Part 12 out of 12
for Morel's glass.
"Let me fill you up," he said.
Paul jumped up.
"You sit still," he said.
But Dawes, with rather shaky hand, continued to mix the drink.
"Say when," he said.
"Thanks!" replied the other. "But you've no business to get up."
"It does me good, lad," replied Dawes. "I begin to think
I'm right again, then."
"You are about right, you know."
"I am, certainly I am," said Dawes, nodding to him.
"And Len says he can get you on in Sheffield."
Dawes glanced at him again, with dark eyes that agreed with
everything the other would say, perhaps a trifle dominated by him.
"It's funny," said Paul, "starting again. I feel in a lot
bigger mess than you."
"In what way, lad?"
"I don't know. I don't know. It's as if I was in a tangled
sort of hole, rather dark and dreary, and no road anywhere."
"I know--I understand it," Dawes said, nodding. "But you'll
find it'll come all right."
He spoke caressingly.
"I suppose so," said Paul.
Dawes knocked his pipe in a hopeless fashion.
"You've not done for yourself like I have," he said.
Morel saw the wrist and the white hand of the other man
gripping the stem of the pipe and knocking out the ash, as if he
had given up.
"How old are you?" Paul asked.
"Thirty-nine," replied Dawes, glancing at him.
Those brown eyes, full of the consciousness of failure,
almost pleading for reassurance, for someone to re-establish the man
in himself, to warm him, to set him up firm again, troubled Paul.
"You'll just be in your prime," said Morel. "You don't look
as if much life had gone out of you."
The brown eyes of the other flashed suddenly.
"It hasn't," he said. "The go is there."
Paul looked up and laughed.
"We've both got plenty of life in us yet to make things fly,"
The eyes of the two men met. They exchanged one look.
Having recognised the stress of passion each in the other, they both
drank their whisky.
"Yes, begod!" said Dawes, breathless.
There was a pause.
"And I don't see," said Paul, "why you shouldn't go on where
you left off."
"What---" said Dawes, suggestively.
"Yes--fit your old home together again."
Dawes hid his face and shook his head.
"Couldn't be done," he said, and looked up with an ironic smile.
"Why? Because you don't want?"
They smoked in silence. Dawes showed his teeth as he bit
his pipe stem.
"You mean you don't want her?" asked Paul.
Dawes stared up at the picture with a caustic expression
on his face.
"I hardly know," he said.
The smoke floated softly up.
"I believe she wants you," said Paul.
"Do you?" replied the other, soft, satirical, abstract.
"Yes. She never really hitched on to me--you were always there
in the background. That's why she wouldn't get a divorce."
Dawes continued to stare in a satirical fashion at the picture
over the mantelpiece.
"That's how women are with me," said Paul. "They want me
like mad, but they don't want to belong to me. And she BELONGED
to you all the time. I knew."
The triumphant male came up in Dawes. He showed his teeth
"Perhaps I was a fool," he said.
"You were a big fool," said Morel.
"But perhaps even THEN you were a bigger fool," said Dawes.
There was a touch of triumph and malice in it.
"Do you think so?" said Paul.
They were silent for some time.
"At any rate, I'm clearing out to-morrow," said Morel.
"I see," answered Dawes.
Then they did not talk any more. The instinct to murder
each other had returned. They almost avoided each other.
They shared the same bedroom. When they retired Dawes
seemed abstract, thinking of something. He sat on the side
of the bed in his shirt, looking at his legs.
"Aren't you getting cold?" asked Morel.
"I was lookin' at these legs," replied the other.
"What's up with 'em? They look all right," replied Paul,
from his bed.
"They look all right. But there's some water in 'em yet."
"And what about it?"
"Come and look."
Paul reluctantly got out of bed and went to look at the rather
handsome legs of the other man that were covered with glistening,
dark gold hair.
"Look here," said Dawes, pointing to his shin. "Look at
the water under here."
"Where?" said Paul.
The man pressed in his finger-tips. They left little dents
that filled up slowly.
