It was very burdensome to Ursula, that she was the eldest of the family. B_he time she was eleven, she had to take to school Gudrun and Theresa an_atherine. The boy, William, always called Billy, so that he should not b_onfused with his father, was a lovable, rather delicate child of three, so h_tayed at home as yet. There was another baby girl, called Cassandra.
The children went for a time to the little church school just near the Marsh.
It was the only place within reach, and being so small, Mrs. Brangwen fel_afe in sending her children there, though the village boys did nicknam_rsula "Urtler", and Gudrun "Good-runner", and Theresa "Tea-pot".
Gudrun and Ursula were co-mates. The second child, with her long, sleepy bod_nd her endless chain of fancies, would have nothing to do with realities. Sh_as not for them, she was for her own fancies. Ursula was the one fo_ealities. So Gudrun left all such to her elder sister, and trusted in he_mplicitly, indifferently. Ursula had a great tenderness for her co-mat_ister.
It was no good trying to make Gudrun responsible. She floated along like _ish in the sea, perfect within the medium of her own difference and being.
Other existence did not trouble her. Only she believed in Ursula, and truste_o Ursula.
The eldest child was very much fretted by her responsibility for the othe_oung ones. Especially Theresa, a sturdy, bold-eyed thing, had a faculty fo_arfare.
"Our Ursula, Billy Pillins has lugged my hair."
"What did you say to him?"
"I said nothing."
Then the Brangwen girls were in for a feud with the Pillinses, or Phillipses.
"You won't pull my hair again, Billy Pillins," said Theresa, walking with he_isters, and looking superbly at the freckled, red-haired boy.
"Why shan't I?" retorted Billy Pillins.
"You won't because you dursn't," said the tiresome Theresa.
"You come here, then, Tea-pot, an' see if I dursna."
Up marched Tea-pot, and immediately Billy Pillins lugged her black, snak_ocks. In a rage she flew at him. Immediately in rushed Ursula and Gudrun, an_ittle Katie, in clashed the other Phillipses, Clem and Walter, and Eddi_nthony. Then there was a fray. The Brangwen girls were well-grown an_tronger than many boys. But for pinafores and long hair, they would hav_arried easy victories. They went home, however, with hair lugged an_inafores torn. It was a joy to the Phillips boys to rip the pinafores of th_rangwen girls.
Then there was an outcry. Mrs. Brangwen would not have it; no, she would not.
All her innate dignity and standoffishness rose up. Then there was the vica_ecturing the school. "It was a sad thing that the boys of Cossethay could no_ehave more like gentlemen to the girls of Cossethay. Indeed, what kind of bo_as it that should set upon a girl, and kick her, and beat her, and tear he_inafore? That boy deserved severe castigation, and the name of coward, for n_oy who was not a coward-etc., etc."
Meanwhile much hang-dog fury in the Pillinses' hearts, much virtue in th_rangwen girls', particularly in Theresa's. And the feud continued, wit_eriods of extraordinary amity, when Ursula was Clem Phillips's sweetheart, and Gudrun was Walter's, and Theresa was Billy's, and even the tiny Katie ha_o be Eddie Ant'ny's sweetheart. There was the closest union. At ever_ossible moment the little gang of Brangwens and Phillipses flew together. Ye_either Ursula nor Gudrun would have any real intimacy with the Phillips boys.
It was a sort of fiction to them, this alliance and this dubbing o_weethearts.
Again Mrs. Brangwen rose up.
"Ursula, I will not have you raking the roads with lads, so I tell you. No_top it, and the rest will stop it."
How Ursula hated always to represent the little Brangwen club. She could neve_e herself, no, she was always Ursula-Gudrun-Theresa-Catherine-and later eve_illy was added on to her. Moreover, she did not want the Phillipses either.
She was out of taste with them.
However, the Brangwen-Pillins coalition readily broke down, owing to th_nfair superiority of the Brangwens. The Brangwens were rich. They had fre_ccess to the Marsh Farm. The school teachers were almost respectful to th_irls, the vicar spoke to them on equal terms. The Brangwen girls presumed, they tossed their heads.
"You're not ivrybody, Urtler Brangwin, ugly-mug," said Clem Phillips, his fac_oing very red.
"I'm better than you, for all that," retorted Urtler.
"You think you are-wi' a face like that-Ugly Mug,-Urtler Brangwin," he bega_o jeer, trying to set all the others in cry against her. Then there wa_ostility again. How she hated their jeering. She became cold against th_hillipses. Ursula was very proud in her family. The Brangwen girls had all _urious blind dignity, even a kind of nobility in their bearing. By som_esult of breed and upbringing, they seemed to rush along their own live_ithout caring that they existed to other people. Never from the start did i_ccur to Ursula that other people might hold a low opinion of her. She though_hat whosoever knew her, knew she was enough and accepted her as such. Sh_hought it was a world of people like herself. She suffered bitterly if sh_ere forced to have a low opinion of any person, and she never forgave tha_erson.
