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Women in Love

3. Class-Room
A school-day was drawing to a close. In the class-room the last lesson was in
progress, peaceful and still. It was elementary botany. The desks were littered
with catkins, hazel and willow, which the children had been sketching. But the
sky had come overdark, as the end of the afternoon approached: there was
scarcely light to draw any more. Ursula stood in front of the class, leading the
children by questions to understand the structure and the meaning of the catkins.
A heavy, copper-coloured beam of light came in at the west window, gilding the
outlines of the children's heads with red gold, and falling on the wall opposite in a
rich, ruddy illumination. Ursula, however, was scarcely conscious of it. She was
busy, the end of the day was here, the work went on as a peaceful tide that is at
flood, hushed to retire.
This day had gone by like so many more, in an activity that was like a trance. At
the end there was a little haste, to finish what was in hand. She was pressing the
children with questions, so that they should know all they were to know, by the
time the gong went. She stood in shadow in front of the class, with catkins in her
hand, and she leaned towards the children, absorbed in the passion of
instruction.
She heard, but did not notice the click of the door. Suddenly she started. She
saw, in the shaft of ruddy, copper-coloured light near her, the face of a man. It
was gleaming like fire, watching her, waiting for her to be aware. It startled her
terribly. She thought she was going to faint. All her suppressed, subconscious
fear sprang into being, with anguish.
'Did I startle you?' said Birkin, shaking hands with her. 'I thought you had heard
me come in.'
'No,' she faltered, scarcely able to speak. He laughed, saying he was sorry. She
wondered why it amused him.
'It is so dark,' he said. 'Shall we have the light?'
And moving aside, he switched on the strong electric lights. The class-room was
distinct and hard, a strange place after the soft dim magic that filled it before he
came. Birkin turned curiously to look at Ursula. Her eyes were round and
wondering, bewildered, her mouth quivered slightly. She looked like one who is
suddenly wakened. There was a living, tender beauty, like a tender light of dawn
shining from her face. He looked at her with a new pleasure, feeling gay in his
heart, irresponsible.
'You are doing catkins?' he asked, picking up a piece of hazel from a scholar's
desk in front of him. 'Are they as far out as this? I hadn't noticed them this year.'
He looked absorbedly at the tassel of hazel in his hand.
'The red ones too!' he said, looking at the flickers of crimson that came from the
female bud.
Then he went in among the desks, to see the scholars' books. Ursula watched
his intent progress. There was a stillness in his motion that hushed the activities
of her heart. She seemed to be standing aside in arrested silence, watching him
 
 
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