgot they were standing in the public footpath, in daylight, till she drew hastily away. She heard footsteps down the fog.
As they climbed the path the mist grew thinner, till it was only a grey haze at the top. There they were on the turfy lip of the land. The sky was fairly clear overhead. Below them the sea was singing hoarsely to itself.
Helena drew him to the edge of the cliff. He crushed her hand, drawing slightly back. But it pleased her to feel the grip on her hand becoming unbearable. They stood right on the edge, to see the smooth cliff slope into the mist, under which the sea stirred noisily.
'Shall we walk over, then?' said Siegmund, glancing downwards. Helena's heart stood still a moment at the idea, then beat heavily. How could he play with the idea of death, and the five great days in front? She was afraid of him just then.
'Come away, dear,' she pleaded.
He would, then, forgo the few consummate days! It was bitterness to her to think so.
'Come away, dear!' she repeated, drawing him slowly to the path.
'You are not afraid?' he asked.
'Not afraid, no....' Her voice had that peculiar, reedy, harsh quality that made him shiver.
'It is too easy a way,' he said satirically.
She did not take in his meaning.
'And five days of our own before us, Siegmund!' she scolded. 'The mist is Lethe. It is enough for us if its spell lasts five days.'
He laughed, and took her in his arms, kissing her very closely.
They walked on joyfully, locking behind them the doors of forgetfulness.
As the sun set, the fog dispersed a little. Breaking masses of mist went flying from cliff to cliff, and far away beyond the cliffs the western sky stood dimmed with gold. The lovers wandered aimlessly over the golf-links to where green mounds and turfed banks suggested to Helena that she was tired, and would sit down. They faced the lighted chamber of the west, whence, behind the torn, dull-gold curtains of fog, the sun was departing with pomp.
Siegmund sat very still, watching the sunset. It was a splendid, flaming bridal chamber where he had come to Helena. He wondered how to express it; how other men had borne this same glory.
'What is the music of it?' he asked.
She glanced at him. His eyelids were half lowered, his mouth slightly open, as if in ironic rhapsody.
'Of what, dear?'
'What music do you think holds the best interpretation of sunset?'
His skin was gold, his real mood was intense. She revered him for a moment.
'I do not know,' she said quietly; and she rested her head against his shoulder, looking out west.
There was a space of silence, while Siegmund dreamed on.
'A Beethoven symphony—the one—' and he explained to her.
She was not satisfied, but leaned against him, making her choice. The sunset hung steady, she could scarcely perceive a change.
'The Grail music in Lohengrin,' she decided.
'Yes,' said Siegmund. He found it quite otherwise, but did not trouble to dispute. He dreamed by himself. This displeased her. She wanted him for herself. How could he leave her alone while he watched the sky? She almost put her two hands over his eyes.
The gold march of sunset passed quickly, the ragged curtains of mist closed to. Soon Siegmund and Helena were shut alone within the dense wide fog. She shivered with the cold and the damp. Startled, he took her in his arms, where she lay and clung to him. Holding her closely, he bent forward, straight to her lips. His moustache was drenched cold with fog, so that she shuddered slightly after his kiss, and shuddered again. He did not know why the strong tremor passed through her. Thinking it was with fear and with cold, he undid his overcoat, put her close on his breast, and covered her as best he could. That she feared him at that moment was half pleasure, half shame to him. Pleadingly he hid his face on her shoulder, held her very tightly, till his face grew hot, buried against her soft strong throat.
'You are so big I can't hold you,' she whispered plaintively, catching her breath with fear. Her small hands grasped at the breadth of his shoulders ineffectually.
'You will be cold. Put your hands under my coat,' he whispered.
He put her inside his overcoat and his coat. She came to his warm breast with a sharp intaking of delight and fear; she tried to make her hands meet in the warmth of his shoulders, tried to clasp him.
'See! I can't,' she whispered.
He laughed short, and pressed her closer.
Then, tucking her head in his breast, hiding her face, she timidly slid her hands along his sides, pressing softly, to find the contours of his figure. Softly her hands crept over the silky back of his waistcoat, under his coats, and as they stirred, his blood flushed up, and up again, with fire, till all Siegmund was hot blood, and his breast was one great ache.
He crushed her to him—crushed her in upon the ache of his chest. His muscles set hard and unyielding; at that moment he was a tense, vivid body of flesh, without a mind; his blood, alive and conscious, running towards her. He remained perfectly still, locked about Helena, conscious of nothing.
She was hurt and crushed, but it was pain delicious to her. It was marvellous to her how strong he was, to keep up that grip of her like steel. She swooned in a kind of intense bliss. At length she found herself released, taking a great breath, while Siegmund was moving his mouth over her throat, something like a dog snuffing her, but with his lips. Her heart leaped away in revulsion. His moustache thrilled her strangely. His lips, brushing and pressing her throat beneath the ear, and his warm breath flying rhythmically upon her, made her vibrate through all her body. Like a violin under the bow, she thrilled beneath his mouth, and shuddered from his moustache. Her heart was like fire in her breast.
Suddenly she strained madly to him, and, drawing back her head, placed her lips on his, close, till at the mouth they seemed to melt and fuse together. It was the long, supreme kiss, in which man and woman have one being, Two-in-one, the only Hermaphrodite.
