by D.H. Lawrence
The following extract tells of the outing to the Stiperstones to see the Devil's Chair.
An excursion on horseback had been arranged for the next day, to two old groups of rocks, called the Angel's Chair and the Devil's Chair, which crowned the moorlike hills looking into Wales, ten miles away. Everybody was going—they were to start early in the morning, and Lewis would be the guide, since no one exactly knew the way.
Lou got up soon after sunrise. There was a summer scent in the trees of early morning, and monkshood flowers stood up dark and tall, with shadows. She dressed in the green linen riding-skirt her maid had put ready for her, with a close bluish smock.
"Are you going out already, dear?" called Rico from his room.
"Just to smell the roses before we start, Rico."
He appeared in the doorway in his yellow silk pyjamas. His large blue eyes had that rolling irritable look and the slightly bloodshot whites which made her want to escape.
"Booted and spurred!—the energy!" he cried.
"It's a lovely day to ride," she said.
"A lovely day to do anything except ride!" he said. "Why spoil the day riding!" A curious bitter-acid escaped into his tone. It was evident he hated the excursion.
"Why, we needn't go if you don't want to, Rico."
"Oh, I'm sure I shall love it, once I get started. It's all this business of starting, with horses and paraphernalia—"
Lou went into the yard. The horses were drinking at the trough under the pump, their colours strong and rich in the shadow of the tree.
"You're not coming with us, Phoenix?" she said.
"Lewis, he's riding my horse."
She could tell Phoenix did not like being left behind.
By half-past seven everybody was ready. The sun was in the yard, the horses were saddled. They came swishing their tails. Lewis brought out St. Mawr from his separate box, speaking to him very quietly in Welsh: a murmuring, soothing little speech. Lou, alert, could see that he was uneasy.
"How is St. Mawr this morning?" she asked.
"He's all right. He doesn't like so many people. He'll be all right once he's started."
The strangers were in the saddle: they moved out to the deep shade of the village road outside. Rico came to his horse to mount. St. Mawr jumped away as if he had seen the devil.
"Steady, fool!" cried Rico.
The bay stood with his four feet spread, his neck arched, his big dark eye glancing sideways with that watchful, frightening look.
"You shouldn't be irritable with him, Rico!" said Lou. "Steady then, St. Mawr! Be steady."
But a certain anger rose also in her. The creature was so big, so brilliant, and so stupid, standing there with his hind legs spread, ready to jump aside or to rear terrifically, and his great eye glancing with a sort of suspicious frenzy. What was there to be suspicious of, after all? Rico would do him no harm.
"No one will harm you, St. Mawr," she reasoned, a bit exasperated.
The groom was talking quietly, murmuringly, in Welsh. Rico was slowly advancing again, to put his foot in the stirrup. The stallion was watching from the corner of his eye, a strange glare of suspicious, frenzy burning stupidly. Any moment his immense physical force might be let loose in a frenzy of panic—or malice. He was really very irritating.
"Probably he doesn't like that apricot shirt," said Mrs. Witt, "although it tones into him wonderfully well."
She pronounced it ap—ricot, and it irritated Rico terribly.
"Ought we to have asked him before we put it on?" he flashed, his upper lip lifting venomously.
"I should say you should," replied Mrs. Witt coolly.
Rico turned with a sudden rush to the horse. Back went the great animal, with a sudden splashing crash of hoofs on the cobblestones, and Lewis hanging on like a shadow. Up went the fore feet, showing the belly.
"The thing is accursed," said Rico, who had dropped the reins in sudden shock, and stood marooned. His rage overwhelmed him like a black flood.
"Nothing in the world is so irritating as a horse that is acting up," thought Lou.
"Say, Harry!" called Flora from the road. "Come out here into the road to mount him."
Lewis looked at Rico and nodded. Then soothing the big, quivering animal, he led him springily out to the road under the trees, where the three friends were waiting. Lou and her mother got quickly into the saddle to follow. And in another moment Rico was mounted and bouncing down the road in the wrong direction, Lewis following on the chestnut. It was some time before Rico could get St. Mawr round. Watching him from behind, those waiting could judge how the young Baronet hated it.