"It's nothing," said Paul.
"You feel," said Dawes.
Paul tried with his fingers. It made little dents.
"H'm!" he said.
"Rotten, isn't it?" said Dawes.
"Why? It's nothing much."
"You're not much of a man with water in your legs."
"I can't see as it makes any difference," said Morel.
"I've got a weak chest."
He returned to his own bed.
"I suppose the rest of me's all right," said Dawes, and he
put out the light.
In the morning it was raining. Morel packed his bag.
The sea was grey and shaggy and dismal. He seemed to be cutting
himself off from life more and more. It gave him a wicked pleasure
to do it.
The two men were at the station. Clara stepped out of the train,
and came along the platform, very erect and coldly composed.
She wore a long coat and a tweed hat. Both men hated her
for her composure. Paul shook hands with her at the barrier.
Dawes was leaning against the bookstall, watching. His black overcoat
was buttoned up to the chin because of the rain. He was pale,
with almost a touch of nobility in his quietness. He came forward,
"You ought to look better than this," she said.
"Oh, I'm all right now."
The three stood at a loss. She kept the two men hesitating
"Shall we go to the lodging straight off," said Paul,
"or somewhere else?"
"We may as well go home," said Dawes.
Paul walked on the outside of the pavement, then Dawes, then Clara.
They made polite conversation. The sitting-room faced the sea,
whose tide, grey and shaggy, hissed not far off.
Morel swung up the big arm-chair.
"Sit down, Jack," he said.
"I don't want that chair," said Dawes.
"Sit down!" Morel repeated.
Clara took off her things and laid them on the couch. She had
a slight air of resentment. Lifting her hair with her fingers,
she sat down, rather aloof and composed. Paul ran downstairs
to speak to the landlady.
"I should think you're cold," said Dawes to his wife.
"Come nearer to the fire."
"Thank you, I'm quite warm," she answered.
She looked out of the window at the rain and at the sea.
"When are you going back?" she asked.
"Well, the rooms are taken until to-morrow, so he wants me
to stop. He's going back to-night."
"And then you're thinking of going to Sheffield?"
"Are you fit to start work?"
"I'm going to start."
"You've really got a place?"
"Yes--begin on Monday."
"You don't look fit."
"Why don't I?"
She looked again out of the window instead of answering.
"And have you got lodgings in Sheffield?"
Again she looked away out of the window. The panes were
blurred with streaming rain.
"And can you manage all right?" she asked.
"I s'd think so. I s'll have to!"
They were silent when Morel returned.
"I shall go by the four-twenty," he said as he entered.
"I wish you'd take your boots off," he said to Clara.
"There's a pair of slippers of mine."
"Thank you," she said. "They aren't wet."
He put the slippers near her feet. She left them there.
Morel sat down. Both the men seemed helpless, and each of them
had a rather hunted look. But Dawes now carried himself quietly,
seemed to yield himself, while Paul seemed to screw himself up.
Clara thought she had never seen him look so small and mean.
He was as if trying to get himself into the smallest possible compass.
And as he went about arranging, and as he sat talking, there seemed
something false about him and out of tune. Watching him unknown,
she said to herself there was no stability about him. He was fine
in his way, passionate, and able to give her drinks of pure life
when he was in one mood. And now he looked paltry and insignificant.
There was nothing stable about him. Her husband had more manly dignity.
At any rate HE did not waft about with any wind. There was something
evanescent about Morel, she thought, something shifting and false.
He would never make sure ground for any woman to stand on.
She despised him rather for his shrinking together, getting smaller.
Her husband at least was manly, and when he was beaten gave in.
But this other would never own to being beaten. He would shift round
and round, prowl, get smaller. She despised him. And yet she watched
him rather than Dawes, and it seemed as if their three fates lay in
his hands. She hated him for it.
She seemed to understand better now about men, and what they could
or would do. She was less afraid of them, more sure of herself.