When Helena drew away her lips, she was exhausted. She belonged to that class of 'dreaming women' with whom passion exhausts itself at the mouth. Her desire was accomplished in a real kiss. The fire, in heavy flames, had poured through her to Siegmund, from Siegmund to her. It sank, and she felt herself flagging. She had not the man's brightness and vividness of blood. She lay upon his breast, dreaming how beautiful it would be to go to sleep, to swoon unconscious there, on that rare bed. She lay still on Siegmund's breast, listening to his heavily beating heart.
With her the dream was always more than the actuality. Her dream of Siegmund was more to her than Siegmund himself. He might be less than her dream, which is as it may be. However, to the real man she was very cruel.
He held her close. His dream was melted in his blood, and his blood ran bright for her. His dreams were the flowers of his blood. Hers were more detached and inhuman. For centuries a certain type of woman has been rejecting the 'animal' in humanity, till now her dreams are abstract, and full of fantasy, and her blood runs in bondage, and her kindness is full of cruelty.
Helena lay flagging upon the breast of Siegmund. He folded her closely, and his mouth and his breath were warm on her neck. She sank away from his caresses, passively, subtly drew back from him. He was far too sensitive not to be aware of this, and far too much of a man not to yield to the woman. His heart sank, his blood grew sullen at her withdrawal. Still he held her; the two were motionless and silent for some time.
She became distressedly conscious that her feet, which lay on the wet grass, were aching with cold. She said softly, gently, as if he was her child whom she must correct and lead:
'I think we ought to go home, Siegmund.' He made a small sound, that might mean anything, but did not stir or release her. His mouth, however, remained motionless on her throat, and the caress went out of it.
'It is cold and wet, dear; we ought to go,' she coaxed determinedly.
'Soon,' he said thickly.
She sighed, waited a moment, then said very gently, as if she were loath to take him from his pleasure:
'Siegmund, I am cold.'
There was a reproach in this which angered him.
'Cold!' he exclaimed. 'But you are warm with me—'
'But my feet are out on the grass, dear, and they are like wet pebbles.'
'Oh dear!' he said. 'Why didn't you give them me to warm?' He leaned forward, and put his hand on her shoes.
'They are very cold,' he said. 'We must hurry and make them warm.'
When they rose, her feet were so numbed she could hardly stand. She clung to Siegmund, laughing.
'I wish you had told me before,' he said. 'I ought to have known....'
Vexed with himself, he put his arm round her, and they set off home.
They found the fire burning brightly in their room. The only other person in the pretty, stiffly-furnished cottage was their landlady, a charming old lady, who let this sitting-room more for the change, for the sake of having visitors, than for gain.
Helena introduced Siegmund as 'My friend'. The old lady smiled upon him. He was big, and good-looking, and embarrassed. She had had a son years back.... And the two were lovers. She hoped they would come to her house for their honeymoon.
Siegmund sat in his great horse-hair chair by the fire, while Helena attended to the lamp. Glancing at him over the glowing globe, she found him watching her with a small, peculiar smile of irony, and anger, and bewilderment. He was not quite himself. Her hand trembled so, she could scarcely adjust the wicks.
Helena left the room to change her dress.
'I shall be back before Mrs Curtiss brings in the tray. There is the Nietzsche I brought—'
He did not answer as he watched her go. Left alone, he sat with his arms along his knees, perfectly still. His heart beat heavily, and all his being felt sullen, watchful, aloof, like a balked animal. Thoughts came up in his brain like bubbles—random, hissing out aimlessly. Once, in the startling inflammability of his blood, his veins ran hot, and he smiled.
When Helena entered the room his eyes sought hers swiftly, as sparks lighting on the tinder. But her eyes were only moist with tenderness. His look instantly changed. She wondered at his being so silent, so strange.
Coming to him in her unhesitating, womanly way—she was only twenty-six to his thirty-eight—she stood before him, holding both his hands and looking down on him with almost gloomy tenderness. She wore a white dress that showed her throat gathering like a fountain-jet of solid foam to balance her head. He could see the full white arms passing clear through the dripping spume of lace, towards the rise of her breasts. But her eyes bent down upon him with such gloom of tenderness that he dared not reveal the passion burning in him. He could not look at her. He strove almost pitifully to be with her sad, tender, but he could not put out his fire. She held both his hands firm, pressing them in appeal for her dream love. He glanced at her wistfully, then turned away. She waited for him. She wanted his caresses and tenderness. He would not look at her.
'You would like supper now, dear?' she asked, looking where the dark hair ended, and his neck ran smooth, under his collar, to the strong setting of his shoulders.
'Just as you will,' he replied.
Still she waited, and still he would not look at her. Something troubled him, she thought. He was foreign to her.
'I will spread the cloth, then,' she said, in deep tones of resignation. She pressed his hands closely, and let them drop. He took no notice, but, still with his arms on his knees, he stared into the fire.
In the golden glow of lamplight she set small bowls of white and lavender sweet-peas, and mignonette, upon the round table. He watched her moving, saw the stir of her white, sloping shoulders under the lace, and the hollow of her shoulders firm as marble, and the slight rise and fall of her loins as she walked. He felt as if his breast were scalded. It was a physical pain to him.