But at last they set off—Rico ahead, unevenly but quietly, with the two Manby girls, Lou following with the fair young man who had been in a cavalry regiment and who kept looking round for Mrs. Witt.
"Don't look round for me," she called. "I'm riding behind, out of the dust."
Just behind Mrs. Witt came Lewis. It was a whole cavalcade trotting in the morning sun past the cottages and the cottage gardens, round the field that was the recreation ground, into the deep hedges of the lane.
"Why is St. Mawr so bad at starting? Can't you get him into better shape?" she asked over her shoulder.
"Beg your pardon, Mam!"
Lewis trotted a little nearer. She glanced over her shoulder at him, at his dark, unmoved face, his cool little figure.
"I think Mam is so ugly. Why not leave it out ! "she said. Then she repeated her question.
"St. Mawr doesn't trust anybody," Lewis replied.
"Yes, he trusts me—mostly."
"Then why not other people?"
"All of them?"
"About all of them."
"How are they different?"
He looked at her with his remote, uncanny grey eyes. "Different," he said, not knowing how else to put it. They rode on slowly, up the steep rise of the wood, then down into a glade where ran a little railway built for hauling some mysterious mineral out of the hill, in war-time, and now already abandoned. Even on this countryside the dead hand of the war lay like a corpse decomposing.
They rode up again, past the foxgloves under the trees. Ahead the brilliant St. Mawr and the sorrel and grey horses were swimming like butterflies through the sea of bracken, glittering from sun to shade, shade to sun. Then once more they were on a crest, and through the thinning trees could see the slopes of the moors beyond the next dip.
Soon they were in the open, rolling hills, golden in the morning and empty save for a couple of distant bilberry-pickers, whitish figures pick—pick—picking with curious, rather disgusting assiduity. The horses were on an old trail which climbed through the pinky tips of heather and ling, across patches of green bilberry. Here and there were tufts of harebells blue as bubbles.
They were out, high on the hills. And there to west lay Wales, folded in crumpled folds, goldish in the morning light, with its moor-like slopes and patches of corn uncannily distinct. Between was a hollow, wide valley of summer haze, showing white farms among trees, and grey slate roofs.
"Ride beside me," she said to Lewis. "Nothing makes me want to go back to America like the old look of these little villages. You have never been to America?"
"Don't you ever want to go?"
"I wouldn't mind going."
"But you're not just crazy to go?"
"Quite content as you are?"
He looked at her, and his pale, remote eyes met hers. "I don't fret myself," he replied.
"Not about anything at all—ever?"
His eyes glanced ahead, at the other riders.
"No, Mam !" he replied, without looking at her. She rode a few moments in silence.
"What is that over there? " she asked, pointing across the valley.
"What is it called?"
"Montgomery! And is that Wales—?" she trailed the ending curiously.
"Where you come from?"
"No, Mam! I come from Merioneth."
"Not from Wales? I thought you were Welsh?"
"Yes, Mam. Merioneth is Wales."
"And you are Welsh?"
"I had a Welsh grandmother. But I come from Louisiana, and when I go back home, the negroes still call me Miss Rachel. Oh, my, it's little Miss Rachel come back home! Why, ain't I mighty glad to see you—u, Miss Rachel! That gives me such a strange feeling, you know."
The man glanced at her curiously, especially when she imitated the negroes.
"Do you feel strange when you go home?" she asked.
"I was brought up by an aunt and uncle," he said. "I never want to see them."
"And you don't have any home?"
"No wife nor anything?"
"But what do you do with your life?"
"I keep to myself."
"And care about nothing?"
"I mind St. Mawr."
"But you've not always had St. Mawr—and you won't always have him. Were you in the war?"
"At the front?"
"Yes, Mam—but I was a groom."
"And you came out all right?"
"I lost my little finger from a bullet."
He held up his small, dark left hand, from which the little finger was missing.
