Part 6 out of 12
"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."
"Do--about four. I'll come to meet you."
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
"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
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
"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."
"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.
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
"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
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?"
"That's a blessing, for she's none too strong."
"No. An' I've done another silly trick."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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
"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,"
"Oh, ay," said Leonard. "And which bit should you have?"
"I don't know," said Beatrice. "I'll let all the others
"An' you'd have the leavings, like?" said Leonard, twisting up
a comic face.
Annie was looking in the oven. Miriam sat ignored.
"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,"
"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
"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.
"'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
"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
"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
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
"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?"
"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
"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
"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---"
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
"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
"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
"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,
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.
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
"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!" 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.
DEFEAT OF MIRIAM
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
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,"
"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
"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.