Supper was very quiet. Helena was sad and gentle; he had a peculiar, enigmatic look in his eyes, between suffering and mockery and love. He was quite intractable; he would not soften to her, but remained there aloof. He was tired, and the look of weariness and suffering was evident to her through his strangeness. In her heart she wept.
At last she tinkled the bell for supper to be cleared. Meanwhile, restlessly, she played fragments of Wagner on the piano.
'Will you want anything else?' asked the smiling old landlady.
'Nothing at all, thanks,' said Helena, with decision.
'Oh! then I think I will go to bed when I've washed the dishes. You will put the lamp out, dear?'
'I am well used to a lamp,' smiled Helena. 'We use them always at home.'
She had had a day before Siegmund's coming, in which to win Mrs Curtiss' heart, and she had been successful. The old lady took the tray.
'Good-night, dear—good-night, sir. I will leave you. You will not be long, dear?'
'No, we shall not be long. Mr MacNair is very evidently tired out.'
'Yes—yes. It is very tiring, London.'
When the door was closed, Helena stood a moment undecided, looking at Siegmund. He was lying in his arm-chair in a dispirited way, and looking in the fire. As she gazed at him with troubled eyes, he happened to glance to her, with the same dark, curiously searching, disappointed eyes.
'Shall I read to you?' she asked bitterly.
'If you will,' he replied.
He sounded so indifferent, she could scarcely refrain from crying. She went and stood in front of him, looking down on him heavily.
'What is it, dear?' she said.
'You,' he replied, smiling with a little grimace.
He smiled at her ironically, then closed his eyes. She slid into his arms with a little moan. He took her on his knee, where she curled up like a heavy white cat. She let him caress her with his mouth, and did not move, but lay there curled up and quiet and luxuriously warm.
He kissed her hair, which was beautifully fragrant of itself, and time after time drew between his lips one long, keen thread, as if he would ravel out with his mouth her vigorous confusion of hair. His tenderness of love was like a soft flame lapping her voluptuously.
After a while they heard the old lady go upstairs. Helena went very still, and seemed to contract. Siegmund himself hesitated in his love-making. All was very quiet. They could hear the faint breathing of the sea. Presently the cat, which had been sleeping in a chair, rose and went to the door.
'Shall I let her out?' said Siegmund.
'Do!' said Helena, slipping from his knee. 'She goes out when the nights are fine.'
Siegmund rose to set free the tabby. Hearing the front door open, Mrs Curtiss called from upstairs: 'Is that you, dear?'
'I have just let Kitty out,' said Siegmund.
'Ah, thank you. Good night!' They heard the old lady lock her bedroom door.
Helena was kneeling on the hearth. Siegmund softly closed the door, then waited a moment. His heart was beating fast.
'Shall we sit by firelight?' he asked tentatively.
'Yes—If you wish,' she replied, very slowly, as if against her will. He carefully turned down the lamp, then blew out the light. His whole body was burning and surging with desire.
The room was black and red with firelight. Helena shone ruddily as she knelt, a bright, bowed figure, full in the glow. Now and then red stripes of firelight leapt across the walls. Siegmund, his face ruddy, advanced out of the shadows.
He sat in the chair beside her, leaning forward, his hands hanging like two scarlet flowers listless in the fire glow, near to her, as she knelt on the hearth, with head bowed down. One of the flowers awoke and spread towards her. It asked for her mutely. She was fascinated, scarcely able to move.
'Come,' he pleaded softly.
She turned, lifted her hands to him. The lace fell back, and her arms, bare to the shoulder, shone rosily. He saw her breasts raised towards him. Her face was bent between her arms as she looked up at him afraid. Lit by the firelight, in her white, clinging dress, cowering between her uplifted arms, she seemed to be offering him herself to sacrifice.
In an instant he was kneeling, and she was lying on his shoulder, abandoned to him. There was a good deal of sorrow in his joy.
* * * * *
It was eleven o'clock when Helena at last loosened Siegmund's arms, and rose from the armchair where she lay beside him. She was very hot, feverish, and restless. For the last half-hour he had lain absolutely still, with his heavy arms about her, making her hot. If she had not seen his eyes blue and dark, she would have thought him asleep. She tossed in restlessness on his breast.
'Am I not uneasy?' she had said, to make him speak. He had smiled gently.
'It is wonderful to be as still as this,' he said. She had lain tranquil with him, then, for a few moments. To her there was something sacred in his stillness and peace. She wondered at him; he was so different from an hour ago. How could he be the same! Now he was like the sea, blue and hazy in the morning, musing by itself. Before, he was burning, volcanic, as if he would destroy her.
She had given him this new soft beauty. She was the earth in which his strange flowers grew. But she herself wondered at the flowers produced of her. He was so strange to her, so different from herself. What next would he ask of her, what new blossom would she rear in him then. He seemed to grow and flower involuntarily. She merely helped to produce him.
Helena could not keep still; her body was full of strange sensations, of involuntary recoil from shock. She was tired, but restless. All the time Siegmund lay with his hot arms over her, himself so incomprehensible in his base of blue, open-eyed slumber, she grew more breathless and unbearable to herself.