"And did you like the war—or didn't you?"
"I didn't like it."
Again his pale grey eyes met hers, and they looked so non-human and uncommunicative, so without connection, and inaccessible, she was troubled.
"Tell me," she said. "Did you never want a wife and a home and children, like other men?"
"No, Mam. I never wanted a home of my own." Nor a wife of your own?"
"Nor children of your own?"
She reined in her horse.
"Now wait a minute," she said. "Now tell me why."
His horse came to a standstill, and the two riders faced one another. "Tell me why—I must know why you never wanted a wife and children and a home. I must know why you're not like other men."
"I never felt like it," he said. "I made my life with horses."
"Did you hate people very much? Did you have a very unhappy time as a child?
"My aunt and uncle didn't like me, and I didn't like them."
"So you've never liked anybody?"
"Maybe not," he said. "Not to get as far as marrying them." She touched her horse and moved on.
"Isn't that curious !" she said. "I've loved people, at various times. But I don't believe I've ever liked anybody, except a few of our negroes. I don't like Louise, though she's my daughter and I love her. But I don't really like her. I think you're the first person I've ever liked since I was on our plantation, and we had some very fine negroes. And I think that's very curious. Now I want to know if you like me."
She looked at him searchingly, but he did not answer.
"Tell me," she said. "I don't mind if you say no. But tell me if you like me. I feel I must know."
The flicker of a smile went over his face—a very rare thing with him.
"Maybe I do," he said. He was thinking that she put him on a level with a negro slave on a plantation: in his idea, negroes were still slaves. But he did not care where she put him.
"Well, I'm glad—I'm glad if you like me. Because you don't like most people, I know that."
They had passed the hollow where the old Aldecar Chapel hid in damp isolation, beside the ruined mill, over the stream that came down from the moors. Climbing the sharp slope, they saw the folded hills like great shut fingers, with steep, deep clefts between. On the near skyline was a bunch of rocks: and away to the right another bunch.
"Yon's the Angel's Chair," said Lewis, pointing to the nearer rocks. "And yon's the Devil's Chair, where we're going."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Witt. "And aren't we going to the Angel's Chair?"
"There's nothing to see there. The other's higher, and bigger, and that's where folks mostly go."
"Is that so! They give the Devil the higher seat in this country, do they? I think they're right." And as she got no answer, she added: "You believe in the Devil, don't you?"
"I never met him," he answered, evasively.
Ahead, they could see the other horses twinkling in a cavalcade up the slope, the black, the bay, the two greys, and the sorrel, sometimes bunching, sometimes straggling. At a gate all waited for Mrs. Witt. The fair young man fell in beside her, and talked hunting at her. He had hunted the fox over these hills, and was vigorously excited locating the spot where the hounds first gave cry, etc.
Really!" said Mrs. Witt." Really! Is that so!"
If irony could have been condensed to prussic acid, the fair young man would have ended his life's history with his reminiscences.
They came at last, trotting in file along a narrow track between heather, along the saddle of a hill, to where the knot of pale granite suddenly cropped out. It was one of those places where the spirit of aboriginal England still lingers, the old savage England, whose last blood flows still in a few Englishmen, Welshmen, Cornishmen. The rocks, whitish with weather of all the ages, jutted against the blue August sky, heavy with age-moulded roundnesses.
Lewis stayed below with the horses, the party scrambled rather awkwardly, in their riding-boots, up the foot-worn boulders. At length they stood in the place called the Chair, looking west, west towards Wales, that rolled in golden folds upwards. It was neither impressive nor a very picturesque landscape: the hollow valley with farms, and then the rather bare upheaval of hills, slopes with corn and moor and pasture, rising like a barricade, seemingly high, slantingly. Yet it had a strange effect on the imagination.
"Oh mother," said Lou, "doesn't it make you feel old, old, older than anything ever was?"
"It certainly does seem aged," said Mrs. Witt.
"It makes me want to die," said Lou. "I feel we've lasted almost too long."
"Don't say that, Lady Carrington. Why, you're a spring chicken yet: or shall I say an unopened rosebud," remarked the fair young man.
