Gudrun in the Pompadour
CHRISTMAS DREW NEAR, all four prepared for flight. Birkin and Ursula were busy packing their few personal things, making them ready to be sent off, to whatever country and whatever place they might choose at last. Gudrun was very much excited. She loved to be on the wing.
She and Gerald, being ready first, set off via London and Paris to Innsbruck, where they would meet Ursula and Birkin. In London they stayed one night. They went to the music-hall, and afterwards to the Pompadour Cafe.
Gudrun hated the Cafe, yet she always went back to it, as did most of the artists of her acquaintance. She loathed its atmosphere of petty vice and petty jealousy and petty art. Yet she always called in again, when she was in town. It was as if she had to return to this small, slow, central whirlpool of disintegration and dissolution: just give it a look.
She sat with Gerald drinking some sweetish liqueur, and staring with black, sullen looks at the various groups of people at the tables. She would greet nobody, but young men nodded to her frequently, with a kind of sneering familiarity. She cut them all. And it gave her pleasure to sit there, cheeks flushed, eyes black and sullen, seeing them all objectively, as put away from her, like creatures in some menagerie of apish degraded souls. God, what a foul crew they were! Her blood beat black and thick in her veins with rage and loathing. Yet she must sit and watch, watch. One or two people came to speak to her. From every side of the Cafe, eyes turned half furtively, half jeeringly at her, men looking over their shoulders, women under their hats.
The old crowd was there, Carlyon in his corner with his pupils and his girl, Halliday and Libidnikov and the Pussum -- they were all there. Gudrun watched Gerald. She watched his eyes linger a moment on Halliday, on Halliday's party. These last were on the look-out -- they nodded to him, he nodded again. They giggled and whispered among themselves. Gerald watched them with the steady twinkle in his eyes. They were urging the Pussum to something.
She at last rose. She was wearing a curious dress of dark silk splashed and spattered with different colours, a curious motley effect. She was thinner, her eyes were perhaps hotter, more disintegrated. Otherwise she was just the same. Gerald watched her with the same steady twinkle in his eyes as she came across. She held out her thin brown hand to him.
`How are you?' she said.
He shook hands with her, but remained seated, and let her stand near him, against the table. She nodded blackly to Gudrun, whom she did not know to speak to, but well enough by sight and reputation.
`I am very well,' said Gerald. `And you?'
`Oh I'm all wight. What about Wupert?'
`Rupert? He's very well, too.'
`Yes, I don't mean that. What about him being married?'
`Oh -- yes, he is married.'
The Pussum's eyes had a hot flash.
`Oh, he's weally bwought it off then, has he? When was he married?'
`A week or two ago.'
`Weally! He's never written.'
`No. Don't you think it's too bad?'
This last was in a tone of challenge. The Pussum let it be known by her tone, that she was aware of Gudrun's listening.
`I suppose he didn't feel like it,' replied Gerald.
`But why didn't he?' pursued the Pussum.
This was received in silence. There was an ugly, mocking persistence in the small, beautiful figure of the short-haired girl, as she stood near Gerald.
`Are you staying in town long?' she asked.
`Oh, only tonight. Are you coming over to speak to Julius?'
`Oh very well. I'll tell him then.' Then came her touch of diablerie. `You're looking awf'lly fit.'
`Yes -- I feel it.' Gerald was quite calm and easy, a spark of satiric amusement in his eye.
`Are you having a good time?'
This was a direct blow for Gudrun, spoken in a level, toneless voice of callous ease.
`Yes,' he replied, quite colourlessly.
`I'm awf'lly sorry you aren't coming round to the flat. You aren't very faithful to your fwiends.'
`Not very,' he said.
She nodded them both `Good-night', and went back slowly to her own set. Gudrun watched her curious walk, stiff and jerking at the loins. They heard her level, toneless voice distinctly.
`He won't come over; -- he is otherwise engaged,' it said. There was more laughter and lowered voices and mockery at the table.