At last she lifted his arm, and drew herself out of the chair. Siegmund looked at her from his tranquillity. She put the damp hair from her forehead, breathed deep, almost panting. Then she glanced hauntingly at her flushed face in the mirror. With the same restlessness, she turned to look at the night. The cool, dark, watery sea called to her. She pushed back the curtain.
The moon was wading deliciously through shallows of white cloud. Beyond the trees and the few houses was the great concave of darkness, the sea, and the moonlight. The moon was there to put a cool hand of absolution on her brow.
'Shall we go out a moment, Siegmund?' she asked fretfully.
'Ay, if you wish to,' he answered, altogether willing. He was filled with an easiness that would comply with her every wish.
They went out softly, walked in silence to the bay. There they stood at the head of the white, living moonpath, where the water whispered at the casement of the land seductively.
'It's the finest night I have seen,' said Siegmund. Helena's eyes suddenly filled with tears, at his simplicity of happiness.
'I like the moon on the water,' she said.
'I can hardly tell the one from the other,' he replied simply. 'The sea seems to be poured out of the moon, and rocking in the hands of the coast. They are all one, just as your eyes and hands and what you say, are all you.'
'Yes,' she answered, thrilled. This was the Siegmund of her dream, and she had created him. Yet there was a quiver of pain. He was beyond her now, and did not need her.
'I feel at home here,' he said; 'as if I had come home where I was bred.'
She pressed his hand hard, clinging to him.
'We go an awful long way round, Helena,' he said, 'just to find we're all right.' He laughed pleasantly. 'I have thought myself such an outcast! How can one be outcast in one's own night, and the moon always naked to us, and the sky half her time in rags? What do we want?'
Helena did not know. Nor did she know what he meant. But she felt something of the harmony.
'Whatever I have or haven't from now,' he continued, 'the darkness is a sort of mother, and the moon a sister, and the stars children, and sometimes the sea is a brother: and there's a family in one house, you see.'
'And I, Siegmund?' she said softly, taking him in all seriousness. She looked up at him piteously. He saw the silver of tears among the moonlit ivory of her face. His heart tightened with tenderness, and he laughed, then bent to kiss her.
'The key of the castle,' he said. He put his face against hers, and felt on his cheek the smart of her tears.
'It's all very grandiose,' he said comfortably, 'but it does for tonight, all this that I say.'
'It is true for ever,' she declared.
'In so far as tonight is eternal,' he said.
He remained, with the wetness of her cheek smarting on his, looking from under his brows at the white transport of the water beneath the moon. They stood folded together, gazing into the white heart of the night.
Siegmund woke with wonder in the morning. 'It is like the magic tales,' he thought, as he realized where he was; 'and I am transported to a new life, to realize my dream! Fairy-tales are true, after all.'
He had slept very deeply, so that he felt strangely new. He issued with delight from the dark of sleep into the sunshine. Reaching out his hand, he felt for his watch. It was seven o'clock. The dew of a sleep-drenched night glittered before his eyes. Then he laughed and forgot the night.
The creeper was tapping at the window, as a little wind blew up the sunshine. Siegmund put out his hands for the unfolding happiness of the morning. Helena was in the next room, which she kept inviolate. Sparrows in the creeper were shaking shadows of leaves among the sunshine; milk-white shallop of cloud stemmed bravely across the bright sky; the sea would be blossoming with a dewy shimmer of sunshine.
Siegmund rose to look, and it was so. Also the houses, like white, and red, and black cattle, were wandering down the bay, with a mist of sunshine between him and them. He leaned with his hands on the window-ledge looking out of the casement. The breeze ruffled his hair, blew down the neck of his sleeping-jacket upon his chest. He laughed, hastily threw on his clothes, and went out.
There was no sign of Helena. He strode along, singing to himself, and spinning his towel rhythmically. A small path led him across a field and down a zigzag in front of the cliffs. Some nooks, sheltered from the wind, were warm with sunshine, scented of honeysuckle and of thyme. He took a sprig of woodbine that was coloured of cream and butter. The grass wetted his brown shoes and his flannel trousers. Again, a fresh breeze put the scent of the sea in his uncovered hair. The cliff was a tangle of flowers above and below, with poppies at the lip being blown out like red flame, and scabious leaning inquisitively to look down, and pink and white rest-harrow everywhere, very pretty.
Siegmund stood at a bend where heath blossomed in shaggy lilac, where the sunshine but no wind came. He saw the blue bay curl away to the far-off headland. A few birds, white and small, circled, dipped by the thin foam-edge of the water; a few ships dimmed the sea with silent travelling; a few small people, dark or naked-white, moved below the swinging birds.
He chose his bathing-place where the incoming tide had half covered a stretch of fair, bright sand that was studded with rocks resembling square altars, hollowed on top. He threw his clothes on a high rock. It delighted him to feel the fresh, soft fingers of the wind touching him and wandering timidly over his nakedness. He ran laughing over the sand to the sea, where he waded in, thrusting his legs noisily through the heavy green water.
It was cold, and he shrank. For a moment he found himself thigh-deep, watching the horizontal stealing of a ship through the intolerable glitter, afraid to plunge. Laughing, he went under the clear green water.