This was maddening to many little people. All their lives, the Brangwens wer_eeting folk who tried to pull them down to make them seem little. Curiously, the mother was aware of what would happen, and was always ready to give he_hildren the advantage of the move.
When Ursula was twelve, and the common school and the companionship of th_illage children, niggardly and begrudging, was beginning to affect her, Ann_ent her with Gudrun to the Grammar School in Nottingham. This was a grea_elease for Ursula. She had a passionate craving to escape from the belittlin_ircumstances of life, the little jealousies, the little differences, th_ittle meannesses. It was a torture to her that the Phillipses were poorer an_eaner than herself, that they used mean little reservations, took pett_ittle advantages. She wanted to be with her equals: but not by diminishin_erself. She did want Clem Phillips to be her equal. But by some puzzling, painful fate or other, when he was really there with her, he produced in her _ight feeling in the head. She wanted to beat her forehead, to escape.
Then she found that the way to escape was easy. One departed from the whol_ircumstance. One went away to the Grammar School, and left the little school, the meagre teachers, the Phillipses whom she had tried to love but who ha_ade her fail, and whom she could not forgive. She had an instinctive fear o_etty people, as a deer is afraid of dogs. Because she was blind, she coul_ot calculate nor estimate people. She must think that everybody was just lik_erself.
She measured by the standard of her own people: her father and mother, he_randmother, her uncles. Her beloved father, so utterly simple in hi_emeanour, yet with his strong, dark soul fixed like a root in unexpresse_epths that fascinated and terrified her: her mother, so strangely free of al_oney and convention and fear, entirely indifferent to the world, standing b_erself, without connection: her grandmother, who had come from so far and wa_entred in so wide an horizon: people must come up to these standards befor_hey could be Ursula's people.
So even as a girl of twelve she was glad to burst the narrow boundary o_ossethay, where only limited people lived. Outside, was all vastness, and _hrong of real, proud people whom she would love.
Going to school by train, she must leave home at a quarter to eight in th_orning, and she did not arrive again till half-past five at evening. Of thi_he was glad, for the house was small and overful. It was a storm of movement, whence there had been no escape. She hated so much being in charge.
The house was a storm of movement. The children were healthy and turbulent, the mother only wanted their animal well-being. To Ursula, as she grew _ittle older, it became a nightmare. When she saw, later, a Rubens pictur_ith storms of naked babies, and found this was called "Fecundity", sh_huddered, and the world became abhorrent to her. She knew as a child what i_as to live amidst storms of babies, in the heat and swelter of fecundity. An_s a child, she was against her mother, passionately against her mother, sh_raved for some spirituality and stateliness.
In bad weather, home was a bedlam. Children dashed in and out of the rain, t_he puddles under the dismal yew trees, across the wet flagstones of th_itchen, whilst the cleaning-woman grumbled and scolded; children wer_warming on the sofa, children were kicking the piano in the parlour, to mak_t sound like a beehive, children were rolling on the hearthrug, legs in air, pulling a book in two between them, children, fiendish, ubiquitous, wer_tealing upstairs to find out where our Ursula was, whispering at bedroo_oors, hanging on the latch, calling mysteriously, "Ursula! Ursula!" to th_irl who had locked herself in to read. And it was hopeless. The locked doo_xcited their sense of mystery, she had to open to dispel the lure. Thes_hildren hung on to her with round-eyed excited questions.
The mother flourished amid all this.
"Better have them noisy than ill," she said.
But the growing girls, in turn, suffered bitterly. Ursula was just coming t_he stage when Andersen and Grimm were being left behind for the "Idylls o_he King" and romantic love-stories.
"Elaine the fair Elaine the lovable, Elaine the lily maid of Astolat, High i_er chamber in a tower to the east Guarded the sacred shield of Launcelot."
How she loved it! How she leaned in her bedroom window with her black, roug_air on her shoulders, and her warm face all rapt, and gazed across at th_hurchyard and the little church, which was a turreted castle, whenc_auncelot would ride just now, would wave to her as he rode by, his scarle_loak passing behind the dark yew trees and between the open space: whils_he, ah, she, would remain the lonely maid high up and isolated in the tower, polishing the terrible shield, weaving it a covering with a true device, an_aiting, waiting, always remote and high.
At which point there would be a faint scuffle on the stairs, a light-pitche_hispering outside the door, and a creaking of the latch: then Billy, excited, whispering:
"It's locked-it's locked."
Then the knocking, kicking at the door with childish knees, and the urgent, childish:
"Ursula-our Ursula? Ursula? Eh, our Ursula?"
"Ursula! Eh-our Ursula?" the name was shouted now Still no answer.
"Mother, she won't answer," came the yell. "She's dead."
"Go away-I'm not dead. What do you want?" came the angry voice of the girl.
"Open the door, our Ursula," came the complaining cry. It was all over. Sh_ust open the door. She heard the screech of the bucket downstairs dragge_cross the flagstones as the woman washed the kitchen floor. And the childre_ere prowling in the bedroom, asking:
"What were you doing? What had you locked the door for?" Then she discovere_he key of the parish room, and betook herself there, and sat on some sack_ith her books. There began another dream.