"No," said Lou. "All these millions of ancestors have used all the life up. We're not really alive, in the sense that they were alive."
"But who?" said Rico. "Who are they?"
"The people who lived on these hills, in the days gone by."
"But the same people still live on the hills, darling. It's just the same stock."
"No, Rico. That old fighting stock that worshipped devils among these stones—I'm sure they did—"
"But look here, do you mean they were any better than we are?" asked the fair young man.
Lou looked at him quizzically.
"We don't exist," she said, squinting at him oddly.
"I jolly well know I do," said the fair young man.
"I consider these days are the best ever, especially for girls," said Flora Manby. "And anyhow they're our own days, so I don't jolly well see the use of crying them down."
They were all silent, with the last echoes of emphatic joie de vivre trumpeting on the air, across the hills of Wales.
"Spoken like a brick, Flora," said Rico. "Say it again, we may not have the Devil's Chair for a pulpit next time."
"I do," reiterated Flora. "I think this is the best age there ever was for a girl to have a good time in. I read all through H. G. Wells' history, and I shut it up and thanked my stars I live in nineteen-twenty odd, not in some other beastly date when a woman had to cringe before mouldy domineering men."
After this they turned to scramble to another part of the rocks, to the famous Needle's Eye.
"Thank you so much, I am really better without help," said Mrs.Witt to the fair young man, as she slid downwards till a piece of grey silk stocking showed above her tall boot. But she got her toe in a safe place, and in a moment stood beside him, while he caught her arm protectingly. He might as well have caught the paw of a mountain lion protectingly.
"I should like so much to know," she said suavely, looking into his eyes with a demonish straight look, "what makes you so certain that you exist?"
He looked back at her, and his jaunty blue eyes went baffled. Then a slow, hot, salmon-coloured flush stole over his face, and he turned abruptly round.
The Needle's Eye was a hole in the ancient grey rock, like a window, looking to England; England at the moment in shadow. A stream wound and glinted in the flat shadow, and beyond that the flat, insignificant hills heaped in mounds of shade. Cloud was coming-the English side was in shadow. Wales was still in the sun, but the shadow was spreading. The day was going to disappoint them. Lou was a tiny bit chilled, already.
Luncheon was still several miles away. The party hastened down to the horses. Lou picked a few sprigs of ling, and some hare-bells, and some straggling yellow flowers: not because she wanted them, but to distract herself. The atmosphere of "enjoying ourselves" was becoming cruel to her: it sapped all the life out of her. "Oh, if only I needn't enjoy myself," she moaned inwardly. But the Manby girls were enjoying themselves so much. "I think it's frantically lovely up here," said the other one—not Flora—Elsie.
"It is beautiful, isn't it ! I'm so glad you like it," replied Rico. And he was really relieved and gratified, because the other one said she was enjoying it so frightfully. He dared not say to Lou, as he wanted to: "I'm afraid, Lou darling, you don't love it as much as we do." He was afraid of her answer : "No, dear, I don't love it at all! I want to be away from these people."
Slightly piqued, he rode on with the Manby group, and Lou came behind with her mother. Cloud was covering the sky with grey. There was a cold wind. Everybody was anxious to get to the farm for luncheon, and be safely home before rain came.
They were riding along one of the narrow little foot-tracks, mere grooves of grass between heather and bright green bilberry. The blond young man was ahead, then his wife, then Flora, then Rico. Lou, from a little distance, watched the glossy, powerful haunches of St. Mawr swaying with life, always too much life, like a menace. The fair young man was whistling a new dance tune.
"That's an awfully attractive tune," Rico called. "Do whistle it again, Fred, I should like to memorize it."
Fred began to whistle it again.
At that moment St. Mawr exploded again, shied sideways as if a bomb had gone off, and kept backing through the heather.
"Fool! "cried Rico, thoroughly unnerved: he had been terribly sideways in the saddle, Lou had feared he was going to fall. But he got his seat, and pulled the reins viciously, to bring the horse to order, and put him on the track again. St. Mawr began to rear: his favourite trick. Rico got him forward a few yards, when up he went again.