He was a poor swimmer. Sometimes a choppy wave swamped him, and he rose gasping, wringing the water from his eyes and nostrils, while he heaved and sank with the rocking of the waves that clasped his breast. Then he stooped again to resume his game with the sea. It is splendid to play, even at middle age, and the sea is a fine partner.
With his eyes at the shining level of the water, he liked to peer across, taking a seal's view of the cliffs as they confronted the morning. He liked to see the ships standing up on a bright floor; he liked to see the birds come down.
But in his playing he drifted towards the spur of rock, where, as he swam, he caught his thigh on a sharp, submerged point. He frowned at the pain, at the sudden cruelty of the sea; then he thought no more of it, but ruffled his way back to the clear water, busily continuing his play.
When he ran out on to the fair sand his heart, and brain, and body were in a turmoil. He panted, filling his breast with the air that was sparkled and tasted of the sea. As he shuddered a little, the wilful palpitations of his flesh pleased him, as if birds had fluttered against him. He offered his body to the morning, glowing with the sea's passion. The wind nestled in to him, the sunshine came on his shoulders like warm breath. He delighted in himself.
The rock before him was white and wet, like himself; it had a pool of clear water, with shells and one rose anemone.
'She would make so much of this little pool,' he thought. And as he smiled, he saw, very faintly, his own shadow in the water. It made him conscious of himself, seeming to look at him. He glanced at himself, at his handsome, white maturity. As he looked he felt the insidious creeping of blood down his thigh, which was marked with a long red slash. Siegmund watched the blood travel over the bright skin. It wound itself redly round the rise of his knee.
'That is I, that creeping red, and this whiteness I pride myself on is I, and my black hair, and my blue eyes are I. It is a weird thing to be a person. What makes me myself, among all these?'
Feeling chill, he wiped himself quickly.
'I am at my best, at my strongest,' he said proudly to himself. 'She ought to be rejoiced at me, but she is not; she rejects me as if I were a baboon under my clothing.'
He glanced at his whole handsome maturity, the firm plating of his breasts, the full thighs, creatures proud in themselves. Only he was marred by the long raw scratch, which he regretted deeply.
'If I was giving her myself, I wouldn't want that blemish on me,' he thought.
He wiped the blood from the wound. It was nothing.
'She thinks ten thousand times more of that little pool, with a bit of pink anemone and some yellow weed, than of me. But, by Jove! I'd rather see her shoulders and breast than all heaven and earth put together could show.... Why doesn't she like me?' he thought as he dressed. It was his physical self thinking.
After dabbling his feet in a warm pool, he returned home. Helena was in the dining-room arranging a bowl of purple pansies. She looked up at him rather heavily as he stood radiant on the threshold. He put her at her ease. It was a gay, handsome boy she had to meet, not a man, strange and insistent. She smiled on him with tender dignity.
'You have bathed?' she said, smiling, and looking at his damp, ruffled black hair. She shrank from his eyes, but he was quite unconscious.
'You have not bathed!' he said; then bent to kiss her. She smelt the brine in his hair.
'No; I bathe later,' she replied. 'But what—'
Hesitating, she touched the towel, then looked up at him anxiously.
'It is blood?' she said.
'I grazed my thigh—nothing at all,' he replied.
'Are you sure?'
'The towel looks bad enough,' she said.
'It's an alarmist,' he laughed.
She looked in concern at him, then turned aside.
'Breakfast is quite ready,' she said.
'And I for breakfast—but shall I do?'
She glanced at him. He was without a collar, so his throat was bare above the neck-band of his flannel shirt. Altogether she disapproved of his slovenly appearance. He was usually so smart in his dress.
'I would not trouble,' she said almost sarcastically.
Whistling, he threw the towel on a chair.
'How did you sleep?' she asked gravely, as she watched him beginning to eat.
'Like the dead—solid,' he replied'. 'And you?'
'Oh, pretty well, thanks,' she said, rather piqued that he had slept so deeply, whilst she had tossed, and had called his name in a torture of sleeplessness.
'I haven't slept like that for years,' he said enthusiastically. Helena smiled gently on him. The charm of his handsome, healthy zest came over her. She liked his naked throat and his shirt-breast, which suggested the breast of the man beneath it. She was extraordinarily happy, with him so bright. The dark-faced pansies, in a little crowd, seemed gaily winking a golden eye at her.
After breakfast, while Siegmund dressed, she went down to the sea. She dwelled, as she passed, on all tiny, pretty things—on the barbaric yellow ragwort, and pink convolvuli; on all the twinkling of flowers, and dew, and snail-tracks drying in the sun. Her walk was one long lingering. More than the spaces, she loved the nooks, and fancy more than imagination.
She wanted to see just as she pleased, without any of humanity's previous vision for spectacles. So she knew hardly any flower's name, nor perceived any of the relationships, nor cared a jot about an adaptation or a modification. It pleased her that the lowest browny florets of the clover hung down; she cared no more. She clothed everything in fancy.
'That yellow flower hadn't time to be brushed and combed by the fairies before dawn came. It is tousled ...' so she thought to herself. The pink convolvuli were fairy horns or telephones from the day fairies to the night fairies. The rippling sunlight on the sea was the Rhine maidens spreading their bright hair to the sun. That was her favourite form of thinking. The value of all things was in the fancy they evoked. She did not care for people; they were vulgar, ugly, and stupid, as a rule.