She was the only daughter of the old lord, she was gifted with magic. Da_ollowed day of rapt silence, whilst she wandered ghost-like in the hushed, ancient mansion, or flitted along the sleeping terraces.
Here a grave grief attacked her: that her hair was dark. She must have fai_air and a white skin. She was rather bitter about her black mane.
Never mind, she would dye it when she grew up, or bleach it in the sun, til_t was bleached fair. Meanwhile she wore a fair white coif of pure Venetia_ace.
She flitted silently along the terraces, where jewelled lizards basked upo_he stone, and did not move when her shadow fell upon them. In the utte_tillness she heard the tinkle of the fountain, and smelled the roses whos_lossoms hung rich and motionless. So she drifted, drifted on the wistful fee_f beauty, past the water and the swans, to the noble park, where, underneat_ great oak, a doe all dappled lay with her four fine feet together, her faw_estling sun-coloured beside her.
Oh, and this doe was her familiar. It would talk to her, because she was _agician, it would tell her stories as if the sunshine spoke.
Then one day, she left the door of the parish room unlocked, careless an_nheeding as she always was; the children found their way in, Katie cut he_inger and howled, Billy hacked notches in the fine chisels, and did muc_amage. There was a great commotion.
The crossness of the mother was soon finished. Ursula locked up the roo_gain, and considered all was over. Then her father came in with the notche_ools, his forehead knotted.
"Who the deuce opened the door?" he cried in anger.
"It was Ursula who opened the door," said her mother. He had a duster in hi_and. He turned and flapped the cloth hard across the girl's face. The clot_tung, for a moment the girl was as if stunned. Then she remained motionless, her face closed and stubborn. But her heart was blazing. In spite of hersel_he tears surged higher, in spite of her they surged higher.
In spite of her, her face broke, she made a curious gulping grimace, and th_ears were falling. So she went away, desolate. But her blazing heart wa_ierce and unyielding. He watched her go, and a pleasurable pain filled him, _ense of triumph and easy power, followed immediately by acute pity.
"I'm sure that was unnecessary-to hit the girl across the face," said th_other coldly.
"A flip with the duster won't hurt her," he said.
"Nor will it do her any good."
For days, for weeks, Ursula's heart burned from this rebuff. She felt s_ruelly vulnerable. Did he not know how vulnerable she was, how exposed an_incing? He, of all people, knew. And he wanted to do this to her. He wante_o hurt her right through her closest sensitiveness, he wanted to treat he_ith shame, to maim her with insult.
Her heart burnt in isolation, like a watchfire lighted. She did not forget, she did not forget, she never forgot. When she returned to her love for he_ather, the seed of mistrust and defiance burned unquenched, though covered u_ar from sight. She no longer belonged to him unquestioned. Slowly, slowly, the fire of mistrust and defiance burned in her, burned away her connectio_ith him.
She ran a good deal alone, having a passion for all moving, active things. Sh_oved the little brooks. Wherever she found a little running water, she wa_appy. It seemed to make her run and sing in spirit along with it. She coul_it for hours by a brook or stream, on the roots of the alders, and watch th_ater hasten dancing over the stones, or among the twigs of a fallen branch.
Sometimes, little fish vanished before they had become real, lik_allucinations, sometimes wagtails ran by the water's brink, sometimes othe_ittle birds came to drink. She saw a kingfisher darting blue-and then she wa_ery happy. The kingfisher was the key to the magic world: he was witness o_he border of enchantment.
But she must move out of the intricately woven illusion of her life: th_llusion of a father whose life was an Odyssey in an outer world; the illusio_f her grandmother, of realities so shadowy and far-off that they became a_ystic symbols:-peasant-girls with wreaths of blue flowers in their hair, th_ledges and the depths of winter; the dark-bearded young grandfather, marriag_nd war and death; then the multitude of illusions concerning herself, how sh_as truly a princess of Poland, how in England she was under a spell, she wa_ot really this Ursula Brangwen; then the mirage of her reading: out of th_ulticoloured illusion of this her life, she must move on, to the Gramma_chool in Nottingham.
She was shy, and she suffered. For one thing, she bit her nails, and had _ruel consciousness in her finger-tips, a shame, an exposure. Out of al_roportion, this shame haunted her. She spent hours of torture, conjuring ho_he might keep her gloves on: if she might say her hands were scalded, if sh_ight seem to forget to take off her gloves.
For she was going to inherit her own estate, when she went to the High School.
There, each girl was a lady. There, she was going to walk among free souls, her co-mates and her equals, and all petty things would be put away. Ah, i_nly she did not bite her nails! If only she had not this blemish! She wante_o much to be perfect-without spot or blemish, living the high, noble life.
It was a grief to her that her father made such a poor introduction. He wa_rief as ever, like a boy saying his errand, and his clothes looked ill- fitting and casual. Whereas Ursula would have liked robes and a ceremonial o_ntroduction to this, her new estate.
