He smiled faintly, thinking these things. Yet he was tense, feeling that he and the elderly, estranged woman were conferring together like traitors, like enemies within the camp of the other people. He resembled a deer, that throws one ear back upon the trail behind, and one ear forward, to know what is ahead.

`People don't really matter,' he said, rather unwilling to continue.

The mother looked up at him with sudden, dark interrogation, as if doubting his sincerity.

`How do you mean, matter?' she asked sharply.

`Not many people are anything at all,' he answered, forced to go deeper than he wanted to. `They jingle and giggle. It would be much better if they were just wiped out. Essentially, they don't exist, they aren't there.'

She watched him steadily while he spoke.

`But we didn't imagine them,' she said sharply.

`There's nothing to imagine, that's why they don't exist.'

`Well,' she said, `I would hardly go as far as that. There they are, whether they exist or no. It doesn't rest with me to decide on their existence. I only know that I can't be expected to take count of them all. You can't expect me to know them, just because they happen to be there. As far as I go they might as well not be there.'

`Exactly,' he replied.

`Mightn't they?' she asked again.

`Just as well,' he repeated. And there was a little pause.

`Except that they are there, and that's a nuisance,' she said. `There are my sons-in-law,' she went on, in a sort of monologue. `Now Laura's got married, there's another. And I really don't know John from James yet. They come up to me and call me mother. I know what they will say -- "how are you, mother?" I ought to say, "I am not your mother, in any sense." But what is the use? There they are. I have had children of my own. I suppose I know them from another woman's children.'

`One would suppose so,' he said.

She looked at him, somewhat surprised, forgetting perhaps that she was talking to him. And she lost her thread.

She looked round the room, vaguely. Birkin could not guess what she was looking for, nor what she was thinking. Evidently she noticed her sons.

`Are my children all there?' she asked him abruptly.

He laughed, startled, afraid perhaps.

`I scarcely know them, except Gerald,' he replied.

`Gerald!' she exclaimed. `He's the most wanting of them all. You'd never think it, to look at him now, would you?'

`No,' said Birkin.

The mother looked across at her eldest son, stared at him heavily for some time.

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