Part 7 out of 12
She wished they would mind their own business.
"And you won't think about it, and let it trouble you, will you?"
"Oh no," replied Miriam, without looking at him.
He was silent. She thought him unstable. He had no fixity
of purpose, no anchor of righteousness that held him.
"Because," he continued, "a man gets across his bicycle--and
goes to work--and does all sorts of things. But a woman broods."
"No, I shan't bother," said Miriam. And she meant it.
It had gone rather chilly. They went indoors.
"How white Paul looks!" Mrs. Leivers exclaimed. "Miriam, you
shouldn't have let him sit out of doors. Do you think you've
taken cold, Paul?"
"Oh, no!" he laughed.
But he felt done up. It wore him out, the conflict in himself.
Miriam pitied him now. But quite early, before nine o'clock, he rose
"You're not going home, are you?" asked Mrs. Leivers anxiously.
"Yes," he replied. "I said I'd be early." He was very awkward.
"But this IS early," said Mrs. Leivers.
Miriam sat in the rocking-chair, and did not speak.
He hesitated, expecting her to rise and go with him to the barn
as usual for his bicycle. She remained as she was. He was at a loss.
"Well--good-night, all!" he faltered.
She spoke her good-night along with all the others.
But as he went past the window he looked in. She saw him pale,
his brows knit slightly in a way that had become constant with him,
his eyes dark with pain.
She rose and went to the doorway to wave good-bye to him as he
passed through the gate. He rode slowly under the pine-trees,
feeling a cur and a miserable wretch. His bicycle went tilting down
the hills at random. He thought it would be a relief to break one's neck.
Two days later he sent her up a book and a little note,
urging her to read and be busy.
At this time he gave all his friendship to Edgar.
He loved the family so much, he loved the farm so much; it was
the dearest place on earth to him. His home was not so lovable.
It was his mother. But then he would have been just as happy with
his mother anywhere. Whereas Willey Farm he loved passionately.
He loved the little pokey kitchen, where men's boots tramped,
and the dog slept with one eye open for fear of being trodden on;
where the lamp hung over the table at night, and everything was so silent.
He loved Miriam's long, low parlour, with its atmosphere of romance,
its flowers, its books, its high rosewood piano. He loved the gardens
and the buildings that stood with their scarlet roofs on the naked
edges of the fields, crept towards the wood as if for cosiness,
the wild country scooping down a valley and up the uncultured hills of
the other side. Only to be there was an exhilaration and a joy to him.
He loved Mrs. Leivers, with her unworldliness and her quaint cynicism;
he loved Mr. Leivers, so warm and young and lovable; he loved Edgar,
who lit up when he came, and the boys and the children and
Bill--even the sow Circe and the Indian game-cock called Tippoo.
All this besides Miriam. He could not give it up.
So he went as often, but he was usually with Edgar. Only all
the family, including the father, joined in charades and games
at evening. And later, Miriam drew them together, and they read
Macbeth out of penny books, taking parts. It was great excitement.
Miriam was glad, and Mrs. Leivers was glad, and Mr. Leivers enjoyed it.
Then they all learned songs together from tonic sol-fa, singing
in a circle round the fire. But now Paul was very rarely alone
with Miriam. She waited. When she and Edgar and he walked home
together from chapel or from the literary society in Bestwood,
she knew his talk, so passionate and so unorthodox nowadays,
was for her. She did envy Edgar, however, his cycling with Paul,
his Friday nights, his days working in the fields. For her Friday
nights and her French lessons were gone. She was nearly always alone,
walking, pondering in the wood, reading, studying, dreaming, waiting.
And he wrote to her frequently.
One Sunday evening they attained to their old rare harmony.
Edgar had stayed to Communion--he wondered what it was like--with
Mrs. Morel. So Paul came on alone with Miriam to his home. He was
more or less under her spell again. As usual, they were discussing
the sermon. He was setting now full sail towards Agnosticism,
but such a religious Agnosticism that Miriam did not suffer so badly.
They were at the Renan Vie de Jesus stage. Miriam was the
threshing-floor on which he threshed out all his beliefs. While he
trampled his ideas upon her soul, the truth came out for him. She alone
was his threshing-floor. She alone helped him towards realization.
Almost impassive, she submitted to his argument and expounding.
And somehow, because of her, he gradually realized where he was wrong.
And what he realized, she realized. She felt he could not do without her.
They came to the silent house. He took the key out of
the scullery window, and they entered. All the time he went
on with his discussion. He lit the gas, mended the fire,
and brought her some cakes from the pantry. She sat on the sofa,
quietly, with a plate on her knee. She wore a large white hat
with some pinkish flowers. It was a cheap hat, but he liked it.