That they were not the small egoists she had imagined them made
her more comfortable. She had learned a good deal--almost as much
as she wanted to learn. Her cup had been full. It was still as full
as she could carry. On the whole, she would not be sorry when he
They had dinner, and sat eating nuts and drinking by the fire.
Not a serious word had been spoken. Yet Clara realised that Morel
was withdrawing from the circle, leaving her the option to stay
with her husband. It angered her. He was a mean fellow, after all,
to take what he wanted and then give her back. She did
not remember that she herself had had what she wanted,
and really, at the bottom of her heart, wished to be given back.
Paul felt crumpled up and lonely. His mother had really
supported his life. He had loved her; they two had, in fact,
faced the world together. Now she was gone, and for ever behind
him was the gap in life, the tear in the veil, through which his
life seemed to drift slowly, as if he were drawn towards death.
He wanted someone of their own free initiative to help him. The lesser
things he began to let go from him, for fear of this big thing,
the lapse towards death, following in the wake of his beloved.
Clara could not stand for him to hold on to. She wanted him,
but not to understand him. He felt she wanted the man on top,
not the real him that was in trouble. That would be too much trouble
to her; he dared not give it her. She could not cope with him.
It made him ashamed. So, secretly ashamed because he was in such
a mess, because his own hold on life was so unsure, because nobody
held him, feeling unsubstantial, shadowy, as if he did not count
for much in this concrete world, he drew himself together smaller
and smaller. He did not want to die; he would not give in.
But he was not afraid of death. If nobody would help, he would go
Dawes had been driven to the extremity of life, until he
was afraid. He could go to the brink of death, he could lie on
the edge and look in. Then, cowed, afraid, he had to crawl back,
and like a beggar take what offered. There was a certain nobility
in it. As Clara saw, he owned himself beaten, and he wanted
to be taken back whether or not. That she could do for him.
It was three o'clock.
"I am going by the four-twenty," said Paul again to Clara.
"Are you coming then or later?"
"I don't know," she said.
"I'm meeting my father in Nottingham at seven-fifteen,"
"Then," she answered, "I'll come later."
Dawes jerked suddenly, as if he had been held on a strain.
He looked out over the sea, but he saw nothing.
"There are one or two books in the corner," said Morel.
"I've done with 'em."
At about four o'clock he went.
"I shall see you both later," he said, as he shook hands.
"I suppose so," said Dawes. "An' perhaps--one day--I s'll
be able to pay you back the money as---"
"I shall come for it, you'll see," laughed Paul. "I s'll
be on the rocks before I'm very much older."
"Ay--well---" said Dawes.
"Good-bye," he said to Clara.
"Good-bye," she said, giving him her hand. Then she glanced
at him for the last time, dumb and humble.
He was gone. Dawes and his wife sat down again.
"It's a nasty day for travelling," said the man.
"Yes," she answered.
They talked in a desultory fashion until it grew dark.
The landlady brought in the tea. Dawes drew up his chair to the
table without being invited, like a husband. Then he sat humbly
waiting for his cup. She served him as she would, like a wife,
not consulting his wish.
After tea, as it drew near to six o'clock, he went to the window.
All was dark outside. The sea was roaring.
"It's raining yet," he said.
"Is it?" she answered.
"You won't go to-night, shall you?" he said, hesitating.
She did not answer. He waited.
"I shouldn't go in this rain," he said.
"Do you WANT me to stay?" she asked.
His hand as he held the dark curtain trembled.
"Yes," he said.
He remained with his back to her. She rose and went slowly
to him. He let go the curtain, turned, hesitating, towards her.
She stood with her hands behind her back, looking up at him in a heavy,
"Do you want me, Baxter?" she asked.
His voice was hoarse as he answered:
"Do you want to come back to me?"
She made a moaning noise, lifted her arms, and put them round
his neck, drawing him to her. He hid his face on her shoulder,
holding her clasped.
"Take me back!" she whispered, ecstatic. "Take me back,
take me back!" And she put her fingers through his fine, thin dark hair,
as if she were only semi-conscious. He tightened his grasp on her.
