Thursday, November 8, 2007



1. The Early Married Life of the Morels
2. The Birth of Paul, and Another Battle
3. The Casting Off of Morel--The Taking on of William
4. The Young Life of Paul
5. Paul Launches into Life
6. Death in the Family
7. Lad-and-Girl Love
8. Strife in Love
9. Defeat of Miriam
10. Clara
11. The Test on Miriam
12. Passion
13. Baxter Dawes
14. The Release
15. Derelict
"THE BOTTOMS" succeeded to "Hell Row". Hell Row was a block of thatched,
bulging cottages that stood by the brookside on Greenhill Lane.
There lived the colliers who worked in the little gin-pits two
fields away. The brook ran under the alder trees, scarcely soiled
by these small mines, whose coal was drawn to the surface by
donkeys that plodded wearily in a circle round a gin. And all
over the countryside were these same pits, some of which had been
worked in the time of Charles II, the few colliers and the donkeys
burrowing down like ants into the earth, making queer mounds
and little black places among the corn-fields and the meadows.
And the cottages of these coal-miners, in blocks and pairs here
and there, together with odd farms and homes of the stockingers,
straying over the parish, formed the village of Bestwood.
Then, some sixty years ago, a sudden change took place.
The gin-pits were elbowed aside by the large mines of
the financiers. The coal and iron field of Nottinghamshire and
Derbyshire was discovered. Carston, Waite and Co. appeared.
Amid tremendous excitement, Lord Palmerston formally opened
the company's first mine at Spinney Park, on the edge of Sherwood Forest.
About this time the notorious Hell Row, which through growing
old had acquired an evil reputation, was burned down, and much dirt
was cleansed away.
Carston, Waite & Co. found they had struck on a good thing,
so, down the valleys of the brooks from Selby and Nuttall, new mines
were sunk, until soon there were six pits working. From Nuttall,
high up on the sandstone among the woods, the railway ran, past the
ruined priory of the Carthusians and past Robin Hood's Well, down to
Spinney Park, then on to Minton, a large mine among corn-fields;
from Minton across the farmlands of the valleyside to
Bunker's Hill, branching off there, and running
north to Beggarlee and Selby, that looks over at Crich and the hills
of Derbyshire: six mines like black studs on the countryside,
linked by a loop of fine chain, the railway.
To accommodate the regiments of miners, Carston, Waite and Co.
built the Squares, great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillside
of Bestwood, and then, in the brook valley, on the site of Hell Row,
they erected the Bottoms.
The Bottoms consisted of six blocks of miners' dwellings,
two rows of three, like the dots on a blank-six domino, and twelve
houses in a block. This double row of dwellings sat at the foot
of the rather sharp slope from Bestwood, and looked out, from the
attic windows at least, on the slow climb of the valley towards Selby.
The houses themselves were substantial and very decent.
One could walk all round, seeing little front gardens with auriculas
and saxifrage in the shadow of the bottom block, sweet-williams and pinks
in the sunny top block; seeing neat front windows, little porches,
little privet hedges, and dormer windows for the attics. But that
was outside; that was the view on to the uninhabited parlours of all
the colliers' wives. The dwelling-room, the kitchen, was at the back
of the house, facing inward between the blocks, looking at a scrubby
back garden, and then at the ash-pits. And between the rows,
between the long lines of ash-pits, went the alley, where the children
played and the women gossiped and the men smoked. So, the actual
conditions of living in the Bottoms, that was so well built and
that looked so nice, were quite unsavoury because people must live
in the kitchen, and the kitchens opened on to that nasty alley of ash-pits.
Mrs. Morel was not anxious to move into the Bottoms,
which was already twelve years old and on the downward path,
when she descended to it from Bestwood. But it was the best she
could do. Moreover, she had an end house in one of the top blocks,
and thus had only one neighbour; on the other side an extra strip
of garden. And, having an end house, she enjoyed a kind of aristocracy
among the other women of the "between" houses, because her rent
was five shillings and sixpence instead of five shillings a week.
But this superiority in station was not much consolation to Mrs. Morel.
She was thirty-one years old, and had been married eight years.
A rather small woman, of delicate mould but resolute bearing,
she shrank a little from the first contact with the Bottoms women.
She came down in the July, and in the September expected her
third baby.
Her husband was a miner. They had only been in their new home
three weeks when the wakes, or fair, began. Morel, she knew, was sure
to make a holiday of it. He went off early on the Monday morning,
the day of the fair. The two children were highly excited.
William, a boy of seven, fled off immediately after breakfast,
to prowl round the wakes ground, leaving Annie, who was only five,
to whine all morning to go also. Mrs. Morel did her work.
She scarcely knew her neighbours yet, and knew no one with whom
to trust the little girl. So she promised to take her to the wakes
after dinner.
William appeared at half-past twelve. He was a very active lad,
fair-haired, freckled, with a touch of the Dane or Norwegian
about him.
"Can I have my dinner, mother?" he cried, rushing in with his
cap on. "'Cause it begins at half-past one, the man says so."
"You can have your dinner as soon as it's done," replied the mother.
"Isn't it done?" he cried, his blue eyes staring at her
in indignation. "Then I'm goin' be-out it."
"You'll do nothing of the sort. It will be done in five minutes.
It is only half-past twelve."
"They'll be beginnin'," the boy half cried, half shouted.
"You won't die if they do," said the mother. "Besides, it's
only half-past twelve, so you've a full hour."
The lad began hastily to lay the table, and directly the three
sat down. They were eating batter-pudding and jam, when the boy
jumped off his chair and stood perfectly stiff. Some distance
away could be heard the first small braying of a merry-go-round,
and the tooting of a horn. His face quivered as he looked at his mother.
"I told you!" he said, running to the dresser for his cap.
"Take your pudding in your hand--and it's only five past one,
so you were wrong--you haven't got your twopence," cried the mother
in a breath.
The boy came back, bitterly disappointed, for his twopence,
then went off without a word.
"I want to go, I want to go," said Annie, beginning to cry.
"Well, and you shall go, whining, wizzening little stick!"
said the mother. And later in the afternoon she trudged up the
hill under the tall hedge with her child. The hay was gathered
from the fields, and cattle were turned on to the eddish.
It was warm, peaceful.
Mrs. Morel did not like the wakes. There were two sets of horses,
one going by steam, one pulled round by a pony; three organs
were grinding, and there came odd cracks of pistol-shots, fearful
screeching of the cocoanut man's rattle, shouts of the Aunt Sally man,
screeches from the peep-show lady. The mother perceived her son gazing
enraptured outside the Lion Wallace booth, at the pictures of this
famous lion that had killed a negro and maimed for life two white men.
She left him alone, and went to get Annie a spin of toffee.
Presently the lad stood in front of her, wildly excited.
"You never said you was coming--isn't the' a lot of things?-
that lion's killed three men-l've spent my tuppence-an' look here."
He pulled from his pocket two egg-cups, with pink moss-roses
on them.
"I got these from that stall where y'ave ter get them marbles
in them holes. An' I got these two in two goes-'aepenny a go-they've
got moss-roses on, look here. I wanted these."
She knew he wanted them for her.
"H'm!" she said, pleased. "They ARE pretty!"
"Shall you carry 'em, 'cause I'm frightened o' breakin' 'em?"
He was tipful of excitement now she had come, led her about
the ground, showed her everything. Then, at the peep-show, she
explained the pictures, in a sort of story, to which he listened
as if spellbound. He would not leave her. All the time he
stuck close to her, bristling with a small boy's pride of her.
For no other woman looked such a lady as she did, in her little black
bonnet and her cloak. She smiled when she saw women she knew.
When she was tired she said to her son:
"Well, are you coming now, or later?"
"Are you goin' a'ready?" he cried, his face full of reproach.
"Already? It is past four, I know."
"What are you goin' a'ready for?" he lamented.
"You needn't come if you don't want," she said.
And she went slowly away with her little girl, whilst her son
stood watching her, cut to the heart to let her go, and yet unable
to leave the wakes. As she crossed the open ground in front of
the Moon and Stars she heard men shouting, and smelled the beer,
and hurried a little, thinking her husband was probably in the bar.
At about half-past six her son came home, tired now, rather pale,
and somewhat wretched. He was miserable, though he did not know it,
because he had let her go alone. Since she had gone, he had not
enjoyed his wakes.
"Has my dad been?" he asked.
"No," said the mother.
"He's helping to wait at the Moon and Stars. I seed him through
that black tin stuff wi' holes in, on the window, wi' his sleeves
rolled up."
"Ha!" exclaimed the mother shortly. "He's got no money.
An' he'll be satisfied if he gets his 'lowance, whether they
give him more or not."
When the light was fading, and Mrs. Morel could see no more to sew,
she rose and went to the door. Everywhere was the sound of excitement,
the restlessness of the holiday, that at last infected her. She went
out into the side garden. Women were coming home from the wakes,
the children hugging a white lamb with green legs, or a wooden horse.
Occasionally a man lurched past, almost as full as he could carry.
Sometimes a good husband came along with his family, peacefully.
But usually the women and children were alone. The stay-at-home mothers
stood gossiping at the corners of the alley, as the twilight sank,
folding their arms under their white aprons.
Mrs. Morel was alone, but she was used to it. Her son and her
little girl slept upstairs; so, it seemed, her home was there behind her,
fixed and stable. But she felt wretched with the coming child.
The world seemed a dreary place, where nothing else would happen
for her--at least until William grew up. But for herself,
nothing but this dreary endurance--till the children grew up.
And the children! She could not afford to have this third.
She did not want it. The father was serving beer in a public house,
swilling himself drunk. She despised him, and was tied to him.
This coming child was too much for her. If it were not for William
and Annie, she was sick of it, the struggle with
poverty and ugliness and meanness.
She went into the front garden, feeling too heavy to take
herself out, yet unable to stay indoors. The heat suffocated her.
And looking ahead, the prospect of her life made her feel as if she
were buried alive.
The front garden was a small square with a privet hedge.
There she stood, trying to soothe herself with the scent of flowers
and the fading, beautiful evening. Opposite her small gate was the
stile that led uphill, under the tall hedge between the burning glow
of the cut pastures. The sky overhead throbbed and pulsed with light.
The glow sank quickly off the field; the earth and the hedges
smoked dusk. As it grew dark, a ruddy glare came out on the hilltop,
and out of the glare the diminished commotion of the fair.
Sometimes, down the trough of darkness formed by the path
under the hedges, men came lurching home. One young man lapsed
into a run down the steep bit that ended the hill, and went with a
crash into the stile. Mrs. Morel shuddered. He picked himself up,
swearing viciously, rather pathetically, as if he thought the stile
had wanted to hurt him.
She went indoors, wondering if things were never going to alter.
She was beginning by now to realise that they would not. She seemed
so far away from her girlhood, she wondered if it were the same
person walking heavily up the back garden at the Bottoms as had run
so lightly up the breakwater at Sheerness ten years before.
"What have I to do with it?" she said to herself. "What have
I to do with all this? Even the child I am going to have!
It doesn't seem as if I were taken into account."
Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along,
accomplishes one's history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself
as it were slurred over.
"I wait," Mrs. Morel said to herself--"I wait, and what I wait
for can never come."
Then she straightened the kitchen, lit the lamp, mended the fire,
looked out the washing for the next day, and put it to soak.
After which she sat down to her sewing. Through the long hours her
needle flashed regularly through the stuff. Occasionally she sighed,
moving to relieve herself. And all the time she was thinking
how to make the most of what she had, for the children's sakes.
At half-past eleven her husband came. His cheeks were very
red and very shiny above his black moustache. His head nodded slightly.
He was pleased with himself.
"Oh! Oh! waitin' for me, lass? I've bin 'elpin' Anthony, an'
what's think he's gen me? Nowt b'r a lousy hae'f-crown, an'
that's ivry penny---"
"He thinks you've made the rest up in beer," she said shortly.
"An' I 'aven't--that I 'aven't. You b'lieve me, I've 'ad
very little this day, I have an' all." His voice went tender.
"Here, an' I browt thee a bit o' brandysnap, an' a cocoanut for th'
children." He laid the gingerbread and the cocoanut, a hairy object,
on the table. "Nay, tha niver said thankyer for nowt i' thy life,
did ter?"
As a compromise, she picked up the cocoanut and shook it,
to see if it had any milk.
"It's a good 'un, you may back yer life o' that. I got it fra'
Bill Hodgkisson. 'Bill,' I says, 'tha non wants them three nuts,
does ter? Arena ter for gi'ein' me one for my bit of a lad an'
wench?' 'I ham, Walter, my lad,' 'e says; 'ta'e which on 'em
ter's a mind.' An' so I took one, an' thanked 'im. I didn't
like ter shake it afore 'is eyes, but 'e says, 'Tha'd better ma'e
sure it's a good un, Walt.' An' so, yer see, I knowed it was.
He's a nice chap, is Bill Hodgkisson, e's a nice chap!"
"A man will part with anything so long as he's drunk,
and you're drunk along with him," said Mrs. Morel.
"Eh, tha mucky little 'ussy, who's drunk, I sh'd like ter know?"
said Morel. He was extraordinarily pleased with himself,
because of his day's helping to wait in the Moon and Stars.
He chattered on.
Mrs. Morel, very tired, and sick of his babble, went to bed
as quickly as possible, while he raked the fire.
Mrs. Morel came of a good old burgher family, famous independents
who had fought with Colonel Hutchinson, and who remained stout
Congregationalists. Her grandfather had gone bankrupt in the lace-market
at a time when so many lace-manufacturers were ruined in Nottingham.
Her father, George Coppard, was an engineer--a large, handsome,
haughty man, proud of his fair skin and blue eyes, but more proud
still of his integrity. Gertrude resembled her mother in her small
build. But her temper, proud and unyielding, she had from the Coppards.
George Coppard was bitterly galled by his own poverty.
He became foreman of the engineers in the dockyard at Sheerness.
Mrs. Morel--Gertrude--was the second daughter. She favoured her mother,
loved her mother best of all; but she had the Coppards' clear,
defiant blue eyes and their broad brow. She remembered to have
hated her father's overbearing manner towards her gentle, humorous,
kindly-souled mother. She remembered running over the breakwater
at Sheerness and finding the boat. She remembered to have been
petted and flattered by all the men when she had gone to the dockyard,
for she was a delicate, rather proud child. She remembered the funny
old mistress, whose assistant she had become, whom she had loved to help
in the private school. And she still had the Bible that John Field
had given her. She used to walk home from chapel with John Field
when she was nineteen. He was the son of a well-to-do tradesman,
had been to college in London, and was to devote himself to business.
She could always recall in detail a September Sunday afternoon,
when they had sat under the vine at the back of her father's house.
The sun came through the chinks of the vine-leaves and made
beautiful patterns, like a lace scarf, falling on her and on him.
Some of the leaves were clean yellow, like yellow flat flowers.
"Now sit still," he had cried. "Now your hair, I don't know
what it IS like! It's as bright as copper and gold, as red as
burnt copper, and it has gold threads where the sun shines on it.
Fancy their saying it's brown. Your mother calls it mouse-colour."
She had met his brilliant eyes, but her clear face scarcely
showed the elation which rose within her.
"But you say you don't like business," she pursued.
"I don't. I hate it!" he cried hotly.
"And you would like to go into the ministry," she half implored.
"I should. I should love it, if I thought I could make
a first-rate preacher."
"Then why don't you--why DON'T you?" Her voice rang with defiance.
"If I were a man, nothing would stop me."
She held her head erect. He was rather timid before her.
"But my father's so stiff-necked. He means to put me into
the business, and I know he'll do it."
"But if you're a MAN?" she had cried.
"Being a man isn't everything," he replied, frowning with
puzzled helplessness.
Now, as she moved about her work at the Bottoms, with some
experience of what being a man meant, she knew that it was NOT everything.
At twenty, owing to her health, she had left Sheerness.
Her father had retired home to Nottingham. John Field's father
had been ruined; the son had gone as a teacher in Norwood. She did
not hear of him until, two years later, she made determined inquiry.
He had married his landlady, a woman of forty, a widow with property.
And still Mrs. Morel preserved John Field's Bible. She did
not now believe him to be--- Well, she understood pretty well what he
might or might not have been. So she preserved his Bible, and kept
his memory intact in her heart, for her own sake. To her dying day,
for thirty-five years, she did not speak of him.
When she was twenty-three years old, she met, at a Christmas
party, a young man from the Erewash Valley. Morel was then
twenty-seven years old. He was well set-up, erect, and very smart.
He had wavy black hair that shone again, and a vigorous black
beard that had never been shaved. His cheeks were ruddy,
and his red, moist mouth was noticeable because he laughed so often
and so heartily. He had that rare thing, a rich, ringing laugh.
Gertrude Coppard had watched him, fascinated. He was so full of
colour and animation, his voice ran so easily into comic grotesque,
he was so ready and so pleasant with everybody. Her own father
had a rich fund of humour, but it was satiric. This man's
was different: soft, non-intellectual, warm, a kind of gambolling.
She herself was opposite. She had a curious, receptive mind
which found much pleasure and amusement in listening to other folk.
She was clever in leading folk to talk. She loved ideas, and was
considered very intellectual. What she liked most of all was an
argument on religion or philosophy or politics with some educated man.
This she did not often enjoy. So she always had people tell her
about themselves, finding her pleasure so.
In her person she was rather small and delicate, with a
large brow, and dropping bunches of brown silk curls. Her blue eyes
were very straight, honest, and searching. She had the beautiful
hands of the Coppards. Her dress was always subdued. She wore
dark blue silk, with a peculiar silver chain of silver scallops.
This, and a heavy brooch of twisted gold, was her only ornament.
She was still perfectly intact, deeply religious, and full
of beautiful candour.
Walter Morel seemed melted away before her. She was
to the miner that thing of mystery and fascination, a lady.
When she spoke to him, it was with a southern pronunciation and a
purity of English which thrilled him to hear. She watched him.
He danced well, as if it were natural and joyous in him to dance.
His grandfather was a French refugee who had married an English
barmaid--if it had been a marriage. Gertrude Coppard watched the
young miner as he danced, a certain subtle exultation like glamour in
his movement, and his face the flower of his body, ruddy, with tumbled
black hair, and laughing alike whatever partner he bowed above.
She thought him rather wonderful, never having met anyone like him.
Her father was to her the type of all men. And George Coppard,
proud in his bearing, handsome, and rather bitter; who preferred
theology in reading, and who drew near in sympathy only to one man,
the Apostle Paul; who was harsh in government, and in familiarity ironic;
who ignored all sensuous pleasure:--he was very different from
the miner. Gertrude herself was rather contemptuous of dancing;
she had not the slightest inclination towards that accomplishment,
and had never learned even a Roger de Coverley. She was puritan,
like her father, high-minded, and really stern. Therefore the dusky,
golden softness of this man's sensuous flame of life, that flowed off
his flesh like the flame from a candle, not baffled and gripped into
incandescence by thought and spirit as her life was, seemed to her
something wonderful, beyond her.
He came and bowed above her. A warmth radiated through her
as if she had drunk wine.
"Now do come and have this one wi' me," he said caressively.
"It's easy, you know. I'm pining to see you dance."
She had told him before she could not dance. She glanced
at his humility and smiled. Her smile was very beautiful.
It moved the man so that he forgot everything.
"No, I won't dance," she said softly. Her words came clean
and ringing.
Not knowing what he was doing--he often did the right thing
by instinct--he sat beside her, inclining reverentially.
"But you mustn't miss your dance," she reproved.
"Nay, I don't want to dance that--it's not one as I care about."
"Yet you invited me to it."
He laughed very heartily at this.
"I never thought o' that. Tha'rt not long in taking the curl
out of me."
It was her turn to laugh quickly.
"You don't look as if you'd come much uncurled," she said.
"I'm like a pig's tail, I curl because I canna help it,"
he laughed, rather boisterously.
"And you are a miner!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes. I went down when I was ten."
She looked at him in wondering dismay.
"When you were ten! And wasn't it very hard?" she asked.
"You soon get used to it. You live like th' mice, an' you pop
out at night to see what's going on."
"It makes me feel blind," she frowned.
"Like a moudiwarp!" he laughed. "Yi, an' there's some chaps
as does go round like moudiwarps." He thrust his face forward
in the blind, snout-like way of a mole, seeming to sniff and
peer for direction. "They dun though!" he protested naively.
"Tha niver seed such a way they get in. But tha mun let me ta'e
thee down some time, an' tha can see for thysen."
She looked at him, startled. This was a new tract of life
suddenly opened before her. She realised the life of the miners,
hundreds of them toiling below earth and coming up at evening.
He seemed to her noble. He risked his life daily, and with gaiety.
She looked at him, with a touch of appeal in her pure humility.
"Shouldn't ter like it?" he asked tenderly. "'Appen not,
it 'ud dirty thee."
She had never been "thee'd" and "thou'd" before.
The next Christmas they were married, and for three months
she was perfectly happy: for six months she was very happy.
He had signed the pledge, and wore the blue ribbon of a
tee-totaller: he was nothing if not showy. They lived, she thought,
in his own house. It was small, but convenient enough, and quite
nicely furnished, with solid, worthy stuff that suited her honest soul.
The women, her neighbours, were rather foreign to her, and Morel's
mother and sisters were apt to sneer at her ladylike ways.
But she could perfectly well live by herself, so long as she
had her husband close.
Sometimes, when she herself wearied of love-talk, she tried
to open her heart seriously to him. She saw him listen deferentially,
but without understanding. This killed her efforts at a finer intimacy,
and she had flashes of fear. Sometimes he was restless of an evening:
it was not enough for him just to be near her, she realised.
She was glad when he set himself to little jobs.
He was a remarkably handy man--could make or mend anything.
So she would say:
"I do like that coal-rake of your mother's--it is small and natty."
"Does ter, my wench? Well, I made that, so I can make thee
one! "
"What! why, it's a steel one!"
"An' what if it is! Tha s'lt ha'e one very similar, if not
exactly same."
She did not mind the mess, nor the hammering and noise.
He was busy and happy.
But in the seventh month, when she was brushing his Sunday coat,
she felt papers in the breast pocket, and, seized with a sudden curiosity,
took them out to read. He very rarely wore the frock-coat he was
married in: and it had not occurred to her before to feel curious
concerning the papers. They were the bills of the household furniture,
still unpaid.
"Look here," she said at night, after he was washed and had
had his dinner. "I found these in the pocket of your wedding-coat.
Haven't you settled the bills yet?"
"No. I haven't had a chance."
"But you told me all was paid. I had better go into Nottingham
on Saturday and settle them. I don't like sitting on another man's
chairs and eating from an unpaid table."
He did not answer.
"I can have your bank-book, can't I?"
"Tha can ha'e it, for what good it'll be to thee."
"I thought---" she began. He had told her he had a good bit of
money left over. But she realised it was no use asking questions.
She sat rigid with bitterness and indignation.
The next day she went down to see his mother.
"Didn't you buy the furniture for Walter?" she asked.
"Yes, I did," tartly retorted the elder woman.
"And how much did he give you to pay for it?"
The elder woman was stung with fine indignation.
"Eighty pound, if you're so keen on knowin'," she replied.
"Eighty pounds! But there are forty-two pounds still owing!"
"I can't help that."
"But where has it all gone?"
"You'll find all the papers, I think, if you look--beside ten
pound as he owed me, an' six pound as the wedding cost down here."
"Six pounds!" echoed Gertrude Morel. It seemed to her
monstrous that, after her own father had paid so heavily
for her wedding, six pounds more should have been squandered
in eating and drinking at Walter's parents' house, at his expense.
"And how much has he sunk in his houses?" she asked.
"His houses--which houses?"
Gertrude Morel went white to the lips. He had told her
the house he lived in, and the next one, was his own.
"I thought the house we live in---" she began.
"They're my houses, those two," said the mother-in-law. "And
not clear either. It's as much as I can do to keep the mortgage
interest paid."
Gertrude sat white and silent. She was her father now.
"Then we ought to be paying you rent," she said coldly.
"Walter is paying me rent," replied the mother.
"And what rent?" asked Gertrude.
"Six and six a week," retorted the mother.
It was more than the house was worth. Gertrude held her
head erect, looked straight before her.
"It is lucky to be you," said the elder woman, bitingly,
"to have a husband as takes all the worry of the money, and leaves
you a free hand."
The young wife was silent.
She said very little to her husband, but her manner had
changed towards him. Something in her proud, honourable soul
had crystallised out hard as rock.
When October came in, she thought only of Christmas. Two years ago,
at Christmas, she had met him. Last Christmas she had married him.
This Christmas she would bear him a child.
"You don't dance yourself, do you, missis?" asked her
nearest neighbour, in October, when there was great talk
of opening a dancing-class over the Brick and Tile Inn at Bestwood.
"No--I never had the least inclination to," Mrs. Morel replied.
"Fancy! An' how funny as you should ha' married your Mester.
You know he's quite a famous one for dancing."
"I didn't know he was famous," laughed Mrs. Morel.
"Yea, he is though! Why, he ran that dancing-class in the Miners'
Arms club-room for over five year."
"Did he?"
"Yes, he did." The other woman was defiant. "An' it was
thronged every Tuesday, and Thursday, an' Sat'day--an' there WAS
carryin's-on, accordin' to all accounts."
This kind of thing was gall and bitterness to Mrs. Morel,
and she had a fair share of it. The women did not spare her, at first;
for she was superior, though she could not help it.
He began to be rather late in coming home.
"They're working very late now, aren't they?" she said to her
"No later than they allers do, I don't think. But they stop to
have their pint at Ellen's, an' they get talkin', an' there you are!
Dinner stone cold--an' it serves 'em right."
"But Mr. Morel does not take any drink."
The woman dropped the clothes, looked at Mrs. Morel, then went
on with her work, saying nothing.
Gertrude Morel was very ill when the boy was born.
Morel was good to her, as good as gold. But she felt very lonely,
miles away from her own people. She felt lonely with him now,
and his presence only made it more intense.
The boy was small and frail at first, but he came on quickly.
He was a beautiful child, with dark gold ringlets, and dark-blue
eyes which changed gradually to a clear grey. His mother loved
him passionately. He came just when her own bitterness of
disillusion was hardest to bear; when her faith in life was shaken,
and her soul felt dreary and lonely. She made much of the child,
and the father was jealous.
At last Mrs. Morel despised her husband. She turned to
the child; she turned from the father. He had begun to neglect her;
the novelty of his own home was gone. He had no grit, she said
bitterly to herself. What he felt just at the minute, that was all to him.
He could not abide by anything. There was nothing at the back
of all his show.
There began a battle between the husband and wife--a fearful,
bloody battle that ended only with the death of one. She fought
to make him undertake his own responsibilities, to make him fulfill
his obligations. But he was too different from her. His nature
was purely sensuous, and she strove to make him moral, religious.
She tried to force him to face things. He could not endure it--it
drove him out of his mind.
While the baby was still tiny, the father's temper had become
so irritable that it was not to be trusted. The child had only to
give a little trouble when the man began to bully. A little more,
and the hard hands of the collier hit the baby. Then Mrs. Morel
loathed her husband, loathed him for days; and he went out and drank;
and she cared very little what he did. Only, on his return,
she scathed him with her satire.
The estrangement between them caused him, knowingly or unknowingly,
grossly to offend her where he would not have done.
William was only one year old, and his mother was proud of him,
he was so pretty. She was not well off now, but her sisters kept
the boy in clothes. Then, with his little white hat curled with an
ostrich feather, and his white coat, he was a joy to her, the twining
wisps of hair clustering round his head. Mrs. Morel lay listening,
one Sunday morning, to the chatter of the father and child downstairs.
Then she dozed off. When she came downstairs, a great fire glowed
in the grate, the room was hot, the breakfast was roughly laid,
and seated in his armchair, against the chimney-piece, sat Morel,
rather timid; and standing between his legs, the child--cropped
like a sheep, with such an odd round poll--looking wondering at her;
and on a newspaper spread out upon the hearthrug, a myriad of
crescent-shaped curls, like the petals of a marigold scattered in the
reddening firelight.
Mrs. Morel stood still. It was her first baby. She went
very white, and was unable to speak.
"What dost think o' 'im?" Morel laughed uneasily.
She gripped her two fists, lifted them, and came forward.
Morel shrank back.
"I could kill you, I could!" she said. She choked with rage,
her two fists uplifted.
"Yer non want ter make a wench on 'im," Morel said, in a
frightened tone, bending his head to shield his eyes from hers.
His attempt at laughter had vanished.
The mother looked down at the jagged, close-clipped head of
her child. She put her hands on his hair, and stroked and fondled
his head.
"Oh--my boy!" she faltered. Her lip trembled, her face broke,
and, snatching up the child, she buried her face in his shoulder
and cried painfully. She was one of those women who cannot cry;
whom it hurts as it hurts a man. It was like ripping something
out of her, her sobbing.
Morel sat with his elbows on his knees, his hands gripped
together till the knuckles were white. He gazed in the fire,
feeling almost stunned, as if he could not breathe.
Presently she came to an end, soothed the child and cleared away
the breakfast-table. She left the newspaper, littered with curls,
spread upon the hearthrug. At last her husband gathered it up and put
it at the back of the fire. She went about her work with closed
mouth and very quiet. Morel was subdued. He crept about wretchedly,
and his meals were a misery that day. She spoke to him civilly,
and never alluded to what he had done. But he felt something final
had happened.
Afterwards she said she had been silly, that the boy's hair
would have had to be cut, sooner or later. In the end, she even
brought herself to say to her husband it was just as well he had
played barber when he did. But she knew, and Morel knew, that that
act had caused something momentous to take place in her soul.
She remembered the scene all her life, as one in which she had
suffered the most intensely.
This act of masculine clumsiness was the spear through the side of
her love for Morel. Before, while she had striven against him bitterly,
she had fretted after him, as if he had gone astray from her.
Now she ceased to fret for his love: he was an outsider to her.
This made life much more bearable.
Nevertheless, she still continued to strive with him. She still
had her high moral sense, inherited from generations of Puritans.
It was now a religious instinct, and she was almost a fanatic
with him, because she loved him, or had loved him. If he sinned,
she tortured him. If he drank, and lied, was often a poltroon,
sometimes a knave, she wielded the lash unmercifully.
The pity was, she was too much his opposite. She could not be
content with the little he might be; she would have him the much that
he ought to be. So, in seeking to make him nobler than he could be,
she destroyed him. She injured and hurt and scarred herself,
but she lost none of her worth. She also had the children.
He drank rather heavily, though not more than many miners,
and always beer, so that whilst his health was affected, it was
never injured. The week-end was his chief carouse. He sat in
the Miners' Arms until turning-out time every Friday, every Saturday,
and every Sunday evening. On Monday and Tuesday he had to get up
and reluctantly leave towards ten o'clock. Sometimes he stayed at home
on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, or was only out for an hour.
He practically never had to miss work owing to his drinking.
But although he was very steady at work, his wages fell off.
He was blab-mouthed, a tongue-wagger. Authority was hateful to him,
therefore he could only abuse the pit-managers. He would say,
in the Palmerston:
"Th' gaffer come down to our stall this morning, an' 'e says,
'You know, Walter, this 'ere'll not do. What about these props?'
An' I says to him, 'Why, what art talkin' about? What d'st
mean about th' props?' 'It'll never do, this 'ere,' 'e says.
'You'll be havin' th' roof in, one o' these days.' An' I says,
'Tha'd better stan' on a bit o' clunch, then, an' hold it up wi'
thy 'ead.' So 'e wor that mad, 'e cossed an' 'e swore, an'
t'other chaps they did laugh." Morel was a good mimic. He imitated
the manager's fat, squeaky voice, with its attempt at good English.
"'I shan't have it, Walter. Who knows more about it, me or you?'
So I says, 'I've niver fun out how much tha' knows, Alfred.
It'll 'appen carry thee ter bed an' back."'
So Morel would go on to the amusement of his boon companions.
And some of this would be true. The pit-manager was not an
educated man. He had been a boy along with Morel, so that,
while the two disliked each other, they more or less took each
other for granted. But Alfred Charlesworth did not forgive
the butty these public-house sayings. Consequently, although Morel
was a good miner, sometimes earning as much as five pounds a week
when he married, he came gradually to have worse and worse stalls,
where the coal was thin, and hard to get, and unprofitable.
Also, in summer, the pits are slack. Often, on bright sunny
mornings, the men are seen trooping home again at ten, eleven, or twelve
o'clock. No empty trucks stand at the pit-mouth. The women on the
hillside look across as they shake the hearthrug against the fence,
and count the wagons the engine is taking along the line up the valley.
And the children, as they come from school at dinner-time, looking
down the fields and seeing the wheels on the headstocks standing, say:
"Minton's knocked off. My dad'll be at home."
And there is a sort of shadow over all, women and children
and men, because money will be short at the end of the week.
Morel was supposed to give his wife thirty shillings a week,
to provide everything--rent, food, clothes, clubs, insurance, doctors.
Occasionally, if he were flush, he gave her thirty-five. But
these occasions by no means balanced those when he gave her
twenty-five. In winter, with a decent stall, the miner might
earn fifty or fifty-five shillings a week. Then he was happy.
On Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, he spent royally, getting rid
of his sovereign or thereabouts. And out of so much, he scarcely
spared the children an extra penny or bought them a pound of apples.
It all went in drink. In the bad times, matters were more worrying,
but he was not so often drunk, so that Mrs. Morel used to say:
"I'm not sure I wouldn't rather be short, for when he's flush,
there isn't a minute of peace."
If he earned forty shillings he kept ten; from thirty-five he
kept five; from thirty-two he kept four; from twenty-eight he kept three;
from twenty-four he kept two; from twenty he kept one-and-six;
from eighteen he kept a shilling; from sixteen he kept sixpence.
He never saved a penny, and he gave his wife no opportunity
of saving; instead, she had occasionally to pay his debts;
not public-house debts, for those never were passed on to the women,
but debts when he had bought a canary, or a fancy walking-stick.
At the wakes time Morel was working badly, and
Mrs. Morel was trying to save against her confinement.
So it galled her bitterly to think he should be out
taking his pleasure and spending money, whilst she remained
at home, harassed. There were two days' holiday. On the Tuesday
morning Morel rose early. He was in good spirits. Quite early,
before six o'clock, she heard him whistling away to himself downstairs.
He had a pleasant way of whistling, lively and musical.
He nearly always whistled hymns. He had been a choir-boy with
a beautiful voice, and had taken solos in Southwell cathedral.
His morning whistling alone betrayed it.
His wife lay listening to him tinkering away in the garden,
his whistling ringing out as he sawed and hammered away. It always
gave her a sense of warmth and peace to hear him thus as she lay
in bed, the children not yet awake, in the bright early morning,
happy in his man's fashion.
At nine o'clock, while the children with bare legs and feet
were sitting playing on the sofa, and the mother was washing up,
he came in from his carpentry, his sleeves rolled up, his waistcoat
hanging open. He was still a good-looking man, with black,
wavy hair, and a large black moustache. His face was perhaps too
much inflamed, and there was about him a look almost of peevishness.
But now he was jolly. He went straight to the sink where his wife
was washing up.
"What, are thee there!" he said boisterously. "Sluthe off an'
let me wesh mysen."
"You may wait till I've finished," said his wife.
"Oh, mun I? An' what if I shonna?"
This good-humoured threat amused Mrs. Morel.
"Then you can go and wash yourself in the soft-water tub."
"Ha! I can' an' a', tha mucky little 'ussy."
With which he stood watching her a moment, then went away
to wait for her.
When he chose he could still make himself again a real gallant.
Usually he preferred to go out with a scarf round his neck.
Now, however, he made a toilet. There seemed so much gusto in the way
he puffed and swilled as he washed himself, so much alacrity with
which he hurried to the mirror in the kitchen, and, bending because
it was too low for him, scrupulously parted his wet black hair,
that it irritated Mrs. Morel. He put on a turn-down collar,
a black bow, and wore his Sunday tail-coat. As such, he looked
spruce, and what his clothes would not do, his instinct for making
the most of his good looks would.
At half-past nine Jerry Purdy came to call for his pal.
Jerry was Morel's bosom friend, and Mrs. Morel disliked him.
He was a tall, thin man, with a rather foxy face, the kind
of face that seems to lack eyelashes. He walked with a stiff,
brittle dignity, as if his head were on a wooden spring. His nature
was cold and shrewd. Generous where he intended to be generous,
he seemed to be very fond of Morel, and more or less to take charge
of him.
Mrs. Morel hated him. She had known his wife, who had died
of consumption, and who had, at the end, conceived such a violent
dislike of her husband, that if he came into her room it caused
her haemorrhage. None of which Jerry had seemed to mind. And now
his eldest daughter, a girl of fifteen, kept a poor house for him,
and looked after the two younger children.
"A mean, wizzen-hearted stick!" Mrs. Morel said of him.
"I've never known Jerry mean in MY life," protested Morel.
"A opener-handed and more freer chap you couldn't find anywhere,
accordin' to my knowledge."
"Open-handed to you," retorted Mrs. Morel. "But his fist
is shut tight enough to his children, poor things."
"Poor things! And what for are they poor things, I should
like to know."
But Mrs. Morel would not be appeased on Jerry's score.
The subject of argument was seen, craning his thin neck
over the scullery curtain. He caught Mrs. Morel's eye.
"Mornin', missis! Mester in?"
"Yes--he is."
Jerry entered unasked, and stood by the kitchen doorway.
He was not invited to sit down, but stood there, coolly asserting
the rights of men and husbands.
"A nice day," he said to Mrs. Morel.
"Grand out this morning--grand for a walk."
"Do you mean YOU'RE going for a walk?" she asked.
"Yes. We mean walkin' to Nottingham," he replied.
The two men greeted each other, both glad: Jerry, however,
full of assurance, Morel rather subdued, afraid to seem too jubilant in
presence of his wife. But he laced his boots quickly, with spirit.
They were going for a ten-mile walk across the fields to Nottingham.
Climbing the hillside from the Bottoms, they mounted gaily into
the morning. At the Moon and Stars they had their first drink,
then on to the Old Spot. Then a long five miles of drought to carry
them into Bulwell to a glorious pint of bitter. But they stayed
in a field with some haymakers whose gallon bottle was full, so that,
when they came in sight of the city, Morel was sleepy. The town
spread upwards before them, smoking vaguely in the midday glare,
fridging the crest away to the south with spires and factory bulks
and chimneys. In the last field Morel lay down under an oak tree
and slept soundly for over an hour. When he rose to go forward he
felt queer.
The two had dinner in the Meadows, with Jerry's sister,
then repaired to the Punch Bowl, where they mixed in the excitement
of pigeon-racing. Morel never in his life played cards, considering them
as having some occult, malevolent power--"the devil's pictures,"
he called them! But he was a master of skittles and of dominoes.
He took a challenge from a Newark man, on skittles. All the men in
the old, long bar took sides, betting either one way or the other.
Morel took off his coat. Jerry held the hat containing the money.
The men at the tables watched. Some stood with their mugs in
their hands. Morel felt his big wooden ball carefully, then launched it.
He played havoc among the nine-pins, and won half a crown,
which restored him to solvency.
By seven o'clock the two were in good condition. They caught
the 7.30 train home.
In the afternoon the Bottoms was intolerable. Every inhabitant
remaining was out of doors. The women, in twos and threes,
bareheaded and in white aprons, gossiped in the alley between the blocks.
Men, having a rest between drinks, sat on their heels and talked.
The place smelled stale; the slate roofs glistered in the arid heat.
Mrs. Morel took the little girl down to the brook in the meadows,
which were not more than two hundred yards away. The water ran
quickly over stones and broken pots. Mother and child leaned on
the rail of the old sheep-bridge, watching. Up at the dipping-hole,
at the other end of the meadow, Mrs. Morel could see the naked
forms of boys flashing round the deep yellow water,
or an occasional bright figure dart glittering over the blackish
stagnant meadow. She knew William was at the dipping-hole,
and it was the dread of her life lest he should get drowned.
Annie played under the tall old hedge, picking up alder cones,
that she called currants. The child required much attention,
and the flies were teasing.
The children were put to bed at seven o'clock. Then she
worked awhile.
When Walter Morel and Jerry arrived at Bestwood they felt
a load off their minds; a railway journey no longer impended,
so they could put the finishing touches to a glorious day.
They entered the Nelson with the satisfaction of returned travellers.
The next day was a work-day, and the thought of it put a damper
on the men's spirits. Most of them, moreover, had spent their money.
Some were already rolling dismally home, to sleep in preparation
for the morrow. Mrs. Morel, listening to their mournful singing,
went indoors. Nine o'clock passed, and ten, and still "the pair"
had not returned. On a doorstep somewhere a man was singing loudly,
in a drawl: "Lead, kindly Light." Mrs. Morel was always indignant
with the drunken men that they must sing that hymn when they
got maudlin.
"As if 'Genevieve' weren't good enough," she said.
The kitchen was full of the scent of boiled herbs and hops.
On the hob a large black saucepan steamed slowly. Mrs. Morel took
a panchion, a great bowl of thick red earth, streamed a heap of white
sugar into the bottom, and then, straining herself to the weight,
was pouring in the liquor.
Just then Morel came in. He had been very jolly in the Nelson,
but coming home had grown irritable. He had not quite got over the
feeling of irritability and pain, after having slept on the ground
when he was so hot; and a bad conscience afflicted him as he neared
the house. He did not know he was angry. But when the garden gate
resisted his attempts to open it, he kicked it and broke the latch.
He entered just as Mrs. Morel was pouring the infusion of herbs out
of the saucepan. Swaying slightly, he lurched against the table.
The boiling liquor pitched. Mrs. Morel started back.
"Good gracious," she cried, "coming home in his drunkenness!"
"Comin' home in his what?" he snarled, his hat over his eye.
Suddenly her blood rose in a jet.
"Say you're NOT drunk!" she flashed.
She had put down her saucepan, and was stirring the sugar
into the beer. He dropped his two hands heavily on the table,
and thrust his face forwards at her.
"'Say you're not drunk,'" he repeated. "Why, nobody
but a nasty little bitch like you 'ud 'ave such a thought."
He thrust his face forward at her.
"There's money to bezzle with, if there's money for nothing else."
"I've not spent a two-shillin' bit this day," he said.
"You don't get as drunk as a lord on nothing," she replied.
"And," she cried, flashing into sudden fury, "if you've been sponging
on your beloved Jerry, why, let him look after his children,
for they need it."
"It's a lie, it's a lie. Shut your face, woman."
They were now at battle-pitch. Each forgot everything save
the hatred of the other and the battle between them. She was fiery
and furious as he. They went on till he called her a liar.
"No," she cried, starting up, scarce able to breathe.
"Don't call me that--you, the most despicable liar that ever walked
in shoe-leather." She forced the last words out of suffocated lungs.
"You're a liar!" he yelled, banging the table with his fist.
"You're a liar, you're a liar."
She stiffened herself, with clenched fists.
"The house is filthy with you," she cried.
"Then get out on it--it's mine. Get out on it!" he shouted.
"It's me as brings th' money whoam, not thee. It's my house, not thine.
Then ger out on't--ger out on't!"
"And I would," she cried, suddenly shaken into tears
of impotence. "Ah, wouldn't I, wouldn't I have gone long ago,
but for those children. Ay, haven't I repented not going years ago,
when I'd only the one"--suddenly drying into rage. "Do you think
it's for YOU I stop--do you think I'd stop one minute for YOU?"
"Go, then," he shouted, beside himself. "Go!"
"No!" She faced round. "No," she cried loudly, "you shan't
have it ALL your own way; you shan't do ALL you like. I've got
those children to see to. My word," she laughed, "I should look
well to leave them to you."
"Go," he cried thickly, lifting his fist. He was afraid
of her. "Go!"
"I should be only too glad. I should laugh, laugh, my lord,
if I could get away from you," she replied.
He came up to her, his red face, with its bloodshot eyes,
thrust forward, and gripped her arms. She cried in fear of him,
struggled to be free. Coming slightly to himself, panting, he pushed
her roughly to the outer door, and thrust her forth, slotting the
bolt behind her with a bang. Then he went back into the kitchen,
dropped into his armchair, his head, bursting full of blood,
sinking between his knees. Thus he dipped gradually into a stupor,
from exhaustion and intoxication.
The moon was high and magnificent in the August night.
Mrs. Morel, seared with passion, shivered to find herself out there
in a great white light, that fell cold on her, and gave a shock
to her inflamed soul. She stood for a few moments helplessly
staring at the glistening great rhubarb leaves near the door.
Then she got the air into her breast. She walked down the garden path,
trembling in every limb, while the child boiled within her.
For a while she could not control her consciousness; mechanically she
went over the last scene, then over it again, certain phrases,
certain moments coming each time like a brand red-hot down on
her soul; and each time she enacted again the past hour, each time
the brand came down at the same points, till the mark was burnt in,
and the pain burnt out, and at last she came to herself.
She must have been half an hour in this delirious condition.
Then the presence of the night came again to her. She glanced round
in fear. She had wandered to the side garden, where she was walking
up and down the path beside the currant bushes under the long wall.
The garden was a narrow strip, bounded from the road, that cut
transversely between the blocks, by a thick thorn hedge.
She hurried out of the side garden to the front, where she
could stand as if in an immense gulf of white light, the moon
streaming high in face of her, the moonlight standing up from the
hills in front, and filling the valley where the Bottoms crouched,
almost blindingly. There, panting and half weeping in reaction
from the stress, she murmured to herself over and over again:
"The nuisance! the nuisance!"
She became aware of something about her. With an effort she
roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness.
The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight, and the air was
charged with their perfume, as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped
slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals,
then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight.
She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed
on her fingers by moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful
of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. Then she drank a deep
draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy.
Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she
lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought.
Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in
the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air.
After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing-pot
of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses,
all swum together in a kind of swoon.
When she came to herself she was tired for sleep. Languidly she
looked about her; the clumps of white phlox seemed like bushes spread
with linen; a moth ricochetted over them, and right across the garden.
Following it with her eye roused her. A few whiffs of the raw,
strong scent of phlox invigorated her. She passed along the path,
hesitating at the white rose-bush. It smelled sweet and simple.
She touched the white ruffles of the roses. Their fresh scent
and cool, soft leaves reminded her of the morning-time and sunshine.
She was very fond of them. But she was tired, and wanted to sleep.
In the mysterious out-of-doors she felt forlorn.
There was no noise anywhere. Evidently the children had not
been wakened, or had gone to sleep again. A train, three miles away,
roared across the valley. The night was very large, and very strange,
stretching its hoary distances infinitely. And out of the silver-grey
fog of darkness came sounds vague and hoarse: a corncrake not
far off, sound of a train like a sigh, and distant shouts of men.
Her quietened heart beginning to beat quickly again, she hurried
down the side garden to the back of the house. Softly she lifted
the latch; the door was still bolted, and hard against her.
She rapped gently, waited, then rapped again. She must not rouse
the children, nor the neighbours. He must be asleep, and he would
not wake easily. Her heart began to burn to be indoors. She clung
to the door-handle. Now it was cold; she would take a chill,
and in her present condition!
Putting her apron over her head and her arms, she hurried again
to the side garden, to the window of the kitchen. Leaning on the sill,
she could just see, under the blind, her husband's arms spread
out on the table, and his black head on the board. He was sleeping
with his face lying on the table. Something in his attitude made
her feel tired of things. The lamp was burning smokily; she could
tell by the copper colour of the light. She tapped at the window
more and more noisily. Almost it seemed as if the glass would break.
Still he did not wake up.
After vain efforts, she began to shiver, partly from contact with
the stone, and from exhaustion. Fearful always for the unborn child,
she wondered what she could do for warmth. She went down to the
coal-house, where there was an old hearthrug she had carried out for
the rag-man the day before. This she wrapped over her shoulders.
It was warm, if grimy. Then she walked up and down the garden path,
peeping every now and then under the blind, knocking, and telling
herself that in the end the very strain of his position must wake him.
At last, after about an hour, she rapped long and low at
the window. Gradually the sound penetrated to him. When, in despair,
she had ceased to tap, she saw him stir, then lift his face blindly.
The labouring of his heart hurt him into consciousness. She rapped
imperatively at the window. He started awake. Instantly she saw his
fists set and his eyes glare. He had not a grain of physical fear.
If it had been twenty burglars, he would have gone blindly for them.
He glared round, bewildered, but prepared to fight.
"Open the door, Walter," she said coldly.
His hands relaxed. It dawned on him what he had done.
His head dropped, sullen and dogged. She saw him hurry to the door,
heard the bolt chock. He tried the latch. It opened--and there
stood the silver-grey night, fearful to him, after the tawny light
of the lamp. He hurried back.
When Mrs. Morel entered, she saw him almost
running through the door to the stairs. He had ripped
his collar off his neck in his haste to be gone ere she
came in, and there it lay with bursten button-holes. It made her angry.
She warmed and soothed herself. In her weariness forgetting
everything, she moved about at the little tasks that remained to be done,
set his breakfast, rinsed his pit-bottle, put his pit-clothes on the
hearth to warm, set his pit-boots beside them, put him out a clean
scarf and snap-bag and two apples, raked the fire, and went to bed.
He was already dead asleep. His narrow black eyebrows were drawn
up in a sort of peevish misery into his forehead while his cheeks'
down-strokes, and his sulky mouth, seemed to be saying: "I don't
care who you are nor what you are, I SHALL have my own way."
Mrs. Morel knew him too well to look at him. As she unfastened
her brooch at the mirror, she smiled faintly to see her face
all smeared with the yellow dust of lilies. She brushed it off,
and at last lay down. For some time her mind continued snapping
and jetting sparks, but she was asleep before her husband awoke
from the first sleep of his drunkenness.
AFTER such a scene as the last, Walter Morel was for some days abashed
and ashamed, but he soon regained his old bullying indifference.
Yet there was a slight shrinking, a diminishing in his assurance.
Physically even, he shrank, and his fine full presence waned.
He never grew in the least stout, so that, as he sank from his erect,
assertive bearing, his physique seemed to contract along with his pride
and moral strength.
But now he realised how hard it was for his wife to drag
about at her work, and, his sympathy quickened by penitence,
hastened forward with his help. He came straight home from the pit,
and stayed in at evening till Friday, and then he could not remain
at home. But he was back again by ten o'clock, almost quite sober.
He always made his own breakfast. Being a man who rose early
and had plenty of time he did not, as some miners do, drag his wife
out of bed at six o'clock. At five, sometimes earlier, he woke,
got straight out of bed, and went downstairs. When she could not sleep,
his wife lay waiting for this time, as for a period of peace.
The only real rest seemed to be when he was out of the house.
He went downstairs in his shirt and then struggled into his
pit-trousers, which were left on the hearth to warm all night.
There was always a fire, because Mrs. Morel raked. And the first
sound in the house was the bang, bang of the poker against the raker,
as Morel smashed the remainder of the coal to make the kettle,
which was filled and left on the hob, finally boil. His cup and knife
and fork, all he wanted except just the food, was laid ready on
the table on a newspaper. Then he got his breakfast, made the tea,
packed the bottom of the doors with rugs to shut out the draught,
piled a big fire, and sat down to an hour of joy. He toasted
his bacon on a fork and caught the drops of fat on his bread;
then he put the rasher on his thick slice of bread, and cut off chunks
with a clasp-knife, poured his tea into his saucer, and was happy.
With his family about, meals were never so pleasant. He loathed
a fork: it is a modern introduction which has still scarcely reached
common people. What Morel preferred was a clasp-knife. Then,
in solitude, he ate and drank, often sitting, in cold weather,
on a little stool with his back to the warm chimney-piece, his food
on the fender, his cup on the hearth. And then he read the last
night's newspaper--what of it he could--spelling it over laboriously.
He preferred to keep the blinds down and the candle lit even when it
was daylight; it was the habit of the mine.
At a quarter to six he rose, cut two thick slices of bread
and butter, and put them in the white calico snap-bag. He filled his
tin bottle with tea. Cold tea without milk or sugar was the drink
he preferred for the pit. Then he pulled off his shirt, and put
on his pit-singlet, a vest of thick flannel cut low round the neck,
and with short sleeves like a chemise.
Then he went upstairs to his wife with a cup of tea because she
was ill, and because it occurred to him.
"I've brought thee a cup o' tea, lass," he said.
"Well, you needn't, for you know I don't like it," she replied.
"Drink it up; it'll pop thee off to sleep again."
She accepted the tea. It pleased him to see her take it
and sip it.
"I'll back my life there's no sugar in," she said.
"Yi--there's one big 'un," he replied, injured.
"It's a wonder," she said, sipping again.
She had a winsome face when her hair was loose. He loved her
to grumble at him in this manner. He looked at her again, and went,
without any sort of leave-taking. He never took more than two slices
of bread and butter to eat in the pit, so an apple or an orange was
a treat to him. He always liked it when she put one out for him.
He tied a scarf round his neck, put on his great, heavy boots, his coat,
with the big pocket, that carried his snap-bag and his bottle of tea,
and went forth into the fresh morning air, closing, without locking,
the door behind him. He loved the early morning, and the walk across
the fields. So he appeared at the pit-top, often with a stalk
from the hedge between his teeth, which he chewed all day to keep
his mouth moist, down the mine, feeling quite as happy as when he
was in the field.
Later, when the time for the baby grew nearer, he would
bustle round in his slovenly fashion, poking out the ashes,
rubbing the fireplace, sweeping the house before he went to work.
Then, feeling very self-righteous, he went upstairs.
"Now I'm cleaned up for thee: tha's no 'casions ter stir
a peg all day, but sit and read thy books."
Which made her laugh, in spite of her indignation.
"And the dinner cooks itself?" she answered.
"Eh, I know nowt about th' dinner."
"You'd know if there weren't any."
"Ay, 'appen so," he answered, departing.
When she got downstairs, she would find the house tidy,
but dirty. She could not rest until she had thoroughly cleaned;
so she went down to the ash-pit with her dustpan. Mrs. Kirk,
spying her, would contrive to have to go to her own coal-place at
that minute. Then, across the wooden fence, she would call:
"So you keep wagging on, then?"
"Ay," answered Mrs. Morel deprecatingly. "There's nothing
else for it."
"Have you seen Hose?" called a very small woman from across
the road. It was Mrs. Anthony, a black-haired, strange little body,
who always wore a brown velvet dress, tight fitting.
"I haven't," said Mrs. Morel.
"Eh, I wish he'd come. I've got a copperful of clothes, an'
I'm sure I heered his bell."
"Hark! He's at the end."
The two women looked down the alley. At the end of the Bottoms
a man stood in a sort of old-fashioned trap, bending over bundles
of cream-coloured stuff; while a cluster of women held up their
arms to him, some with bundles. Mrs. Anthony herself had a heap
of creamy, undyed stockings hanging over her arm.
"I've done ten dozen this week," she said proudly to Mrs. Morel.
"T-t-t!" went the other. "I don't know how you can find time."
"Eh!" said Mrs. Anthony. "You can find time if you make time."
"I don't know how you do it," said Mrs. Morel. "And how much
shall you get for those many?"
"Tuppence-ha'penny a dozen," replied the other.
"Well," said Mrs. Morel. "I'd starve before I'd sit down
and seam twenty-four stockings for twopence ha'penny."
"Oh, I don't know," said Mrs. Anthony. "You can rip along
with 'em."
Hose was coming along, ringing his bell. Women were waiting at
the yard-ends with their seamed stockings hanging over their arms.
The man, a common fellow, made jokes with them, tried to swindle them,
and bullied them. Mrs. Morel went up her yard disdainfully.
It was an understood thing that if one woman wanted
her neighbour, she should put the poker in the fire and bang at
the back of the fireplace, which, as the fires were back to back,
would make a great noise in the adjoining house. One morning
Mrs. Kirk, mixing a pudding, nearly started out of her skin as she
heard the thud, thud, in her grate. With her hands all floury,
she rushed to the fence.
"Did you knock, Mrs. Morel?"
"If you wouldn't mind, Mrs. Kirk."
Mrs. Kirk climbed on to her copper, got over the wall
on to Mrs. Morel's copper, and ran in to her neighbour.
"Eh, dear, how are you feeling?" she cried in concern.
"You might fetch Mrs. Bower," said Mrs. Morel.
Mrs. Kirk went into the yard, lifted up her strong, shrill voice,
and called:
The sound was heard from one end of the Bottoms to the other.
At last Aggie came running up, and was sent for Mrs. Bower,
whilst Mrs. Kirk left her pudding and stayed with her neighbour.
Mrs. Morel went to bed. Mrs. Kirk had Annie and William
for dinner. Mrs. Bower, fat and waddling, bossed the house.
"Hash some cold meat up for the master's dinner, and make him
an apple-charlotte pudding," said Mrs. Morel.
"He may go without pudding this day," said Mrs. Bower.
Morel was not as a rule one of the first to appear at the bottom
of the pit, ready to come up. Some men were there before four o'clock,
when the whistle blew loose-all; but Morel, whose stall, a poor one,
was at this time about a mile and a half away from the bottom,
worked usually till the first mate stopped, then he finished also.
This day, however, the miner was sick of the work. At two o'clock
he looked at his watch, by the light of the green candle--he
was in a safe working--and again at half-past two. He was hewing
at a piece of rock that was in the way for the next day's work.
As he sat on his heels, or kneeled, giving hard blows with his pick,
"Uszza--uszza!" he went.
"Shall ter finish, Sorry?" cried Barker, his fellow butty.
"Finish? Niver while the world stands!" growled Morel.
And he went on striking. He was tired.
"It's a heart-breaking job," said Barker.
But Morel was too exasperated, at the end of his tether,
to answer. Still he struck and hacked with all his might.
"Tha might as well leave it, Walter," said Barker.
"It'll do to-morrow, without thee hackin' thy guts out."
"I'll lay no b--- finger on this to-morrow, Isr'el!" cried Morel.
"Oh, well, if tha wunna, somebody else'll ha'e to," said Israel.
Then Morel continued to strike.
"Hey-up there--LOOSE-A'!" cried the men, leaving the next stall.
Morel continued to strike.
"Tha'll happen catch me up," said Barker, departing.
When he had gone, Morel, left alone, felt savage. He had
not finished his job. He had overworked himself into a frenzy.
Rising, wet with sweat, he threw his tool down, pulled on his coat,
blew out his candle, took his lamp, and went. Down the main road
the lights of the other men went swinging. There was a hollow
sound of many voices. It was a long, heavy tramp underground.
He sat at the bottom of the pit, where the great drops of water
fell plash. Many colliers were waiting their turns to go up,
talking noisily. Morel gave his answers short and disagreeable.
"It's rainin', Sorry," said old Giles, who had had the news
from the top.
Morel found one comfort. He had his old umbrella, which he loved,
in the lamp cabin. At last he took his stand on the chair,
and was at the top in a moment. Then he handed in his lamp and got
his umbrella, which he had bought at an auction for one-and-six. He
stood on the edge of the pit-bank for a moment, looking out over
the fields; grey rain was falling. The trucks stood full of wet,
bright coal. Water ran down the sides of the waggons, over the
white "C.W. and Co.". Colliers, walking indifferent to the rain,
were streaming down the line and up the field, a grey, dismal host.
Morel put up his umbrella, and took pleasure from the peppering of
the drops thereon.
All along the road to Bestwood the miners tramped, wet and
grey and dirty, but their red mouths talking with animation.
Morel also walked with a gang, but he said nothing. He frowned
peevishly as he went. Many men passed into the Prince of Wales or into
Ellen's. Morel, feeling sufficiently disagreeable to resist temptation,
trudged along under the dripping trees that overhung the park wall,
and down the mud of Greenhill Lane.
Mrs. Morel lay in bed, listening to the rain, and the feet
of the colliers from Minton, their voices, and the bang, bang of
the gates as they went through the stile up the field.
"There's some herb beer behind the pantry door," she said.
"Th' master'll want a drink, if he doesn't stop."
But he was late, so she concluded he had called for a drink,
since it was raining. What did he care about the child or her?
She was very ill when her children were born.
"What is it?" she asked, feeling sick to death.
"A boy."
And she took consolation in that. The thought of being the
mother of men was warming to her heart. She looked at the child.
It had blue eyes, and a lot of fair hair, and was bonny.
Her love came up hot, in spite of everything. She had it in bed
with her.
Morel, thinking nothing, dragged his way up the garden path,
wearily and angrily. He closed his umbrella, and stood it in the
sink; then he sluthered his heavy boots into the kitchen.
Mrs. Bower appeared in the inner doorway.
"Well," she said, "she's about as bad as she can be.
It's a boy childt."
The miner grunted, put his empty snap-bag and his tin bottle
on the dresser, went back into the scullery and hung up his coat,
then came and dropped into his chair.
"Han yer got a drink?" he asked.
The woman went into the pantry. There was heard the pop
of a cork. She set the mug, with a little, disgusted rap, on the
table before Morel. He drank, gasped, wiped his big moustache on
the end of his scarf, drank, gasped, and lay back in his chair.
The woman would not speak to him again. She set his dinner before him,
and went upstairs.
"Was that the master?" asked Mrs. Morel.
"I've gave him his dinner," replied Mrs. Bower.
After he had sat with his arms on the table--he resented
the fact that Mrs. Bower put no cloth on for him, and gave him
a little plate, instead of a full-sized dinner-plate--he began
to eat. The fact that his wife was ill, that he had another boy,
was nothing to him at that moment. He was too tired; he wanted
his dinner; he wanted to sit with his arms lying on the board;
he did not like having Mrs. Bower about. The fire was too small
to please him.
After he had finished his meal, he sat for twenty minutes;
then he stoked up a big fire. Then, in his stockinged feet,
he went reluctantly upstairs. It was a struggle to face his wife
at this moment, and he was tired. His face was black, and smeared
with sweat. His singlet had dried again, soaking the dirt in.
He had a dirty woollen scarf round his throat. So he stood at the foot
of the bed.
"Well, how are ter, then?" he asked.
"I s'll be all right," she answered.
He stood at a loss what to say next. He was tired, and this
bother was rather a nuisance to him, and he didn't quite know
where he was.
"A lad, tha says," he stammered.
She turned down the sheet and showed the child.
"Bless him!" he murmured. Which made her laugh, because he
blessed by rote--pretending paternal emotion, which he did not feel
just then.
"Go now," she said.
"I will, my lass," he answered, turning away.
Dismissed, he wanted to kiss her, but he dared not. She half
wanted him to kiss her, but could not bring herself to give any sign.
She only breathed freely when he was gone out of the room again,
leaving behind him a faint smell of pit-dirt.
Mrs. Morel had a visit every day from the Congregational clergyman.
Mr. Heaton was young, and very poor. His wife had died at the
birth of his first baby, so he remained alone in the manse.
He was a Bachelor of Arts of Cambridge, very shy, and no preacher.
Mrs. Morel was fond of him, and he depended on her. For hours
he talked to her, when she was well. He became the god-parent
of the child.
Occasionally the minister stayed to tea with Mrs. Morel. Then she
laid the cloth early, got out her best cups, with a little green rim,
and hoped Morel would not come too soon; indeed, if he stayed for a pint,
she would not mind this day. She had always two dinners to cook,
because she believed children should have their chief meal at midday,
whereas Morel needed his at five o'clock. So Mr. Heaton would hold
the baby, whilst Mrs. Morel beat up a batter-pudding or peeled
the potatoes, and he, watching her all the time, would discuss
his next sermon. His ideas were quaint and fantastic. She brought
him judiciously to earth. It was a discussion of the wedding at Cana.
"When He changed the water into wine at Cana," he said,
"that is a symbol that the ordinary life, even the blood,
of the married husband and wife, which had before been uninspired,
like water, became filled with the Spirit, and was as wine, because,
when love enters, the whole spiritual constitution of a man changes,
is filled with the Holy Ghost, and almost his form is altered."
Mrs. Morel thought to herself:
"Yes, poor fellow, his young wife is dead; that is why he
makes his love into the Holy Ghost."
They were halfway down their first cup of tea when they heard
the sluther of pit-boots.
"Good gracious!" exclaimed Mrs. Morel, in spite of herself.
The minister looked rather scared. Morel entered. He was
feeling rather savage. He nodded a "How d'yer do" to the clergyman,
who rose to shake hands with him.
"Nay," said Morel, showing his hand, "look thee at it!
Tha niver wants ter shake hands wi' a hand like that, does ter?
There's too much pick-haft and shovel-dirt on it."
The minister flushed with confusion, and sat down again.
Mrs. Morel rose, carried out the steaming saucepan. Morel took off
his coat, dragged his armchair to table, and sat down heavily.
"Are you tired?" asked the clergyman.
"Tired? I ham that," replied Morel. "YOU don't know what it
is to be tired, as I'M tired."
"No," replied the clergyman.
"Why, look yer 'ere," said the miner, showing the shoulders
of his singlet. "It's a bit dry now, but it's wet as a clout
with sweat even yet. Feel it."
"Goodness!" cried Mrs. Morel. "Mr. Heaton doesn't want to feel
your nasty singlet."
The clergyman put out his hand gingerly.
"No, perhaps he doesn't," said Morel; "but it's
all come out of me, whether or not. An' iv'ry day
alike my singlet's wringin' wet. 'Aven't you got
a drink, Missis, for a man when he comes home barkled up from the pit?"
"You know you drank all the beer," said Mrs. Morel, pouring out
his tea.
"An' was there no more to be got?" Turning to the clergyman--"A
man gets that caked up wi' th' dust, you know,--that clogged up
down a coal-mine, he NEEDS a drink when he comes home."
"I am sure he does," said the clergyman.
"But it's ten to one if there's owt for him."
"There's water--and there's tea," said Mrs. Morel.
"Water! It's not water as'll clear his throat."
He poured out a saucerful of tea, blew it, and sucked it up
through his great black moustache, sighing afterwards. Then he
poured out another saucerful, and stood his cup on the table.
"My cloth!" said Mrs. Morel, putting it on a plate.
"A man as comes home as I do 's too tired to care about cloths,"
said Morel.
"Pity!" exclaimed his wife, sarcastically.
The room was full of the smell of meat and vegetables
and pit-clothes.
He leaned over to the minister, his great moustache thrust forward,
his mouth very red in his black face.
"Mr. Heaton," he said, "a man as has been down the black
hole all day, dingin' away at a coal-face, yi, a sight harder
than that wall---"
"Needn't make a moan of it," put in Mrs. Morel.
She hated her husband because, whenever he had an audience,
he whined and played for sympathy. William, sitting nursing
the baby, hated him, with a boy's hatred for false sentiment,
and for the stupid treatment of his mother. Annie had never liked him;
she merely avoided him.
When the minister had gone, Mrs. Morel looked at her cloth.
"A fine mess!" she said.
"Dos't think I'm goin' to sit wi' my arms danglin', cos tha's
got a parson for tea wi' thee?" he bawled.
They were both angry, but she said nothing. The baby began
to cry, and Mrs. Morel, picking up a saucepan from the hearth,
accidentally knocked Annie on the head, whereupon the girl began
to whine, and Morel to shout at her. In the midst of this pandemonium,
William looked up at the big glazed text over the mantelpiece
and read distinctly:
"God Bless Our Home!"
Whereupon Mrs. Morel, trying to soothe the baby, jumped up,
rushed at him, boxed his ears, saying:
"What are YOU putting in for?"
And then she sat down and laughed, till tears ran over
her cheeks, while William kicked the stool he had been sitting on,
and Morel growled:
"I canna see what there is so much to laugh at."
One evening, directly after the parson's visit, feeling unable
to bear herself after another display from her husband, she took
Annie and the baby and went out. Morel had kicked William,
and the mother would never forgive him.
She went over the sheep-bridge and across a corner of the
meadow to the cricket-ground. The meadows seemed one space of ripe,
evening light, whispering with the distant mill-race. She sat
on a seat under the alders in the cricket-ground, and fronted
the evening. Before her, level and solid,
spread the big green cricket-field, like the bed of a sea of light.
Children played in the bluish shadow of the pavilion. Many rooks,
high up, came cawing home across the softly-woven sky. They stooped
in a long curve down into the golden glow, concentrating, cawing,
wheeling, like black flakes on a slow vortex, over a tree clump
that made a dark boss among the pasture.
A few gentlemen were practising, and Mrs. Morel could hear
the chock of the ball, and the voices of men suddenly roused;
could see the white forms of men shifting silently over the green,
upon which already the under shadows were smouldering. Away at
the grange, one side of the haystacks was lit up, the other sides
blue-grey. A waggon of sheaves rocked small across the melting
yellow light.
The sun was going down. Every open evening, the hills of
Derbyshire were blazed over with red sunset. Mrs. Morel watched the sun
sink from the glistening sky, leaving a soft flower-blue overhead,
while the western space went red, as if all the fire had swum down there,
leaving the bell cast flawless blue. The mountain-ash berries across
the field stood fierily out from the dark leaves, for a moment.