Her face beneath was still and pensive, golden-brown and ruddy.
Always her ears were hid in her short curls. She watched him.
She liked him on Sundays. Then he wore a dark suit that showed the
lithe movement of his body. There was a clean, clear-cut look about him.
He went on with his thinking to her. Suddenly he reached for a Bible.
Miriam liked the way he reached up--so sharp, straight to the mark.
He turned the pages quickly, and read her a chapter of St. John.
As he sat in the armchair reading, intent, his voice only thinking,
she felt as if he were using her unconsciously as a man uses his
tools at some work he is bent on. She loved it. And the wistfulness
of his voice was like a reaching to something, and it was as if she
were what he reached with. She sat back on the sofa away from him,
and yet feeling herself the very instrument his hand grasped.
It gave her great pleasure.
Then he began to falter and to get self-conscious. And when he
came to the verse, "A woman, when she is in travail, hath sorrow
because her hour is come", he missed it out. Miriam had felt him
growing uncomfortable. She shrank when the well-known words did
not follow. He went on reading, but she did not hear. A grief
and shame made her bend her head. Six months ago he would have
read it simply. Now there was a scotch in his running with her.
Now she felt there was really something hostile between them,
something of which they were ashamed.
She ate her cake mechanically. He tried to go on with his argument,
but could not get back the right note. Soon Edgar came in.
Mrs. Morel had gone to her friends'. The three set off to Willey Farm.
Miriam brooded over his split with her. There was something else
he wanted. He could not be satisfied; he could give her no peace.
There was between them now always a ground for strife.
She wanted to prove him. She believed that his chief need in life
was herself. If she could prove it, both to herself and to him,
the rest might go; she could simply trust to the future.
So in May she asked him to come to Willey Farm and meet
Mrs. Dawes. There was something he hankered after. She saw him,
whenever they spoke of Clara Dawes, rouse and get slightly angry.
He said he did not like her. Yet he was keen to know about her.
Well, he should put himself to the test. She believed that there
were in him desires for higher things, and desires for lower, and that
the desire for the higher would conquer. At any rate, he should try.
She forgot that her "higher" and "lower" were arbitrary.
He was rather excited at the idea of meeting Clara at Willey Farm.
Mrs. Dawes came for the day. Her heavy, dun-coloured hair was
coiled on top of her head. She wore a white blouse and navy skirt,
and somehow, wherever she was, seemed to make things look paltry
and insignificant. When she was in the room, the kitchen seemed
too small and mean altogether. Miriam's beautiful twilighty
parlour looked stiff and stupid. All the Leivers were eclipsed
like candles. They found her rather hard to put up with.
Yet she was perfectly amiable, but indifferent, and rather hard.
Paul did not come till afternoon. He was early. As he swung
off his bicycle, Miriam saw him look round at the house eagerly.
He would be disappointed if the visitor had not come. Miriam went
out to meet him, bowing her head because of the sunshine.
Nasturtiums were coming out crimson under the cool green shadow
of their leaves. The girl stood, dark-haired, glad to see him.
"Hasn't Clara come?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Miriam in her musical tone. "She's reading."
He wheeled his bicycle into the barn. He had put
on a handsome tie, of which he was rather proud, and socks to match.
"She came this morning?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Miriam, as she walked at his side. "You said you'd
bring me that letter from the man at Liberty's. Have you remembered?"
"Oh, dash, no!" he said. "But nag at me till you get it."
"I don't like to nag at you."
"Do it whether or not. And is she any more agreeable?"
"You know I always think she is quite agreeable."
He was silent. Evidently his eagerness to be early to-day
had been the newcomer. Miriam already began to suffer. They went
together towards the house. He took the clips off his trousers,
but was too lazy to brush the dust from his shoes, in spite of the
socks and tie.
Clara sat in the cool parlour reading. He saw the nape of her
white neck, and the fine hair lifted from it. She rose, looking at
him indifferently. To shake hands she lifted her arm straight,
in a manner that seemed at once to keep him at a distance,
and yet to fling something to him. He noticed how her breasts
swelled inside her blouse, and how her shoulder curved handsomely
under the thin muslin at the top of her arm.
"You have chosen a fine day," he said.
"It happens so," she said.
"Yes," he said; "I am glad."
She sat down, not thanking him for his politeness.
"What have you been doing all morning?" asked Paul of Miriam.
"Well, you see," said Miriam, coughing huskily, "Clara only
came with father--and so--she's not been here very long."