She made a new illusion of school. Miss Grey, the headmistress, had a certai_ilvery, school-mistressy beauty of character. The school itself had been _entleman's house. Dark, sombre lawns separated it from the dark, selec_venue. But its rooms were large and of good appearance, and from the back, one looked over lawns and shrubbery, over the trees and the grassy slope o_he Arboretum, to the town which heaped the hollow with its roofs and cupola_nd its shadows.
So Ursula seated herself upon the hill of learning, looking down on the smok_nd confusion and the manufacturing, engrossed activity of the town. She wa_appy. Up here, in the Grammar School, she fancied the air was finer, beyon_he factory smoke. She wanted to learn Latin and Greek and French an_athematics. She trembled like a postulant when she wrote the Greek alphabe_or the first time.
She was upon another hill-slope, whose summit she had not scaled. There wa_lways the marvellous eagerness in her heart, to climb and to see beyond. _atin verb was virgin soil to her: she sniffed a new odour in it; it mean_omething, though she did not know what it meant. But she gathered it up: i_as significant. When she knew that:
x2-y2 = (x + y)(x-y)
then she felt that she had grasped something, that she was liberated into a_ntoxicating air, rare and unconditioned. And she was very glad as she wrot_er French exercise:
"J'AI DONNE LE PAIN A MON PETIT FRERE."
In all these things there was the sound of a bugle to her heart, exhilarating, summoning her to perfect places. She never forgot her brown "Longman's Firs_rench Grammar", nor her "Via Latina" with its red edges, nor her little gre_lgebra book. There was always a magic in them.
At learning she was quick, intelligent, instinctive, but she was not
"thorough". If a thing did not come to her instinctively, she could not lear_t. And then, her mad rage of loathing for all lessons, her bitter contempt o_ll teachers and schoolmistresses, her recoil to a fierce, animal arroganc_ade her detestable.
She was a free, unabateable animal, she declared in her revolts: there was n_aw for her, nor any rule. She existed for herself alone. Then ensued a lon_truggle with everybody, in which she broke down at last, when she had run th_ull length of her resistance, and sobbed her heart out, desolate; an_fterwards, in a chastened, washed-out, bodiless state, she received th_nderstanding that would not come before, and went her way sadder and wiser.
Ursula and Gudrun went to school together. Gudrun was a shy, quiet, wil_reature, a thin slip of a thing hanging back from notice or twisting past t_isappear into her own world again. She seemed to avoid all contact, instinctively, and pursued her own intent way, pursuing half-formed fancie_hat had no relation to anyone else.
She was not clever at all. She thought Ursula clever enough for two. Ursul_nderstood, so why should she, Gudrun, bother herself? The younger girl live_er religious, responsible life in her sister, by proxy. For herself, she wa_ndifferent and intent as a wild animal, and as irresponsible.
When she found herself at the bottom of the class, she laughed, lazily, an_as content, saying she was safe now. She did not mind her father's chagri_or her mother's tinge of mortification.
"What do I pay for you to go to Nottingham for?" her father asked, exasperated.
"Well, Dad, you know you needn't pay for me," she replied, nonchalant. "I'_eady to stop at home."
She was happy at home, Ursula was not. Slim and unwilling abroad, Gudrun wa_asy in her own house as a wild thing in its lair. Whereas Ursula, attentiv_nd keen abroad, at home was reluctant, uneasy, unwilling to be herself, o_nable.
Nevertheless Sunday remained the maximum day of the week for both. Ursul_urned passionately to it, to the sense of eternal security it gave. Sh_uffered anguish of fears during the week-days, for she felt strong power_hat would not recognise her. There was upon her always a fear and a dislik_f authority. She felt she could always do as she wanted if she managed t_void a battle with Authority and the authorised Powers. But if she gav_erself away, she would be lost, destroyed. There was always the menac_gainst her.
This strange sense of cruelty and ugliness always imminent, ready to seiz_old upon her this feeling of the grudging power of the mob lying in wait fo_er, who was the exception, formed one of the deepest influences of her life.
Wherever she was, at school, among friends, in the street, in the train, sh_nstinctively abated herself, made herself smaller, feigned to be less tha_he was, for fear that her undiscovered self should be seen, pounced upon, attacked by brutish resentment of the commonplace, the average Self.
She was fairly safe at school, now. She knew how to take her place there, an_ow much of herself to reserve. But she was free only on Sundays. When she wa_ut a girl of fourteen, she began to feel a resentment growing against her i_er own home. She knew she was the disturbing influence there. But as yet, o_undays, she was free, really free, free to be herself, without fear o_isgiving.
Even at its stormiest, Sunday was a blessed day. Ursula woke to it with _eeling of immense relief. She wondered why her heart was so light. Then sh_emembered it was Sunday. A gladness seemed to burst out around her, a feelin_f great freedom. The whole world was for twenty-four hours revoked, put back.
Only the Sunday world existed.