A few shocks of corn in a corner of the fallow stood up as if alive;
she imagined them bowing; perhaps her son would be a Joseph.
In the east, a mirrored sunset floated pink opposite the west's scarlet.
The big haystacks on the hillside, that butted into the glare,
went cold.
With Mrs. Morel it was one of those still moments when the
small frets vanish, and the beauty of things stands out, and she
had the peace and the strength to see herself. Now and again,
a swallow cut close to her. Now and again, Annie came up with a
handful of alder-currants. The baby was restless on his mother's knee,
clambering with his hands at the light.
Mrs. Morel looked down at him. She had dreaded this baby
like a catastrophe, because of her feeling for her husband.
And now she felt strangely towards the infant. Her heart was heavy
because of the child, almost as if it were unhealthy, or malformed.
Yet it seemed quite well. But she noticed the peculiar knitting
of the baby's brows, and the peculiar heaviness of its eyes,
as if it were trying to understand something that was pain. She felt,
when she looked at her child's dark, brooding pupils, as if a burden were
on her heart.
"He looks as if he was thinking about something--quite sorrowful,"
said Mrs. Kirk.
Suddenly, looking at him, the heavy feeling at the mother's heart
melted into passionate grief. She bowed over him, and a few tears
shook swiftly out of her very heart. The baby lifted his fingers.
"My lamb!" she cried softly.
And at that moment she felt, in some far inner place of her soul,
that she and her husband were guilty.
The baby was looking up at her. It had blue eyes like her own,
but its look was heavy, steady, as if it had realised something
that had stunned some point of its soul.
In her arms lay the delicate baby. Its deep blue eyes,
always looking up at her unblinking, seemed to draw her innermost
thoughts out of her. She no longer loved her husband; she had not
wanted this child to come, and there it lay in her arms and pulled
at her heart. She felt as if the navel string that had connected
its frail little body with hers had not been broken. A wave of hot
love went over her to the infant. She held it close to her face
and breast. With all her force, with all her soul she would make up
to it for having brought it into the world unloved. She would love
it all the more now it was here; carry it in her love. Its clear,
knowing eyes gave her pain and fear. Did it know all about her?
When it lay under her heart, had it been listening then? Was there
a reproach in the look? She felt the marrow melt in her bones,
with fear and pain.
Once more she was aware of the sun lying red on the rim
of the hill opposite. She suddenly held up the child in her hands.
"Look!" she said. "Look, my pretty!"
She thrust the infant forward to the crimson, throbbing sun,
almost with relief. She saw him lift his little fist. Then she put
him to her bosom again, ashamed almost of her impulse to give him
back again whence he came.
"If he lives," she thought to herself, "what will become
of him--what will he be?"
Her heart was anxious.
"I will call him Paul," she said suddenly; she knew not why.
After a while she went home. A fine shadow was flung over
the deep green meadow, darkening all.
As she expected, she found the house empty. But Morel was
home by ten o'clock, and that day, at least, ended peacefully.
Walter Morel was, at this time, exceedingly irritable.
His work seemed to exhaust him. When he came home he did not speak
civilly to anybody. If the fire were rather low he bullied about that;
he grumbled about his dinner; if the children made a chatter he
shouted at them in a way that made their mother's blood boil,
and made them hate him.
On the Friday, he was not home by eleven o'clock. The baby
was unwell, and was restless, crying if he were put down. Mrs. Morel,
tired to death, and still weak, was scarcely under control.
"I wish the nuisance would come," she said wearily to herself.
The child at last sank down to sleep in her arms. She was
too tired to carry him to the cradle.
"But I'll say nothing, whatever time he comes," she said.
"It only works me up; I won't say anything. But I know if he does
anything it'll make my blood boil," she added to herself.
She sighed, hearing him coming, as if it were something she
could not bear. He, taking his revenge, was nearly drunk. She kept
her head bent over the child as he entered, not wishing to see him.
But it went through her like a flash of hot fire when, in passing,
he lurched against the dresser, setting the tins rattling, and clutched
at the white pot knobs for support. He hung up his hat and coat,
then returned, stood glowering from a distance at her, as she sat
bowed over the child.
"Is there nothing to eat in the house?" he asked, insolently,
as if to a servant. In certain stages of his intoxication he
affected the clipped, mincing speech of the towns. Mrs. Morel
hated him most in this condition.
"You know what there is in the house," she said, so coldly,
it sounded impersonal.
He stood and glared at her without moving a muscle.
"I asked a civil question, and I expect a civil answer,"
he said affectedly.
"And you got it," she said, still ignoring him.
He glowered again. Then he came unsteadily forward.
He leaned on the table with one hand, and with the other jerked
at the table drawer to get a knife to cut bread. The drawer stuck because he
pulled sideways. In a temper he dragged it, so that it flew
out bodily, and spoons, forks, knives, a hundred metallic things,
splashed with a clatter and a clang upon the brick floor.
The baby gave a little convulsed start.
"What are you doing, clumsy, drunken fool?" the mother cried.
"Then tha should get the flamin' thing thysen. Tha should get up,
like other women have to, an' wait on a man."
"Wait on you--wait on you?" she cried. "Yes, I see myself."
"Yis, an' I'll learn thee tha's got to. Wait on ME, yes tha
sh'lt wait on me---"
"Never, milord. I'd wait on a dog at the door first."
He was trying to fit in the drawer. At her last speech
be turned round. His face was crimson, his eyes bloodshot.
He stared at her one silent second in threat.
"P-h!" she went quickly, in contempt.
He jerked at the drawer in his excitement. It fell, cut sharply
on his shin, and on the reflex he flung it at her.
One of the corners caught her brow as the shallow drawer
crashed into the fireplace. She swayed, almost fell stunned from
her chair. To her very soul she was sick; she clasped the child
tightly to her bosom. A few moments elapsed; then, with an effort,
she brought herself to. The baby was crying plaintively. Her left
brow was bleeding rather profusely. As she glanced down at the child,
her brain reeling, some drops of blood soaked into its white shawl;
but the baby was at least not hurt. She balanced her head to
keep equilibrium, so that the blood ran into her eye.
Walter Morel remained as he had stood, leaning on the table with
one hand, looking blank. When he was sufficiently sure of his balance,
he went across to her, swayed, caught hold of the back of her
rocking-chair, almost tipping her out; then leaning forward over her,
and swaying as he spoke, he said, in a tone of wondering concern:
"Did it catch thee?"
He swayed again, as if he would pitch on to the child.
With the catastrophe he had lost all balance.
"Go away," she said, struggling to keep her presence of mind.
He hiccoughed. "Let's--let's look at it," he said, hiccoughing again.
"Go away!" she cried.
"Lemme--lemme look at it, lass."
She smelled him of drink, felt the unequal pull of his swaying
grasp on the back of her rocking-chair.
"Go away," she said, and weakly she pushed him off.
He stood, uncertain in balance, gazing upon her. Summoning all
her strength she rose, the baby on one arm. By a cruel effort of will,
moving as if in sleep, she went across to the scullery, where she
bathed her eye for a minute in cold water; but she was too dizzy.
Afraid lest she should swoon, she returned to her rocking-chair,
trembling in every fibre. By instinct, she kept the baby clasped.
Morel, bothered, had succeeded in pushing the drawer back
into its cavity, and was on his knees, groping, with numb paws,
for the scattered spoons.
Her brow was still bleeding. Presently Morel got up and came
craning his neck towards her.
"What has it done to thee, lass?" he asked, in a very wretched,
humble tone.
"You can see what it's done," she answered.
He stood, bending forward, supported on his hands, which grasped
his legs just above the knee. He peered to look at the wound.
She drew away from the thrust of his face with its great moustache,
averting her own face as much as possible. As he looked at her,
who was cold and impassive as stone, with mouth shut tight,
he sickened with feebleness and hopelessness of spirit.
He was turning drearily away, when he saw a drop of blood fall
from the averted wound into the baby's fragile, glistening hair.
Fascinated, he watched the heavy dark drop hang in the glistening cloud,
and pull down the gossamer. Another drop fell. It would soak
through to the baby's scalp. He watched, fascinated, feeling it
soak in; then, finally, his manhood broke.
"What of this child?" was all his wife said to him.
But her low, intense tones brought his head lower. She softened:
"Get me some wadding out of the middle drawer," she said.
He stumbled away very obediently, presently returning with a
pad, which she singed before the fire, then put on her forehead,
as she sat with the baby on her lap.
"Now that clean pit-scarf."
Again he rummaged and fumbled in the drawer, returning presently
with a red, narrow scarf. She took it, and with trembling fingers
proceeded to bind it round her head.
"Let me tie it for thee," he said humbly.
"I can do it myself," she replied. When it was done she
went upstairs, telling him to rake the fire and lock the door.
In the morning Mrs. Morel said:
"I knocked against the latch of the coal-place, when I
was getting a raker in the dark, because the candle blew out."
Her two small children looked up at her with wide, dismayed eyes.
They said nothing, but their parted lips seemed to express the
unconscious tragedy they felt.
Walter Morel lay in bed next day until nearly dinner-time. He
did not think of the previous evening's work. He scarcely thought
of anything, but he would not think of that. He lay and suffered like
a sulking dog. He had hurt himself most; and he was the more damaged
because he would never say a word to her, or express his sorrow.
He tried to wriggle out of it. "It was her own fault," he said
to himself. Nothing, however, could prevent his inner consciousness
inflicting on him the punishment which ate into his spirit like rust,
and which he could only alleviate by drinking.
He felt as if he had not the initiative to get up, or to say a word,
or to move, but could only lie like a log. Moreover, he had himself
violent pains in the head. It was Saturday. Towards noon he rose,
cut himself food in the pantry, ate it with his head dropped,
then pulled on his boots, and went out, to return at three o'clock
slightly tipsy and relieved; then once more straight to bed.
He rose again at six in the evening, had tea and went straight out.
Sunday was the same: bed till noon, the Palmerston Arms till
2.30, dinner, and bed; scarcely a word spoken. When Mrs. Morel
went upstairs, towards four o'clock, to put on her Sunday dress,
he was fast asleep. She would have felt sorry for him, if he
had once said, "Wife, I'm sorry." But no; he insisted to himself
it was her fault. And so he broke himself. So she merely left
him alone. There was this deadlock of passion between them,
and she was stronger.
The family began tea. Sunday was the only day when all sat
down to meals together.
"Isn't my father going to get up?" asked William.
"Let him lie," the mother replied.
There was a feeling of misery over all the house. The children
breathed the air that was poisoned, and they felt dreary. They were
rather disconsolate, did not know what to do, what to play at.
Immediately Morel woke he got straight out of bed. That was
characteristic of him all his life. He was all for activity.
The prostrated inactivity of two mornings was stifling him.
It was near six o'clock when he got down. This time he entered
without hesitation, his wincing sensitiveness having hardened again.
He did not care any longer what the family thought or felt.
The tea-things were on the table. William was reading aloud
from "The Child's Own", Annie listening and asking eternally "why?"
Both children hushed into silence as they heard the approaching
thud of their father's stockinged feet, and shrank as he entered.
Yet he was usually indulgent to them.
Morel made the meal alone, brutally. He ate and drank
more noisily than he had need. No one spoke to him. The family
life withdrew, shrank away, and became hushed as he entered.
But he cared no longer about his alienation.
Immediately he had finished tea he rose with alacrity to go out.
It was this alacrity, this haste to be gone, which so sickened
Mrs. Morel. As she heard him sousing heartily in cold water,
heard the eager scratch of the steel comb on the side of the bowl,
as he wetted his hair, she closed her eyes in disgust. As he bent over,
lacing his boots, there was a certain vulgar gusto in his movement
that divided him from the reserved, watchful rest of the family.
He always ran away from the battle with himself. Even in his own
heart's privacy, he excused himself, saying, "If she hadn't said
so-and-so, it would never have happened. She asked for what she's got."
The children waited in restraint during his preparations. When he
had gone, they sighed with relief.
He closed the door behind him, and was glad. It was a
rainy evening. The Palmerston would be the cosier. He hastened
forward in anticipation. All the slate roofs of the Bottoms shone
black with wet. The roads, always dark with coal-dust, were full
of blackish mud. He hastened along. The Palmerston windows were steamed
over. The passage was paddled with wet feet. But the air was warm,
if foul, and full of the sound of voices and the smell of beer
and smoke.
"What shollt ha'e, Walter?" cried a voice, as soon as Morel
appeared in the doorway.
"Oh, Jim, my lad, wheriver has thee sprung frae?"
The men made a seat for him, and took him in warmly. He was glad.
In a minute or two they had thawed all responsibility out of him,
all shame, all trouble, and he was clear as a bell for a jolly night.
On the Wednesday following, Morel was penniless. He dreaded
his wife. Having hurt her, he hated her. He did not know what to
do with himself that evening, having not even twopence with which
to go to the Palmerston, and being already rather deeply in debt.
So, while his wife was down the garden with the child, he hunted
in the top drawer of the dresser where she kept her purse, found it,
and looked inside. It contained a half-crown, two halfpennies,
and a sixpence. So he took the sixpence, put the purse carefully back,
and went out.
The next day, when she wanted to pay the greengrocer, she looked
in the purse for her sixpence, and her heart sank to her shoes.
Then she sat down and thought: "WAS there a sixpence? I hadn't
spent it, had I? And I hadn't left it anywhere else?"
She was much put about. She hunted round everywhere for it.
And, as she sought, the conviction came into her heart that her
husband had taken it. What she had in her purse was all the money
she possessed. But that he should sneak it from her thus was unbearable.
He had done so twice before. The first time she had not accused him,
and at the week-end he had put the shilling again into her purse.
So that was how she had known he had taken it. The second time he
had not paid back.
This time she felt it was too much. When he had had his dinner--
he came home early that day--she said to him coldly:
"Did you take sixpence out of my purse last night?"
"Me!" he said, looking up in an offended way. "No, I didna!
I niver clapped eyes on your purse."
But she could detect the lie.
"Why, you know you did," she said quietly.
"I tell you I didna," he shouted. "Yer at me again, are yer?
I've had about enough on't."
"So you filch sixpence out of my purse while I'm taking
the clothes in."
"I'll may yer pay for this," he said, pushing back his
chair in desperation. He bustled and got washed, then went
determinedly upstairs. Presently he came down dressed,
and with a big bundle in a blue-checked, enormous handkerchief.
"And now," he said, "you'll see me again when you do."
"It'll be before I want to," she replied; and at that he marched
out of the house with his bundle. She sat trembling slightly,
but her heart brimming with contempt. What would she do if he went
to some other pit, obtained work, and got in with another woman?
But she knew him too well--he couldn't. She was dead sure of him.
Nevertheless her heart was gnawed inside her.
"Where's my dad?" said William, coming in from school.
"He says he's run away," replied the mother.
"Where to?"
"Eh, I don't know. He's taken a bundle in the blue handkerchief,
and says he's not coming back."
"What shall we do?" cried the boy.
"Eh, never trouble, he won't go far."
"But if he doesn't come back," wailed Annie.
And she and William retired to the sofa and wept. Mrs. Morel
sat and laughed.
"You pair of gabeys!" she exclaimed. "You'll see him before
the night's out."
But the children were not to be consoled. Twilight came on.
Mrs. Morel grew anxious from very weariness. One part of her said
it would be a relief to see the last of him; another part fretted
because of keeping the children; and inside her, as yet, she could
not quite let him go. At the bottom, she knew very well he could
NOT go.
When she went down to the coal-place at the end of the garden,
however, she felt something behind the door. So she looked.
And there in the dark lay the big blue bundle. She sat on a piece
of coal and laughed. Every time she saw it, so fat and yet
so ignominious, slunk into its corner in the dark, with its ends
flopping like dejected ears from the knots, she laughed again.
She was relieved.
Mrs. Morel sat waiting. He had not any money, she knew,
so if he stopped he was running up a bill. She was very tired of him--
tired to death. He had not even the courage to carry his bundle
beyond the yard-end.
As she meditated, at about nine o'clock, he opened the door
and came in, slinking, and yet sulky. She said not a word.
He took off his coat, and slunk to his armchair, where he began
to take off his boots.
"You'd better fetch your bundle before you take your boots off,"
she said quietly.
"You may thank your stars I've come back to-night," he said,
looking up from under his dropped head, sulkily, trying to be impressive.
"Why, where should you have gone? You daren't even get your
parcel through the yard-end," she said.
He looked such a fool she was not even angry with him.
He continued to take his boots off and prepare for bed.
"I don't know what's in your blue handkerchief," she said.
"But if you leave it the children shall fetch it in the morning."
Whereupon he got up and went out of the house, returning presently
and crossing the kitchen with averted face, hurrying upstairs.
As Mrs. Morel saw him slink quickly through the inner doorway,
holding his bundle, she laughed to herself: but her heart was bitter,
because she had loved him.
DURING the next week Morel's temper was almost unbearable.
Like all miners, he was a great lover of medicines, which,
strangely enough, he would often pay for himself.
"You mun get me a drop o' laxy vitral," he said. "It's a
winder as we canna ha'e a sup i' th' 'ouse."
So Mrs. Morel bought him elixir of vitriol, his favourite
first medicine. And he made himself a jug of wormwood tea. He had
hanging in the attic great bunches of dried herbs:
wormwood, rue, horehound, elder flowers, parsley-purt,
marshmallow, hyssop, dandelion, and centaury. Usually there was a jug of
one or other decoction standing on the hob, from which he drank largely.
"Grand!" he said, smacking his lips after wormwood. "Grand!"
And he exhorted the children to try.
"It's better than any of your tea or your cocoa stews," he vowed.
But they were not to be tempted.
This time, however, neither pills nor vitriol nor all his herbs
would shift the "nasty peens in his head". He was sickening for an
attack of an inflammation of the brain. He had never been well since
his sleeping on the ground when he went with Jerry to Nottingham.
Since then he had drunk and stormed. Now he fell seriously ill,
and Mrs. Morel had him to nurse. He was one of the worst
patients imaginable. But, in spite of all, and putting aside the
fact that he was breadwinner, she never quite wanted him to die.
Still there was one part of her wanted him for herself.
The neighbours were very good to her: occasionally some
had the children in to meals, occasionally some would do the
downstairs work for her, one would mind the baby for a day.
But it was a great drag, nevertheless. It was not every day
the neighbours helped. Then she had nursing of baby and husband,
cleaning and cooking, everything to do. She was quite worn out,
but she did what was wanted of her.
And the money was just sufficient. She had seventeen
shillings a week from clubs, and every Friday Barker and the other
butty put by a portion of the stall's profits for Morel's wife.
And the neighbours made broths, and gave eggs, and such invalids'
trifles. If they had not helped her so generously in those times,
Mrs. Morel would never have pulled through, without incurring
debts that would have dragged her down.
The weeks passed. Morel, almost against hope, grew better.
He had a fine constitution, so that, once on the mend, he went straight
forward to recovery. Soon he was pottering about downstairs.
During his illness his wife had spoilt him a little. Now he wanted
her to continue. He often put his band to his head, pulled down
the comers of his mouth, and shammed pains he did not feel.
But there was no deceiving her. At first she merely smiled to herself.
Then she scolded him sharply.
"Goodness, man, don't be so lachrymose."
That wounded him slightly, but still he continued to feign sickness.
"I wouldn't be such a mardy baby," said the wife shortly.
Then he was indignant, and cursed under his breath, like a boy.
He was forced to resume a normal tone, and to cease to whine.
Nevertheless, there was a state of peace in the house for some time.
Mrs. Morel was more tolerant of him, and he, depending on her almost
like a child, was rather happy. Neither knew that she was more tolerant
because she loved him less. Up till this time, in spite of all,
he had been her husband and her man. She had felt that, more or less,
what he did to himself he did to her. Her living depended on him.
There were many, many stages in the ebbing of her love for him,
but it was always ebbing.
Now, with the birth of this third baby, her self no longer set
towards him, helplessly, but was like a tide that scarcely rose,
standing off from him. After this she scarcely desired him.
And, standing more aloof from him, not feeling him so much part
of herself, but merely part of her circumstances, she did not mind
so much what he did, could leave him alone.
There was the halt, the wistfulness about the ensuing year,
which is like autumn in a man's life. His wife was casting him off,
half regretfully, but relentlessly; casting him off and turning
now for love and life to the children. Henceforward he was more
or less a husk. And he himself acquiesced, as so many men do,
yielding their place to their children.
During his recuperation, when it was really over between them,
both made an effort to come back somewhat to the old relationship
of the first months of their marriage. He sat at home and,
when the children were in bed, and she was sewing--she did all her
sewing by hand, made all shirts and children's clothing--he would
read to her from the newspaper, slowly pronouncing and delivering
the words like a man pitching quoits. Often she hurried him on,
giving him a phrase in anticipation. And then he took her words humbly.
The silences between them were peculiar. There would be
the swift, slight "cluck" of her needle, the sharp "pop" of his
lips as he let out the smoke, the warmth, the sizzle on the bars
as he spat in the fire. Then her thoughts turned to William.
Already he was getting a big boy. Already he was top of the class,
and the master said he was the smartest lad in the school.
She saw him a man, young, full of vigour, making the world glow
again for her.
And Morel sitting there, quite alone, and having nothing
to think about, would be feeling vaguely uncomfortable. His soul
would reach out in its blind way to her and find her gone.
He felt a sort of emptiness, almost like a vacuum in his soul.
He was unsettled and restless. Soon he could not live in
that atmosphere, and he affected his wife. Both felt an oppression
on their breathing when they were left together for some time.
Then he went to bed and she settled down to enjoy herself alone,
working, thinking, living.
Meanwhile another infant was coming, fruit of this little peace
and tenderness between the separating parents. Paul was seventeen
months old when the new baby was born. He was then a plump,
pale child, quiet, with heavy blue eyes, and still the peculiar
slight knitting of the brows. The last child was also a boy,
fair and bonny. Mrs. Morel was sorry when she knew she was with child,
both for economic reasons and because she did not love her husband;
but not for the sake of the infant.
They called the baby Arthur. He was very pretty, with a
mop of gold curls, and he loved his father from the first.
Mrs. Morel was glad this child loved the father. Hearing the
miner's footsteps, the baby would put up his arms and crow.
And if Morel were in a good temper, he called back immediately,
in his hearty, mellow voice:
"What then, my beauty? I sh'll come to thee in a minute."
And as soon as he had taken off his pit-coat, Mrs. Morel would
put an apron round the child, and give him to his father.
"What a sight the lad looks!" she would exclaim sometimes,
taking back the baby, that was smutted on the face from his father's
kisses and play. Then Morel laughed joyfully.
"He's a little collier, bless his bit o' mutton!" he exclaimed.
And these were the happy moments of her life now, when the
children included the father in her heart.
Meanwhile William grew bigger and stronger and more active,
while Paul, always rather delicate and quiet, got slimmer,
and trotted after his mother like her shadow. He was usually active
and interested, but sometimes he would have fits of depression.
Then the mother would find the boy of three or four crying on
the sofa.
"What's the matter?" she asked, and got no answer.
"What's the matter?" she insisted, getting cross.
"I don't know," sobbed the child.
So she tried to reason him out of it, or to amuse him,
but without effect. It made her feel beside herself. Then the father,
always impatient, would jump from his chair and shout:
"If he doesn't stop, I'll smack him till he does."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," said the mother coldly.
And then she carried the child into the yard, plumped him into his
little chair, and said: "Now cry there, Misery!"
And then a butterfly on the rhubarb-leaves perhaps caught his eye,
or at last he cried himself to sleep. These fits were not often,
but they caused a shadow in Mrs. Morel's heart, and her treatment
of Paul was different from that of the other children.
Suddenly one morning as she was looking down the alley
of the Bottoms for the barm-man, she heard a voice calling her.
It was the thin little Mrs. Anthony in brown velvet.
"Here, Mrs. Morel, I want to tell you about your Willie."
"Oh, do you?" replied Mrs. Morel. "Why, what's the matter?"
"A lad as gets 'old of another an' rips his clothes off'n
'is back," Mrs. Anthony said, "wants showing something."
"Your Alfred's as old as my William," said Mrs. Morel.
"'Appen 'e is, but that doesn't give him a right to get hold
of the boy's collar, an' fair rip it clean off his back."
"Well," said Mrs. Morel, "I don't thrash my children,
and even if I did, I should want to hear their side of the tale."
"They'd happen be a bit better if they did get a good hiding,"
retorted Mrs. Anthony. "When it comes ter rippin' a lad's clean
collar off'n 'is back a-purpose---"
"I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose," said Mrs. Morel.
"Make me a liar!" shouted Mrs. Anthony.
Mrs. Morel moved away and closed her gate. Her hand trembled
as she held her mug of barm.
"But I s'll let your mester know," Mrs. Anthony cried after her.
At dinner-time, when William had finished his meal and wanted
to be off again--he was then eleven years old--his mother said to him:
"What did you tear Alfred Anthony's collar for?"
"When did I tear his collar?"
"I don't know when, but his mother says you did."
"Why--it was yesterday--an' it was torn a'ready."
"But you tore it more."
"Well, I'd got a cobbler as 'ad licked seventeen--an'
Alfy Ant'ny 'e says:
'Adam an' Eve an' pinch-me,
Went down to a river to bade.
Adam an' Eve got drownded,
Who do yer think got saved?'
An' so I says: 'Oh, Pinch-YOU,' an' so I pinched 'im, an'
'e was mad, an' so he snatched my cobbler an' run off with it.
An' so I run after 'im, an' when I was gettin' hold of 'im,
'e dodged, an' it ripped 'is collar. But I got my cobbler---"
He pulled from his pocket a black old horse-chestnut hanging on
a string. This old cobbler had "cobbled"--hit and smashed--seventeen
other cobblers on similar strings. So the boy was proud of his veteran.
"Well," said Mrs. Morel, "you know you've got no right to rip
his collar."
"Well, our mother!" he answered. "I never meant tr'a done it--an'
it was on'y an old indirrubber collar as was torn a'ready."
"Next time," said his mother, "YOU be more careful.
I shouldn't like it if you came home with your collar torn off."
"I don't care, our mother; I never did it a-purpose."
The boy was rather miserable at being reprimanded.
"No--well, you be more careful."
William fled away, glad to be exonerated. And Mrs. Morel,
who hated any bother with the neighbours, thought she would explain
to Mrs. Anthony, and the business would be over.
But that evening Morel came in from the pit looking very sour.
He stood in the kitchen and glared round, but did not speak for
some minutes. Then:
"Wheer's that Willy?" he asked.
"What do you want HIM for?" asked Mrs. Morel, who had guessed.
"I'll let 'im know when I get him," said Morel, banging his
pit-bottle on to the dresser.
"I suppose Mrs. Anthony's got hold of you and been yarning
to you about Alfy's collar," said Mrs. Morel, rather sneering.
"Niver mind who's got hold of me," said Morel. "When I get
hold of 'IM I'll make his bones rattle."
"It's a poor tale," said Mrs. Morel, "that you're so ready
to side with any snipey vixen who likes to come telling tales
against your own children."
"I'll learn 'im!" said Morel. "It none matters to me whose
lad 'e is; 'e's none goin' rippin' an' tearin' about just as he's
a mind."
"'Ripping and tearing about!'" repeated Mrs. Morel.
"He was running after that Alfy, who'd taken his cobbler, and he
accidentally got hold of his collar, because the other dodged--as
an Anthony would."
"I know!" shouted Morel threateningly.
"You would, before you're told," replied his wife bitingly.
"Niver you mind," stormed Morel. "I know my business."
"That's more than doubtful," said Mrs. Morel, "supposing some
loud-mouthed creature had been getting you to thrash your own children."
"I know," repeated Morel.
And he said no more, but sat and nursed his bad temper.
Suddenly William ran in, saying:
"Can I have my tea, mother?"
"Tha can ha'e more than that!" shouted Morel.
"Hold your noise, man," said Mrs. Morel; "and don't look
so ridiculous."
"He'll look ridiculous before I've done wi' him!" shouted Morel,
rising from his chair and glaring at his son.
William, who was a tall lad for his years, but very sensitive,
had gone pale, and was looking in a sort of horror at his father.
"Go out!" Mrs. Morel commanded her son.
William had not the wit to move. Suddenly Morel clenched
his fist, and crouched.
"I'll GI'E him 'go out'!" he shouted like an insane thing.
"What!" cried Mrs. Morel, panting with rage. "You shall
not touch him for HER telling, you shall not!"
"Shonna I?" shouted Morel. "Shonna I?"
And, glaring at the boy, he ran forward. Mrs. Morel sprang
in between them, with her fist lifted.
"Don't you DARE!" she cried.
"What!" he shouted, baffled for the moment. "What!"
She spun round to her son.
"GO out of the house!" she commanded him in fury.
The boy, as if hypnotised by her, turned suddenly and was gone.
Morel rushed to the door, but was too late. He returned, pale under
his pit-dirt with fury. But now his wife was fully roused.
"Only dare!" she said in a loud, ringing voice. "Only dare,
milord, to lay a finger on that child! You'll regret it for ever."
He was afraid of her. In a towering rage, he sat down.
When the children were old enough to be left, Mrs. Morel
joined the Women's Guild. It was a little club of women attached
to the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which met on Monday night
in the long room over the grocery shop of the Bestwood "Co-op". The
women were supposed to discuss the benefits to be derived from
co-operation, and other social questions. Sometimes Mrs. Morel
read a paper. It seemed queer to the children to see their mother,
who was always busy about the house, sitting writing in her
rapid fashion, thinking, referring to books, and writing again.
They felt for her on such occasions the deepest respect.
But they loved the Guild. It was the only thing to which they
did not grudge their mother--and that partly because she enjoyed it,
partly because of the treats they derived from it. The Guild
was called by some hostile husbands, who found their wives getting
too independent, the "clat-fart" shop--that is, the gossip-shop. It
is true, from off the basis of the Guild, the women could look at
their homes, at the conditions of their own lives, and find fault.
So the colliers found their women had a new standard of their own,
rather disconcerting. And also, Mrs. Morel always had a lot of news
on Monday nights, so that the children liked William to be in when
their mother came home, because she told him things.
Then, when the lad was thirteen, she got him a job in
the "Co-op." office. He was a very clever boy, frank, with rather
rough features and real viking blue eyes.
"What dost want ter ma'e a stool-harsed Jack on 'im for?"
said Morel. "All he'll do is to wear his britches behind out an'
earn nowt. What's 'e startin' wi'?"
"It doesn't matter what he's starting with," said Mrs. Morel.
"It wouldna! Put 'im i' th' pit we me, an' 'ell earn a easy
ten shillin' a wik from th' start. But six shillin' wearin' his truck-end
out on a stool's better than ten shillin' i' th' pit wi'me, I know."
"He is NOT going in the pit," said Mrs. Morel, "and there's
an end of it."
"It wor good enough for me, but it's non good enough for 'im."
"If your mother put you in the pit at twelve, it's no reason
why I should do the same with my lad."
"Twelve! It wor a sight afore that!"
"Whenever it was," said Mrs. Morel.
She was very proud of her son. He went to the night school,
and learned shorthand, so that by the time he was sixteen he was
the best shorthand clerk and book-keeper on the place, except one.
Then he taught in the night schools. But he was so fiery that only
his good-nature and his size protected him.
All the things that men do--the decent things--William did.
He could run like the wind. When he was twelve he won a first
prize in a race; an inkstand of glass, shaped like an anvil.
It stood proudly on the dresser, and gave Mrs. Morel a keen pleasure.
The boy only ran for her. He flew home with his anvil, breathless,
with a "Look, mother!" That was the first real tribute to herself.
She took it like a queen.
"How pretty!" she exclaimed.
Then he began to get ambitious. He gave all his money to
his mother. When he earned fourteen shillings a week, she gave him
back two for himself, and, as he never drank, he felt himself rich.
He went about with the bourgeois of Bestwood. The townlet contained
nothing higher than the clergyman. Then came the bank manager,
then the doctors, then the tradespeople, and after that the hosts
of colliers. Willam began to consort with the sons of the chemist,
the schoolmaster, and the tradesmen. He played billiards in
the Mechanics' Hall. Also he danced--this in spite of his mother.
All the life that Bestwood offered he enjoyed, from the sixpenny-hops
down Church Street, to sports and billiards.
Paul was treated to dazzling descriptions of all kinds of
flower-like ladies, most of whom lived like cut blooms in William's
heart for a brief fortnight.
Occasionally some flame would come in pursuit of her errant
swain. Mrs. Morel would find a strange girl at the door,
and immediately she sniffed the air.
"Is Mr. Morel in?" the damsel would ask appealingly.
"My husband is at home," Mrs. Morel replied.
"I--I mean YOUNG Mr. Morel," repeated the maiden painfully.
"Which one? There are several."
Whereupon much blushing and stammering from the fair one.
"I--I met Mr. Morel--at Ripley," she explained.
"Oh--at a dance!"
"I don't approve of the girls my son meets at dances.
And he is NOT at home."
Then he came home angry with his mother for having turned the
girl away so rudely. He was a careless, yet eager-looking fellow,
who walked with long strides, sometimes frowning, often with his cap
pushed jollily to the back of his head. Now he came in frowning.
He threw his cap on to the sofa, and took his strong jaw in his hand,
and glared down at his mother. She was small, with her hair
taken straight back from her forehead. She had a quiet air
of authority, and yet of rare warmth. Knowing her son was angry,
she trembled inwardly.
"Did a lady call for me yesterday, mother?" he asked.
"I don't know about a lady. There was a girl came."
"And why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I forgot, simply."
He fumed a little.
"A good-looking girl--seemed a lady?"
"I didn't look at her."
"Big brown eyes?"
"I did NOT look. And tell your girls, my son, that when they're
running after you, they're not to come and ask your mother for you.
Tell them that--brazen baggages you meet at dancing-classes."
"I'm sure she was a nice girl."
"And I'm sure she wasn't."
There ended the altercation. Over the dancing there was a great
strife between the mother and the son. The grievance reached its
height when William said he was going to Hucknall Torkard--considered
a low town--to a fancy-dress ball. He was to be a Highlander.
There was a dress he could hire, which one of his friends
had had, and which fitted him perfectly. The Highland suit came home.
Mrs. Morel received it coldly and would not unpack it.
"My suit come?" cried William.
"There's a parcel in the front room."
He rushed in and cut the string.
"How do you fancy your son in this!" he said, enraptured,
showing her the suit.
"You know I don't want to fancy you in it."
On the evening of the dance, when he had come home to dress,
Mrs. Morel put on her coat and bonnet.
"Aren't you going to stop and see me, mother?" he asked.
"No; I don't want to see you," she replied.
She was rather pale, and her face was closed and hard.
She was afraid of her son's going the same way as his father.
He hesitated a moment, and his heart stood still with anxiety.
Then he caught sight of the Highland bonnet with its ribbons.
He picked it up gleefully, forgetting her. She went out.
When he was nineteen he suddenly left the Co-op. office and got
a situation in Nottingham. In his new place he had thirty shillings
a week instead of eighteen. This was indeed a rise. His mother and
his father were brimmed up with pride. Everybody praised William.
It seemed he was going to get on rapidly. Mrs. Morel hoped,
with his aid, to help her younger sons. Annie was now studying
to be a teacher. Paul, also very clever, was getting on well,
having lessons in French and German from his godfather, the clergyman
who was still a friend to Mrs. Morel. Arthur, a spoilt and very
good-looking boy, was at the Board school, but there was talk
of his trying to get a scholarship for the High School in Nottingham.
William remained a year at his new post in Nottingham.
He was studying hard, and growing serious. Something seemed to be
fretting him. Still he went out to the dances and the river parties.
He did not drink. The children were all rabid teetotallers.
He came home very late at night, and sat yet longer studying.
His mother implored him to take more care, to do one thing
or another.
"Dance, if you want to dance, my son; but don't think you can
work in the office, and then amuse yourself, and THEN
study on top of all. You can't; the human frame won't
stand it. Do one thing or the other--amuse yourself or learn Latin;
but don't try to do both."
Then he got a place in London, at a hundred and twenty a year.
This seemed a fabulous sum. His mother doubted almost whether to
rejoice or to grieve.
"They want me in Lime Street on Monday week, mother," he cried,
his eyes blazing as he read the letter. Mrs. Morel felt everything
go silent inside her. He read the letter: "'And will you reply
by Thursday whether you accept. Yours faithfully---' They want me,
mother, at a hundred and twenty a year, and don't even ask to see me.
Didn't I tell you I could do it! Think of me in London! And I
can give you twenty pounds a year, mater. We s'll all be rolling
in money."
"We shall, my son," she answered sadly.
It never occurred to him that she might be more hurt at his going
away than glad of his success. Indeed, as the days drew near for
his departure, her heart began to close and grow dreary with despair.
She loved him so much! More than that, she hoped in him so much.
Almost she lived by him. She liked to do things for him: she liked
to put a cup for his tea and to iron his collars, of which he was
so proud. It was a joy to her to have him proud of his collars.
There was no laundry. So she used to rub away at them with her little
convex iron, to polish them, till they shone from the sheer pressure
of her arm. Now she would not do it for him. Now he was going away.
She felt almost as if he were going as well out of her heart.
He did not seem to leave her inhabited with himself. That was the grief
and the pain to her. He took nearly all himself away.
A few days before his departure--he was just twenty--he burned his
love-letters. They had hung on a file at the top of the kitchen cupboard.
From some of them he had read extracts to his mother. Some of them
she had taken the trouble to read herself. But most were too trivial.
Now, on the Saturday morning he said:
"Come on, Postle, let's go through my letters, and you can
have the birds and flowers."
Mrs. Morel had done her Saturday's work on the Friday,
because he was having a last day's holiday. She was making him
a rice cake, which he loved, to take with him. He was scarcely
conscious that she was so miserable.
He took the first letter off the file. It was mauve-tinted,
and had purple and green thistles. William sniffed the page.
"Nice scent! Smell."
And he thrust the sheet under Paul's nose.
"Um!" said Paul, breathing in. "What d'you call it? Smell, mother."
His mother ducked her small, fine nose down to the paper.
"I don't want to smell their rubbish," she said, sniffing.
"This girl's father," said William, "is as rich as Croesus.
He owns property without end. She calls me Lafayette, because I
know French. 'You will see, I've forgiven you'--I like HER forgiving me.
'I told mother about you this morning, and she will have much
pleasure if you come to tea on Sunday, but she will have to get
father's consent also. I sincerely hope he will agree. I will let
you know how it transpires. If, however, you---'"
"'Let you know how it' what?" interrupted Mrs. Morel.
"'Transpires'--oh yes!"
"'Transpires!'" repeated Mrs. Morel mockingly. "I thought
she was so well educated!"
William felt slightly uncomfortable, and abandoned this maiden,
giving Paul the corner with the thistles. He continued to read
extracts from his letters, some of which amused his mother,
some of which saddened her and made her anxious for him.
"My lad," she said, "they're very wise. They know they've
only got to flatter your vanity, and you press up to them like
a dog that has its head scratched."
"Well, they can't go on scratching for ever," he replied.
"And when they've done, I trot away."
"But one day you'll find a string round your neck that you
can't pull off," she answered.
"Not me! I'm equal to any of 'em, mater, they needn't
flatter themselves."
"You flatter YOURSELF," she said quietly.
Soon there was a heap of twisted black pages, all that remained
of the file of scented letters, except that Paul had thirty or
forty pretty tickets from the corners of the notepaper--swallows
and forget-me-nots and ivy sprays. And William went to London,
to start a new life.
PAUL would be built like his mother, slightly and rather small.
His fair hair went reddish, and then dark brown; his eyes were grey.
He was a pale, quiet child, with eyes that seemed to listen, and with
a full, dropping underlip.
As a rule he seemed old for his years. He was so conscious
of what other people felt, particularly his mother. When she
fretted he understood, and could have no peace. His soul seemed
always attentive to her.
As he grew older he became stronger. William was too far
removed from him to accept him as a companion. So the smaller boy
belonged at first almost entirely to Annie. She was a tomboy and a
"flybie-skybie", as her mother called her. But she was intensely
fond of her second brother. So Paul was towed round at the heels
of Annie, sharing her game. She raced wildly at lerky with the other
young wild-cats of the Bottoms. And always Paul flew beside her,
living her share of the game, having as yet no part of his own.
He was quiet and not noticeable. But his sister adored him.
He always seemed to care for things if she wanted him to.
She had a big doll of which she was fearfully proud, though not
so fond. So she laid the doll on the sofa, and covered it with
an antimacassar, to sleep. Then she forgot it. Meantime Paul
must practise jumping off the sofa arm. So he jumped crash into
the face of the hidden doll. Annie rushed up, uttered a loud wail,
and sat down to weep a dirge. Paul remained quite still.
"You couldn't tell it was there, mother; you couldn't tell it
was there," he repeated over and over. So long as Annie wept for
the doll he sat helpless with misery. Her grief wore itself out.
She forgave her brother--he was so much upset. But a day or two
afterwards she was shocked.
"Let's make a sacrifice of Arabella," he said. "Let's burn her."
She was horrified, yet rather fascinated. She wanted to see
what the boy would do. He made an altar of bricks, pulled some of
the shavings out of Arabella's body, put the waxen fragments into
the hollow face, poured on a little paraffin, and set the whole thing
alight. He watched with wicked satisfaction the drops of wax melt off
the broken forehead of Arabella, and drop like sweat into the flame.
So long as the stupid big doll burned he rejoiced in silence.
At the end be poked among the embers with a stick, fished out the arms
and legs, all blackened, and smashed them under stones.
"That's the sacrifice of Missis Arabella," he said. "An' I'm
glad there's nothing left of her."
Which disturbed Annie inwardly, although she could say nothing.
He seemed to hate the doll so intensely, because he had broken it.
All the children, but particularly Paul, were peculiarly
against their father, along with their mother. Morel continued
to bully and to drink. He had periods, months at a time, when he
made the whole life of the family a misery. Paul never forgot
coming home from the Band of Hope one Monday evening and finding
his mother with her eye swollen and discoloured, his father standing
on the hearthrug, feet astride, his head down, and William,
just home from work, glaring at his father. There was a silence
as the young children entered, but none of the elders looked round.
William was white to the lips, and his fists were clenched.
He waited until the children were silent, watching with children's
rage and hate; then he said:
"You coward, you daren't do it when I was in."
But Morel's blood was up. He swung round on his son.
William was bigger, but Morel was hard-muscled, and mad with fury.
"Dossn't I?" he shouted. "Dossn't I? Ha'e much more o'
thy chelp, my young jockey, an' I'll rattle my fist about thee.
Ay, an' I sholl that, dost see?"
Morel crouched at the knees and showed his fist in an ugly,
almost beast-like fashion. William was white with rage.
"Will yer?" he said, quiet and intense. "It 'ud be the
last time, though."
Morel danced a little nearer, crouching, drawing back his fist
to strike. William put his fists ready. A light came into his
blue eyes, almost like a laugh. He watched his father. Another word,
and the men would have begun to fight. Paul hoped they would.
The three children sat pale on the sofa.
"Stop it, both of you," cried Mrs. Morel in a hard voice.
"We've had enough for ONE night. And YOU,"
she said, turning on to her husband, "look at your children!"
Morel glanced at the sofa.
"Look at the children, you nasty little bitch!" he sneered.
"Why, what have I done to the children, I should like to know?
But they're like yourself; you've put 'em up to your own tricks and
nasty ways--you've learned 'em in it, you 'ave."
She refused to answer him. No one spoke. After a while he
threw his boots under the table and went to bed.
"Why didn't you let me have a go at him?" said William,
when his father was upstairs. "I could easily have beaten him."
"A nice thing--your own father," she replied.
"'FATHER!'" repeated William. "Call HIM MY father!"
"Well, he is--and so---"
"But why don't you let me settle him? I could do, easily."
"The idea!" she cried. "It hasn't come to THAT yet."
"No," he said, "it's come to worse. Look at yourself.
WHY didn't you let me give it him?"
"Because I couldn't bear it, so never think of it,"
she cried quickly.
And the children went to bed, miserably.
When William was growing up, the family moved from the Bottoms
to a house on the brow of the hill, commanding a view of the valley,
which spread out like a convex cockle-shell, or a clamp-shell, before it.
In front of the house was a huge old ash-tree. The west wind,
sweeping from Derbyshire, caught the houses with full force,
and the tree shrieked again. Morel liked it.
"It's music," he said. "It sends me to sleep."
But Paul and Arthur and Annie hated it. To Paul it became
almost a demoniacal noise. The winter of their first year
in the new house their father was very bad. The children played
in the street, on the brim of the wide, dark valley, until eight
o'clock. Then they went to bed. Their mother sat sewing below.
Having such a great space in front of the house gave the children
a feeling of night, of vastness, and of terror. This terror came
in from the shrieking of the tree and the anguish of the home discord.
Often Paul would wake up, after he had been asleep a long time,
aware of thuds downstairs. Instantly he was wide awake. Then he
heard the booming shouts of his father, come home nearly drunk, then the
sharp replies of his mother, then the bang, bang of his father's fist on
the table, and the nasty snarling shout as the man's voice got higher.
And then the whole was drowned in a piercing medley of shrieks
and cries from the great, wind-swept ash-tree. The children
lay silent in suspense, waiting for a lull in the wind to hear
what their father was doing. He might hit their mother again.
There was a feeling of horror, a kind of bristling in the darkness,
and a sense of blood. They lay with their hearts in the grip of an
intense anguish. The wind came through the tree fiercer and fiercer.
All the chords of the great harp hummed, whistled, and shrieked.
And then came the horror of the sudden silence, silence everywhere,
outside and downstairs. What was it? Was it a silence of blood?
What had he done?
The children lay and breathed the darkness. And then, at last,
they heard their father throw down his boots and tramp upstairs
in his stockinged feet. Still they listened. Then at last,
if the wind allowed, they heard the water of the tap drumming into
the kettle, which their mother was filling for morning, and they
could go to sleep in peace.
So they were happy in the morning--happy, very happy playing,
dancing at night round the lonely lamp-post in the midst of
the darkness. But they had one tight place of anxiety in their hearts,
one darkness in their eyes, which showed all their lives.
Paul hated his father. As a boy he had a fervent private religion.
"Make him stop drinking," he prayed every night. "Lord, let my
father die," he prayed very often. "Let him not be killed at pit,"
he prayed when, after tea, the father did not come home from work.
That was another time when the family suffered intensely.
The children came from school and had their teas. On the hob
the big black saucepan was simmering, the stew-jar was in the oven,
ready for Morel's dinner. He was expected at five o'clock. But for
months he would stop and drink every night on his way from work.
In the winter nights, when it was cold, and grew dark early,
Mrs. Morel would put a brass candlestick on the table, light a
tallow candle to save the gas. The children finished their
bread-and-butter, or dripping, and were ready to go out to play.
But if Morel had not come they faltered. The sense of his sitting
in all his pit-dirt, drinking, after a long day's work, not coming
home and eating and washing, but sitting, getting drunk, on an empty stomach,
made Mrs. Morel unable to bear herself. From her the feeling was
transmitted to the other children. She never suffered alone any more:
the children suffered with her.
Paul went out to play with the rest. Down in the great trough
of twilight, tiny clusters of lights burned where the pits were.
A few last colliers straggled up the dim field path. The lamplighter
came along. No more colliers came. Darkness shut down over the valley;
work was done. It was night.
Then Paul ran anxiously into the kitchen. The one candle still
burned on the table, the big fire glowed red. Mrs. Morel sat alone.
On the hob the saucepan steamed; the dinner-plate lay waiting
on the table. All the room was full of the sense of waiting,
waiting for the man who was sitting in his pit-dirt, dinnerless,
some mile away from home, across the darkness, drinking himself drunk.
Paul stood in the doorway.
"Has my dad come?" he asked.
"You can see he hasn't," said Mrs. Morel, cross with the
futility of the question.
Then the boy dawdled about near his mother. They shared
the same anxiety. Presently Mrs. Morel went out and strained
the potatoes.
"They're ruined and black," she said; "but what do I care?"
Not many words were spoken. Paul almost hated his mother
for suffering because his father did not come home from work.
"What do you bother yourself for?" he said. "If he wants
to stop and get drunk, why don't you let him?"
"Let him!" flashed Mrs. Morel. "You may well say 'let him'."
She knew that the man who stops on the way home from work is on a
quick way to ruining himself and his home. The children were yet young,
and depended on the breadwinner. William gave her the sense of relief,
providing her at last with someone to turn to if Morel failed. But
the tense atmosphere of the room on these waiting evenings was the same.
The minutes ticked away. At six o'clock still the cloth lay
on the table, still the dinner stood waiting, still the same sense
of anxiety and expectation in the room. The boy could not stand it
any longer. He could not go out and play. So he ran in to Mrs. Inger,
next door but one, for her to talk to him. She had no children.
Her husband was good to her but was in a shop, and came home late.
So, when she saw the lad at the door, she called:
"Come in, Paul."
The two sat talking for some time, when suddenly
the boy rose, saying:
"Well, I'll be going and seeing if my mother wants an errand doing."
He pretended to be perfectly cheerful, and did not tell his
friend what ailed him. Then he ran indoors.
Morel at these times came in churlish and hateful.
"This is a nice time to come home," said Mrs. Morel.
"Wha's it matter to yo' what time I come whoam?" he shouted.
And everybody in the house was still, because he was dangerous.
He ate his food in the most brutal manner possible, and, when he
had done, pushed all the pots in a heap away from him, to lay his
arms on the table. Then he went to sleep.
Paul hated his father so. The collier's small, mean head,
with its black hair slightly soiled with grey, lay on the bare arms,
and the face, dirty and inflamed, with a fleshy nose and thin,
paltry brows, was turned sideways, asleep with beer and weariness
and nasty temper. If anyone entered suddenly, or a noise were made,
the man looked up and shouted:
"I'll lay my fist about thy y'ead, I'm tellin' thee, if tha
doesna stop that clatter! Dost hear?"
And the two last words, shouted in a bullying fashion,
usually at Annie, made the family writhe with hate of the man.
He was shut out from all family affairs. No one told him anything.
The children, alone with their mother, told her all about the
day's happenings, everything. Nothing had really taken place in
them until it was told to their mother. But as soon as the father
came in, everything stopped. He was like the scotch in the smooth,
happy machinery of the home. And he was always aware of this fall
of silence on his entry, the shutting off of life, the unwelcome.
But now it was gone too far to alter.
He would dearly have liked the children to talk to him,
but they could not. Sometimes Mrs. Morel would say:
"You ought to tell your father."
Paul won a prize in a competition in a child's paper.
Everybody was highly jubilant.
"Now you'd better tell your father when be comes in,"
said Mrs. Morel. "You know how be carries on and says he's never
told anything."
"All right," said Paul. But he would almost rather have
forfeited the prize than have to tell his father.
"I've won a prize in a competition, dad," he said.
Morel turned round to him.
"Have you, my boy? What sort of a competition?"
"Oh, nothing--about famous women."
"And how much is the prize, then, as you've got?"
"It's a book."
"Oh, indeed! "
"About birds."
"Hm--hm! "
And that was all. Conversation was impossible between the
father and any other member of the family. He was an outsider.
He had denied the God in him.
The only times when he entered again into the life of his own people
was when he worked, and was happy at work. Sometimes, in the evening,
he cobbled the boots or mended the kettle or his pit-bottle. Then
he always wanted several attendants, and the children enjoyed it.
They united with him in the work, in the actual doing of something,
when he was his real self again.
He was a good workman, dexterous, and one who, when he was in a
good humour, always sang. He had whole periods, months, almost years,
of friction and nasty temper. Then sometimes he was jolly again.
It was nice to see him run with a piece of red-hot iron into
the scullery, crying:
"Out of my road--out of my road!"
Then he hammered the soft, red-glowing stuff on his iron goose,
and made the shape he wanted. Or he sat absorbed for a moment,
soldering. Then the children watched with joy as the metal sank
suddenly molten, and was shoved about against the nose of the
soldering-iron, while the room was full of a scent of burnt resin
and hot tin, and Morel was silent and intent for a minute. He always
sang when he mended boots because of the jolly sound of hammering.
And he was rather happy when he sat putting great patches on his
moleskin pit trousers, which he would often do, considering them
too dirty, and the stuff too hard, for his wife to mend.
But the best time for the young children was when he made fuses.
Morel fetched a sheaf of long sound wheat-straws from the attic.
These he cleaned with his hand, till each one gleamed like a
stalk of gold, after which he cut the straws into lengths of
about six inches, leaving, if he could, a notch at the bottom
of each piece. He always had a beautifully sharp knife that could
cut a straw clean without hurting it. Then he set in the middle
of the table a heap of gunpowder, a little pile of black grains
upon the white-scrubbed board. He made and trimmed the straws
while Paul and Annie rifled and plugged them. Paul loved to see
the black grains trickle down a crack in his palm into the mouth
of the straw, peppering jollily downwards till the straw was full.
Then he bunged up the mouth with a bit of soap--which he got on
his thumb-nail from a pat in a saucer--and the straw was finished.
"Look, dad!" he said.
"That's right, my beauty," replied Morel, who was peculiarly
lavish of endearments to his second son. Paul popped the fuse into
the powder-tin, ready for the morning, when Morel would take it
to the pit, and use it to fire a shot that would blast the coal down.
Meantime Arthur, still fond of his father, would lean
on the arm of Morel's chair and say:
"Tell us about down pit, daddy."
This Morel loved to do.
"Well, there's one little 'oss--we call 'im Taffy," he would begin.
"An' he's a fawce 'un!"
Morel had a warm way of telling a story. He made one feel
Taffy's cunning.
"He's a brown 'un," he would answer, "an' not very high.
Well, he comes i' th' stall wi' a rattle, an' then yo' 'ear 'im sneeze.
"'Ello, Taff,' you say, 'what art sneezin' for? Bin ta'ein'
some snuff?'
"An' 'e sneezes again. Then he slives up an' shoves 'is 'ead
on yer, that cadin'.
"'What's want, Taff?' yo' say."
"And what does he?" Arthur always asked.
"He wants a bit o' bacca, my duckie."
This story of Taffy would go on interminably, and everybody
loved it.
Or sometimes it was a new tale.
"An' what dost think, my darlin'? When I went to put my coat
on at snap-time, what should go runnin' up my arm but a mouse.
"'Hey up, theer!' I shouts.
"An' I wor just in time ter get 'im by th' tail."
"And did you kill it?"
"I did, for they're a nuisance. The place is fair snied wi' 'em."
"An' what do they live on?"
"The corn as the 'osses drops--an' they'll get in your pocket an'
eat your snap, if you'll let 'em--no matter where yo' hing your coat--
the slivin', nibblin' little nuisances, for they are."
These happy evenings could not take place unless Morel
had some job to do. And then he always went to bed very early,
often before the children. There was nothing remaining for him
to stay up for, when he had finished tinkering, and had skimmed
the headlines of the newspaper.
And the children felt secure when their father was in bed.
They lay and talked softly a while. Then they started as the lights
went suddenly sprawling over the ceiling from the lamps that swung
in the hands of the colliers tramping by outside, going to take
the nine o'clock shift. They listened to the voices of the men,
imagined them dipping down into the dark valley. Sometimes they
went to the window and watched the three or four lamps growing
tinier and tinier, swaying down the fields in the darkness.
Then it was a joy to rush back to bed and cuddle closely in
the warmth.
Paul was rather a delicate boy, subject to bronchitis.
The others were all quite strong; so this was another reason
for his mother's difference in feeling for him. One day he came
home at dinner-time feeling ill. But it was not a family to make
any fuss.
"What's the matter with YOU?" his mother asked sharply.
"Nothing," he replied.
But he ate no dinner.
"If you eat no dinner, you're not going to school," she said.
"Why?" he asked.
"That's why."
So after dinner he lay down on the sofa, on the warm chintz
cushions the children loved. Then he fell into a kind of doze.
That afternoon Mrs. Morel was ironing. She listened to the small,
restless noise the boy made in his throat as she worked. Again rose
in her heart the old, almost weary feeling towards him. She had
never expected him to live. And yet he had a great vitality in his young body.
Perhaps it would have been a little relief to her if he had died.
She always felt a mixture of anguish in her love for him.
He, in his semi-conscious sleep, was vaguely aware of
the clatter of the iron on the iron-stand, of the faint thud,
thud on the ironing-board. Once roused, he opened his eyes to see
his mother standing on the hearthrug with the hot iron near
her cheek, listening, as it were, to the heat. Her still face,
with the mouth closed tight from suffering and disillusion and
self-denial, and her nose the smallest bit on one side, and her blue
eyes so young, quick, and warm, made his heart contract with love.
When she was quiet, so, she looked brave and rich with life, but as
if she had been done out of her rights. It hurt the boy keenly,
this feeling about her that she had never had her life's fulfilment:
and his own incapability to make up to her hurt him with a sense of
impotence, yet made him patiently dogged inside. It was his childish aim.
She spat on the iron, and a little ball of spit bounded,
raced off the dark, glossy surface. Then, kneeling, she rubbed
the iron on the sack lining of the hearthrug vigorously. She was
warm in the ruddy firelight. Paul loved the way she crouched
and put her head on one side. Her movements were light and quick.
It was always a pleasure to watch her. Nothing she ever did,
no movement she ever made, could have been found fault with by
her children. The room was warm and full of the scent of hot linen.
Later on the clergyman came and talked softly with her.
Paul was laid up with an attack of bronchitis. He did not
mind much. What happened happened, and it was no good kicking
against the pricks. He loved the evenings, after eight o'clock,
when the light was put out, and he could watch the fire-flames spring
over the darkness of the walls and ceiling; could watch huge shadows
waving and tossing, till the room seemed full of men who battled silently.
On retiring to bed, the father would come into the sickroom.
He was always very gentle if anyone were ill. But he disturbed the
atmosphere for the boy.
"Are ter asleep, my darlin'?" Morel asked softly.
"No; is my mother comin'?"
"She's just finishin' foldin' the clothes. Do you want anything?"
Morel rarely "thee'd" his son.
"I don't want nothing. But how long will she be?"
"Not long, my duckie."
The father waited undecidedly on the hearthrug for a moment
or two. He felt his son did not want him. Then he went to the top
of the stairs and said to his wife:
"This childt's axin' for thee; how long art goin' to be?"
"Until I've finished, good gracious! Tell him to go to sleep."
"She says you're to go to sleep," the father repeated gently
to Paul.
"Well, I want HER to come," insisted the boy.
"He says he can't go off till you come," Morel called downstairs.
"Eh, dear! I shan't be long. And do stop shouting downstairs.
There's the other children---"
Then Morel came again and crouched before the bedroom fire.
He loved a fire dearly.
"She says she won't be long," he said.
He loitered about indefinitely. The boy began to get feverish
with irritation. His father's presence seemed to aggravate all
his sick impatience. At last Morel, after having stood looking
at his son awhile, said softly:
"Good-night, my darling."
"Good-night," Paul replied, turning round in relief to be alone.
Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect,
in spite of hygienists, when it is shared with a beloved.
The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from
the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body
and soul completely in its healing. Paul lay against her and slept,
and got better; whilst she, always a bad sleeper, fell later on
into a profound sleep that seemed to give her faith.
In convalescence he would sit up in bed, see the fluffy
horses feeding at the troughs in the field, scattering their hay
on the trodden yellow snow; watch the miners troop home--small,
black figures trailing slowly in gangs across the white field.
Then the night came up in dark blue vapour from the snow.
In convalescence everything was wonderful. The snowflakes,
suddenly arriving on the window-pane, clung there a moment like swallows,
then were gone, and a drop of water was crawling down the glass.
The snowflakes whirled round the corner of the house,
like pigeons dashing by. Away across the valley the little black
train crawled doubtfully over the great whiteness.
While they were so poor, the children were delighted if they
could do anything to help economically. Annie and Paul and Arthur
went out early in the morning, in summer, looking for mushrooms,
hunting through the wet grass, from which the larks were rising,
for the white-skinned, wonderful naked bodies crouched secretly in
the green. And if they got half a pound they felt exceedingly happy:
there was the joy of finding something, the joy of accepting something
straight from the hand of Nature, and the joy of contributing to
the family exchequer.
But the most important harvest, after gleaning for frumenty,
was the blackberries. Mrs. Morel must buy fruit for puddings on
the Saturdays; also she liked blackberries. So Paul and Arthur scoured
the coppices and woods and old quarries, so long as a blackberry
was to be found, every week-end going on their search. In that
region of mining villages blackberries became a comparative rarity.
But Paul hunted far and wide. He loved being out in the country,
among the bushes. But he also could not bear to go home to his
mother empty. That, he felt, would disappoint her, and he would
have died rather.
"Good gracious!" she would exclaim as the lads came in,
late, and tired to death, and hungry, "wherever have you been?"
"Well," replied Paul, "there wasn't any, so we went over
Misk Hills. And look here, our mother!"
She peeped into the basket.
"Now, those are fine ones!" she exclaimed.
"And there's over two pounds-isn't there over two pounds"?
She tried the basket.
"Yes," she answered doubtfully.
Then Paul fished out a little spray. He always brought her
one spray, the best he could find.
"Pretty!" she said, in a curious tone, of a woman accepting
a love-token.
The boy walked all day, went miles and miles, rather than
own himself beaten and come home to her empty-handed. She never
realised this, whilst he was young. She was a woman who waited
for her children to grow up. And William occupied her chiefly.
But when William went to Nottingham, and was not so much at
home, the mother made a companion of Paul. The latter was
unconsciously jealous of his brother, and William was jealous of him.
At the same time, they were good friends.
Mrs. Morel's intimacy with her second son was more subtle and fine,
perhaps not so passionate as with her eldest. It was the rule
that Paul should fetch the money on Friday afternoons. The colliers
of the five pits were paid on Fridays, but not individually.
All the earnings of each stall were put down to the chief butty,
as contractor, and he divided the wages again, either in the
public-house or in his own home. So that the children could
fetch the money, school closed early on Friday afternoons.
Each of the Morel children--William, then Annie, then Paul--had fetched
the money on Friday afternoons, until they went themselves to work.
Paul used to set off at half-past three, with a little calico bag
in his pocket. Down all the paths, women, girls, children, and men
were seen trooping to the offices.
These offices were quite handsome: a new, red-brick building,
almost like a mansion, standing in its own grounds at the end of
Greenhill Lane. The waiting-room was the hall, a long, bare room
paved with blue brick, and having a seat all round, against the wall.
Here sat the colliers in their pit-dirt. They had come up early.
The women and children usually loitered about on the red gravel paths.
Paul always examined the grass border, and the big grass bank,
because in it grew tiny pansies and tiny forget-me-nots. There
was a sound of many voices. The women had on their Sunday hats.
The girls chattered loudly. Little dogs ran here and there.
The green shrubs were silent all around.
Then from inside came the cry "Spinney Park--Spinney Park."
All the folk for Spinney Park trooped inside. When it was time
for Bretty to be paid, Paul went in among the crowd. The pay-room
was quite small. A counter went across, dividing it into half.
Behind the counter stood two men--Mr. Braithwaite and his clerk,
Mr. Winterbottom. Mr. Braithwaite was large, somewhat of the stern
patriarch in appearance, having a rather thin white beard.
He was usually muffled in an enormous silk neckerchief, and right
up to the hot summer a huge fire burned in the open grate.
No window was open. Sometimes in winter the air scorched the throats
of the people, coming in from the freshness. Mr. Winterbottom
was rather small and fat, and very bald. He made remarks that were
not witty, whilst his chief launched forth patriarchal admonitions
against the colliers.
The room was crowded with miners in their pit-dirt, men who had
been home and changed, and women, and one or two children, and usually
a dog. Paul was quite small, so it was often his fate to be jammed
behind the legs of the men, near the fire which scorched him.
He knew the order of the names--they went according to stall number.
"Holliday," came the ringing voice of Mr. Braithwaite.
Then Mrs. Holliday stepped silently forward, was paid, drew aside.
"Bower--John Bower."
A boy stepped to the counter. Mr. Braithwaite, large and irascible,
glowered at him over his spectacles.
"John Bower!" he repeated.
"It's me," said the boy.
"Why, you used to 'ave a different nose than that," said glossy
Mr. Winterbottom, peering over the counter. The people tittered,
thinking of John Bower senior.
"How is it your father's not come!" said Mr. Braithwaite,
in a large and magisterial voice.
"He's badly," piped the boy.
"You should tell him to keep off the drink," pronounced the
great cashier.
"An' niver mind if he puts his foot through yer," said a mocking
voice from behind.
All the men laughed. The large and important cashier looked
down at his next sheet.
"Fred Pilkington!" he called, quite indifferent.
Mr. Braithwaite was an important shareholder in the firm.
Paul knew his turn was next but one, and his heart began to beat.
He was pushed against the chimney-piece. His calves were burning.
But he did not hope to get through the wall of men.
"Walter Morel!" came the ringing voice.
"Here!" piped Paul, small and inadequate.
"Morel--Walter Morel!" the cashier repeated, his finger
and thumb on the invoice, ready to pass on.
Paul was suffering convulsions of self-consciousness, and could
not or would not shout. The backs of the men obliterated him.
Then Mr. Winterbottom came to the rescue.
"He's here. Where is he? Morel's lad?"
The fat, red, bald little man peered round with keen eyes.
He pointed at the fireplace. The colliers looked round, moved aside,
and disclosed the boy.
"Here he is!" said Mr. Winterbottom.
Paul went to the counter.
"Seventeen pounds eleven and fivepence. Why don't you
shout up when you're called?" said Mr. Braithwaite. He banged
on to the invoice a five-pound bag of silver, then in a delicate
and pretty movement, picked up a little ten-pound column of gold,
and plumped it beside the silver. The gold slid in a bright stream
over the paper. The cashier finished counting off the money;
the boy dragged the whole down the counter to Mr. Winterbottom,
to whom the stoppages for rent and tools must be paid. Here he
suffered again.
"Sixteen an' six," said Mr. Winterbottom.
The lad was too much upset to count. He pushed forward some
loose silver and half a sovereign.
"How much do you think you've given me?" asked Mr. Winterbottom.
The boy looked at him, but said nothing. He had not the
faintest notion.
"Haven't you got a tongue in your head?"
Paul bit his lip, and pushed forward some more silver.
"Don't they teach you to count at the Board-school?" he asked.
"Nowt but algibbra an' French," said a collier.
"An' cheek an' impidence," said another.
Paul was keeping someone waiting. With trembling fingers he
got his money into the bag and slid out. He suffered the tortures
of the damned on these occasions.
His relief, when he got outside, and was walking along the
Mansfield Road, was infinite. On the park wall the mosses were green.
There were some gold and some white fowls pecking under the apple
trees of an orchard. The colliers were walking home in a stream.
The boy went near the wall, self-consciously. He knew many of the men,
but could not recognise them in their dirt. And this was a new
torture to him.
When he got down to the New Inn, at Bretty, his father was not
yet come. Mrs. Wharmby, the landlady, knew him. His grandmother,
Morel's mother, had been Mrs. Wharmby's friend.
"Your father's not come yet," said the landlady, in the peculiar
half-scornful, half-patronising voice of a woman who talks chiefly
to grown men. "Sit you down."
Paul sat down on the edge of the bench in the bar.
Some colliers were "reckoning"--sharing out their money--in a corner;
others came in. They all glanced at the boy without speaking.
At last Morel came; brisk, and with something of an air, even in
his blackness.
"Hello!" he said rather tenderly to his son. "Have you bested me?
Shall you have a drink of something?"
Paul and all the children were bred up fierce anti-alcoholists,
and he would have suffered more in drinking a lemonade before all
the men than in having a tooth drawn.
The landlady looked at him de haut en bas, rather pitying,
and at the same time, resenting his clear, fierce morality.
Paul went home, glowering. He entered the house silently.
Friday was baking day, and there was usually a hot bun. His mother
put it before him.
Suddenly he turned on her in a fury, his eyes flashing:
"I'm NOT going to the office any more," he said.
"Why, what's the matter?" his mother asked in surprise.
His sudden rages rather amused her.
"I'm NOT going any more," he declared.
"Oh, very well, tell your father so."
He chewed his bun as if he hated it.
"I'm not--I'm not going to fetch the money."
"Then one of Carlin's children can go; they'd be glad enough
of the sixpence," said Mrs. Morel.
This sixpence was Paul's only income. It mostly went in buying
birthday presents; but it WAS an income, and he treasured it.
"They can have it, then!" he said. "I don't want it."
"Oh, very well," said his mother. "But you needn't bully ME
about it."
"They're hateful, and common, and hateful, they are,
and I'm not going any more. Mr. Braithwaite drops his 'h's', an'
Mr. Winterbottom says 'You was'."
"And is that why you won't go any more?" smiled Mrs. Morel.
The boy was silent for some time. His face was pale, his eyes
dark and furious. His mother moved
about at her work, taking no notice of him.
"They always stan' in front of me, so's I can't get out,"
he said.
"Well, my lad, you've only to ASK them," she replied.
