In D.H. Lawrence's "The Horse Dealer's Daughter," the narrator presents the notion that life can often astonish us.
Mabel and Fergusson are very different people: she has grown up with nature, and he has concentrated on the sciences, becoming a doctor. And while part of him distances himself from Mabel, the part of her that resists her brothers when they push her around and has survived so long in an atmosphere lacking love and gentleness, may be what draws Fergusson. The scientific side of him may not know how to handle the idea of Mabel: who comes so strangely to the forefront of his life just as her world begins to crumble around her.
They are not unknown to each other: her brothers know Fergusson well. They all greet him. Nothing passes between Fergusson and Mabel. When she rises to clear the table:
The young man looked at her, but did not address her. He had not greeted her. She went out of the room with a tray, her face impassive and unchanged.
It seems there is nothing between them. However, they are both very much aware of the other. When she returns to the room, Fergusson questions her about where she is going:
"What are you going to do then, Miss Pervin?" asked Fergusson. "Going to your sister's, are you?"
Mabel looked at him with her steady, dangerous eyes, that always made him uncomfortable, unsettling his superficial ease.
"No," she said.
We learn how Fergusson feels around Mabel: her eyes are "dangerous"—why? This is foreshadowing—this shows that Mabel, makes him uncertain, and is able to shake up his "superficial ease." This gives one to believe that he is anything but passive and easy-going—perhaps alluding to a repressed passionate attitude where Mabel is concerned. Her monosyllabic response does not encourage him at all.
Even when Fred Henry demands to know her intentions and her brother calls her a "sulky bitch," she continues her work without becoming upset.
...she finished her task with perfectly impassive face, the young doctor watching her interestedly all the while.
Perhaps, too, Mabel is expressionless in the face of brothers who are so totally unconcerned with her—other than wanting to know where she will go so they can then feel they've done their "duty." None of them seem genuinely concerned for her.
However, Fergusson is not one of her brothers. He sees Mabel again as she visits her mother's grave:
...glancing across the graveyard with his quick eye, he saw the girl at her task at the grave. She seemed so intent, so remote, it was like looking into another world. Some mystical element was touched in him. He slowed down...watching her as if spell-bound.
She lifted her eyes, feeling him looking. Their eyes met. And each looked again at once, each feeling in some way, found out by the other...her face. It seemed to mesmerize him.
When Mabel walks into the pond to take her life, Fergusson goes in after her—he cannot swim and he is afraid, while the smell of death surrounds him, but he finds Mabel and pulls her out, saving her. Waking at the house, she is unaware of what she has done. Fergusson is no longer in control: it is as if she has power over him. Soaking wet...
...he felt warm inside himself.
When she asks if he loves her, "his soul seemed to melt." Though he never intended it, there it is waiting for him—saving him—coming to the surface much as she did when he pulled her out of the water. Perhaps Lawrence is saying that life often takes us by surprise, showing us more than even we know.