She loved the very confusion of the household. It was lucky if the childre_lept till seven o'clock. Usually, soon after six, a chirp was heard, a voice, an excited chirrup began, announcing the creation of a new day, there was _hudding of quick little feet, and the children were up and about, scamperin_n their shirts, with pink legs and glistening, flossy hair all clean from th_aturday's night bathing, their souls excited by their bodies' cleanliness.
As the house began to teem with rushing, half-naked clean children, one of th_arents rose, either the mother, easy and slatternly, with her thick, dar_air loosely coiled and slipping over one ear, or the father, warm an_omfortable, with ruffled black hair and shirt unbuttoned at the neck.
Then the girls upstairs heard the continual:
"Now then, Billy, what are you up to?" in the father's strong, vibratin_oice: or the mother's dignified:
"I have said, Cassie, I will not have it."
It was amazing how the father's voice could ring out like a gong, without hi_eing in the least moved, and how the mother could speak like a queen holdin_n audience, though her blouse was sticking out all round and her hair was no_astened up and the children were yelling a pandemonium.
Gradually breakfast was produced, and the elder girls came down into th_abel, whilst half-naked children flitted round like the wrong ends o_herubs, as Gudrun said, watching the bare little legs and the chubby tail_ppearing and disappearing.
Gradually the young ones were captured, and nightdresses finally removed, ready for the clean Sunday shirt. But before the Sunday shirt was slipped ove_he fleecy head, away darted the naked body, to wallow in the sheepskin whic_ormed the parlour rug, whilst the mother walked after, protesting sharply, holding the shirt like a noose, and the father's bronze voice rang out, an_he naked child wallowing on its back in the deep sheepskin announce_leefully:
"I'm bading in the sea, mother."
"Why should I walk after you with your shirt?" said the mother. "Get up now."
"I'm bading in the sea, mother," repeated the wallowing, naked figure.
"We say bathing, not bading," said the mother, with her strange, indifferen_ignity. "I am waiting here with your shirt."
At length shirts were on, and stockings were paired, and little trouser_uttoned and little petticoats tied behind. The besetting cowardice of th_amily was its shirking of the garter question.
"Where are your garters, Cassie?"
"I don't know."
"Well, look for them."
But not one of the elder Brangwens would really face the situation. Afte_assie had grovelled under all the furniture and blacked up all her Sunda_leanliness, to the infinite grief of everybody, the garter was forgotten i_he new washing of the young face and hands.
Later, Ursula would be indignant to see Miss Cassie marching into church fro_unday school with her stocking sluthered down to her ankle, and a grubby kne_howing.
"It's disgraceful!" cried Ursula at dinner. "People will think we're pigs, an_he children are never washed."
"Never mind what people think," said the mother superbly. "I see that th_hild is bathed properly, and if I satisfy myself I satisfy everybody. Sh_an't keep her stocking up and no garter, and it isn't the child's fault sh_as let to go without one."
The garter trouble continued in varying degrees, but till each child wore lon_kirts or long trousers, it was not removed.
On this day of decorum, the Brangwen family went to church by the high-road, making a detour outside all the garden-hedge, rather than climb the wall int_he churchyard. There was no law of this, from the parents. The childre_hemselves were the wardens of the Sabbath decency, very jealous and instan_ith each other.
It came to be, gradually, that after church on Sundays the house was reall_omething of a sanctuary, with peace breathing like a strange bird alighted i_he rooms. Indoors, only reading and tale-telling and quiet pursuits, such a_rawing, were allowed. Out of doors, all playing was to be carried o_nobtrusively. If there were noise, yelling or shouting, then some fierc_pirit woke up in the father and the elder children, so that the younger wer_ubdued, afraid of being excommunicated.
The children themselves preserved the Sabbath. If Ursula in her vanity sang:
"Il Ètait un' bergËre Et ron-ron-ron petit patapon,"
Theresa was sure to cry:
"That's not a Sunday song, our Ursula."
"You don't know," replied Ursula, superior. Nevertheless, she wavered. And he_ong faded down before she came to the end.
Because, though she did not know it, her Sunday was very precious to her. Sh_ound herself in a strange, undefined place, where her spirit could wander i_reams, unassailed.
The white-robed spirit of Christ passed between olive trees. It was a vision, not a reality. And she herself partook of the visionary being. There was th_oice in the night calling, "Samuel, Samuel!" And still the voice called i_he night. But not this night, nor last night, but in the unfathomed night o_unday, of the Sabbath silence.
There was Sin, the serpent, in whom was also wisdom. There was Judas with th_oney and the kiss.
But there was no actual Sin. If Ursula slapped Theresa across the face, eve_n a Sunday, that was not Sin, the everlasting. It was misbehaviour. If Bill_layed truant from Sunday school, he was bad, he was wicked, but he was not _inner.
Sin was absolute and everlasting: wickedness and badness were temporary an_elative. When Billy, catching up the local jargon, called Cassie a "sinner", everybody detested him. Yet when there came to the Marsh a flippetty-floppett_oxhound puppy, he was mischievously christened "Sinner".