Her sense of satisfaction was complete as she leaned on the low sea-wall, spreading her fingers to warm on the stones, concocting magic out of the simple morning. She watched the indolent chasing of wavelets round the small rocks, the curling of the deep blue water round the water-shadowed reefs.
'This is very good,' she said to herself. 'This is eternally cool, and clean and fresh. It could never be spoiled by satiety.'
She tried to wash herself with the white and blue morning, to clear away the soiling of the last night's passion.
The sea played by itself, intent on its own game. Its aloofness, its self-sufficiency, are its great charm. The sea does not give and take, like the land and the sky. It has no traffic with the world. It spends its passion upon itself. Helena was something like the sea, self-sufficient and careless of the rest.
Siegmund came bareheaded, his black hair ruffling to the wind, his eyes shining warmer than the sea-like cornflowers rather, his limbs swinging backward and forward like the water. Together they leaned on the wall, warming the four white hands upon the grey bleached stone as they watched the water playing.
When Siegmund had Helena near, he lost the ache, the yearning towards something, which he always felt otherwise. She seemed to connect him with the beauty of things, as if she were the nerve through which he received intelligence of the sun, and wind, and sea, and of the moon and the darkness. Beauty she never felt herself came to him through her. It is that makes love. He could always sympathize with the wistful little flowers, and trees lonely in their crowds, and wild, sad seabirds. In these things he recognized the great yearning, the ache outwards towards something, with which he was ordinarily burdened. But with Helena, in this large sea-morning, he was whole and perfect as the day.
'Will it be fine all day?' he asked, when a cloud came over.
'I don't know,' she replied in her gentle, inattentive manner, as if she did not care at all. 'I think it will be a mixed day—cloud and sun—more sun than cloud.'
She looked up gravely to see if he agreed. He turned from frowning at the cloud to smile at her. He seemed so bright, teeming with life.
'I like a bare blue sky,' he said; 'sunshine that you seem to stir about as you walk.'
'It is warm enough here, even for you,' she smiled.
'Ah, here!' he answered, putting his face down to receive the radiation from the stone, letting his fingers creep towards Helena's. She laughed, and captured his fingers, pressing them into her hand. For nearly an hour they remained thus in the still sunshine by the sea-wall, till Helena began to sigh, and to lift her face to the little breeze that wandered down from the west. She fled as soon from warmth as from cold. Physically, she was always so; she shrank from anything extreme. But psychically she was an extremist, and a dangerous one.
They climbed the hill to the fresh-breathing west. On the highest point of land stood a tall cross, railed in by a red iron fence. They read the inscription.
'That's all right—but a vilely ugly railing!' exclaimed Siegmund.
'Oh, they'd have to fence in Lord Tennyson's white marble,' said Helena, rather indefinitely.
He interpreted her according to his own idea.
'Yes, he did belittle great things, didn't he?' said Siegmund.
'Tennyson!' she exclaimed.
'Not peacocks and princesses, but the bigger things.'
'I shouldn't say so,' she declared.
He sounded indeterminate, but was not really so.
They wandered over the downs westward, among the wind. As they followed the headland to the Needles, they felt the breeze from the wings of the sea brushing them, and heard restless, poignant voices screaming below the cliffs. Now and again a gull, like a piece of spume flung up, rose over the cliff's edge, and sank again. Now and again, as the path dipped in a hollow, they could see the low, suspended intertwining of the birds passing in and out of the cliff shelter.
These savage birds appealed to all the poetry and yearning in Helena. They fascinated her, they almost voiced her. She crept nearer and nearer the edge, feeling she must watch the gulls thread out in flakes of white above the weed-black rocks. Siegmund stood away back, anxiously. He would not dare to tempt Fate now, having too strong a sense of death to risk it.
'Come back, dear. Don't go so near,' he pleaded, following as close as he might. She heard the pain and appeal in his voice. It thrilled her, and she went a little nearer. What was death to her but one of her symbols, the death of which the sagas talk—something grand, and sweeping, and dark.
Leaning forward, she could see the line of grey sand and the line of foam broken by black rocks, and over all the gulls, stirring round like froth on a pot, screaming in chorus.
She watched the beautiful birds, heard the pleading of Siegmund, and she thrilled with pleasure, toying with his keen anguish.
Helena came smiling to Siegmund, saying:
'They look so fine down there.'
He fastened his hands upon her, as a relief from his pain. He was filled with a keen, strong anguish of dread, like a presentiment. She laughed as he gripped her.
They went searching for a way of descent. At last Siegmund inquired of the coastguard the nearest way down the cliff. He was pointed to the 'Path of the Hundred Steps'.
'When is a hundred not a hundred?' he said sceptically, as they descended the dazzling white chalk. There were sixty-eight steps. Helena laughed at his exactitude.
'It must be a love of round numbers,' he said.
'No doubt,' she laughed. He took the thing so seriously.
'Or of exaggeration,' he added.