`Is she a friend of yours?' said Gudrun, looking calmly at Gerald.
`I've stayed at Halliday's flat with Birkin,' he said, meeting her slow, calm eyes. And she knew that the Pussum was one of his mistresses -- and he knew she knew.
She looked round, and called for the waiter. She wanted an iced cocktail, of all things. This amused Gerald -- he wondered what was up.
The Halliday party was tipsy, and malicious. They were talking out loudly about Birkin, ridiculing him on every point, particularly on his marriage.
`Oh, don't make me think of Birkin,' Halliday was squealing. `He makes me perfectly sick. He is as bad as Jesus. "Lord, what must I do to be saved!"'
He giggled to himself tipsily.
`Do you remember,' came the quick voice of the Russian, `the letters he used to send. "Desire is holy--"'
`Oh yes!' cried Halliday. `Oh, how perfectly splendid. Why, I've got one in my pocket. I'm sure I have.'
He took out various papers from his pocket book.
`I'm sure I've -- hic! Oh dear! -- got one.'
Gerald and Gudrun were watching absorbedly.
`Oh yes, how perfectly -- hic! -- splendid! Don't make me laugh, Pussum, it gives me the hiccup. Hic! --' They all giggled.
`What did he say in that one?' the Pussum asked, leaning forward, her dark, soft hair falling and swinging against her face. There was something curiously indecent, obscene, about her small, longish, dark skull, particularly when the ears showed.
`Wait -- oh do wait! No-o, I won't give it to you, I'll read it aloud. I'll read you the choice bits, -- hic! Oh dear! Do you think if I drink water it would take off this hiccup? Hic! Oh, I feel perfectly helpless.'
`Isn't that the letter about uniting the dark and the light -- and the Flux of Corruption?' asked Maxim, in his precise, quick voice.
`I believe so,' said the Pussum.
`Oh is it? I'd forgotten -- hic! -- it was that one,' Halliday said, opening the letter. `Hic! Oh yes. How perfectly splendid! This is one of the best. "There is a phase in every race --"' he read in the sing-song, slow, distinct voice of a clergyman reading the Scriptures, `"When the desire for destruction overcomes every other desire. In the individual, this desire is ultimately a desire for destruction in the self" -- hic! --' he paused and looked up.
`I hope he's going ahead with the destruction of himself,' said the quick voice of the Russian. Halliday giggled, and lolled his head back, vaguely.
`There's not much to destroy in him,' said the Pussum. `He's so thin already, there's only a fag-end to start on.'
`Oh, isn't it beautiful! I love reading it! I believe it has cured my hiccup!' squealed Halliday. `Do let me go on. "It is a desire for the reduction process in oneself, a reducing back to the origin, a return along the Flux of Corruption, to the original rudimentary conditions of being --!" Oh, but I do think it is wonderful. It almost supersedes the Bible--'
`Yes -- Flux of Corruption,' said the Russian, `I remember that phrase.'
`Oh, he was always talking about Corruption,' said the Pussum. `He must be corrupt himself, to have it so much on his mind.'
`Exactly!' said the Russian.
`Do let me go on! Oh, this is a perfectly wonderful piece! But do listen to this. "And in the great retrogression, the reducing back of the created body of life, we get knowledge, and beyond knowledge, the phosphorescent ecstasy of acute sensation." Oh, I do think these phrases are too absurdly wonderful. Oh but don't you think they are -- they're nearly as good as Jesus. "And if, Julius, you want this ecstasy of reduction with the Pussum, you must go on till it is fulfilled. But surely there is in you also, somewhere, the living desire for positive creation, relationships in ultimate faith, when all this process of active corruption, with all its flowers of mud, is transcended, and more or less finished --" I do wonder what the flowers of mud are. Pussum, you are a flower of mud.'
`Thank you -- and what are you?'
`Oh, I'm another, surely, according to this letter! We're all flowers of mud -- Fleurs -- hic! du mal! It's perfectly wonderful, Birkin harrowing Hell -- harrowing the Pompadour -- Hic!'