The Brangwens shrank from applying their religion to their own immediat_ctions. They wanted the sense of the eternal and immortal, not a list o_ules for everyday conduct. Therefore they were badly- behaved children, headstrong and arrogant, though their feelings were generous. They had, moreover-intolerable to their ordinary neighbours-a proud gesture, that di_ot fit with the jealous idea of the democratic Christian. So that they wer_lways extraordinary, outside of the ordinary.
How bitterly Ursula resented her first acquaintance with evangelica_eachings. She got a peculiar thrill from the application of salvation to he_wn personal case. "Jesus died for me, He suffered for me." There was a prid_nd a thrill in it, followed almost immediately by a sense of dreariness.
Jesus with holes in His hands and feet: it was distasteful to her. The shadow_esus with the Stigmata: that was her own vision. But Jesus the actual man, talking with teeth and lips, telling one to put one's finger into His wounds, like a villager gloating in his sores, repelled her. She was enemy of thos_ho insisted on the humanity of Christ. If He were just a man, living i_rdinary human life, then she was indifferent.
But it was the jealousy of vulgar people which must insist on the humanity o_hrist. It was the vulgar mind which would allow nothing extra-human, nothin_eyond itself to exist. It was the dirty, desecrating hands of the revivalist_hich wanted to drag Jesus into this everyday life, to dress Jesus up i_rousers and frock-coat, to compel Him to a vulgar equality of footing. It wa_he impudent suburban soul which would ask, "What would Jesus do, if he wer_n my shoes?"
Against all this, the Brangwens stood at bay. If any one, it was the mothe_ho was caught by, or who was most careless of the vulgar clamour. She woul_ave nothing extra-human. She never really subscribed, all her life, t_rangwen's mystical passion.
But Ursula was with her father. As she became adolescent, thirteen, fourteen, she set more and more against her mother's practical indifference. To Ursula, there was something callous, almost wicked in her mother's attitude. What di_nna Brangwen, in these years, care for God or Jesus or Angels? She was th_mmediate life of to-day. Children were still being born to her, she wa_hrong with all the little activities of her family. And almost instinctivel_he resented her husband's slavish service to the Church, his dark, subjec_ankering to worship an unseen God. What did the unrevealed God matter, when _an had a young family that needed fettling for? Let him attend to th_mmediate concerns of his life, not go projecting himself towards th_ltimate.
But Ursula was all for the ultimate. She was always in revolt against babie_nd muddled domesticity. To her Jesus was another world, He was not of thi_orld. He did not thrust His hands under her face and, pointing to His wounds, say:
"Look, Ursula Brangwen, I got these for your sake. Now do as you're told."
To her, Jesus was beautifully remote, shining in the distance, like a whit_oon at sunset, a crescent moon beckoning as it follows the sun, out of ou_en. Sometimes dark clouds standing very far off, pricking up into a clea_ellow band of sunset, of a winter evening, reminded her of Calvary, sometime_he full moon rising blood-red upon the hill terrified her with the knowledg_hat Christ was now dead, hanging heavy and dead upon the Cross.
On Sundays, this visionary world came to pass. She heard the long hush, sh_new the marriage of dark and light was taking place. In church, the Voic_ounded, re-echoing not from this world, as if the Church itself were a shel_hat still spoke the language of creation.
"The Sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair: and they too_hem wives of all which they chose.
"And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with Man, for that h_lso is flesh; yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
"There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when th_ons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children unt_hem, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown."
Over this Ursula was stirred as by a call from far off. In those days, woul_ot the Sons of God have found her fair, would she not have been taken to wif_y one of the Sons of God? It was a dream that frightened her, for she coul_ot understand it.
Who were the sons of God? Was not Jesus the only begotten Son? Was not Ada_he only man created from God? Yet there were men not begotten by Adam. Wh_ere these, and whence did they come? They too must derive from God. Had Go_any offspring, besides Adam and besides Jesus, children whose origin th_hildren of Adam cannot recognise? And perhaps these children, these sons o_od, had known no expulsion, no ignominy of the fall.
These came on free feet to the daughters of men, and saw they were fair, an_ook them to wife, so that the women conceived and brought forth men o_enown. This was a genuine fate. She moved about in the essential days, whe_he sons of God came in unto the daughters of men.
Nor would any comparison of myths destroy her passion in the knowledge. Jov_ad become a bull, or a man, in order to love a mortal woman. He had begotte_n her a giant, a hero.
Very good, so he had, in Greece. For herself, she was no Grecian woman. No_ove nor Pan nor any of those gods, not even Bacchus nor Apollo, could come t_er. But the Sons of God who took to wife the daughters of men, these wer_uch as should take her to wife.
She clung to the secret hope, the aspiration. She lived a dual life, one wher_he facts of daily life encompassed everything, being legion, and the othe_herein the facts of daily life were superseded by the eternal truth. S_tterly did she desire the Sons of God should come to the daughters of men; and she believed more in her desire and its fulfilment than in the obviou_acts of life. The fact that a man was a man, did not state his descent fro_dam, did not exclude that he was also one of the unhistoried, unaccountabl_ons of God. As yet, she was confused, but not denied.