"An' then Alfred Winterbottom says, 'What do they teach you
at the Board-school?'"
"They never taught HIM much," said Mrs. Morel, "that is a fact--
neither manners nor wit--and his cunning he was born with."
So, in her own way, she soothed him.
His ridiculous hypersensitiveness made her
heart ache. And sometimes the fury in his eyes
roused her, made her sleeping soul lift up its head a moment, surprised.
"What was the cheque?" she asked.
"Seventeen pounds eleven and fivepence, and sixteen
and six stoppages," replied the boy. "It's a good week;
and only five shillings stoppages for my father."
So she was able to calculate how much her husband had earned,
and could call him to account if he gave her short money.
Morel always kept to himself the secret of the week's amount.
Friday was the baking night and market night. It was the
rule that Paul should stay at home and bake. He loved to stop
in and draw or read; he was very fond of drawing. Annie always
"gallivanted" on Friday nights; Arthur was enjoying himself as usual.
So the boy remained alone.
Mrs. Morel loved her marketing. In the tiny market-place on
the top of the hill, where four roads, from Nottingham and Derby,
Ilkeston and Mansfield, meet, many stalls were erected. Brakes ran
in from surrounding villages. The market-place was full of women,
the streets packed with men. It was amazing to see so many men
everywhere in the streets. Mrs. Morel usually quarrelled with
her lace woman, sympathised with her fruit man--who was a gabey,
but his wife was a bad 'un--laughed with the fish man--who was
a scamp but so droll--put the linoleum man in his place, was cold
with the odd-wares man, and only went to the crockery man when she
was driven--or drawn by the cornflowers on a little dish; then she
was coldly polite.
"I wondered how much that little dish was," she said.
"Sevenpence to you."
"Thank you."
She put the dish down and walked away; but she could not leave
the market-place without it. Again she went by where the pots
lay coldly on the floor, and she glanced at the dish furtively,
pretending not to.
She was a little woman, in a bonnet and a black costume.
Her bonnet was in its third year; it was a great grievance to Annie.
"Mother!" the girl implored, "don't wear that nubbly little bonnet."
"Then what else shall I wear," replied the mother tartly.
"And I'm sure it's right enough."
It had started with a tip; then had had flowers; now was
reduced to black lace and a bit of jet.
"It looks rather come down," said Paul. "Couldn't you give
it a pick-me-up?"
"I'll jowl your head for impudence," said Mrs. Morel, and she
tied the strings of the black bonnet valiantly under her chin.
She glanced at the dish again. Both she and her enemy,
the pot man, had an uncomfortable feeling, as if there were something
between them. Suddenly he shouted:
"Do you want it for fivepence?"
She started. Her heart hardened; but then she stooped and took
up her dish.
"I'll have it," she said.
"Yer'll do me the favour, like?" he said. "Yer'd better spit
in it, like yer do when y'ave something give yer."
Mrs. Morel paid him the fivepence in a cold manner.
"I don't see you give it me," she said. "You wouldn't let me
have it for fivepence if you didn't want to."
"In this flamin', scrattlin' place you may count yerself lucky
if you can give your things away," he growled.
"Yes; there are bad times, and good," said Mrs. Morel.
But she had forgiven the pot man. They were friends.
She dare now finger his pots. So she was happy.
Paul was waiting for her. He loved her home-coming. She
was always her best so--triumphant, tired, laden with parcels,
feeling rich in spirit. He heard her quick, light step in the entry
and looked up from his drawing.
"Oh!" she sighed, smiling at him from the doorway.
"My word, you ARE loaded!" he exclaimed, putting down his brush.
"I am!" she gasped. "That brazen Annie said she'd meet me.
SUCH a weight!"
She dropped her string bag and her packages on the table.
"Is the bread done?" she asked, going to the oven.
"The last one is soaking," he replied. "You needn't look,
I've not forgotten it."
"Oh, that pot man!" she said, closing the oven door.
"You know what a wretch I've said he was? Well, I don't think he's
quite so bad."
"Don't you?"
The boy was attentive to her. She took off her little
black bonnet.
"No. I think he can't make any money--well, it's everybody's
cry alike nowadays--and it makes him disagreeable."
"It would ME," said Paul.
"Well, one can't wonder at it. And he let me have--how much
do you think he let me have THIS for?"
She took the dish out of its rag of newspaper, and stood
looking on it with joy.
"Show me!" said Paul.
The two stood together gloating over the dish.
"I LOVE cornflowers on things," said Paul.
"Yes, and I thought of the teapot you bought me---"
"One and three," said Paul.
"It's not enough, mother."
"No. Do you know, I fairly sneaked off with it. But I'd
been extravagant, I couldn't afford any more. And he needn't
have let me have it if he hadn't wanted to."
"No, he needn't, need he," said Paul, and the two comforted
each other from the fear of having robbed the pot man.
"We c'n have stewed fruit in it," said Paul.
"Or custard, or a jelly," said his mother.
"Or radishes and lettuce," said he.
"Don't forget that bread," she said, her voice bright with glee.
Paul looked in the oven; tapped the loaf on the base.
"It's done," he said, giving it to her.
She tapped it also.
"Yes," she replied, going to unpack her bag. "Oh, and I'm
a wicked, extravagant woman. I know I s'll come to want."
He hopped to her side eagerly, to see her latest extravagance.
She unfolded another lump of newspaper and disclosed some roots of
pansies and of crimson daisies.
"Four penn'orth!" she moaned.
"How CHEAP!" he cried.
"Yes, but I couldn't afford it THIS week of all weeks."
"But lovely!" he cried.
"Aren't they!" she exclaimed, giving way to pure joy.
"Paul, look at this yellow one, isn't it--and a face just like an
old man!"
"Just!" cried Paul, stooping to sniff. "And smells that nice!
But he's a bit splashed."
He ran in the scullery, came back with the flannel, and carefully
washed the pansy.
"NOW look at him now he's wet!" he said.
"Yes!" she exclaimed, brimful of satisfaction.
The children of Scargill Street felt quite select. At the
end where the Morels lived there were not many young things.
So the few were more united. Boys and girls played together,
the girls joining in the fights and the rough games, the boys taking
part in the dancing games and rings and make-belief of the girls.
Annie and Paul and Arthur loved the winter evenings,
when it was not wet. They stayed indoors till the colliers
were all gone home, till it was thick dark, and the street would
be deserted. Then they tied their scarves round their necks,
for they scorned overcoats, as all the colliers' children did,
and went out. The entry was very dark, and at the end the whole
great night opened out, in a hollow, with a little tangle of lights
below where Minton pit lay, and another far away opposite for Selby.
The farthest tiny lights seemed to stretch out the darkness for ever.
The children looked anxiously down the road at the one lamp-post,
which stood at the end of the field path. If the little,
luminous space were deserted, the two boys felt genuine desolation.
They stood with their hands in their pockets under the lamp,
turning their backs on the night, quite miserable, watching the
dark houses. Suddenly a pinafore under a short coat was seen,
and a long-legged girl came flying up.
"Where's Billy Pillins an' your Annie an' Eddie Dakin?"
"I don't know."
But it did not matter so much--there were three now. They set
up a game round the lamp-post, till the others rushed up, yelling.
Then the play went fast and furious.
There was only this one lamp-post. Behind was the great scoop
of darkness, as if all the night were there. In front, another wide,
dark way opened over the hill brow. Occasionally somebody came
out of this way and went into the field down the path. In a dozen
yards the night had swallowed them. The children played on.
They were brought exceedingly close together owing to
their isolation. If a quarrel took place, the whole play was spoilt.
Arthur was very touchy, and Billy Pillins--really Philips--was worse.
Then Paul had to side with Arthur, and on Paul's side went Alice,
while Billy Pillins always had Emmie Limb and Eddie Dakin to back
him up. Then the six would fight, hate with a fury of hatred,
and flee home in terror. Paul never forgot, after one of these fierce
internecine fights, seeing a big red moon lift itself up, slowly,
between the waste road over the hilltop, steadily, like a great bird.
And he thought of the Bible, that the moon should be turned to blood.
And the next day he made haste to be friends with Billy Pillins.
And then the wild, intense games went on again under the lamp-post,
surrounded by so much darkness. Mrs. Morel, going into her parlour,
would hear the children singing away:
"My shoes are made of Spanish leather,
My socks are made of silk;
I wear a ring on every finger,
I wash myself in milk."
They sounded so perfectly absorbed in the game as their voices came
out of the night, that they had the feel of wild creatures singing.
It stirred the mother; and she understood when they came in at eight
o'clock, ruddy, with brilliant eyes, and quick, passionate speech.
They all loved the Scargill Street house for its openness,
for the great scallop of the world it had in view. On summer evenings
the women would stand against the field fence, gossiping, facing
the west, watching the sunsets flare quickly out, till the Derbyshire
hills ridged across the crimson far away, like the black crest
of a newt.
In this summer season the pits never turned full time,
particularly the soft coal. Mrs. Dakin, who lived next door
to Mrs. Morel, going to the field fence to shake her hearthrug,
would spy men coming slowly up the hill. She saw at once they
were colliers. Then she waited, a tall, thin, shrew-faced woman,
standing on the hill brow, almost like a menace to the poor colliers
who were toiling up. It was only eleven o'clock. From the far-off
wooded hills the haze that hangs like fine black crape at the back
of a summer morning had not yet dissipated. The first man came
to the stile. "Chock-chock!" went the gate under his thrust.
"What, han' yer knocked off?" cried Mrs. Dakin.
"We han, missis."
"It's a pity as they letn yer goo," she said sarcastically.
"It is that," replied the man.
"Nay, you know you're flig to come up again," she said.
And the man went on. Mrs. Dakin, going up her yard,
spied Mrs. Morel taking the ashes to the ash-pit.
"I reckon Minton's knocked off, missis," she cried.
"Isn't it sickenin!" exclaimed Mrs. Morel in wrath.
"Ha! But I'n just seed Jont Hutchby."
"They might as well have saved their shoe-leather,"
said Mrs. Morel. And both women went indoors disgusted.
The colliers, their faces scarcely blackened, were trooping
home again. Morel hated to go back. He loved the sunny morning.
But he had gone to pit to work, and to be sent home again spoilt
his temper.
"Good gracious, at this time!" exclaimed his wife, as he entered.
"Can I help it, woman?" he shouted.
"And I've not done half enough dinner."
"Then I'll eat my bit o' snap as I took with me,"
he bawled pathetically. He felt ignominious and sore.
And the children, coming home from school, would wonder to see
their father eating with his dinner the two thick slices of rather
dry and dirty bread-and-butter that had been to pit and back.
"What's my dad eating his snap for now?" asked Arthur.
"I should ha'e it holled at me if I didna," snorted Morel.
"What a story!" exclaimed his wife.
"An' is it goin' to be wasted?" said Morel. "I'm not such
a extravagant mortal as you lot, with your waste. If I drop
a bit of bread at pit, in all the dust an' dirt, I pick it up an'
eat it."
"The mice would eat it," said Paul. "It wouldn't be wasted."
"Good bread-an'-butter's not for mice, either," said Morel.
"Dirty or not dirty, I'd eat it rather than it should be wasted."
"You might leave it for the mice and pay for it out of your
next pint," said Mrs. Morel.
"Oh, might I?" he exclaimed.
They were very poor that autumn. William had just gone away
to London, and his mother missed his money. He sent ten shillings once
or twice, but he had many things to pay for at first. His letters
came regularly once a week. He wrote a good deal to his mother,
telling her all his life, how he made friends, and was exchanging
lessons with a Frenchman, how he enjoyed London. His mother felt
again he was remaining to her just as when he was at home. She wrote
to him every week her direct, rather witty letters. All day long,
as she cleaned the house, she thought of him. He was in London:
he would do well. Almost, he was like her knight who wore HER
favour in the battle.
He was coming at Christmas for five days. There had never
been such preparations. Paul and Arthur scoured the land
for holly and evergreens. Annie made the pretty paper hoops
in the old-fashioned way. And there was unheard-of extravagance
in the larder. Mrs. Morel made a big and magnificent cake.
Then, feeling queenly, she showed Paul how to blanch almonds.
He skinned the long nuts reverently, counting them all, to see not
one was lost. It was said that eggs whisked better in a cold place.
So the boy stood in the scullery, where the temperature was nearly
at freezing-point, and whisked and whisked, and flew in excitement
to his mother as the white of egg grew stiffer and more snowy.
"Just look, mother! Isn't it lovely?"
And he balanced a bit on his nose, then blew it in the air.
"Now, don't waste it," said the mother.
Everybody was mad with excitement. William was coming on
Christmas Eve. Mrs. Morel surveyed her pantry. There was a big
plum cake, and a rice cake, jam tarts, lemon tarts, and mince-pies--
two enormous dishes. She was finishing cooking--Spanish tarts
and cheese-cakes. Everywhere was decorated. The kissing bunch
of berried holly hung with bright and glittering things, spun slowly
over Mrs. Morel's head as she trimmed her little tarts in the kitchen.
A great fire roared. There was a scent of cooked pastry. He was due
at seven o'clock, but he would be late. The three children had gone
to meet him. She was alone. But at a quarter to seven Morel came
in again. Neither wife nor husband spoke. He sat in his armchair,
quite awkward with excitement, and she quietly went on with her baking.
Only by the careful way in which she did things could it be told
how much moved she was. The clock ticked on.
"What time dost say he's coming?" Morel asked for the fifth time.
"The train gets in at half-past six," she replied emphatically.
"Then he'll be here at ten past seven."
"Eh, bless you, it'll be hours late on the Midland,"
she said indifferently. But she hoped, by expecting him late,
to bring him early. Morel went down the entry to look for him.
Then he came back.
"Goodness, man!" she said. "You're like an ill-sitting hen."
"Hadna you better be gettin' him summat t' eat ready?"
asked the father.
"There's plenty of time," she answered.
"There's not so much as I can see on," he answered,
turning crossly in his chair. She began to clear her table.
The kettle was singing. They waited and waited.
Meantime the three children were on the platform at Sethley Bridge,
on the Midland main line, two miles from home. They waited one hour.
A train came--he was not there. Down the line the red and green
lights shone. It was very dark and very cold.
"Ask him if the London train's come," said Paul to Annie,
when they saw a man in a tip cap.
"I'm not," said Annie. "You be quiet--he might send us off."
But Paul was dying for the man to know they were expecting
someone by the London train: it sounded so grand. Yet he was much
too much scared of broaching any man, let alone one in a peaked cap,
to dare to ask. The three children could scarcely go into the
waiting-room for fear of being sent away, and for fear
something should happen whilst they were off the platform.
Still they waited in the dark and cold.
"It's an hour an' a half late," said Arthur pathetically.
"Well," said Annie, "it's Christmas Eve."
They all grew silent. He wasn't coming. They looked
down the darkness of the railway. There was London! It seemed
the utter-most of distance. They thought anything might happen
if one came from London. They were all too troubled to talk.
Cold, and unhappy, and silent, they huddled together on the platform.
At last, after more than two hours, they saw the lights of an
engine peering round, away down the darkness. A porter ran out.
The children drew back with beating hearts. A great train,
bound for Manchester, drew up. Two doors opened, and from one
of them, William. They flew to him. He handed parcels to them
cheerily, and immediately began to explain that this great train had
stopped for HIS sake at such a small station as Sethley Bridge:
it was not booked to stop.
Meanwhile the parents were getting anxious. The table was set,
the chop was cooked, everything was ready. Mrs. Morel put on
her black apron. She was wearing her best dress. Then she sat,
pretending to read. The minutes were a torture to her.
"H'm!" said Morel. "It's an hour an' a ha'ef."
"And those children waiting!" she said.
"Th' train canna ha' come in yet," he said.
"I tell you, on Christmas Eve they're HOURS wrong."
They were both a bit cross with each other, so gnawed
with anxiety. The ash tree moaned outside in a cold, raw wind.
And all that space of night from London home! Mrs. Morel suffered.
The slight click of the works inside the clock irritated her.
It was getting so late; it was getting unbearable.
At last there was a sound of voices, and a footstep in the entry.
"Ha's here!" cried Morel, jumping up.
Then he stood back. The mother ran a few steps towards
the door and waited. There was a rush and a patter of feet,
the door burst open. William was there. He dropped his Gladstone
bag and took his mother in his arms.
"Mater!" he said.
"My boy!" she cried.
And for two seconds, no longer, she clasped him and kissed him.
Then she withdrew and said, trying to be quite normal:
"But how late you are!"
"Aren't I!" he cried, turning to his father. "Well, dad!"
The two men shook hands.
"Well, my lad!"
Morel's eyes were wet.
"We thought tha'd niver be commin'," he said.
"Oh, I'd come!" exclaimed William.
Then the son turned round to his mother.
"But you look well," she said proudly, laughing.
"Well!" he exclaimed. "I should think so--coming home!"
He was a fine fellow, big, straight, and fearless-looking. He
looked round at the evergreens and the kissing bunch, and the little
tarts that lay in their tins on the hearth.
"By jove! mother, it's not different!" he said, as if in relief.
Everybody was still for a second. Then he suddenly sprang forward,
picked a tart from the hearth, and pushed it whole into his mouth.
"Well, did iver you see such a parish oven!" the father exclaimed.
He had brought them endless presents. Every penny he had he had
spent on them. There was a sense of luxury overflowing in the house.
For his mother there was an umbrella with gold on the pale handle.
She kept it to her dying day, and would have lost anything rather
than that. Everybody had something gorgeous, and besides, there were
pounds of unknown sweets: Turkish delight, crystallised pineapple,
and such-like things which, the children thought, only the splendour
of London could provide. And Paul boasted of these sweets among
his friends.
"Real pineapple, cut off in slices, and then turned into
crystal--fair grand!"
Everybody was mad with happiness in the family. Home was home,
and they loved it with a passion of love, whatever the suffering
had been. There were parties, there were rejoicings. People came
in to see William, to see what difference London had made to him.
And they all found him "such a gentleman, and SUCH a fine fellow,
my word"!
When he went away again the children retired to various places
to weep alone. Morel went to bed in misery, and Mrs. Morel felt as
if she were numbed by some drug, as if her feelings were paralysed.
She loved him passionately.
He was in the office of a lawyer connected with a large
shipping firm, and at the midsummer his chief offered him a trip
in the Mediterranean on one of the boats, for quite a small cost.
Mrs. Morel wrote: "Go, go, my boy. You may never have a chance again,
and I should love to think of you cruising there in the Mediterranean
almost better than to have you at home." But William came home for
his fortnight's holiday. Not even the Mediterranean, which pulled
at all his young man's desire to travel, and at his poor man's wonder
at the glamorous south, could take him away when he might come home.
That compensated his mother for much.
MOREL was rather a heedless man, careless of danger. So he had
endless accidents. Now, when Mrs. Morel heard the rattle of an empty
coal-cart cease at her entry-end, she ran into the parlour to look,
expecting almost to see her husband seated in the waggon, his face
grey under his dirt, his body limp and sick with some hurt or other.
If it were he, she would run out to help.
About a year after William went to London, and just after Paul
had left school, before he got work, Mrs. Morel was upstairs and her
son was painting in the kitchen--he was very clever with his brush--when
there came a knock at the door. Crossly he put down his brush to go.
At the same moment his mother opened a window upstairs and looked down.
A pit-lad in his dirt stood on the threshold.
"Is this Walter Morel's?" he asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel. "What is it?"
But she had guessed already.
"Your mester's got hurt," he said.
"Eh, dear me!" she exclaimed. "It's a wonder if he hadn't, lad.
And what's he done this time?"
"I don't know for sure, but it's 'is leg somewhere. They ta'ein'
'im ter th' 'ospital."
"Good gracious me!" she exclaimed. "Eh, dear, what a one he is!
There's not five minutes of peace, I'll be hanged if there is!
His thumb's nearly better, and now--- Did you see him?"
"I seed him at th' bottom. An' I seed 'em bring 'im up in
a tub, an' 'e wor in a dead faint. But he shouted like anythink
when Doctor Fraser examined him i' th' lamp cabin--an' cossed an'
swore, an' said as 'e wor goin' to be ta'en whoam--'e worn't goin'
ter th' 'ospital."
The boy faltered to an end.
"He WOULD want to come home, so that I can have all the bother.
Thank you, my lad. Eh, dear, if I'm not sick--sick and surfeited,
I am!"
She came downstairs. Paul had mechanically resumed his painting.
"And it must be pretty bad if they've taken him to the hospital,"
she went on. "But what a CARELESS creature he is! OTHER men don't
have all these accidents. Yes, he WOULD want to put all the burden
on me. Eh, dear, just as we WERE getting easy a bit at last.
Put those things away, there's no time to be painting now. What time
is there a train? I know I s'll have to go trailing to Keston.
I s'll have to leave that bedroom."
"I can finish it," said Paul.
"You needn't. I shall catch the seven o'clock back,
I should think. Oh, my blessed heart, the fuss and commotion
he'll make! And those granite setts at Tinder Hill--he might
well call them kidney pebbles--they'll jolt him almost to bits.
I wonder why they can't mend them, the state they're in, an'
all the men as go across in that ambulance. You'd think they'd
have a hospital here. The men bought the ground, and, my sirs,
there'd be accidents enough to keep it going. But no, they must
trail them ten miles in a slow ambulance to Nottingham. It's a
crying shame! Oh, and the fuss he'll make! I know he will!
I wonder who's with him. Barker, I s'd think. Poor beggar,
he'll wish himself anywhere rather. But he'll look after him, I know.
Now there's no telling how long he'll be stuck in that hospital--and
WON'T he hate it! But if it's only his leg it's not so bad."
All the time she was getting ready. Hurriedly taking off her
bodice, she crouched at the boiler
while the water ran slowly into her lading-can.
"I wish this boiler was at the bottom of the sea!" she exclaimed,
wriggling the handle impatiently. She had very handsome, strong arms,
rather surprising on a smallish woman.
Paul cleared away, put on the kettle, and set the table.
"There isn't a train till four-twenty," he said.
"You've time enough."
"Oh no, I haven't!" she cried, blinking at him over the towel
as she wiped her face.
"Yes, you have. You must drink a cup of tea at any rate.
Should I come with you to Keston?"
"Come with me? What for, I should like to know? Now, what have
I to take him? Eh, dear! His clean shirt--and it's a blessing it
IS clean. But it had better be aired. And stockings--he won't want
them--and a towel, I suppose; and handkerchiefs. Now what else?"
"A comb, a knife and fork and spoon," said Paul. His father
had been in the hospital before.
"Goodness knows what sort of state his feet were in,"
continued Mrs. Morel, as she combed her long brown hair, that was
fine as silk, and was touched now with grey. "He's very particular
to wash himself to the waist, but below he thinks doesn't matter.
But there, I suppose they see plenty like it."
Paul had laid the table. He cut his mother one or two pieces
of very thin bread and butter.
"Here you are," he said, putting her cup of tea in her place.
"I can't be bothered!" she exclaimed crossly.
"Well, you've got to, so there, now it's put out ready,"
he insisted.
So she sat down and sipped her tea, and ate a little, in silence.
She was thinking.
In a few minutes she was gone, to walk the two and a half miles
to Keston Station. All the things she was taking him she had in her
bulging string bag. Paul watched her go up the road between the
hedges--a little, quick-stepping figure, and his heart ached for her,
that she was thrust forward again into pain and trouble. And she,
tripping so quickly in her anxiety, felt at the back of her her
son's heart waiting on her, felt him bearing what part of the burden
he could, even supporting her. And when she was at the hospital,
she thought: "It WILL upset that lad when I tell him how bad it is.
I'd better be careful." And when she was trudging home again,
she felt he was coming to share her burden.
"Is it bad?" asked Paul, as soon as she entered the house.
"It's bad enough," she replied.
She sighed and sat down, undoing her bonnet-strings. Her son
watched her face as it was lifted, and her small, work-hardened hands
fingering at the bow under her chin.
"Well," she answered, "it's not really dangerous, but the nurse
says it's a dreadful smash. You see, a great piece of rock fell
on his leg--here--and it's a compound fracture. There are pieces
of bone sticking through---"
"Ugh--how horrid!" exclaimed the children.
"And," she continued, "of course he says he's going to die--it
wouldn't be him if he didn't. 'I'm done for, my lass!' he said,
looking at me. 'Don't be so silly,' I said to him. 'You're not going
to die of a broken leg, however badly it's smashed.' 'I s'll niver
come out of 'ere but in a wooden box,' he groaned. 'Well,' I said,
'if you want them to carry you into the garden in a wooden box,
when you're better, I've no doubt they will.' 'If we think it's
good for him,' said the Sister. She's an awfully nice Sister,
but rather strict."
Mrs. Morel took off her bonnet. The children waited in silence.
"Of course, he IS bad," she continued, "and he will be.
It's a great shock, and he's lost a lot of blood; and, of course,
it IS a very dangerous smash. It's not at all sure that it will mend
so easily. And then there's the fever and the mortification--if it took
bad ways he'd quickly be gone. But there, he's a clean-blooded man,
with wonderful healing flesh, and so I see no reason why it SHOULD
take bad ways. Of course there's a wound---"
She was pale now with emotion and anxiety. The three children
realised that it was very bad for their father, and the house
was silent, anxious.
"But he always gets better," said Paul after a while.
"That's what I tell him," said the mother.
Everybody moved about in silence.
"And he really looked nearly done for," she said. "But the
Sister says that is the pain."
Annie took away her mother's coat and bonnet.
"And he looked at me when I came away! I said: 'I s'll
have to go now, Walter, because of the train--and the children.'
And he looked at me. It seems hard."
Paul took up his brush again and went on painting. Arthur went
outside for some coal. Annie sat looking dismal. And Mrs. Morel,
in her little rocking-chair that her husband had made for her
when the first baby was coming, remained motionless, brooding.
She was grieved, and bitterly sorry for the man who was hurt so much.
But still, in her heart of hearts, where the love should have burned,
there was a blank. Now, when all her woman's pity was roused to its
full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse
him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself,
if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent
to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure
to love him, even when he roused her strong emotions. She brooded
a while.
"And there," she said suddenly, "when I'd got halfway to Keston,
I found I'd come out in my working boots--and LOOK at them."
They were an old pair of Paul's, brown and rubbed through at
the toes. "I didn't know what to do with myself, for shame,"
she added.
In the morning, when Annie and Arthur were at school, Mrs. Morel
talked again to her son, who was helping her with her housework.
"I found Barker at the hospital. He did look bad,
poor little fellow! 'Well,' I said to him, 'what sort of a
journey did you have with him?' 'Dunna ax me, missis!' he said.
'Ay,' I said, 'I know what he'd be.' 'But it WOR bad for him,
Mrs. Morel, it WOR that!' he said. 'I know,' I said. 'At ivry jolt
I thought my 'eart would ha' flown clean out o' my mouth,' he said.
'An' the scream 'e gives sometimes! Missis, not for a fortune would
I go through wi' it again.' 'I can quite understand it,' I said.
'It's a nasty job, though,' he said, 'an' one as'll be a long
while afore it's right again.' 'I'm afraid it will,' I said.
I like Mr. Barker--I DO like him. There's something so manly
about him."
Paul resumed his task silently.
"And of course," Mrs. Morel continued, "for a man like your father,
the hospital IS hard. He CAN'T understand rules and regulations.
And he won't let anybody else touch him, not if he can help it.
When he smashed the muscles of his thigh, and it had to be dressed
four times a day, WOULD he let anybody but me or his mother do it?
He wouldn't. So, of course, he'll suffer in there with the nurses.
And I didn't like leaving him. I'm sure, when I kissed him an' came away,
it seemed a shame."
So she talked to her son, almost as if she were thinking
aloud to him, and he took it in as best he could, by sharing her
trouble to lighten it. And in the end she shared almost everything
with him without knowing.
Morel had a very bad time. For a week he was in a
critical condition. Then he began to mend. And then, knowing he
was going to get better, the whole family sighed with relief,
and proceeded to live happily.
They were not badly off whilst Morel was in the hospital.
There were fourteen shillings a week from the pit, ten shillings
from the sick club, and five shillings from the Disability Fund;
and then every week the butties had something for Mrs. Morel--five
or seven shillings--so that she was quite well to do. And whilst
Morel was progressing favourably in the hospital, the family was
extraordinarily happy and peaceful. On Saturdays and Wednesdays
Mrs. Morel went to Nottingham to see her husband. Then she always
brought back some little thing: a small tube of paints for Paul,
or some thick paper; a couple of postcards for Annie, that the whole
family rejoiced over for days before the girl was allowed to send
them away; or a fret-saw for Arthur, or a bit of pretty wood.
She described her adventures into the big shops with joy.
Soon the folk in the picture-shop knew her, and knew about Paul.
The girl in the book-shop took a keen interest in her. Mrs. Morel
was full of information when she got home from Nottingham. The three
sat round till bed-time, listening, putting in, arguing. Then Paul
often raked the fire.
"I'm the man in the house now," he used to say to his mother
with joy. They learned how perfectly peaceful the home could be.
And they almost regretted--though none of them would have owned to
such callousness--that their father was soon coming back.
Paul was now fourteen, and was looking for work. He was a
rather small and rather finely-made boy, with dark brown hair and
light blue eyes. His face had already lost its youthful chubbiness,
and was becoming somewhat like William's--rough-featured, almost
rugged--and it was extraordinarily mobile. Usually he looked
as if he saw things, was full of life, and warm; then his smile,
like his mother's, came suddenly and was very lovable; and then,
when there was any clog in his soul's quick running, his face went
stupid and ugly. He was the sort of boy that becomes a clown
and a lout as soon as he is not understood, or feels himself
held cheap; and, again, is adorable at the first touch of warmth.
He suffered very much from the first contact with anything.
When he was seven, the starting school had been a nightmare and a
torture to him. But afterwards he liked it. And now that he felt
he had to go out into life, he went through agonies of shrinking
self-consciousness. He was quite a clever painter for a boy of his years,
and he knew some French and German and mathematics that Mr. Heaton
had taught him. But nothing he had was of any commercial value.
He was not strong enough for heavy manual work, his mother said.
He did not care for making things with his hands, preferred racing about,
or making excursions into the country, or reading, or painting.
"What do you want to be?" his mother asked.
"That is no answer," said Mrs. Morel.
But it was quite truthfully the only answer he could give.
His ambition, as far as this world's gear went, was quietly to earn
his thirty or thirty-five shillings a week somewhere near home,
and then, when his father died, have a cottage with his mother,
paint and go out as he liked, and live happy ever after. That was his
programme as far as doing things went. But he was proud within himself,
measuring people against himself, and placing them, inexorably. And he
thought that PERHAPS he might also make a painter, the real thing.
But that he left alone.
"Then," said his mother, "you must look in the paper
for the advertisements."
He looked at her. It seemed to him a bitter humiliation
and an anguish to go through. But he said nothing. When he got up
in the morning, his whole being was knotted up over this one thought:
"I've got to go and look for advertisements for a job."
It stood in front of the morning, that thought, killing all
joy and even life, for him. His heart felt like a tight knot.
And then, at ten o'clock, he set off. He was supposed to be
a queer, quiet child. Going up the sunny street of the little town,
he felt as if all the folk he met said to themselves: "He's going
to the Co-op. reading-room to look in the papers for a place.
He can't get a job. I suppose he's living on his mother." Then he
crept up the stone stairs behind the drapery shop at the Co-op.,
and peeped in the reading-room. Usually one or two men were there,
either old, useless fellows, or colliers "on the club". So he entered,
full of shrinking and suffering when they looked up, seated himself at
the table, and pretended to scan the news. He knew they would think:
"What does a lad of thirteen want in a reading-room with a newspaper?"
and he suffered.
Then he looked wistfully out of the window. Already he was
a prisoner of industrialism. Large sunflowers stared over the
old red wall of the garden opposite, looking in their jolly way
down on the women who were hurrying with something for dinner.
The valley was full of corn, brightening in the sun. Two collieries,
among the fields, waved their small white plumes of steam. Far off
on the hills were the woods of Annesley, dark and fascinating.
Already his heart went down. He was being taken into bondage.
His freedom in the beloved home valley was going now.
The brewers' waggons came rolling up from Keston with enormous
barrels, four a side, like beans in a burst bean-pod. The waggoner,
throned aloft, rolling massively in his seat, was not so much
below Paul's eye. The man's hair, on his small, bullet head,
was bleached almost white by the sun, and on his thick red arms,
rocking idly on his sack apron, the white hairs glistened.
His red face shone and was almost asleep with sunshine. The horses,
handsome and brown, went on by themselves, looking by far the masters
of the show.
Paul wished he were stupid. "I wish," he thought to himself,
"I was fat like him, and like a dog in the sun. I wish I was a pig
and a brewer's waggoner."
Then, the room being at last empty, he would hastily copy
an advertisement on a scrap of paper, then another, and slip
out in immense relief. His mother would scan over his copies.
"Yes," she said, "you may try."
William had written out a letter of application, couched in
admirable business language, which Paul copied, with variations.
The boy's handwriting was execrable, so that William, who did all
things well, got into a fever of impatience.
The elder brother was becoming quite swanky. In London he found
that he could associate with men far above his Bestwood friends
in station. Some of the clerks in the office had studied for the law,
and were more or less going through a kind of apprenticeship.
William always made friends among men wherever he went, he was so jolly.
Therefore he was soon visiting and staying in houses of men who,
in Bestwood, would have looked down on the unapproachable bank manager,
and would merely have called indifferently on the Rector. So he began
to fancy himself as a great gun. He was, indeed, rather surprised
at the ease with which he became a gentleman.
His mother was glad, he seemed so pleased. And his lodging
in Walthamstow was so dreary. But now there seemed to come a kind
of fever into the young man's letters. He was unsettled by all
the change, he did not stand firm on his own feet, but seemed to spin
rather giddily on the quick current of the new life. His mother was
anxious for him. She could feel him losing himself. He had danced
and gone to the theatre, boated on the river, been out with friends;
and she knew he sat up afterwards in his cold bedroom grinding away
at Latin, because he intended to get on in his office, and in the
law as much as he could. He never sent his mother any money now.
It was all taken, the little he had, for his own life. And she
did not want any, except sometimes, when she was in a tight corner,
and when ten shillings would have saved her much worry. She still
dreamed of William, and of what he would do, with herself behind him.
Never for a minute would she admit to herself how heavy and anxious
her heart was because of him.
Also he talked a good deal now of a girl he had met at a dance,
a handsome brunette, quite young, and a lady, after whom the men
were running thick and fast.
"I wonder if you would run, my boy," his mother wrote
to him, "unless you saw all the other men chasing her too.
You feel safe enough and vain enough in a crowd. But take care,
and see how you feel when you find yourself alone, and in triumph."
William resented these things, and continued the chase. He had
taken the girl on the river. "If you saw her, mother, you would
know how I feel. Tall and elegant, with the clearest of clear,
transparent olive complexions, hair as black as jet, and such
grey eyes--bright, mocking, like lights on water at night.
It is all very well to be a bit satirical till you see her.
And she dresses as well as any woman in London. I tell you,
your son doesn't half put his head up when she goes walking down
Piccadilly with him."
Mrs. Morel wondered, in her heart, if her son did not go
walking down Piccadilly with an elegant figure and fine clothes,
rather than with a woman who was near to him. But she congratulated
him in her doubtful fashion. And, as she stood over the washing-tub,
the mother brooded over her son. She saw him saddled with an
elegant and expensive wife, earning little money, dragging along
and getting draggled in some small, ugly house in a suburb.
"But there," she told herself, "I am very likely a silly--meeting
trouble halfway." Nevertheless, the load of anxiety scarcely ever
left her heart, lest William should do the wrong thing by himself.
Presently, Paul was bidden call upon Thomas Jordan,
Manufacturer of Surgical Appliances, at 21, Spaniel Row, Nottingham.
Mrs. Morel was all joy.
"There, you see!" she cried, her eyes shining. "You've only
written four letters, and the third is answered. You're lucky,
my boy, as I always said you were."
Paul looked at the picture of a wooden leg, adorned with elastic
stockings and other appliances, that figured on Mr. Jordan's notepaper,
and he felt alarmed. He had not known that elastic stockings existed.
And he seemed to feel the business world, with its regulated system
of values, and its impersonality, and he dreaded it. It seemed
monstrous also that a business could be run on wooden legs.
Mother and son set off together one Tuesday morning.
It was August and blazing hot. Paul walked with something screwed up
tight inside him. He would have suffered much physical pain rather
than this unreasonable suffering at being exposed to strangers,
to be accepted or rejected. Yet he chattered away with his mother.
He would never have confessed to her how he suffered over these things,
and she only partly guessed. She was gay, like a sweetheart.
She stood in front of the ticket-office at Bestwood, and Paul watched
her take from her purse the money for the tickets.
As he saw her hands in their old black kid gloves getting
the silver out of the worn purse, his heart contracted with pain
of love of her.
She was quite excited, and quite gay. He suffered because she
WOULD talk aloud in presence of the other travellers.
"Now look at that silly cow!" she said, "careering round
as if it thought it was a circus."
"It's most likely a bottfly," he said very low.
"A what?" she asked brightly and unashamed.
They thought a while. He was sensible all the time of having
her opposite him. Suddenly their eyes met, and she smiled to
him--a rare, intimate smile, beautiful with brightness and love.
Then each looked out of the window.
The sixteen slow miles of railway journey passed. The mother
and son walked down Station Street, feeling the excitement of lovers
having an adventure together. In Carrington Street they stopped
to hang over the parapet and look at the barges on the canal below.
"It's just like Venice," he said, seeing the sunshine
on the water that lay between high factory walls.
"Perhaps," she answered, smiling.
They enjoyed the shops immensely.
"Now you see that blouse," she would say, "wouldn't that just
suit our Annie? And for one-and-eleven-three. Isn't that cheap?"
"And made of needlework as well," he said.
They had plenty of time, so they did not hurry. The town
was strange and delightful to them. But the boy was tied up inside
in a knot of apprehension. He dreaded the interview with Thomas Jordan.
It was nearly eleven o'clock by St. Peter's Church.
They turned up a narrow street that led to the Castle. It was
gloomy and old-fashioned, having low dark shops and dark green house
doors with brass knockers, and yellow-ochred doorsteps projecting
on to the pavement; then another old shop whose small window looked
like a cunning, half-shut eye. Mother and son went cautiously,
looking everywhere for "Thomas Jordan and Son". It was like hunting
in some wild place. They were on tiptoe of excitement.
Suddenly they spied a big, dark archway, in which were names
of various firms, Thomas Jordan among them.
"Here it is!" said Mrs. Morel. "But now WHERE is it?"
They looked round. On one side was a queer, dark, cardboard factory,
on the other a Commercial Hotel.
"It's up the entry," said Paul.
And they ventured under the archway, as into the jaws
of the dragon. They emerged into a wide yard, like a well,
with buildings all round. It was littered with straw and boxes,
and cardboard. The sunshine actually caught one crate whose straw
was streaming on to the yard like gold. But elsewhere the place
was like a pit. There were several doors, and two flights of steps.
Straight in front, on a dirty glass door at the top of a staircase,
loomed the ominous words "Thomas Jordan and Son--Surgical Appliances."
Mrs. Morel went first, her son followed her. Charles I mounted his
scaffold with a lighter heart than had Paul Morel as he followed his
mother up the dirty steps to the dirty door.
She pushed open the door, and stood in pleased surprise. In front
of her was a big warehouse, with creamy paper parcels everywhere,
and clerks, with their shirt-sleeves rolled back, were going about
in an at-home sort of way. The light was subdued, the glossy cream
parcels seemed luminous, the counters were of dark brown wood.
All was quiet and very homely. Mrs. Morel took two steps forward,
then waited. Paul stood behind her. She had on her Sunday
bonnet and a black veil; he wore a boy's broad white collar and a
Norfolk suit.
One of the clerks looked up. He was thin and tall, with a
small face. His way of looking was alert. Then he glanced round
to the other end of the room, where was a glass office. And then
he came forward. He did not say anything, but leaned in a gentle,
inquiring fashion towards Mrs. Morel.
"Can I see Mr. Jordan?" she asked.
"I'll fetch him," answered the young man.
He went down to the glass office. A red-faced, white-whiskered
old man looked up. He reminded Paul of a pomeranian dog.
Then the same little man came up the room. He had short legs,
was rather stout, and wore an alpaca jacket. So, with one ear up,
as it were, he came stoutly and inquiringly down the room.
"Good-morning!" he said, hesitating before Mrs. Morel,
in doubt as to whether she were a customer or not.
"Good-morning. I came with my son, Paul Morel. You asked him
to call this morning."
"Come this way," said Mr. Jordan, in a rather snappy little
manner intended to be businesslike.
They followed the manufacturer into a grubby little room,
upholstered in black American leather, glossy with the rubbing of
many customers. On the table was a pile of trusses, yellow wash-leather
hoops tangled together. They looked new and living. Paul sniffed the
odour of new wash-leather. He wondered what the things were. By this
time he was so much stunned that he only noticed the outside things.
"Sit down!" said Mr. Jordan, irritably pointing Mrs. Morel
to a horse-hair chair. She sat on the edge in an uncertain fashion.
Then the little old man fidgeted and found a paper.
"Did you write this letter?" he snapped, thrusting what Paul
recognised as his own notepaper in front of him.
"Yes," he answered.
At that moment he was occupied in two ways: first, in feeling
guilty for telling a lie, since William had composed the letter;
second, in wondering why his letter seemed so strange and different,
in the fat, red hand of the man, from what it had been when it lay
on the kitchen table. It was like part of himself, gone astray.
He resented the way the man held it.
"Where did you learn to write?" said the old man crossly.
Paul merely looked at him shamedly, and did not answer.
"He IS a bad writer," put in Mrs. Morel apologetically.
Then she pushed up her veil. Paul hated her for not being prouder
with this common little man, and he loved her face clear of the veil.
"And you say you know French?" inquired the little man,
still sharply.
"Yes," said Paul.
"What school did you go to?"
"The Board-school."
"And did you learn it there?"
"No--I---" The boy went crimson and got no farther.
"His godfather gave him lessons," said Mrs. Morel, half pleading
and rather distant.
Mr. Jordan hesitated. Then, in his irritable manner--he always
seemed to keep his hands ready for action--he pulled another sheet of
paper from his pocket, unfolded it. The paper made a crackling noise.
He handed it to Paul.
"Read that," he said.
It was a note in French, in thin, flimsy foreign handwriting
that the boy could not decipher. He stared blankly at the paper.
"'Monsieur,'" he began; then he looked in great confusion
at Mr. Jordan. "It's the--it's the---"
He wanted to say "handwriting", but his wits would no longer work
even sufficiently to supply him with the word. Feeling an utter fool,
and hating Mr. Jordan, he turned desperately to the paper again.
"'Sir,--Please send me'--er--er--I can't tell the--er--'two
pairs--gris fil bas--grey thread stockings'--er--er--'sans--without'--
er--I can't tell the words--er--'doigts--fingers'--er--I can't tell the---"
He wanted to say "handwriting", but the word still refused
to come. Seeing him stuck, Mr. Jordan snatched the paper from him.
"'Please send by return two pairs grey thread stockings
without TOES.'"
"Well," flashed Paul, "'doigts' means 'fingers'--as well--as
a rule---"
The little man looked at him. He did not know whether "doigts"
meant "fingers"; he knew that for all HIS purposes it meant "toes".
"Fingers to stockings!" he snapped.
"Well, it DOES mean fingers," the boy persisted.
He hated the little man, who made such a clod of him.
Mr. Jordan looked at the pale, stupid, defiant boy, then at the mother,
who sat quiet and with that peculiar shut-off look of the poor
who have to depend on the favour of others.
"And when could he come?" he asked.
"Well," said Mrs. Morel, "as soon as you wish. He has finished
school now."
"He would live in Bestwood?"
"Yes; but he could be in--at the station--at quarter to eight."
It ended by Paul's being engaged as junior spiral clerk at eight
shillings a week. The boy did not open his mouth to say another
word, after having insisted that "doigts" meant "fingers". He
followed his mother down the stairs. She looked at him with her
bright blue eyes full of love and joy.
"I think you'll like it," she said.
"'Doigts' does mean 'fingers', mother, and it was the writing.
I couldn't read the writing."
"Never mind, my boy. I'm sure he'll be all right, and you
won't see much of him. Wasn't that first young fellow nice?
I'm sure you'll like them."
"But wasn't Mr. Jordan common, mother? Does he own it all?"
"I suppose he was a workman who has got on," she said.
"You mustn't mind people so much. They're not being disagreeable
to YOU--it's their way. You always think people are meaning things
for you. But they don't."
It was very sunny. Over the big desolate space of the market-place
the blue sky shimmered, and the granite cobbles of the paving glistened.
Shops down the Long Row were deep in obscurity, and the shadow was full
of colour. Just where the horse trams trundled across the market
was a row of fruit stalls, with fruit blazing in the sun--apples
and piles of reddish oranges, small green-gage plums and bananas.
There was a warm scent of fruit as mother and son passed.
Gradually his feeling of ignominy and of rage sank.
"Where should we go for dinner?" asked the mother.
It was felt to be a reckless extravagance. Paul had only
been in an eating-house once or twice in his life, and then only
to have a cup of tea and a bun. Most of the people of Bestwood
considered that tea and bread-and-butter, and perhaps potted beef,
was all they could afford to eat in Nottingham. Real cooked dinner
was considered great extravagance. Paul felt rather guilty.
They found a place that looked quite cheap. But when Mrs. Morel
scanned the bill of fare, her heart was heavy, things were so dear.
So she ordered kidney-pies and potatoes as the cheapest available dish.
"We oughtn't to have come here, mother," said Paul.
"Never mind," she said. "We won't come again."
She insisted on his having a small currant tart, because he
liked sweets.
"I don't want it, mother," he pleaded.
"Yes," she insisted; "you'll have it."
And she looked round for the waitress. But the waitress
was busy, and Mrs. Morel did not like to bother her then.
So the mother and son waited for the girl's pleasure, whilst she
flirted among the men.
"Brazen hussy!" said Mrs. Morel to Paul. "Look now,
she's taking that man HIS pudding, and he came long after us."
"It doesn't matter, mother," said Paul.
Mrs. Morel was angry. But she was too poor, and her orders
were too meagre, so that she had not the courage to insist on her
rights just then. They waited and waited.
"Should we go, mother?" he said.
Then Mrs. Morel stood up. The girl was passing near.
"Will you bring one currant tart?" said Mrs. Morel clearly.
The girl looked round insolently.
"Directly," she said.
"We have waited quite long enough," said Mrs. Morel.
In a moment the girl came back with the tart. Mrs. Morel
asked coldly for the bill. Paul wanted to sink through the floor.
He marvelled at his mother's hardness. He knew that only years
of battling had taught her to insist even so little on her rights.
She shrank as much as he.
"It's the last time I go THERE for anything!" she declared,
when they were outside the place, thankful to be clear.
"We'll go," she said, "and look at Keep's and Boot's, and one
or two places, shall we?"
They had discussions over the pictures, and Mrs. Morel
wanted to buy him a little sable brush that be hankered after.
But this indulgence he refused. He stood in front of milliners'
shops and drapers' shops almost bored, but content for her to
be interested. They wandered on.
"Now, just look at those black grapes!" she said. "They make
your mouth water. I've wanted some of those for years, but I s'll
have to wait a bit before I get them."
Then she rejoiced in the florists, standing in the doorway sniffing.
"Oh! oh! Isn't it simply lovely!"
Paul saw, in the darkness of the shop, an elegant young lady
in black peering over the counter curiously.
"They're looking at you," he said, trying to draw his mother away.
"But what is it?" she exclaimed, refusing to be moved.
"Stocks!" he answered, sniffing hastily. "Look, there's
a tubful."
"So there is--red and white. But really, I never knew
stocks to smell like it!" And, to his great relief, she moved
out of the doorway, but only to stand in front of the window.
"Paul!" she cried to him, who was trying to get out of
sight of the elegant young lady in black--the shop-girl. "Paul!
Just look here!"
He came reluctantly back.
"Now, just look at that fuchsia!" she exclaimed, pointing.
"H'm!" He made a curious, interested sound. "You'd think
every second as the flowers was going to fall off, they hang
so big an' heavy."
"And such an abundance!" she cried.
"And the way they drop downwards with their threads and knots!"
"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Lovely!"
"I wonder who'll buy it!" he said.
"I wonder!" she answered. "Not us."
"It would die in our parlour."
"Yes, beastly cold, sunless hole; it kills every bit of a plant
you put in, and the kitchen chokes them to death."
They bought a few things, and set off towards the station.
Looking up the canal, through the dark pass of the buildings,
they saw the Castle on its bluff of brown, green-bushed rock,
in a positive miracle of delicate sunshine.
"Won't it be nice for me to come out at dinner-times?" said Paul.
"I can go all round here and see everything. I s'll love it."
"You will," assented his mother.
He had spent a perfect afternoon with his mother. They arrived
home in the mellow evening, happy, and glowing, and tired.
In the morning he filled in the form for his season-ticket
and took it to the station. When he got back, his mother was just
beginning to wash the floor. He sat crouched up on the sofa.
"He says it'll be here on Saturday," he said.
"And how much will it be?"
"About one pound eleven," he said.
She went on washing her floor in silence.
"Is it a lot?" he asked.
"It's no more than I thought," she answered.
"An' I s'll earn eight shillings a week," he said.
She did not answer, but went on with her work. At last she said:
"That William promised me, when he went to London, as he'd give
me a pound a month. He has given me ten shillings--twice; and now I
know he hasn't a farthing if I asked him. Not that I want it.
Only just now you'd think he might be able to help with this ticket,
which I'd never expected."
"He earns a lot," said Paul.
"He earns a hundred and thirty pounds. But they're all alike.
They're large in promises, but it's precious little fulfilment
you get."
"He spends over fifty shillings a week on himself," said Paul.
"And I keep this house on less than thirty," she replied;
"and am supposed to find money for extras. But they don't care
about helping you, once they've gone. He'd rather spend it on
that dressed-up creature."
"She should have her own money if she's so grand," said Paul.
"She should, but she hasn't. I asked him. And I know he
doesn't buy her a gold bangle for nothing. I wonder whoever bought
ME a gold bangle."
William was succeeding with his "Gipsy", as he called her.
He asked the girl--her name was Louisa Lily Denys Western--for a
photograph to send to his mother. The photo came--a handsome brunette,
taken in profile, smirking slightly--and, it might be, quite naked,
for on the photograph not a scrap of clothing was to be seen,
only a naked bust.
"Yes," wrote Mrs. Morel to her son, "the photograph of
Louie is very striking, and I can see she must be attractive.
But do you think, my boy, it was very good taste of a girl to
give her young man that photo to send to his mother--the first?
Certainly the shoulders are beautiful, as you say. But I hardly
expected to see so much of them at the first view."
Morel found the photograph standing on the chiffonier in
the parlour. He came out with it between his thick thumb and finger.
"Who dost reckon this is?" he asked of his wife.
"It's the girl our William is going with," replied Mrs. Morel.
"H'm! 'Er's a bright spark, from th' look on 'er, an'
one as wunna do him owermuch good neither. Who is she?"
"Her name is Louisa Lily Denys Western."
"An' come again to-morrer!" exclaimed the miner. "An' is 'er
an actress?"
"She is not. She's supposed to be a lady."
"I'll bet!" he exclaimed, still staring at the photo. "A lady,
is she? An' how much does she reckon ter keep up this sort o'
game on?"
"On nothing. She lives with an old aunt, whom she hates,
and takes what bit of money's given her."
"H'm!" said Morel, laying down the photograph. "Then he's
a fool to ha' ta'en up wi' such a one as that."
"Dear Mater," William replied. "I'm sorry you didn't like
the photograph. It never occurred to me when I sent it, that you
mightn't think it decent. However, I told Gyp that it didn't quite
suit your prim and proper notions, so she's going to send you another,
that I hope will please you better. She's always being photographed;
in fact, the photographers ask her if they may take her for nothing."
Presently the new photograph came, with a little silly note
from the girl. This time the young lady was seen in a black satin
evening bodice, cut square, with little puff sleeves, and black
lace hanging down her beautiful arms.
"I wonder if she ever wears anything except evening clothes,"
said Mrs. Morel sarcastically. "I'm sure I ought to be impressed."
"You are disagreeable, mother," said Paul. "I think the first
one with bare shoulders is lovely."
"Do you?" answered his mother. "Well, I don't."
On the Monday morning the boy got up at six to start work.
He had the season-ticket, which had cost such bitterness, in his
waistcoat pocket. He loved it with its bars of yellow across.
His mother packed his dinner in a small, shut-up basket, and he set
off at a quarter to seven to catch the 7.15 train. Mrs. Morel came
to the entry-end to see him off.
It was a perfect morning. From the ash tree the slender
green fruits that the children call "pigeons" were twinkling gaily
down on a little breeze, into the front gardens of the houses.
The valley was full of a lustrous dark haze, through which the ripe
corn shimmered, and in which the steam from Minton pit melted swiftly.
Puffs of wind came. Paul looked over the high woods of Aldersley,
where the country gleamed, and home had never pulled at him
so powerfully.
"Good-morning, mother," he said, smiling, but feeling very unhappy.
"Good-morning," she replied cheerfully and tenderly.
She stood in her white apron on the open road, watching him
as he crossed the field. He had a small, compact body that looked
full of life. She felt, as she saw him trudging over the field,
that where he determined to go he would get. She thought of William.
He would have leaped the fence instead of going round the stile.
He was away in London, doing well. Paul would be working in Nottingham.
Now she had two sons in the world. She could think of two places,
great centres of industry, and feel that she had put a man into each
of them, that these men would work out what SHE wanted; they were
derived from her, they were of her, and their works also would be hers.
All the morning long she thought of Paul.
At eight o'clock he climbed the dismal stairs of Jordan's
Surgical Appliance Factory, and stood helplessly against the first
great parcel-rack, waiting for somebody to pick him up. The place
was still not awake. Over the counters were great dust sheets.
Two men only had arrived, and were heard talking in a corner,
as they took off their coats and rolled up their shirt-sleeves. It
was ten past eight. Evidently there was no rush of punctuality.
Paul listened to the voices of the two clerks. Then he heard
someone cough, and saw in the office at the end of the room an old,
decaying clerk, in a round smoking-cap of black velvet embroidered
with red and green, opening letters. He waited and waited.
One of the junior clerks went to the old man, greeted him
cheerily and loudly. Evidently the old "chief" was deaf.
Then the young fellow came striding importantly down to his counter.
He spied Paul.
"Hello!" he said. "You the new lad?"
"Yes," said Paul.
"H'm! What's your name?"
"Paul Morel."
"Paul Morel? All right, you come on round here."
Paul followed him round the rectangle of counters. The room
was second storey. It had a great hole in the middle of the floor,
fenced as with a wall of counters, and down this wide shaft
the lifts went, and the light for the bottom storey. Also there
was a corresponding big, oblong hole in the ceiling, and one
could see above, over the fence of the top floor, some machinery;
and right away overhead was the glass roof, and all light for the
three storeys came downwards, getting dimmer, so that it was always
night on the ground floor and rather gloomy on the second floor.
The factory was the top floor, the warehouse the second, the storehouse
the ground floor. It was an insanitary, ancient place.
Paul was led round to a very dark corner.
"This is the 'Spiral' corner," said the clerk. "You're Spiral,
with Pappleworth. He's your boss, but he's not come yet. He doesn't
get here till half-past eight. So you can fetch the letters,
if you like, from Mr. Melling down there."
The young man pointed to the old clerk in the office.
"All right," said Paul.
"Here's a peg to hang your cap on. Here are your entry ledgers.
Mr. Pappleworth won't be long."
And the thin young man stalked away with long, busy strides
over the hollow wooden floor.
After a minute or two Paul went down and stood in the door
of the glass office. The old clerk in the smoking-cap looked
down over the rim of his spectacles.
"Good-morning," he said, kindly and impressively. "You want
the letters for the Spiral department, Thomas?"
Paul resented being called "Thomas". But he took the letters
and returned to his dark place, where the counter made an angle,
where the great parcel-rack came to an end, and where there
were three doors in the corner. He sat on a high stool and read
the letters--those whose handwriting was not too difficult.
They ran as follows:
"Will you please send me at once a pair of lady's silk spiral
thigh-hose, without feet, such as I had from you last year;
length, thigh to knee, etc." Or, "Major Chamberlain wishes
to repeat his previous order for a silk non-elastic suspensory bandage."
Many of these letters, some of them in French or Norwegian,
were a great puzzle to the boy. He sat on his stool nervously awaiting
the arrival of his "boss". He suffered tortures of shyness when,
at half-past eight, the factory girls for upstairs trooped past him.
Mr. Pappleworth arrived, chewing a chlorodyne gum, at about
twenty to nine, when all the other men were at work. He was a thin,
sallow man with a red nose, quick, staccato, and smartly but
stiffly dressed. He was about thirty-six years old. There was
something rather "doggy", rather smart, rather 'cute and shrewd,
and something warm, and something slightly contemptible about him.
"You my new lad?" he said.
Paul stood up and said he was.
"Fetched the letters?"
Mr. Pappleworth gave a chew to his gum.
"Copied 'em?"
"Well, come on then, let's look slippy. Changed your coat?"
"You want to bring an old coat and leave it here." He pronounced
the last words with the chlorodyne gum between his side teeth.
He vanished into the darkness behind the great parcel-rack,
reappeared coatless, turning up a smart striped shirt-cuff over
a thin and hairy arm. Then he slipped into his coat. Paul noticed
how thin he was, and that his trousers were in folds behind.
He seized a stool, dragged it beside the boy's, and sat down.
"Sit down," he said.
Paul took a seat.
Mr. Pappleworth was very close to him. The man seized
the letters, snatched a long entry-book out of a rack in front
of him, flung it open, seized a pen, and said:
"Now look here. You want to copy these letters in here."
He sniffed twice, gave a quick chew at his gum, stared fixedly at
a letter, then went very still and absorbed, and wrote the entry rapidly,
in a beautiful flourishing hand. He glanced quickly at Paul.
"See that?"
"Think you can do it all right?"
"All right then, let's see you."
He sprang off his stool. Paul took a pen. Mr. Pappleworth
disappeared. Paul rather liked copying the letters, but he wrote slowly,
laboriously, and exceedingly badly. He was doing the fourth letter,
and feeling quite busy and happy, when Mr. Pappleworth reappeared.
"Now then, how'r' yer getting on? Done 'em?"
He leaned over the boy's shoulder, chewing, and smelling
of chlorodyne.
"Strike my bob, lad, but you're a beautiful writer!"
he exclaimed satirically. "Ne'er mind, how many h'yer done?
Only three! I'd 'a eaten 'em. Get on, my lad, an' put numbers
on 'em. Here, look! Get on!"
Paul ground away at the letters, whilst Mr. Pappleworth fussed
over various jobs. Suddenly the boy started as a shrill whistle
sounded near his ear. Mr. Pappleworth came, took a plug out of a pipe,
and said, in an amazingly cross and bossy voice:
Paul heard a faint voice, like a woman's, out of the mouth of
the tube. He gazed in wonder, never having seen a speaking-tube before.
"Well," said Mr. Pappleworth disagreeably into the tube,
"you'd better get some of your back work done, then."
Again the woman's tiny voice was heard, sounding pretty and cross.
"I've not time to stand here while you talk," said Mr. Pappleworth,
and he pushed the plug into the tube.
"Come, my lad," he said imploringly to Paul, "there's Polly
crying out for them orders. Can't you buck up a bit? Here, come out!"
He took the book, to Paul's immense chagrin, and began
the copying himself. He worked quickly and well. This done,
he seized some strips of long yellow paper, about three inches wide,
and made out the day's orders for the work-girls.
"You'd better watch me," he said to Paul, working all the
while rapidly. Paul watched the weird little drawings of legs,
and thighs, and ankles, with the strokes across and the numbers,
and the few brief directions which his chief made upon the yellow paper.
Then Mr. Pappleworth finished and jumped up.
"Come on with me," he said, and the yellow papers flying
in his hands, he dashed through a door and down some stairs,
into the basement where the gas was burning. They crossed the cold,
damp storeroom, then a long, dreary room with a long table on trestles,
into a smaller, cosy apartment, not very high, which had been
built on to the main building. In this room a small woman with
a red serge blouse, and her black hair done on top of her head,
was waiting like a proud little bantam.
"Here y'are!" said Pappleworth.
"I think it is 'here you are'!" exclaimed Polly. "The girls
have been here nearly half an hour waiting. Just think of the
time wasted!"
"YOU think of getting your work done and not talking so much,"
said Mr. Pappleworth. "You could ha' been finishing off."
"You know quite well we finished everything off on Saturday!"
cried Pony, flying at him, her dark eyes flashing.
"Tu-tu-tu-tu-terterter!" he mocked. "Here's your new lad.
Don't ruin him as you did the last."
"As we did the last!" repeated Polly. "Yes, WE do a lot
of ruining, we do. My word, a lad would TAKE some ruining after
he'd been with you."
"It's time for work now, not for talk," said Mr. Pappleworth
severely and coldly.
"It was time for work some time back," said Polly, marching away
with her head in the air. She was an erect little body of forty.
In that room were two round spiral machines on the bench under
the window. Through the inner doorway was another longer room,
with six more machines. A little group of girls, nicely dressed
in white aprons, stood talking together.
"Have you nothing else to do but talk?" said Mr. Pappleworth.
"Only wait for you," said one handsome girl, laughing.
"Well, get on, get on," he said. "Come on, my lad.
You'll know your road down here again."
And Paul ran upstairs after his chief. He was given some
checking and invoicing to do. He stood at the desk, labouring in his
execrable handwriting. Presently Mr. Jordan came strutting down from
the glass office and stood behind him, to the boy's great discomfort.
Suddenly a red and fat finger was thrust on the form he was filling in.
"MR. J. A. Bates, Esquire!" exclaimed the cross voice just
behind his ear.
Paul looked at "Mr. J. A. Bates, Esquire" in his own vile writing,
and wondered what was the matter now.
"Didn't they teach you any better THAN that while they were at it?
If you put 'Mr.' you don't put Esquire'-a man can't be both at once."
The boy regretted his too-much generosity in disposing
of honours, hesitated, and with trembling fingers, scratched out
the "Mr." Then all at once Mr. Jordan snatched away the invoice.
"Make another! Are you going to send that to a gentleman?"
And he tore up the blue form irritably.
Paul, his ears red with shame, began again.
Still Mr. Jordan watched.
"I don't know what they DO teach in schools. You'll have
to write better than that. Lads learn nothing nowadays, but how
to recite poetry and play the fiddle. Have you seen his writing?"
he asked of Mr. Pappleworth.
"Yes; prime, isn't it?" replied Mr. Pappleworth indifferently.
Mr. Jordan gave a little grunt, not unamiable. Paul divined
that his master's bark was worse than his bite. Indeed, the little
manufacturer, although he spoke bad English, was quite gentleman
enough to leave his men alone and to take no notice of trifles.
But he knew he did not look like the boss and owner of the show,
so he had to play his role of proprietor at first, to put things
on a right footing.
"Let's see, WHAT'S your name?" asked Mr. Pappleworth of the boy.
"Paul Morel."
It is curious that children suffer so much at having
to pronounce their own names.
"Paul Morel, is it? All right, you Paul-Morel through them
things there, and then---"
Mr. Pappleworth subsided on to a stool, and began writing.
A girl came up from out of a door just behind, put some
newly-pressed elastic web appliances on the counter, and returned.
Mr. Pappleworth picked up the whitey-blue knee-band, examined it,
and its yellow order-paper quickly, and put it on one side.
Next was a flesh-pink "leg". He went through the few things,
wrote out a couple of orders, and called to Paul to accompany him.
This time they went through the door whence the girl had emerged.
There Paul found himself at the top of a little wooden flight of steps,
and below him saw a room with windows round two sides, and at the
farther end half a dozen girls sitting bending over the benches in
the light from the window, sewing. They were singing together "Two
Little Girls in Blue". Hearing the door opened, they all turned round,
to see Mr. Pappleworth and Paul looking down on them from the far
end of the room. They stopped singing.
"Can't you make a bit less row?" said Mr. Pappleworth.
"Folk'll think we keep cats."
A hunchback woman on a high stool turned her long, rather heavy
face towards Mr. Pappleworth, and said, in a contralto voice:
"They're all tom-cats then."
In vain Mr. Pappleworth tried to be impressive for Paul's benefit.
He descended the steps into the finishing-off room,
and went to the hunchback Fanny. She had such
a short body on her high stool that her head, with its
great bands of bright brown hair, seemed over large, as did her pale,
heavy face. She wore a dress of green-black cashmere, and her wrists,
coming out of the narrow cuffs, were thin and flat, as she put
down her work nervously. He showed her something that was wrong
with a knee-cap.
"Well," she said, "you needn't come blaming it on to me.
It's not my fault." Her colour mounted to her cheek.
"I never said it WAS your fault. Will you do as I tell you?"
replied Mr. Pappleworth shortly.
"You don't say it's my fault, but you'd like to make out as it was,"
the hunchback woman cried, almost in tears. Then she snatched
the knee-cap from her "boss", saying: "Yes, I'll do it for you,
but you needn't be snappy."
"Here's your new lad," said Mr. Pappleworth.
Fanny turned, smiling very gently on Paul.
"Oh!" she said.
"Yes; don't make a softy of him between you."
"It's not us as 'ud make a softy of him," she said indignantly.
"Come on then, Paul," said Mr. Pappleworth.
"Au revoy, Paul," said one of the girls.
There was a titter of laughter. Paul went out, blushing deeply,
not having spoken a word.
The day was very long. All morning the work-people were coming
to speak to Mr. Pappleworth. Paul was writing or learning to make
up parcels, ready for the midday post. At one o'clock, or, rather,
at a quarter to one, Mr. Pappleworth disappeared to catch his train:
he lived in the suburbs. At one o'clock, Paul, feeling very lost,
took his dinner-basket down into the stockroom in the basement,
that had the long table on trestles, and ate his meal hurriedly,
alone in that cellar of gloom and desolation. Then he went out of doors.
The brightness and the freedom of the streets made him feel adventurous
and happy. But at two o'clock he was back in the corner of the
big room. Soon the work-girls went trooping past, making remarks.
It was the commoner girls who worked upstairs at the heavy tasks
of truss-making and the finishing of artificial limbs. He waited
for Mr. Pappleworth, not knowing what to do, sitting scribbling
on the yellow order-paper. Mr. Pappleworth came at twenty minutes
to three. Then he sat and gossiped with Paul, treating the boy
entirely as an equal, even in age.
In the afternoon there was never very much to do, unless it
were near the week-end, and the accounts had to be made up.
At five o'clock all the men went down into the dungeon with the
table on trestles, and there they had tea, eating bread-and-butter
on the bare, dirty boards, talking with the same kind of ugly
haste and slovenliness with which they ate their meal. And yet
upstairs the atmosphere among them was always jolly and clear.
The cellar and the trestles affected them.
After tea, when all the gases were lighted, WORK went more briskly.
There was the big evening post to get off. The hose came up warm
and newly pressed from the workrooms. Paul had made out the invoices.
Now he had the packing up and addressing to do, then he had
to weigh his stock of parcels on the scales. Everywhere voices
were calling weights, there was the chink of metal, the rapid
snapping of string, the hurrying to old Mr. Melling for stamps.
And at last the postman came with his sack, laughing and jolly.
Then everything slacked off, and Paul took his dinner-basket
and ran to the station to catch the eight-twenty train. The day
in the factory was just twelve hours long.
His mother sat waiting for him rather anxiously. He had to
walk from Keston, so was not home until about twenty past nine.
And he left the house before seven in the morning. Mrs. Morel
was rather anxious about his health. But she herself had had to put up
with so much that she expected her children to take the same odds.
They must go through with what came. And Paul stayed at Jordan's,
although all the time he was there his health suffered from the
darkness and lack of air and the long hours.
He came in pale and tired. His mother looked at him.
She saw he was rather pleased, and her anxiety all went.
"Well, and how was it?" she asked.
"Ever so funny, mother," he replied. "You don't have to work
a bit hard, and they're nice with you."
"And did you get on all right?"
"Yes: they only say my writing's bad. But Mr. Pappleworth--
he's my man--said to Mr. Jordan I should be all right.
I'm Spiral, mother; you must come and see. It's ever so nice."
Soon he liked Jordan's. Mr. Pappleworth, who had a certain
"saloon bar" flavour about him, was always natural, and treated
him as if he had been a comrade. Sometimes the "Spiral boss"
was irritable, and chewed more lozenges than ever. Even then,
however, he was not offensive, but one of those people who hurt
themselves by their own irritability more than they hurt other people.
"Haven't you done that YET?" he would cry. "Go on, be a month
of Sundays."
Again, and Paul could understand him least then, he was jocular
and in high spirits.