Clara sat leaning on the table, holding aloof. He noticed
her hands were large, but well kept. And the skin on them seemed
almost coarse, opaque, and white, with fine golden hairs. She did
not mind if he observed her hands. She intended to scorn him.
Her heavy arm lay negligently on the table. Her mouth was closed
as if she were offended, and she kept her face slightly averted.
"You were at Margaret Bonford's meeting the other evening,"
he said to her.
Miriam did not know this courteous Paul. Clara glanced at him.
"Yes," she said.
"Why," asked Miriam, "how do you know?"
"I went in for a few minutes before the train came," he answered.
Clara turned away again rather disdainfully.
"I think she's a lovable little woman," said Paul.
"Margaret Bonford!" exclaimed Clara. "She's a great deal
cleverer than most men."
"Well, I didn't say she wasn't," he said, deprecating.
"She's lovable for all that."
"And, of course, that is all that matters," said Clara witheringly.
He rubbed his head, rather perplexed, rather annoyed.
"I suppose it matters more than her cleverness," he said;
"which, after all, would never get her to heaven."
"It's not heaven she wants to get--it's her fair share on earth,"
retorted Clara. She spoke as if he were responsible for some
deprivation which Miss Bonford suffered.
"Well," he said, "I thought she was warm, and awfully nice--only
too frail. I wished she was sitting comfortably in peace---"
"'Darning her husband's stockings,'" said Clara scathingly.
"I'm sure she wouldn't mind darning even my stockings," he said.
"And I'm sure she'd do them well. Just as I wouldn't mind blacking
her boots if she wanted me to."
But Clara refused to answer this sally of his. He talked
to Miriam for a little while. The other woman held aloof.
"Well," he said, "I think I'll go and see Edgar. Is he
on the land?"
"I believe," said Miriam, "he's gone for a load of coal.
He should be back directly."
"Then," he said, "I'll go and meet him."
Miriam dared not propose anything for the three of them.
He rose and left them.
On the top road, where the gorse was out, he saw Edgar walking
lazily beside the mare, who nodded her white-starred forehead
as she dragged the clanking load of coal. The young farmer's face
lighted up as he saw his friend. Edgar was good-looking, with dark,
warm eyes. His clothes were old and rather disreputable, and he
walked with considerable pride.
"Hello!" he said, seeing Paul bareheaded. "Where are you going?"
"Came to meet you. Can't stand 'Nevermore.'"
Edgar's teeth flashed in a laugh of amusement.
"Who is 'Nevermore'?" he asked.
"The lady--Mrs. Dawes--it ought to be Mrs. The Raven that quothed
Edgar laughed with glee.
"Don't you like her?" he asked.
"Not a fat lot," said Paul. "Why, do you?"
"No!" The answer came with a deep ring of conviction. "No!"
Edgar pursed up his lips. "I can't say she's much in my line."
He mused a little. Then: "But why do you call her 'Nevermore'?"
"Well," said Paul, "if she looks at a man she says haughtily
'Nevermore,' and if she looks at herself in the looking-glass she
says disdainfully 'Nevermore,' and if she thinks back she says it
in disgust, and if she looks forward she says it cynically."
Edgar considered this speech, failed to make much out of it,
and said, laughing:
"You think she's a man-hater?"
"SHE thinks she is," replied Paul.
"But you don't think so?"
"No," replied Paul.
"Wasn't she nice with you, then?"
"Could you imagine her NICE with anybody?" asked the young man.
Edgar laughed. Together they unloaded the coal in the yard.
Paul was rather self-conscious, because he knew Clara could see if she
looked out of the window. She didn't look.
On Saturday afternoons the horses were brushed down and groomed.
Paul and Edgar worked together, sneezing with the dust that came
from the pelts of Jimmy and Flower.
"Do you know a new song to teach me?" said Edgar.
He continued to work all the time. The back of his neck
was sun-red when he bent down, and his fingers that held the brush
were thick. Paul watched him sometimes.
"'Mary Morrison'?" suggested the younger.
Edgar agreed. He had a good tenor voice, and he loved to learn
all the songs his friend could teach him, so that he could sing
whilst he was carting. Paul had a very indifferent baritone voice,
but a good ear. However, he sang softly, for fear of Clara.
Edgar repeated the line in a clear tenor. At times they both broke
off to sneeze, and first one, then the other, abused his horse.
Miriam was impatient of men. It took so little to amuse
them--even Paul. She thought it anomalous in him that he could
be so thoroughly absorbed in a triviality.
It was tea-time when they had finished.