Again she heard the Voice:
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a ric_an to enter into heaven."
But it was explained, the needle's eye was a little gateway for foo_assengers, through which the great, humped camel with his load could no_ossibly squeeze himself: or perhaps. at a great risk, if he were a littl_amel, he might get through. For one could not absolutely exclude the rich ma_rom heaven, said the Sunday school teachers.
It pleased her also to know, that in the East one must use hyperbole, or els_emain unheard; because the Eastern man must see a thing swelling to fill al_eaven, or dwindled to a mere nothing, before he is suitably impressed. Sh_mmediately sympathised with this Eastern mind.
Yet the words continued to have a meaning that was untouched either by th_nowledge of gateways or hyperboles. The historical, or local, o_sychological interest in the words was another thing. There remaine_naltered the inexplicable value of the saying. What was this relation betwee_ needle's eye, a rich man, and heaven? What sort of a needle's eye, what sor_f a rich man, what sort of heaven? Who knows? It means the Absolute World, and can never be more than half interpreted in terms of the relative world.
But must one apply the speech literally? Was her father a rich man? Couldn'_e get to heaven? Or was he only a half-rich man? Or was he merely a poor man?
At any rate, unless he gave everything away to the poor, he would find it muc_arder to get to heaven. The needle's eye would be too tight for him. Sh_lmost wished he were penniless poor. If one were coming to the base of it, any man was rich who was not as poor as the poorest.
She had her qualms, when in imagination she saw her father giving away thei_iano and the two cows, and the capital at the bank, to the labourers of th_istrict, so that they, the Brangwens, should be as poor as the Wherrys. An_he did not want it. She was impatient.
"Very well," she thought, "we'll forego that heaven, that's all-at any rat_he needle's eye sort." And she dismissed the problem. She was not going to b_s poor as the Wherrys, not for all the sayings on earth-the miserable squali_herrys.
So she reverted to the non-literal application of the scriptures. Her fathe_ery rarely read, but he had collected many books of reproductions, and h_ould sit and look at these, curiously intent, like a child, yet with _assion that was not childish. He loved the early Italian painters, bu_articularly Giotto and Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi. The great composition_ast a spell over him. How many times had he turned to Raphael's "Dispute o_he Sacrament" or Fra Angelico's "Last Judgment" or the beautiful, complicate_enderings of the Adoration of the Magi, and always, each time, he receive_he same gradual fulfilment of delight. It had to do with the establishment o_ whole mystical, architectural conception which used the human figure as _nit. Sometimes he had to hurry home, and go to the Fra Angelico "Las_udgment". The pathway of open graves, the huddled earth on either side, th_eemly heaven arranged above, the singing process to paradise on the one hand, the stuttering descent to hell on the other, completed and satisfied him. H_id not care whether or not he believed in devils or angels. The whol_onception gave him the deepest satisfaction, and he wanted nothing more.
Ursula, accustomed to these pictures from her childhood, hunted out thei_etail. She adored Fra Angelico's flowers and light and angels, she liked th_emons and enjoyed the hell. But the representation of the encircled God, surrounded by all the angels on high, suddenly bored her. The figure of th_ost High bored her, and roused her resentment. Was this the culmination an_he meaning of it all, this draped, null figure? The angels were so lovely, and the light so beautiful. And only for this, to surround such a banality fo_od!
She was dissatisfied, but not fit as yet to criticise. There was yet so muc_o wonder over. Winter came, pine branches were torn down in the snow, th_reen pine needles looked rich upon the ground. There was the wonderful, starry, straight track of a pheasant's footsteps across the snow imprinted s_lear; there was the lobbing mark of the rabbit, two holes abreast, two hole_ollowing behind; the hare shoved deeper shafts, slanting, and his two hin_eet came down together and made one large pit; the cat podded little holes, and birds made a lacy pattern.
Gradually there gathered the feeling of expectation. Christmas was coming. I_he shed, at nights, a secret candle was burning, a sound of veiled voices wa_eard. The boys were learning the old mystery play of St. George an_eelzebub. Twice a week, by lamplight, there was choir practice in the church, for the learning of old carols Brangwen wanted to hear. The girls went t_hese practices. Everywhere was a sense of mystery and rousedness. Everybod_as preparing for something.
The time came near, the girls were decorating the church, with cold finger_inding holly and fir and yew about the pillars, till a new spirit was in th_hurch, the stone broke out into dark, rich leaf, the arches put forth thei_uds, and cold flowers rose to blossom in the dim, mystic atmosphere. Ursul_ust weave mistletoe over the door, and over the screen, and hang a silve_ove from a sprig of yew, till dusk came down, and the church was like _rove.
In the cow-shed the boys were blacking their faces for a dress-rehearsal; th_urkey hung dead, with opened, speckled wings, in the dairy. The time was com_o make pies, in readiness.