"I'm going to bring my little Yorkshire terrier bitch tomorrow,"
he said jubilantly to Paul.
"What's a Yorkshire terrier?"
"DON'T know what a Yorkshire terrier is? DON'T KNOW A YORKSHIRE---"
Mr. Pappleworth was aghast.
"Is it a little silky one--colours of iron and rusty silver?"
"THAT'S it, my lad. She's a gem. She's had five pounds'
worth of pups already, and she's worth over seven pounds herself;
and she doesn't weigh twenty ounces."
The next day the bitch came. She was a shivering, miserable morsel.
Paul did not care for her; she seemed so like a wet rag that would
never dry. Then a man called for her, and began to make coarse jokes.
But Mr. Pappleworth nodded his head in the direction of the boy,
and the talk went on sotto voce.
Mr. Jordan only made one more excursion to watch Paul,
and then the only fault he found was seeing the boy lay his pen
on the counter.
"Put your pen in your ear, if you're going to be a clerk.
Pen in your ear!" And one day he said to the lad: "Why don't you
hold your shoulders straighter? Come down here," when he took him
into the glass office and fitted him with special braces for keeping
the shoulders square.
But Paul liked the girls best. The men seemed common and
rather dull. He liked them all, but they were uninteresting. Polly,
the little brisk overseer downstairs, finding Paul eating in the cellar,
asked him if she could cook him anything on her little stove.
Next day his mother gave him a dish that could be heated up.
He took it into the pleasant, clean room to Polly. And very soon it
grew to be an established custom that he should have dinner with her.
When he came in at eight in the morning he took his basket to her,
and when he came down at one o'clock she had his dinner ready.
He was not very tall, and pale, with thick chestnut hair,
irregular features, and a wide, full mouth. She was like a small bird.
He often called her a "robinet". Though naturally rather quiet,
he would sit and chatter with her for hours telling her about his home.
The girls all liked to hear him talk. They often gathered in a little
circle while he sat on a bench, and held forth to them, laughing.
Some of them regarded him as a curious little creature, so serious,
yet so bright and jolly, and always so delicate in his way with them.
They all liked him, and he adored them. Polly he felt he belonged to.
Then Connie, with her mane of red hair, her face of apple-blossom,
her murmuring voice, such a lady in her shabby black frock,
appealed to his romantic side.
"When you sit winding," he said, "it looks as if you were
spinning at a spinning-wheel--it looks ever so nice. You remind
me of Elaine in the 'Idylls of the King'. I'd draw you if I could."
And she glanced at him blushing shyly. And later on he had
a sketch he prized very much: Connie sitting on the stool before
the wheel, her flowing mane of red hair on her rusty black frock,
her red mouth shut and serious, running the scarlet thread off
the hank on to the reel.
With Louie, handsome and brazen, who always seemed to thrust
her hip at him, he usually joked.
Emma was rather plain, rather old, and condescending.
But to condescend to him made her happy, and he did not mind.
"How do you put needles in?" he asked.
"Go away and don't bother."
"But I ought to know how to put needles in."
She ground at her machine all the while steadily.
"There are many things you ought to know," she replied.
"Tell me, then, how to stick needles in the machine."
"Oh, the boy, what a nuisance he is! Why, THIS is how you
do it."
He watched her attentively. Suddenly a whistle piped.
Then Polly appeared, and said in a clear voice:
"Mr. Pappleworth wants to know how much longer you're going
to be down here playing with the girls, Paul."
Paul flew upstairs, calling "Good-bye!" and Emma drew herself up.
"It wasn't ME who wanted him to play with the machine,"
she said.
As a rule, when all the girls came back at two o'clock, he
ran upstairs to Fanny, the hunchback, in the finishing-off room.
Mr. Pappleworth did not appear till twenty to three, and he often
found his boy sitting beside Fanny, talking, or drawing, or singing
with the girls.
Often, after a minute's hesitation, Fanny would begin to sing.
She had a fine contralto voice. Everybody joined in the chorus,
and it went well. Paul was not at all embarrassed, after a while,
sitting in the room with the half a dozen work-girls.
At the end of the song Fanny would say:
"I know you've been laughing at me."
"Don't be so soft, Fanny!" cried one of the girls.
Once there was mention of Connie's red hair.
"Fanny's is better, to my fancy," said Emma.
"You needn't try to make a fool of me," said Fanny, flushing deeply.
"No, but she has, Paul; she's got beautiful hair."
"It's a treat of a colour," said he. "That coldish colour
like earth, and yet shiny. It's like bog-water."
"Goodness me!" exclaimed one girl, laughing.
"How I do but get criticised," said Fanny.
"But you should see it down, Paul," cried Emma earnestly.
"It's simply beautiful. Put it down for him, Fanny, if he wants
something to paint."
Fanny would not, and yet she wanted to.
"Then I'll take it down myself," said the lad.
"Well, you can if you like," said Fanny.
And he carefully took the pins out of the knot, and the rush
of hair, of uniform dark brown, slid over the humped back.
"What a lovely lot!" he exclaimed.
The girls watched. There was silence. The youth shook
the hair loose from the coil.
"It's splendid!" he said, smelling its perfume. "I'll bet
it's worth pounds."
"I'll leave it you when I die, Paul," said Fanny, half joking.
"You look just like anybody else, sitting drying their hair,"
said one of the girls to the long-legged hunchback.
Poor Fanny was morbidly sensitive, always imagining insults.
Polly was curt and businesslike. The two departments were for ever
at war, and Paul was always finding Fanny in tears. Then he was
made the recipient of all her woes, and he had to plead her case
with Polly.
So the time went along happily enough. The factory had a
homely feel. No one was rushed or driven. Paul always enjoyed
it when the work got faster, towards post-time, and all the men
united in labour. He liked to watch his fellow-clerks at work.
The man was the work and the work was the man, one thing, for the
time being. It was different with the girls. The real woman
never seemed to be there at the task, but as if left out, waiting.
From the train going home at night he used to watch the lights
of the town, sprinkled thick on the hills, fusing together in a blaze
in the valleys. He felt rich in life and happy. Drawing farther off,
there was a patch of lights at Bulwell like myriad petals shaken
to the ground from the shed stars; and beyond was the red glare
of the furnaces, playing like hot breath on the clouds.
He had to walk two and more miles from Keston home,
up two long hills, down two short hills. He was often tired,
and he counted the lamps climbing the hill above him, how many more
to pass. And from the hilltop, on pitch-dark nights, he looked
round on the villages five or six miles away, that shone like swarms
of glittering living things, almost a heaven against his feet.
Marlpool and Heanor scattered the far-off darkness with brilliance.
And occasionally the black valley space between was traced,
violated by a great train rushing south to London or north to Scotland.
The trains roared by like projectiles level on the darkness,
fuming and burning, making the valley clang with their passage.
They were gone, and the lights of the towns and villages glittered
in silence.
And then he came to the corner at home, which faced the
other side of the night. The ash-tree seemed a friend now.
His mother rose with gladness as he entered. He put his eight
shillings proudly on the table.
"It'll help, mother?" he asked wistfully.
"There's precious little left," she answered, "after your
ticket and dinners and such are taken off."
Then he told her the budget of the day. His life-story,
like an Arabian Nights, was told night after night to his mother.
It was almost as if it were her own life.
ARTHUR MOREL was growing up. He was a quick, careless, impulsive boy,
a good deal like his father. He hated study, made a great moan if he
had to work, and escaped as soon as possible to his sport again.
In appearance he remained the flower of the family,
being well made, graceful, and full of life. His dark brown hair
and fresh colouring, and his exquisite dark blue eyes shaded with
long lashes, together with his generous manner and fiery temper,
made him a favourite. But as he grew older his temper became uncertain.
He flew into rages over nothing, seemed unbearably raw and irritable.
His mother, whom he loved, wearied of him sometimes.
He thought only of himself. When he wanted amusement, all that
stood in his way he hated, even if it were she.
When he was in trouble he moaned to her ceaselessly.
"Goodness, boy!" she said, when he groaned about a master who,
he said, hated him, "if you don't like it, alter it, and if you
can't alter it, put up with it."
And his father, whom he had loved and who had worshipped him,
he came to detest. As he grew older Morel fell into a slow ruin.
His body, which had been beautiful in movement and in being,
shrank, did not seem to ripen with the years, but to get mean
and rather despicable. There came over him a look of meanness
and of paltriness. And when the mean-looking elderly man bullied or
ordered the boy about, Arthur was furious. Moreover, Morel's manners
got worse and worse, his habits somewhat disgusting. When the
children were growing up and in the crucial stage of adolescence,
the father was like some ugly irritant to their souls. His manners
in the house were the same as he used among the colliers down pit.
"Dirty nuisance!" Arthur would cry, jumping up and going
straight out of the house when his father disgusted him.
And Morel persisted the more because his children hated it.
He seemed to take a kind of satisfaction in disgusting them,
and driving them nearly mad, while they were so irritably sensitive
at the age of fourteen or fifteen. So that Arthur, who was growing
up when his father was degenerate and elderly, hated him worst
of all.
Then, sometimes, the father would seem to feel the contemptuous
hatred of his children.
"There's not a man tries harder for his family!" he would shout.
"He does his best for them, and then gets treated like a dog.
But I'm not going to stand it, I tell you!"
But for the threat and the fact that he did not try so hard
as be imagined, they would have felt sorry. As it was, the battle
now went on nearly all between father and children, he persisting
in his dirty and disgusting ways, just to assert his independence.
They loathed him.
Arthur was so inflamed and irritable at last, that when he
won a scholarship for the Grammar School in Nottingham, his mother
decided to let him live in town, with one of her sisters, and only
come home at week-ends.
Annie was still a junior teacher in the Board-school, earning
about four shillings a week. But soon she would have fifteen shillings,
since she had passed her examination, and there would be financial
peace in the house.
Mrs. Morel clung now to Paul. He was quiet and not brilliant.
But still he stuck to his painting, and still he stuck to his mother.
Everything he did was for her. She waited for his coming home
in the evening, and then she unburdened herself of all she
had pondered, or of all that had occurred to her during the day.
He sat and listened with his earnestness. The two shared lives.
William was engaged now to his brunette, and had bought her
an engagement ring that cost eight guineas. The children gasped
at such a fabulous price.
"Eight guineas!" said Morel. "More fool him! If he'd gen me
some on't, it 'ud ha' looked better on 'im."
"Given YOU some of it!" cried Mrs. Morel. "Why give YOU
some of it!"
She remembered HE had bought no engagement ring at all,
and she preferred William, who was not mean, if he were foolish.
But now the young man talked only of the dances to which he went
with his betrothed, and the different resplendent clothes she wore;
or he told his mother with glee how they went to the theatre like
great swells.
He wanted to bring the girl home. Mrs. Morel said she
should come at the Christmas. This time William arrived with
a lady, but with no presents. Mrs. Morel had prepared supper.
Hearing footsteps, she rose and went to the door. William entered.
"Hello, mother!" He kissed her hastily, then stood aside
to present a tall, handsome girl, who was wearing a costume of fine
black-and-white check, and furs.
"Here's Gyp!"
Miss Western held out her hand and showed her teeth in a small smile.
"Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Morel!" she exclaimed.
"I am afraid you will be hungry," said Mrs. Morel.
"Oh no, we had dinner in the train. Have you got my gloves, Chubby?"
William Morel, big and raw-boned, looked at her quickly.
"How should I?" he said.
"Then I've lost them. Don't be cross with me."
A frown went over his face, but he said nothing. She glanced
round the kitchen. It was small and curious to her, with its
glittering kissing-bunch, its evergreens behind the pictures,
its wooden chairs and little deal table. At that moment Morel
came in.
"Hello, dad!"
"Hello, my son! Tha's let on me!"
The two shook hands, and William presented the lady.
She gave the same smile that showed her teeth.
"How do you do, Mr. Morel?"
Morel bowed obsequiously.
"I'm very well, and I hope so are you. You must make yourself
very welcome."
"Oh, thank you," she replied, rather amused.
"You will like to go upstairs," said Mrs. Morel.
"If you don't mind; but not if it is any trouble to you."
"It is no trouble. Annie will take you. Walter, carry up
this box."
"And don't be an hour dressing yourself up," said William
to his betrothed.
Annie took a brass candlestick, and, too shy almost to speak,
preceded the young lady to the front bedroom, which Mr. and Mrs. Morel
had vacated for her. It, too, was small and cold by candlelight.
The colliers' wives only lit fires in bedrooms in case of extreme illness.
"Shall I unstrap the box?" asked Annie.
"Oh, thank you very much!"
Annie played the part of maid, then went downstairs for hot water.
"I think she's rather tired, mother," said William.
"It's a beastly journey, and we had such a rush."
"Is there anything I can give her?" asked Mrs. Morel.
"Oh no, she'll be all right."
But there was a chill in the atmosphere. After half an hour
Miss Western came down, having put on a purplish-coloured dress,
very fine for the collier's kitchen.
"I told you you'd no need to change," said William to her.
"Oh, Chubby!" Then she turned with that sweetish smile
to Mrs. Morel. "Don't you think he's always grumbling, Mrs. Morel?"
"Is he?" said Mrs. Morel. "That's not very nice of him."
"It isn't, really!"
"You are cold," said the mother. "Won't you come near the fire?"
Morel jumped out of his armchair.
"Come and sit you here!" he cried. "Come and sit you here!"
"No, dad, keep your own chair. Sit on the sofa, Gyp," said William.
"No, no!" cried Morel. "This cheer's warmest. Come and sit here,
Miss Wesson."
"Thank you so much," said the girl, seating herself
in the collier's armchair, the place of honour. She shivered,
feeling the warmth of the kitchen penetrate her.
"Fetch me a hanky, Chubby dear!" she said, putting up her mouth
to him, and using the same intimate tone as if they were alone;
which made the rest of the family feel as if they ought not to
be present. The young lady evidently did not realise them as people:
they were creatures to her for the present. William winced.
In such a household, in Streatham, Miss Western would have been
a lady condescending to her inferiors. These people were to her,
certainly clownish--in short, the working classes. How was she
to adjust herself?
"I'll go," said Annie.
Miss Western took no notice, as if a servant had spoken.
But when the girl came downstairs again with the handkerchief,
she said: "Oh, thank you!" in a gracious way.
She sat and talked about the dinner on the train, which had been
so poor; about London, about dances. She was really very nervous,
and chattered from fear. Morel sat all the time smoking his thick
twist tobacco, watching her, and listening to her glib London speech,
as he puffed. Mrs. Morel, dressed up in her best black silk blouse,
answered quietly and rather briefly. The three children sat
round in silence and admiration. Miss Western was the princess.
Everything of the best was got out for her: the best cups,
the best spoons, the best table cloth, the best coffee-jug. The
children thought she must find it quite grand. She felt strange,
not able to realise the people, not knowing how to treat them.
William joked, and was slightly uncomfortable.
At about ten o'clock he said to her:
"Aren't you tired, Gyp?"
"Rather, Chubby," she answered, at once in the intimate tones
and putting her head slightly on one side.
"I'll light her the candle, mother," he said.
"Very well," replied the mother.
Miss Western stood up, held out her hand to Mrs. Morel.
"Good-night, Mrs. Morel," she said.
Paul sat at the boiler, letting the water run from the tap
into a stone beer-bottle. Annie swathed the bottle in an old flannel
pit-singlet, and kissed her mother good-night. She was to share
the room with the lady, because the house was full.
"You wait a minute," said Mrs. Morel to Annie. And Annie sat
nursing the hot-water bottle. Miss Western shook hands all round,
to everybody's discomfort, and took her departure, preceded by William.
In five minutes he was downstairs again. His heart was rather sore;
he did not know why. He talked very little till everybody had gone
to bed, but himself and his mother. Then he stood with his legs apart,
in his old attitude on the hearthrug, and said hesitatingly:
"Well, mother?"
"Well, my son?"
She sat in the rocking-chair, feeling somehow hurt and humiliated,
for his sake.
"Do you like her?"
"Yes," came the slow answer.
"She's shy yet, mother. She's not used to it. It's different
from her aunt's house, you know."
"Of course it is, my boy; and she must find it difficult."
"She does." Then he frowned swiftly. "If only she wouldn't
put on her BLESSED airs!"
"It's only her first awkwardness, my boy. She'll be all right."
"That's it, mother," he replied gratefully. But his brow
was gloomy. "You know, she's not like you, mother. She's not serious,
and she can't think."
"She's young, my boy."
"Yes; and she's had no sort of show. Her mother died when she was
a child. Since then she's lived with her aunt, whom she can't bear.
And her father was a rake. She's had no love."
"No! Well, you must make up to her."
"And so--you have to forgive her a lot of things."
"WHAT do you have to forgive her, my boy?"
"I dunno. When she seems shallow, you have to remember she's
never had anybody to bring her deeper side out. And she's FEARFULLY
fond of me."
"Anybody can see that."
"But you know, mother--she's--she's different from us.
Those sort of people, like those she lives amongst, they don't seem
to have the same principles."
"You mustn't judge too hastily," said Mrs. Morel.
But he seemed uneasy within himself.
In the morning, however, he was up singing and larking round
the house.
"Hello!" he called, sitting on the stairs. "Are you getting up?"
"Yes," her voice called faintly.
"Merry Christmas!" he shouted to her.
Her laugh, pretty and tinkling, was heard in the bedroom.
She did not come down in half an hour.
"Was she REALLY getting up when she said she was?" he asked
of Annie.
"Yes, she was," replied Annie.
He waited a while, then went to the stairs again.
"Happy New Year," he called.
"Thank you, Chubby dear!" came the laughing voice, far away.
"Buck up!" he implored.
It was nearly an hour, and still he was waiting for her.
Morel, who always rose before six, looked at the clock.
"Well, it's a winder!" he exclaimed.
The family had breakfasted, all but William. He went
to the foot of the stairs.
"Shall I have to send you an Easter egg up there?" he called,
rather crossly. She only laughed. The family expected, after that
time of preparation, something like magic. At last she came,
looking very nice in a blouse and skirt.
"Have you REALLY been all this time getting ready?" he asked.
"Chubby dear! That question is not permitted, is it,
Mrs. Morel?"
She played the grand lady at first. When she went with William
to chapel, he in his frock-coat and silk hat, she in her furs
and London-made costume, Paul and Arthur and Annie expected
everybody to bow to the ground in admiration.
And Morel, standing in his Sunday suit at the end of the road,
watching the gallant pair go, felt he was the father of princes
and princesses.
And yet she was not so grand. For a year now she had been
a sort of secretary or clerk in a London office. But while she
was with the Morels she queened it. She sat and let Annie or Paul
wait on her as if they were her servants. She treated Mrs. Morel
with a certain glibness and Morel with patronage. But after a day
or so she began to change her tune.
William always wanted Paul or Annie to go along with them
on their walks. It was so much more interesting. And Paul really
DID admire "Gipsy" wholeheartedly; in fact, his mother scarcely
forgave the boy for the adulation with which he treated the girl.
On the second day, when Lily said: "Oh, Annie, do you know
where I left my muff?" William replied:
"You know it is in your bedroom. Why do you ask Annie?"
And Lily went upstairs with a cross, shut mouth. But it
angered the young man that she made a servant of his sister.
On the third evening William and Lily were sitting together
in the parlour by the fire in the dark. At a quarter to eleven
Mrs. Morel was heard raking the fire. William came out to the kitchen,
followed by his beloved.
"Is it as late as that, mother?" he said. She had been
sitting alone.
"It is not LATE, my boy, but it is as late as I usually sit up."
"Won't you go to bed, then?" he asked.
"And leave you two? No, my boy, I don't believe in it."
"Can't you trust us, mother?"
"Whether I can or not, I won't do it. You can stay till eleven
if you like, and I can read."
"Go to bed, Gyp," he said to his girl. "We won't keep
mater waiting."
"Annie has left the candle burning, Lily," said Mrs. Morel;
"I think you will see."
"Yes, thank you. Good-night, Mrs. Morel."
William kissed his sweetheart at the foot of the stairs,
and she went. He returned to the kitchen.
"Can't you trust us, mother?" he repeated, rather offended.
"My boy, I tell you I don't BELIEVE in leaving two young
things like you alone downstairs when everyone else is in bed."
And he was forced to take this answer. He kissed his mother
At Easter he came over alone. And then he discussed his
sweetheart endlessly with his mother.
"You know, mother, when I'm away from her I don't care for her
a bit. I shouldn't care if I never saw her again. But, then,
when I'm with her in the evenings I am awfully fond of her."
"It's a queer sort of love to marry on," said Mrs. Morel,
"if she holds you no more than that!"
"It IS funny!" he exclaimed. It worried and perplexed him.
"But yet--there's so much between us now I couldn't give her up."
"You know best," said Mrs. Morel. "But if it is as you say, I
wouldn't call it LOVE--at any rate, it doesn't look much like it."
"Oh, I don't know, mother. She's an orphan, and---"
They never came to any sort of conclusion. He seemed puzzled
and rather fretted. She was rather reserved. All his strength
and money went in keeping this girl. He could scarcely afford
to take his mother to Nottingham when he came over.
Paul's wages had been raised at Christmas to ten shillings,
to his great joy. He was quite happy at Jordan's, but his health
suffered from the long hours and the confinement. His mother,
to whom he became more and more significant, thought how to help.
His half-day holiday was on Monday afternoon. On a Monday
morning in May, as the two sat alone at breakfast, she said:
"I think it will be a fine day."
He looked up in surprise. This meant something.
"You know Mr. Leivers has gone to live on a new farm.
Well, he asked me last week if I wouldn't go and see Mrs. Leivers,
and I promised to bring you on Monday if it's fine. Shall we go?"
"I say, little woman, how lovely!" he cried. "And we'll go
this afternoon?"
Paul hurried off to the station jubilant. Down Derby Road
was a cherry-tree that glistened. The old brick wall by the
Statutes ground burned scarlet, spring was a very flame of green.
And the steep swoop of highroad lay, in its cool morning dust,
splendid with patterns of sunshine and shadow, perfectly still.
The trees sloped their great green shoulders proudly; and inside
the warehouse all the morning, the boy had
a vision of spring outside.
When he came home at dinner-time his mother was rather excited.
"Are we going?" he asked.
"When I'm ready," she replied.
Presently he got up.
"Go and get dressed while I wash up," he said.
She did so. He washed the pots, straightened, and then took
her boots. They were quite clean. Mrs. Morel was one of those naturally
exquisite people who can walk in mud without dirtying their shoes.
But Paul had to clean them for her. They were kid boots at eight
shillings a pair. He, however, thought them the most dainty boots
in the world, and he cleaned them with as much reverence as if they
had been flowers.
Suddenly she appeared in the inner doorway rather shyly.
She had got a new cotton blouse on. Paul jumped up and went forward.
"Oh, my stars!" he exclaimed. "What a bobby-dazzler!"
She sniffed in a little haughty way, and put her head up.
"It's not a bobby-dazzler at all!" she replied. "It's very quiet."
She walked forward, whilst he hovered round her.
"Well," she asked, quite shy, but pretending to be high
and mighty, "do you like it?"
"Awfully! You ARE a fine little woman to go jaunting out with!"
He went and surveyed her from the back.
"Well," he said, "if I was walking down the street behind you,
I should say: 'Doesn't THAT little person fancy herself!"'
"Well, she doesn't," replied Mrs. Morel. "She's not sure it
suits her."
"Oh no! she wants to be in dirty black, looking as if she was
wrapped in burnt paper. It DOES suit you, and I say you look nice."
She sniffed in her little way, pleased, but pretending
to know better.
"Well," she said, "it's cost me just three shillings.
You couldn't have got it ready-made for that price, could you?"
"I should think you couldn't," he replied.
"And, you know, it's good stuff."
"Awfully pretty," he said.
The blouse was white, with a little sprig of heliotrope and black.
"Too young for me, though, I'm afraid," she said.
"Too young for you!" he exclaimed in disgust. "Why don't you
buy some false white hair and stick it on your head."
"I s'll soon have no need," she replied. "I'm going white
fast enough."
"Well, you've no business to," he said. "What do I want
with a white-haired mother?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to put up with one, my lad," she said
rather strangely.
They set off in great style, she carrying the umbrella William
had given her, because of the sun. Paul was considerably taller
than she, though he was not big. He fancied himself.
On the fallow land the young wheat shone silkily. Minton pit
waved its plumes of white steam, coughed, and rattled hoarsely.
"Now look at that!" said Mrs. Morel. Mother and son stood on
the road to watch. Along the ridge of the great pit-hill crawled
a little group in silhouette against the sky, a horse, a small truck,
and a man. They climbed the incline against the heavens.
At the end the man tipped the wagon. There was an undue rattle
as the waste fell down the sheer slope of the enormous bank.
"You sit a minute, mother," he said, and she took a seat on
a bank, whilst he sketched rapidly. She was silent whilst he worked,
looking round at the afternoon, the red cottages shining among
their greenness.
"The world is a wonderful place," she said, "and wonderfully
"And so's the pit," he said. "Look how it heaps together,
like something alive almost--a big creature that you don't know."
"Yes," she said. "Perhaps!"
"And all the trucks standing waiting, like a string of beasts
to be fed," he said.
"And very thankful I am they ARE standing," she said,
"for that means they'll turn middling time this week."
"But I like the feel of MEN on things, while they're alive.
There's a feel of men about trucks, because they've been handled
with men's hands, all of them."
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel.
They went along under the trees of the highroad. He was
constantly informing her, but she was interested. They passed
the end of Nethermere, that was tossing its sunshine like petals lightly
in its lap. Then they turned on a private road, and in some
trepidation approached a big farm. A dog barked furiously.
A woman came out to see.
"Is this the way to Willey Farm?" Mrs. Morel asked.
Paul hung behind in terror of being sent back. But the woman
was amiable, and directed them. The mother and son went through
the wheat and oats, over a little bridge into a wild meadow.
Peewits, with their white breasts glistening, wheeled and screamed
about them. The lake was still and blue. High overhead
a heron floated. Opposite, the wood heaped on the hill, green and still.
"It's a wild road, mother," said Paul. "Just like Canada."
"Isn't it beautiful!" said Mrs. Morel, looking round.
"See that heron--see--see her legs?"
He directed his mother, what she must see and what not.
And she was quite content.
"But now," she said, "which way? He told me through the wood."
The wood, fenced and dark, lay on their left.
"I can feel a bit of a path this road," said Paul. "You've got
town feet, somehow or other, you have."
They found a little gate, and soon were in a broad green
alley of the wood, with a new thicket of fir and pine on one hand,
an old oak glade dipping down on the other. And among the oaks
the bluebells stood in pools of azure, under the new green hazels,
upon a pale fawn floor of oak-leaves. He found flowers for her.
"Here's a bit of new-mown hay," he said; then, again, he brought
her forget-me-nots. And, again, his heart hurt with love, seeing her hand,
used with work, holding the little bunch of flowers he gave her.
She was perfectly happy.
But at the end of the riding was a fence to climb. Paul was
over in a second.
"Come," he said, "let me help you."
"No, go away. I will do it in my own way."
He stood below with his hands up ready to help her.
She climbed cautiously.
"What a way to climb!" he exclaimed scornfully, when she
was safely to earth again.
"Hateful stiles!" she cried.
"Duffer of a little woman," he replied, "who can't get over 'em."
In front, along the edge of the wood, was a cluster of low red
farm buildings. The two hastened forward. Flush with the wood
was the apple orchard, where blossom was falling on the grindstone.
The pond was deep under a hedge and overhanging oak trees.
Some cows stood in the shade. The farm and buildings, three sides
of a quadrangle, embraced the sunshine towards the wood. It was
very still.
Mother and son went into the small railed garden, where was
a scent of red gillivers. By the open door were some floury loaves,
put out to cool. A hen was just coming to peck them. Then, in the
doorway suddenly appeared a girl in a dirty apron. She was about
fourteen years old, had a rosy dark face, a bunch of short black curls,
very fine and free, and dark eyes; shy, questioning, a little
resentful of the strangers, she disappeared. In a minute another
figure appeared, a small, frail woman, rosy, with great dark brown eyes.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, smiling with a little glow, "you've come,
then. I AM glad to see you." Her voice was intimate and rather sad.
The two women shook hands.
"Now are you sure we're not a bother to you?" said Mrs. Morel.
"I know what a farming life is."
"Oh no! We're only too thankful to see a new face, it's so
lost up here."
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Morel.
They were taken through into the parlour--a long, low room,
with a great bunch of guelder-roses in the fireplace. There the
women talked, whilst Paul went out to survey the land. He was
in the garden smelling the gillivers and looking at the plants,
when the girl came out quickly to the heap of coal which stood
by the fence.
"I suppose these are cabbage-roses?" he said to her,
pointing to the bushes along the fence.
She looked at him with startled, big brown eyes.
"I suppose they are cabbage-roses when they come out?"
he said.
"I don't know," she faltered. "They're white with pink middles."
"Then they're maiden-blush."
Miriam flushed. She had a beautiful warm colouring.
"I don't know," she said.
"You don't have MUCH in your garden," he said.
"This is our first year here," she answered, in a distant,
rather superior way, drawing back and going indoors. He did not notice,
but went his round of exploration. Presently his mother came out,
and they went through the buildings. Paul was hugely delighted.
"And I suppose you have the fowls and calves and pigs
to look after?" said Mrs. Morel to Mrs. Leivers.
"No," replied the little woman. "I can't find time to look
after cattle, and I'm not used to it. It's as much as I can
do to keep going in the house."
"Well, I suppose it is," said Mrs. Morel.
Presently the girl came out.
"Tea is ready, mother," she said in a musical, quiet voice.
"Oh, thank you, Miriam, then we'll come," replied her mother,
almost ingratiatingly. "Would you CARE to have tea now, Mrs. Morel?"
"Of course," said Mrs. Morel. "Whenever it's ready."
Paul and his mother and Mrs. Leivers had tea together.
Then they went out into the wood that was flooded with bluebells,
while fumy forget-me-nots were in the paths. The mother and son were
in ecstasy together.
When they got back to the house, Mr. Leivers and Edgar,
the eldest son, were in the kitchen. Edgar was about eighteen.
Then Geoffrey and Maurice, big lads of twelve and thirteen, were in
from school. Mr. Leivers was a good-looking man in the prime of life,
with a golden-brown moustache, and blue eyes screwed up against
the weather.
The boys were condescending, but Paul scarcely observed it.
They went round for eggs, scrambling into all sorts of places.
As they were feeding the fowls Miriam came out. The boys took no
notice of her. One hen, with her yellow chickens, was in a coop.
Maurice took his hand full of corn and let the hen peck from it.
"Durst you do it?" he asked of Paul.
"Let's see," said Paul.
He had a small hand, warm, and rather capable-looking.
Miriam watched. He held the corn to the hen. The bird eyed it with her
hard, bright eye, and suddenly made a peck into his hand. He started,
and laughed. "Rap, rap, rap!" went the bird's beak in his palm.
He laughed again, and the other boys joined.
"She knocks you, and nips you, but she never hurts," said Paul,
when the last corn had gone. " Now, Miriam," said Maurice, "you come
an 'ave a go."
"No," she cried, shrinking back.
"Ha! baby. The mardy-kid!" said her brothers.
"It doesn't hurt a bit," said Paul. "It only just nips
rather nicely."
"No," she still cried, shaking her black curls and shrinking.
"She dursn't," said Geoffrey. "She niver durst do anything
except recite poitry."
"Dursn't jump off a gate, dursn't tweedle, dursn't go on a slide,
dursn't stop a girl hittin' her. She can do nowt but go about thinkin'
herself somebody. 'The Lady of the Lake.' Yah!" cried Maurice.
Miriam was crimson with shame and misery.
"I dare do more than you," she cried. "You're never anything
but cowards and bullies."
"Oh, cowards and bullies!" they repeated mincingly,
mocking her speech.
"Not such a clown shall anger me,
A boor is answered silently,"
he quoted against her, shouting with laughter.
She went indoors. Paul went with the boys into the orchard,
where they had rigged up a parallel bar. They did feats of strength.
He was more agile than strong, but it served. He fingered a piece
of apple-blossom that hung low on a swinging bough.
"I wouldn't get the apple-blossom," said Edgar, the eldest brother.
"There'll be no apples next year."
"I wasn't going to get it," replied Paul, going away.
The boys felt hostile to him; they were more interested in their
own pursuits. He wandered back to the house to look for his mother.
As he went round the back, he saw Miriam kneeling in front of the
hen-coop, some maize in her hand, biting her lip, and crouching
in an intense attitude. The hen was eyeing her wickedly.
Very gingerly she put forward her hand. The hen bobbed for her.
She drew back quickly with a cry, half of fear, half of chagrin.
"It won't hurt you," said Paul.
She flushed crimson and started up.
"I only wanted to try," she said in a low voice.
"See, it doesn't hurt," he said, and, putting only two corns
in his palm, he let the hen peck, peck, peck at his bare hand.
"It only makes you laugh," he said.
She put her hand forward and dragged it away, tried again,
and started back with a cry. He frowned.
"Why, I'd let her take corn from my face," said Paul,
"only she bumps a bit. She's ever so neat. If she wasn't, look
how much ground she'd peck up every day."
He waited grimly, and watched. At last Miriam let the bird
peck from her hand. She gave a little cry--fear, and pain because
of fear--rather pathetic. But she had done it, and she did it again.
"There, you see," said the boy. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"
She looked at him with dilated dark eyes.
"No," she laughed, trembling.
Then she rose and went indoors. She seemed to be in some way
resentful of the boy.
"He thinks I'm only a common girl," she thought, and she wanted
to prove she was a grand person like the "Lady of the Lake".
Paul found his mother ready to go home. She smiled on her son.
He took the great bunch of flowers. Mr. and Mrs. Leivers walked
down the fields with them. The hills were golden with evening;
deep in the woods showed the darkening purple of bluebells.
It was everywhere perfectly stiff, save for the rustling of leaves
and birds.
"But it is a beautiful place," said Mrs. Morel.
"Yes," answered Mr. Leivers; "it's a nice little place, if only
it weren't for the rabbits. The pasture's bitten down to nothing.
I dunno if ever I s'll get the rent off it."
He clapped his hands, and the field broke into motion near
the woods, brown rabbits hopping everywhere.
"Would you believe it!" exclaimed Mrs. Morel.
She and Paul went on alone together.
"Wasn't it lovely, mother?" he said quietly.
A thin moon was coming out. His heart was full of happiness
till it hurt. His mother had to chatter, because she, too,
wanted to cry with happiness.
"Now WOULDN'T I help that man!" she said. "WOULDN'T I see
to the fowls and the young stock! And I'D learn to milk, and I'D
talk with him, and I'D plan with him. My word, if I were his wife,
the farm would be run, I know! But there, she hasn't the strength--she
simply hasn't the strength. She ought never to have been burdened
like it, you know. I'm sorry for her, and I'm sorry for him too.
My word, if I'D had him, I shouldn't have thought him a bad husband!
Not that she does either; and she's very lovable."
William came home again with his sweetheart at the Whitsuntide.
He had one week of his holidays then. It was beautiful weather.
As a rule, William and Lily and Paul went out in the morning together
for a walk. William did not talk to his beloved much, except to tell
her things from his boyhood. Paul talked endlessly to both of them.
They lay down, all three, in a meadow by Minton Church. On one side,
by the Castle Farm, was a beautiful quivering screen of poplars.
Hawthorn was dropping from the hedges; penny daisies and ragged
robin were in the field, like laughter. William, a big fellow
of twenty-three, thinner now and even a bit gaunt, lay back
in the sunshine and dreamed, while she fingered with his hair.
Paul went gathering the big daisies. She had taken off her hat;
her hair was black as a horse's mane. Paul came back and threaded
daisies in her jet-black hair--big spangles of white and yellow, and just
a pink touch of ragged robin.
"Now you look like a young witch-woman," the boy said to her.
"Doesn't she, William?"
Lily laughed. William opened his eyes and looked at her.
In his gaze was a certain baffled look of misery and fierce appreciation.
"Has he made a sight of me?" she asked, laughing down on
her lover.
"That he has!" said William, smiling.
He looked at her. Her beauty seemed to hurt him. He glanced
at her flower-decked head and frowned.
"You look nice enough, if that's what you want to know,"
he said.
And she walked without her hat. In a little while William
recovered, and was rather tender to her. Coming to a bridge,
he carved her initials and his in a heart.
L. L. W.
W. M.
She watched his strong, nervous hand, with its glistening
hairs and freckles, as he carved, and she seemed fascinated by it.
All the time there was a feeling of sadness and warmth,
and a certain tenderness in the house, whilst William and Lily
were at home. But often he got irritable. She had brought,
for an eight-days' stay, five dresses and six blouses.
"Oh, would you mind," she said to Annie, "washing me these
two blouses, and these things?"
And Annie stood washing when William and Lily went out the
next morning. Mrs. Morel was furious. And sometimes the young man,
catching a glimpse of his sweetheart's attitude towards his sister,
hated her.
On Sunday morning she looked very beautiful in a dress
of foulard, silky and sweeping, and blue as a jay-bird's feather,
and in a large cream hat covered with many roses, mostly crimson.
Nobody could admire her enough. But in the evening, when she was
going out, she asked again:
"Chubby, have you got my gloves?"
"Which?" asked William.
"My new black SUEDE."
There was a hunt. She had lost them.
"Look here, mother," said William, "that's the fourth pair
she's lost since Christmas--at five shillings a pair!"
"You only gave me TWO of them," she remonstrated.
And in the evening, after supper, he stood on the hearthrug
whilst she sat on the sofa, and he seemed to hate her. In the
afternoon he had left her whilst he went to see some old friend.
She had sat looking at a book. After supper William wanted to write
a letter.
"Here is your book, Lily," said Mrs. Morel. "Would you care
to go on with it for a few minutes?"
"No, thank you," said the girl. "I will sit still."
"But it is so dull."
William scribbled irritably at a great rate. As he sealed
the envelope he said:
"Read a book! Why, she's never read a book in her life."
"Oh, go along!" said Mrs. Morel, cross with the exaggeration,
"It's true, mother--she hasn't," he cried, jumping up and taking
his old position on the hearthrug. "She's never read a book in her life."
"'Er's like me," chimed in Morel. "'Er canna see what there
is i' books, ter sit borin' your nose in 'em for, nor more can I."
"But you shouldn't say these things," said Mrs. Morel to her son.
"But it's true, mother--she CAN'T read. What did you give her?"
"Well, I gave her a little thing of Annie Swan's. Nobody wants
to read dry stuff on Sunday afternoon."
"Well, I'll bet she didn't read ten lines of it."
"You are mistaken," said his mother.
All the time Lily sat miserably on the sofa. He turned
to her swiftly.
"DID you ready any?" he asked.
"Yes, I did," she replied.
"How much?"
"l don't know how many pages."
"Tell me ONE THING you read."
She could not.
She never got beyond the second page. He read a great deal,
and had a quick, active intelligence. She could understand nothing but
love-making and chatter. He was accustomed to having all his thoughts
sifted through his mother's mind; so, when he wanted companionship,
and was asked in reply to be the billing and twittering lover,
he hated his betrothed.
"You know, mother," he said, when he was alone with her at night,
"she's no idea of money, she's so wessel-brained. When she's paid,
she'll suddenly buy such rot as marrons glaces, and then I have
to buy her season ticket, and her extras, even her underclothing.
And she wants to get married, and I think myself we might as well get
married next year. But at this rate---"
"A fine mess of a marriage it would be," replied his mother.
"I should consider it again, my boy."
"Oh, well, I've gone too far to break off now," he said,
"and so I shall get married as soon as I can."
"Very well, my boy. If you will, you will, and there's no
stopping you; but I tell you, I can't sleep when I think about it."
"Oh, she'll be all right, mother. We shall manage."
"And she lets you buy her underclothing?" asked the mother.
"Well," he began apologetically, "she didn't ask me; but one
morning--and it WAS cold--I found her on the station shivering, not able
to keep still; so I asked her if she was well wrapped up. She said:
'I think so.' So I said: 'Have you got warm underthings on?'
And she said: 'No, they were cotton.' I asked her why on earth she
hadn't got something thicker on in weather like that, and she said
because she HAD nothing. And there she is--a bronchial subject!
I HAD to take her and get some warm things. Well, mother, I shouldn't
mind the money if we had any. And, you know, she OUGHT to keep enough
to pay for her season-ticket; but no, she comes to me about that,
and I have to find the money."
"It's a poor lookout," said Mrs. Morel bitterly.
He was pale, and his rugged face, that used to be so perfectly
careless and laughing, was stamped with conflict and despair.
"But I can't give her up now; it's gone too far," he said.
"And, besides, for SOME things I couldn't do without her."
"My boy, remember you're taking your life in your hands,"
said Mrs. Morel. "NOTHING is as bad as a marriage that's
a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough, God knows, and ought
to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk."
He leaned with his back against the side of the chimney-piece,
his hands in his pockets. He was a big, raw-boned man, who looked
as if he would go to the world's end if he wanted to. But she saw
the despair on his face.
"I couldn't give her up now," he said.
"Well," she said, "remember there are worse wrongs than breaking
off an engagement."
"I can't give her up NOW," he said.
The clock ticked on; mother and son remained in silence,
a conflict between them; but he would say no more. At last she said:
"Well, go to bed, my son. You'll feel better in the morning,
and perhaps you'll know better."
He kissed her, and went. She raked the fire. Her heart
was heavy now as it had never been. Before, with her husband,
things had seemed to be breaking down in her, but they did not
destroy her power to live. Now her soul felt lamed in itself.
It was her hope that was struck.
And so often William manifested the same hatred towards
his betrothed. On the last evening at home he was railing against her.
"Well," he said, "if you don't believe me, what she's like,
would you believe she has been confirmed three times?"
"Nonsense!" laughed Mrs. Morel.
"Nonsense or not, she HAS! That's what confirmation means
for her--a bit of a theatrical show where she can cut a figure."
"I haven't, Mrs. Morel!" cried the girl--"I haven't! it
is not true!"
"What!" he cried, flashing round on her. "Once in Bromley,
once in Beckenham, and once somewhere else."
"Nowhere else!" she said, in tears--"nowhere else!"
"It WAS! And if it wasn't why were you confirmed TWICE?"
"Once I was only fourteen, Mrs. Morel," she pleaded,
tears in her eyes.
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel; "I can quite understand it, child. Take no
notice of him. You ought to be ashamed, William, saying such things."
"But it's true. She's religious--she had blue velvet
Prayer-Books--and she's not as much religion, or anything else,
in her than that table-leg. Gets confirmed three times for show,
to show herself off, and that's how she is in EVERYTHING--
The girl sat on the sofa, crying. She was not strong.
"As for LOVE!" he cried, "you might as well ask a fly to love you!
It'll love settling on you---"
"Now, say no more," commanded Mrs. Morel. "If you want
to say these things, you must find another place than this.
I am ashamed of you, William! Why don't you be more manly.
To do nothing but find fault with a girl, and then pretend you're
engaged to her! "
Mrs. Morel subsided in wrath and indignation.
William was silent, and later he repented, kissed and comforted
the girl. Yet it was true, what he had said. He hated her.
When they were going away, Mrs. Morel accompanied them as far
as Nottingham. It was a long way to Keston station.
"You know, mother," he said to her, "Gyp's shallow.
Nothing goes deep with her."
"William, I WISH you wouldn't say these things," said Mrs. Morel,
very uncomfortable for the girl who walked beside her.
"But it doesn't, mother. She's very much in love with me now,
but if I died she'd have forgotten me in three months."
Mrs. Morel was afraid. Her heart beat furiously, hearing the
quiet bitterness of her son's last speech.
"How do you know?" she replied. "You DON'T know, and therefore
you've no right to say such a thing."
"He's always saying these things!" cried the girl.
"In three months after I was buried you'd have somebody else,
and I should be forgotten," he said. "And that's your love!"
Mrs. Morel saw them into the train in Nottingham, then she
returned home.
"There's one comfort," she said to Paul--"he'll never have any
money to marry on, that I AM sure of. And so she'll save him that way."
So she took cheer. Matters were not yet very desperate.
She firmly believed William would never marry his Gipsy. She waited,
and she kept Paul near to her.
All summer long William's letters had a feverish tone; he seemed
unnatural and intense. Sometimes he was exaggeratedly jolly,
usually he was flat and bitter in his letter.
"Ah," his mother said, "I'm afraid he's ruining himself
against that creature, who isn't worthy of his love--no, no more
than a rag doll."
He wanted to come home. The midsummer holiday was gone;
it was a long while to Christmas. He wrote in wild excitement,
saying he could come for Saturday and Sunday at Goose Fair, the first
week in October.
"You are not well, my boy," said his mother, when she saw him.
She was almost in tears at having him to herself again.
"No, I've not been well," he said. "I've seemed to have
a dragging cold all the last month, but it's going, I think."
It was sunny October weather. He seemed wild with joy,
like a schoolboy escaped; then again he was silent and reserved.
He was more gaunt than ever, and there was a haggard look in his eyes.
"You are doing too much," said his mother to him.
He was doing extra work, trying to make some money to marry on,
he said. He only talked to his mother once on the Saturday night;
then he was sad and tender about his beloved.
"And yet, you know, mother, for all that, if I died she'd be
broken-hearted for two months, and then she'd start to forget me.
You'd see, she'd never come home here to look at my grave,
not even once."
"Why, William," said his mother, "you're not going to die,
so why talk about it?"
"But whether or not---" he replied.
"And she can't help it. She is like that, and if you choose
her--well, you can't grumble," said his mother.
On the Sunday morning, as he was putting his collar on:
"Look," he said to his mother, holding up his chin, "what a
rash my collar's made under my chin!"
Just at the junction of chin and throat was a big red inflammation.
"It ought not to do that," said his mother. "Here, put a bit
of this soothing ointment on. You should wear different collars."
He went away on Sunday midnight, seeming better and more solid
for his two days at home.
On Tuesday morning came a telegram from London that he was ill.
Mrs. Morel got off her knees from washing the floor, read the telegram,
called a neighbour, went to her landlady and borrowed a sovereign,
put on her things, and set off. She hurried to Keston, caught an
express for London in Nottingham. She had to wait in Nottingham
nearly an hour. A small figure in her black bonnet, she was
anxiously asking the porters if they knew how to get to Elmers End.
The journey was three hours. She sat in her corner in a kind of stupor,
never moving. At King's Cross still no one could tell her how
to get to Elmers End. Carrying her string bag, that contained
her nightdress, a comb and brush, she went from person to person.
At last they sent her underground to Cannon Street.
It was six o'clock when she arrived at William's lodging.
The blinds were not down.
"How is he?" she asked.
"No better," said the landlady.
She followed the woman upstairs. William lay on the bed,
with bloodshot eyes, his face rather discoloured. The clothes were
tossed about, there was no fire in the room, a glass of milk stood
on the stand at his bedside. No one had been with him.
"Why, my son!" said the mother bravely.
He did not answer. He looked at her, but did not see her.
Then he began to say, in a dull voice, as if repeating a letter
from dictation: "Owing to a leakage in the hold of this vessel,
the sugar had set, and become converted into rock. It needed hacking---"
He was quite unconscious. It had been his business to examine
some such cargo of sugar in the Port of London.
"How long has he been like this?" the mother asked the landlady.
"He got home at six o'clock on Monday morning, and he seemed
to sleep all day; then in the night we heard him talking, and this
morning he asked for you. So I wired, and we fetched the doctor."
"Will you have a fire made?"
Mrs. Morel tried to soothe her son, to keep him still.
The doctor came. It was pneumonia, and, he said, a peculiar
erysipelas, which had started under the chin where the collar chafed,
and was spreading over the face. He hoped it would not get to the brain.
Mrs. Morel settled down to nurse. She prayed for William,
prayed that he would recognise her. But the young man's face grew
more discoloured. In the night she struggled with him. He raved,
and raved, and would not come to consciousness. At two o'clock,
in a dreadful paroxysm, he died.
Mrs. Morel sat perfectly still for an hour in the lodging bedroom;
then she roused the household.
At six o'clock, with the aid of the charwoman, she laid him out;
then she went round the dreary London village to the registrar
and the doctor.
At nine o'clock to the cottage on Scargill Street came
another wire:
"William died last night. Let father come, bring money."
Annie, Paul, and Arthur were at home; Mr. Morel was gone
to work. The three children said not a word. Annie began to whimper
with fear; Paul set off for his father.
It was a beautiful day. At Brinsley pit the white steam melted
slowly in the sunshine of a soft blue sky; the wheels of the headstocks
twinkled high up; the screen, shuffling its coal into the trucks,
made a busy noise.
"I want my father; he's got to go to London," said the boy
to the first man he met on the bank.
"Tha wants Walter Morel? Go in theer an' tell Joe Ward."
Paul went into the little top office.
"I want my father; he's got to go to London."
"Thy feyther? Is he down? What's his name?"
"Mr. Morel."
"What, Walter? Is owt amiss?"
"He's got to go to London."
The man went to the telephone and rang up the bottom office.
"Walter Morel's wanted, number 42, Hard. Summat's amiss;
there's his lad here."
Then he turned round to Paul.
"He'll be up in a few minutes," he said.
Paul wandered out to the pit-top. He watched the chair come up,
with its wagon of coal. The great iron cage sank back on its rest,
a full carfle was hauled off, an empty tram run on to the chair,
a bell ting'ed somewhere, the chair heaved, then dropped like
a stone.
Paul did not realise William was dead; it was impossible,
with such a bustle going on. The puller-off swung the small truck
on to the turn-table, another man ran with it along the bank down
the curving lines.
"And William is dead, and my mother's in London, and what will
she be doing?" the boy asked himself, as if it were a conundrum.
He watched chair after chair come up, and still no father.
At last, standing beside a wagon, a man's form! the chair sank on
its rests, Morel stepped off. He was slightly lame from an accident.
"Is it thee, Paul? Is 'e worse?"
"You've got to go to London."
The two walked off the pit-bank, where men were watching curiously.
As they came out and went along the railway, with the
sunny autumn field on one side and a wall of trucks
on the other, Morel said in a frightened voice:
"'E's niver gone, child?"
"When wor't?"
"Last night. We had a telegram from my mother."
Morel walked on a few strides, then leaned up against
a truck-side, his hand over his eyes. He was not crying.
Paul stood looking round, waiting. On the weighing
machine a truck trundled slowly. Paul saw everything,
except his father leaning against the truck as if he were tired.
Morel had only once before been to London. He set off,
scared and peaked, to help his wife. That was on Tuesday.
The children were left alone in the house. Paul went to work,
Arthur went to school, and Annie had in a friend to be with her.
On Saturday night, as Paul was turning the corner, coming home
from Keston, he saw his mother and father, who had come to Sethley
Bridge Station. They were walking in silence in the dark, tired,
straggling apart. The boy waited.
"Mother!" he said, in the darkness.
Mrs. Morel's small figure seemed not to observe. He spoke again.
"Paul!" she said, uninterestedly.
She let him kiss her, but she seemed unaware of him.
In the house she was the same--small, white, and mute.
She noticed nothing, she said nothing, only:
"The coffin will be here to-night, Walter. You'd better see
about some help." Then, turning to the children: "We're bringing
him home."
Then she relapsed into the same mute looking into space,
her hands folded on her lap. Paul, looking at her, felt he could
not breathe. The house was dead silent.
"I went to work, mother," he said plaintively.
"Did you?" she answered, dully.
After half an hour Morel, troubled and bewildered, came in again.
"Wheer s'll we ha'e him when he DOEScome?" he asked his wife.
"In the front-room."
"Then I'd better shift th' table?"
"An' ha'e him across th' chairs?"
"You know there---Yes, I suppose so."
Morel and Paul went, with a candle, into the parlour.
There was no gas there. The father unscrewed the top of the big
mahogany oval table, and cleared the middle of the room; then he
arranged six chairs opposite each other, so that the coffin could
stand on their beds.
"You niver seed such a length as he is!" said the miner,
and watching anxiously as he worked.
Paul went to the bay window and looked out. The ash-tree
stood monstrous and black in front of the wide darkness.
It was a faintly luminous night. Paul went back to his mother.
At ten o'clock Morel called:
"He's here!"
Everyone started. There was a noise of unbarring and unlocking
the front door, which opened straight from the night into the room.
"Bring another candle," called Morel.
Annie and Arthur went. Paul followed with his mother.
He stood with his arm round her waist in the inner doorway.
Down the middle of the cleared room waited six chairs, face to face.
In the window, against the lace curtains, Arthur held up one candle,
and by the open door, against the night, Annie stood leaning forward,
her brass candlestick glittering.
There was the noise of wheels. Outside in the darkness of the
street below Paul could see horses and a black vehicle, one lamp,
and a few pale faces; then some men, miners, all in their shirt-sleeves,
seemed to struggle in the obscurity. Presently two men appeared,
bowed beneath a great weight. It was Morel and his neighbour.
"Steady!" called Morel, out of breath.
He and his fellow mounted the steep garden step, heaved into
the candlelight with their gleaming coffin-end. Limbs of other men
were seen struggling behind. Morel and Burns, in front, staggered;
the great dark weight swayed.
"Steady, steady!" cried Morel, as if in pain.
All the six bearers were up in the small garden, holding the
great coffin aloft. There were three more steps to the door.
The yellow lamp of the carriage shone alone
down the black road.
"Now then!" said Morel.
The coffin swayed, the men began to mount the three steps
with their load. Annie's candle flickered, and she whimpered
as the first men appeared, and the limbs and bowed heads of six
men struggled to climb into the room, bearing the coffin that rode
like sorrow on their living flesh.
"Oh, my son--my son!" Mrs. Morel sang softly, and each time
the coffin swung to the unequal climbing of the men: "Oh, my son--my
son--my son!"
"Mother!" Paul whimpered, his hand round her waist.
She did not hear.
"Oh, my son--my son!" she repeated.
Paul saw drops of sweat fall from his father's brow.
Six men were in the room--six coatless men, with yielding,
struggling limbs, filling the room and knocking against the furniture.
The coffin veered, and was gently lowered on to the chairs.
The sweat fell from Morel's face on its boards.
"My word, he's a weight!" said a man, and the five miners sighed,
bowed, and, trembling with the struggle, descended the steps again,
closing the door behind them.
The family was alone in the parlour with the great polished box.
William, when laid out, was six feet four inches long. Like a monument
lay the bright brown, ponderous coffin. Paul thought it would never
be got out of the room again. His mother was stroking the polished wood.
They buried him on the Monday in the little cemetery on the
hillside that looks over the fields at the big church and the houses.
It was sunny, and the white chrysanthemums frilled themselves
in the warmth.
Mrs. Morel could not be persuaded, after this, to talk and
take her old bright interest in life. She remained shut off.
All the way home in the train she had said to herself : "If only it
could have been me! "
When Paul came home at night he found his mother sitting,
her day's work done, with hands folded in her lap upon her
coarse apron. She always used to have changed her dress and put
on a black apron, before. Now Annie set his supper, and his mother
sat looking blankly in front of her, her mouth shut tight.
Then he beat his brains for news to tell her.
"Mother, Miss Jordan was down to-day, and she said my sketch
of a colliery at work was beautiful."
But Mrs. Morel took no notice. Night after night he forced
himself to tell her things, although she did not listen. It drove
him almost insane to have her thus. At last:
"What's a-matter, mother?" he asked.
She did not hear.
"What's a-matter?" he persisted. "Mother, what's a-matter?"
"You know what's the matter," she said irritably, turning away.
The lad--he was sixteen years old--went to bed drearily.
He was cut off and wretched through October, November and December.
His mother tried, but she could not rouse herself. She could only
brood on her dead son; he had been let to die so cruelly.
At last, on December 23, with his five shillings Christmas-box
in his pocket, Paul wandered blindly home. His mother looked at him,
and her heart stood still.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"I'm badly, mother!" he replied. "Mr. Jordan gave me five
shillings for a Christmas-box!"
He handed it to her with trembling hands. She put it on the table.
"You aren't glad!" he reproached her; but he trembled violently.
"Where hurts you?" she said, unbuttoning his overcoat.
It was the old question.
"I feel badly, mother."
She undressed him and put him to bed. He had pneumonia dangerously,
the doctor said.
"Might he never have had it if I'd kept him at home, not let
him go to Nottingham?" was one of the first things she asked.
"He might not have been so bad," said the doctor.
Mrs. Morel stood condemned on her own ground.
"I should have watched the living, not the dead," she told herself.
Paul was very ill. His mother lay in bed at nights with him;
they could not afford a nurse. He grew worse, and the crisis approached.
One night he tossed into consciousness in the ghastly, sickly feeling
of dissolution, when all the cells in the body seem in intense
irritability to be breaking down, and consciousness makes a last
flare of struggle, like madness.
"I s'll die, mother!" be cried, heaving for breath on the pillow.
She lifted him up, crying in a small voice:
"Oh, my son--my son!"
That brought him to. He realised her. His whole will rose
up and arrested him. He put his head on her breast, and took ease
of her for love.
"For some things," said his aunt, "it was a good thing Paul
was ill that Christmas. I believe it saved his mother."
Paul was in bed for seven weeks. He got up white and fragile.
His father had bought him a pot of scarlet and gold tulips.
They used to flame in the window in the March sunshine as he sat
on the sofa chattering to his mother. The two knitted together in
perfect intimacy. Mrs. Morel's life now rooted itself in Paul.
William had been a prophet. Mrs. Morel had a little present
and a letter from Lily at Christmas. Mrs. Morel's sister had
a letter at the New Year.
"I was at a ball last night. Some delightful people were there,
and I enjoyed myself thoroughly," said the letter. "I had every
dance--did not sit out one."
Mrs. Morel never heard any more of her.
Morel and his wife were gentle with each other for some time
after the death of their son. He would go into a kind of daze,
staring wide-eyed and blank across the room. Then he got up suddenly
and hurried out to the Three Spots, returning in his normal state.
But never in his life would he go for a walk up Shepstone,
past the office where his son had worked, and he always avoided
the cemetery.
PAUL had been many times up to Willey Farm during the autumn.
He was friends with the two youngest boys. Edgar the eldest, would not
condescend at first. And Miriam also refused to be approached.
She was afraid of being set at nought, as by her own brothers.
The girl was romantic in her soul. Everywhere was a Walter Scott
heroine being loved by men with helmets or with plumes in their caps.
She herself was something of a princess turned into a swine-girl
in her own imagination. And she was afraid lest this boy,
who, nevertheless, looked something like a Walter Scott hero,
who could paint and speak French, and knew what algebra meant,
and who went by train to Nottingham every day, might consider her
simply as the swine-girl, unable to perceive the princess beneath;
so she held aloof.
Her great companion was her mother. They were both brown-eyed,
and inclined to be mystical, such women as treasure religion
inside them, breathe it in their nostrils, and see the whole of life
in a mist thereof. So to Miriam, Christ and God made one great figure,
which she loved tremblingly and passionately when a tremendous sunset
burned out the western sky, and Ediths, and Lucys, and Rowenas, Brian de
Bois Guilberts, Rob Roys, and Guy Mannerings, rustled the sunny leaves
in the morning, or sat in her bedroom aloft, alone, when it snowed.
That was life to her. For the rest, she drudged in the house,
which work she would not have minded had not her clean red floor been
mucked up immediately by the trampling farm-boots of her brothers.
She madly wanted her little brother of four to let her swathe
him and stifle him in her love; she went to church reverently,
with bowed head, and quivered in anguish from the vulgarity of the
other choir-girls and from the common-sounding voice of the curate;
she fought with her brothers, whom she considered brutal louts;
and she held not her father in too high esteem because he did not
carry any mystical ideals cherished in his heart, but only wanted
to have as easy a time as he could, and his meals when he was ready
for them.
She hated her position as swine-girl. She wanted to be considered.
She wanted to learn, thinking that if she could read, as Paul said
he could read, "Colomba", or the "Voyage autour de ma Chambre", the
world would have a different face for her and a deepened respect.
She could not be princess by wealth or standing. So she was mad
to have learning whereon to pride herself. For she was different
from other folk, and must not be scooped up among the common fry.
Learning was the only distinction to which she thought to aspire.
Her beauty--that of a shy, wild, quiveringly sensitive
thing--seemed nothing to her. Even her soul, so strong for rhapsody,
was not enough. She must have something to reinforce her pride,
because she felt different from other people. Paul she eyed
rather wistfully. On the whole, she scorned the male sex.
But here was a new specimen, quick, light, graceful, who could
be gentle and who could be sad, and who was clever, and who knew
a lot, and who had a death in the family. The boy's poor
morsel of learning exalted him almost sky-high in her esteem.
Yet she tried hard to scorn him, because he would not see in her
the princess but only the swine-girl. And he scarcely observed her.
Then he was so ill, and she felt he would be weak. Then she
would be stronger than he. Then she could love him. If she could
be mistress of him in his weakness, take care of him, if he could
depend on her, if she could, as it were, have him in her arms,
how she would love him!
As soon as the skies brightened and plum-blossom was out,
Paul drove off in the milkman's heavy float up to Willey Farm.
Mr. Leivers shouted in a kindly fashion at the boy, then clicked
to the horse as they climbed the hill slowly, in the freshness
of the morning. White clouds went on their way, crowding to the
back of the hills that were rousing in the springtime. The water
of Nethermere lay below, very blue against the seared meadows and
the thorn-trees.
It was four and a half miles' drive. Tiny buds on the hedges,
vivid as copper-green, were opening into rosettes; and thrushes called,
and blackbirds shrieked and scolded. It was a new, glamorous world.
Miriam, peeping through the kitchen window, saw the horse walk
through the big white gate into the farmyard that was backed by the
oak-wood, still bare. Then a youth in a heavy overcoat climbed down.
He put up his hands for the whip and the rug that the good-looking,
ruddy farmer handed down to him.
Miriam appeared in the doorway. She was nearly sixteen,
very beautiful, with her warm colouring, her gravity, her eyes
dilating suddenly like an ecstasy.
"I say," said Paul, turning shyly aside, "your daffodils
are nearly out. Isn't it early? But don't they look cold?"
"Cold!" said Miriam, in her musical, caressing voice.
"The green on their buds---" and he faltered into silence timidly.
"Let me take the rug," said Miriam over-gently.
"I can carry it," he answered, rather injured. But he yielded
it to her.
Then Mrs. Leivers appeared.
"I'm sure you're tired and cold," she said. "Let me take
your coat. It IS heavy. You mustn't walk far in it."
She helped him off with his coat. He was quite unused
to such attention. She was almost smothered under its weight.
"Why, mother," laughed the farmer as he passed through the kitchen,
swinging the great milk-churns, "you've got almost more than you
can manage there."
She beat up the sofa cushions for the youth.
The kitchen was very small and irregular. The farm had been
originally a labourer's cottage. And the furniture was old and battered.
But Paul loved it--loved the sack-bag that formed the hearthrug,
and the funny little corner under the stairs, and the small window
deep in the corner, through which, bending a little, be could see
the plum trees in the back garden and the lovely round hills beyond.
"Won't you lie down?" said Mrs. Leivers.
"Oh no; I'm not tired," he said. "Isn't it lovely coming out,
don't you think? I saw a sloe-bush in blossom and a lot of celandines.
I'm glad it's sunny."
"Can I give you anything to eat or to drink?"
"No, thank you."
"How's your mother?"
"I think she's tired now. I think she's had too much to do.
Perhaps in a little while she'll go to Skegness with me. Then she'll
be able to rest. I s'll be glad if she can."
"Yes," replied Mrs. Leivers. "It's a wonder she isn't
ill herself."
Miriam was moving about preparing dinner. Paul watched
everything that happened. His face was pale and thin, but his eyes
were quick and bright with life as ever. He watched the strange,
almost rhapsodic way in which the girl moved about, carrying a great
stew-jar to the oven, or looking in the saucepan. The atmosphere
was different from that of his own home, where everything seemed
so ordinary. When Mr. Leivers called loudly outside to the horse,
that was reaching over to feed on the rose-bushes in the garden,
the girl started, looked round with dark eyes, as if something had
come breaking in on her world. There was a sense of silence inside
the house and out. Miriam seemed as in some dreamy tale, a maiden
in bondage, her spirit dreaming in a land far away and magical.
And her discoloured, old blue frock and her broken boots seemed
only like the romantic rags of King Cophetua's beggar-maid.
She suddenly became aware of his keen blue eyes upon her,
taking her all in. Instantly her broken boots and her frayed old
frock hurt her. She resented his seeing everything. Even he knew
that her stocking was not pulled up. She went into the scullery,
blushing deeply. And afterwards her hands trembled slightly at
her work. She nearly dropped all she handled. When her inside
dream was shaken, her body quivered with trepidation. She resented
that he saw so much.
Mrs. Leivers sat for some time talking to the boy, although she
was needed at her work. She was too polite to leave him.
Presently she excused herself and rose. After a while she looked
into the tin saucepan.
"Oh DEAR, Miriam," she cried, "these potatoes have boiled dry!"
Miriam started as if she had been stung.
"HAVE they, mother?" she cried.
"I shouldn't care, Miriam," said the mother, "if I hadn't
trusted them to you." She peered into the pan.
The girl stiffened as if from a blow. Her dark eyes dilated;
she remained standing in the same spot.
"Well," she answered, gripped tight in self-conscious shame,
"I'm sure I looked at them five minutes since."
"Yes," said the mother, "I know it's easily done."
"They're not much burned," said Paul. "It doesn't matter,
does it?"
Mrs. Leivers looked at the youth with her brown, hurt eyes.
"It wouldn't matter but for the boys," she said to him.
"Only Miriam knows what a trouble they make if the potatoes are
"Then," thought Paul to himself, "you shouldn't let them make
a trouble."
After a while Edgar came in. He wore leggings, and his boots
were covered with earth. He was rather small, rather formal,
for a farmer. He glanced at Paul, nodded to him distantly,
and said:
"Dinner ready?"
"Nearly, Edgar," replied the mother apologetically.
"I'm ready for mine," said the young man, taking up the newspaper
and reading. Presently the rest of the family trooped in.
Dinner was served. The meal went rather brutally. The over-gentleness
and apologetic tone of the mother brought out all the brutality
of manners in the sons. Edgar tasted the potatoes, moved his mouth
quickly like a rabbit, looked indignantly at his mother, and said:
"These potatoes are burnt, mother."
"Yes, Edgar. I forgot them for a minute. Perhaps you'll
have bread if you can't eat them."
Edgar looked in anger across at Miriam.
"What was Miriam doing that she couldn't attend to them?"
he said.
Miriam looked up. Her mouth opened, her dark eyes blazed
and winced, but she said nothing. She swallowed her anger
and her shame, bowing her dark head.
"I'm sure she was trying hard," said the mother.
"She hasn't got sense even to boil the potatoes," said Edgar.
"What is she kept at home for?"
"On'y for eating everything that's left in th' pantry," said Maurice.
"They don't forget that potato-pie against our Miriam,"
laughed the father.
She was utterly humiliated. The mother sat in silence,
suffering, like some saint out of place at the brutal board.
It puzzled Paul. He wondered vaguely why all this intense feeling
went running because of a few burnt potatoes. The mother exalted
everything--even a bit of housework--to the plane of a religious trust.
The sons resented this; they felt themselves cut away underneath, and
they answered with brutality and also with a sneering superciliousness.
Paul was just opening out from childhood into manhood.
This atmosphere, where everything took a religious value, came with
a subtle fascination to him. There was something in the air.
His own mother was logical. Here there was something different,
something he loved, something that at times he hated.
Miriam quarrelled with her brothers fiercely. Later in
the afternoon, when they had gone away again, her mother said:
"You disappointed me at dinner-time, Miriam."
The girl dropped her head.
"They are such BRUTES!" she suddenly cried, looking up
with flashing eyes.
"But hadn't you promised not to answer them?" said the mother.
"And I believed in you. I CAN'T stand it when you wrangle."
"But they're so hateful!" cried Miriam, "and--and LOW."
"Yes, dear. But how often have I asked you not to answer
Edgar back? Can't you let him say what he likes?"
"But why should he say what he likes?"
"Aren't you strong enough to bear it, Miriam, if even for my sake?
Are you so weak that you must wrangle with them?"
Mrs. Leivers stuck unflinchingly to this doctrine of "the other
cheek". She could not instil it at all into the boys. With the
girls she succeeded better, and Miriam was the child of her heart.
The boys loathed the other cheek when it was presented to them.
Miriam was often sufficiently lofty to turn it. Then they spat
on her and hated her. But she walked in her proud humility,
living within herself.
There was always this feeling of jangle and discord in the
Leivers family. Although the boys resented so bitterly this eternal
appeal to their deeper feelings of resignation and proud humility,
yet it had its effect on them. They could not establish between themselves
and an outsider just the ordinary human feeling and unexaggerated
friendship; they were always restless for the something deeper.
Ordinary folk seemed shallow to them, trivial and inconsiderable.