"What song was that?" asked Miriam.
Edgar told her. The conversation turned to singing.
"We have such jolly times," Miriam said to Clara.
Mrs. Dawes ate her meal in a slow, dignified way.
Whenever the men were present she grew distant.
"Do you like singing?" Miriam asked her.
"If it is good," she said.
Paul, of course, coloured.
"You mean if it is high-class and trained?" he said.
"I think a voice needs training before the singing is anything,"
"You might as well insist on having people's voices trained
before you allowed them to talk," he replied. "Really, people sing
for their own pleasure, as a rule."
"And it may be for other people's discomfort."
"Then the other people should have flaps to their ears,"
The boys laughed. There was a silence. He flushed deeply,
and ate in silence.
After tea, when all the men had gone but Paul, Mrs. Leivers
said to Clara:
"And you find life happier now?"
"And you are satisfied?"
"So long as I can be free and independent."
"And you don't MISS anything in your life?"
asked Mrs. Leivers gently.
"I've put all that behind me."
Paul had been feeling uncomfortable during this discourse.
He got up.
"You'll find you're always tumbling over the things you've put
behind you," he said. Then he took his departure to the cowsheds.
He felt he had been witty, and his manly pride was high. He whistled
as he went down the brick track.
Miriam came for him a little later to know if he would go with
Clara and her for a walk. They set off down to Strelley Mill Farm.
As they were going beside the brook, on the Willey Water side,
looking through the brake at the edge of the wood, where pink campions
glowed under a few sunbeams, they saw, beyond the tree-trunks
and the thin hazel bushes, a man leading a great bay horse through
the gullies. The big red beast seemed to dance romantically
through that dimness of green hazel drift, away there
where the air was shadowy, as if it were in the past,
among the fading bluebells that might have bloomed
for Deidre or Iseult.
The three stood charmed.
"What a treat to be a knight," he said, "and to have
a pavilion here."
"And to have us shut up safely?" replied Clara.
"Yes," he answered, "singing with your maids at your broidery.
I would carry your banner of white and green and heliotrope. I would
have 'W.S.P.U.' emblazoned on my shield, beneath a woman rampant."
"I have no doubt," said Clara, "that you would much rather
fight for a woman than let her fight for herself."
"I would. When she fights for herself she seems like a dog
before a looking-glass, gone into a mad fury with its own shadow."
"And YOU are the looking-glass?" she asked, with a curl
of the lip.
"Or the shadow," he replied.
"I am afraid," she said, "that you are too clever."
"Well, I leave it to you to be GOOD," he retorted, laughing.
"Be good, sweet maid, and just let ME be clever."
But Clara wearied of his flippancy. Suddenly, looking at her,
he saw that the upward lifting of her face was misery and not scorn.
His heart grew tender for everybody. He turned and was gentle
with Miriam, whom he had neglected till then.
At the wood's edge they met Limb, a thin, swarthy man of forty,
tenant of Strelley Mill, which he ran as a cattle-raising farm.
He held the halter of the powerful stallion indifferently, as if he
were tired. The three stood to let him pass over the stepping-stones
of the first brook. Paul admired that so large an animal should
walk on such springy toes, with an endless excess of vigour.
Limb pulled up before them.
"Tell your father, Miss Leivers," he said, in a peculiar
piping voice, "that his young beas'es 'as broke that bottom fence
three days an' runnin'."
"Which?" asked Miriam, tremulous.
The great horse breathed heavily, shifting round its red flanks,
and looking suspiciously with its wonderful big eyes upwards from
under its lowered head and falling mane.
"Come along a bit," replied Limb, "an' I'll show you."
The man and the stallion went forward. It danced sideways,
shaking its white fetlocks and looking frightened, as it felt itself
in the brook.
"No hanky-pankyin'," said the man affectionately to the beast.
It went up the bank in little leaps, then splashed finely through
the second brook. Clara, walking with a kind of sulky abandon,
watched it half-fascinated, half-contemptuous. Limb stopped
and pointed to the fence under some willows.
"There, you see where they got through," he said. "My man's
druv 'em back three times."
"Yes," answered Miriam, colouring as if she were at fault.
"Are you comin' in?" asked the man.
"No, thanks; but we should like to go by the pond."
"Well, just as you've a mind," he said.
The horse gave little whinneys of pleasure at being so near home.
"He is glad to be back," said Clara, who was interested
in the creature.
"Yes--'e's been a tidy step to-day."
They went through the gate, and saw approaching them from
the big farmhouse a smallish, dark, excitable-looking woman
of about thirty-five. Her hair was touched with grey, her dark
eyes looked wild. She walked with her hands behind her back.