"Do you want me again?" he murmured, broken.
CLARA went with her husband to Sheffield, and Paul scarcely saw
her again. Walter Morel seemed to have let all the trouble go over him,
and there he was, crawling about on the mud of it, just the same.
There was scarcely any bond between father and son, save that each
felt he must not let the other go in any actual want. As there
was no one to keep on the home, and as they could neither of them
bear the emptiness of the house, Paul took lodgings in Nottingham,
and Morel went to live with a friendly family in Bestwood.
Everything seemed to have gone smash for the young man.
He could not paint. The picture he finished on the day of his
mother's death--one that satisfied him--was the last thing he did.
At work there was no Clara. When he came home he could not take up
his brushes again. There was nothing left.
So he was always in the town at one place or another,
drinking, knocking about with the men he knew. It really wearied him.
He talked to barmaids, to almost any woman, but there was that dark,
strained look in his eyes, as if he were hunting something.
Everything seemed so different, so unreal. There seemed
no reason why people should go along the street, and houses
pile up in the daylight. There seemed no reason why these
things should occupy the space, instead of leaving it empty.
His friends talked to him: he heard the sounds, and he answered.
But why there should be the noise of speech he could not understand.
He was most himself when he was alone, or working hard and
mechanically at the factory. In the latter case there was pure
forgetfulness, when he lapsed from consciousness. But it had to come
to an end. It hurt him so, that things had lost their reality.
The first snowdrops came. He saw the tiny drop-pearls among the
grey. They would have given him the liveliest emotion at one time.
Now they were there, but they did not seem to mean anything. In
a few moments they would cease to occupy that place, and just the
space would be, where they had been. Tall, brilliant tram-cars
ran along the street at night. It seemed almost a wonder they
should trouble to rustle backwards and forwards. "Why trouble
to go tilting down to Trent Bridges?" he asked of the big trams.
It seemed they just as well might NOT be as be.
The realest thing was the thick darkness at night. That seemed
to him whole and comprehensible and restful. He could leave himself
to it. Suddenly a piece of paper started near his feet and blew
along down the pavement. He stood still, rigid, with clenched fists,
a flame of agony going over him. And he saw again the sick-room,
his mother, her eyes. Unconsciously he had been with her,
in her company. The swift hop of the paper reminded him she was gone.
But he had been with her. He wanted everything to stand still,
so that he could be with her again.
The days passed, the weeks. But everything seemed to have fused,
gone into a conglomerated mass. He could not tell one day
from another, one week from another, hardly one place from another.
Nothing was distinct or distinguishable. Often he lost himself
for an hour at a time, could not remember what he had done.
One evening he came home late to his lodging. The fire was
burning low; everybody was in bed. He threw on some more coal,
glanced at the table, and decided he wanted no supper. Then he
sat down in the arm-chair. It was perfectly still. He did not
know anything, yet he saw the dim smoke wavering up the chimney.
Presently two mice came out, cautiously, nibbling the fallen crumbs.
He watched them as it were from a long way off. The church clock
struck two. Far away he could hear the sharp clinking of the trucks
on the railway. No, it was not they that were far away. They were
there in their places. But where was he himself?
The time passed. The two mice, careering wildly, scampered cheekily
over his slippers. He had not moved a muscle. He did not want
to move. He was not thinking of anything. It was easier so.
There was no wrench of knowing anything. Then, from time to time,
some other consciousness, working mechanically, flashed into
"What am I doing?"
And out of the semi-intoxicated trance came the answer:
Then a dull, live feeling, gone in an instant, told him that it
was wrong. After a while, suddenly came the question:
Again there was no answer, but a stroke of hot stubbornness
inside his chest resisted his own annihilation.
There was a sound of a heavy cart clanking down the road.
Suddenly the electric light went out; there was a bruising thud
in the penny-in-the-slot meter. He did not stir, but sat gazing
in front of him. Only the mice had scuttled, and the fire glowed red
in the dark room.