And so they were unaccustomed, painfully uncouth in the simplest
social intercourse, suffering, and yet insolent in their superiority.
Then beneath was the yearning for the soul-intimacy to which they could
not attain because they were too dumb, and every approach to close
connection was blocked by their clumsy contempt of other people.
They wanted genuine intimacy, but they could not get even normally
near to anyone, because they scorned to take the first steps,
they scorned the triviality which forms common human intercourse.
Paul fell under Mrs. Leivers's spell. Everything had
a religious and intensified meaning when he was with her.
His soul, hurt, highly developed, sought her as if for nourishment.
Together they seemed to sift the vital fact from an experience.
Miriam was her mother's daughter. In the sunshine of the
afternoon mother and daughter went down the fields with him.
They looked for nests. There was a jenny wren's in the hedge
by the orchard.
"I DO want you to see this," said Mrs. Leivers.
He crouched down and carefully put his finger through the
thorns into the round door of the nest.
"It's almost as if you were feeling inside the live body
of the bird," he said, "it's so warm. They say a bird makes
its nest round like a cup with pressing its breast on it.
Then how did it make the ceiling round, I wonder?"
The nest seemed to start into life for the two women.
After that, Miriam came to see it every day. It seemed so close
to her. Again, going down the hedgeside with the girl, he noticed
the celandines, scalloped splashes of gold, on the side of the ditch.
"I like them," he said, "when their petals go flat back with
the sunshine. They seemed to be pressing themselves at the sun."
And then the celandines ever after drew her with a little spell.
Anthropomorphic as she was, she stimulated him into appreciating
things thus, and then they lived for her. She seemed to need things
kindling in her imagination or in her soul before she felt she
had them. And she was cut off from ordinary life by her religious
intensity which made the world for her either a nunnery garden
or a paradise, where sin and knowledge were not, or else an ugly,
cruel thing.
So it was in this atmosphere of subtle intimacy, this meeting
in their common feeling for something in Nature, that their love started.
Personally, he was a long time before he realized her.
For ten months he had to stay at home after his illness. For a
while he went to Skegness with his mother, and was perfectly happy.
But even from the seaside he wrote long letters to Mrs. Leivers
about the shore and the sea. And he brought back his beloved
sketches of the flat Lincoln coast, anxious for them to see.
Almost they would interest the Leivers more than they interested
his mother. It was not his art Mrs. Morel cared about; it was himself
and his achievement. But Mrs. Leivers and her children were almost
his disciples. They kindled him and made him glow to his work,
whereas his mother's influence was to make him quietly determined,
patient, dogged, unwearied.
He soon was friends with the boys, whose rudeness was
only superficial. They had all, when they could trust themselves,
a strange gentleness and lovableness.
"Will you come with me on to the fallow?" asked Edgar,
rather hesitatingly.
Paul went joyfully, and spent the afternoon helping to hoe or to
single turnips with his friend. He used to lie with the three brothers
in the hay piled up in the barn and tell them about Nottingham and
about Jordan's. In return, they taught him to milk, and let him do
little jobs--chopping hay or pulping turnips--just as much as he liked.
At midsummer he worked all through hay-harvest with them, and then
he loved them. The family was so cut off from the world actually.
They seemed, somehow, like "les derniers fils d'une race epuisee".
Though the lads were strong and healthy, yet they had all that
over-sensitiveness and hanging-back which made them so lonely,
yet also such close, delicate friends once their intimacy was won.
Paul loved them dearly, and they him.
Miriam came later. But he had come into her life before she
made any mark on his. One dull afternoon, when the men were on
the land and the rest at school, only Miriam and her mother
at home, the girl said to him, after having hesitated for some time:
"Have you seen the swing?"
"No," he answered. "Where?"
"In the cowshed," she replied.
She always hesitated to offer or to show him anything.
Men have such different standards of worth from women, and her dear
things--the valuable things to her--her brothers had so often mocked
or flouted.
"Come on, then," he replied, jumping up.
There were two cowsheds, one on either side of the barn.
In the lower, darker shed there was standing for four cows.
Hens flew scolding over the manger-wall as the youth and girl went
forward for the great thick rope which hung from the beam in the
darkness overhead, and was pushed back over a peg in the wall.
"It's something like a rope!" he exclaimed appreciatively;
and he sat down on it, anxious to try it. Then immediately he rose.
"Come on, then, and have first go," he said to the girl.
"See," she answered, going into the barn, "we put some bags
on the seat"; and she made the swing comfortable for him.
That gave her pleasure. He held the rope.
"Come on, then," he said to her.
"No, I won't go first," she answered.
She stood aside in her still, aloof fashion.
"You go," she pleaded.
Almost for the first time in her life she had the pleasure
of giving up to a man, of spoiling him. Paul looked at her.
"All right," he said, sitting down. "Mind out!"
He set off with a spring, and in a moment was flying through
the air, almost out of the door of the shed, the upper half of which
was open, showing outside the drizzling rain, the filthy yard,
the cattle standing disconsolate against the black cartshed, and at
the back of all the grey-green wall of the wood. She stood below
in her crimson tam-o'-shanter and watched. He looked down at her,
and she saw his blue eyes sparkling.
"It's a treat of a swing," he said.
He was swinging through the air, every bit of him swinging,
like a bird that swoops for joy of movement. And he looked down
at her. Her crimson cap hung over her dark curls, her beautiful
warm face, so still in a kind of brooding, was lifted towards him.
It was dark and rather cold in the shed. Suddenly a swallow came
down from the high roof and darted out of the door.
"I didn't know a bird was watching," he called.
He swung negligently. She could feel him falling and lifting
through the air, as if he were lying on some force.
"Now I'll die," he said, in a detached, dreamy voice, as though
he were the dying motion of the swing. She watched him, fascinated.
Suddenly he put on the brake and jumped out.
"I've had a long turn," he said. "But it's a treat
of a swing--it's a real treat of a swing!"
Miriam was amused that he took a swing so seriously and felt
so warmly over it.
"No; you go on," she said.
"Why, don't you want one?" he asked, astonished.
"Well, not much. I'll have just a little."
She sat down, whilst he kept the bags in place for her.
"It's so ripping!" he said, setting her in motion. "Keep your
heels up, or they'll bang the manger wall."
She felt the accuracy with which he caught her, exactly at the
right moment, and the exactly proportionate strength of his thrust,
and she was afraid. Down to her bowels went the hot wave of fear.
She was in his hands. Again, firm and inevitable came the thrust at
the right moment. She gripped the rope, almost swooning.
"Ha!" she laughed in fear. "No higher!"
"But you're not a BIT high," he remonstrated.
"But no higher."
He heard the fear in her voice, and desisted. Her heart melted
in hot pain when the moment came for him to thrust her forward again.
But he left her alone. She began to breathe.
"Won't you really go any farther?" he asked. "Should I keep
you there?"
"No; let me go by myself," she answered.
He moved aside and watched her.
"Why, you're scarcely moving," he said.
She laughed slightly with shame, and in a moment got down.
"They say if you can swing you won't be sea-sick," he said,
as he mounted again. "I don't believe I should ever be sea-sick."
Away he went. There was something fascinating to her in him.
For the moment he was nothing but a piece of swinging stuff;
not a particle of him that did not swing. She could never lose
herself so, nor could her brothers. It roused a warmth in her.
It was almost as if he were a flame that had lit a warmth in her
whilst he swung in the middle air.
And gradually the intimacy with the family concentrated
for Paul on three persons--the mother, Edgar, and Miriam.
To the mother he went for that sympathy and that appeal which seemed
to draw him out. Edgar was his very close friend. And to Miriam
he more or less condescended, because she seemed so humble.
But the girl gradually sought him out. If he brought up his
sketch-book, it was she who pondered longest over the last picture.
Then she would look up at him. Suddenly, her dark eyes alight like
water that shakes with a stream of gold in the dark, she would ask:
"Why do I like this so?"
Always something in his breast shrank from these close,
intimate, dazzled looks of hers.
"Why DO you?" he asked.
"I don't know. It seems so true."
"It's because--it's because there is scarcely any shadow in it;
it's more shimmery, as if I'd painted the shimmering protoplasm
in the leaves and everywhere, and not the stiffness of the shape.
That seems dead to me. Only this shimmeriness is the real living.
The shape is a dead crust. The shimmer is inside really."
And she, with her little finger in her mouth, would ponder
these sayings. They gave her a feeling of life again, and vivified
things which had meant nothing to her. She managed to find some
meaning in his struggling, abstract speeches. And they were
the medium through which she came distinctly at her beloved objects.
Another day she sat at sunset whilst he was painting some
pine-trees which caught the red glare from the west. He had been quiet.
"There you are!" he said suddenly. "I wanted that. Now, look at
them and tell me, are they pine trunks or are they red coals,
standing-up pieces of fire in that darkness? There's God's burning
bush for you, that burned not away."
Miriam looked, and was frightened. But the pine trunks were
wonderful to her, and distinct. He packed his box and rose.
Suddenly he looked at her.
"Why are you always sad?" he asked her.
"Sad!" she exclaimed, looking up at him with startled,
wonderful brown eyes.
"Yes," he replied. "You are always sad."
"I am not--oh, not a bit!" she cried.
"But even your joy is like a flame coming off of sadness,"
he persisted. "You're never jolly, or even just all right."
"No," she pondered. "I wonder--why?"
"Because you're not; because you're different inside,
like a pine-tree, and then you flare up; but you're not just
like an ordinary tree, with fidgety leaves and jolly---"
He got tangled up in his own speech; but she brooded on it,
and he had a strange, roused sensation, as if his feelings were new.
She got so near him. It was a strange stimulant.
Then sometimes he hated her. Her youngest brother was only five.
He was a frail lad, with immense brown eyes in his quaint fragile
face--one of Reynolds's "Choir of Angels", with a touch of elf.
Often Miriam kneeled to the child and drew him to her.
"Eh, my Hubert!" she sang, in a voice heavy and surcharged
with love. "Eh, my Hubert!"
And, folding him in her arms, she swayed slightly from side
to side with love, her face half lifted, her eyes half closed,
her voice drenched with love.
"Don't!" said the child, uneasy--"don't, Miriam!"
"Yes; you love me, don't you?" she murmured deep in her throat,
almost as if she were in a trance, and swaying also as if she were
swooned in an ecstasy of love.
"Don't!" repeated the child, a frown on his clear brow.
"You love me, don't you?" she murmured.
"What do you make such a FUSS for?" cried Paul, all in suffering
because of her extreme emotion. "Why can't you be ordinary with him?"
She let the child go, and rose, and said nothing. Her intensity,
which would leave no emotion on a normal plane, irritated the youth
into a frenzy. And this fearful, naked contact of her on small
occasions shocked him. He was used to his mother's reserve.
And on such occasions he was thankful in his heart and soul that he
had his mother, so sane and wholesome.
All the life of Miriam's body was in her eyes, which were usually
dark as a dark church, but could flame with light like a conflagration.
Her face scarcely ever altered from its look of brooding.
She might have been one of the women who went with Mary when Jesus
was dead. Her body was not flexible and living. She walked
with a swing, rather heavily, her head bowed forward, pondering.
She was not clumsy, and yet none of her movements seemed quite
THE movement. Often, when wiping the dishes, she would stand
in bewilderment and chagrin because she had pulled in two halves
a cup or a tumbler. It was as if, in her fear and self-mistrust,
she put too much strength into the effort. There was no looseness
or abandon about her. Everything was gripped stiff with intensity,
and her effort, overcharged, closed in on itself.
She rarely varied from her swinging, forward, intense walk.
Occasionally she ran with Paul down the fields. Then her eyes
blazed naked in a kind of ecstasy that frightened him. But she was
physically afraid. If she were getting over a stile, she gripped his
hands in a little hard anguish, and began to lose her presence of mind.
And he could not persuade her to jump from even a small height.
Her eyes dilated, became exposed and palpitating.
"No!" she cried, half laughing in terror--"no!"
"You shall!" he cried once, and, jerking her forward, he brought
her falling from the fence. But her wild "Ah!" of pain, as if she
were losing consciousness, cut him. She landed on her feet safely,
and afterwards had courage in this respect.
She was very much dissatisfied with her lot.
"Don't you like being at home?" Paul asked her, surprised.
"Who would?" she answered, low and intense. "What is it?
I'm all day cleaning what the boys make just as bad in five minutes.
I don't WANT to be at home."
"What do you want, then?"
"I want to do something. I want a chance like anybody else.
Why should 1, because I'm a girl, be kept at home and not allowed
to be anything? What chance HAVE I?"
"Chance of what?"
"Of knowing anything--of learning, of doing anything.
It's not fair, because I'm a woman."
She seemed very bitter. Paul wondered. In his own home Annie
was almost glad to be a girl. She had not so much responsibility;
things were lighter for her. She never wanted to be other than a girl.
But Miriam almost fiercely wished she were a man. And yet she hated
men at the same time.
"But it's as well to be a woman as a man," he said, frowning.
"Ha! Is it? Men have everything."
"I should think women ought to be as glad to be women as men
are to be men," he answered.
"No!"--she shook her head--"no! Everything the men have."
"But what do you want?" he asked.
"I want to learn. Why SHOULD it be that I know nothing?"
"What! such as mathematics and French?"
"Why SHOULDN'T I know mathematics? Yes!" she cried, her eye
expanding in a kind of defiance.
"Well, you can learn as much as I know," he said. "I'll teach you,
if you like."
Her eyes dilated. She mistrusted him as teacher.
"Would you?" he asked.
Her head had dropped, and she was sucking her finger broodingly.
"Yes," she said hesitatingly.
He used to tell his mother all these things.
"I'm going to teach Miriam algebra," he said.
"Well," replied Mrs. Morel, "I hope she'll get fat on it."
When he went up to the farm on the Monday evening, it was
drawing twilight. Miriam was just sweeping up the kitchen, and was
kneeling at the hearth when he entered. Everyone was out but her.
She looked round at him, flushed, her dark eyes shining, her fine
hair falling about her face.
"Hello!" she said, soft and musical. "I knew it was you."
"I knew your step. Nobody treads so quick and firm."
He sat down, sighing.
"Ready to do some algebra?" he asked, drawing a little book
from his pocket.
He could feel her backing away.
"You said you wanted," he insisted.
"To-night, though?" she faltered.
"But I came on purpose. And if you want to learn it,
you must begin."
She took up her ashes in the dustpan and looked at him,
half tremulously, laughing.
"Yes, but to-night! You see, I haven't thought of it."
"Well, my goodness! Take the ashes and come."
He went and sat on the stone bench in the back-yard, where
the big milk-cans were standing, tipped up, to air. The men were
in the cowsheds. He could hear the little sing-song of the milk
spurting into the pails. Presently she came, bringing some big
greenish apples.
"You know you like them," she said.
He took a bite.
"Sit down," he said, with his mouth full.
She was short-sighted, and peered over his shoulder.
It irritated him. He gave her the book quickly.
"Here," he said. "It's only letters for figures. You put
down 'a' instead of '2' or '6'."
They worked, he talking, she with her head down on the book.
He was quick and hasty. She never answered. Occasionally, when he
demanded of her, "Do you see?" she looked up at him, her eyes wide
with the half-laugh that comes of fear. "Don't you?" he cried.
He had been too fast. But she said nothing. He questioned
her more, then got hot. It made his blood rouse to see her there,
as it were, at his mercy, her mouth open, her eyes dilated with
laughter that was afraid, apologetic, ashamed. Then Edgar came
along with two buckets of milk.
"Hello!" he said. "What are you doing?"
"Algebra," replied Paul.
"Algebra!" repeated Edgar curiously. Then he passed on with
a laugh. Paul took a bite at his forgotten apple, looked at the
miserable cabbages in the garden, pecked into lace by the fowls,
and he wanted to pull them up. Then he glanced at Miriam.
She was poring over the book, seemed absorbed in it, yet trembling
lest she could not get at it. It made him cross. She was ruddy
and beautiful. Yet her soul seemed to be intensely supplicating.
The algebra-book she closed, shrinking, knowing he was angered;
and at the same instant he grew gentle, seeing her hurt because she did
not understand.
But things came slowly to her. And when she held herself
in a grip, seemed so utterly humble before the lesson, it made his
blood rouse. He stormed at her, got ashamed, continued the lesson,
and grew furious again, abusing her. She listened in silence.
Occasionally, very rarely, she defended herself. Her liquid dark
eyes blazed at him.
"You don't give me time to learn it," she said.
"All right," he answered, throwing the book on the table and lighting
a cigarette. Then, after a while, he went back to her repentant.
So the lessons went. He was always either in a rage or very gentle.
"What do you tremble your SOUL before it for?" he cried.
"You don't learn algebra with your blessed soul. Can't you look
at it with your clear simple wits?"
Often, when he went again into the kitchen, Mrs. Leivers would
look at him reproachfully, saying:
"Paul, don't be so hard on Miriam. She may not be quick,
but I'm sure she tries."
"I can't help it," he said rather pitiably. "I go off like it."
"You don't mind me, Miriam, do you?" he asked of the girl later.
"No," she reassured him in her beautiful deep tones--"no, I
don't mind."
"Don't mind me; it's my fault."
But, in spite of himself, his blood began to boil with her.
It was strange that no one else made him in such fury.
He flared against her. Once he threw the pencil in her face.
There was a silence. She turned her face slightly aside.
"I didn't---" he began, but got no farther, feeling weak in
all his bones. She never reproached him or was angry with him.
He was often cruelly ashamed. But still again his anger burst
like a bubble surcharged; and still, when he saw her eager, silent,
as it were, blind face, he felt he wanted to throw the pencil
in it; and still, when he saw her hand trembling and her mouth
parted with suffering, his heart was scalded with pain for her.
And because of the intensity to which she roused him, he sought her.
Then he often avoided her and went with Edgar. Miriam and
her brother were naturally antagonistic. Edgar was a rationalist,
who was curious, and had a sort of scientific interest in life.
It was a great bitterness to Miriam to see herself deserted by Paul
for Edgar, who seemed so much lower. But the youth was very happy
with her elder brother. The two men spent afternoons together
on the land or in the loft doing carpentry, when it rained.
And they talked together, or Paul taught Edgar the songs he himself
had learned from Annie at the piano. And often all the men,
Mr. Leivers as well, had bitter debates on the nationalizing of the land
and similar problems. Paul had already heard his mother's views,
and as these were as yet his own, he argued for her. Miriam attended
and took part, but was all the time waiting until it should be over
and a personal communication might begin.
"After all," she said within herself, "if the land
were nationalized, Edgar and Paul and I would be just the same."
So she waited for the youth to come back to her.
He was studying for his painting. He loved to sit at home,
alone with his mother, at night, working and working. She sewed
or read. Then, looking up from his task, he would rest his eyes
for a moment on her face, that was bright with living warmth,
and he returned gladly to his work.
"I can do my best things when you sit there in your
rocking-chair, mother," he said.
"I'm sure!" she exclaimed, sniffing with mock scepticism.
But she felt it was so, and her heart quivered with brightness.
For many hours she sat still, slightly conscious of him labouring away,
whilst she worked or read her book. And he, with all his soul's
intensity directing his pencil, could feel her warmth inside him
like strength. They were both very happy so, and both unconscious
of it. These times, that meant so much, and which were real living,
they almost ignored.
He was conscious only when stimulated. A sketch finished,
he always wanted to take it to Miriam. Then he was stimulated
into knowledge of the work he had produced unconsciously.
In contact with Miriam he gained insight; his vision went deeper.
From his mother he drew the life-warmth, the strength to produce;
Miriam urged this warmth into intensity like a white light.
When he returned to the factory the conditions of work were better.
He had Wednesday afternoon off to go to the Art School--
Miss Jordan's provision--returning in the evening. Then the factory
closed at six instead of eight on Thursday and Friday evenings.
One evening in the summer Miriam and he went over the fields
by Herod's Farm on their way from the library home. So it was
only three miles to Willey Farm. There was a yellow glow over the
mowing-grass, and the sorrel-heads burned crimson. Gradually, as they
walked along the high land, the gold in the west sank down to red,
the red to crimson, and then the chill blue crept up against the glow.
They came out upon the high road to Alfreton, which ran
white between the darkening fields. There Paul hesitated.
It was two miles home for him, one mile forward for Miriam.
They both looked up the road that ran in shadow right under the
glow of the north-west sky. On the crest of the hill, Selby,
with its stark houses and the up-pricked headstocks of the pit,
stood in black silhouette small against the sky.
He looked at his watch.
"Nine o'clock!" he said.
The pair stood, loth to part, hugging their books.
"The wood is so lovely now," she said. "I wanted you to see it."
He followed her slowly across the road to the white gate.
"They grumble so if I'm late," he said.
"But you're not doing anything wrong," she answered impatiently.
He followed her across the nibbled pasture in the dusk.
There was a coolness in the wood, a scent of leaves, of honeysuckle,
and a twilight. The two walked in silence. Night came wonderfully there,
among the throng of dark tree-trunks. He looked round, expectant.
She wanted to show him a certain wild-rose bush she
had discovered. She knew it was wonderful. And yet,
till he had seen it, she felt it had not come into her soul.
Only he could make it her own, immortal. She was dissatisfied.
Dew was already on the paths. In the old oak-wood a mist
was rising, and he hesitated, wondering whether one whiteness
were a strand of fog or only campion-flowers pallid in a cloud.
By the time they came to the pine-trees Miriam was getting very
eager and very tense. Her bush might be gone. She might not be
able to find it; and she wanted it so much. Almost passionately
she wanted to be with him when be stood before the flowers.
They were going to have a communion together--something that
thrilled her, something holy. He was walking beside her in silence.
They were very near to each other. She trembled, and he listened,
vaguely anxious.
Coming to the edge of the wood, they saw the sky in front,
like mother-of-pearl, and the earth growing dark. Somewhere on the
outermost branches of the pine-wood the honeysuckle was streaming scent.
"Where?" he asked.
"Down the middle path," she murmured, quivering.
When they turned the corner of the path she stood still.
In the wide walk between the pines, gazing rather frightened,
she could distinguish nothing for some moments; the greying light
robbed things of their colour. Then she saw her bush.
"Ah!" she cried, hastening forward.
It was very still. The tree was tall and straggling.
It had thrown its briers over a hawthorn-bush, and its long
streamers trailed thick, right down to the grass, splashing the
darkness everywhere with great spilt stars, pure white. In bosses
of ivory and in large splashed stars the roses gleamed on the
darkness of foliage and stems and grass. Paul and Miriam stood
close together, silent, and watched. Point after point the steady
roses shone out to them, seeming to kindle something in their souls.
The dusk came like smoke around, and still did not put out the roses.
Paul looked into Miriam's eyes. She was pale and expectant
with wonder, her lips were parted, and her dark eyes lay open to him.
His look seemed to travel down into her. Her soul quivered.
It was the communion she wanted. He turned aside, as if pained.
He turned to the bush.
"They seem as if they walk like butterflies, and shake themselves,"
he said.
She looked at her roses. They were white, some incurved and holy,
others expanded in an ecstasy. The tree was dark as a shadow.
She lifted her hand impulsively to the flowers; she went forward
and touched them in worship.
"Let us go," he said.
There was a cool scent of ivory roses--a white, virgin scent.
Something made him feel anxious and imprisoned. The two walked
in silence.
"Till Sunday," he said quietly, and left her; and she walked
home slowly, feeling her soul satisfied with the holiness of the night.
He stumbled down the path. And as soon as he was out of the wood,
in the free open meadow, where he could breathe, he started to run
as fast as he could. It was like a delicious delirium in his veins.
Always when he went with Miriam, and it grew rather late, he knew
his mother was fretting and getting angry about him--why, he could
not understand. As he went into the house, flinging down his cap,
his mother looked up at the clock. She had been sitting thinking,
because a chill to her eyes prevented her reading. She could feel
Paul being drawn away by this girl. And she did not care for Miriam.
"She is one of those who will want to suck a man's soul out till
he has none of his own left," she said to herself; "and he is just
such a gaby as to let himself be absorbed. She will never let him
become a man; she never will." So, while he was away with Miriam,
Mrs. Morel grew more and more worked up.
She glanced at the clock and said, coldly and rather tired:
"You have been far enough to-night."
His soul, warm and exposed from contact with the girl, shrank.
"You must have been right home with her," his mother continued.
He would not answer. Mrs. Morel, looking at him quickly,
saw his hair was damp on his forehead with haste, saw him frowning
in his heavy fashion, resentfully.
"She must be wonderfully fascinating, that you can't get away
from her, but must go trailing eight miles at this time of night."
He was hurt between the past glamour with Miriam and the
knowledge that his mother fretted. He had meant not to say anything,
to refuse to answer. But he could not harden his heart to ignore
his mother.
"I DO like to talk to her," he answered irritably.
"Is there nobody else to talk to?"
"You wouldn't say anything if I went with Edgar."
"You know I should. You know, whoever you went with,
I should say it was too far for you to go trailing, late at night,
when you've been to Nottingham. Besides"--her voice suddenly flashed
into anger and contempt--"it is disgusting--bits
of lads and girls courting."
"It is NOT courting," he cried.
"I don't know what else you call it."
"It's not! Do you think we SPOON and do? We only talk."
"Till goodness knows what time and distance," was the
sarcastic rejoinder.
Paul snapped at the laces of his boots angrily.
"What are you so mad about?" he asked. "Because you don't
like her."
"I don't say I don't like her. But I don't hold with children
keeping company, and never did."
"But you don't mind our Annie going out with Jim Inger."
"They've more sense than you two."
"Our Annie's not one of the deep sort."
He failed to see the meaning of this remark. But his mother
looked tired. She was never so strong after William's death;
and her eyes hurt her.
"Well," he said, "it's so pretty in the country. Mr. Sleath
asked about you. He said he'd missed you. Are you a bit better?"
"I ought to have been in bed a long time ago," she replied.
"Why, mother, you know you wouldn't have gone before
quarter-past ten."
"Oh, yes, I should!"
"Oh, little woman, you'd say anything now you're disagreeable
with me, wouldn't you?"
He kissed her forehead that he knew so well: the deep marks
between the brows, the rising of the fine hair, greying now, and the
proud setting of the temples. His hand lingered on her shoulder
after his kiss. Then he went slowly to bed. He had forgotten Miriam;
he only saw how his mother's hair was lifted back from her warm,
broad brow. And somehow, she was hurt.
Then the next time he saw Miriam he said to her:
"Don't let me be late to-night--not later than ten o'clock. My
mother gets so upset."
Miriam dropped her bead, brooding.
"Why does she get upset?" she asked.
"Because she says I oughtn't to be out late when I have to get
up early."
"Very well!" said Miriam, rather quietly, with just a touch
of a sneer.
He resented that. And he was usually late again.
That there was any love growing between him and Miriam neither
of them would have acknowledged. He thought he was too sane for
such sentimentality, and she thought herself too lofty. They both were
late in coming to maturity, and psychical ripeness was much behind
even the physical. Miriam was exceedingly sensitive, as her mother
had always been. The slightest grossness made her recoil almost
in anguish. Her brothers were brutal, but never coarse in speech.
The men did all the discussing of farm matters outside. But, perhaps,
because of the continual business of birth and of begetting which goes
on upon every farm, Miriam was the more hypersensitive to the matter,
and her blood was chastened almost to disgust of the faintest
suggestion of such intercourse. Paul took his pitch from her,
and their intimacy went on in an utterly blanched and chaste fashion.
It could never be mentioned that the mare was in foal.
When he was nineteen, he was earning only twenty shillings a week,
but he was happy. His painting went well, and life went well enough.
On the Good Friday he organised a walk to the Hemlock Stone.
There were three lads of his own age, then Annie and Arthur,
Miriam and Geoffrey. Arthur, apprenticed as an electrician
in Nottingham, was home for the holiday. Morel, as usual, was up early,
whistling and sawing in the yard. At seven o'clock the family heard
him buy threepennyworth of hot-cross buns; he talked with gusto
to the little girl who brought them, calling her "my darling". He
turned away several boys who came with more buns, telling them
they had been "kested" by a little lass. Then Mrs. Morel got up,
and the family straggled down. It was an immense luxury to everybody,
this lying in bed just beyond the ordinary time on a weekday.
And Paul and Arthur read before breakfast, and had the meal unwashed,
sitting in their shirt-sleeves. This was another holiday luxury.
The room was warm. Everything felt free of care and anxiety.
There was a sense of plenty in the house.
While the boys were reading, Mrs. Morel went into the garden.
They were now in another house, an old one, near the Scargill
Street home, which had been left soon after William had died.
Directly came an excited cry from the garden:
"Paul! Paul! come and look!"
It was his mother's voice. He threw down his book and went out.
There was a long garden that ran to a field. It was a grey, cold day,
with a sharp wind blowing out of Derbyshire. Two fields away
Bestwood began, with a jumble of roofs and red house-ends, out of which
rose the church tower and the spire of the Congregational Chapel.
And beyond went woods and hills, right away to the pale grey heights
of the Pennine Chain.
Paul looked down the garden for his mother. Her head appeared
among the young currant-bushes.
"Come here!" she cried.
"What for?" he answered.
"Come and see."
She had been looking at the buds on the currant trees.
Paul went up.
"To think," she said, "that here I might never have seen them!"
Her son went to her side. Under the fence, in a little bed,
was a ravel of poor grassy leaves, such as come from very immature bulbs,
and three scyllas in bloom. Mrs. Morel pointed to the deep blue flowers.
"Now, just see those!" she exclaimed. "I was looking at
the currant bushes, when, thinks I to myself, 'There's something
very blue; is it a bit of sugar-bag?' and there, behold you!
Sugar-bag! Three glories of the snow, and such beauties!
But where on earth did they come from?"
"I don't know," said Paul.
"Well, that's a marvel, now! I THOUGHT I knew every weed
and blade in this garden. But HAVEN'T they done well? You see,
that gooseberry-bush just shelters them. Not nipped, not touched!"
He crouched down and turned up the bells of the little
blue flowers.
"They're a glorious colour!" he said.
"Aren't they!" she cried. "I guess they come from Switzerland,
where they say they have such lovely things. Fancy them against
the snow! But where have they come from? They can't have BLOWN here,
can they?"
Then he remembered having set here a lot of little trash
of bulbs to mature.
"And you never told me," she said.
"No! I thought I'd leave it till they might flower."
"And now, you see! I might have missed them. And I've never
had a glory of the snow in my garden in my life."
She was full of excitement and elation. The garden was
an endless joy to her. Paul was thankful for her sake at last
to be in a house with a long garden that went down to a field.
Every morning after breakfast she went out and was happy pottering
about in it. And it was true, she knew every weed and blade.
Everybody turned up for the walk. Food was packed, and they
set off, a merry, delighted party. They hung over the wall of the
mill-race, dropped paper in the water on one side of the tunnel
and watched it shoot out on the other. They stood on the foot-bridge
over Boathouse Station and looked at the metals gleaming coldly.
"You should see the Flying Scotsman come through at half-past six!"
said Leonard, whose father was a signalman. "Lad, but she doesn't
half buzz!" and the little party looked up the lines one way,
to London, and the other way, to Scotland, and they felt the touch
of these two magical places.
In Ilkeston the colliers were waiting in gangs for the
public-houses to open. It was a town of idleness and lounging.
At Stanton Gate the iron foundry blazed. Over everything there were
great discussions. At Trowell they crossed again from Derbyshire
into Nottinghamshire. They came to the Hemlock Stone at dinner-time.
Its field was crowded with folk from Nottingham and Ilkeston.
They had expected a venerable and dignified monument.
They found a little, gnarled, twisted stump of rock, something like a
decayed mushroom, standing out pathetically on the side of a field.
Leonard and Dick immediately proceeded to carve their initials,
"L. W." and "R. P.", in the old red sandstone; but Paul desisted,
because he had read in the newspaper satirical remarks about
initial-carvers, who could find no other road to immortality.
Then all the lads climbed to the top of the rock to look round.
Everywhere in the field below, factory girls and lads were eating
lunch or sporting about. Beyond was the garden of an old manor.
It had yew-hedges and thick clumps and borders
of yellow crocuses round the lawn.
"See," said Paul to Miriam, "what a quiet garden!"
She saw the dark yews and the golden crocuses, then she
looked gratefully. He had not seemed to belong to her among all
these others; he was different then--not her Paul, who understood
the slightest quiver of her innermost soul, but something else,
speaking another language than hers. How it hurt her, and deadened
her very perceptions. Only when he came right back to her,
leaving his other, his lesser self, as she thought, would she
feel alive again. And now he asked her to look at this garden,
wanting the contact with her again. Impatient of the set in the field,
she turned to the quiet lawn, surrounded by sheaves of shut-up crocuses.
A feeling of stillness, almost of ecstasy, came over her.
It felt almost as if she were alone with him in this garden.
Then he left her again and joined the others. Soon they
started home. Miriam loitered behind, alone. She did not
fit in with the others; she could very rarely get into human
relations with anyone: so her friend, her companion, her lover,
was Nature. She saw the sun declining wanly. In the dusky,
cold hedgerows were some red leaves. She lingered to gather them,
tenderly, passionately. The love in her finger-tips caressed
the leaves; the passion in her heart came to a glow upon the leaves.
Suddenly she realised she was alone in a strange road,
and she hurried forward. Turning a corner in the lane, she came
upon Paul, who stood bent over something, his mind fixed on it,
working away steadily, patiently, a little hopelessly. She hesitated
in her approach, to watch.
He remained concentrated in the middle of the road. Beyond,
one rift of rich gold in that colourless grey evening seemed to make
him stand out in dark relief. She saw him, slender and firm,
as if the setting sun had given him to her. A deep pain took hold
of her, and she knew she must love him. And she had discovered him,
discovered in him a rare potentiality, discovered his loneliness.
Quivering as at some "annunciation", she went slowly forward.
At last he looked up.
"Why," he exclaimed gratefully, "have you waited for me!"
She saw a deep shadow in his eyes.
"What is it?" she asked.
"The spring broken here;" and he showed her where his umbrella
was injured.
Instantly, with some shame, she knew he had not done
the damage himself, but that Geoffrey was responsible.
"It is only an old umbrella, isn't it?" she asked.
She wondered why he, who did not usually trouble over trifles,
made such a mountain of this molehill.
"But it was William's an' my mother can't help but know,"
he said quietly, still patiently working at the umbrella.
The words went through Miriam like a blade. This, then, was the
confirmation of her vision of him! She looked at him. But there
was about him a certain reserve, and she dared not comfort him,
not even speak softly to him.
"Come on," he said. "I can't do it;" and they went in silence
along the road.
That same evening they were walking along under the trees
by Nether Green. He was talking to her fretfully, seemed to be
struggling to convince himself.
"You know," he said, with an effort, "if one person loves,
the other does."
"Ah!" she answered. "Like mother said to me when I was little,
'Love begets love.'"
"Yes, something like that, I think it MUST be."
"I hope so, because, if it were not, love might be a very
terrible thing," she said.
"Yes, but it IS--at least with most people," he answered.
And Miriam, thinking he had assured himself, felt strong
in herself. She always regarded that sudden coming upon him
in the lane as a revelation. And this conversation remained
graven in her mind as one of the letters of the law.
Now she stood with him and for him. When, about this time,
he outraged the family feeling at Willey Farm by some overbearing insult,
she stuck to him, and believed he was right. And at this time she
dreamed dreams of him, vivid, unforgettable. These dreams came
again later on, developed to a more subtle psychological stage.
On the Easter Monday the same party took an excursion
to Wingfield Manor. It was great excitement to Miriam to catch a
train at Sethley Bridge, amid all the bustle of the Bank Holiday crowd.
They left the train at Alfreton. Paul was interested in the
street and in the colliers with their dogs. Here was a new race
of miners. Miriam did not live till they came to the church.
They were all rather timid of entering, with their bags of food,
for fear of being turned out. Leonard, a comic, thin fellow,
went first; Paul, who would have died rather than be sent back,
went last. The place was decorated for Easter. In the font hundreds
of white narcissi seemed to be growing. The air was dim and coloured
from the windows and thrilled with a subtle scent of lilies
and narcissi. In that atmosphere Miriam's soul came into a glow.
Paul was afraid of the things he mustn't do; and he was sensitive
to the feel of the place. Miriam turned to him. He answered.
They were together. He would not go beyond the Communion-rail. She
loved him for that. Her soul expanded into prayer beside him.
He felt the strange fascination of shadowy religious places.
All his latent mysticism quivered into life. She was drawn to him.
He was a prayer along with her.
Miriam very rarely talked to the other lads. They at once
became awkward in conversation with her. So usually she was silent.
It was past midday when they climbed the steep path to the manor.
All things shone softly in the sun, which was wonderfully warm
and enlivening. Celandines and violets were out. Everybody was
tip-top full with happiness. The glitter of the ivy, the soft,
atmospheric grey of the castle walls, the gentleness of everything
near the ruin, was perfect.
The manor is of hard, pale grey stone, and the other walls
are blank and calm. The young folk were in raptures. They went
in trepidation, almost afraid that the delight of exploring this
ruin might be denied them. In the first courtyard, within the high
broken walls, were farm-carts, with their shafts lying idle on
the ground, the tyres of the wheels brilliant with gold-red rust.
It was very still.
All eagerly paid their sixpences, and went timidly through
the fine clean arch of the inner courtyard. They were shy.
Here on the pavement, where the hall had been, an old thorn tree
was budding. All kinds of strange openings and broken rooms were
in the shadow around them.
After lunch they set off once more to explore the ruin.
This time the girls went with the boys, who could act as guides
and expositors. There was one tall tower in a corner, rather tottering,
where they say Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned.
"Think of the Queen going up here!" said Miriam in a low voice,
as she climbed the hollow stairs.
"If she could get up," said Paul, "for she had rheumatism
like anything. I reckon they treated her rottenly."
"You don't think she deserved it?" asked Miriam.
"No, I don't. She was only lively."
They continued to mount the winding staircase. A high wind,
blowing through the loopholes, went rushing up the shaft,
and filled the girl's skirts like a balloon, so that she was ashamed,
until he took the hem of her dress and held it down for her.
He did it perfectly simply, as he would have picked up her glove.
She remembered this always.
Round the broken top of the tower the ivy bushed out,
old and handsome. Also, there were a few chill gillivers,
in pale cold bud. Miriam wanted to lean over for some ivy,
but he would not let her. Instead, she had to wait behind him,
and take from him each spray as he gathered it and held it to her,
each one separately, in the purest manner of chivalry. The tower
seemed to rock in the wind. They looked over miles and miles
of wooded country, and country with gleams of pasture.
The crypt underneath the manor was beautiful, and in
perfect preservation. Paul made a drawing: Miriam stayed with him.
She was thinking of Mary Queen of Scots looking with her strained,
hopeless eyes, that could not understand misery, over the hills
whence no help came, or sitting in this crypt, being told of a God
as cold as the place she sat in.
They set off again gaily, looking round on their beloved manor
that stood so clean and big on its hill.
"Supposing you could have THAT farm," said Paul to Miriam.
"Wouldn't it be lovely to come and see you!"
They were now in the bare country of stone walls, which he loved,
and which, though only ten miles from home, seemed so foreign
to Miriam. The party was straggling. As they were crossing a
large meadow that sloped away from the sun, along a path embedded
with innumerable tiny glittering points, Paul, walking
alongside, laced his fingers in the strings of the bag Miriam
was carrying, and instantly she felt Annie behind, watchful and jealous.
But the meadow was bathed in a glory of sunshine, and the path
was jewelled, and it was seldom that he gave her any sign.
She held her fingers very still among the strings of the bag,
his fingers touching; and the place was golden as a vision.
At last they came into the straggling grey village of Crich,
that lies high. Beyond the village was the famous Crich Stand
that Paul could see from the garden at home. The party pushed on.
Great expanse of country spread around and below. The lads were
eager to get to the top of the hill. It was capped by a round knoll,
half of which was by now cut away, and on the top of which stood
an ancient monument, sturdy and squat, for signalling in old days far
down into the level lands of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.
It was blowing so hard, high up there in the exposed place,
that the only way to be safe was to stand nailed by the wind
to the wan of the tower. At their feet fell the precipice
where the limestone was quarried away. Below was a jumble of
hills and tiny villages--Mattock, Ambergate, Stoney Middleton.
The lads were eager to spy out the church of Bestwood, far away
among the rather crowded country on the left. They were disgusted
that it seemed to stand on a plain. They saw the hills of Derbyshire
fall into the monotony of the Midlands that swept away South.
Miriam was somewhat scared by the wind, but the lads enjoyed it.
They went on, miles and miles, to Whatstandwell. All the food
was eaten, everybody was hungry, and there was very little money to get
home with. But they managed to procure a loaf and a currant-loaf,
which they hacked to pieces with shut-knives, and ate sitting on
the wall near the bridge, watching the bright Derwent rushing by,
and the brakes from Matlock pulling up at the inn.
Paul was now pale with weariness. He had been responsible
for the party all day, and now he was done. Miriam understood,
and kept close to him, and he left himself in her hands.
They had an hour to wait at Ambergate Station. Trains came,
crowded with excursionists returning to Manchester, Birmingham,
and London.
"We might be going there--folk easily might think we're going
that far," said Paul.
They got back rather late. Miriam, walking home with Geoffrey,
watched the moon rise big and red and misty. She felt something
was fulfilled in her.
She had an elder sister, Agatha, who was a school-teacher.
Between the two girls was a feud. Miriam considered Agatha worldly.
And she wanted herself to be a school-teacher.
One Saturday afternoon Agatha and Miriam were upstairs dressing.
Their bedroom was over the stable. It was a low room, not very large,
and bare. Miriam had nailed on the wall a reproduction of Veronese's
"St. Catherine". She loved the woman who sat in the window, dreaming.
Her own windows were too small to sit in. But the front one was
dripped over with honeysuckle and virginia creeper, and looked
upon the tree-tops of the oak-wood across the yard, while the
little back window, no bigger than a handkerchief, was a loophole
to the east, to the dawn beating up against the beloved round hills.
The two sisters did not talk much to each other. Agatha,
who was fair and small and determined, had rebelled against
the home atmosphere, against the doctrine of "the other cheek".
She was out in the world now, in a fair way to be independent.
And she insisted on worldly values, on appearance, on manners,
on position, which Miriam would fain have ignored.
Both girls liked to be upstairs, out of the way, when Paul came.
They preferred to come running down, open the stair-foot door,
and see him watching, expectant of them. Miriam stood painfully
pulling over her head a rosary he had given her. It caught
in the fine mesh of her hair. But at last she had it on, and the
red-brown wooden beads looked well against her cool brown neck.
She was a well-developed girl, and very handsome. But in the little
looking-glass nailed against the whitewashed wall she could only see
a fragment of herself at a time. Agatha had bought a little mirror
of her own, which she propped up to suit herself. Miriam was near
the window. Suddenly she heard the well-known click of the chain,
and she saw Paul fling open the gate, push his bicycle into the yard.
She saw him look at the house, and she shrank away. He walked
in a nonchalant fashion, and his bicycle went with him as if it
were a live thing.
"Paul's come!" she exclaimed.
"Aren't you glad?" said Agatha cuttingly.
Miriam stood still in amazement and bewilderment.
"Well, aren't you?" she asked.
"Yes, but I'm not going to let him see it, and think I wanted him."
Miriam was startled. She heard him putting his bicycle in the
stable underneath, and talking to Jimmy, who had been a pit-horse,
and who was seedy.
"Well, Jimmy my lad, how are ter? Nobbut sick an'
sadly, like? Why, then, it's a shame, my owd lad."
She heard the rope run through the hole as the horse lifted its
head from the lad's caress. How she loved to listen when he thought
only the horse could hear. But there was a serpent in her Eden.
She searched earnestly in herself to see if she wanted Paul Morel.
She felt there would be some disgrace in it. Full of twisted feeling,
she was afraid she did want him. She stood self-convicted. Then
came an agony of new shame. She shrank within herself in a coil
of torture. Did she want Paul Morel, and did he know she wanted him?
What a subtle infamy upon her. She felt as if her whole soul coiled
into knots of shame.
Agatha was dressed first, and ran downstairs. Miriam heard
her greet the lad gaily, knew exactly how brilliant her grey
eyes became with that tone. She herself would have felt it bold
to have greeted him in such wise. Yet there she stood under the
self-accusation of wanting him, tied to that stake of torture.
In bitter perplexity she kneeled down and prayed:
"O Lord, let me not love Paul Morel. Keep me from loving him,
if I ought not to love him."
Something anomalous in the prayer arrested her. She lifted
her head and pondered. How could it be wrong to love him? Love was
God's gift. And yet it caused her shame. That was because of him,
Paul Morel. But, then, it was not his affair, it was her own,
between herself and God. She was to be a sacrifice. But it was
God's sacrifice, not Paul Morel's or her own. After a few minutes
she hid her face in the pillow again, and said:
"But, Lord, if it is Thy will that I should love him,
make me love him--as Christ would, who died for the souls of men.
Make me love him splendidly, because he is Thy son."
She remained kneeling for some time, quite still, and deeply moved,
her black hair against the red squares and the lavender-sprigged
squares of the patchwork quilt. Prayer was almost essential to her.
Then she fell into that rapture of self-sacrifice,
identifying herself with a God who was sacrificed, which gives
to so many human souls their deepest bliss.
When she went downstairs Paul was lying back in an armchair,
holding forth with much vehemence to Agatha, who was scorning a little
painting he had brought to show her. Miriam glanced at the two,
and avoided their levity. She went into the parlour to be alone.
It was tea-time before she was able to speak to Paul, and then
her manner was so distant he thought he had offended her.
Miriam discontinued her practice of going each Thursday evening
to the library in Bestwood. After calling for Paul regularly
during the whole spring, a number of trifling incidents and tiny
insults from his family awakened her to their attitude towards her,
and she decided to go no more. So she announced to Paul one evening
she would not call at his house again for him on Thursday nights.
"Why?" he asked, very short.
"Nothing. Only I'd rather not."
"Very well."
"But," she faltered, "if you'd care to meet me, we could still
go together."
"Meet you where?"
"Somewhere--where you like."
"I shan't meet you anywhere. I don't see why you shouldn't
keep calling for me. But if you won't, I don't want to meet you."
So the Thursday evenings which had been so precious to her,
and to him, were dropped. He worked instead. Mrs. Morel sniffed
with satisfaction at this arrangement.
He would not have it that they were lovers. The intimacy
between them had been kept so abstract, such a matter of the soul,
all thought and weary struggle into consciousness, that he saw it only
as a platonic friendship. He stoutly denied there was anything else
between them. Miriam was silent, or else she very quietly agreed.
He was a fool who did not know what was happening to himself.
By tacit agreement they ignored the remarks and insinuations of
their acquaintances.
"We aren't lovers, we are friends," he said to her. "WE know it.
Let them talk. What does it matter what they say."
Sometimes, as they were walking together, she slipped her arm
timidly into his. But he always resented it, and she knew it.
It caused a violent conflict in him. With Miriam he was always
on the high plane of abstraction, when his natural fire of love was
transmitted into the fine stream of thought. She would have it so.
If he were jolly and, as she put it, flippant, she waited till he came
back to her, till the change had taken place in him again, and he
was wrestling with his own soul, frowning, passionate in his desire
for understanding. And in this passion for understanding her soul
lay close to his; she had him all to herself. But he must be made
abstract first.
Then, if she put her arm in his, it caused him almost torture.
His consciousness seemed to split. The place where she was touching
him ran hot with friction. He was one internecine battle, and he
became cruel to her because of it.
One evening in midsummer Miriam called at the house,
warm from climbing. Paul was alone in the kitchen; his mother
could be heard moving about upstairs.
"Come and look at the sweet-peas," he said to the girl.
They went into the garden. The sky behind the townlet and the
church was orange-red; the flower-garden was flooded with a strange
warm light that lifted every leaf into significance. Paul passed
along a fine row of sweet-peas, gathering a blossom here and there,
all cream and pale blue. Miriam followed, breathing the fragrance.
To her, flowers appealed with such strength she felt she must
make them part of herself. When she bent and breathed a flower,
it was as if she and the flower were loving each other. Paul hated
her for it. There seemed a sort of exposure about the action,
something too intimate.
When he had got a fair bunch, they returned to the house.
He listened for a moment to his mother's quiet movement upstairs,
then he said:
"Come here, and let me pin them in for you." He arranged them
two or three at a time in the bosom of her dress, stepping back
now and then to see the effect. "You know," he said, taking the pin
out of his mouth, "a woman ought always to arrange her flowers
before her glass."
Miriam laughed. She thought flowers ought to be pinned
in one's dress without any care. That Paul should take pains
to fix her flowers for her was his whim.
He was rather offended at her laughter.
"Some women do--those who look decent," he said.
Miriam laughed again, but mirthlessly, to hear him thus mix
her up with women in a general way. From most men she would have
ignored it. But from him it hurt her.
He had nearly finished arranging the flowers when he heard
his mother's footstep on the stairs. Hurriedly he pushed
in the last pin and turned away.
"Don't let mater know," he said.
Miriam picked up her books and stood in the doorway looking
with chagrin at the beautiful sunset. She would call for Paul
no more, she said.
"Good-evening, Mrs. Morel," she said, in a deferential way.
She sounded as if she felt she had no right to be there.
"Oh, is it you, Miriam?" replied Mrs. Morel coolly.
But Paul insisted on everybody's accepting his friendship
with the girl, and Mrs. Morel was too wise to have any open rupture.
It was not till he was twenty years old that the family could
ever afford to go away for a holiday. Mrs. Morel had never been away
for a holiday, except to see her sister, since she had been married.
Now at last Paul had saved enough money, and they were all going.
There was to be a party: some of Annie's friends, one friend of Paul's,
a young man in the same office where William had previously been,
and Miriam.
It was great excitement writing for rooms. Paul and his
mother debated it endlessly between them. They wanted a furnished
cottage for two weeks. She thought one week would be enough,
but he insisted on two.
At last they got an answer from Mablethorpe, a cottage such as they
wished for thirty shillings a week. There was immense jubilation.
Paul was wild with joy for his mother's sake. She would have
a real holiday now. He and she sat at evening picturing what it
would be like. Annie came in, and Leonard, and Alice, and Kitty.
There was wild rejoicing and anticipation. Paul told Miriam.
She seemed to brood with joy over it. But the Morel's house rang
with excitement.
They were to go on Saturday morning by the seven train.
Paul suggested that Miriam should sleep at his house, because it
was so far for her to walk. She came down for supper.
Everybody was so excited that even Miriam was accepted with warmth.
But almost as soon as she entered the feeling in the family became close and tight.
He had discovered a poem by Jean Ingelow which mentioned Mablethorpe,
and so he must read it to Miriam. He would never have got so far in
the direction of sentimentality as to read poetry to his own family.
But now they condescended to listen. Miriam sat on the sofa
absorbed in him. She always seemed absorbed in him, and by him,
when he was present. Mrs. Morel sat jealously in her own chair.
She was going to hear also. And even Annie and the father attended,
Morel with his head cocked on one side, like somebody listening
to a sermon and feeling conscious of the fact. Paul ducked his head
over the book. He had got now all the audience he cared for.
And Mrs. Morel and Annie almost contested with Miriam who should listen
best and win his favour. He was in very high feather.
"But," interrupted Mrs. Morel, "what IS the 'Bride of Enderby'
that the bells are supposed to ring?"
"It's an old tune they used to play on the bells for a warning
against water. I suppose the Bride of Enderby was drowned in a flood,"
he replied. He had not the faintest knowledge what it really was,
but he would never have sunk so low as to confess that to his womenfolk.
They listened and believed him. He believed himself.
"And the people knew what that tune meant?" said his mother.
"Yes--just like the Scotch when they heard 'The Flowers o'
the Forest'--and when they used to ring the bells backward for alarm."
"How?" said Annie. "A bell sounds the same whether it's rung
backwards or forwards."
"But," he said, "if you start with the deep bell and ring up
to the high one--der--der--der--der--der--der--der--der!"
He ran up the scale. Everybody thought it clever. He thought
so too. Then, waiting a minute, he continued the poem.
"Hm!" said Mrs. Morel curiously, when he finished. "But I
wish everything that's written weren't so sad."
"I canna see what they want drownin' theirselves for,"
said Morel.
There was a pause. Annie got up to clear the table.
Miriam rose to help with the pots.
"Let ME help to wash up," she said.
"Certainly not," cried Annie. "You sit down again.
There aren't many."
And Miriam, who could not be familiar and insist, sat down
again to look at the book with Paul.
He was master of the party; his father was no good. And great
tortures he suffered lest the tin box should be put out at Firsby
instead of at Mablethorpe. And he wasn't equal to getting a carriage.
His bold little mother did that.
"Here!" she cried to a man. "Here!"
Paul and Annie got behind the rest, convulsed with shamed laughter.
"How much will it be to drive to Brook Cottage?" said Mrs. Morel.
"Two shillings."
"Why, how far is it?"
"A good way."
"I don't believe it," she said.
But she scrambled in. There were eight crowded in one old
seaside carriage.
"You see," said Mrs. Morel, "it's only threepence each,
and if it were a tramcar---"
They drove along. Each cottage they came to, Mrs. Morel cried:
"Is it this? Now, this is it!"
Everybody sat breathless. They drove past. There was
a universal sigh.
"I'm thankful it wasn't that brute," said Mrs. Morel.
"I WAS frightened." They drove on and on.
At last they descended at a house that stood alone over
the dyke by the highroad. There was wild excitement because they
had to cross a little bridge to get into the front garden.
But they loved the house that lay so solitary, with a sea-meadow
on one side, and immense expanse of land patched in white barley,
yellow oats, red wheat, and green root-crops, flat and stretching
level to the sky.
Paul kept accounts. He and his mother ran the show.
The total expenses--lodging, food, everything--was sixteen shillings
a week per person. He and Leonard went bathing in the mornings.
Morel was wandering abroad quite early.
"You, Paul," his mother called from the bedroom, "eat a piece
of bread-and-butter."
"All right," he answered.
And when he got back he saw his mother presiding in state at
the breakfast-table. The woman of the house was young. Her husband
was blind, and she did laundry work. So Mrs. Morel always washed
the pots in the kitchen and made the beds.
"But you said you'd have a real holiday," said Paul, "and now
you work."
"Work!" she exclaimed. "What are you talking about!"
He loved to go with her across the fields to the village
and the sea. She was afraid of the plank bridge, and he abused her
for being a baby. On the whole he stuck to her as if he were HER man.
Miriam did not get much of him, except, perhaps, when all the
others went to the "Coons". Coons were insufferably stupid to Miriam,
so he thought they were to himself also, and he preached priggishly
to Annie about the fatuity of listening to them. Yet he, too,
knew all their songs, and sang them along the roads roisterously.
And if he found himself listening, the stupidity pleased him very much.
Yet to Annie he said:
"Such rot! there isn't a grain of intelligence in it. Nobody with
more gumption than a grasshopper could go and sit and listen."
And to Miriam he said, with much scorn of Annie and the others:
"I suppose they're at the 'Coons'."
It was queer to see Miriam singing coon songs. She had a straight
chin that went in a perpendicular line from the lower lip to the turn.
She always reminded Paul of some sad Botticelli angel when she sang,
even when it was:
"Come down lover's lane
For a walk with me, talk with me."
Only when he sketched, or at evening when the others were at
the "Coons", she had him to herself. He talked to her endlessly
about his love of horizontals: how they, the great levels of sky
and land in Lincolnshire, meant to him the eternality of the will,
just as the bowed Norman arches of the church, repeating themselves,
meant the dogged leaping forward of the persistent human soul,
on and on, nobody knows where; in contradiction to the perpendicular
lines and to the Gothic arch, which, he said, leapt up at heaven and
touched the ecstasy and lost itself in the divine. Himself, he said,
was Norman, Miriam was Gothic. She bowed in consent even to that.
One evening he and she went up the great sweeping shore
of sand towards Theddlethorpe. The long breakers plunged and ran
in a hiss of foam along the coast. It was a warm evening.
There was not a figure but themselves on the far reaches of sand,
no noise but the sound of the sea. Paul loved to see it clanging
at the land. He loved to feel himself between the noise of it
and the silence of the sandy shore. Miriam was with him.
Everything grew very intense. It was quite dark when they
turned again. The way home was through a gap in the sandhills,
and then along a raised grass road between two dykes. The country
was black and still. From behind the sandhills came the whisper
of the sea. Paul and Miriam walked in silence. Suddenly he started.
The whole of his blood seemed to burst into flame, and he could
scarcely breathe. An enormous orange moon was staring at them
from the rim of the sandhills. He stood still, looking at it.
"Ah!" cried Miriam, when she saw it.
He remained perfectly still, staring at the immense and ruddy
moon, the only thing in the far-reaching darkness of the level.
His heart beat heavily, the muscles of his arms contracted.
"What is it?" murmured Miriam, waiting for him.
He turned and looked at her. She stood beside him, for ever
in shadow. Her face, covered with the darkness of her hat, was watching
him unseen. But she was brooding. She was slightly afraid--deeply
moved and religious. That was her best state. He was impotent
against it. His blood was concentrated like a flame in his chest.
But he could not get across to her. There were flashes in his blood.
But somehow she ignored them. She was expecting some religious
state in him. Still yearning, she was half aware of his passion,
and gazed at him, troubled.
"What is it?" she murmured again.
"It's the moon," he answered, frowning.
"Yes," she assented. "Isn't it wonderful?" She was curious
about him. The crisis was past.
He did not know himself what was the matter. He was naturally
so young, and their intimacy was so abstract, he did not know he
wanted to crush her on to his breast to ease the ache there.
He was afraid of her. The fact that he might want her as a man wants
a woman had in him been suppressed into a shame. When she shrank
in her convulsed, coiled torture from the thought of such
a thing, he had winced to the depths of his soul. And now this
"purity" prevented even their first love-kiss. It was as if she could
scarcely stand the shock of physical love, even a passionate kiss,
and then he was too shrinking and sensitive to give it.
As they walked along the dark fen-meadow he watched the moon
and did not speak. She plodded beside him. He hated her, for she
seemed in some way to make him despise himself. Looking ahead--he saw
the one light in the darkness, the window of their lamp-lit cottage.
He loved to think of his mother, and the other jolly people.
"Well, everybody else has been in long ago!" said his mother
as they entered.
"What does that matter!" he cried irritably. "I can go a walk
if I like, can't I?"
"And I should have thought you could get in to supper with
the rest," said Mrs. Morel.
"I shall please myself," he retorted. "It's not LATE.
I shall do as I like."
"Very well," said his mother cuttingly, "then DO as you like."
And she took no further notice of him that evening. Which he
pretended neither to notice nor to care about, but sat reading.
Miriam read also, obliterating herself. Mrs. Morel hated her
for making her son like this. She watched Paul growing irritable,
priggish, and melancholic. For this she put the blame on Miriam.
Annie and all her friends joined against the girl. Miriam had no
friend of her own, only Paul. But she did not suffer so much,
because she despised the triviality of these other people.
And Paul hated her because, somehow, she spoilt his ease
and naturalness. And he writhed himself with a feeling of humiliation.
ARTHUR finished his apprenticeship, and got a job on the electrical
plant at Minton Pit. He earned very little, but had a good chance
of getting on. But he was wild and restless. He did not drink
nor gamble. Yet he somehow contrived to get into endless scrapes,
always through some hot-headed thoughtlessness. Either he went
rabbiting in the woods, like a poacher, or he stayed in Nottingham
all night instead of coming home, or he miscalculated his dive
into the canal at Bestwood, and scored his chest into one mass
of wounds on the raw stones and tins at the bottom.
He had not been at his work many months when again he did
not come home one night.
"Do you know where Arthur is?" asked Paul at breakfast.
"I do not," replied his mother.
"He is a fool," said Paul. "And if he DID anything I
shouldn't mind. But no, he simply can't come away from a game
of whist, or else he must see a girl home from the skating-rink--quite
proprietously--and so can't get home. He's a fool."
"I don't know that it would make it any better if he did
something to make us all ashamed," said Mrs. Morel.
"Well, I should respect him more," said Paul.
"I very much doubt it," said his mother coldly.
They went on with breakfast.
"Are you fearfully fond of him?" Paul asked his mother.
"What do you ask that for?"
"Because they say a woman always like the youngest best."
"She may do--but I don't. No, he wearies me."
"And you'd actually rather he was good?"
"I'd rather he showed some of a man's common sense."
Paul was raw and irritable. He also wearied his mother very often.
She saw the sunshine going out of him, and she resented it.
As they were finishing breakfast came the postman with a letter
from Derby. Mrs. Morel screwed up her eyes to look at the address.
"Give it here, blind eye!" exclaimed her son, snatching it
away from her.
She started, and almost boxed his ears.
"It's from your son, Arthur," he said.
"What now---!" cried Mrs. Morel.
"'My dearest Mother,'" Paul read, "'I don't know what made
me such a fool. I want you to come and fetch me back from here.
I came with Jack Bredon yesterday, instead of going to work,
and enlisted. He said he was sick of wearing the seat of a stool out,
and, like the idiot you know I am, I came away with him.
"'I have taken the King's shilling, but perhaps if you
came for me they would let me go back with you. I was a fool
when I did it. I don't want to be in the army. My dear mother,
I am nothing but a trouble to you. But if you get me out of this,
I promise I will have more sense and consideration. . . .'"
Mrs. Morel sat down in her rocking-chair.
"Well, NOW," she cried, "let him stop!"
"Yes," said Paul, "let him stop."
There was silence. The mother sat with her hands folded
in her apron, her face set, thinking.
"If I'm not SICK!" she cried suddenly. "Sick!"
"Now," said Paul, beginning to frown, "you're not going
to worry your soul out about this, do you hear."
"I suppose I'm to take it as a blessing," she flashed,
turning on her son.
"You're not going to mount it up to a tragedy, so there,"
he retorted.
"The FOOL!--the young fool!" she cried.
"He'll look well in uniform," said Paul irritatingly.
His mother turned on him like a fury.
"Oh, will he!" she cried. "Not in my eyes!"
"He should get in a cavalry regiment; he'll have the time
of his life, and will look an awful swell."
"Swell!--SWELL!--a mighty swell idea indeed!--a common soldier!"
"Well," said Paul, "what am I but a common clerk?"
"A good deal, my boy!" cried his mother, stung.
"At any rate, a MAN, and not a thing in a red coat."
"I shouldn't mind being in a red coat--or dark blue, that would
suit me better--if they didn't boss me about too much."
But his mother had ceased to listen.
"Just as he was getting on, or might have been getting on,
at his job--a young nuisance--here he goes and ruins himself for life.
What good will he be, do you think, after THIS?"
"It may lick him into shape beautifully," said Paul.
"Lick him into shape!--lick what marrow there WAS out of his bones.
A SOLDIER!--a common SOLDIER!--nothing but a body that makes movements
when it hears a shout! It's a fine thing!"
"I can't understand why it upsets you," said Paul.
"No, perhaps you can't. But I understand"; and she sat back
in her chair, her chin in one hand, holding her elbow with the other,
brimmed up with wrath and chagrin.
"And shall you go to Derby?" asked Paul.
"It's no good."
"I'll see for myself."
"And why on earth don't you let him stop. It's just what
he wants."
"Of course," cried the mother, "YOU know what he wants!"
She got ready and went by the first train to Derby, where she
saw her son and the sergeant. It was, however, no good.
When Morel was having his dinner in the evening, she said suddenly:
"I've had to go to Derby to-day."
The miner turned up his eyes, showing the whites in his black face.
"Has ter, lass. What took thee there?"
"That Arthur!"
"Oh--an' what's agate now?"
"He's only enlisted."
Morel put down his knife and leaned back in his chair.
"Nay," he said, "that he niver 'as!"
"And is going down to Aldershot tomorrow."
"Well!" exclaimed the miner. "That's a winder." He considered
it a moment, said "H'm!" and proceeded with his dinner. Suddenly his
face contracted with wrath. "I hope he may never set foot i'
my house again," he said.
"The idea!" cried Mrs. Morel. "Saying such a thing!"
"I do," repeated Morel. "A fool as runs away for a soldier,
let 'im look after 'issen; I s'll do no more for 'im."
"A fat sight you have done as it is," she said.
And Morel was almost ashamed to go to his public-house
that evening.
"Well, did you go?" said Paul to his mother when he came home.
"I did."
"And could you see him?"
"And what did he say?"
"He blubbered when I came away."
"And so did I, so you needn't 'h'm'!"
Mrs. Morel fretted after her son. She knew he would not
like the army. He did not. The discipline was intolerable to him.
"But the doctor," she said with some pride to Paul, "said he
was perfectly proportioned--almost exactly; all his measurements
were correct. He IS good-looking, you know."
"He's awfully nice-looking. But he doesn't fetch the girls
like William, does he?"
"No; it's a different character. He's a good deal like
his father, irresponsible."
To console his mother, Paul did not go much to Willey
Farm at this time. And in the autumn exhibition of students'
work in the Castle he had two studies, a landscape in water-colour
and a still life in oil, both of which had first-prize awards.
He was highly excited.
"What do you think I've got for my pictures, mother?" he asked,
coming home one evening. She saw by his eyes he was glad.
Her face flushed.
"Now, how should I know, my boy!"
"A first prize for those glass jars---"
"And a first prize for that sketch up at Willey Farm."
"Both first?"
There was a rosy, bright look about her, though she said nothing.
"It's nice," he said, "isn't it?"
"It is."
"Why don't you praise me up to the skies?"
She laughed.
"I should have the trouble of dragging you down again,"
she said.
But she was full of joy, nevertheless. William had brought
her his sporting trophies. She kept them still, and she did not
forgive his death. Arthur was handsome--at least, a good specimen--and warm
and generous, and probably would do well in the end. But Paul
was going to distinguish himself. She had a great belief in him,
the more because he was unaware of his own powers. There was
so much to come out of him. Life for her was rich with promise.
She was to see herself fulfilled. Not for nothing had been
her struggle.
Several times during the exhibition Mrs. Morel went to the
Castle unknown to Paul. She wandered down the long room looking
at the other exhibits. Yes, they were good. But they had not in
them a certain something which she demanded for her satisfaction.
Some made her jealous, they were so good. She looked at them
a long time trying to find fault with them. Then suddenly she
had a shock that made her heart beat. There hung Paul's picture!
She knew it as if it were printed on her heart.
"Name--Paul Morel--First Prize."
It looked so strange, there in public, on the walls of the
Castle gallery, where in her lifetime she had seen so many pictures.
And she glanced round to see if anyone had noticed her again in front
of the same sketch.
But she felt a proud woman. When she met well-dressed ladies
going home to the Park, she thought to herself:
"Yes, you look very well--but I wonder if YOUR son has two
first prizes in the Castle."
And she walked on, as proud a little woman as any in Nottingham.
And Paul felt he had done something for her, if only a trifle.
All his work was hers.
One day, as he was going up Castle Gate, he met Miriam. He had
seen her on the Sunday, and had not expected to meet her in town.
She was walking with a rather striking woman, blonde, with a sullen
expression, and a defiant carriage. It was strange how Miriam,
in her bowed, meditative bearing, looked dwarfed beside this woman
with the handsome shoulders. Miriam watched Paul searchingly.
His gaze was on the stranger, who ignored him. The girl saw his
masculine spirit rear its head.
"Hello!" he said, "you didn't tell me you were coming to town."
"No," replied Miriam, half apologetically. "I drove
in to Cattle Market with father."
He looked at her companion.
"I've told you about Mrs. Dawes," said Miriam huskily;
she was nervous. "Clara, do you know Paul?"
"I think I've seen him before," replied Mrs. Dawes indifferently,
as she shook hands with him. She had scornful grey eyes, a skin
like white honey, and a full mouth, with a slightly lifted upper
lip that did not know whether it was raised in scorn of all men
or out of eagerness to be kissed, but which believed the former.
She carried her head back, as if she had drawn away in contempt,
perhaps from men also. She wore a large, dowdy hat of black beaver,
and a sort of slightly affected simple dress that made her look
rather sack-like. She was evidently poor, and had not much taste.
Miriam usually looked nice.
"Where have you seen me?" Paul asked of the woman.
She looked at him as if she would not trouble to answer. Then:
"Walking with Louie Travers," she said.
Louie was one of the "Spiral" girls.
"Why, do you know her?" he asked.
She did not answer. He turned to Miriam.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"To the Castle."
"What train are you going home by?"
"I am driving with father. I wish you could come too.
What time are you free?"
"You know not till eight to-night, damn it!"
And directly the two women moved on.
Paul remembered that Clara Dawes was the daughter of an old
friend of Mrs. Leivers. Miriam had sought her out because she
had once been Spiral overseer at Jordan's, and because her husband,
Baxter Dawes, was smith for the factory, making the irons for
cripple instruments, and so on. Through her Miriam felt she got
into direct contact with Jordan's, and could estimate better
Paul's position. But Mrs. Dawes was separated from her husband,
and had taken up Women's Rights. She was supposed to be clever.