"Fool!" yelled Rico, hanging in the air.
He pulled the horse over backwards on top of him.
Lou gave a loud, unnatural, horrible scream: she heard it herself, at the same time as she heard the crash of the falling horse. Then she saw a pale gold belly, and hoofs that worked and flashed in the air, and St. Mawr writhing, straining his head terrifically upwards, his great eyes starting from the naked lines of his nose. With a great neck arching cruelly from the ground, he was pulling frantically at the reins, which Rico still held tight. Yes, Rico, lying strangely sideways, his eyes also starting from his yellow-white face, among the heather, still clutched the reins.
Young Edwards was rushing forward, and circling round the writhing, immense horse, whose pale gold, inverted bulk seemed to fill the universe.
"Let him get up, Carrington! Let him get up!" he was yelling, darting warily near, to get the reins. Another spasmodic convulsion of the horse.
Horror! The young man reeled backwards with his face in his hands. He had got a kick in the face. Red blood running down his chin!
Lewis was there, on the ground, getting the reins out of Rico's hands. St. Mawr gave a great curve like a fish, spread his forefeet on the earth and reared his head, looking round in a ghastly fashion. His eyes were arched, his nostrils wide, his face ghastly in a sort of panic. He rested thus, seated with his fore-feet planted and his face in panic, almost like some terrible lizard, for several moments. Then he heaved sickeningly to his feet, and stood convulsed, trembling.
There lay Rico, crumpled and rather sideways, staring at the heavens from a yellow, dead-looking face. Lewis, glancing round in a sort of horror, looked in dread at St. Mawr again. Flora had been hovering. She now rushed screeching to the prostrate Rico.
"Harry! Harry! You're not dead! Oh, Harry! Harry! Harry
Lou had dismounted. She didn't know when. She stood a little way off, as if spellbound, while Flora cried Harry! Harry! Harry!
Suddenly Rico sat up.
"Where is the horse?" he said.
At the same time an added whiteness came on his face, and he bit his lip with pain, and he fell prostrate again in a faint. Flora rushed to put her arm round him.
Where was the horse? He had backed slowly away, in an agony of suspicion, while Lewis murmured to him in vain. His head was raised again, the eyes still starting from their sockets, and a terrible guilty, ghost-like look on his face. When Lewis drew a little nearer he twitched and shrank like a shaken steel spring, away-not to be touched. He seemed to be seeing legions of ghosts, down the dark avenues of all the centuries that have lapsed since the horse became subject to man.
And the other young man? He was still standing, at a little distance, with his face in his hands, motionless, the blood falling on his white shirt, and his wife at his side, pleading, distracted.
Mrs. Witt too was there, as if cast in steel, watching. She made no sound and did not move, only, from a fixed, impassive face, watched each thing.
"Do tell me what you think is the matter?" Lou pleaded, distracted, to Flora, who was supporting Rico and weeping torrents of unknown tears.
Then Mrs. Witt came forward and began in a very practical manner to unclose the shirt-neck and feel the young man's heart. Rico opened his eyes again, said "Really!" and closed his eyes once more.
"It's fainting!" said Mrs. Witt. "We have no brandy."
Lou, too weary to be able to feel anything, said:
"I'll go and get some."
She went to her alarmed horse, who stood among the others with her head down, in suspense. Almost unconsciously Lou mounted, set her face ahead, and was riding away.
Then Poppy shied too, with a sudden start, and Lou pulled up. "Why?" she said to her horse. "Why did you do that?"
She looked round, and saw in the heather a glimpse of yellow and black.
"A snake !" she said wonderingly.
And she looked closer.
It was a dead adder that had been drinking at a reedy pool in
a little depression just off the road, and had been killed with
stones. There it lay, also crumpled, its head crushed, its
gold-and-yellow back still glittering dully, and a bit of
pale-blue belly showing, killed that morning.
Page created 2 September 2001
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