Then, quite mechanically and more distinctly, the conversation
began again inside him.
"She's dead. What was it all for--her struggle?"
That was his despair wanting to go after her.
"She is--in you."
Suddenly he felt tired with the burden of it.
"You've got to keep alive for her sake," said his will in him.
Something felt sulky, as if it would not rouse.
"You've got to carry forward her living, and what she had done,
go on with it."
But he did not want to. He wanted to give up.
"But you can go on with your painting," said the will in him.
"Or else you can beget children. They both carry on her effort."
"Painting is not living."
"Marry whom?" came the sulky question.
"As best you can."
But he did not trust that.
He rose suddenly, went straight to bed. When he got inside
his bedroom and closed the door, he stood with clenched fist.
"Mater, my dear---" he began, with the whole force of his soul.
Then he stopped. He would not say it. He would not admit that he
wanted to die, to have done. He would not own that life
had beaten him, or that death had beaten him. Going straight to bed,
he slept at once, abandoning himself to the sleep.
So the weeks went on. Always alone, his soul oscillated,
first on the side of death, then on the side of life, doggedly.
The real agony was that he had nowhere to go, nothing to do,
nothing to say, and WAS nothing himself. Sometimes he ran down
the streets as if he were mad: sometimes he was mad; things weren't
there, things were there. It made him pant. Sometimes he stood
before the bar of the public-house where he called for a drink.
Everything suddenly stood back away from him. He saw the face
of the barmaid, the gobbling drinkers, his own glass on the slopped,
mahogany board, in the distance. There was something between him
and them. He could not get into touch. He did not want them;
he did not want his drink. Turning abruptly, he went out.
On the threshold he stood and looked at the lighted street.
But he was not of it or in it. Something separated him.
Everything went on there below those lamps, shut away from him.
He could not get at them. He felt he couldn't touch the lamp-posts,
not if he reached. Where could he go? There was nowhere to go,
neither back into the inn, or forward anywhere. He felt stifled.
There was nowhere for him. The stress grew inside him; he felt he
"I mustn't," he said; and, turning blindly, he went in and drank.
Sometimes the drink did him good; sometimes it made him worse.
He ran down the road. For ever restless, he went here, there,
everywhere. He determined to work. But when he had made six strokes,
he loathed the pencil violently, got up, and went away, hurried off
to a club where he could play cards or billiards, to a place where he
could flirt with a barmaid who was no more to him than the brass
pump-handle she drew.
He was very thin and lantern-jawed. He dared not meet his
own eyes in the mirror; he never looked at himself. He wanted
to get away from himself, but there was nothing to get hold of.
In despair he thought of Miriam. Perhaps--perhaps---?
Then, happening to go into the Unitarian Church one Sunday evening,
when they stood up to sing the second hymn he saw her before him.
The light glistened on her lower lip as she sang. She looked
as if she had got something, at any rate: some hope in heaven,
if not in earth. Her comfort and her life seemed in the after-world.
A warm, strong feeling for her came up. She seemed
to yearn, as she sang, for the mystery and comfort.
He put his hope in her. He longed for the sermon to be over,
to speak to her.
The throng carried her out just before him. He could nearly
touch her. She did not know he was there. He saw the brown,
humble nape of her neck under its black curls. He would leave
himself to her. She was better and bigger than he. He would depend
She went wandering, in her blind way, through the little throngs
of people outside the church. She always looked so lost and out of
place among people. He went forward and put his hand on her arm.
She started violently. Her great brown eyes dilated in fear,
then went questioning at the sight of him. He shrank slightly
"I didn't know---" she faltered.
"Nor I," he said.
He looked away. His sudden, flaring hope sank again.
"What are you doing in town?" he asked.
"I'm staying at Cousin Anne's."
"Ha! For long?"
"No; only till to-morrow."
"Must you go straight home?"
She looked at him, then hid her face under her hat-brim.