It interested Paul.
Baxter Dawes he knew and disliked. The smith was a man
of thirty-one or thirty-two. He came occasionally through Paul's
corner--a big, well-set man, also striking to look at, and handsome.
There was a peculiar similarity between himself and his wife.
He had the same white skin, with a clear, golden tinge. His hair
was of soft brown, his moustache was golden. And he had a similar
defiance in his bearing and manner. But then came the difference.
His eyes, dark brown and quick-shifting, were dissolute.
They protruded very slightly, and his eyelids hung over them in a
way that was half hate. His mouth, too, was sensual. His whole
manner was of cowed defiance, as if he were ready to knock anybody
down who disapproved of him--perhaps because he really disapproved
of himself.
From the first day he had hated Paul. Finding the lad's impersonal,
deliberate gaze of an artist on his face, he got into a fury.
"What are yer lookin' at?" he sneered, bullying.
The boy glanced away. But the smith used to stand behind
the counter and talk to Mr. Pappleworth. His speech was dirty,
with a kind of rottenness. Again he found the youth with his cool,
critical gaze fixed on his face. The smith started round as if he
had been stung.
"What'r yer lookin' at, three hap'orth o' pap?" he snarled.
The boy shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Why yer---!" shouted Dawes.
"Leave him alone," said Mr. Pappleworth, in that insinuating
voice which means, "He's only one of your good little sops who can't
help it."
Since that time the boy used to look at the man every time
he came through with the same curious criticism, glancing away
before he met the smith's eye. It made Dawes furious. They hated
each other in silence.
Clara Dawes had no children. When she had left her husband the
home had been broken up, and she had gone to live with her mother.
Dawes lodged with his sister. In the same house was a sister-in-law, and
somehow Paul knew that this girl, Louie Travers, was now Dawes's woman.
She was a handsome, insolent hussy, who mocked at the youth, and yet
flushed if he walked along to the station with her as she went home.
The next time he went to see Miriam it was Saturday evening.
She had a fire in the parlour, and was waiting for him. The others,
except her father and mother and the young children, had gone out,
so the two had the parlour together. It was a long, low, warm room.
There were three of Paul's small sketches on the wall, and his photo was
on the mantelpiece. On the table and on the high old
rosewood piano were bowls of coloured leaves. He sat in the armchair,
she crouched on the hearthrug near his feet. The glow was warm
on her handsome, pensive face as she kneeled there like a devotee.
"What did you think of Mrs. Dawes?" she asked quietly.
"She doesn't look very amiable," he replied.
"No, but don't you think she's a fine woman?" she said,
in a deep tone,
"Yes--in stature. But without a grain of taste. I like her
for some things. IS she disagreeable?"
"I don't think so. I think she's dissatisfied."
"What with?"
"Well--how would you like to be tied for life to a man like that?"
"Why did she marry him, then, if she was to have revulsions
so soon?"
"Ay, why did she!" repeated Miriam bitterly.
"And I should have thought she had enough fight in her
to match him," he said.
Miriam bowed her head.
"Ay?" she queried satirically. "What makes you think so?"
"Look at her mouth--made for passion--and the very setback
of her throat---" He threw his head back in Clara's defiant manner.
Miriam bowed a little lower.
"Yes," she said.
There was a silence for some moments, while he thought of Clara.
"And what were the things you liked about her?" she asked.
"I don't know--her skin and the texture of her--and her--I don't
know--there's a sort of fierceness somewhere in her. I appreciate
her as an artist, that's all."
He wondered why Miriam crouched there brooding in that strange way.
It irritated him.
"You don't really like her, do you?" he asked the girl.
She looked at him with her great, dazzled dark eyes.
"I do," she said.
"You don't--you can't--not really."
"Then what?" she asked slowly.
"Eh, I don't know--perhaps you like her because she's got a grudge
against men."
That was more probably one of his own reasons for liking
Mrs. Dawes, but this did not occur to him. They were silent.
There had come into his forehead a knitting of the brows which was
becoming habitual with him, particularly when he was with Miriam.
She longed to smooth it away, and she was afraid of it. It seemed
the stamp of a man who was not her man in Paul Morel.
There were some crimson berries among the leaves in the bowl.
He reached over and pulled out a bunch.
"If you put red berries in your hair," he said, "why would
you look like some witch or priestess, and never like a reveller?"
She laughed with a naked, painful sound.
"I don't know," she said.
His vigorous warm hands were playing excitedly with the berries.
"Why can't you laugh?" he said. "You never laugh laughter.
You only laugh when something is odd or incongruous, and then it
almost seems to hurt you."
She bowed her head as if he were scolding her.
"I wish you could laugh at me just for one minute--just
for one minute. I feel as if it would set something free."
"But"--and she looked up at him with eyes frightened
and struggling--"I do laugh at you--I DO."
"Never! There's always a kind of intensity. When you laugh
I could always cry; it seems as if it shows up your suffering.
Oh, you make me knit the brows of my very soul and cogitate."
Slowly she shook her head despairingly.
"I'm sure I don't want to," she said.
"I'm so damned spiritual with YOU always!" he cried.
She remained silent, thinking, "Then why don't you be otherwise."
But he saw her crouching, brooding figure, and it seemed to tear
him in two.
"But, there, it's autumn," he said, "and everybody feels
like a disembodied spirit then."
There was still another silence. This peculiar sadness
between them thrilled her soul. He seemed so beautiful with his
eyes gone dark, and looking as if they were deep as the deepest well.
"You make me so spiritual!" he lamented. "And I don't want
to be spiritual."
She took her finger from her mouth with a little pop, and looked
up at him almost challenging. But still her soul was naked in her
great dark eyes, and there was the same yearning appeal upon her.
If he could have kissed her in abstract purity he would have done so.
But he could not kiss her thus--and she seemed to leave no other way.
And she yearned to him.
He gave a brief laugh.
"Well," he said, "get that French and we'll do some--some Verlaine."
"Yes," she said in a deep tone, almost of resignation.
And she rose and got the books. And her rather red, nervous hands
looked so pitiful, he was mad to comfort her and kiss her. But then
be dared not--or could not. There was something prevented him.
His kisses were wrong for her. They continued the reading till ten
o'clock, when they went into the kitchen, and Paul was natural and jolly
again with the father and mother. His eyes were dark and shining;
there was a kind of fascination about him.
When he went into the barn for his bicycle he found the front
wheel punctured.
"Fetch me a drop of water in a bowl," he said to her.
"I shall be late, and then I s'll catch it."
He lighted the hurricane lamp, took off his coat, turned up
the bicycle, and set speedily to work. Miriam came with the bowl
of water and stood close to him, watching. She loved to see
his hands doing things. He was slim and vigorous, with a kind
of easiness even in his most hasty movements. And busy at his work
he seemed to forget her. She loved him absorbedly. She wanted
to run her hands down his sides. She always wanted to embrace him,
so long as he did not want her.
"There!" he said, rising suddenly. "Now, could you have done
it quicker?"
"No!" she laughed.
He straightened himself. His back was towards her. She put
her two hands on his sides, and ran them quickly down.
"You are so FINE!" she said.
He laughed, hating her voice, but his blood roused to a wave
of flame by her hands. She did not seem to realise HIM in all this.
He might have been an object. She never realised the male he was.
He lighted his bicycle-lamp, bounced the machine on the barn
floor to see that the tyres were sound, and buttoned his coat.
"That's all right!" he said.
She was trying the brakes, that she knew were broken.
"Did you have them mended?" she asked.
"But why didn't you?"
"The back one goes on a bit."
"But it's not safe."
"I can use my toe."
"I wish you'd had them mended," she murmured.
"Don't worry--come to tea tomorrow, with Edgar."
"Shall we?"
"Do--about four. I'll come to meet you."
"Very well."
She was pleased. They went across the dark yard to the gate.
Looking across, he saw through the uncurtained window of the
kitchen the heads of Mr. and Mrs. Leivers in the warm glow.
It looked very cosy. The road, with pine trees, was quite black
in front.
"Till tomorrow," he said, jumping on his bicycle.
"You'll take care, won't you?" she pleaded.
His voice already came out of the darkness. She stood a moment
watching the light from his lamp race into obscurity along the ground.
She turned very slowly indoors. Orion was wheeling up over the wood,
his dog twinkling after him, half smothered. For the rest the world
was full of darkness, and silent, save for the breathing of cattle
in their stalls. She prayed earnestly for his safety that night.
When he left her, she often lay in anxiety, wondering if he had got
home safely.
He dropped down the hills on his bicycle. The roads were greasy,
so he had to let it go. He felt a pleasure as the machine plunged
over the second, steeper drop in the hill. "Here goes!" he said.
It was risky, because of the curve in the darkness at the bottom,
and because of the brewers' waggons with drunken waggoners asleep.
His bicycle seemed to fall beneath him, and he loved it.
Recklessness is almost a man's revenge on his woman.
He feels he is not valued, so he will risk destroying himself to
deprive her altogether.
The stars on the lake seemed to leap like grasshoppers,
silver upon the blackness, as he spun past. Then there was the long
climb home.
"See, mother!" he said, as he threw her the berries and leaves
on to the table.
"H'm!" she said, glancing at them, then away again.
She sat reading, alone, as she always did.
"Aren't they pretty?"
He knew she was cross with him. After a few minutes he said:
"Edgar and Miriam are coming to tea tomorrow."
She did not answer.
"You don't mind?"
Still she did not answer.
"Do you?" he asked.
"You know whether I mind or not."
"I don't see why you should. I have plenty of meals there."
"You do."
"Then why do you begrudge them tea?"
"I begrudge whom tea?"
"What are you so horrid for?"
"Oh, say no more! You've asked her to tea, it's quite sufficient.
She'll come."
He was very angry with his mother. He knew it was merely
Miriam she objected to. He flung off his boots and went to bed.
Paul went to meet his friends the next afternoon. He was glad
to see them coming. They arrived home at about four o'clock.
Everywhere was clean and still for Sunday afternoon. Mrs. Morel sat
in her black dress and black apron. She rose to meet the visitors.
With Edgar she was cordial, but with Miriam cold and rather grudging.
Yet Paul thought the girl looked so nice in her brown cashmere frock.
He helped his mother to get the tea ready. Miriam would have
gladly proffered, but was afraid. He was rather proud of his home.
There was about it now, he thought, a certain distinction.
The chairs were only wooden, and the sofa was old. But the hearthrug
and cushions were cosy; the pictures were prints in good taste;
there was a simplicity in everything, and plenty of books.
He was never ashamed in the least of his home, nor was Miriam
of hers, because both were what they should be, and warm.
And then he was proud of the table; the china was pretty,
the cloth was fine. It did not matter that the spoons were not
silver nor the knives ivory-handled; everything looked nice.
Mrs. Morel had managed wonderfully while her children were growing up,
so that nothing was out of place.
Miriam talked books a little. That was her unfailing topic.
But Mrs. Morel was not cordial, and turned soon to Edgar.
At first Edgar and Miriam used to go into Mrs. Morel's pew.
Morel never went to chapel, preferring the public-house. Mrs. Morel,
like a little champion, sat at the head of her pew, Paul at the other end;
and at first Miriam sat next to him. Then the chapel was like home.
It was a pretty place, with dark pews and slim, elegant pillars,
and flowers. And the same people had sat in the same places ever
since he was a boy. It was wonderfully sweet and soothing to sit
there for an hour and a half, next to Miriam, and near to his mother,
uniting his two loves under the spell of the place of worship.
Then he felt warm and happy and religious at once. And after
chapel he walked home with Miriam, whilst Mrs. Morel spent the rest
of the evening with her old friend, Mrs. Burns. He was keenly
alive on his walks on Sunday nights with Edgar and Miriam.
He never went past the pits at night, by the lighted lamp-house,
the tall black headstocks and lines of trucks, past the fans spinning
slowly like shadows, without the feeling of Miriam returning to him,
keen and almost unbearable.
She did not very long occupy the Morels' pew. Her father took
one for themselves once more. It was under the little gallery,
opposite the Morels'. When Paul and his mother came in the chapel
the Leivers's pew was always empty. He was anxious for fear she would
not come: it was so far, and there were so many rainy Sundays.
Then, often very late indeed, she came in, with her long stride,
her head bowed, her face hidden under her bat of dark green velvet.
Her face, as she sat opposite, was always in shadow. But it gave
him a very keen feeling, as if all his soul stirred within him,
to see her there. It was not the same glow, happiness, and pride,
that he felt in having his mother in charge: something more
wonderful, less human, and tinged to intensity by a pain,
as if there were something he could not get to.
At this time he was beginning to question the orthodox creed.
He was twenty-one, and she was twenty. She was beginning
to dread the spring: he became so wild, and hurt her so much.
All the way he went cruelly smashing her beliefs. Edgar enjoyed it.
He was by nature critical and rather dispassionate. But Miriam
suffered exquisite pain, as, with an intellect like a knife, the man
she loved examined her religion in which she lived and moved and had
her being. But he did not spare her. He was cruel. And when they
went alone he was even more fierce, as if he would kill her soul.
He bled her beliefs till she almost lost consciousness.
"She exults--she exults as she carries him off from me,"
Mrs. Morel cried in her heart when Paul had gone. "She's not
like an ordinary woman, who can leave me my share in him.
She wants to absorb him. She wants to draw him out and absorb
him till there is nothing left of him, even for himself.
He will never be a man on his own feet--she will suck him up."
So the mother sat, and battled and brooded bitterly.
And he, coming home from his walks with Miriam, was wild
with torture. He walked biting his lips and with clenched fists,
going at a great rate. Then, brought up against a stile, he stood for
some minutes, and did not move. There was a great hollow of darkness
fronting him, and on the black upslopes patches of tiny lights,
and in the lowest trough of the night, a flare of the pit.
It was all weird and dreadful. Why was he torn so, almost bewildered,
and unable to move? Why did his mother sit at home and suffer?
He knew she suffered badly. But why should she? And why did
he hate Miriam, and feel so cruel towards her, at the thought
of his mother. If Miriam caused his mother suffering, then he
hated her--and he easily hated her. Why did she make him feel
as if he were uncertain of himself, insecure, an indefinite thing,
as if he had not sufficient sheathing to prevent the night and the
space breaking into him? How he hated her! And then, what a rush
of tenderness and humility!
Suddenly he plunged on again, running home. His mother
saw on him the marks of some agony, and she said nothing.
But he had to make her talk to him. Then she was angry with him
for going so far with Miriam.
"Why don't you like her, mother?" he cried in despair.
"I don't know, my boy," she replied piteously. "I'm sure I've
tried to like her. I've tried and tried, but I can't--I can't!"
And he felt dreary and hopeless between the two.
Spring was the worst time. He was changeable, and intense
and cruel. So he decided to stay away from her. Then came the
hours when he knew Miriam was expecting him. His mother watched
him growing restless. He could not go on with his work. He could
do nothing. It was as if something were drawing his soul out towards
Willey Farm. Then he put on his hat and went, saying nothing.
And his mother knew he was gone. And as soon as he was on the way
he sighed with relief. And when he was with her he was cruel again.
One day in March he lay on the bank of Nethermere, with Miriam
sitting beside him. It was a glistening, white-and-blue day.
Big clouds, so brilliant, went by overhead, while shadows stole
along on the water. The clear spaces in the sky were of clean,
cold blue. Paul lay on his back in the old grass, looking up.
He could not bear to look at Miriam. She seemed to want him,
and he resisted. He resisted all the time. He wanted now to give
her passion and tenderness, and he could not. He felt that she wanted
the soul out of his body, and not him. All his strength and energy
she drew into herself through some channel which united them.
She did not want to meet him, so that there were two of them,
man and woman together. She wanted to draw all of him into her.
It urged him to an intensity like madness, which fascinated him,
as drug-taking might.
He was discussing Michael Angelo. It felt to her as if she were
fingering the very quivering tissue, the very protoplasm of life,
as she heard him. It gave her deepest satisfaction. And in the end
it frightened her. There he lay in the white intensity of his search,
and his voice gradually filled her with fear, so level it was,
almost inhuman, as if in a trance.
"Don't talk any more," she pleaded softly, laying her hand
on his forehead.
He lay quite still, almost unable to move. His body was
somewhere discarded.
"Why not? Are you tired?"
"Yes, and it wears you out."
He laughed shortly, realising.
"Yet you always make me like it," he said.
"I don't wish to," she said, very low.
"Not when you've gone too far, and you feel you can't bear it.
But your unconscious self always asks it of me. And I suppose I
want it."
He went on, in his dead fashion:
"If only you could want ME, and not want what I can reel off
for you! "
"I!" she cried bitterly--"I! Why, when would you let me take you?"
"Then it's my fault," he said, and, gathering himself together,
he got up and began to talk trivialities. He felt insubstantial.
In a vague way he hated her for it. And he knew he was as much to
blame himself. This, however, did not prevent his hating her.
One evening about this time he had walked along the home road
with her. They stood by the pasture leading down to the wood,
unable to part. As the stars came out the clouds closed. They had
glimpses of their own constellation, Orion, towards the west.
His jewels glimmered for a moment, his dog ran low, struggling with
difficulty through the spume of cloud.
Orion was for them chief in significance among the constellations.
They had gazed at him in their strange, surcharged hours of feeling,
until they seemed themselves to live in every one of his stars.
This evening Paul had been moody and perverse. Orion had seemed just
an ordinary constellation to him. He had fought against his glamour
and fascination. Miriam was watching her lover's mood carefully.
But he said nothing that gave him away, till the moment came to part,
when he stood frowning gloomily at the gathered clouds, behind which
the great constellation must be striding still.
There was to be a little party at his house the next day,
at which she was to attend.
"I shan't come and meet you," he said.
"Oh, very well; it's not very nice out," she replied slowly.
"It's not that--only they don't like me to. They say I care
more for you than for them. And you understand, don't you?
You know it's only friendship."
Miriam was astonished and hurt for him. It had cost him an
effort. She left him, wanting to spare him any further humiliation.
A fine rain blew in her face as she walked along the road.
She was hurt deep down; and she despised him for being blown
about by any wind of authority. And in her heart of hearts,
unconsciously, she felt that he was trying to get away from her.
This she would never have acknowledged. She pitied him.
At this time Paul became an important factor in Jordan's warehouse.
Mr. Pappleworth left to set up a business of his own, and Paul
remained with Mr. Jordan as Spiral overseer. His wages were
to be raised to thirty shillings at the year-end, if things went well.
Still on Friday night Miriam often came down for her French lesson.
Paul did not go so frequently to Willey Farm, and she grieved at
the thought of her education's coming to end; moreover, they both
loved to be together, in spite of discords. So they read Balzac,
and did compositions, and felt highly cultured.
Friday night was reckoning night for the miners.
Morel "reckoned"--shared up the money of the stall--either in the New Inn
at Bretty or in his own house, according as his fellow-butties wished.
Barker had turned a non-drinker, so now the men reckoned at Morel's house.
Annie, who had been teaching away, was at home again.
She was still a tomboy; and she was engaged to be married.
Paul was studying design.
Morel was always in good spirits on Friday evening, unless the
week's earnings were small. He bustled immediately after his dinner,
prepared to get washed. It was decorum for the women to absent
themselves while the men reckoned. Women were not supposed to spy
into such a masculine privacy as the butties' reckoning, nor were they
to know the exact amount of the week's earnings. So, whilst her
father was spluttering in the scullery, Annie went out to spend
an hour with a neighbour. Mrs. Morel attended to her baking.
"Shut that doo-er!" bawled Morel furiously.
Annie banged it behind her, and was gone.
"If tha oppens it again while I'm weshin' me, I'll ma'e thy
jaw rattle," he threatened from the midst of his soap-suds. Paul
and the mother frowned to hear him.
Presently he came running out of the scullery, with the soapy
water dripping from him, dithering with cold.
"Oh, my sirs!" he said. "Wheer's my towel?"
It was hung on a chair to warm before the fire, otherwise he
would have bullied and blustered. He squatted on his heels before
the hot baking-fire to dry himself.
"F-ff-f!" he went, pretending to shudder with cold.
"Goodness, man, don't be such a kid!" said Mrs. Morel.
"It's NOT cold."
"Thee strip thysen stark nak'd to wesh thy flesh i' that scullery,"
said the miner, as he rubbed his hair; "nowt b'r a ice-'ouse!"
"And I shouldn't make that fuss," replied his wife.
"No, tha'd drop down stiff, as dead as a door-knob, wi'
thy nesh sides."
"Why is a door-knob deader than anything else?" asked Paul, curious.
"Eh, I dunno; that's what they say," replied his father.
"But there's that much draught i' yon scullery, as it blows through
your ribs like through a five-barred gate."
"It would have some difficulty in blowing through yours,"
said Mrs. Morel.
Morel looked down ruefully at his sides.
"Me!" he exclaimed. "I'm nowt b'r a skinned rabbit.
My bones fair juts out on me."
"I should like to know where," retorted his wife.
"Iv'ry-wheer! I'm nobbut a sack o' faggots."
Mrs. Morel laughed. He had still a wonderfully young body,
muscular, without any fat. His skin was smooth and clear.
It might have been the body of a man of twenty-eight, except that
there were, perhaps, too many blue scars, like tattoo-marks, where the
coal-dust remained under the skin, and that his chest was too hairy.
But he put his hand on his side ruefully. It was his fixed belief that,
because be did not get fat, he was as thin as a starved rat.
Paul looked at his father's thick, brownish hands all scarred,
with broken nails, rubbing the fine smoothness of his sides, and the
incongruity struck him. It seemed strange they were the same flesh.
"I suppose," he said to his father, "you had a good figure once."
"Eh!" exclaimed the miner, glancing round, startled and timid,
like a child.
"He had," exclaimed Mrs. Morel, "if he didn't hurtle himself
up as if he was trying to get in the smallest space he could."
"Me!" exclaimed Morel--"me a good figure! I wor niver much
more n'r a skeleton."
"Man!" cried his wife, "don't be such a pulamiter!"
"'Strewth!" he said. "Tha's niver knowed me but what I looked
as if I wor goin' off in a rapid decline."
She sat and laughed.
"You've had a constitution like iron," she said; "and never
a man had a better start, if it was body that counted. You should
have seen him as a young man," she cried suddenly to Paul,
drawing herself up to imitate her husband's once handsome bearing.
Morel watched her shyly. He saw again the passion she
had had for him. It blazed upon her for a moment. He was shy,
rather scared, and humble. Yet again he felt his old glow.
And then immediately he felt the ruin he had made during these years.
He wanted to bustle about, to run away from it.
"Gi'e my back a bit of a wesh," he asked her.
His wife brought a well-soaped flannel and clapped it
on his shoulders. He gave a jump.
"Eh, tha mucky little 'ussy!" he cried. "Cowd as death!"
"You ought to have been a salamander," she laughed,
washing his back. It was very rarely she would do anything
so personal for him. The children did those things.
"The next world won't be half hot enough for you," she added.
"No," he said; "tha'lt see as it's draughty for me."
But she had finished. She wiped him in a desultory fashion,
and went upstairs, returning immediately with his shifting-trousers.
When he was dried he struggled into his shirt. Then, ruddy and shiny,
with hair on end, and his flannelette shirt hanging over his
pit-trousers, he stood warming the garments he was going to put on.
He turned them, he pulled them inside out, he scorched them.
"Goodness, man!" cried Mrs. Morel, "get dressed!"
"Should thee like to clap thysen into britches as cowd
as a tub o' water?" he said.
At last he took off his pit-trousers and donned decent black.
He did all this on the hearthrug, as he would have done if Annie
and her familiar friends had been present.
Mrs. Morel turned the bread in the oven. Then from the red
earthenware panchion of dough that stood in a corner she took
another handful of paste, worked it to the proper shape, and dropped
it into a tin. As she was doing so Barker knocked and entered.
He was a quiet, compact little man, who looked as if he would go
through a stone wall. His black hair was cropped short, his head
was bony. Like most miners, he was pale, but healthy and taut.
"Evenin', missis," he nodded to Mrs. Morel, and he seated
himself with a sigh.
"Good-evening," she replied cordially.
"Tha's made thy heels crack," said Morel.
"I dunno as I have," said Barker.
He sat, as the men always did in Morel's kitchen,
effacing himself rather.
"How's missis?" she asked of him.
He had told her some time back:
"We're expectin' us third just now, you see."
"Well," he answered, rubbing his head, "she keeps pretty
middlin', I think."
"Let's see--when?" asked Mrs. Morel.
"Well, I shouldn't be surprised any time now."
"Ah! And she's kept fairly?"
"Yes, tidy."
"That's a blessing, for she's none too strong."
"No. An' I've done another silly trick."
"What's that?"
Mrs. Morel knew Barker wouldn't do anything very silly.
"I'm come be-out th' market-bag."
"You can have mine."
"Nay, you'll be wantin' that yourself."
"I shan't. I take a string bag always."
She saw the determined little collier buying in the week's
groceries and meat on the Friday nights, and she admired him.
"Barker's little, but he's ten times the man you are," she said
to her husband.
Just then Wesson entered. He was thin, rather frail-looking,
with a boyish ingenuousness and a slightly foolish smile,
despite his seven children. But his wife was a passionate woman.
"I see you've kested me," he said, smiling rather vapidly.
"Yes," replied Barker.
The newcomer took off his cap and his big woollen muffler.
His nose was pointed and red.
"I'm afraid you're cold, Mr. Wesson," said Mrs. Morel.
"It's a bit nippy," he replied.
"Then come to the fire."
"Nay, I s'll do where I am."
Both colliers sat away back. They could not be induced to come
on to the hearth. The hearth is sacred to the family.
"Go thy ways i' th' armchair," cried Morel cheerily.
"Nay, thank yer; I'm very nicely here."
"Yes, come, of course," insisted Mrs. Morel.
He rose and went awkwardly. He sat in Morel's armchair awkwardly.
It was too great a familiarity. But the fire made him blissfully happy.
"And how's that chest of yours?" demanded Mrs. Morel.
He smiled again, with his blue eyes rather sunny.
"Oh, it's very middlin'," he said.
"Wi' a rattle in it like a kettle-drum," said Barker shortly.
"T-t-t-t!" went Mrs. Morel rapidly with her tongue. "Did you
have that flannel singlet made?"
"Not yet," he smiled.
"Then, why didn't you?" she cried.
"It'll come," he smiled.
"Ah, an' Doomsday!" exclaimed Barker.
Barker and Morel were both impatient of Wesson. But, then,
they were both as hard as nails, physically.
When Morel was nearly ready he pushed the bag of money to Paul.
"Count it, boy," he asked humbly.
Paul impatiently turned from his books and pencil, tipped the bag
upside down on the table. There was a five-pound bag of silver,
sovereigns and loose money. He counted quickly, referred to the
checks--the written papers giving amount of coal--put the money in order.
Then Barker glanced at the checks.
Mrs. Morel went upstairs, and the three men came to table.
Morel, as master of the house, sat in his armchair, with his back
to the hot fire. The two butties had cooler seats. None of them
counted the money.
"What did we say Simpson's was?" asked Morel; and the butties
cavilled for a minute over the dayman's earnings. Then the amount
was put aside.
"An' Bill Naylor's?"
This money also was taken from the pack.
Then, because Wesson lived in one of the company's houses,
and his rent had been deducted, Morel and Barker took four-and-six each.
And because Morel's coals had come, and the leading was stopped,
Barker and Wesson took four shillings each. Then it was plain sailing.
Morel gave each of them a sovereign till there were no more sovereigns;
each half a crown till there were no more half-crowns; each a shilling
till there were no more shillings. If there was anything at the end
that wouldn't split, Morel took it and stood drinks.
Then the three men rose and went. Morel scuttled out of the house
before his wife came down. She heard the door close, and descended.
She looked hastily at the bread in the oven. Then, glancing on
the table, she saw her money lying. Paul had been working all
the time. But now he felt his mother counting the week's money,
and her wrath rising,
"T-t-t-t-t!" went her tongue.
He frowned. He could not work when she was cross.
She counted again.
"A measly twenty-five shillings!" she exclaimed. "How much
was the cheque?"
"Ten pounds eleven," said Paul irritably. He dreaded what
was coming.
"And he gives me a scrattlin' twenty-five, an'
his club this week! But I know him. He thinks because
YOU'RE earning he needn't keep the house any longer.
No, all he has to do with his money is to guttle it. But I'll show him!"
"Oh, mother, don't!" cried Paul.
"Don't what, I should like to know?" she exclaimed.
"Don't carry on again. I can't work."
She went very quiet.
"Yes, it's all very well," she said; "but how do you think
I'm going to manage?"
"Well, it won't make it any better to whittle about it."
"I should like to know what you'd do if you had it to put
up with."
"It won't be long. You can have my money. Let him go to hell."
He went back to his work, and she tied her bonnet-strings grimly.
When she was fretted he could not bear it. But now he began
to insist on her recognizing him.
"The two loaves at the top," she said, "will be done
in twenty minutes. Don't forget them."
"All right," he answered; and she went to market.
He remained alone working. But his usual intense concentration
became unsettled. He listened for the yard-gate. At a quarter-past
seven came a low knock, and Miriam entered.
"All alone?" she said.
As if at home, she took off her tam-o'-shanter and her long coat,
hanging them up. It gave him a thrill. This might be their own house,
his and hers. Then she came back and peered over his work.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Still design, for decorating stuffs, and for embroidery."
She bent short-sightedly over the drawings.
It irritated him that she peered so into everything that
was his, searching him out. He went into the parlour and returned
with a bundle of brownish linen. Carefully unfolding it,
he spread it on the floor. It proved to be a curtain or portiere,
beautifully stencilled with a design on roses.
"Ah, how beautiful!" she cried.
The spread cloth, with its wonderful reddish roses and dark
green stems, all so simple, and somehow so wicked-looking, lay at
her feet. She went on her knees before it, her dark curls dropping.
He saw her crouched voluptuously before his work, and his heart
beat quickly. Suddenly she looked up at him.
"Why does it seem cruel?" she asked.
"There seems a feeling of cruelty about it," she said.
"It's jolly good, whether or not," he replied, folding up
his work with a lover's hands.
She rose slowly, pondering.
"And what will you do with it?" she asked.
"Send it to Liberty's. I did it for my mother, but I think
she'd rather have the money."
"Yes," said Miriam. He had spoken with a touch of bitterness,
and Miriam sympathised. Money would have been nothing to HER.
He took the cloth back into the parlour. When he returned
he threw to Miriam a smaller piece. It was a cushion-cover
with the same design.
"I did that for you," he said.
She fingered the work with trembling hands, and did not speak.
He became embarrassed.
"By Jove, the bread!" he cried.
He took the top loaves out, tapped them vigorously. They were done.
He put them on the hearth to cool. Then he went to the scullery,
wetted his hands, scooped the last white dough out of the punchion,
and dropped it in a baking-tin. Miriam was still bent over her
painted cloth. He stood rubbing the bits of dough from his hands.
"You do like it?" he asked.
She looked up at him, with her dark eyes one flame of love.
He laughed uncomfortably. Then he began to talk about the design.
There was for him the most intense pleasure in talking about his
work to Miriam. All his passion, all his wild blood, went into
this intercourse with her, when he talked and conceived his work.
She brought forth to him his imaginations. She did not understand,
any more than a woman understands when she conceives a child in her womb.
But this was life for her and for him.
While they were talking, a young woman of about twenty-two,
small and pale, hollow-eyed, yet with a relentless look about her,
entered the room. She was a friend at the Morel's.
"Take your things off," said Paul.
"No, I'm not stopping."
She sat down in the armchair opposite Paul and Miriam,
who were on the sofa. Miriam moved a little farther from him.
The room was hot, with a scent of new bread. Brown, crisp loaves
stood on the hearth.
"I shouldn't have expected to see you here to-night,
Miriam Leivers," said Beatrice wickedly.
"Why not?" murmured Miriam huskily.
"Why, let's look at your shoes."
Miriam remained uncomfortably still.
"If tha doesna tha durs'na," laughed Beatrice.
Miriam put her feet from under her dress. Her boots
had that queer, irresolute, rather pathetic look about them,
which showed how self-conscious and self-mistrustful she was.
And they were covered with mud.
"Glory! You're a positive muck-heap," exclaimed Beatrice.
"Who cleans your boots?"
"I clean them myself."
"Then you wanted a job," said Beatrice. "It would ha'
taken a lot of men to ha' brought me down here to-night. But love
laughs at sludge, doesn't it, 'Postle my duck?"
"Inter alia," he said.
"Oh, Lord! are you going to spout foreign languages?
What does it mean, Miriam?"
There was a fine sarcasm in the last question, but Miriam did
not see it.
"'Among other things,' I believe," she said humbly.
Beatrice put her tongue between her teeth and laughed wickedly.
"'Among other things,' 'Postle?" she repeated. "Do you mean
love laughs at mothers, and fathers, and sisters, and brothers,
and men friends, and lady friends, and even at the b'loved himself?"
She affected a great innocence.
"In fact, it's one big smile," he replied.
"Up its sleeve, 'Postle Morel--you believe me," she said;
and she went off into another burst of wicked, silent laughter.
Miriam sat silent, withdrawn into herself. Every one of Paul's
friends delighted in taking sides against her, and he left her
in the lurch--seemed almost to have a sort of revenge upon her then.
"Are you still at school?" asked Miriam of Beatrice.
"You've not had your notice, then?"
"I expect it at Easter."
"Isn't it an awful shame, to turn you off merely because you
didn't pass the exam.?"
"I don't know," said Beatrice coldly.
"Agatha says you're as good as any teacher anywhere.
It seems to me ridiculous. I wonder why you didn't pass."
"Short of brains, eh, 'Postle?" said Beatrice briefly.
"Only brains to bite with," replied Paul, laughing.
"Nuisance!" she cried; and, springing from her seat,
she rushed and boxed his ears. She had beautiful small hands.
He held her wrists while she wrestled with him. At last she
broke free, and seized two handfuls of his thick, dark brown hair,
which she shook.
"Beat!" he said, as he pulled his hair straight with his fingers.
"I hate you!"
She laughed with glee.
"Mind!" she said. "I want to sit next to you."
"I'd as lief be neighbours with a vixen," he said,
nevertheless making place for her between him and Miriam.
"Did it ruffle his pretty hair, then!" she cried; and, with her
hair-comb, she combed him straight. "And his nice little moustache!"
she exclaimed. She tilted his head back and combed his young moustache.
"It's a wicked moustache, 'Postle," she said. "It's a red for danger.
Have you got any of those cigarettes?"
He pulled his cigarette-case from his pocket. Beatrice looked
inside it.
"And fancy me having Connie's last cig.," said Beatrice,
putting the thing between her teeth. He held a lit match to her,
and she puffed daintily.
"Thanks so much, darling," she said mockingly.
It gave her a wicked delight.
"Don't you think he does it nicely, Miriam?" she asked.
"Oh, very!" said Miriam.
He took a cigarette for himself.
"Light, old boy?" said Beatrice, tilting her cigarette at him.
He bent forward to her to light his cigarette at hers.
She was winking at him as he did so. Miriam saw his eyes trembling
with mischief, and his full, almost sensual, mouth quivering.
He was not himself, and she could not bear it. As he was now,
she had no connection with him; she might as well not have existed.
She saw the cigarette dancing on his full red lips. She hated his thick
hair for being tumbled loose on his forehead.
"Sweet boy!" said Beatrice, tipping up his chin and giving
him a little kiss on the cheek.
"I s'll kiss thee back, Beat," he said.
"Tha wunna!" she giggled, jumping up and going away.
"Isn't he shameless, Miriam?"
"Quite," said Miriam. "By the way, aren't you forgetting
the bread?"
"By Jove!" he cried, flinging open the oven door.
Out puffed the bluish smoke and a smell of burned bread.
"Oh, golly!" cried Beatrice, coming to his side. He crouched
before the oven, she peered over his shoulder. "This is what comes
of the oblivion of love, my boy."
Paul was ruefully removing the loaves. One was burnt black
on the hot side; another was hard as a brick.
"Poor mater!" said Paul.
"You want to grate it," said Beatrice. "Fetch me the nutmeg-grater."
She arranged the bread in the oven. He brought the grater,
and she grated the bread on to a newspaper on the table.
He set the doors open to blow away the smell of burned bread.
Beatrice grated away, puffing her cigarette, knocking the charcoal off
the poor loaf.
"My word, Miriam! you're in for it this time," said Beatrice.
"I!" exclaimed Miriam in amazement.
"You'd better be gone when his mother comes in. I know why
King Alfred burned the cakes. Now I see it! 'Postle would fix up
a tale about his work making him forget, if he thought it would wash.
If that old woman had come in a bit sooner, she'd have boxed the
brazen thing's ears who made the oblivion, instead of poor Alfred's."
She giggled as she scraped the loaf. Even Miriam laughed
in spite of herself. Paul mended the fire ruefully.
The garden gate was heard to bang.
"Quick!" cried Beatrice, giving Paul the scraped loaf.
"Wrap it up in a damp towel."
Paul disappeared into the scullery. Beatrice hastily
blew her scrapings into the fire, and sat down innocently.
Annie came bursting in. She was an abrupt, quite smart young woman.
She blinked in the strong light.
"Smell of burning!" she exclaimed.
"It's the cigarettes," replied Beatrice demurely.
"Where's Paul?"
Leonard had followed Annie. He had a long comic face
and blue eyes, very sad.
"I suppose he's left you to settle it between you," he said.
He nodded sympathetically to Miriam, and became gently sarcastic
to Beatrice.
"No," said Beatrice, "he's gone off with number nine."
"I just met number five inquiring for him," said Leonard.
"Yes--we're going to share him up like Solomon's baby,"
said Beatrice.
Annie laughed.
"Oh, ay," said Leonard. "And which bit should you have?"
"I don't know," said Beatrice. "I'll let all the others
pick first."
"An' you'd have the leavings, like?" said Leonard, twisting up
a comic face.
Annie was looking in the oven. Miriam sat ignored.
Paul entered.
"This bread's a fine sight, our Paul," said Annie.
"Then you should stop an' look after it," said Paul.
"You mean YOU should do what you're reckoning to do,"
replied Annie.
"He should, shouldn't he!" cried Beatrice.
"I s'd think he'd got plenty on hand," said Leonard.
"You had a nasty walk, didn't you, Miriam?" said Annie.
"Yes--but I'd been in all week---"
"And you wanted a bit of a change, like," insinuated Leonard kindly.
"Well, you can't be stuck in the house for ever," Annie agreed.
She was quite amiable. Beatrice pulled on her coat, and went out
with Leonard and Annie. She would meet her own boy.
"Don't forget that bread, our Paul," cried Annie.
"Good-night, Miriam. I don't think it will rain."
When they had all gone, Paul fetched the swathed loaf,
unwrapped it, and surveyed it sadly.
"It's a mess!" he said.
"But," answered Miriam impatiently, "what is it,
after all--twopence, ha'penny."
"Yes, but--it's the mater's precious baking, and she'll take
it to heart. However, it's no good bothering."
He took the loaf back into the scullery. There was a little
distance between him and Miriam. He stood balanced opposite her for
some moments considering, thinking of his behaviour with Beatrice.
He felt guilty inside himself, and yet glad. For some inscrutable
reason it served Miriam right. He was not going to repent.
She wondered what he was thinking of as he stood suspended.
His thick hair was tumbled over his forehead. Why might she not
push it back for him, and remove the marks of Beatrice's comb?
Why might she not press his body with her two hands. It looked
so firm, and every whit living. And he would let other girls,
why not her?
Suddenly he started into life. It made her quiver almost
with terror as he quickly pushed the hair off his forehead and came
towards her.
"Half-past eight!" he said. "We'd better buck up.
Where's your French?"
Miriam shyly and rather bitterly produced her exercise-book.
Every week she wrote for him a sort of diary of her inner life,
in her own French. He had found this was the only way to get her
to do compositions. And her diary was mostly a love-letter. He
would read it now; she felt as if her soul's history were going
to be desecrated by him in his present mood. He sat beside her.
She watched his hand, firm and warm, rigorously scoring her work.
He was reading only the French, ignoring her soul that was there.
But gradually his hand forgot its work. He read in silence, motionless.
She quivered.
"'Ce matin les oiseaux m'ont eveille,'" he read. "'Il faisait
encore un crepuscule. Mais la petite fenetre de ma chambre etait bleme,
et puis, jaune, et tous les oiseaux du bois eclaterent dans un chanson
vif et resonnant. Toute l'aube tressaillit. J'avais reve de vous.
Est-ce que vous voyez aussi l'aube? Les oiseaux m'eveillent presque
tous les matins, et toujours il y a quelque chose de terreur dans
le cri des grives. Il est si clair---'"
Miriam sat tremulous, half ashamed. He remained quite still,
trying to understand. He only knew she loved him. He was afraid
of her love for him. It was too good for him, and he was inadequate.
His own love was at fault, not hers. Ashamed, he corrected her work,
humbly writing above her words.
"Look," he said quietly, "the past participle conjugated
with avoir agrees with the direct object when it precedes."
She bent forward, trying to see and to understand. Her free,
fine curls tickled his face. He started as if they had been red hot,
shuddering. He saw her peering forward at the page, her red lips parted
piteously, the black hair springing in fine strands across her tawny,
ruddy cheek. She was coloured like a pomegranate for richness.
His breath came short as he watched her. Suddenly she looked up at him.
Her dark eyes were naked with their love, afraid, and yearning.
His eyes, too, were dark, and they hurt her. They seemed to master her.
She lost all her self-control, was exposed in fear. And he knew,
before he could kiss her, he must drive something out of himself.
And a touch of hate for her crept back again into his heart.
He returned to her exercise.
Suddenly he flung down the pencil, and was at the oven
in a leap, turning the bread. For Miriam he was too quick.
She started violently, and it hurt her with real pain. Even the way
he crouched before the oven hurt her. There seemed to be something
cruel in it, something cruel in the swift way he pitched the bread
out of the tins, caught it up again. If only he had been gentle
in his movements she would have felt so rich and warm. As it was,
she was hurt.
He returned and finished the exercise.
"You've done well this week," he said.
She saw he was flattered by her diary. It did not repay
her entirely.
"You really do blossom out sometimes," he said. "You ought
to write poetry."
She lifted her head with joy, then she shook it mistrustfully.
"I don't trust myself," she said.
"You should try!"
Again she shook her head.
"Shall we read, or is it too late?" he asked.
"It is late--but we can read just a little," she pleaded.
She was really getting now the food for her life during
the next week. He made her copy Baudelaire's "Le Balcon". Then he
read it for her. His voice was soft and caressing, but growing
almost brutal. He had a way of lifting his lips and showing
his teeth, passionately and bitterly, when he was much moved.
This he did now. It made Miriam feel as if he were trampling on her.
She dared not look at him, but sat with her head bowed. She could
not understand why he got into such a tumult and fury. It made her wretched.
She did not like Baudelaire, on the whole--nor Verlaine.
"Behold her singing in the field
Yon solitary highland lass."
That nourished her heart. So did "Fair Ines". And--
"It was a beauteous evening, calm and pure,
And breathing holy quiet like a nun."
These were like herself. And there was he, saying in his
throat bitterly:
"Tu te rappelleras la beaute des caresses."
The poem was finished; he took the bread out of the oven,
arranging the burnt loaves at the bottom of the panchion,
the good ones at the top. The desiccated loaf remained swathed
up in the scullery.
"Mater needn't know till morning," he said. "It won't upset
her so much then as at night."
Miriam looked in the bookcase, saw what postcards and letters
he had received, saw what books were there. She took one that had
interested him. Then he turned down the gas and they set off.
He did not trouble to lock the door.
He was not home again until a quarter to eleven. His mother
was seated in the rocking-chair. Annie, with a rope of hair hanging
down her back, remained sitting on a low stool before the fire,
her elbows on her knees, gloomily. On the table stood the offending
loaf unswathed. Paul entered rather breathless. No one spoke.
His mother was reading the little local newspaper. He took off
his coat, and went to sit down on the sofa. His mother moved curtly
aside to let him pass. No one spoke. He was very uncomfortable.
For some minutes he sat pretending to read a piece of paper he found on
the table. Then---
"I forgot that bread, mother," he said.
There was no answer from either woman.
"Well," he said, "it's only twopence ha'penny. I can pay you
for that."
Being angry, he put three pennies on the table and slid
them towards his mother. She turned away her head. Her mouth
was shut tightly.
"Yes," said Annie, "you don't know how badly my mother is!"
The girl sat staring glumly into the fire.
"Why is she badly?" asked Paul, in his overbearing way.
"Well!" said Annie. "She could scarcely get home."
He looked closely at his mother. She looked ill.
"WHY could you scarcely get home?" he asked her, still sharply.
She would not answer.
"I found her as white as a sheet sitting here," said Annie,
with a suggestion of tears in her voice.
"Well, WHY?" insisted Paul. His brows were knitting, his eyes
dilating passionately.
"It was enough to upset anybody," said Mrs. Morel, "hugging
those parcels--meat, and green-groceries, and a pair of curtains---"
"Well, why DID you hug them; you needn't have done."
"Then who would?"
"Let Annie fetch the meat."
"Yes, and I WOULD fetch the meat, but how was I to know.
You were off with Miriam, instead of being in when my mother came."
"And what was the matter with you?" asked Paul of his mother.
"I suppose it's my heart," she replied. Certainly she looked
bluish round the mouth.
"And have you felt it before?"
"Yes--often enough."
"Then why haven't you told me?--and why haven't you seen a doctor?"
Mrs. Morel shifted in her chair, angry with him for his hectoring.
"You'd never notice anything," said Annie. "You're too eager
to be off with Miriam."
"Oh, am I--and any worse than you with Leonard?"
"I was in at a quarter to ten."
There was silence in the room for a time.
"I should have thought," said Mrs. Morel bitterly, "that she
wouldn't have occupied you so entirely as to burn a whole ovenful
of bread."
"Beatrice was here as well as she."
"Very likely. But we know why the bread is spoilt."
"Why?" he flashed.
"Because you were engrossed with Miriam," replied Mrs. Morel hotly.
"Oh, very well--then it was NOT!" he replied angrily.
He was distressed and wretched. Seizing a paper, he began
to read. Annie, her blouse unfastened, her long ropes of hair twisted
into a plait, went up to bed, bidding him a very curt good-night.
Paul sat pretending to read. He knew his mother wanted
to upbraid him. He also wanted to know what had made her ill,
for he was troubled. So, instead of running away to bed, as he would
have liked to do, he sat and waited. There was a tense silence.
The clock ticked loudly.
"You'd better go to bed before your father comes in," said the
mother harshly. "And if you're going to have anything to eat,
you'd better get it."
"I don't want anything."
It was his mother's custom to bring him some trifle for
supper on Friday night, the night of luxury for the colliers.
He was too angry to go and find it in the pantry this night.
This insulted her.
"If I WANTED you to go to Selby on Friday night, I can imagine
the scene," said Mrs. Morel. "But you're never too tired to go
if SHE will come for you. Nay, you neither want to eat nor drink then."
"I can't let her go alone."
"Can't you? And why does she come?"
"Not because I ask her."
"She doesn't come without you want her---"
"Well, what if I DO want her---" he replied.
"Why, nothing, if it was sensible or reasonable. But to go
trapseing up there miles and miles in the mud, coming home at midnight,
and got to go to Nottingham in the morning---"
"If I hadn't, you'd be just the same."
"Yes, I should, because there's no sense in it.
Is she so fascinating that you must follow her all that way?"
Mrs. Morel was bitterly sarcastic. She sat still, with averted face,
stroking with a rhythmic, jerked movement, the black sateen
of her apron. It was a movement that hurt Paul to see.
"I do like her," he said, "but---"
"LIKE her!" said Mrs. Morel, in the same biting tones. "It seems
to me you like nothing and nobody else. There's neither Annie,
nor me, nor anyone now for you."
"What nonsense, mother--you know I don't love her--I--I tell
you I DON'T love her--she doesn't even walk with my arm, because I
don't want her to."
"Then why do you fly to her so often?"
"I DO like to talk to her--I never said I didn't. But I DON'T
love her."
"Is there nobody else to talk to?"
"Not about the things we talk of. There's a lot of things
that you're not interested in, that---"
"What things?"
Mrs. Morel was so intense that Paul began to pant.
"Why--painting--and books. YOU don't care about Herbert Spencer."
"No," was the sad reply. "And YOU won't at my age."
"Well, but I do now--and Miriam does---"
"And how do you know," Mrs. Morel flashed defiantly, "that I
shouldn't. Do you ever try me!"
"But you don't, mother, you know you don't care whether
a picture's decorative or not; you don't care what MANNER it is in."
"How do you know I don't care? Do you ever try me? Do you
ever talk to me about these things, to try?"
"But it's not that that matters to you, mother, you know
t's not."
"What is it, then--what is it, then, that matters to me?"
she flashed. He knitted his brows with pain.
"You're old, mother, and we're young."
He only meant that the interests of HER age were not the
interests of his. But he realised the moment he had spoken
that he had said the wrong thing.
"Yes, I know it well--I am old. And therefore I may stand aside;
I have nothing more to do with you. You only want me to wait on
you--the rest is for Miriam."
He could not bear it. Instinctively he realised that he
was life to her. And, after all, she was the chief thing to him,
the only supreme thing.
"You know it isn't, mother, you know it isn't!"
She was moved to pity by his cry.
"It looks a great deal like it," she said, half putting aside
her despair.
"No, mother--I really DON'T love her. I talk to her, but I
want to come home to you."
He had taken off his collar and tie, and rose, bare-throated,
to go to bed. As he stooped to kiss his mother, she threw her
arms round his neck, hid her face on his shoulder, and cried,
in a whimpering voice, so unlike her own that he writhed in agony:
"I can't bear it. I could let another woman--but not her.
She'd leave me no room, not a bit of room---"
And immediately he hated Miriam bitterly.
"And I've never--you know, Paul--I've never had a husband--not really---"
He stroked his mother's hair, and his mouth was on her throat.
"And she exults so in taking you from me--she's not like
ordinary girls."
"Well, I don't love her, mother," he murmured, bowing his head
and hiding his eyes on her shoulder in misery. His mother kissed
him a long, fervent kiss.
"My boy!" she said, in a voice trembling with passionate love.
Without knowing, he gently stroked her face.
"There," said his mother, "now go to bed. You'll be so tired
in the morning." As she was speaking she heard her husband coming.
"There's your father--now go." Suddenly she looked at him almost
as if in fear. "Perhaps I'm selfish. If you want her, take her,
my boy."
His mother looked so strange, Paul kissed her, trembling.
"Ha--mother!" he said softly.
Morel came in, walking unevenly. His hat was over one corner
of his eye. He balanced in the doorway.
"At your mischief again?" he said venomously.
Mrs. Morel's emotion turned into sudden hate of the drunkard
who had come in thus upon her.
"At any rate, it is sober," she said.
"H'm--h'm! h'm--h'm!" he sneered. He went into the passage,
hung up his hat and coat. Then they heard him go down three steps
to the pantry. He returned with a piece of pork-pie in his fist.
It was what Mrs. Morel had bought for her son.
"Nor was that bought for you. If you can give me no more than
twenty-five shillings, I'm sure I'm not going to buy you pork-pie
to stuff, after you've swilled a bellyful of beer."
"Wha-at--wha-at!" snarled Morel, toppling in his balance.
"Wha-at--not for me?" He looked at the piece of meat and crust,
and suddenly, in a vicious spurt of temper, flung it into the fire.
Paul started to his feet.
"Waste your own stuff!" he cried.
"What--what!" suddenly shouted Morel, jumping up and clenching
his fist. "I'll show yer, yer young jockey!"
"All right!" said Paul viciously, putting his head on one side.
"Show me!"
He would at that moment dearly have loved to have a smack
at something. Morel was half crouching, fists up, ready to spring.
The young man stood, smiling with his lips.
"Ussha!" hissed the father, swiping round with a great stroke
just past his son's face. He dared not, even though so close,
really touch the young man, but swerved an inch away.
"Right!" said Paul, his eyes upon the side of his father's
mouth, where in another instant his fist would have hit.
He ached for that stroke. But he heard a faint moan from behind.
His mother was deadly pale and dark at the mouth. Morel was
dancing up to deliver another blow.
"Father!" said Paul, so that the word rang.
Morel started, and stood at attention.
"Mother!" moaned the boy. "Mother!"
She began to struggle with herself. Her open eyes watched him,
although she could not move. Gradually she was coming to herself.
He laid her down on the sofa, and ran upstairs for a little whisky,
which at last she could sip. The tears were hopping down his face.
As he kneeled in front of her he did not cry, but the tears ran
down his face quickly. Morel, on the opposite side of the room,
sat with his elbows on his knees glaring across.
"What's a-matter with 'er?" he asked.
"Faint!" replied Paul.
The elderly man began to unlace his boots. He stumbled off
to bed. His last fight was fought in that home.
Paul kneeled there, stroking his mother's hand.
"Don't be poorly, mother--don't be poorly!" he said time
after time.
"It's nothing, my boy," she murmured.
At last he rose, fetched in a large piece of coal, and raked
the fire. Then he cleared the room, put everything straight,
laid the things for breakfast, and brought his mother's candle.
"Can you go to bed, mother?"
"Yes, I'll come."
"Sleep with Annie, mother, not with him."
"No. I'll sleep in my own bed."
"Don't sleep with him, mother."
"I'll sleep in my own bed."
She rose, and he turned out the gas, then followed her closely
upstairs, carrying her candle. On the landing he kissed her close.
"Good-night, mother."
"Good-night!" she said.
He pressed his face upon the pillow in a fury of misery.
And yet, somewhere in his soul, he was at peace because he still
loved his mother best. It was the bitter peace of resignation.
The efforts of his father to conciliate him next day were
a great humiliation to him.
Everybody tried to forget the scene.
PAUL was dissatisfied with himself and with everything.
The deepest of his love belonged to his mother. When he felt he
had hurt her, or wounded his love for her, he could not bear it.
Now it was spring, and there was battle between him and Miriam.
This year he had a good deal against her. She was vaguely aware
of it. The old feeling that she was to be a sacrifice to this love,
which she had had when she prayed, was mingled in all her emotions.
She did not at the bottom believe she ever would have him. She did
not believe in herself primarily: doubted whether she could ever
be what he would demand of her. Certainly she never saw herself
living happily through a lifetime with him. She saw tragedy, sorrow,
and sacrifice ahead. And in sacrifice she
was proud, in renunciation she was strong, for she did not trust
herself to support everyday life. She was prepared for the big
things and the deep things, like tragedy. It was the sufficiency
of the small day-life she could not trust.
The Easter holidays began happily. Paul was his own frank self.
Yet she felt it would go wrong. On the Sunday afternoon she stood
at her bedroom window, looking across at the oak-trees of the wood,
in whose branches a twilight was tangled, below the bright sky
of the afternoon. Grey-green rosettes of honeysuckle leaves
hung before the window, some already, she fancied, showing bud.
It was spring, which she loved and dreaded.
Hearing the clack of the gate she stood in suspense.
It was a bright grey day. Paul came into the yard with his bicycle,
which glittered as he walked. Usually he rang his bell and laughed
towards the house. To-day he walked with shut lips and cold,
cruel bearing, that had something of a slouch and a sneer in it.
She knew him well by now, and could tell from that keen-looking,
aloof young body of his what was happening inside him. There was
a cold correctness in the way he put his bicycle in its place,
that made her heart sink.
She came downstairs nervously. She was wearing a new net blouse
that she thought became her. It had a high collar with a tiny ruff,
reminding her of Mary, Queen of Scots, and making her, she thought,
look wonderfully a woman, and dignified. At twenty she was
full-breasted and luxuriously formed. Her face was still like a soft
rich mask, unchangeable. But her eyes, once lifted, were wonderful.
She was afraid of him. He would notice her new blouse.
He, being in a hard, ironical mood, was entertaining the family
to a description of a service given in the Primitive Methodist Chapel,
conducted by one of the well-known preachers of the sect.
He sat at the head of the table, his mobile face, with the eyes
that could be so beautiful, shining with tenderness or dancing
with laughter, now taking on one expression and then another,
in imitation of various people he was mocking. His mockery
always hurt her; it was too near the reality. He was too clever
and cruel. She felt that when his eyes were like this, hard with
mocking hate, he would spare neither himself nor anybody else.
But Mrs. Leivers was wiping her eyes with laughter, and Mr. Leivers,
just awake from his Sunday nap, was rubbing his head in amusement.
The three brothers sat with ruffled, sleepy appearance in their
shirt-sleeves, giving a guffaw from time to time. The whole
family loved a "take-off" more than anything.
He took no notice of Miriam. Later, she saw him remark
her new blouse, saw that the artist approved, but it won from
him not a spark of warmth. She was nervous, could hardly reach
the teacups from the shelves.
When the men went out to milk, she ventured to address
him personally.
"You were late," she said.
"Was I?" he answered.
There was silence for a while.
"Was it rough riding?" she asked.
"I didn't notice it." She continued quickly to lay the table.
When she had finished---
"Tea won't be for a few minutes. Will you come and look
at the daffodils?" she said.
He rose without answering. They went out into the back garden under
the budding damson-trees. The hills and the sky were clean and cold.
Everything looked washed, rather hard. Miriam glanced at Paul.
He was pale and impassive. It seemed cruel to her that his eyes
and brows, which she loved, could look so hurting.
"Has the wind made you tired?" she asked. She detected
an underneath feeling of weariness about him.
"No, I think not," he answered.
"It must be rough on the road--the wood moans so."
"You can see by the clouds it's a south-west wind; that helps
me here."
"You see, I don't cycle, so I don't understand," she murmured.
"Is there need to cycle to know that!" he said.
She thought his sarcasms were unnecessary. They went forward
in silence. Round the wild, tussocky lawn at the back of the house
was a thorn hedge, under which daffodils were craning forward from
among their sheaves of grey-green blades. The cheeks of the flowers
were greenish with cold. But still some had burst, and their gold
ruffled and glowed. Miriam went on her knees before one cluster,
took a wild-looking daffodil between her hands, turned up its
face of gold to her, and bowed down, caressing it with her mouth
and cheeks and brow. He stood aside, with his hands in his pockets,
watching her. One after another she turned up to him the faces
of the yellow, bursten flowers appealingly, fondling them lavishly
all the while.
"Aren't they magnificent?" she murmured.
"Magnificent! It's a bit thick--they're pretty!"
She bowed again to her flowers at his censure of her praise.
He watched her crouching, sipping the flowers with fervid kisses.
"Why must you always be fondling things?" he said irritably.
"But I love to touch them," she replied, hurt.
"Can you never like things without clutching them as if you
wanted to pull the heart out of them? Why don't you have a bit
more restraint, or reserve, or something?"
She looked up at him full of pain, then continued slowly
to stroke her lips against a ruffled flower. Their scent, as she
smelled it, was so much kinder than he; it almost made her cry.
"You wheedle the soul out of things," he said. "I would
never wheedle--at any rate, I'd go straight."
He scarcely knew what he was saying. These things came from
him mechanically. She looked at him. His body seemed one weapon,
firm and hard against her.
"You're always begging things to love you," he said, "as if you
were a beggar for love. Even the flowers, you have to fawn on them---"
Rhythmically, Miriam was swaying and stroking the flower with
her mouth, inhaling the scent which ever after made her shudder
as it came to her nostrils.
"You don't want to love--your eternal and abnormal craving
is to be loved. You aren't positive, you're negative.
You absorb, absorb, as if you must fill yourself up with love,
because you've got a shortage somewhere."
She was stunned by his cruelty, and did not hear. He had not
the faintest notion of what he was saying. It was as if his fretted,
tortured soul, run hot by thwarted passion, jetted off these sayings
like sparks from electricity. She did not grasp anything he said.
She only sat crouched beneath his cruelty and his hatred of her.
She never realised in a flash. Over everything she brooded
and brooded.
After tea he stayed with Edgar and the brothers, taking no
notice of Miriam. She, extremely unhappy on this looked-for holiday,
waited for him. And at last he yielded and came to her.
She was determined to track this mood of his to its origin.
She counted it not much more than a mood.
"Shall we go through the wood a little way?" she asked him,
knowing he never refused a direct request.
They went down to the warren. On the middle path they
passed a trap, a narrow horseshoe hedge of small fir-boughs,
baited with the guts of a rabbit. Paul glanced at it frowning.
She caught his eye.
"Isn't it dreadful?" she asked.
"I don't know! Is it worse than a weasel with its teeth in a
rabbit's throat? One weasel or many rabbits? One or the other must go!"
He was taking the bitterness of life badly. She was rather
sorry for him.
"We will go back to the house," he said. "I don't want
to walk out."
They went past the lilac-tree, whose bronze leaf-buds were
coming unfastened. Just a fragment remained of the haystack,
a monument squared and brown, like a pillar of stone. There was
a little bed of hay from the last cutting.
"Let us sit here a minute," said Miriam.
He sat down against his will, resting his back against the hard
wall of hay. They faced the amphitheatre of round hills that glowed
with sunset, tiny white farms standing out, the meadows golden,
the woods dark and yet luminous, tree-tops folded over tree-tops,
distinct in the distance. The evening had cleared, and the east
was tender with a magenta flush under which the land lay still
and rich.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she pleaded.
But he only scowled. He would rather have had it ugly just then.
At that moment a big bull-terrier came rushing up, open-mouthed,
pranced his two paws on the youth's shoulders, licking his face.
Paul drew back, laughing. Bill was a great relief to him.
He pushed the dog aside, but it came leaping back.
"Get out," said the lad, "or I'll dot thee one."
But the dog was not to be pushed away. So Paul had a little
battle with the creature, pitching poor Bill away from him, who,
however, only floundered tumultuously back again, wild with joy.
The two fought together, the man laughing grudgingly, the dog
grinning all over. Miriam watched them. There was something pathetic
about the man. He wanted so badly to love, to be tender.
The rough way he bowled the dog over was really loving. Bill got up,
panting with happiness, his brown eyes rolling in his white face,
and lumbered back again. He adored Paul. The lad frowned.
"Bill, I've had enough o' thee," he said.
But the dog only stood with two heavy paws, that quivered
with love, upon his thigh, and flickered a red tongue at him.
He drew back.
"No," he said--"no--I've had enough."
And in a minute the dog trotted off happily, to vary the fun.
He remained staring miserably across at the hills, whose still
beauty he begrudged. He wanted to go and cycle with Edgar.
Yet he had not the courage to leave Miriam.
"Why are you sad?" she asked humbly.
"I'm not sad; why should I be," he answered. "I'm only normal."
She wondered why he always claimed to be normal when he
was disagreeable.
"But what is the matter?" she pleaded, coaxing him soothingly.
"Nay!" she murmured.
He picked up a stick and began to stab the earth with it.
"You'd far better not talk," he said.
"But I wish to know---" she replied.
He laughed resentfully.
"You always do," he said.
"It's not fair to me," she murmured.
He thrust, thrust, thrust at the ground with the pointed stick,
digging up little clods of earth as if he were in a fever of irritation.
She gently and firmly laid her band on his wrist.
"Don't!" she said. "Put it away."
He flung the stick into the currant-bushes, and leaned back.
Now he was bottled up.
"What is it?" she pleaded softly.
He lay perfectly still, only his eyes alive, and they full
of torment.
"You know," he said at length, rather wearily--"you know--we'd
better break off."
It was what she dreaded. Swiftly everything seemed to darken
before her eyes.
"Why!" she murmured. "What has happened?"
"Nothing has happened. We only realise where we are.
It's no good---"
She waited in silence, sadly, patiently. It was no good being
impatient with him. At any rate, he would tell her now what ailed him.
"We agreed on friendship," he went on in a dull, monotonous voice.
"How often HAVE we agreed for friendship! And yet--it neither
stops there, nor gets anywhere else."
He was silent again. She brooded. What did he mean?
He was so wearying. There was something he would not yield.
Yet she must be patient with him.
"I can only give friendship--it's all I'm capable of--it's
a flaw in my make-up. The thing overbalances to one side--I hate
a toppling balance. Let us have done."
There was warmth of fury in his last phrases. He meant she
loved him more than he her. Perhaps he could not love her.
Perhaps she had not in herself that which he wanted. It was the
deepest motive of her soul, this self-mistrust. It was so deep she
dared neither realise nor acknowledge. Perhaps she was deficient.
Like an infinitely subtle shame, it kept her always back. If it were so,
she would do without him. She would never let herself want him.
She would merely see.
"But what has happened?" she said.
"Nothing--it's all in myself--it only comes out just now.
We're always like this towards Easter-time."
He grovelled so helplessly, she pitied him. At least she
never floundered in such a pitiable way. After all, it was he
who was chiefly humiliated.
"What do you want?" she asked him.
"Why--I mustn't come often--that's all. Why should I monopolise
you when I'm not--- You see, I'm deficient in something with regard
to you---"
He was telling her he did not love her, and so ought to leave her
a chance with another man. How foolish and blind and shamefully clumsy
he was! What were other men to her! What were men to her at all!
But he, ah! she loved his soul. Was HE deficient in something?
Perhaps he was.
"But I don't understand," she said huskily. "Yesterday---"
The night was turning jangled and hateful to him as the
twilight faded. And she bowed under her suffering.
"I know," he cried, "you never will! You'll never believe that
I can't--can't physically, any more than I can fly up like a skylark---"
"What?" she murmured. Now she dreaded.
"Love you."
He hated her bitterly at that moment because he made her suffer.
Love her! She knew he loved her. He really belonged to her.
This about not loving her, physically, bodily, was a mere perversity
on his part, because he knew she loved him. He was stupid like
a child. He belonged to her. His soul wanted her. She guessed
somebody had been influencing him. She felt upon him the hardness,
the foreignness of another influence.
"What have they been saying at home?" she asked.
"It's not that," he answered.
And then she knew it was. She despised them for their commonness,
his people. They did not know what things were really worth.
He and she talked very little more that night. After all he
left her to cycle with Edgar.
He had come back to his mother. Hers was the strongest
tie in his life. When he thought round, Miriam shrank away.
There was a vague, unreal feel about her. And nobody else mattered.
There was one place in the world that stood solid and did not melt
into unreality: the place where his mother was. Everybody else
could grow shadowy, almost non-existent to him, but she could not.
It was as if the pivot and pole of his life, from which he could
not escape, was his mother.
And in the same way she waited for him. In him was established
her life now. After all, the life beyond offered very little to
Mrs. Morel. She saw that our chance for DOING is here, and doing
counted with her. Paul was going to prove that she had been right;
he was going to make a man whom nothing should shift off his feet;
he was going to alter the face of the earth in some way which mattered.
Wherever he went she felt her soul went with him. Whatever he did she
felt her soul stood by him, ready, as it were, to hand him his tools.
She could not bear it when he was with Miriam. William was dead.
She would fight to keep Paul.
And he came back to her. And in his soul was a feeling of the
satisfaction of self-sacrifice because he was faithful to her.
She loved him first; he loved her first. And yet it was not enough.
His new young life, so strong and imperious, was urged towards
something else. It made him mad with restlessness. She saw this,
and wished bitterly that Miriam had been a woman who could take this
new life of his, and leave her the roots. He fought against his mother
almost as he fought against Miriam.
It was a week before he went again to Willey Farm.
Miriam had suffered a great deal, and was afraid to see him again.
Was she now to endure the ignominy of his abandoning her?
That would only be superficial and temporary. He would come back.
She held the keys to his soul. But meanwhile, how he would torture
her with his battle against her. She shrank from it.
However, the Sunday after Easter he came to tea. Mrs. Leivers
was glad to see him. She gathered something was fretting him,
that he found things hard. He seemed to drift to her for comfort.
And she was good to him. She did him that great kindness of treating
him almost with reverence.
He met her with the young children in the front garden.
"I'm glad you've come," said the mother, looking at him
with her great appealing brown eyes. "It is such a sunny day.
I was just going down the fields for the first time this year."
He felt she would like him to come. That soothed him. They went,
talking simply, he gentle and humble. He could have wept with gratitude
that she was deferential to him. He was feeling humiliated.
At the bottom of the Mow Close they found a thrush's nest.
"Shall I show you the eggs?" he said.
"Do!" replied Mrs. Leivers. "They seem SUCH a sign of spring,
and so hopeful."
He put aside the thorns, and took out the eggs, holding them
in the palm of his hand.
"They are quite hot--I think we frightened her off them,"
he said.
"Ay, poor thing!" said Mrs. Leivers.
Miriam could not help touching the eggs, and his hand which,
it seemed to her, cradled them so well.
"Isn't it a strange warmth!" she murmured, to get near him.
"Blood heat," he answered.
She watched him putting them back, his body pressed against
the hedge, his arm reaching slowly through the thorns, his hand
folded carefully over the eggs. He was concentrated on the act.
Seeing him so, she loved him; he seemed so simple and sufficient
to himself. And she could not get to him.