There was a shelving beach of warm white sand, bleached soft as velvet. A sounding of gulls filled the dark recesses of the headland; a low chatter of shingle came from where the easy water was breaking; the confused, shell-like murmur of the sea between the folded cliffs. Siegmund and Helena lay side by side upon the dry sand, small as two resting birds, while thousands of gulls whirled in a white-flaked storm above them, and the great cliffs towered beyond, and high up over the cliffs the multitudinous clouds were travelling, a vast caravan en route. Amidst the journeying of oceans and clouds and the circling flight of heavy spheres, lost to sight in the sky, Siegmund and Helena, two grains of life in the vast movement, were travelling a moment side by side.
They lay on the beach like a grey and a white sea-bird together. The lazy ships that were idling down the Solent observed the cliffs and the boulders, but Siegmund and Helena were too little. They lay ignored and insignificant, watching through half-closed fingers the diverse caravan of Day go past. They lay with their latticed fingers over their eyes, looking out at the sailing of ships across their vision of blue water.
'Now, that one with the greyish sails—' Siegmund was saying.
'Like a housewife of forty going placidly round with the duster—yes?' interrupted Helena.
'That is a schooner. You see her four sails, and—'
He continued to classify the shipping, until he was interrupted by the wicked laughter of Helena.
'That is right, I am sure,' he protested.
'I won't contradict you,' she laughed, in a tone which showed him he knew even less of the classifying of ships than she did.
'So you have lain there amusing yourself at my expense all the time?' he said, not knowing in the least why she laughed. They turned and looked at one another, blue eyes smiling and wavering as the beach wavers in the heat. Then they closed their eyes with sunshine.
Drowsed by the sun, and the white sand, and the foam, their thoughts slept like butterflies on the flowers of delight. But cold shadows startled them up.
'The clouds are coming,' he said regretfully.
'Yes; but the wind is quite strong enough for them,' she answered,
'Look at the shadows—like blots floating away. Don't they devour the sunshine?'
'It is quite warm enough here,' she said, nestling in to him.
'Yes; but the sting is missing. I like to feel the warmth biting in.'
'No, I do not. To be cosy is enough.'
'I like the sunshine on me, real, and manifest, and tangible. I feel like a seed that has been frozen for ages. I want to be bitten by the sunshine.'
She leaned over and kissed him. The sun came bright-footed over the water, leaving a shining print on Siegmund's face. He lay, with half-closed eyes, sprawled loosely on the sand. Looking at his limbs, she imagined he must be heavy, like the bounders. She sat over him, with her fingers stroking his eyebrows, that were broad and rather arched. He lay perfectly still, in a half-dream.
Presently she laid her head on his breast, and remained so, watching the sea, and listening to his heart-beats. The throb was strong and deep. It seemed to go through the whole island and the whole afternoon, and it fascinated her: so deep, unheard, with its great expulsions of life. Had the world a heart? Was there also deep in the world a great God thudding out waves of life, like a great heart, unconscious? It frightened her. This was the God she knew not, as she knew not this Siegmund. It was so different from the half-shut eyes with black lashes, and the winsome, shapely nose. And the heart of the world, as she heard it, could not be the same as the curling splash of retreat of the little sleepy waves. She listened for Siegmund's soul, but his heart overbeat all other sound, thudding powerfully.
Siegmund woke to the muffled firing of guns on the sea. He looked across at the shaggy grey water in wonder. Then he turned to Helena.
'I suppose,' he said, 'they are saluting the Czar. Poor beggar!'
'I was afraid they would wake you,' she smiled.
They listened again to the hollow, dull sound of salutes from across the water and the downs.
The day had gone grey. They decided to walk, down below, to the next bay.
'The tide is coming in,' said Helena.
'But this broad strip of sand hasn't been wet for months. It's as soft as pepper,' he replied.
They laboured along the shore, beside the black, sinuous line of shrivelled fucus. The base of the cliff was piled with chalk debris. On the other side was the level plain of the sea. Hand in hand, alone and overshadowed by huge cliffs, they toiled on. The waves staggered in, and fell, overcome at the end of the race.
Siegmund and Helena neared a headland, sheer as the side of a house, its base weighted with a tremendous white mass of boulders, that the green sea broke amongst with a hollow sound, followed by a sharp hiss of withdrawal. The lovers had to cross this desert of white boulders, that glistened in smooth skins uncannily. But Siegmund saw the waves were almost at the wall of the headland. Glancing back, he saw the other headland white-dashed at the base with foam. He and Helena must hurry, or they would be prisoned on the thin crescent of strand still remaining between the great wall and the water.
The cliffs overhead oppressed him—made him feel trapped and helpless. He was caught by them in a net of great boulders, while the sea fumbled for him. But he and Helena. She laboured strenuously beside him, blinded by the skin-like glisten of the white rock.
'I think I will rest awhile,' she said.
'No, come along,' he begged.
'My dear,' she laughed, 'there is tons of this shingle to buttress us from the sea.'
He looked at the waves curving and driving maliciously at the boulders. It would be ridiculous to be trapped.
'Look at this black wood,' she said. 'Does the sea really char it?'
'Let us get round the corner,' he begged.
'Really, Siegmund, the sea is not so anxious to take us,' she said ironically.