"No," she said--"no; it's not necessary."
He turned away, and she went with him. They threaded
through the throng of church people. The organ was still sounding
in St. Mary's. Dark figures came through the lighted doors;
people were coming down the steps. The large coloured windows glowed
up in the night. The church was like a great lantern suspended.
They went down Hollow Stone, and he took the car for the Bridges.
"You will just have supper with me," he said: "then I'll
bring you back."
"Very well," she replied, low and husky.
They scarcely spoke while they were on the car. The Trent
ran dark and full under the bridge. Away towards Colwick all was
black night. He lived down Holme Road, on the naked edge of the town,
facing across the river meadows towards Sneinton Hermitage and the
steep scrap of Colwick Wood. The floods were out. The silent
water and the darkness spread away on their left. Almost afraid,
they hurried along by the houses.
Supper was laid. He swung the curtain over the window.
There was a bowl of freesias and scarlet anemones on the table.
She bent to them. Still touching them with her finger-tips, she looked
up at him, saying:
"Aren't they beautiful?"
"Yes," he said. "What will you drink--coffee?"
"I should like it," she said.
"Then excuse me a moment."
He went out to the kitchen.
Miriam took off her things and looked round. It was a bare,
severe room. Her photo, Clara's, Annie's, were on the wall.
She looked on the drawing-board to see what he was doing.
There were only a few meaningless lines. She looked to see
what books he was reading. Evidently just an ordinary novel.
The letters in the rack she saw were from Annie, Arthur, and from
some man or other she did not know. Everything he had touched,
everything that was in the least personal to him, she examined
with lingering absorption. He had been gone from her for so long,
she wanted to rediscover him, his position, what he was now.
But there was not much in the room to help her. It only made her feel
rather sad, it was so hard and comfortless.
She was curiously examining a sketch-book when he returned
with the coffee.
"There's nothing new in it," he said, "and nothing
He put down the tray, and went to look over her shoulder.
She turned the pages slowly, intent on examining everything.
"H'm!" he said, as she paused at a sketch. "I'd forgotten that.
It's not bad, is it?"
"No," she said. "I don't quite understand it."
He took the book from her and went through it. Again he made
a curious sound of surprise and pleasure.
"There's some not bad stuff in there," he said.
"Not at all bad," she answered gravely.
He felt again her interest in his work. Or was it for himself?
Why was she always most interested in him as he appeared in his work?
They sat down to supper.
"By the way," he said, "didn't I hear something about your
earning your own living?"
"Yes," she replied, bowing her dark head over her cup.
"And what of it?"
"I'm merely going to the farming college at Broughton for
three months, and I shall probably be kept on as a teacher there."
"I say--that sounds all right for you! You always wanted
to be independent."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I only knew last week."
"But I heard a month ago," he said.
"Yes; but nothing was settled then."
"I should have thought," he said, "you'd have told me you
She ate her food in the deliberate, constrained way,
almost as if she recoiled a little from doing anything so publicly,
that he knew so well.
"I suppose you're glad," he said.
"Yes--it will be something."
He was rather disappointed.
"I think it will be a great deal," she said, almost haughtily,
He laughed shortly.
"Why do you think it won't?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't think it won't be a great deal. Only you'll find
earning your own living isn't everything."
"No," she said, swallowing with difficulty; "I don't suppose
"I suppose work CAN be nearly everything to a man," he said,
"though it isn't to me. But a woman only works with a part of
herself. The real and vital part is covered up."
"But a man can give ALL himself to work?" she asked.
"And a woman only the unimportant part of herself?"
She looked up at him, and her eyes dilated with anger.
"Then," she said, "if it's true, it's a great shame."
"It is. But I don't know everything," he answered.
After supper they drew up to the fire. He swung her a
chair facing him, and they sat down. She was wearing a dress
of dark claret colour, that suited her dark complexion and her
large features. Still, the curls were fine and free, but her face
was much older, the brown throat much thinner. She seemed old
to him, older than Clara. Her bloom of youth had quickly gone.
