NEXT DAY Birkin sought Ursula out. It happened to be the half-day at the Grammar School. He appeared towards the end of the morning, and asked her, would she drive with him in the afternoon. She consented. But her face was closed and unresponding, and his heart sank.

The afternoon was fine and dim. He was driving the motor-car, and she sat beside him. But still her face was closed against him, unresponding. When she became like this, like a wall against him, his heart contracted.

His life now seemed so reduced, that he hardly cared any more. At moments it seemed to him he did not care a straw whether Ursula or Hermione or anybody else existed or did not exist. Why bother! Why strive for a coherent, satisfied life? Why not drift on in a series of accidents--like a picaresque novel? Why not? Why bother about human relationships? Why take them seriously--male or female? Why form any serious connections at all? Why not be casual, drifting along, taking all for what it was worth?

And yet, still, he was damned and doomed to the old effort at serious living.

`Look,' he said, `what I bought.' The car was running along a broad white road, between autumn trees.

He gave her a little bit of screwed-up paper. She took it and opened it.

`How lovely,' she cried.

She examined the gift.

`How perfectly lovely!' she cried again. `But why do you give them me?' She put the question offensively.

His face flickered with bored irritation. He shrugged his shoulders slightly.

`I wanted to,' he said, coolly.

`But why? Why should you?'

`Am I called on to find reasons?' he asked.

There was a silence, whilst she examined the rings that had been screwed up in the paper.

`I think they are beautiful,' she said, `especially this. This is wonderful--'

It was a round opal, red and fiery, set in a circle of tiny rubies.

`You like that best?' he said.

`I think I do.'

`I like the sapphire,' he said.


It was a rose-shaped, beautiful sapphire, with small brilliants.

`Yes,' she said, `it is lovely.' She held it in the light. `Yes, perhaps it is the best--'

`The blue--' he said.

`Yes, wonderful--'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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