Women in Love
One morning the sisters were sketching by the side of Willey Water, at the
remote end of the lake. Gudrun had waded out to a gravelly shoal, and was
seated like a Buddhist, staring fixedly at the water-plants that rose succulent from
the mud of the low shores. What she could see was mud, soft, oozy, watery mud,
and from its festering chill, water-plants rose up, thick and cool and fleshy, very
straight and turgid, thrusting out their leaves at right angles, and having dark lurid
colours, dark green and blotches of black-purple and bronze. But she could feel
their turgid fleshy structure as in a sensuous vision, she knew how they rose out
of the mud, she knew how they thrust out from themselves, how they stood stiff
and succulent against the air.
Ursula was watching the butterflies, of which there were dozens near the water,
little blue ones suddenly snapping out of nothingness into a jewel-life, a large
black-and-red one standing upon a flower and breathing with his soft wings,
intoxicatingly, breathing pure, ethereal sunshine; two white ones wrestling in the
low air; there was a halo round them; ah, when they came tumbling nearer they
were orangetips, and it was the orange that had made the halo. Ursula rose and
drifted away, unconscious like the butterflies.
Gudrun, absorbed in a stupor of apprehension of surging water-plants, sat
crouched on the shoal, drawing, not looking up for a long time, and then staring
unconsciously, absorbedly at the rigid, naked, succulent stems. Her feet were
bare, her hat lay on the bank opposite.
She started out of her trance, hearing the knocking of oars. She looked round.
There was a boat with a gaudy Japanese parasol, and a man in white, rowing.
The woman was Hermione, and the man was Gerald. She knew it instantly. And
instantly she perished in the keen frisson of anticipation, an electric vibration in
her veins, intense, much more intense than that which was always humming low
in the atmosphere of Beldover.
Gerald was her escape from the heavy slough of the pale, underworld, automatic
colliers. He started out of the mud. He was master. She saw his back, the
movement of his white loins. But not that---it was the whiteness he seemed to
enclose as he bent forwards, rowing. He seemed to stoop to something. His
glistening, whitish hair seemed like the electricity of the sky.
'There's Gudrun,' came Hermione's voice floating distinct over the water. 'We will
go and speak to her. Do you mind?'
Gerald looked round and saw the girl standing by the water's edge, looking at
him. He pulled the boat towards her, magnetically, without thinking of her. In his
world, his conscious world, she was still nobody. He knew that Hermione had a
curious pleasure in treading down all the social differences, at least apparently,
and he left it to her.
'How do you do, Gudrun?' sang Hermione, using the Christian name in the
fashionable manner. 'What are you doing?'
'How do you do, Hermione? I was sketching.'