A sort of stiffness, almost of woodenness, had come upon her.
She meditated a little while, then looked at him.
"And how are things with you?" she asked.
"About all right," he answered.
She looked at him, waiting.
"Nay," she said, very low.
Her brown, nervous hands were clasped over her knee. They had
still the lack of confidence or repose, the almost hysterical look.
He winced as he saw them. Then he laughed mirthlessly. She put
her fingers between her lips. His slim, black, tortured body lay
quite still in the chair. She suddenly took her finger from her
mouth and looked at him.
"And you have broken off with Clara?"
His body lay like an abandoned thing, strewn in the chair.
"You know," she said, "I think we ought to be married."
He opened his eyes for the first time since many months,
and attended to her with respect.
"Why?" he said.
"See," she said, "how you waste yourself! You might be ill,
you might die, and I never know--be no more then than if I had never
"And if we married?" he asked.
"At any rate, I could prevent you wasting yourself and being
a prey to other women--like--like Clara."
"A prey?" he repeated, smiling.
She bowed her head in silence. He lay feeling his despair
come up again.
"I'm not sure," he said slowly, "that marriage would be much good."
"I only think of you," she replied.
"I know you do. But--you love me so much, you want to put me
in your pocket. And I should die there smothered."
She bent her head, put her fingers between her lips,
while the bitterness surged up in her heart.
"And what will you do otherwise?" she asked.
"I don't know--go on, I suppose. Perhaps I shall soon go abroad."
The despairing doggedness in his tone made her go on her
knees on the rug before the fire, very near to him. There she
crouched as if she were crushed by something, and could not raise
her head. His hands lay quite inert on the arms of his chair.
She was aware of them. She felt that now he lay at her mercy.
If she could rise, take him, put her arms round him, and say,
"You are mine," then he would leave himself to her. But dare she?
She could easily sacrifice herself. But dare she assert herself?
She was aware of his dark-clothed, slender body, that seemed
one stroke of life, sprawled in the chair close to her. But no;
she dared not put her arms round it, take it up, and say, "It is mine,
this body. Leave it to me." And she wanted to. It called to all her
woman's instinct. But she crouched, and dared not. She was afraid
he would not let her. She was afraid it was too much. It lay there,
his body, abandoned. She knew she ought to take it up and claim it,
and claim every right to it. But--could she do it? Her impotence
before him, before the strong demand of some unknown thing in him,
was her extremity. Her hands fluttered; she half-lifted her head.
Her eyes, shuddering, appealing, gone, almost distracted, pleaded to
him suddenly. His heart caught with pity. He took her hands, drew her
to him, and comforted her.
"Will you have me, to marry me?" he said very low.
Oh, why did not he take her? Her very soul belonged to him.
Why would he not take what was his? She had borne so long
the cruelty of belonging to him and not being claimed by him.
Now he was straining her again. It was too much for her.
She drew back her head, held his face between her hands, and looked
him in the eyes. No, he was hard. He wanted something else.
She pleaded to him with all her love not to make it her choice.
She could not cope with it, with him, she knew not with what. But it
strained her till she felt she would break.
"Do you want it?" she asked, very gravely.
"Not much," he replied, with pain.
She turned her face aside; then, raising herself with dignity,
she took his head to her bosom, and rocked him softly. She was
not to have him, then! So she could comfort him. She put her
fingers through his hair. For her, the anguished sweetness of
self-sacrifice. For him, the hate and misery of another failure.
He could not bear it--that breast which was warm and which cradled
him without taking the burden of him. So much he wanted to rest
on her that the feint of rest only tortured him. He drew away.
"And without marriage we can do nothing?" he asked.
His mouth was lifted from his teeth with pain. She put her
little finger between her lips.
"No," she said, low and like the toll of a bell. "No, I think not."
It was the end then between them. She could not take him
and relieve him of the responsibility of himself. She could only
sacrifice herself to him--sacrifice herself every day, gladly.