After tea she stood hesitating at the bookshelf. He took
"Tartarin de Tarascon". Again they sat on the bank of hay at the foot
of the stack. He read a couple of pages, but without any heart for it.
Again the dog came racing up to repeat the fun of the other day.
He shoved his muzzle in the man's chest. Paul fingered his ear
for a moment. Then he pushed him away.
"Go away, Bill," he said. "I don't want you."
Bill slunk off, and Miriam wondered and dreaded
what was coming. There was a silence about the
youth that made her still with apprehension.
It was not his furies, but his quiet resolutions that she feared.
Turning his face a little to one side, so that she could
not see him, he began, speaking slowly and painfully:
"Do you think--if I didn't come up so much--you might get
to like somebody else--another man?"
So this was what he was still harping on.
"But I don't know any other men. Why do you ask?" she replied,
in a low tone that should have been a reproach to him.
"Why," he blurted, "because they say I've no right to come up
like this--without we mean to marry---"
Miriam was indignant at anybody's forcing the issues between them.
She had been furious with her own father for suggesting to Paul,
laughingly, that he knew why he came so much.
"Who says?" she asked, wondering if her people had anything
to do with it. They had not.
"Mother--and the others. They say at this rate everybody will
consider me engaged, and I ought to consider myself so, because it's
not fair to you. And I've tried to find out--and I don't think I
love you as a man ought to love his wife. What do you think about it?"
Miriam bowed her head moodily. She was angry at having
this struggle. People should leave him and her alone.
"I don't know," she murmured.
"Do you think we love each other enough to marry?"
he asked definitely. It made her tremble.
"No," she answered truthfully. "I don't think so--we're
too young."
"I thought perhaps," he went on miserably, "that you, with your
intensity in things, might have given me more--than I could ever make
up to you. And even now--if you think it better--we'll be engaged."
Now Miriam wanted to cry. And she was angry, too. He was
always such a child for people to do as they liked with.
"No, I don't think so," she said firmly.
He pondered a minute.
"You see," he said, "with me--I don't think one person would
ever monopolize me--be everything to me--I think never."
This she did not consider.
"No," she murmured. Then, after a pause, she looked at him,
and her dark eyes flashed.
"This is your mother," she said. "I know she never liked me."
"No, no, it isn't," he said hastily. "It was for your sake
she spoke this time. She only said, if I was going on, I ought
to consider myself engaged." There was a silence. "And if I ask
you to come down any time, you won't stop away, will you?"
She did not answer. By this time she was very angry.
"Well, what shall we do?" she said shortly. "I suppose I'd
better drop French. I was just beginning to get on with it.
But I suppose I can go on alone."
"I don't see that we need," he said. "I can give you
a French lesson, surely."
"Well--and there are Sunday nights. I shan't stop coming
to chapel, because I enjoy it, and it's all the social life I get.
But you've no need to come home with me. I can go alone."
"All right," he answered, rather taken aback. "But if I ask Edgar,
he'll always come with us, and then they can say nothing."
There was silence. After all, then, she would not lose much.
For all their talk down at his home there would not be much difference.
She wished they would mind their own business.
"And you won't think about it, and let it trouble you, will you?"
he asked.
"Oh no," replied Miriam, without looking at him.
He was silent. She thought him unstable. He had no fixity
of purpose, no anchor of righteousness that held him.
"Because," he continued, "a man gets across his bicycle--and
goes to work--and does all sorts of things. But a woman broods."
"No, I shan't bother," said Miriam. And she meant it.
It had gone rather chilly. They went indoors.
"How white Paul looks!" Mrs. Leivers exclaimed. "Miriam, you
shouldn't have let him sit out of doors. Do you think you've
taken cold, Paul?"
"Oh, no!" he laughed.
But he felt done up. It wore him out, the conflict in himself.
Miriam pitied him now. But quite early, before nine o'clock, he rose
to go.
"You're not going home, are you?" asked Mrs. Leivers anxiously.
"Yes," he replied. "I said I'd be early." He was very awkward.
"But this IS early," said Mrs. Leivers.
Miriam sat in the rocking-chair, and did not speak.
He hesitated, expecting her to rise and go with him to the barn
as usual for his bicycle. She remained as she was. He was at a loss.
"Well--good-night, all!" he faltered.
She spoke her good-night along with all the others.
But as he went past the window he looked in. She saw him pale,
his brows knit slightly in a way that had become constant with him,
his eyes dark with pain.
She rose and went to the doorway to wave good-bye to him as he
passed through the gate. He rode slowly under the pine-trees,
feeling a cur and a miserable wretch. His bicycle went tilting down
the hills at random. He thought it would be a relief to break one's neck.
Two days later he sent her up a book and a little note,
urging her to read and be busy.
At this time he gave all his friendship to Edgar.
He loved the family so much, he loved the farm so much; it was
the dearest place on earth to him. His home was not so lovable.
It was his mother. But then he would have been just as happy with
his mother anywhere. Whereas Willey Farm he loved passionately.
He loved the little pokey kitchen, where men's boots tramped,
and the dog slept with one eye open for fear of being trodden on;
where the lamp hung over the table at night, and everything was so silent.
He loved Miriam's long, low parlour, with its atmosphere of romance,
its flowers, its books, its high rosewood piano. He loved the gardens
and the buildings that stood with their scarlet roofs on the naked
edges of the fields, crept towards the wood as if for cosiness,
the wild country scooping down a valley and up the uncultured hills of
the other side. Only to be there was an exhilaration and a joy to him.
He loved Mrs. Leivers, with her unworldliness and her quaint cynicism;
he loved Mr. Leivers, so warm and young and lovable; he loved Edgar,
who lit up when he came, and the boys and the children and
Bill--even the sow Circe and the Indian game-cock called Tippoo.
All this besides Miriam. He could not give it up.
So he went as often, but he was usually with Edgar. Only all
the family, including the father, joined in charades and games
at evening. And later, Miriam drew them together, and they read
Macbeth out of penny books, taking parts. It was great excitement.
Miriam was glad, and Mrs. Leivers was glad, and Mr. Leivers enjoyed it.
Then they all learned songs together from tonic sol-fa, singing
in a circle round the fire. But now Paul was very rarely alone
with Miriam. She waited. When she and Edgar and he walked home
together from chapel or from the literary society in Bestwood,
she knew his talk, so passionate and so unorthodox nowadays,
was for her. She did envy Edgar, however, his cycling with Paul,
his Friday nights, his days working in the fields. For her Friday
nights and her French lessons were gone. She was nearly always alone,
walking, pondering in the wood, reading, studying, dreaming, waiting.
And he wrote to her frequently.
One Sunday evening they attained to their old rare harmony.
Edgar had stayed to Communion--he wondered what it was like--with
Mrs. Morel. So Paul came on alone with Miriam to his home. He was
more or less under her spell again. As usual, they were discussing
the sermon. He was setting now full sail towards Agnosticism,
but such a religious Agnosticism that Miriam did not suffer so badly.
They were at the Renan Vie de Jesus stage. Miriam was the
threshing-floor on which he threshed out all his beliefs. While he
trampled his ideas upon her soul, the truth came out for him. She alone
was his threshing-floor. She alone helped him towards realization.
Almost impassive, she submitted to his argument and expounding.
And somehow, because of her, he gradually realized where he was wrong.
And what he realized, she realized. She felt he could not do without her.
They came to the silent house. He took the key out of
the scullery window, and they entered. All the time he went
on with his discussion. He lit the gas, mended the fire,
and brought her some cakes from the pantry. She sat on the sofa,
quietly, with a plate on her knee. She wore a large white hat
with some pinkish flowers. It was a cheap hat, but he liked it.
Her face beneath was still and pensive, golden-brown and ruddy.
Always her ears were hid in her short curls. She watched him.
She liked him on Sundays. Then he wore a dark suit that showed the
lithe movement of his body. There was a clean, clear-cut look about him.
He went on with his thinking to her. Suddenly he reached for a Bible.
Miriam liked the way he reached up--so sharp, straight to the mark.
He turned the pages quickly, and read her a chapter of St. John.
As he sat in the armchair reading, intent, his voice only thinking,
she felt as if he were using her unconsciously as a man uses his
tools at some work he is bent on. She loved it. And the wistfulness
of his voice was like a reaching to something, and it was as if she
were what he reached with. She sat back on the sofa away from him,
and yet feeling herself the very instrument his hand grasped.
It gave her great pleasure.
Then he began to falter and to get self-conscious. And when he
came to the verse, "A woman, when she is in travail, hath sorrow
because her hour is come", he missed it out. Miriam had felt him
growing uncomfortable. She shrank when the well-known words did
not follow. He went on reading, but she did not hear. A grief
and shame made her bend her head. Six months ago he would have
read it simply. Now there was a scotch in his running with her.
Now she felt there was really something hostile between them,
something of which they were ashamed.
She ate her cake mechanically. He tried to go on with his argument,
but could not get back the right note. Soon Edgar came in.
Mrs. Morel had gone to her friends'. The three set off to Willey Farm.
Miriam brooded over his split with her. There was something else
he wanted. He could not be satisfied; he could give her no peace.
There was between them now always a ground for strife.
She wanted to prove him. She believed that his chief need in life
was herself. If she could prove it, both to herself and to him,
the rest might go; she could simply trust to the future.
So in May she asked him to come to Willey Farm and meet
Mrs. Dawes. There was something he hankered after. She saw him,
whenever they spoke of Clara Dawes, rouse and get slightly angry.
He said he did not like her. Yet he was keen to know about her.
Well, he should put himself to the test. She believed that there
were in him desires for higher things, and desires for lower, and that
the desire for the higher would conquer. At any rate, he should try.
She forgot that her "higher" and "lower" were arbitrary.
He was rather excited at the idea of meeting Clara at Willey Farm.
Mrs. Dawes came for the day. Her heavy, dun-coloured hair was
coiled on top of her head. She wore a white blouse and navy skirt,
and somehow, wherever she was, seemed to make things look paltry
and insignificant. When she was in the room, the kitchen seemed
too small and mean altogether. Miriam's beautiful twilighty
parlour looked stiff and stupid. All the Leivers were eclipsed
like candles. They found her rather hard to put up with.
Yet she was perfectly amiable, but indifferent, and rather hard.
Paul did not come till afternoon. He was early. As he swung
off his bicycle, Miriam saw him look round at the house eagerly.
He would be disappointed if the visitor had not come. Miriam went
out to meet him, bowing her head because of the sunshine.
Nasturtiums were coming out crimson under the cool green shadow
of their leaves. The girl stood, dark-haired, glad to see him.
"Hasn't Clara come?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Miriam in her musical tone. "She's reading."
He wheeled his bicycle into the barn. He had put
on a handsome tie, of which he was rather proud, and socks to match.
"She came this morning?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Miriam, as she walked at his side. "You said you'd
bring me that letter from the man at Liberty's. Have you remembered?"
"Oh, dash, no!" he said. "But nag at me till you get it."
"I don't like to nag at you."
"Do it whether or not. And is she any more agreeable?"
he continued.
"You know I always think she is quite agreeable."
He was silent. Evidently his eagerness to be early to-day
had been the newcomer. Miriam already began to suffer. They went
together towards the house. He took the clips off his trousers,
but was too lazy to brush the dust from his shoes, in spite of the
socks and tie.
Clara sat in the cool parlour reading. He saw the nape of her
white neck, and the fine hair lifted from it. She rose, looking at
him indifferently. To shake hands she lifted her arm straight,
in a manner that seemed at once to keep him at a distance,
and yet to fling something to him. He noticed how her breasts
swelled inside her blouse, and how her shoulder curved handsomely
under the thin muslin at the top of her arm.
"You have chosen a fine day," he said.
"It happens so," she said.
"Yes," he said; "I am glad."
She sat down, not thanking him for his politeness.
"What have you been doing all morning?" asked Paul of Miriam.
"Well, you see," said Miriam, coughing huskily, "Clara only
came with father--and so--she's not been here very long."
Clara sat leaning on the table, holding aloof. He noticed
her hands were large, but well kept. And the skin on them seemed
almost coarse, opaque, and white, with fine golden hairs. She did
not mind if he observed her hands. She intended to scorn him.
Her heavy arm lay negligently on the table. Her mouth was closed
as if she were offended, and she kept her face slightly averted.
"You were at Margaret Bonford's meeting the other evening,"
he said to her.
Miriam did not know this courteous Paul. Clara glanced at him.
"Yes," she said.
"Why," asked Miriam, "how do you know?"
"I went in for a few minutes before the train came," he answered.
Clara turned away again rather disdainfully.
"I think she's a lovable little woman," said Paul.
"Margaret Bonford!" exclaimed Clara. "She's a great deal
cleverer than most men."
"Well, I didn't say she wasn't," he said, deprecating.
"She's lovable for all that."
"And, of course, that is all that matters," said Clara witheringly.
He rubbed his head, rather perplexed, rather annoyed.
"I suppose it matters more than her cleverness," he said;
"which, after all, would never get her to heaven."
"It's not heaven she wants to get--it's her fair share on earth,"
retorted Clara. She spoke as if he were responsible for some
deprivation which Miss Bonford suffered.
"Well," he said, "I thought she was warm, and awfully nice--only
too frail. I wished she was sitting comfortably in peace---"
"'Darning her husband's stockings,'" said Clara scathingly.
"I'm sure she wouldn't mind darning even my stockings," he said.
"And I'm sure she'd do them well. Just as I wouldn't mind blacking
her boots if she wanted me to."
But Clara refused to answer this sally of his. He talked
to Miriam for a little while. The other woman held aloof.
"Well," he said, "I think I'll go and see Edgar. Is he
on the land?"
"I believe," said Miriam, "he's gone for a load of coal.
He should be back directly."
"Then," he said, "I'll go and meet him."
Miriam dared not propose anything for the three of them.
He rose and left them.
On the top road, where the gorse was out, he saw Edgar walking
lazily beside the mare, who nodded her white-starred forehead
as she dragged the clanking load of coal. The young farmer's face
lighted up as he saw his friend. Edgar was good-looking, with dark,
warm eyes. His clothes were old and rather disreputable, and he
walked with considerable pride.
"Hello!" he said, seeing Paul bareheaded. "Where are you going?"
"Came to meet you. Can't stand 'Nevermore.'"
Edgar's teeth flashed in a laugh of amusement.
"Who is 'Nevermore'?" he asked.
"The lady--Mrs. Dawes--it ought to be Mrs. The Raven that quothed
Edgar laughed with glee.
"Don't you like her?" he asked.
"Not a fat lot," said Paul. "Why, do you?"
"No!" The answer came with a deep ring of conviction. "No!"
Edgar pursed up his lips. "I can't say she's much in my line."
He mused a little. Then: "But why do you call her 'Nevermore'?"
he asked.
"Well," said Paul, "if she looks at a man she says haughtily
'Nevermore,' and if she looks at herself in the looking-glass she
says disdainfully 'Nevermore,' and if she thinks back she says it
in disgust, and if she looks forward she says it cynically."
Edgar considered this speech, failed to make much out of it,
and said, laughing:
"You think she's a man-hater?"
"SHE thinks she is," replied Paul.
"But you don't think so?"
"No," replied Paul.
"Wasn't she nice with you, then?"
"Could you imagine her NICE with anybody?" asked the young man.
Edgar laughed. Together they unloaded the coal in the yard.
Paul was rather self-conscious, because he knew Clara could see if she
looked out of the window. She didn't look.
On Saturday afternoons the horses were brushed down and groomed.
Paul and Edgar worked together, sneezing with the dust that came
from the pelts of Jimmy and Flower.
"Do you know a new song to teach me?" said Edgar.
He continued to work all the time. The back of his neck
was sun-red when he bent down, and his fingers that held the brush
were thick. Paul watched him sometimes.
"'Mary Morrison'?" suggested the younger.
Edgar agreed. He had a good tenor voice, and he loved to learn
all the songs his friend could teach him, so that he could sing
whilst he was carting. Paul had a very indifferent baritone voice,
but a good ear. However, he sang softly, for fear of Clara.
Edgar repeated the line in a clear tenor. At times they both broke
off to sneeze, and first one, then the other, abused his horse.
Miriam was impatient of men. It took so little to amuse
them--even Paul. She thought it anomalous in him that he could
be so thoroughly absorbed in a triviality.
It was tea-time when they had finished.
"What song was that?" asked Miriam.
Edgar told her. The conversation turned to singing.
"We have such jolly times," Miriam said to Clara.
Mrs. Dawes ate her meal in a slow, dignified way.
Whenever the men were present she grew distant.
"Do you like singing?" Miriam asked her.
"If it is good," she said.
Paul, of course, coloured.
"You mean if it is high-class and trained?" he said.
"I think a voice needs training before the singing is anything,"
she said.
"You might as well insist on having people's voices trained
before you allowed them to talk," he replied. "Really, people sing
for their own pleasure, as a rule."
"And it may be for other people's discomfort."
"Then the other people should have flaps to their ears,"
he replied.
The boys laughed. There was a silence. He flushed deeply,
and ate in silence.
After tea, when all the men had gone but Paul, Mrs. Leivers
said to Clara:
"And you find life happier now?"
"And you are satisfied?"
"So long as I can be free and independent."
"And you don't MISS anything in your life?"
asked Mrs. Leivers gently.
"I've put all that behind me."
Paul had been feeling uncomfortable during this discourse.
He got up.
"You'll find you're always tumbling over the things you've put
behind you," he said. Then he took his departure to the cowsheds.
He felt he had been witty, and his manly pride was high. He whistled
as he went down the brick track.
Miriam came for him a little later to know if he would go with
Clara and her for a walk. They set off down to Strelley Mill Farm.
As they were going beside the brook, on the Willey Water side,
looking through the brake at the edge of the wood, where pink campions
glowed under a few sunbeams, they saw, beyond the tree-trunks
and the thin hazel bushes, a man leading a great bay horse through
the gullies. The big red beast seemed to dance romantically
through that dimness of green hazel drift, away there
where the air was shadowy, as if it were in the past,
among the fading bluebells that might have bloomed
for Deidre or Iseult.
The three stood charmed.
"What a treat to be a knight," he said, "and to have
a pavilion here."
"And to have us shut up safely?" replied Clara.
"Yes," he answered, "singing with your maids at your broidery.
I would carry your banner of white and green and heliotrope. I would
have 'W.S.P.U.' emblazoned on my shield, beneath a woman rampant."
"I have no doubt," said Clara, "that you would much rather
fight for a woman than let her fight for herself."
"I would. When she fights for herself she seems like a dog
before a looking-glass, gone into a mad fury with its own shadow."
"And YOU are the looking-glass?" she asked, with a curl
of the lip.
"Or the shadow," he replied.
"I am afraid," she said, "that you are too clever."
"Well, I leave it to you to be GOOD," he retorted, laughing.
"Be good, sweet maid, and just let ME be clever."
But Clara wearied of his flippancy. Suddenly, looking at her,
he saw that the upward lifting of her face was misery and not scorn.
His heart grew tender for everybody. He turned and was gentle
with Miriam, whom he had neglected till then.
At the wood's edge they met Limb, a thin, swarthy man of forty,
tenant of Strelley Mill, which he ran as a cattle-raising farm.
He held the halter of the powerful stallion indifferently, as if he
were tired. The three stood to let him pass over the stepping-stones
of the first brook. Paul admired that so large an animal should
walk on such springy toes, with an endless excess of vigour.
Limb pulled up before them.
"Tell your father, Miss Leivers," he said, in a peculiar
piping voice, "that his young beas'es 'as broke that bottom fence
three days an' runnin'."
"Which?" asked Miriam, tremulous.
The great horse breathed heavily, shifting round its red flanks,
and looking suspiciously with its wonderful big eyes upwards from
under its lowered head and falling mane.
"Come along a bit," replied Limb, "an' I'll show you."
The man and the stallion went forward. It danced sideways,
shaking its white fetlocks and looking frightened, as it felt itself
in the brook.
"No hanky-pankyin'," said the man affectionately to the beast.
It went up the bank in little leaps, then splashed finely through
the second brook. Clara, walking with a kind of sulky abandon,
watched it half-fascinated, half-contemptuous. Limb stopped
and pointed to the fence under some willows.
"There, you see where they got through," he said. "My man's
druv 'em back three times."
"Yes," answered Miriam, colouring as if she were at fault.
"Are you comin' in?" asked the man.
"No, thanks; but we should like to go by the pond."
"Well, just as you've a mind," he said.
The horse gave little whinneys of pleasure at being so near home.
"He is glad to be back," said Clara, who was interested
in the creature.
"Yes--'e's been a tidy step to-day."
They went through the gate, and saw approaching them from
the big farmhouse a smallish, dark, excitable-looking woman
of about thirty-five. Her hair was touched with grey, her dark
eyes looked wild. She walked with her hands behind her back.
Her brother went forward. As it saw her, the big bay stallion
whinneyed again. She came up excitedly.
"Are you home again, my boy!" she said tenderly to the horse,
not to the man. The great beast shifted round to her, ducking his head.
She smuggled into his mouth the wrinkled yellow apple she had
been hiding behind her back, then she kissed him near the eyes.
He gave a big sigh of pleasure. She held his head in her arms
against her breast.
"Isn't he splendid!" said Miriam to her.
Miss Limb looked up. Her dark eyes glanced straight at Paul.
"Oh, good-evening, Miss Leivers," she said. "It's ages
since you've been down."
Miriam introduced her friends.
"Your horse IS a fine fellow!" said Clara.
"Isn't he!" Again she kissed him. "As loving as any man!"
"More loving than most men, I should think," replied Clara.
"He's a nice boy!" cried the woman, again embracing the horse.
Clara, fascinated by the big beast, went up to stroke his neck.
"He's quite gentle," said Miss Limb. "Don't you think big
fellows are?"
"He's a beauty!" replied Clara.
She wanted to look in his eyes. She wanted him to look at her.
"It's a pity he can't talk," she said.
"Oh, but he can--all but," replied the other woman.
Then her brother moved on with the horse.
"Are you coming in? DO come in, Mr.--I didn't catch it."
"Morel," said Miriam. "No, we won't come in, but we should
like to go by the mill-pond."
"Yes--yes, do. Do you fish, Mr. Morel?"
"No," said Paul.
"Because if you do you might come and fish any time,"
said Miss Limb. "We scarcely see a soul from week's end to week's end.
I should be thankful."
"What fish are there in the pond?" he asked.
They went through the front garden, over the sluice,
and up the steep bank to the pond, which lay in shadow, with its
two wooded islets. Paul walked with Miss Limb.
"I shouldn't mind swimming here," he said.
"Do," she replied. "Come when you like. My brother will be
awfully pleased to talk with you. He is so quiet, because there
is no one to talk to. Do come and swim."
Clara came up.
"It's a fine depth," she said, "and so clear."
"Yes," said Miss Limb.
"Do you swim?" said Paul. "Miss Limb was just saying we could
come when we liked."
"Of course there's the farm-hands," said Miss Limb.
They talked a few moments, then went on up the wild hill,
leaving the lonely, haggard-eyed woman on the bank.
The hillside was all ripe with sunshine. It was wild and tussocky,
given over to rabbits. The three walked in silence. Then:
"She makes me feel uncomfortable," said Paul.
"You mean Miss Limb?" asked Miriam. "Yes."
"What's a matter with her? Is she going dotty with being
too lonely?"
"Yes," said Miriam. "It's not the right sort of life for her.
I think it's cruel to bury her there. I really ought to go and see
her more. But--she upsets me."
"She makes me feel sorry for her--yes, and she bothers me,"
he said.
"I suppose," blurted Clara suddenly, "she wants a man."
The other two were silent for a few moments.
"But it's the loneliness sends her cracked," said Paul.
Clara did not answer, but strode on uphill. She was walking
with her hand hanging, her legs swinging as she kicked through
the dead thistles and the tussocky grass, her arms hanging loose.
Rather than walking, her handsome body seemed to be blundering up
the hill. A hot wave went over Paul. He was curious about her.
Perhaps life had been cruel to her. He forgot Miriam, who was walking
beside him talking to him. She glanced at him, finding he did not
answer her. His eyes were fixed ahead on Clara.
"Do you still think she is disagreeable?" she asked.
He did not notice that the question was sudden. It ran
with his thoughts.
"Something's the matter with her," he said.
"Yes," answered Miriam.
They found at the top of the hill a hidden wild field,
two sides of which were backed by the wood, the other sides by high
loose hedges of hawthorn and elder bushes. Between these overgrown
bushes were gaps that the cattle might have walked through had
there been any cattle now. There the turf was smooth as velveteen,
padded and holed by the rabbits. The field itself was coarse,
and crowded with tall, big cowslips that had never been cut.
Clusters of strong flowers rose everywhere above the coarse
tussocks of bent. It was like a roadstead crowded with tan,
fairy shipping.
"Ah!" cried Miriam, and she looked at Paul, her dark eyes dilating.
He smiled. Together they enjoyed the field of flowers. Clara,
a little way off, was looking at the cowslips disconsolately.
Paul and Miriam stayed close together, talking in subdued tones.
He kneeled on one knee, quickly gathering the best blossoms,
moving from tuft to tuft restlessly, talking softly all the time.
Miriam plucked the flowers lovingly, lingering over them.
He always seemed to her too quick and almost scientific.
Yet his bunches had a natural beauty more than hers.
He loved them, but as if they were his and he had a right
to them. She had more reverence for them:
they held something she had not.
The flowers were very fresh and sweet. He wanted to drink them.
As he gathered them, he ate the little yellow trumpets.
Clara was still wandering about disconsolately. Going towards her,
he said:
"Why don't you get some?"
"I don't believe in it. They look better growing."
"But you'd like some?"
"They want to be left."
"I don't believe they do."
"I don't want the corpses of flowers about me," she said.
"That's a stiff, artificial notion," he said. "They don't die
any quicker in water than on their roots. And besides, they LOOK
nice in a bowl--they look jolly. And you only call a thing a corpse
because it looks corpse-like."
"Whether it is one or not?" she argued.
"It isn't one to me. A dead flower isn't a corpse of a flower."
Clara now ignored him.
"And even so--what right have you to pull them?" she asked.
"Because I like them, and want them--and there's plenty of them."
"And that is sufficient?"
"Yes. Why not? I'm sure they'd smell nice in your room
in Nottingham."
"And I should have the pleasure of watching them die."
"But then--it does not matter if they do die."
Whereupon he left her, and went stooping over the clumps
of tangled flowers which thickly sprinkled the field like pale,
luminous foam-clots. Miriam had come close. Clara was kneeling,
breathing some scent from the cowslips.
"I think," said Miriam, "if you treat them with reverence you
don't do them any harm. It is the spirit you pluck them in that matters."
"Yes," he said. "But no, you get 'em because you want 'em,
and that's all." He held out his bunch.
Miriam was silent. He picked some more.
"Look at these!" he continued; "sturdy and lusty like little
trees and like boys with fat legs."
Clara's hat lay on the grass not far off. She was kneeling,
bending forward still to smell the flowers. Her neck gave him
a sharp pang, such a beautiful thing, yet not proud of itself
just now. Her breasts swung slightly in her blouse. The arching
curve of her back was beautiful and strong; she wore no stays.
Suddenly, without knowing, he was scattering a handful of cowslips
over her hair and neck, saying:
"Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,
If the Lord won't have you the devil must."
The chill flowers fell on her neck. She looked up at him,
with almost pitiful, scared grey eyes, wondering what he was doing.
Flowers fell on her face, and she shut her eyes.
Suddenly, standing there above her, he felt awkward.
"I thought you wanted a funeral," he said, ill at ease.
Clara laughed strangely, and rose, picking the cowslips from
her hair. She took up her hat and pinned it on. One flower had
remained tangled in her hair. He saw, but would not tell her.
He gathered up the flowers he had sprinkled over her.
At the edge of the wood the bluebells had flowed over into the
field and stood there like flood-water. But they were fading now.
Clara strayed up to them. He wandered after her. The bluebells
pleased him.
"Look how they've come out of the wood!" he said.
Then she turned with a flash of warmth and of gratitude.
"Yes," she smiled.
His blood beat up.
"It makes me think of the wild men of the woods, how terrified
they would be when they got breast to breast with the open space."
"Do you think they were?" she asked.
"I wonder which was more frightened among old tribes--those
bursting out of their darkness of woods upon all the space of light,
or those from the open tiptoeing into the forests."
"I should think the second," she answered.
"Yes, you DO feel like one of the open space sort, trying to
force yourself into the dark, don't you?"
"How should I know?" she answered queerly.
The conversation ended there.
The evening was deepening over the earth. Already the valley was
full of shadow. One tiny square of light stood opposite at Crossleigh
Bank Farm. Brightness was swimming on the tops of the hills.
Miriam came up slowly, her face in her big, loose bunch of flowers,
walking ankle-deep through the scattered froth of the cowslips.
Beyond her the trees were coming into shape, all shadow.
"Shall we go?" she asked.
And the three turned away. They were all silent.
Going down the path they could see the light of home right across,
and on the ridge of the hill a thin dark outline with little lights,
where the colliery village touched the sky.
"It has been nice, hasn't it?" he asked.
Miriam murmured assent. Clara was silent.
"Don't you think so?" he persisted.
But she walked with her head up, and still did not answer.
He could tell by the way she moved, as if she didn't care,
that she suffered.
At this time Paul took his mother to Lincoln. She was bright
and enthusiastic as ever, but as he sat opposite her in the
railway carriage, she seemed to look frail. He had a momentary
sensation as if she were slipping away from him. Then he
wanted to get hold of her, to fasten her, almost to chain her.
He felt he must keep hold of her with his hand.
They drew near to the city. Both were at the window looking
for the cathedral.
"There she is, mother!" he cried.
They saw the great cathedral lying couchant above the plain.
"Ah!" she exclaimed. "So she is!"
He looked at his mother. Her blue eyes were watching the
cathedral quietly. She seemed again to be beyond him. Something in
the eternal repose of the uplifted cathedral, blue and noble
against the sky, was reflected in her, something of the fatality.
What was, WAS. With all his young will he could not alter it.
He saw her face, the skin still fresh and pink and downy,
but crow's-feet near her eyes, her eyelids steady, sinking a little,
her mouth always closed with disillusion; and there was on her the same
eternal look, as if she knew fate at last. He beat against it
with all the strength of his soul.
"Look, mother, how big she is above the town! Think, there are streets
and streets below her! She looks bigger than the city altogether."
"So she does!" exclaimed his mother, breaking bright
into life again. But he had seen her sitting, looking steady
out of the window at the cathedral, her face and eyes fixed,
reflecting the relentlessness of life. And the crow's-feet near
her eyes, and her mouth shut so hard, made him feel he would go mad.
They ate a meal that she considered wildly extravagant.
"Don't imagine I like it," she said, as she ate her cutlet.
"I DON'T like it, I really don't! Just THINK of your money wasted!"
"You never mind my money," he said. "You forget I'm a fellow
taking his girl for an outing."
And he bought her some blue violets.
"Stop it at once, sir!" she commanded. "How can I do it?"
"You've got nothing to do. Stand still!"
And in the middle of High Street he stuck the flowers in her coat.
"An old thing like me!" she said, sniffing.
"You see," he said, "I want people to think we're awful swells.
So look ikey."
"I'll jowl your head," she laughed.
"Strut!" he commanded. "Be a fantail pigeon."
It took him an hour to get her through the street. She stood
above Glory Hole, she stood before Stone Bow, she stood everywhere,
and exclaimed.
A man came up, took off his hat, and bowed to her.
"Can I show you the town, madam?"
"No, thank you," she answered. "I've got my son."
Then Paul was cross with her for not answering with more dignity.
"You go away with you!" she exclaimed. "Ha! that's
the Jew's House. Now, do you remember that lecture, Paul--?"
But she could scarcely climb the cathedral hill.
He did not notice. Then suddenly he found her unable to speak.
He took her into a little public-house, where she rested.
"It's nothing," she said. "My heart is only a bit old;
one must expect it."
He did not answer, but looked at her. Again his heart was
crushed in a hot grip. He wanted to cry, he wanted to smash things
in fury.
They set off again, pace by pace, so slowly. And every
step seemed like a weight on his chest. He felt as if his heart
would burst. At last they came to the top. She stood enchanted,
looking at the castle gate, looking at the cathedral front.
She had quite forgotten herself.
"Now THIS is better than I thought it could be!" she cried.
But he hated it. Everywhere he followed her, brooding.
They sat together in the cathedral. They attended a little service
in the choir. She was timid.
"I suppose it is open to anybody?" she asked him.
"Yes," he replied. "Do you think they'd have the damned cheek
to send us away."
"Well, I'm sure," she exclaimed, "they would if they heard
your language."
Her face seemed to shine again with joy and peace during
the service. And all the time he was wanting to rage and smash
things and cry.
Afterwards, when they were leaning over the wall, looking at
the town below, he blurted suddenly:
"Why can't a man have a YOUNG mother? What is she old for?"
"Well," his mother laughed, "she can scarcely help it."
"And why wasn't I the oldest son? Look--they say the young
ones have the advantage--but look, THEY had the young mother.
You should have had me for your eldest son."
"I didn't arrange it," she remonstrated. "Come to consider,
you're as much to blame as me."
He turned on her, white, his eyes furious.
"What are you old for!" he said, mad with his impotence.
"WHY can't you walk? WHY can't you come with me to places?"
"At one time," she replied, "I could have run up that hill
a good deal better than you."
"What's the good of that to ME?" he cried, hitting his fist
on the wall. Then he became plaintive. "It's too bad of you
to be ill. Little, it is--"
"Ill!" she cried. "I'm a bit old, and you'll have to put up
with it, that's all."
They were quiet. But it was as much as they could bear. They got
jolly again over tea. As they sat by Brayford, watching the boats,
he told her about Clara. His mother asked him innumerable questions.
"Then who does she live with?"
"With her mother, on Bluebell Hill."
"And have they enough to keep them?"
"I don't think so. I think they do lace work."
"And wherein lies her charm, my boy?"
"I don't know that she's charming, mother. But she's nice.
And she seems straight, you know--not a bit deep, not a bit."
"But she's a good deal older than you."
"She's thirty, I'm going on twenty-three."
"You haven't told me what you like her for."
"Because I don't know--a sort of defiant way she's got--a sort
of angry way."
Mrs. Morel considered. She would have been glad now for her son
to fall in love with some woman who would--she did not know what.
But he fretted so, got so furious suddenly, and again was melancholic.
She wished he knew some nice woman-- She did not know what she wished,
but left it vague. At any rate, she was not hostile to the idea
of Clara.
Annie, too, was getting married. Leonard had gone away to work
in Birmingham. One week-end when he was home she had said to him:
"You don't look very well, my lad."
"I dunno," he said. "I feel anyhow or nohow, ma."
He called her "ma" already in his boyish fashion.
"Are you sure they're good lodgings?" she asked.
"Yes--yes. Only--it's a winder when you have to pour your own
tea out--an' nobody to grouse if you team it in your saucer and sup
it up. It somehow takes a' the taste out of it."
Mrs. Morel laughed.
"And so it knocks you up?" she said.
"I dunno. I want to get married," he blurted, twisting his
fingers and looking down at his boots. There was a silence.
"But," she exclaimed, "I thought you said you'd wait another year."
"Yes, I did say so," he replied stubbornly.
Again she considered.
"And you know," she said, "Annie's a bit of a spendthrift.
She's saved no more than eleven pounds. And I know, lad, you haven't
had much chance."
He coloured up to the ears.
"I've got thirty-three quid," he said.
"It doesn't go far," she answered.
He said nothing, but twisted his fingers.
"And you know," she said, "I've nothing---"
"I didn't want, ma!" he cried, very red, suffering and remonstrating.
"No, my lad, I know. I was only wishing I had. And take away
five pounds for the wedding and things--it leaves twenty-nine pounds.
You won't do much on that."
He twisted still, impotent, stubborn, not looking up.
"But do you really want to get married?" she asked. "Do you
feel as if you ought?"
He gave her one straight look from his blue eyes.
"Yes," he said.
"Then," she replied, "we must all do the best we can for it, lad."
The next time he looked up there were tears in his eyes.
"I don't want Annie to feel handicapped," he said, struggling.
"My lad," she said, "you're steady--you've got a decent place.
If a man had NEEDED me I'd have married him on his last week's wages.
She may find it a bit hard to start humbly. Young girls ARE like that.
They look forward to the fine home they think they'll have.
But I had expensive furniture. It's not everything."
So the wedding took place almost immediately. Arthur came home,
and was splendid in uniform. Annie looked nice in a dove-grey
dress that she could take for Sundays. Morel called her a fool
for getting married, and was cool with his son-in-law. Mrs. Morel
had white tips in her bonnet, and some white on her blouse,
and was teased by both her sons for fancying herself so grand.
Leonard was jolly and cordial, and felt a fearful fool. Paul could
not quite see what Annie wanted to get married for. He was fond of her,
and she of him. Still, he hoped rather lugubriously that it would
turn out all right. Arthur was astonishingly handsome in his scarlet
and yellow, and he knew it well, but was secretly ashamed of the uniform.
Annie cried her eyes up in the kitchen, on leaving her mother.
Mrs. Morel cried a little, then patted her on the back and said:
"But don't cry, child, he'll be good to you."
Morel stamped and said she was a fool to go and tie herself up.
Leonard looked white and overwrought. Mrs. Morel said to him:
"I s'll trust her to you, my lad, and hold you responsible
for her."
"You can," he said, nearly dead with the ordeal. And it
was all over.
When Morel and Arthur were in bed, Paul sat talking, as he
often did, with his mother.
"You're not sorry she's married, mother, are you?" he asked.
"I'm not sorry she's married--but--it seems strange that she
should go from me. It even seems to me hard that she can prefer
to go with her Leonard. That's how mothers are--I know it's silly."
"And shall you be miserable about her?"
"When I think of my own wedding day," his mother answered,
"I can only hope her life will be different."
"But you can trust him to be good to her?"
"Yes, yes. They say he's not good enough for her. But I say
if a man is GENUINE, as he is, and a girl is fond of him--then--it
should be all right. He's as good as she."
"So you don't mind?"
"I would NEVER have let a daughter of mine marry a man I didn't
FEEL to be genuine through and through. And yet, there's a gap
now she's gone."
They were both miserable, and wanted her back again.
It seemed to Paul his mother looked lonely, in her new black silk
blouse with its bit of white trimming.
"At any rate, mother, I s'll never marry," he said.
"Ay, they all say that, my lad. You've not met the one yet.
Only wait a year or two."
"But I shan't marry, mother. I shall live with you, and we'll
have a servant."
"Ay, my lad, it's easy to talk. We'll see when the time comes."
"What time? I'm nearly twenty-three."
"Yes, you're not one that would marry young. But in
three years' time---"
"I shall be with you just the same."
"We'll see, my boy, we'll see."
"But you don't want me to marry?"
"I shouldn't like to think of you going through your life
without anybody to care for you and do--no."
"And you think I ought to marry?"
"Sooner or later every man ought."
"But you'd rather it were later."
"It would be hard--and very hard. It's as they say:
"'A son's my son till he takes him a wife,
But my daughter's my daughter the whole of her life.'"
"And you think I'd let a wife take me from you?"
"Well, you wouldn't ask her to marry your mother as well as you,"
Mrs. Morel smiled.
"She could do what she liked; she wouldn't have to interfere."
"She wouldn't--till she'd got you--and then you'd see."
"I never will see. I'll never marry while I've got you--I won't."
"But I shouldn't like to leave you with nobody, my boy,"
she cried.
"You're not going to leave me. What are you? Fifty-three! I'll
give you till seventy-five. There you are, I'm fat and forty-four.
Then I'll marry a staid body. See!"
His mother sat and laughed.
"Go to bed," she said--"go to bed."
"And we'll have a pretty house, you and me, and a servant,
and it'll be just all right. I s'll perhaps be rich with my painting."
"Will you go to bed!"
"And then you s'll have a pony-carriage. See yourself--a little
Queen Victoria trotting round."
"I tell you to go to bed," she laughed.
He kissed her and went. His plans for the future were always
the same.
Mrs. Morel sat brooding--about her daughter, about Paul,
about Arthur. She fretted at losing Annie. The family was very
closely bound. And she felt she MUST live now, to be with her
children. Life was so rich for her. Paul wanted her, and so did Arthur.
Arthur never knew how deeply he loved her. He was a creature
of the moment. Never yet had he been forced to realise himself.
The army had disciplined his body, but not his soul. He was in
perfect health and very handsome. His dark, vigorous hair sat close
to his smallish head. There was something childish about his nose,
something almost girlish about his dark blue eyes. But he had the fun
red mouth of a man under his brown moustache, and his jaw was strong.
It was his father's mouth; it was the nose and eyes of her own mother's
people--good-looking, weak-principled folk. Mrs. Morel was anxious
about him. Once he had really run the rig he was safe. But how far
would he go?
The army had not really done him any good. He resented
bitterly the authority of the officers. He hated having to obey
as if he were an animal. But he had too much sense to kick.
So he turned his attention to getting the best out of it.
He could sing, he was a boon-companion. Often he got into scrapes,
but they were the manly scrapes that are easily condoned. So he made
a good time out of it, whilst his self-respect was in suppression.
He trusted to his good looks and handsome figure, his refinement,
his decent education to get him most of what he wanted, and he
was not disappointed. Yet he was restless. Something seemed
to gnaw him inside. He was never still, he was never alone.
With his mother he was rather humble. Paul he admired and loved
and despised slightly. And Paul admired and loved and despised
him slightly.
Mrs. Morel had had a few pounds left to her by her father,
and she decided to buy her son out of the army. He was wild with joy.
Now he was like a lad taking a holiday.
He had always been fond of Beatrice Wyld, and during his furlough
he picked up with her again. She was stronger and better in health.
The two often went long walks together, Arthur taking her arm
in soldier's fashion, rather stiffly. And she came to play the
piano whilst he sang. Then Arthur would unhook his tunic collar.
He grew flushed, his eyes were bright, he sang in a manly tenor.
Afterwards they sat together on the sofa. He seemed to flaunt
his body: she was aware of him so--the strong chest, the sides,
the thighs in their close-fitting trousers.
He liked to lapse into the dialect when he talked to her.
She would sometimes smoke with him. Occasionally she
would only take a few whiffs at his cigarette.
"Nay," he said to her one evening, when she reached
for his cigarette. "Nay, tha doesna. I'll gi'e thee a smoke
kiss if ter's a mind."
"I wanted a whiff, no kiss at all," she answered.
"Well, an' tha s'lt ha'e a whiff," he said, "along wi' t' kiss."
"I want a draw at thy fag," she cried, snatching for the
cigarette between his lips.
He was sitting with his shoulder touching her. She was small
and quick as lightning. He just escaped.
"I'll gi'e thee a smoke kiss," he said.
"Tha'rt a knivey nuisance, Arty Morel," she said, sitting back.
"Ha'e a smoke kiss?"
The soldier leaned forward to her, smiling. His face was
near hers.
"Shonna!" she replied, turning away her head.
He took a draw at his cigarette, and pursed up his mouth,
and put his lips close to her. His dark-brown cropped moustache
stood out like a brush. She looked at the puckered crimson lips,
then suddenly snatched the cigarette from his fingers and darted away.
He, leaping after her, seized the comb from her back hair. She turned,
threw the cigarette at him. He picked it up, put it in his mouth,
and sat down.
"Nuisance!" she cried. "Give me my comb!"
She was afraid that her hair, specially done for him,
would come down. She stood with her hands to her head. He hid
the comb between his knees.
"I've non got it," he said.
The cigarette trembled between his lips with laughter as he spoke.
"Liar!" she said.
"'S true as I'm here!" he laughed, showing his hands.
"You brazen imp!" she exclaimed, rushing and scuffling for
the comb, which he had under his knees. As she wrestled with him,
pulling at his smooth, tight-covered knees, he laughed till he
lay back on the sofa shaking with laughter. The cigarette fell
from his mouth almost singeing his throat. Under his delicate tan
the blood flushed up, and he laughed till his blue eyes were blinded,
his throat swollen almost to choking. Then he sat up. Beatrice was
putting in her comb.
"Tha tickled me, Beat," he said thickly.
Like a flash her small white hand went out and smacked his face.
He started up, glaring at her. They stared at each other.
Slowly the flush mounted her cheek, she dropped her eyes, then her head.
He sat down sulkily. She went into the scullery to adjust her hair.
In private there she shed a few tears, she did not know what for.
When she returned she was pursed up close. But it was only a film
over her fire. He, with ruffled hair, was sulking upon the sofa.
She sat down opposite, in the armchair, and neither spoke.
The clock ticked in the silence like blows.
"You are a little cat, Beat," he said at length, half apologetically.
"Well, you shouldn't be brazen," she replied.
There was again a long silence. He whistled to himself
like a man much agitated but defiant. Suddenly she went across
to him and kissed him.
"Did it, pore fing!" she mocked.
He lifted his face, smiling curiously.
"Kiss?" he invited her.
"Daren't I?" she asked.
"Go on!" he challenged, his mouth lifted to her.
Deliberately, and with a peculiar quivering smile that
seemed to overspread her whole body, she put her mouth on his.
Immediately his arms folded round her. As soon as the long kiss was
finished she drew back her head from him, put her delicate fingers
on his neck, through the open collar. Then she closed her eyes,
giving herself up again in a kiss.
She acted of her own free will. What she would do she did,
and made nobody responsible.
Paul felt life changing around him. The conditions of youth
were gone. Now it was a home of grown-up people. Annie was
a married woman, Arthur was following his own pleasure in a way
unknown to his folk. For so long they had all lived at home,
and gone out to pass their time. But now, for Annie and Arthur,
life lay outside their mother's house. They came home for holiday
and for rest. So there was that strange, half-empty feeling about
the house, as if the birds had flown. Paul became more and more
unsettled. Annie and Arthur had gone. He was restless to follow.
Yet home was for him beside his mother. And still there was
something else, something outside, something he wanted.
He grew more and more restless. Miriam did not satisfy him.
His old mad desire to be with her grew weaker. Sometimes he met
Clara in Nottingham, sometimes he went to meetings with her,
sometimes he saw her at Willey Farm. But on these last occasions
the situation became strained. There was a triangle of antagonism
between Paul and Clara and Miriam. With Clara he took on a smart,
worldly, mocking tone very antagonistic to Miriam. It did not
matter what went before. She might be intimate and sad with him.
Then as soon as Clara appeared, it all vanished, and he played to
the newcomer.
Miriam had one beautiful evening with him in the hay.
He had been on the horse-rake, and having finished, came to help
her to put the hay in cocks. Then he talked to her of his hopes
and despairs, and his whole soul seemed to lie bare before her.
She felt as if she watched the very quivering stuff of life in him.
The moon came out: they walked home together: he seemed to have
come to her because he needed her so badly, and she listened to him,
gave him all her love and her faith. It seemed to her he brought
her the best of himself to keep, and that she would guard it all
her life. Nay, the sky did not cherish the stars more surely and
eternally than she would guard the good in the soul of Paul Morel.
She went on home alone, feeling exalted, glad in her faith.
And then, the next day, Clara came. They were to have tea
in the hayfield. Miriam watched the evening drawing to gold
and shadow. And all the time Paul was sporting with Clara.
He made higher and higher heaps of hay that they were jumping over.
Miriam did not care for the game, and stood aside. Edgar and Geoffrey
and Maurice and Clara and Paul jumped. Paul won, because he
was light. Clara's blood was roused. She could run like an Amazon.
Paul loved the determined way she rushed at the hay-cock and leaped,
landed on the other side, her breasts shaken, her thick hair
come undone.
"You touched!" he cried. "You touched!"
"No!" she flashed, turning to Edgar. "I didn't touch, did I?
Wasn't I clear?"
"I couldn't say," laughed Edgar.
None of them could say.
"But you touched," said Paul. "You're beaten."
"I did NOT touch!" she cried.
"As plain as anything," said Paul.
"Box his ears for me!" she cried to Edgar.
"Nay," Edgar laughed. "I daren't. You must do it yourself."
"And nothing can alter the fact that you touched," laughed Paul.
She was furious with him. Her little triumph before these
lads and men was gone. She had forgotten herself in the game.
Now he was to humble her.
"I think you are despicable!" she said.
And again he laughed, in a way that tortured Miriam.
"And I KNEW you couldn't jump that heap," he teased.
She turned her back on him. Yet everybody could see that
the only person she listened to, or was conscious of, was he,
and he of her. It pleased the men to see this battle between them.
But Miriam was tortured.
Paul could choose the lesser in place of the higher, she saw.
He could be unfaithful to himself, unfaithful to the real,
deep Paul Morel. There was a danger of his becoming frivolous, of his
running after his satisfaction like any Arthur, or like his father.
It made Miriam bitter to think that he should throw away his soul
for this flippant traffic of triviality with Clara. She walked
in bitterness and silence, while the other two rallied each other,
and Paul sported.
And afterwards, he would not own it, but he was rather
ashamed of himself, and prostrated himself before Miriam.
Then again he rebelled.
"It's not religious to be religious," he said. "I reckon
a crow is religious when it sails across the sky. But it only
does it because it feels itself carried to where it's going,
not because it thinks it is being eternal."
But Miriam knew that one should be religious in everything,
have God, whatever God might be, present in everything.
"I don't believe God knows such a lot about Himself,"
he cried. "God doesn't KNOW things, He IS things.
And I'm sure He's not soulful."
And then it seemed to her that Paul was arguing God on to his
own side, because he wanted his own way and his own pleasure.
There was a long battle between him and her. He was utterly
unfaithful to her even in her own presence; then he was ashamed,
then repentant; then he hated her, and went off again. Those were
the ever-recurring conditions.
She fretted him to the bottom of his soul. There she
remained--sad, pensive, a worshipper. And he caused her sorrow.
Half the time he grieved for her, half the time he hated her.
She was his conscience; and he felt, somehow, he had got a conscience
that was too much for him. He could not leave her, because in one
way she did hold the best of him. He could not stay with her
because she did not take the rest of him, which was three-quarters.
So he chafed himself into rawness over her.
When she was twenty-one he wrote her a letter which could
only have been written to her.
"May I speak of our old, worn love, this last time. It, too,
is changing, is it not? Say, has not the body of that love died,
and left you its invulnerable soul? You see, I can give you
a spirit love, I have given it you this long, long time; but not
embodied passion. See, you are a nun. I have given you what I
would give a holy nun--as a mystic monk to a mystic nun. Surely you
esteem it best. Yet you regret--no, have regretted--the other.
In all our relations no body enters. I do not talk to you through
the senses--rather through the spirit. That is why we cannot love
in the common sense. Ours is not an everyday affection. As yet we
are mortal, and to live side by side with one another would be dreadful,
for somehow with you I cannot long be trivial, and, you know,
to be always beyond this mortal state would be to lose it.
If people marry, they must live together as affectionate humans,
who may be commonplace with each other without feeling awkward--not
as two souls. So I feel it.
"Ought I to send this letter?--I doubt it. But there--it
is best to understand. Au revoir."
Miriam read this letter twice, after which she sealed it up.
A year later she broke the seal to show her mother the letter.
"You are a nun--you are a nun." The words went into her heart
again and again. Nothing he ever had said had gone into her
so deeply, fixedly, like a mortal wound.
She answered him two days after the party.
"'Our intimacy would have been all-beautiful but for one
little mistake,'" she quoted. "Was the mistake mine?"
Almost immediately he replied to her from Nottingham,
sending her at the same time a little "Omar Khayyam."
"I am glad you answered; you are so calm and natural you put
me to shame. What a ranter I am! We are often out of sympathy.
But in fundamentals we may always be together I think.
"I must thank you for your sympathy with my painting and drawing.
Many a sketch is dedicated to you. I do look forward to your criticisms,
which, to my shame and glory, are always grand appreciations.
It is a lovely joke, that. Au revoir."
This was the end of the first phase of Paul's love affair.
He was now about twenty-three years old, and, though still virgin,
the sex instinct that Miriam had over-refined for so long now
grew particularly strong. Often, as he talked to Clara Dawes,
came that thickening and quickening of his blood, that peculiar
concentration in the breast, as if something were alive there,
a new self or a new centre of consciousness, warning him that
sooner or later he would have to ask one woman or another. But he
belonged to Miriam. Of that she was so fixedly sure that he allowed
her right.
WHEN he was twenty-three years old, Paul sent in a landscape to
the winter exhibition at Nottingham Castle. Miss Jordan had taken
a good deal of interest in him, and invited him to her house,
where he met other artists. He was beginning to grow ambitious.
One morning the postman came just as he was washing in
the scullery. Suddenly he heard a wild noise from his mother.
Rushing into the kitchen, he found her standing on the hearthrug
wildly waving a letter and crying "Hurrah!" as if she had gone mad.
He was shocked and frightened.
"Why, mother!" he exclaimed.
She flew to him, flung her arms round him for a moment,
then waved the letter, crying:
"Hurrah, my boy! I knew we should do it!"
He was afraid of her--the small, severe woman with graying hair
suddenly bursting out in such frenzy. The postman came running back,
afraid something had happened. They saw his tipped cap over the
short curtains. Mrs. Morel rushed to the door.
"His picture's got first prize, Fred," she cried, "and is sold
for twenty guineas."
"My word, that's something like!" said the young postman,
whom they had known all his life.
"And Major Moreton has bought it!" she cried.
"It looks like meanin' something, that does, Mrs. Morel,"
said the postman, his blue eyes bright. He was glad to have brought
such a lucky letter. Mrs. Morel went indoors and sat down, trembling.
Paul was afraid lest she might have misread the letter, and might be
disappointed after all. He scrutinised it once, twice. Yes, he became
convinced it was true. Then he sat down, his heart beating with joy.
"Mother!" he exclaimed.
"Didn't I SAY we should do it!" she said, pretending she
was not crying.
He took the kettle off the fire and mashed the tea.
"You didn't think, mother--" he began tentatively.
"No, my son--not so much--but I expected a good deal."
"But not so much," he said.
"No--no--but I knew we should do it."
And then she recovered her composure, apparently at least.
He sat with his shirt turned back, showing his young throat almost
like a girl's, and the towel in his hand, his hair sticking up wet.
"Twenty guineas, mother! That's just what you wanted to buy
Arthur out. Now you needn't borrow any. It'll just do."
"Indeed, I shan't take it all," she said.
"But why?"
"Because I shan't."
"Well--you have twelve pounds, I'll have nine."
They cavilled about sharing the twenty guineas. She wanted
to take only the five pounds she needed. He would not hear of it.
So they got over the stress of emotion by quarrelling.
Morel came home at night from the pit, saying:
"They tell me Paul's got first prize for his picture, and sold
it to Lord Henry Bentley for fifty pound."
"Oh, what stories people do tell!" she cried.
"Ha!" he answered. "I said I wor sure it wor a lie.
But they said tha'd told Fred Hodgkisson."
"As if I would tell him such stuff!"
"Ha!" assented the miner.
But he was disappointed nevertheless.
"It's true he has got the first prize," said Mrs. Morel.
The miner sat heavily in his chair.
"Has he, beguy!" he exclaimed.
He stared across the room fixedly.
"But as for fifty pounds--such nonsense!" She was silent awhile.
"Major Moreton bought it for twenty guineas, that's true."
"Twenty guineas! Tha niver says!" exclaimed Morel.
"Yes, and it was worth it."
"Ay!" he said. "I don't misdoubt it. But twenty guineas
for a bit of a paintin' as he knocked off in an hour or two!"
He was silent with conceit of his son. Mrs. Morel sniffed,
as if it were nothing.
"And when does he handle th' money?" asked the collier.
"That I couldn't tell you. When the picture is sent home,
I suppose."
There was silence. Morel stared at the sugar-basin instead
of eating his dinner. His black arm, with the hand all gnarled
with work lay on the table. His wife pretended not to see him rub
the back of his hand across his eyes, nor the smear in the coal-dust
on his black face.
"Yes, an' that other lad 'ud 'a done as much if they hadna
ha' killed 'im," he said quietly.
The thought of William went through Mrs. Morel like a cold blade.
It left her feeling she was tired, and wanted rest.
Paul was invited to dinner at Mr. Jordan's. Afterwards he said:
"Mother, I want an evening suit."
"Yes, I was afraid you would," she said. She was glad.
There was a moment or two of silence. "There's that one of William's,"
she continued, "that I know cost four pounds ten
and which he'd only worn three times."
"Should you like me to wear it, mother?" he asked.
"Yes. I think it would fit you--at least the coat. The trousers
would want shortening."
He went upstairs and put on the coat and vest. Coming down,
he looked strange in a flannel collar and a flannel shirt-front,
with an evening coat and vest. It was rather large.
"The tailor can make it right," she said, smoothing her hand
over his shoulder. "It's beautiful stuff. I never could find
in my heart to let your father wear the trousers, and very glad
I am now."
And as she smoothed her hand over the silk collar she thought
of her eldest son. But this son was living enough inside the clothes.
She passed her hand down his back to feel him. He was alive and hers.
The other was dead.
He went out to dinner several times in his evening suit that had
been William's. Each time his mother's heart was firm with pride
and joy. He was started now. The studs she and the children had
bought for William were in his shirt-front; he wore one of William's
dress shirts. But he had an elegant figure. His face was rough,
but warm-looking and rather pleasing. He did not look particularly
a gentleman, but she thought he looked quite a man.
He told her everything that took place, everything that was said.
It was as if she had been there. And he was dying to introduce her
to these new friends who had dinner at seven-thirty in the evening.
"Go along with you!" she said. "What do they want to know
me for?"
"They do!" he cried indignantly. "If they want to know me--and
they say they do--then they want to know you, because you are quite
as clever as I am. "
"Go along with you, child! " she laughed.
But she began to spare her hands. They, too, were work-gnarled now.
The skin was shiny with so much hot water, the knuckles rather swollen.
But she began to be careful to keep them out of soda. She regretted
what they had been--so small and exquisite. And when Annie insisted
on her having more stylish blouses to suit her age, she submitted.
She even went so far as to allow a black velvet bow to be placed
on her hair. Then she sniffed in her sarcastic manner, and was
sure she looked a sight. But she looked a lady, Paul declared,
as much as Mrs. Major Moreton, and far, far nicer. The family
was coming on. Only Morel remained unchanged, or rather,
lapsed slowly.
Paul and his mother now had long discussions about life.
Religion was fading into the background. He had shovelled away
an the beliefs that would hamper him, had cleared the ground,
and come more or less to the bedrock of belief that one should feel
inside oneself for right and wrong, and should have the patience to
gradually realise one's God. Now life interested him more.
"You know," he said to his mother, "I don't want to belong
to the well-to-do middle class. I like my common people best.
I belong to the common people."
"But if anyone else said so, my son, wouldn't you be in a tear.
YOU know you consider yourself equal to any gentleman."
"In myself," he answered, "not in my class or my education
or my manners. But in myself I am."
"Very well, then. Then why talk about the common people?"
"Because--the difference between people isn't in their class,
but in themselves. Only from the middle classes one gets ideas,
and from the common people--life itself, warmth. You feel their hates
and loves."
"It's all very well, my boy. But, then, why don't you go
and talk to your father's pals?"
"But they're rather different."
"Not at all. They're the common people. After all, whom do you
mix with now--among the common people? Those that exchange ideas,
like the middle classes. The rest don't interest you."
"But--there's the life---"
"I don't believe there's a jot more life from Miriam than you
could get from any educated girl--say Miss Moreton. It is YOU
who are snobbish about class."
She frankly WANTED him to climb into the middle classes,
a thing not very difficult, she knew. And she wanted him in the end
to marry a lady.
Now she began to combat him in his restless fretting.
He still kept up his connection with Miriam, could neither break
free nor go the whole length of engagement. And this indecision
seemed to bleed him of his energy. Moreover, his mother suspected
him of an unrecognised leaning towards Clara, and, since the latter
was a married woman, she wished he would fall in love with one
of the girls in a better station of life. But he was stupid,
and would refuse to love or even to admire a girl much, just because
she was his social superior.
"My boy," said his mother to him, "all your cleverness,
your breaking away from old things, and taking life in your own hands,
doesn't seem to bring you much happiness."
"What is happiness!" he cried. "It's nothing to me!
How AM I to be happy?"
The plump question disturbed her.
"That's for you to judge, my lad. But if you could meet
some GOOD woman who would MAKE you happy--and you began to think
of settling your life--when you have the means--so that you could
work without all this fretting--it would be much better for you."
He frowned. His mother caught him on the raw of his wound
of Miriam. He pushed the tumbled hair off his forehead, his eyes
full of pain and fire.
"You mean easy, mother," he cried. "That's a woman's whole doctrine
for life--ease of soul and physical comfort. And I do despise it."
"Oh, do you!" replied his mother. "And do you call yours
a divine discontent?"
"Yes. I don't care about its divinity. But damn your happiness!
So long as life's full, it doesn't matter whether it's happy or not.
I'm afraid your happiness would bore me."
"You never give it a chance," she said. Then suddenly all
her passion of grief over him broke out. "But it does matter!"
she cried. "And you OUGHT to be happy, you ought to try to be happy,
to live to be happy. How could I bear to think your life wouldn't
be a happy one!"
"Your own's been bad enough, mater, but it hasn't left you
so much worse off than the folk who've been happier. I reckon
you've done well. And I am the same. Aren't I well enough off?"
"You're not, my son. Battle--battle--and suffer. It's about
all you do, as far as I can see."
"But why not, my dear? I tell you it's the best---"
"It isn't. And one OUGHT to be happy, one OUGHT."
By this time Mrs. Morel was trembling violently. Struggles of
this kind often took place between her and her son, when she
seemed to fight for his very life against his own will to die.
He took her in his arms. She was ill and pitiful.
"Never mind, Little," he murmured. "So long as you don't feel
life's paltry and a miserable business, the rest doesn't matter,
happiness or unhappiness."
She pressed him to her.
"But I want you to be happy," she said pathetically.
"Eh, my dear--say rather you want me to live."
Mrs. Morel felt as if her heart would break for him.
At this rate she knew he would not live. He had that poignant
carelessness about himself, his own suffering, his own life,
which is a form of slow suicide. It almost broke her heart.
With all the passion of her strong nature she hated Miriam for having
in this subtle way undermined his joy. It did not matter to her
that Miriam could not help it. Miriam did it, and she hated her.
She wished so much he would fall in love with a girl equal
to be his mate--educated and strong. But he would not look at
anybody above him in station. He seemed to like Mrs. Dawes.
At any rate that feeling was wholesome. His mother prayed and prayed
for him, that he might not be wasted. That was all her prayer--not
for his soul or his righteousness, but that he might not be wasted.
And while he slept, for hours and hours she thought and prayed
for him.
He drifted away from Miriam imperceptibly, without knowing he
was going. Arthur only left the army to be married. The baby was
born six months after his wedding. Mrs. Morel got him a job under
the firm again, at twenty-one shillings a week. She furnished for him,
with the help of Beatrice's mother, a little cottage of two rooms.
He was caught now. It did not matter how he kicked and struggled,
he was fast. For a time he chafed, was irritable with his
young wife, who loved him; he went almost distracted when the baby,
which was delicate, cried or gave trouble. He grumbled for hours
to his mother. She only said: "Well, my lad, you did it yourself,
now you must make the best of it." And then the grit came out in him.
He buckled to work, undertook his responsibilities, acknowledged that
he belonged to his wife and child, and did make a good best of it.
He had never been very closely inbound into the family. Now he was
gone altogether.
The months went slowly along. Paul had more or less got into
connection with the Socialist, Suffragette, Unitarian people in
Nottingham, owing to his acquaintance with Clara. One day
a friend of his and of Clara's, in Bestwood, asked him to take
a message to Mrs. Dawes. He went in the evening across Sneinton
Market to Bluebell Hill. He found the house in a mean little street
paved with granite cobbles and having causeways of dark blue,
grooved bricks. The front door went up a step from off this
rough pavement, where the feet of the passersby rasped and clattered.
The brown paint on the door was so old that the naked wood showed
between the rents. He stood on the street below and knocked.
There came a heavy footstep; a large, stout woman of about sixty
towered above him. He looked up at her from the pavement.
She had a rather severe face.
She admitted him into the parlour, which opened on to the street.
It was a small, stuffy, defunct room, of mahogany, and deathly
enlargements of photographs of departed people done in carbon.
Mrs. Radford left him. She was stately, almost martial.
In a moment Clara appeared. She flushed deeply, and he was covered
with confusion. It seemed as if she did not like being discovered
in her home circumstances.
"I thought it couldn't be your voice," she said.
But she might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.
She invited him out of the mausoleum of a parlour into the kitchen.
That was a little, darkish room too, but it was smothered
in white lace. The mother had seated herself again by the cupboard,
and was drawing thread from a vast web of lace. A clump of fluff and
ravelled cotton was at her right hand, a heap of three-quarter-inch lace
lay on her left, whilst in front of her was the mountain of lace web,
piling the hearthrug. Threads of curly cotton, pulled out from between
the lengths of lace, strewed over the fender and the fireplace.
Paul dared not go forward, for fear of treading on piles of white stuff.
On the table was a jenny for carding the lace. There was
a pack of brown cardboard squares, a pack of cards of lace,
a little box of pins, and on the sofa lay a heap of drawn lace.
The room was all lace, and it was so dark and warm that the white,
snowy stuff seemed the more distinct.
"If you're coming in you won't have to mind the work,"
said Mrs. Radford. "I know we're about blocked up. But sit
you down."
Clara, much embarrassed, gave him a chair against the wall
opposite the white heaps. Then she herself took her place
on the sofa, shamedly.
"Will you drink a bottle of stout?" Mrs. Radford asked.
"Clara, get him a bottle of stout."
He protested, but Mrs. Radford insisted.
"You look as if you could do with it," she said. "Haven't you
never any more colour than that?"
"It's only a thick skin I've got that doesn't show
the blood through," he answered.
Clara, ashamed and chagrined, brought him a bottle of stout
and a glass. He poured out some of the black stuff.
"Well," he said, lifting the glass, "here's health!"
"And thank you," said Mrs. Radford.
He took a drink of stout.
"And light yourself a cigarette, so long as you don't set
the house on fire," said Mrs. Radford.
"Thank you," he replied.
"Nay, you needn't thank me," she answered. "I s'll be
glad to smell a bit of smoke in th' 'ouse again. A house o'
women is as dead as a house wi' no fire, to my thinkin'. I'm
not a spider as likes a corner to myself. I like a man about,
if he's only something to snap at."
Clara began to work. Her jenny spun with a subdued buzz;
the white lace hopped from between her fingers on to the card.
It was filled; she snipped off the length, and pinned the end
down to the banded lace. Then she put a new card in her jenny.
Paul watched her. She sat square and magnificent. Her throat and
arms were bare. The blood still mantled below her ears; she bent
her head in shame of her humility. Her face was set on her work.
Her arms were creamy and full of life beside the white lace;
her large, well-kept hands worked with a balanced movement,
as if nothing would hurry them. He, not knowing, watched her all
the time. He saw the arch of her neck from the shoulder, as she
bent her head; he saw the coil of dun hair; he watched her moving,
gleaming arms.
"I've heard a bit about you from Clara," continued the mother.
"You're in Jordan's, aren't you?" She drew her lace unceasing.
"Ay, well, and I can remember when Thomas Jordan used to ask
ME for one of my toffies."
"Did he?" laughed Paul. "And did he get it?"
"Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't--which was latterly.
For he's the sort that takes all and gives naught, he is--or used
to be."
"I think he's very decent," said Paul.
"Yes; well, I'm glad to hear it."
Mrs. Radford looked across at him steadily. There was something
determined about her that he liked. Her face was falling loose,
but her eyes were calm, and there was something strong in her that
made it seem she was not old; merely her wrinkles and loose cheeks
were an anachronism. She had the strength and sang-froid of a woman
in the prime of life. She continued drawing the lace with slow,
dignified movements. The big web came up inevitably over her apron;
the length of lace fell away at her side. Her arms were finely shapen,
but glossy and yellow as old ivory. They had not the peculiar dull
gleam that made Clara's so fascinating to him.
"And you've been going with Miriam Leivers?" the mother asked him.
"Well--" he answered.
"Yes, she's a nice girl," she continued. "She's very nice,
but she's a bit too much above this world to suit my fancy."
"She is a bit like that," he agreed.
"She'll never be satisfied till she's got wings and can fly
over everybody's head, she won't," she said.
Clara broke in, and he told her his message. She spoke humbly
to him. He had surprised her in her drudgery. To have her humble
made him feel as if he were lifting his head in expectation.
"Do you like jennying?" he asked.
"What can a woman do!" she replied bitterly.
"Is it sweated?"
"More or less. Isn't ALL woman's work? That's another trick
the men have played, since we force ourselves into the labour market."
"Now then, you shut up about the men," said her mother. "If the
women wasn't fools, the men wouldn't be bad uns, that's what I say.
No man was ever that bad wi' me but what he got it back again.