When they rounded the first point, they found themselves in a small bay jutted out to sea; the front of the headland was, as usual, grooved. This bay was pure white at the base, from its great heaped mass of shingle. With the huge concave of the cliff behind, the foothold of massed white boulders, and the immense arc of the sea in front, Helena was delighted.
'This is fine, Siegmund!' she said, halting and facing west.
Smiling ironically, he sat down on a boulder. They were quite alone, in this great white niche thrust out to sea. Here, he could see, the tide would beat the base of the wall. It came plunging not far from their feet.
'Would you really like to travel beyond the end?' he asked.
She looked round quickly, thrilled, then answered as if in rebuke:
'This is a fine place. I should like to stay here an hour.'
'And then where?'
'Then? Oh, then, I suppose, it would be tea-time.'
'Tea on brine and pink anemones, with Daddy Neptune.'
She looked sharply at the outjutting capes. The sea did foam perilously near their bases.
'I suppose it is rather risky,' she said; and she turned, began silently to clamber forwards.
He followed; she should set the pace.
'I have no doubt there's plenty of room, really,' he said. 'The sea only looks near.'
But she toiled on intently. Now it was a question of danger, not of inconvenience, Siegmund felt elated. The waves foamed up, as it seemed, against the exposed headland, from which the massive shingle had been swept back. Supposing they could not get by? He began to smile curiously. He became aware of the tremendous noise of waters, of the slight shudder of the shingle when a wave struck it, and he always laughed to himself. Helena laboured on in silence; he kept just behind her. The point seemed near, but it took longer than they thought. They had against them the tremendous cliff, the enormous weight of shingle, and the swinging sea. The waves struck louder, booming fearfully; wind, sweeping round the corner, wet their faces. Siegmund hoped they were cut off, and hoped anxiously the way was clear. The smile became set on his face.
Then he saw there was a ledge or platform at the base of the cliff, and it was against this the waves broke. They climbed the side of this ridge, hurried round to the front. There the wind caught them, wet and furious; the water raged below. Between the two Helena shrank, wilted. She took hold of Siegmund. The great, brutal wave flung itself at the rock, then drew back for another heavy spring. Fume and spray were spun on the wind like smoke. The roaring thud of the waves reminded Helena of a beating heart. She clung closer to him, as her hair was blown out damp, and her white dress flapped in the wet wind. Always, against the rock, came the slow thud of the waves, like a great heart beating under the breast. There was something brutal about it that she could not bear. She had no weapon against brute force.
She glanced up at Siegmund. Tiny drops of mist greyed his eyebrows. He was looking out to sea, screwing up his eyes, and smiling brutally. Her face became heavy and sullen. He was like the heart and the brute sea, just here; he was not her Siegmund. She hated the brute in him.
Turning suddenly, she plunged over the shingle towards the wide, populous bay. He remained alone, grinning at the smashing turmoil, careless of her departure. He would easily catch her.
When at last he turned from the wrestling water, he had spent his savagery, and was sad. He could never take part in the great battle of action. It was beyond him. Many things he had let slip by. His life was whittled down to only a few interests, only a few necessities. Even here, he had but Helena, and through her the rest. After this week—well, that was vague. He left it in the dark, dreading it.
And Helena was toiling over the rough beach alone. He saw her small figure bowed as she plunged forward. It smote his heart with the keenest tenderness. She was so winsome, a playmate with beauty and fancy. Why was he cruel to her because she had not his own bitter wisdom of experience? She was young and naive, and should he be angry with her for that? His heart was tight at the thought of her. She would have to suffer also, because of him.
He hurried after her. Not till they had nearly come to a little green mound, where the downs sloped, and the cliffs were gone, did he catch her up. Then he took her hand as they walked.
They halted on the green hillock beyond the sand, and, without a word, he folded her in his arms. Both were put of breath. He clasped her close, seeming to rock her with his strong panting. She felt his body lifting into her, and sinking away. It seemed to force a rhythm, a new pulse, in her. Gradually, with a fine, keen thrilling, she melted down on him, like metal sinking on a mould. He was sea and sunlight mixed, heaving, warm, deliciously strong.
Siegmund exulted. At last she was moulded to him in pure passion.
They stood folded thus for some time. Then Helena raised her burning face, and relaxed. She was throbbing with strange elation and satisfaction.
'It might as well have been the sea as any other way, dear,' she said, startling both of them. The speech went across their thoughtfulness like a star flying into the night, from nowhere. She had no idea why she said it. He pressed his mouth on hers. 'Not for you,' he thought, by reflex. 'You can't go that way yet.' But he said nothing, strained her very tightly, and kept her lips.
They were roused by the sound of voices. Unclasping, they went to walk at the fringe of the water. The tide was creeping back. Siegmund stooped, and from among the water's combings picked up an electric-light bulb. It lay in some weed at the base of a rock. He held it in his hand to Helena. Her face lighted with a curious pleasure. She took the thing delicately from his hand, fingered it with her exquisite softness.
'Isn't it remarkable!' she exclaimed joyously. 'The sea must be very, very gentle—and very kind.'
'Sometimes,' smiled Siegmund.
'But I did not think it could be so fine-fingered,' she said. She breathed on the glass bulb till it looked like a dim magnolia bud; she inhaled its fine savour.