And that he did not want. He wanted her to hold him and say,
with joy and authority: "Stop all this restlessness and beating
against death. You are mine for a mate." She had not the strength.
Or was it a mate she wanted? or did she want a Christ in him?
He felt, in leaving her, he was defrauding her of life.
But he knew that, in staying, stilling the inner, desperate man,
he was denying his own life. And he did not hope to give life to her
by denying his own.
She sat very quiet. He lit a cigarette. The smoke
went up from it, wavering. He was thinking of his mother,
and had forgotten Miriam. She suddenly looked at him.
Her bitterness came surging up. Her sacrifice, then, was useless.
He lay there aloof, careless about her. Suddenly she saw
again his lack of religion, his restless instability. He would
destroy himself like a perverse child. Well, then, he would!
"I think I must go," she said softly.
By her tone he knew she was despising him. He rose quietly.
"I'll come along with you," he answered.
She stood before the mirror pinning on her hat. How bitter,
how unutterably bitter, it made her that he rejected her sacrifice!
Life ahead looked dead, as if the glow were gone out. She bowed
her face over the flowers--the freesias so sweet and spring-like,
the scarlet anemones flaunting over the table. It was like him
to have those flowers.
He moved about the room with a certain sureness of touch,
swift and relentless and quiet. She knew she could not cope with him.
He would escape like a weasel out of her hands. Yet without him her
life would trail on lifeless. Brooding, she touched the flowers.
"Have them!" he said; and he took them out of the jar,
dripping as they were, and went quickly into the kitchen.
She waited for him, took the flowers, and they went out together,
he talking, she feeling dead.
She was going from him now. In her misery she leaned against him
as they sat on the car. He was unresponsive. Where would he go?
What would be the end of him? She could not bear it, the vacant
feeling where he should be. He was so foolish, so wasteful,
never at peace with himself. And now where would he go?
And what did he care that he wasted her? He had no religion;
it was all for the moment's attraction that he cared, nothing else,
nothing deeper. Well, she would wait and see how it turned
out with him. When he had had enough he would give in and come
He shook hands and left her at the door of her cousin's house.
When he turned away he felt the last hold for him had gone. The town,
as he sat upon the car, stretched away over the bay of railway, a
level fume of lights. Beyond the town the country, little smouldering
spots for more towns--the sea--the night--on and on! And he had no
place in it! Whatever spot he stood on, there he stood alone.
From his breast, from his mouth, sprang the endless space, and it
was there behind him, everywhere. The people hurrying along the
streets offered no obstruction to the void in which he found himself.
They were small shadows whose footsteps and voices could be heard,
but in each of them the same night, the same silence. He got off
the car. In the country all was dead still. Little stars shone high up;
little stars spread far away in the flood-waters, a firmament below.
Everywhere the vastness and terror of the immense night which is
roused and stirred for a brief while by the day, but which returns,
and will remain at last eternal, holding everything in its silence
and its living gloom. There was no Time, only Space. Who could say
his mother had lived and did not live? She had been in one place,
and was in another; that was all. And his soul could not leave her,
wherever she was. Now she was gone abroad into the night, and he
was with her still. They were together. But yet there was his body,
his chest, that leaned against the stile, his hands on the wooden bar.
They seemed something. Where was he?--one tiny upright speck of flesh,
less than an ear of wheat lost in the field. He could not bear it.
On every side the immense dark silence seemed pressing him, so tiny
a spark, into extinction, and yet, almost nothing, he could not
be extinct. Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out,
beyond stars and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spinning
round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in a
darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted.
So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core a nothingness,
and yet not nothing.
"Mother!" he whispered--"mother!"
She was the only thing that held him up, himself, amid all this.
And she was gone, intermingled herself. He wanted her to touch him,
have him alongside with her.
But no, he would not give in. Turning sharply, he walked
towards the city's gold phosphorescence. His fists were shut,
his mouth set fast. He would not take that direction, to the
darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming,
glowing town, quickly.