Not but what they're a lousy lot, there's no denying it."
"But they're all right really, aren't they?" he asked.
"Well, they're a bit different from women," she answered.
"Would you care to be back at Jordan's?" he asked Clara.
"I don't think so," she replied.
"Yes, she would!" cried her mother; "thank her stars if she
could get back. Don't you listen to her. She's for ever on that
'igh horse of hers, an' it's back's that thin an' starved it'll
cut her in two one of these days."
Clara suffered badly from her mother. Paul felt as if his eyes
were coming very wide open. Wasn't he to take Clara's fulminations
so seriously, after all? She spun steadily at her work. He experienced
a thrill of joy, thinking she might need his help. She seemed
denied and deprived of so much. And her arm moved mechanically,
that should never have been subdued to a mechanism, and her head
was bowed to the lace, that never should have been bowed. She seemed
to be stranded there among the refuse that life has thrown away,
doing her jennying. It was a bitter thing to her to be put aside
by life, as if it had no use for her. No wonder she protested.
She came with him to the door. He stood below in the mean street,
looking up at her. So fine she was in her stature and her bearing,
she reminded him of Juno dethroned. As she stood in the doorway,
she winced from the street, from her surroundings.
"And you will go with Mrs. Hodgkisson to Hucknall?"
He was talking quite meaninglessly, only watching her.
Her grey eyes at last met his. They looked dumb with humiliation,
pleading with a kind of captive misery. He was shaken and at a loss.
He had thought her high and mighty.
When he left her, he wanted to run. He went to the station
in a sort of dream, and was at home without realising he had moved
out of her street.
He had an idea that Susan, the overseer of the Spiral girls,
was about to be married. He asked her the next day.
"I say, Susan, I heard a whisper of your getting married.
What about it?"
Susan flushed red.
"Who's been talking to you?" she replied.
"Nobody. I merely heard a whisper that you WERE thinking---"
"Well, I am, though you needn't tell anybody. What's more,
I wish I wasn't!"
"Nay, Susan, you won't make me believe that."
"Shan't I? You CAN believe it, though. I'd rather stop
here a thousand times."
Paul was perturbed.
"Why, Susan?"
The girl's colour was high, and her eyes flashed.
"That's why!"
"And must you?"
For answer, she looked at him. There was about him a candour
and gentleness which made the women trust him. He understood.
"Ah, I'm sorry," he said.
Tears came to her eyes.
"But you'll see it'll turn out all right. You'll make the best
of it," he continued rather wistfully.
"There's nothing else for it."
"Yea, there's making the worst of it. Try and make it all right."
He soon made occasion to call again on Clara.
"Would you," he said, "care to come back to Jordan's?"
She put down her work, laid her beautiful arms on the table,
and looked at him for some moments without answering. Gradually the
flush mounted her cheek.
"Why?" she asked.
Paul felt rather awkward.
"Well, because Susan is thinking of leaving," he said.
Clara went on with her jennying. The white lace leaped
in little jumps and bounds on to the card. He waited for her.
Without raising her head, she said at last, in a peculiar low voice:
"Have you said anything about it?"
"Except to you, not a word."
There was again a long silence.
"I will apply when the advertisement is out," she said.
"You will apply before that. I will let you know exactly when."
She went on spinning her little machine, and did not contradict him.
Clara came to Jordan's. Some of the older hands, Fanny among them,
remembered her earlier rule, and cordially disliked the memory.
Clara had always been "ikey", reserved, and superior. She had never
mixed with the girls as one of themselves. If she had occasion
to find fault, she did it coolly and with perfect politeness,
which the defaulter felt to be a bigger insult than crassness.
Towards Fanny, the poor, overstrung hunchback, Clara was unfailingly
compassionate and gentle, as a result of which Fanny shed
more bitter tears than ever the rough tongues of the other overseers
had caused her.
There was something in Clara that Paul disliked, and much
that piqued him. If she were about, he always watched her strong
throat or her neck, upon which the blonde hair grew low and fluffy.
There was a fine down, almost invisible, upon the skin of her face
and arms, and when once he had perceived it, he saw it always.
When he was at his work, painting in the afternoon,
she would come and stand near to him, perfectly motionless.
Then he felt her, though she neither spoke nor touched him.
Although she stood a yard away he felt as if he were in contact
with her. Then he could paint no more. He flung down the brushes,
and turned to talk to her.
Sometimes she praised his work; sometimes she was critical
and cold.
"You are affected in that piece," she would say; and, as there
was an element of truth in her condemnation, his blood boiled
with anger.
Again: "What of this?" he would ask enthusiastically.
"H'm!" She made a small doubtful sound. "It doesn't interest
me much."
"Because you don't understand it," he retorted.
"Then why ask me about it?"
"Because I thought you would understand."
She would shrug her shoulders in scorn of his work.
She maddened him. He was furious. Then he abused her, and went into
passionate exposition of his stuff. This amused and stimulated her.
But she never owned that she had been wrong.
During the ten years that she had belonged to the women's movement
she had acquired a fair amount of education, and, having had some
of Miriam's passion to be instructed, had taught herself French,
and could read in that language with a struggle. She considered
herself as a woman apart, and particularly apart, from her class.
The girls in the Spiral department were all of good homes.
It was a small, special industry, and had a certain distinction.
There was an air of refinement in both rooms. But Clara was aloof
also from her fellow-workers.
None of these things, however, did she reveal to Paul.
She was not the one to give herself away. There was a sense of
mystery about her. She was so reserved, he felt she had much to reserve.
Her history was open on the surface, but its inner meaning was hidden
from everybody. It was exciting. And then sometimes he caught
her looking at him from under her brows with an almost furtive,
sullen scrutiny, which made him move quickly. Often she met his eyes.
But then her own were, as it were, covered over, revealing nothing.
She gave him a little, lenient smile. She was to him extraordinarily
provocative, because of the knowledge she seemed to possess,
and gathered fruit of experience he could not attain.
One day he picked up a copy of Lettres de mon Moulin from
her work-bench.
"You read French, do you?" he cried.
Clara glanced round negligently. She was making an elastic
stocking of heliotrope silk, turning the Spiral machine with slow,
balanced regularity, occasionally bending down to see her work or to
adjust the needles; then her magnificent neck, with its down and fine
pencils of hair, shone white against the lavender, lustrous silk.
She turned a few more rounds, and stopped.
"What did you say?" she asked, smiling sweetly.
Paul's eyes glittered at her insolent indifference to him.
"I did not know you read French," he said, very polite.
"Did you not?" she replied, with a faint, sarcastic smile.
"Rotten swank!" he said, but scarcely loud enough to be heard.
He shut his mouth angrily as he watched her. She seemed
to scorn the work she mechanically produced; yet the hose she
made were as nearly perfect as possible.
"You don't like Spiral work," he said.
"Oh, well, all work is work," she answered, as if she knew
all about it.
He marvelled at her coldness. He had to do everything hotly.
She must be something special.
"What would you prefer to do?" he asked.
She laughed at him indulgently, as she said:
"There is so little likelihood of my ever being given a choice,
that I haven't wasted time considering."
"Pah!" he said, contemptuous on his side now. "You only say
that because you're too proud to own up what you want and can't get."
"You know me very well," she replied coldly.
"I know you think you're terrific great shakes, and that you
live under the eternal insult of working in a factory."
He was very angry and very rude. She merely turned away from
him in disdain. He walked whistling down the room, flirted and
laughed with Hilda.
Later on he said to himself:
"What was I so impudent to Clara for?" He was rather annoyed
with himself, at the same time glad. "Serve her right; she stinks
with silent pride," he said to himself angrily.
In the afternoon he came down. There was a certain weight
on his heart which he wanted to remove. He thought to do it
by offering her chocolates.
"Have one?" he said. "I bought a handful to sweeten me up."
To his great relief, she accepted. He sat on the work-bench
beside her machine, twisting a piece of silk round his finger.
She loved him for his quick, unexpected movements, like a young animal.
His feet swung as he pondered. The sweets lay strewn on the bench.
She bent over her machine, grinding rhythmically, then stooping
to see the stocking that hung beneath, pulled down by the weight.
He watched the handsome crouching of her back, and the apron-strings
curling on the floor.
"There is always about you," he said, "a sort of waiting.
Whatever I see you doing, you're not really there: you are
waiting--like Penelope when she did her weaving." He could not help
a spurt of wickedness. "I'll call you Penelope," he said.
"Would it make any difference?" she said, carefully removing
one of her needles.
"That doesn't matter, so long as it pleases me. Here, I say,
you seem to forget I'm your boss. It just occurs to me."
"And what does that mean?" she asked coolly.
"It means I've got a right to boss you."
"Is there anything you want to complain about?"
"Oh, I say, you needn't be nasty," he said angrily.
"I don't know what you want," she said, continuing her task.
"I want you to treat me nicely and respectfully."
"Call you 'sir', perhaps?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, call me 'sir'. I should love it."
"Then I wish you would go upstairs, sir."
His mouth closed, and a frown came on his face. He jumped
suddenly down.
"You're too blessed superior for anything," he said.
And he went away to the other girls. He felt he was being
angrier than he had any need to be. In fact, he doubted slightly
that he was showing off. But if he were, then he would. Clara heard
him laughing, in a way she hated, with the girls down the next room.
When at evening he went through the department after
the girls had gone, he saw his chocolates lying untouched
in front of Clara's machine. He left them. In the morning
they were still there, and Clara was at work. Later on Minnie,
a little brunette they called Pussy, called to him:
"Hey, haven't you got a chocolate for anybody?"
"Sorry, Pussy," he replied. "I meant to have offered them;
then I went and forgot 'em."
"I think you did," she answered.
"I'll bring you some this afternoon. You don't want them
after they've been lying about, do you?"
"Oh, I'm not particular," smiled Pussy.
"Oh no," he said. "They'll be dusty."
He went up to Clara's bench.
"Sorry I left these things littering about," he said.
She flushed scarlet. He gathered them together in his fist.
"They'll be dirty now," he said. "You should have taken them.
I wonder why you didn't. I meant to have told you I wanted you to."
He flung them out of the window into the yard below.
He just glanced at her. She winced from his eyes.
In the afternoon he brought another packet.
"Will you take some?" he said, offering them first to Clara.
"These are fresh."
She accepted one, and put it on to the bench.
"Oh, take several--for luck," he said.
She took a couple more, and put them on the bench also.
Then she turned in confusion to her work. He went on up the room.
"Here you are, Pussy," he said. "Don't be greedy!"
"Are they all for her?" cried the others, rushing up.
"Of course they're not," he said.
The girls clamoured round. Pussy drew back from her mates.
"Come out!" she cried. "I can have first pick, can't I, Paul?"
"Be nice with 'em," he said, and went away.
"You ARE a dear," the girls cried.
"Tenpence," he answered.
He went past Clara without speaking. She felt the three
chocolate creams would burn her if she touched them. It needed
all her courage to slip them into the pocket of her apron.
The girls loved him and were afraid of him. He was so nice
while he was nice, but if he were offended, so distant, treating them
as if they scarcely existed, or not more than the bobbins of thread.
And then, if they were impudent, he said quietly: "Do you mind
going on with your work," and stood and watched.
When he celebrated his twenty-third birthday, the house was
in trouble. Arthur was just going to be married. His mother was
not well. His father, getting an old man, and lame from his accidents,
was given a paltry, poor job. Miriam was an eternal reproach.
He felt he owed himself to her, yet could not give himself. The house,
moreover, needed his support. He was pulled in all directions.
He was not glad it was his birthday. It made him bitter.
He got to work at eight o'clock. Most of the clerks had not
turned up. The girls were not due till 8.30. As he was changing
his coat, he heard a voice behind him say:
"Paul, Paul, I want you."
It was Fanny, the hunchback, standing at the top of her stairs,
her face radiant with a secret. Paul looked at her in astonishment.
"I want you," she said.
He stood, at a loss.
"Come on," she coaxed. "Come before you begin on the letters."
He went down the half-dozen steps into her dry, narrow,
"finishing-off" room. Fanny walked before him: her black bodice was
short--the waist was under her armpits--and her green-black cashmere skirt
seemed very long, as she strode with big strides before the young man,
himself so graceful. She went to her seat at the narrow end of the room,
where the window opened on to chimney-pots. Paul watched her thin
hands and her flat red wrists as she excitedly twitched her white
apron, which was spread on the bench in front of her. She hesitated.
"You didn't think we'd forgot you?" she asked, reproachful.
"Why?" he asked. He had forgotten his birthday himself.
"'Why,' he says! 'Why!' Why, look here!" She pointed
to the calendar, and he saw, surrounding the big black number
"21", hundreds of little crosses in black-lead.
"Oh, kisses for my birthday," he laughed. "How did you know?"
"Yes, you want to know, don't you?" Fanny mocked, hugely delighted.
"There's one from everybody--except Lady Clara--and two from some.
But I shan't tell you how many I put."
"Oh, I know, you're spooney," he said.
"There you ARE mistaken!" she cried, indignant. "I could
never be so soft." Her voice was strong and contralto.
"You always pretend to be such a hard-hearted hussy," he laughed.
"And you know you're as sentimental---"
"I'd rather be called sentimental than frozen meat,"
Fanny blurted. Paul knew she referred to Clara, and he smiled.
"Do you say such nasty things about me?" he laughed.
"No, my duck," the hunchback woman answered, lavishly tender.
She was thirty-nine. "No, my duck, because you don't think yourself
a fine figure in marble and us nothing but dirt. I'm as good as you,
aren't I, Paul?" and the question delighted her.
"Why, we're not better than one another, are we?" he replied.
"But I'm as good as you, aren't I, Paul?" she persisted daringly.
"Of course you are. If it comes to goodness, you're better."
She was rather afraid of the situation. She might get hysterical.
"I thought I'd get here before the others--won't they say I'm deep!
Now shut your eyes---" she said.
"And open your mouth, and see what God sends you," he continued,
suiting action to words, and expecting a piece of chocolate.
He heard the rustle of the apron, and a faint clink of metal.
"I'm going to look," he said.
He opened his eyes. Fanny, her long cheeks flushed,
her blue eyes shining, was gazing at him. There was a little
bundle of paint-tubes on the bench before him. He turned pale.
"No, Fanny," he said quickly.
"From us all," she answered hastily.
"No, but---"
"Are they the right sort?" she asked, rocking herself with delight.
"Jove! they're the best in the catalogue."
"But they're the right sorts?" she cried.
"They're off the little list I'd made to get when my ship
came in." He bit his lip.
Fanny was overcome with emotion. She must turn the conversation.
"They was all on thorns to do it; they all paid their shares,
all except the Queen of Sheba."
The Queen of Sheba was Clara.
"And wouldn't she join?" Paul asked.
"She didn't get the chance; we never told her; we wasn't going
to have HER bossing THIS show. We didn't WANT her to join."
Paul laughed at the woman. He was much moved. At last he
must go. She was very close to him. Suddenly she flung her arms
round his neck and kissed him vehemently.
"I can give you a kiss to-day," she said apologetically.
"You've looked so white, it's made my heart ache."
Paul kissed her, and left her. Her arms were so pitifully
thin that his heart ached also.
That day he met Clara as he ran downstairs to wash his hands
at dinner-time.
"You have stayed to dinner!" he exclaimed. It was unusual
for her.
"Yes; and I seem to have dined on old surgical-appliance stock.
I MUST go out now, or I shall feel stale india-rubber right through."
She lingered. He instantly caught at her wish.
"You are going anywhere?" he asked.
They went together up to the Castle. Outdoors she dressed
very plainly, down to ugliness; indoors she always looked nice.
She walked with hesitating steps alongside Paul, bowing and turning
away from him. Dowdy in dress, and drooping, she showed to
great disadvantage. He could scarcely recognise her strong form,
that seemed to slumber with power. She appeared almost insignificant,
drowning her stature in her stoop, as she shrank from the public gaze.
The Castle grounds were very green and fresh. Climbing the
precipitous ascent, he laughed and chattered, but she was silent,
seeming to brood over something. There was scarcely time to go
inside the squat, square building that crowns the bluff of rock.
They leaned upon the wall where the cliff runs sheer down to the Park.
Below them, in their holes in the sandstone, pigeons preened
themselves and cooed softly. Away down upon the boulevard at
the foot of the rock, tiny trees stood in their own pools of shadow,
and tiny people went scurrying about in almost ludicrous importance.
"You feel as if you could scoop up the folk like tadpoles,
and have a handful of them," he said.
She laughed, answering:
"Yes; it is not necessary to get far off in order to see
us proportionately. The trees are much more significant."
"Bulk only," he said.
She laughed cynically.
Away beyond the boulevard the thin stripes of the metals
showed upon the railway-track, whose margin was crowded with little
stacks of timber, beside which smoking toy engines fussed.
Then the silver string of the canal lay at random among the
black heaps. Beyond, the dwellings, very dense on the river flat,
looked like black, poisonous herbage, in thick rows and crowded beds,
stretching right away, broken now and then by taller plants,
right to where the river glistened in a hieroglyph across the country.
The steep scarp cliffs across the river looked puny. Great stretches
of country darkened with trees and faintly brightened with corn-land,
spread towards the haze, where the hills rose blue beyond grey.
"It is comforting," said Mrs. Dawes, "to think the town goes
no farther. It is only a LITTLE sore upon the country yet."
"A little scab," Paul said.
She shivered. She loathed the town. Looking drearily across
at the country which was forbidden her, her impassive face, pale
and hostile, she reminded Paul of one of the bitter, remorseful angels.
"But the town's all right," he said; "it's only temporary.
This is the crude, clumsy make-shift we've practised on, till we find
out what the idea is. The town will come all right."
The pigeons in the pockets of rock, among the perched bushes,
cooed comfortably. To the left the large church of St. Mary rose
into space, to keep close company with the Castle, above the heaped
rubble of the town. Mrs. Dawes smiled brightly as she looked across
the country.
"I feel better," she said.
"Thank you," he replied. "Great compliment!"
"Oh, my brother!" she laughed.
"H'm! that's snatching back with the left hand what you gave
with the right, and no mistake," he said.
She laughed in amusement at him.
"But what was the matter with you?" he asked. "I know you
were brooding something special. I can see the stamp of it
on your face yet."
"I think I will not tell you," she said.
"All right, hug it," he answered.
She flushed and bit her lip.
"No," she said, "it was the girls."
"What about 'em?" Paul asked.
"They have been plotting something for a week now, and to-day
they seem particularly full of it. All alike; they insult me
with their secrecy."
"Do they?" he asked in concern.
"I should not mind," she went on, in the metallic, angry tone,
"if they did not thrust it into my face--the fact that they have
a secret."
"Just like women," said he.
"It is hateful, their mean gloating," she said intensely.
Paul was silent. He knew what the girls gloated over.
He was sorry to be the cause of this new dissension.
"They can have all the secrets in the world," she went on,
brooding bitterly; "but they might refrain from glorying in them,
and making me feel more out of it than ever. It is--it is
almost unbearable."
Paul thought for a few minutes. He was much perturbed.
"I will tell you what it's all about," he said, pale and nervous.
"It's my birthday, and they've bought me a fine lot of paints,
all the girls. They're jealous of you"--he felt her stiffen coldly
at the word 'jealous'--"merely because I sometimes bring you a book,"
he added slowly. "But, you see, it's only a trifle. Don't bother
about it, will you--because"--he laughed quickly--"well, what would they
say if they saw us here now, in spite of their victory?"
She was angry with him for his clumsy reference to
their present intimacy. It was almost insolent of him.
Yet he was so quiet, she forgave him, although it cost her an effort.
Their two hands lay on the rough stone parapet of the Castle wall.
He had inherited from his mother a fineness of mould, so that
his hands were small and vigorous. Hers were large, to match her
large limbs, but white and powerful looking. As Paul looked at them
he knew her. "She is wanting somebody to take her hands--for all she
is so contemptuous of us," he said to himself. And she saw nothing but
his two hands, so warm and alive, which seemed to live for her. He was
brooding now, staring out over the country from under sullen brows.
The little, interesting diversity of shapes had vanished from the scene;
all that remained was a vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy,
the same in all the houses and the river-flats and the people and
the birds; they were only shapen differently. And now that the forms
seemed to have melted away, there remained the mass from which all
the landscape was composed, a dark mass of struggle and pain.
The factory, the girls, his mother, the large, uplifted church,
the thicket of the town, merged into one atmosphere--dark, brooding,
and sorrowful, every bit.
"Is that two o'clock striking?" Mrs. Dawes said in surprise.
Paul started, and everything sprang into form, regained
its individuality, its forgetfulness, and its cheerfulness.
They hurried back to work.
When he was in the rush of preparing for the night's post,
examining the work up from Fanny's room, which smelt of ironing,
the evening postman came in.
"'Mr. Paul Morel,'" he said, smiling, handing Paul a package.
"A lady's handwriting! Don't let the girls see it."
The postman, himself a favourite, was pleased to make fun
of the girls' affection for Paul.
It was a volume of verse with a brief note: "You will allow me
to send you this, and so spare me my isolation. I also sympathise
and wish you well.--C.D." Paul flushed hot.
"Good Lord! Mrs. Dawes. She can't afford it. Good Lord,
who ever'd have thought it!"
He was suddenly intensely moved. He was filled with the warmth
of her. In the glow he could almost feel her as if she were
present--her arms, her shoulders, her bosom, see them, feel them,
almost contain them.
This move on the part of Clara brought them into closer intimacy.
The other girls noticed that when Paul met Mrs. Dawes his eyes lifted
and gave that peculiar bright greeting which they could interpret.
Knowing he was unaware, Clara made no sign, save that
occasionally she turned aside her face from him when he came upon her.
They walked out together very often at dinner-time; it was
quite open, quite frank. Everybody seemed to feel that he was quite
unaware of the state of his own feeling, and that nothing was wrong.
He talked to her now with some of the old fervour with which he
had talked to Miriam, but he cared less about the talk; he did
not bother about his conclusions.
One day in October they went out to Lambley for tea.
Suddenly they came to a halt on top of the hill. He climbed and sat
on a gate, she sat on the stile. The afternoon was perfectly still,
with a dim haze, and yellow sheaves glowing through. They were quiet.
"How old were you when you married?" he asked quietly.
Her voice was subdued, almost submissive. She would tell
him now.
"It is eight years ago?"
"And when did you leave him?"
"Three years ago."
"Five years! Did you love him when you married him?"
She was silent for some time; then she said slowly:
"I thought I did--more or less. I didn't think much about it.
And he wanted me. I was very prudish then."
"And you sort of walked into it without thinking?"
"Yes. I seemed to have been asleep nearly all my life."
"Somnambule? But--when did you wake up?"
"I don't know that I ever did, or ever have--since I was a child."
"You went to sleep as you grew to be a woman? How queer!
And he didn't wake you?"
"No; he never got there," she replied, in a monotone.
The brown birds dashed over the hedges where the rose-hips
stood naked and scarlet.
"Got where?" he asked.
"At me. He never really mattered to me."
The afternoon was so gently warm and dim. Red roofs
of the cottages burned among the blue haze. He loved the day.
He could feel, but he could not understand, what Clara was saying.
"But why did you leave him? Was he horrid to you?"
She shuddered lightly.
"He--he sort of degraded me. He wanted to bully me because he
hadn't got me. And then I felt as if I wanted to run, as if I
was fastened and bound up. And he seemed dirty."
"I see."
He did not at all see.
"And was he always dirty?" he asked.
"A bit," she replied slowly. "And then he seemed as if he
couldn't get AT me, really. And then he got brutal--he WAS brutal!"
"And why did you leave him finally?"
"Because--because he was unfaithful to me---"
They were both silent for some time. Her hand lay on the gate-post
as she balanced. He put his own over it. His heart beat quickly.
"But did you--were you ever--did you ever give him a chance?"
"Chance? How?"
"To come near to you."
"I married him--and I was willing---"
They both strove to keep their voices steady.
"I believe he loves you," he said.
"It looks like it," she replied.
He wanted to take his hand away, and could not. She saved
him by removing her own. After a silence, he began again:
"Did you leave him out of count all along?"
"He left me," she said.
"And I suppose he couldn't MAKE himself mean everything to you?"
"He tried to bully me into it."
But the conversation had got them both out of their depth.
Suddenly Paul jumped down.
"Come on," he said. "Let's go and get some tea."
They found a cottage, where they sat in the cold parlour.
She poured out his tea. She was very quiet. He felt she had withdrawn
again from him. After tea, she stared broodingly into her tea-cup,
twisting her wedding ring all the time. In her abstraction she took
the ring off her finger, stood it up, and spun it upon the table.
The gold became a diaphanous, glittering globe. It fell, and the
ring was quivering upon the table. She spun it again and again.
Paul watched, fascinated.
But she was a married woman, and he believed in simple friendship.
And he considered that he was perfectly honourable with regard to her.
It was only a friendship between man and woman, such as any civilised
persons might have.
He was like so many young men of his own age. Sex had become
so complicated in him that he would have denied that he ever
could want Clara or Miriam or any woman whom he knew. Sex desire
was a sort of detached thing, that did not belong to a woman.
He loved Miriam with his soul. He grew warm at the thought
of Clara, he battled with her, he knew the curves of her breast
and shoulders as if they had been moulded inside him; and yet he
did not positively desire her. He would have denied it for ever.
He believed himself really bound to Miriam. If ever he should marry,
some time in the far future, it would be his duty to marry Miriam.
That he gave Clara to understand, and she said nothing, but left him
to his courses. He came to her, Mrs. Dawes, whenever he could.
Then he wrote frequently to Miriam, and visited the girl occasionally.
So he went on through the winter; but he seemed not so fretted.
His mother was easier about him. She thought he was getting away
from Miriam.
Miriam knew now how strong was the attraction of Clara for him;
but still she was certain that the best in him would triumph.
His feeling for Mrs. Dawes--who, moreover, was a married woman--
was shallow and temporal, compared with his love for herself.
He would come back to her, she was sure; with some of his young
freshness gone, perhaps, but cured of his desire for the lesser things
which other women than herself could give him. She could bear all
if he were inwardly true to her and must come back.
He saw none of the anomaly of his position. Miriam was his
old friend, lover, and she belonged to Bestwood and home and his youth.
Clara was a newer friend, and she belonged to Nottingham, to life,
to the world. It seemed to him quite plain.
Mrs. Dawes and he had many periods of coolness, when they saw
little of each other; but they always came together again.
"Were you horrid with Baxter Dawes?" he asked her. It was
a thing that seemed to trouble him.
"In what way?"
"Oh, I don't know. But weren't you horrid with him?
Didn't you do something that knocked him to pieces?"
"What, pray?"
"Making him feel as if he were nothing--I know," Paul declared.
"You are so clever, my friend," she said coolly.
The conversation broke off there. But it made her cool
with him for some time.
She very rarely saw Miriam now. The friendship between
the two women was not broken off, but considerably weakened.
"Will you come in to the concert on Sunday afternoon?"
Clara asked him just after Christmas.
"I promised to go up to Willey Farm," he replied.
"Oh, very well."
"You don't mind, do you?" he asked.
"Why should I?" she answered.
Which almost annoyed him.
"You know," he said, "Miriam and I have been a lot to each
other ever since I was sixteen--that's seven years now."
"It's a long time," Clara replied.
"Yes; but somehow she--it doesn't go right---"
"How?" asked Clara.
"She seems to draw me and draw me, and she wouldn't leave
a single hair of me free to fall out and blow away--she'd keep it."
"But you like to be kept."
"No," he said, "I don't. I wish it could be normal, give and take--
like me and you. I want a woman to keep me, but not in her pocket."
"But if you love her, it couldn't be normal, like me and you."
"Yes; I should love her better then. She sort of wants me
so much that I can't give myself."
"Wants you how?"
"Wants the soul out of my body. I can't help shrinking back
from her."
"And yet you love her!"
"No, I don't love her. I never even kiss her."
"Why not?" Clara asked.
"I don't know."
"I suppose you're afraid," she said.
"I'm not. Something in me shrinks from her like hell--she's
so good, when I'm not good."
"How do you know what she is?"
"I do! I know she wants a sort of soul union."
"But how do you know what she wants?"
"I've been with her for seven years."
"And you haven't found out the very first thing about her."
"What's that?"
"That she doesn't want any of your soul communion.
That's your own imagination. She wants you."
He pondered over this. Perhaps he was wrong.
"But she seems---" he began.
"You've never tried," she answered.
WITH the spring came again the old madness and battle. Now he
knew he would have to go to Miriam. But what was his reluctance?
He told himself it was only a sort of overstrong virginity in her
and him which neither could break through. He might have married her;
but his circumstances at home made it difficult, and, moreover, he did
not want to marry. Marriage was for life, and because they had become
close companions, he and she, he did not see that it should inevitably
follow they should be man and wife. He did not feel that he wanted
marriage with Miriam. He wished he did. He would have given his
head to have felt a joyous desire to marry her and to have her.
Then why couldn't he bring it off? There was some obstacle;
and what was the obstacle? It lay in the physical bondage.
He shrank from the physical contact. But why? With her he felt bound
up inside himself. He could not go out to her. Something struggled
in him, but he could not get to her. Why? She loved him.
Clara said she even wanted him; then why couldn't he go to her,
make love to her, kiss her? Why, when she put her arm in his,
timidly, as they walked, did he feel he would burst forth in brutality
and recoil? He owed himself to her; he wanted to belong to her.
Perhaps the recoil and the shrinking from her was love in its first
fierce modesty. He had no aversion for her. No, it was the opposite;
it was a strong desire battling with a still stronger shyness
and virginity. It seemed as if virginity were a positive force,
which fought and won in both of them. And with her he felt it
so hard to overcome; yet he was nearest to her, and with her alone
could he deliberately break through. And he owed himself to her.
Then, if they could get things right, they could marry; but he
would not marry unless he could feel strong in the joy of it--never.
He could not have faced his mother. It seemed to him that
to sacrifice himself in a marriage he did not want would be
degrading, and would undo all his life, make it a nullity.
He would try what he COULD do.
And he had a great tenderness for Miriam. Always, she was sad,
dreaming her religion; and he was nearly a religion to her. He could
not bear to fail her. It would all come right if they tried.
He looked round. A good many of the nicest men he knew were
like himself, bound in by their own virginity, which they could not
break out of. They were so sensitive to their women that they would
go without them for ever rather than do them a hurt, an injustice.
Being the sons of mothers whose husbands had blundered rather
brutally through their feminine sanctities, they were themselves
too diffident and shy. They could easier deny themselves than incur
any reproach from a woman; for a woman was like their mother, and they
were full of the sense of their mother. They preferred themselves
to suffer the misery of celibacy, rather than risk the other person.
He went back to her. Something in her, when he looked at her,
brought the tears almost to his eyes. One day he stood behind her
as she sang. Annie was playing a song on the piano. As Miriam sang
her mouth seemed hopeless. She sang like a nun singing to heaven.
It reminded him so much of the mouth and eyes of one who sings
beside a Botticelli Madonna, so spiritual. Again, hot as steel,
came up the pain in him. Why must he ask her for the other thing?
Why was there his blood battling with her? If only he could have been
always gentle, tender with her, breathing with her the atmosphere
of reverie and religious dreams, he would give his right hand.
It was not fair to hurt her. There seemed an eternal maidenhood
about her; and when he thought of her mother, he saw the great
brown eyes of a maiden who was nearly scared and shocked out of her
virgin maidenhood, but not quite, in spite of her seven children.
They had been born almost leaving her out of count, not of her,
but upon her. So she could never let them go, because she never had
possessed them.
Mrs. Morel saw him going again frequently to Miriam,
and was astonished. He said nothing to his mother. He did not explain
nor excuse himself. If he came home late, and she reproached him,
he frowned and turned on her in an overbearing way:
"I shall come home when I like," he said; "I am old enough."
"Must she keep you till this time?"
"It is I who stay," he answered.
"And she lets you? But very well," she said.
And she went to bed, leaving the door unlocked for him;
but she lay listening until he came, often long after.
It was a great bitterness to her that he had gone back to Miriam.
She recognised, however, the uselessness of any further interference.
He went to Willey Farm as a man now, not as a youth. She had
no right over him. There was a coldness between him and her.
He hardly told her anything. Discarded, she waited on him, cooked for
him still, and loved to slave for him; but her face closed again
like a mask. There was nothing for her to do now but the housework;
for all the rest he had gone to Miriam. She could not forgive him.
Miriam killed the joy and the warmth in him. He had been such a
jolly lad, and full of the warmest affection; now he grew colder,
more and more irritable and gloomy. It reminded her of William;
but Paul was worse. He did things with more intensity, and more
realisation of what he was about. His mother knew how he was
suffering for want of a woman, and she saw him going to Miriam.
If he had made up his mind, nothing on earth would alter him.
Mrs. Morel was tired. She began to give up at last; she had finished.
She was in the way.
He went on determinedly. He realised more or less what his
mother felt. It only hardened his soul. He made himself callous
towards her; but it was like being callous to his own health.
It undermined him quickly; yet he persisted.
He lay back in the rocking-chair at Willey Farm one evening.
He had been talking to Miriam for some weeks, but had not come to
the point. Now he said suddenly:
"I am twenty-four, almost."
She had been brooding. She looked up at him suddenly in surprise.
"Yes. What makes you say it?"
There was something in the charged atmosphere that she dreaded.
"Sir Thomas More says one can marry at twenty-four."
She laughed quaintly, saying:
"Does it need Sir Thomas More's sanction?"
"No; but one ought to marry about then."
"Ay," she answered broodingly; and she waited.
"I can't marry you," he continued slowly, "not now, because we've
no money, and they depend on me at home."
She sat half-guessing what was coming.
"But I want to marry now---"
"You want to marry?" she repeated.
"A woman--you know what I mean."
She was silent.
"Now, at last, I must," he said.
"Ay," she answered.
"And you love me?"
She laughed bitterly.
"Why are you ashamed of it," he answered. "You wouldn't
be ashamed before your God, why are you before people?"
"Nay," she answered deeply, "I am not ashamed."
"You are," he replied bitterly; "and it's my fault. But you
know I can't help being--as I am--don't you?"
"I know you can't help it," she replied.
"I love you an awful lot--then there is something short."
"Where?" she answered, looking at him.
"Oh, in me! It is I who ought to be ashamed--like
a spiritual cripple. And I am ashamed. It is misery. Why is it?"
"I don't know," replied Miriam.
"And I don't know," he repeated. "Don't you think we have
been too fierce in our what they call purity? Don't you think
that to be so much afraid and averse is a sort of dirtiness?"
She looked at him with startled dark eyes.
"You recoiled away from anything of the sort, and I took
the motion from you, and recoiled also, perhaps worse."
There was silence in the room for some time.
"Yes," she said, "it is so."
"There is between us," he said, "all these years of intimacy.
I feel naked enough before you. Do you understand?"
"I think so," she answered.
"And you love me?"
She laughed.
"Don't be bitter," he pleaded.
She looked at him and was sorry for him; his eyes were dark
with torture. She was sorry for him; it was worse for him to have this
deflated love than for herself, who could never be properly mated.
He was restless, for ever urging forward and trying to find a way out.
He might do as he liked, and have what he liked of her.
"Nay," she said softly, "I am not bitter."
She felt she could bear anything for him; she would suffer for him.
She put her hand on his knee as he leaned forward in his chair.
He took it and kissed it; but it hurt to do so. He felt he was
putting himself aside. He sat there sacrificed to her purity,
which felt more like nullity. How could he kiss her hand passionately,
when it would drive her away, and leave nothing but pain? Yet slowly
he drew her to him and kissed her.
They knew each other too well to pretend anything.
As she kissed him, she watched his eyes; they were staring across
the room, with a peculiar dark blaze in them that fascinated her.
He was perfectly still. She could feel his heart throbbing heavily
in his breast.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked.
The blaze in his eyes shuddered, became uncertain.
"I was thinking, all the while, I love you. I have been obstinate."
She sank her head on his breast.
"Yes," she answered.
"That's all," he said, and his voice seemed sure, and his mouth
was kissing her throat.
Then she raised her head and looked into his eyes with her
full gaze of love. The blaze struggled, seemed to try to get away
from her, and then was quenched. He turned his head quickly aside.
It was a moment of anguish.
"Kiss me," she whispered.
He shut his eyes, and kissed her, and his arms folded her
closer and closer.
When she walked home with him over the fields, he said:
"I am glad I came back to you. I feel so simple with you--as
if there was nothing to hide. We will be happy?"
"Yes," she murmured, and the tears came to her eyes.
"Some sort of perversity in our souls," he said, "makes us
not want, get away from, the very thing we want. We have to fight
against that."
"Yes," she said, and she felt stunned.
As she stood under the drooping-thorn tree, in the darkness by
the roadside, he kissed her, and his fingers wandered over her face.
In the darkness, where he could not see her but only feel her,
his passion flooded him. He clasped her very close.
"Sometime you will have me?" he murmured, hiding his face
on her shoulder. It was so difficult.
"Not now," she said.
His hopes and his heart sunk. A dreariness came over him.
"No," he said.
His clasp of her slackened.
"I love to feel your arm THERE!" she said, pressing his arm
against her back, where it went round her waist. "It rests me so."
He tightened the pressure of his arm upon the small of her
back to rest her.
"We belong to each other," he said.
"Then why shouldn't we belong to each other altogether?"
"But---" she faltered.
"I know it's a lot to ask," he said; "but there's not much risk
for you really--not in the Gretchen way. You can trust me there?"
"Oh, I can trust you." The answer came quick and strong.
"It's not that--it's not that at all--but---"
She hid her face in his neck with a little cry of misery.
"I don't know!" she cried.
She seemed slightly hysterical, but with a sort of horror.
His heart died in him.
"You don't think it ugly?" he asked.
"No, not now. You have TAUGHT me it isn't."
"You are afraid?"
She calmed herself hastily.
"Yes, I am only afraid," she said.
He kissed her tenderly.
"Never mind," he said. "You should please yourself."
Suddenly she gripped his arms round her, and clenched her
body stiff.
"You SHALL have me," she said, through her shut teeth.
His heart beat up again like fire. He folded her close, and his
mouth was on her throat. She could not bear it. She drew away.
He disengaged her.
"Won't you be late?" she asked gently.
He sighed, scarcely hearing what she said. She waited,
wishing he would go. At last he kissed her quickly and climbed
the fence. Looking round he saw the pale blotch of her face down
in the darkness under the hanging tree. There was no more of her
but this pale blotch.
"Good-bye!" she called softly. She had no body, only a
voice and a dim face. He turned away and ran down the road,
his fists clenched; and when he came to the wall over the lake
he leaned there, almost stunned, looking up the black water.
Miriam plunged home over the meadows. She was not afraid
of people, what they might say; but she dreaded the issue
with him. Yes, she would let him have her if he insisted;
and then, when she thought of it afterwards, her heart went down.
He would be disappointed, he would find no satisfaction, and then he
would go away. Yet he was so insistent; and over this, which did
not seem so all-important to her, was their love to break down.
After all, he was only like other men, seeking his satisfaction.
Oh, but there was something more in him, something deeper! She could
trust to it, in spite of all desires. He said that possession was
a great moment in life. All strong emotions concentrated there.
Perhaps it was so. There was something divine in it; then she
would submit, religiously, to the sacrifice. He should have her.
And at the thought her whole body clenched itself involuntarily,
hard, as if against something; but Life forced her through this
gate of suffering, too, and she would submit. At any rate,
it would give him what he wanted, which was her deepest wish.
She brooded and brooded and brooded herself towards accepting him.
He courted her now like a lover. Often, when he grew hot,
she put his face from her, held it between her hands, and looked in
his eyes. He could not meet her gaze. Her dark eyes, full of love,
earnest and searching, made him turn away. Not for an instant
would she let him forget. Back again he had to torture himself
into a sense of his responsibility and hers. Never any relaxing,
never any leaving himself to the great hunger and impersonality
of passion; he must be brought back to a deliberate, reflective creature.
As if from a swoon of passion she caged him back to the littleness,
the personal relationship. He could not bear it. "Leave me
alone--leave me alone!" he wanted to cry; but she wanted him to
look at her with eyes full of love. His eyes, full of the dark,
impersonal fire of desire, did not belong to her.
There was a great crop of cherries at the farm. The trees at
the back of the house, very large and tall, hung thick with scarlet
and crimson drops, under the dark leaves. Paul and Edgar were gathering
the fruit one evening. It had been a hot day, and now the clouds
were rolling in the sky, dark and warm. Paul combed high in the tree,
above the scarlet roofs of the buildings. The wind, moaning steadily,
made the whole tree rock with a subtle, thrilling motion that stirred
the blood. The young man, perched insecurely in the slender branches,
rocked till he felt slightly drunk, reached down the boughs,
where the scarlet beady cherries hung thick underneath, and tore
off handful after handful of the sleek, cool-fleshed fruit.
Cherries touched his ears and his neck as he stretched forward,
their chill finger-tips sending a flash down his blood. All shades
of red, from a golden vermilion to a rich crimson, glowed and met
his eyes under a darkness of leaves.
The sun, going down, suddenly caught the broken clouds.
Immense piles of gold flared out in the south-east, heaped in soft,
glowing yellow right up the sky. The world, till now dusk and grey,
reflected the gold glow, astonished. Everywhere the trees,
and the grass, and the far-off water, seemed roused from the twilight
and shining.
Miriam came out wondering.
"Oh!" Paul heard her mellow voice call, "isn't it wonderful?"
He looked down. There was a faint gold glimmer on her face,
that looked very soft, turned up to him.
"How high you are!" she said.
Beside her, on the rhubarb leaves, were four dead birds,
thieves that had been shot. Paul saw some cherry stones hanging
quite bleached, like skeletons, picked clear of flesh. He looked
down again to Miriam.
"Clouds are on fire," he said.
"Beautiful!" she cried.
She seemed so small, so soft, so tender, down there. He threw
a handful of cherries at her. She was startled and frightened.
He laughed with a low, chuckling sound, and pelted her. She ran
for shelter, picking up some cherries. Two fine red pairs she hung
over her ears; then she looked up again.
"Haven't you got enough?" she asked.
"Nearly. It is like being on a ship up here."
"And how long will you stay?"
"While the sunset lasts."
She went to the fence and sat there, watching the gold clouds fall
to pieces, and go in immense, rose-coloured ruin towards the darkness.
Gold flamed to scarlet, like pain in its intense brightness.
Then the scarlet sank to rose, and rose to crimson, and quickly
the passion went out of the sky. All the world was dark grey.
Paul scrambled quickly down with his basket, tearing his shirt-sleeve
as he did so.
"They are lovely," said Miriam, fingering the cherries.
"I've torn my sleeve," he answered.
She took the three-cornered rip, saying:
"I shall have to mend it." It was near the shoulder.
She put her fingers through the tear. "How warm!" she said.
He laughed. There was a new, strange note in his voice,
one that made her pant.
"Shall we stay out?" he said.
"Won't it rain?" she asked.
"No, let us walk a little way."
They went down the fields and into the thick plantation
of trees and pines.
"Shall we go in among the trees?" he asked.
"Do you want to?"
It was very dark among the firs, and the sharp spines pricked
her face. She was afraid. Paul was silent and strange.
"I like the darkness," he said. "I wish it were thicker--good,
thick darkness."
He seemed to be almost unaware of her as a person: she was
only to him then a woman. She was afraid.
He stood against a pine-tree trunk and took her in his arms.
She relinquished herself to him, but it was a sacrifice in which she
felt something of horror. This thick-voiced, oblivious man was
a stranger to her.
Later it began to rain. The pine-trees smelled very strong.
Paul lay with his head on the ground, on the dead pine needles,
listening to the sharp hiss of the rain--a steady, keen noise.
His heart was down, very heavy. Now he realised that she had
not been with him all the time, that her soul had stood apart,
in a sort of horror. He was physically at rest, but no more.
Very dreary at heart, very sad, and very tender, his fingers wandered
over her face pitifully. Now again she loved him deeply. He was tender
and beautiful.
"The rain!" he said.
"Yes--is it coming on you?"
She put her hands over him, on his hair, on his shoulders, to feel
if the raindrops fell on him. She loved him dearly. He, as he lay
with his face on the dead pine-leaves, felt extraordinarily quiet.
He did not mind if the raindrops came on him: he would have lain
and got wet through: he felt as if nothing mattered, as if his
living were smeared away into the beyond, near and quite lovable.
This strange, gentle reaching-out to death was new to him.
"We must go," said Miriam.
"Yes," he answered, but did not move.
To him now, life seemed a shadow, day a white shadow; night,
and death, and stillness, and inaction, this seemed like BEING.
To be alive, to be urgent and insistent--that was NOT-TO-BE. The
highest of all was to melt out into the darkness and sway there,
identified with the great Being.
"The rain is coming in on us," said Miriam.
He rose, and assisted her.
"It is a pity," he said.
"To have to go. I feel so still."
"Still!" she repeated.
"Stiller than I have ever been in my life."
He was walking with his hand in hers. She pressed his fingers,
feeling a slight fear. Now he seemed beyond her; she had a fear
lest she should lose him.
"The fir-trees are like presences on the darkness: each one
only a presence."
She was afraid, and said nothing.
"A sort of hush: the whole night wondering and asleep:
I suppose that's what we do in death--sleep in wonder."
She had been afraid before of the brute in him: now of the mystic.
She trod beside him in silence. The rain fell with a heavy "Hush!"
on the trees. At last they gained the cartshed.
"Let us stay here awhile," he said.
There was a sound of rain everywhere, smothering everything.
"I feel so strange and still," he said; "along with everything."
"Ay," she answered patiently.
He seemed again unaware of her, though he held her hand close.
"To be rid of our individuality, which is our will, which is
our effort--to live effortless, a kind of curious sleep--that is
very beautiful, I think; that is our after-life--our immortality."
"Yes--and very beautiful to have."
"You don't usually say that."
In a while they went indoors. Everybody looked at them curiously.
He still kept the quiet, heavy look in his eyes, the stillness
in his voice. Instinctively, they all left him alone.
About this time Miriam's grandmother, who lived in a tiny cottage
in Woodlinton, fell ill, and the girl was sent to keep house.
It was a beautiful little place. The cottage had a big garden in front,
with red brick walls, against which the plum trees were nailed.
At the back another garden was separated from the fields by a tall
old hedge. It was very pretty. Miriam had not much to do,
so she found time for her beloved reading, and for writing little
introspective pieces which interested her.
At the holiday-time her grandmother, being better, was driven
to Derby to stay with her daughter for a day or two. She was a
crotchety old lady, and might return the second day or the third;
so Miriam stayed alone in the cottage, which also pleased her.
Paul used often to cycle over, and they had as a rule
peaceful and happy times. He did not embarrass her much; but then
on the Monday of the holiday he was to spend a whole day with her.
It was perfect weather. He left his mother, telling her where he
was going. She would be alone all the day. It cast a shadow over him;
but he had three days that were all his own, when he was
going to do as he liked. It was sweet to rush
through the morning lanes on his bicycle.
He got to the cottage at about eleven o'clock. Miriam was busy
preparing dinner. She looked so perfectly in keeping with the
little kitchen, ruddy and busy. He kissed her and sat down to watch.
The room was small and cosy. The sofa was covered all over with a
sort of linen in squares of red and pale blue, old, much washed,
but pretty. There was a stuffed owl in a case over a corner cupboard.
The sunlight came through the leaves of the scented geraniums
in the window. She was cooking a chicken in his honour.
It was their cottage for the day, and they were man and wife.
He beat the eggs for her and peeled the potatoes. He thought she
gave a feeling of home almost like his mother; and no one could
look more beautiful, with her tumbled curls, when she was flushed
from the fire.
The dinner was a great success. Like a young husband, he carved.
They talked all the time with unflagging zest. Then he wiped
the dishes she had washed, and they went out down the fields.
There was a bright little brook that ran into a bog at the foot
of a very steep bank. Here they wandered, picking still a few
marsh-marigolds and many big blue forget-me-nots. Then she sat on
the bank with her hands full of flowers, mostly golden water-blobs.
As she put her face down into the marigolds, it was all overcast
with a yellow shine.
"Your face is bright," he said, "like a transfiguration."
She looked at him, questioning. He laughed pleadingly to her,
laying his hands on hers. Then he kissed her fingers, then her face.
The world was all steeped in sunshine, and quite still,
yet not asleep, but quivering with a kind of expectancy.
"I have never seen anything more beautiful than this," he said.
He held her hand fast all the time.
"And the water singing to itself as it runs--do you love it?"
She looked at him full of love. His eyes were very dark,
very bright.
"Don't you think it's a great day?" he asked.
She murmured her assent. She WAS happy, and he saw it.
"And our day--just between us," he said.
They lingered a little while. Then they stood up upon
the sweet thyme, and he looked down at her simply.
"Will you come?" he asked.
They went back to the house, hand in hand, in silence.
The chickens came scampering down the path to her.
He locked the door, and they had the little house to themselves.
He never forgot seeing her as she lay on the bed, when he was
unfastening his collar. First he saw only her beauty, and was blind
with it. She had the most beautiful body he had ever imagined.
He stood unable to move or speak, looking at her, his face half-smiling
with wonder. And then he wanted her, but as he went forward to her,
her hands lifted in a little pleading movement, and he looked
at her face, and stopped. Her big brown eyes were watching him,
still and resigned and loving; she lay as if she had given herself up
to sacrifice: there was her body for him; but the look at the back
of her eyes, like a creature awaiting immolation, arrested him,
and all his blood fell back.
"You are sure you want me?" he asked, as if a cold shadow
had come over him.
"Yes, quite sure."
She was very quiet, very calm. She only realised that she
was doing something for him. He could hardly bear it. She lay
to be sacrificed for him because she loved him so much. And he had
to sacrifice her. For a second, he wished he were sexless or dead.
Then he shut his eyes again to her, and his blood beat back again.
And afterwards he loved her--loved her to the last fibre
of his being. He loved her. But he wanted, somehow, to cry.
There was something he could not bear for her sake. He stayed
with her till quite late at night. As he rode home he felt that
he was finally initiated. He was a youth no longer. But why
had he the dull pain in his soul? Why did the thought of death,
the after-life, seem so sweet and consoling?
He spent the week with Miriam, and wore her out with his passion
before it was gone. He had always, almost wilfully, to put her out
of count, and act from the brute strength of his own feelings.
And he could not do it often, and there remained afterwards always
the sense of failure and of death. If he were really with her,
he had to put aside himself and his desire. If he would have her,
he had to put her aside.
"When I come to you," he asked her, his eyes dark with pain
and shame, "you don't really want me, do you?"
"Ah, yes!" she replied quickly.
He looked at her.
"Nay," he said.
She began to tremble.
"You see," she said, taking his face and shutting it out
against her shoulder--"you see--as we are--how can I get used to you?
It would come all right if we were married."
He lifted her head, and looked at her.
"You mean, now, it is always too much shock?"
"You are always clenched against me."
She was trembling with agitation.
"You see," she said, "I'm not used to the thought---"
"You are lately," he said.
"But all my life. Mother said to me: 'There is one thing
in marriage that is always dreadful, but you have to bear it.'
And I believed it."
"And still believe it," he said.
"No!" she cried hastily. "I believe, as you do, that loving,
even in THAT way, is the high-water mark of living."
"That doesn't alter the fact that you never want it."
"No," she said, taking his head in her arms and rocking in despair.
"Don't say so! You don't understand." She rocked with pain.
"Don't I want your children?"
"But not me."
"How can you say so? But we must be married to have children---"
"Shall we be married, then? I want you to have my children."
He kissed her hand reverently. She pondered sadly, watching him.
"We are too young," she said at length.
"Twenty-four and twenty-three---"
"Not yet," she pleaded, as she rocked herself in distress.
"When you will," he said.
She bowed her head gravely. The tone of hopelessness in
which he said these things grieved her deeply. It had always been
a failure between them. Tacitly, she acquiesced in what he felt.
And after a week of love he said to his mother suddenly one
Sunday night, just as they were going to bed:
"I shan't go so much to Miriam's, mother."
She was surprised, but she would not ask him anything.
"You please yourself," she said.
So he went to bed. But there was a new quietness about
him which she had wondered at. She almost guessed. She would
leave him alone, however. Precipitation might spoil things.
She watched him in his loneliness, wondering where he would end.
He was sick, and much too quiet for him. There was a perpetual little
knitting of his brows, such as she had seen when he was a small baby,
and which had been gone for many years. Now it was the same again.
And she could do nothing for him. He had to go on alone, make his
own way.
He continued faithful to Miriam. For one day he had loved her
utterly. But it never came again. The sense of failure grew stronger.
At first it was only a sadness. Then he began to feel he could not
go on. He wanted to run, to go abroad, anything. Gradually he ceased
to ask her to have him. Instead of drawing them together, it put
them apart. And then he realised, consciously, that it was no good.
It was useless trying: it would never be a success between them.
For some months he had seen very little of Clara. They had
occasionally walked out for half an hour at dinner-time. But he always
reserved himself for Miriam. With Clara, however, his brow cleared,
and he was gay again. She treated him indulgently, as if he were
a child. He thought he did not mind. But deep below the surface
it piqued him.
Sometimes Miriam said:
"What about Clara? I hear nothing of her lately."
"I walked with her about twenty minutes yesterday," he replied.
"And what did she talk about?"
"I don't know. I suppose I did all the jawing--I usually do.
I think I was telling her about the strike, and how the women
took it."
So he gave the account of himself.
But insidiously, without his knowing it, the warmth he felt
for Clara drew him away from Miriam, for whom he felt responsible,
and to whom he felt he belonged. He thought he was being quite
faithful to her. It was not easy to estimate exactly the strength
and warmth of one's feelings for a woman till they have run away
with one.
He began to give more time to his men friends. There was Jessop,
at the art school; Swain, who was chemistry demonstrator
at the university; Newton, who was a teacher; besides Edgar and
Miriam's younger brothers. Pleading work, he sketched and studied
with Jessop. He called in the university for Swain, and the two went
"down town" together. Having come home in the train with Newton,
he called and had a game of billiards with him in the Moon
and Stars. If he gave to Miriam the excuse of his men friends,
he felt quite justified. His mother began to be relieved.
He always told her where he had been.
During the summer Clara wore sometimes a dress of soft cotton
stuff with loose sleeves. When she lifted her hands, her sleeves
fell back, and her beautiful strong arms shone out.
"Half a minute," he cried. "Hold your arm still."
He made sketches of her hand and arm, and the drawings
contained some of the fascination the real thing had for him.
Miriam, who always went scrupulously through his books and papers,
saw the drawings.
"I think Clara has such beautiful arms," he said.
"Yes! When did you draw them?"
"On Tuesday, in the work-room. You know, I've got a corner
where I can work. Often I can do every single thing they need
in the department, before dinner. Then I work for myself
in the afternoon, and just see to things at night."
"Yes," she said, turning the leaves of his sketch-book.
Frequently he hated Miriam. He hated her as she bent forward
and pored over his things. He hated her way of patiently casting
him up, as if he were an endless psychological account. When he
was with her, he hated her for having got him, and yet not got him,
and he tortured her. She took all and gave nothing, he said. At least,
she gave no living warmth. She was never alive, and giving off life.
Looking for her was like looking for something which did not exist.
She was only his conscience, not his mate. He hated her violently,
and was more cruel to her. They dragged on till the next summer.
He saw more and more of Clara.
At last he spoke. He had been sitting working at home
one evening. There was between him and his mother a peculiar condition
of people frankly finding fault with each other. Mrs. Morel was
strong on her feet again. He was not going to stick to Miriam.
Very well; then she would stand aloof till he said something.
It had been coming a long time, this bursting of the storm in him,
when he would come back to her. This evening there was between them
a peculiar condition of suspense. He worked feverishly and mechanically,
so that he could escape from himself. It grew late. Through the
open door, stealthily, came the scent of madonna lilies, almost as
if it were prowling abroad. Suddenly he got up and went out of doors.
The beauty of the night made him want to shout. A half-moon,
dusky gold, was sinking behind the black sycamore at the end of
the garden, making the sky dull purple with its glow. Nearer, a dim
white fence of lilies went across the garden, and the air all round
seemed to stir with scent, as if it were alive. He went across
the bed of pinks, whose keen perfume came sharply across the rocking,
heavy scent of the lilies, and stood alongside the white barrier
of flowers. They flagged all loose, as if they were panting.
The scent made him drunk. He went down to the field to watch
the moon sink under.
A corncrake in the hay-close called insistently. The moon
slid quite quickly downwards, growing more flushed. Behind him
the great flowers leaned as if they were calling. And then,
like a shock, he caught another perfume, something raw and coarse.
Hunting round, he found the purple iris, touched their fleshy throats
and their dark, grasping hands. At any rate, he had found something.
They stood stiff in the darkness. Their scent was brutal.
The moon was melting down upon the crest of the hill. It was gone;
all was dark. The corncrake called still.
Breaking off a pink, he suddenly went indoors.
"Come, my boy," said his mother. "I'm sure it's time you went
to bed."
He stood with the pink against his lips.
"I shall break off with Miriam, mother," he answered calmly.
She looked up at him over her spectacles. He was staring back
at her, unswerving. She met his eyes for a moment, then took off
her glasses. He was white. The male was up in him, dominant.
She did not want to see him too clearly.
"But I thought---" she began.
"Well," he answered, "I don't love her. I don't want to marry
her--so I shall have done."
"But," exclaimed his mother, amazed, "I thought lately you
had made up your mind to have her, and so I said nothing."
"I had--I wanted to--but now I don't want. It's no good.
I shall break off on Sunday. I ought to, oughtn't I?"
"You know best. You know I said so long ago."
"I can't help that now. I shall break off on Sunday."
"Well," said his mother, "I think it will be best. But lately
I decided you had made up your mind to have her, so I said nothing,
and should have said nothing. But I say as I have always said,
I DON'T think she is suited to you."
"On Sunday I break off," he said, smelling the pink.
He put the flower in his mouth. Unthinking, he bared his teeth,
closed them on the blossom slowly, and had a mouthful of petals.
These he spat into the fire, kissed his mother, and went to bed.
On Sunday he went up to the farm in the early afternoon.
He had written Miriam that they would walk over the fields to Hucknall.
His mother was very tender with him. He said nothing. But she
saw the effort it was costing. The peculiar set look on his face
stilled her.
"Never mind, my son," she said. "You will be so much better
when it is all over. "
Paul glanced swiftly at his mother in surprise and resentment.
He did not want sympathy.
Miriam met him at the lane-end. She was wearing a new dress
of figured muslin that had short sleeves. Those short sleeves,
and Miriam's brown-skinned arms beneath them--such pitiful, resigned
arms--gave him so much pain that they helped to make him cruel.
She had made herself look so beautiful and fresh for him. She seemed
to blossom for him alone. Every time he looked at her--a mature young
woman now, and beautiful in her new dress--it hurt so much that his
heart seemed almost to be bursting with the restraint he put on it.
But he had decided, and it was irrevocable.
On the hills they sat down, and he lay with his head in her lap,
whilst she fingered his hair. She knew that "he was not there,"
as she put it. Often, when she had him with her, she looked for him,
and could not find him. But this afternoon she was not prepared.
It was nearly five o'clock when he told her. They were sitting
on the bank of a stream, where the lip of turf hung over a hollow
bank of yellow earth, and he was hacking away with a stick, as he
did when he was perturbed and cruel.
"I have been thinking," he said, "we ought to break off."
"Why?" she cried in surprise.
"Because it's no good going on."
"Why is it no good?"
"It isn't. I don't want to marry. I don't want ever to marry.
And if we're not going to marry, it's no good going on."
"But why do you say this now?"
"Because I've made up my mind."
"And what about these last months, and the things you told
me then?"
"I can't help it! I don't want to go on."
"You don't want any more of me?"
"I want us to break off--you be free of me, I free of you."
"And what about these last months?"
"I don't know. I've not told you anything but what I thought
was true."
"Then why are you different now?"
"I'm not--I'm the same--only I know it's no good going on."
"You haven't told me why it's no good."
"Because I don't want to go on--and I don't want to marry."
"How many times have you offered to marry me, and I wouldn't?"
"I know; but I want us to break off."
There was silence for a moment or two, while he dug viciously at
the earth. She bent her head, pondering. He was an unreasonable child.
He was like an infant which, when it has drunk its fill, throws away
and smashes the cup. She looked at him, feeling she could get hold
of him and WRING some consistency out of him. But she was helpless.
Then she cried:
"I have said you were only fourteen--you are only FOUR!"
He still dug at the earth viciously. He heard.
"You are a child of four," she repeated in her anger.
He did not answer, but said in his heart: "All right;
if I'm a child of four, what do you want me for? I don't want
another mother." But he said nothing to her, and there was silence.
"And have you told your people?" she asked.
"I have told my mother."
There was another long interval of silence.
"Then what do you WANT?" she asked.
"Why, I want us to separate. We have lived on each other all
these years; now let us stop. I will go my own way without you,
and you will go your way without me. You will have an independent
life of your own then."
There was in it some truth that, in spite of her bitterness,
she could not help registering. She knew she felt in a sort of
bondage to him, which she hated because she could not control it.
She hated her love for him from the moment it grew too strong
for her. And, deep down, she had hated him because she loved
him and he dominated her. She had resisted his domination.
She had fought to keep herself free of him in the last issue.
And she was free of him, even more than he of her.
"And," he continued, "we shall always be more or less
each other's work. You have done a lot for me, I for you.
Now let us start and live by ourselves."
"What do you want to do?" she asked.
"Nothing--only to be free," he answered.
She, however, knew in her heart that Clara's influence was
over him to liberate him. But she said nothing.
"And what have I to tell my mother?" she asked.
"I told my mother," he answered, "that I was breaking off--clean
and altogether."
"I shall not tell them at home," she said.
Frowning, "You please yourself," he said.
He knew he had landed her in a nasty hole, and was leaving
her in the lurch. It angered him.
"Tell them you wouldn't and won't marry me, and have broken off,"
he said. "It's true enough."
She bit her finger moodily. She thought over their whole affair.
She had known it would come to this; she had seen it all along.
It chimed with her bitter expectation.
"Always--it has always been so!" she cried. "It has been
one long battle between us--you fighting away from me."
It came from her unawares, like a flash of lightning.
The man's heart stood still. Was this how she saw it?
"But we've had SOME perfect hours, SOME perfect times,
when we were together!" he pleaded.
"Never!" she cried; "never! It has always been you fighting
me off."
"Not always--not at first!" he pleaded.
"Always, from the very beginning--always the same!"
She had finished, but she had done enough. He sat aghast.
He had wanted to say: "It has been good, but it is at an end."
And she--she whose love he had believed in when he had despised
himself--denied that their love had ever been love. "He had
always fought away from her?" Then it had been monstrous.
There had never been anything really between them; all the time
he had been imagining something where there was nothing. And she
had known. She had known so much, and had told him so little.
She had known all the time. All the time this was at the bottom
of her!
He sat silent in bitterness. At last the whole affair appeared
in a cynical aspect to him. She had really played with him,
not he with her. She had hidden all her condemnation from him,
had flattered him, and despised him. She despised him now.
He grew intellectual and cruel.
"You ought to marry a man who worships you," he said; "then you
could do as you liked with him. Plenty of men will worship you,
if you get on the private side of their natures. You ought to marry
one such. They would never fight you off."
"Thank you!" she said. "But don't advise me to marry someone
else any more. You've done it before."
"Very well," he said; "I will say no more."
He sat still, feeling as if he had had a blow, instead of
giving one. Their eight years of friendship and love, THE eight
years of his life, were nullified.
"When did you think of this?" she asked.
"I thought definitely on Thursday night."
"I knew it was coming," she said.
That pleased him bitterly. "Oh, very well! If she knew then
it doesn't come as a surprise to her," he thought.
"And have you said anything to Clara?" she asked.
"No; but I shall tell her now."
There was a silence.
"Do you remember the things you said this time last year,
in my grandmother's house--nay last month even?"
"Yes," he said; "I do! And I meant them! I can't help
that it's failed."
"It has failed because you want something else."
"It would have failed whether or not. YOU never believed
in me."
She laughed strangely.
He sat in silence. He was full of a feeling that she had
deceived him. She had despised him when he thought she worshipped him.
She had let him say wrong things, and had not contradicted him.
She had let him fight alone. But it stuck in his throat that she had
despised him whilst he thought she worshipped him. She should have
told him when she found fault with him. She had not played fair.
He hated her. All these years she had treated him as if he were
a hero, and thought of him secretly as an infant, a foolish child.
Then why had she left the foolish child to his folly? His heart was
hard against her.
She sat full of bitterness. She had known--oh, well she
had known! All the time he was away from her she had summed
him up, seen his littleness, his meanness, and his folly.
Even she had guarded her soul against him. She was not overthrown,
not prostrated, not even much hurt. She had known. Only why,
as he sat there, had he still this strange dominance over her?
His very movements fascinated her as if she were hypnotised by him.
Yet he was despicable, false, inconsistent, and mean. Why this bondage
for her? Why was it the movement of his arm stirred her as nothing
else in the world could? Why was she fastened to him? Why, even now,
if he looked at her and commanded her, would she have to obey?
She would obey him in his trifling commands. But once he was obeyed,
then she had him in her power, she knew, to lead him where she would.
She was sure of herself. Only, this new influence! Ah, he was
not a man! He was a baby that cries for the newest toy.
And all the attachment of his soul would not keep him. Very well,
he would have to go. But he would come back when he had tired of his
new sensation.
He hacked at the earth till she was fretted to death. She rose.
He sat flinging lumps of earth in the stream.
"We will go and have tea here?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered.
They chattered over irrelevant subjects during tea.
He held forth on the love of ornament--the cottage parlour moved him
thereto--and its connection with aesthetics. She was cold and quiet.
As they walked home, she asked:
"And we shall not see each other?"
"No--or rarely," he answered.
"Nor write?" she asked, almost sarcastically.
"As you will," he answered. "We're not strangers--never
should be, whatever happened. I will write to you now and again.
You please yourself."
"I see!" she answered cuttingly.
But he was at that stage at which nothing else hurts.
He had made a great cleavage in his life. He had had a great shock
when she had told him their love had been always a conflict.
Nothing more mattered. If it never had been much, there was no need
to make a fuss that it was ended.
He left her at the lane-end. As she went home, solitary,
in her new frock, having her people to face at the other end,
he stood still with shame and pain in the highroad, thinking of
the suffering he caused her.
In the reaction towards restoring his self-esteem, he went
into the Willow Tree for a drink. There were four girls who had
been out for the day, drinking a modest glass of port. They had
some chocolates on the table. Paul sat near with his whisky.
He noticed the girls whispering and nudging. Presently one,
a bonny dark hussy, leaned to him and said:
"Have a chocolate?"
The others laughed loudly at her impudence.
"All right," said Paul. "Give me a hard one--nut. I don't
like creams."
"Here you are, then," said the girl; "here's an almond for you."
She held the sweet between her fingers. He opened his mouth.
She popped it in, and blushed.
"You ARE nice!" he said.
"Well," she answered, "we thought you looked overcast,
and they dared me offer you a chocolate."
"I don't mind if I have another--another sort," he said.
And presently they were all laughing together.
It was nine o'clock when he got home, falling dark. He entered
the house in silence. His mother, who had been waiting,
rose anxiously.
"I told her," he said.
"I'm glad," replied the mother, with great relief.
He hung up his cap wearily.
"I said we'd have done altogether," he said.
"That's right, my son," said the mother. "It's hard for her now,
but best in the long run. I know. You weren't suited for her."
He laughed shakily as he sat down.
"I've had such a lark with some girls in a pub," he said.
His mother looked at him. He had forgotten Miriam now. He told
her about the girls in the Willow Tree. Mrs. Morel looked at him.
It seemed unreal, his gaiety. At the back of it was too much horror
and misery.
"Now have some supper," she said very gently.
Afterwards he said wistfully:
"She never thought she'd have me, mother, not from the first,
and so she's not disappointed."
"I'm afraid," said his mother, "she doesn't give up hopes
of you yet."
"No," he said, "perhaps not."
"You'll find it's better to have done," she said.
"I don't know," he said desperately.
"Well, leave her alone," replied his mother. So he left her,
and she was alone. Very few people cared for her, and she for very
few people. She remained alone with herself, waiting.
HE was gradually making it possible to earn a livelihood by
his art. Liberty's had taken several of his painted designs
on various stuffs, and he could sell designs for embroideries,
for altar-cloths, and similar things, in one or two places.
It was not very much he made at present, but he might extend it.
He had also made friends with the designer for a pottery firm,
and was gaining some knowledge of his new acquaintance's art.
The applied arts interested him very much. At the same time
he laboured slowly at his pictures. He loved to paint large figures,
full of light, but not merely made up of lights and cast shadows,
like the impressionists; rather definite figures that had a certain
luminous quality, like some of Michael Angelo's people. And these
he fitted into a landscape, in what he thought true proportion.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?