The expectation grew more tense. The star was risen into the sky, the songs, the carols were ready to hail it. The star was the sign in the sky. Earth to_hould give a sign. As evening drew on, hearts beat fast with anticipation, hands were full of ready gifts. There were the tremulously expectant words o_he church service, the night was past and the morning was come, the gift_ere given and received, joy and peace made a flapping of wings in each heart, there was a great burst of carols, the Peace of the World had dawned, strif_ad passed away, every hand was linked in hand, every heart was singing.
It was bitter, though, that Christmas Day, as it drew on to evening, an_ight, became a sort of bank holiday, flat and stale. The morning was s_onderful, but in the afternoon and evening the ecstasy perished like a nippe_hing, like a bud in a false spring. Alas, that Christmas was only a domesti_east, a feast of sweetmeats and toys! Why did not the grown-ups also chang_heir everyday hearts, and give way to ecstasy? Where was the ecstasy?
How passionately the Brangwens craved for it, the ecstasy. The father wa_roubled, dark-faced and disconsolate, on Christmas night, because the passio_as not there, because the day was become as every day, and hearts were no_flame. Upon the mother was a kind of absentness, as ever, as if she wer_xiled for all her life. Where was the fiery heart of joy, now the coming wa_ulfilled; where was the star, the Magi's transport, the thrill of new bein_hat shook the earth?
Still it was there, even if it were faint and inadequate. The cycle o_reation still wheeled in the Church year. After Christmas, the ecstasy slowl_ank and changed. Sunday followed Sunday, trailing a fine movement, a finel_eveloped transformation over the heart of the family. The heart that was bi_ith joy, that had seen the star and had followed to the inner walls of th_ativity, that there had swooned in the great light, must now feel the ligh_lowly withdrawing, a shadow falling, darkening. The chill crept in, silenc_ame over the earth, and then all was darkness. The veil of the temple wa_ent, each heart gave up the ghost, and sank dead.
They moved quietly, a little wanness on the lips of the children, at Goo_riday, feeling the shadow upon their hearts. Then, pale with a deathly scent, came the lilies of resurrection, that shone coldly till the Comforter wa_iven.
But why the memory of the wounds and the death? Surely Christ rose with heale_ands and feet, sound and strong and glad? Surely the passage of the cross an_he tomb was forgotten? But no-always the memory of the wounds, always th_mell of grave-clothes? A small thing was Resurrection, compared with th_ross and the death, in this cycle.
So the children lived the year of christianity, the epic of the soul o_ankind. Year by year the inner, unknown drama went on in them, their heart_ere born and came to fulness, suffered on the cross, gave up the ghost, an_ose again to unnumbered days, untired, having at least this rhythm o_ternity in a ragged, inconsequential life.
But it was becoming a mechanical action now, this drama: birth at Christma_or death at Good Friday. On Easter Sunday the life-drama was as good a_inished. For the Resurrection was shadowy and overcome by the shadow o_eath, the Ascension was scarce noticed, a mere confirmation of death.
What was the hope and the fulfilment? Nay, was it all only a useless after- death, a wan, bodiless after-death? Alas, and alas for the passion of th_uman heart, that must die so long before the body was dead.
For from the grave, after the passion and the trial of anguish, the body ros_orn and chill and colourless. Did not Christ say, "Mary!" and when she turne_ith outstretched hands to him, did he not hasten to add, "Touch me not; for _m not yet ascended to my father."
Then how could the hands rejoice, or the heart be glad, seeing themselve_epulsed. Alas, for the resurrection of the dead body! Alas, for the wavering, glimmering appearance of the risen Christ. Alas, for the Ascension int_eaven, which is a shadow within death, a complete passing away.
Alas, that so soon the drama is over; that life is ended at thirty-three; tha_he half of the year of the soul is cold and historiless! Alas, that a rise_hrist has no place with us! Alas, that the memory of the passion of Sorro_nd Death and the Grave holds triumph over the pale fact of Resurrection!
But why? Why shall I not rise with my body whole and perfect, shining wit_trong life? Why, when Mary says: Rabboni, shall I not take her in my arms an_iss her and hold her to my breast? Why is the risen body deadly, an_bhorrent with wounds?
The Resurrection is to life, not to death. Shall I not see those who hav_isen again walk here among men perfect in body and spirit, whole and glad i_he flesh, living in the flesh, loving in the flesh, begetting children in th_lesh, arrived at last to wholeness, perfect without scar or blemish, health_ithout fear of ill health? Is this not the period of manhood and of joy an_ulfilment, after the Resurrection? Who shall be shadowed by Death and th_ross, being risen, and who shall fear the mystic, perfect flesh that belong_o heaven?
Can I not, then, walk this earth in gladness, being risen from sorrow? Can _ot eat with my brother happily, and with joy kiss my beloved, after m_esurrection, celebrate my marriage in the flesh with feastings, go about m_usiness eagerly, in the joy of my fellows? Is heaven impatient for me, an_itter against this earth, that I should hurry off, or that I should linge_ale and untouched? Is the flesh which was crucified become as poison to th_rowds in the street, or is it as a strong gladness and hope to them, as th_irst flower blossoming out of the earth's humus?