`Go on -- go on,' said Maxim. `What comes next? It's really very interesting.'
`I think it's awful cheek to write like that,' said the Pussum.
`Yes -- yes, so do I,' said the Russian. `He is a megalomaniac, of course, it is a form of religious mania. He thinks he is the Saviour of man -- go on reading.'
`Surely,' Halliday intoned, ` "surely goodness and mercy hath followed me all the days of my life --" ' he broke off and giggled. Then he began again, intoning like a clergyman. ` "Surely there will come an end in us to this desire -- for the constant going apart, -- this passion for putting asunder -- everything -- ourselves, reducing ourselves part from part -- reacting in intimacy only for destruction, -- using sex as a great reducing agent, reducing the two great elements of male and female from their highly complex unity -- reducing the old ideas, going back to the savages for our sensations, -- always seeking to lose ourselves in some ultimate black sensation, mindless and infinite -- burning only with destructive fires, raging on with the hope of being burnt out utterly --" '
`I want to go,' said Gudrun to Gerald, as she signalled the waiter. Her eyes were flashing, her cheeks were flushed. The strange effect of Birkin's letter read aloud in a perfect clerical sing-song, clear and resonant, phrase by phrase, made the blood mount into her head as if she were mad.
She rose, whilst Gerald was paying the bill, and walked over to Halliday's table. They all glanced up at her.
`Excuse me,' she said. `Is that a genuine letter you are reading?'
`Oh yes,' said Halliday. `Quite genuine.'
`May I see?'
Smiling foolishly he handed it to her, as if hypnotised.
`Thank you,' she said.
And she turned and walked out of the Cafe with the letter, all down the brilliant room, between the tables, in her measured fashion. It was some moments before anybody realised what was happening.
From Halliday's table came half articulate cries, then somebody booed, then all the far end of the place began booing after Gudrun's retreating form. She was fashionably dressed in blackish-green and silver, her hat was brilliant green, like the sheen on an insect, but the brim was soft dark green, a falling edge with fine silver, her coat was dark green, lustrous, with a high collar of grey fur, and great fur cuffs, the edge of her dress showed silver and black velvet, her stockings and shoes were silver grey. She moved with slow, fashionable indifference to the door. The porter opened obsequiously for her, and, at her nod, hurried to the edge of the pavement and whistled for a taxi. The two lights of a vehicle almost immediately curved round towards her, like two eyes.
Gerald had followed in wonder, amid all the booing, not having caught her misdeed. He heard the Pussum's voice saying:
`Go and get it back from her. I never heard of such a thing! Go and get it back from her. Tell Gerald Crich -- there he goes -- go and make him give it up.'
Gudrun stood at the door of the taxi, which the man held open for her.
`To the hotel?' she asked, as Gerald came out, hurriedly.
`Where you like,' he answered.
`Right!' she said. Then to the driver, `Wagstaff's -- Barton Street.'
The driver bowed his head, and put down the flag.
Gudrun entered the taxi, with the deliberate cold movement of a woman who is well-dressed and contemptuous in her soul. Yet she was frozen with overwrought feelings. Gerald followed her.
`You've forgotten the man,' she said cooly, with a slight nod of her hat. Gerald gave the porter a shilling. The man saluted. They were in motion.
`What was all the row about?' asked Gerald, in wondering excitement.
`I walked away with Birkin's letter,' she said, and he saw the crushed paper in her hand.
His eyes glittered with satisfaction.
`Ah!' he said. `Splendid! A set of jackasses!'
`I could have killed them!' she cried in passion. `Dogs! -- they are dogs! Why is Rupert such a fool as to write such letters to them? Why does he give himself away to such canaille? It's a thing that cannot be borne.'
Gerald wondered over her strange passion.
And she could not rest any longer in London. They must go by the morning train from Charing Cross. As they drew over the bridge, in the train, having glimpses of the river between the great iron girders, she cried:
`I feel I could never see this foul town again -- I couldn't bear to come back to it.'