Her brother went forward. As it saw her, the big bay stallion
whinneyed again. She came up excitedly.
"Are you home again, my boy!" she said tenderly to the horse,
not to the man. The great beast shifted round to her, ducking his head.
She smuggled into his mouth the wrinkled yellow apple she had
been hiding behind her back, then she kissed him near the eyes.
He gave a big sigh of pleasure. She held his head in her arms
against her breast.
"Isn't he splendid!" said Miriam to her.
Miss Limb looked up. Her dark eyes glanced straight at Paul.
"Oh, good-evening, Miss Leivers," she said. "It's ages
since you've been down."
Miriam introduced her friends.
"Your horse IS a fine fellow!" said Clara.
"Isn't he!" Again she kissed him. "As loving as any man!"
"More loving than most men, I should think," replied Clara.
"He's a nice boy!" cried the woman, again embracing the horse.
Clara, fascinated by the big beast, went up to stroke his neck.
"He's quite gentle," said Miss Limb. "Don't you think big
"He's a beauty!" replied Clara.
She wanted to look in his eyes. She wanted him to look at her.
"It's a pity he can't talk," she said.
"Oh, but he can--all but," replied the other woman.
Then her brother moved on with the horse.
"Are you coming in? DO come in, Mr.--I didn't catch it."
"Morel," said Miriam. "No, we won't come in, but we should
like to go by the mill-pond."
"Yes--yes, do. Do you fish, Mr. Morel?"
"No," said Paul.
"Because if you do you might come and fish any time,"
said Miss Limb. "We scarcely see a soul from week's end to week's end.
I should be thankful."
"What fish are there in the pond?" he asked.
They went through the front garden, over the sluice,
and up the steep bank to the pond, which lay in shadow, with its
two wooded islets. Paul walked with Miss Limb.
"I shouldn't mind swimming here," he said.
"Do," she replied. "Come when you like. My brother will be
awfully pleased to talk with you. He is so quiet, because there
is no one to talk to. Do come and swim."
Clara came up.
"It's a fine depth," she said, "and so clear."
"Yes," said Miss Limb.
"Do you swim?" said Paul. "Miss Limb was just saying we could
come when we liked."
"Of course there's the farm-hands," said Miss Limb.
They talked a few moments, then went on up the wild hill,
leaving the lonely, haggard-eyed woman on the bank.
The hillside was all ripe with sunshine. It was wild and tussocky,
given over to rabbits. The three walked in silence. Then:
"She makes me feel uncomfortable," said Paul.
"You mean Miss Limb?" asked Miriam. "Yes."
"What's a matter with her? Is she going dotty with being
"Yes," said Miriam. "It's not the right sort of life for her.
I think it's cruel to bury her there. I really ought to go and see
her more. But--she upsets me."
"She makes me feel sorry for her--yes, and she bothers me,"
"I suppose," blurted Clara suddenly, "she wants a man."
The other two were silent for a few moments.
"But it's the loneliness sends her cracked," said Paul.
Clara did not answer, but strode on uphill. She was walking
with her hand hanging, her legs swinging as she kicked through
the dead thistles and the tussocky grass, her arms hanging loose.
Rather than walking, her handsome body seemed to be blundering up
the hill. A hot wave went over Paul. He was curious about her.
Perhaps life had been cruel to her. He forgot Miriam, who was walking
beside him talking to him. She glanced at him, finding he did not
answer her. His eyes were fixed ahead on Clara.
"Do you still think she is disagreeable?" she asked.
He did not notice that the question was sudden. It ran
with his thoughts.
"Something's the matter with her," he said.
"Yes," answered Miriam.
They found at the top of the hill a hidden wild field,
two sides of which were backed by the wood, the other sides by high
loose hedges of hawthorn and elder bushes. Between these overgrown
bushes were gaps that the cattle might have walked through had
there been any cattle now. There the turf was smooth as velveteen,
padded and holed by the rabbits. The field itself was coarse,
and crowded with tall, big cowslips that had never been cut.
Clusters of strong flowers rose everywhere above the coarse
tussocks of bent. It was like a roadstead crowded with tan,
"Ah!" cried Miriam, and she looked at Paul, her dark eyes dilating.
He smiled. Together they enjoyed the field of flowers. Clara,
a little way off, was looking at the cowslips disconsolately.
Paul and Miriam stayed close together, talking in subdued tones.
He kneeled on one knee, quickly gathering the best blossoms,
moving from tuft to tuft restlessly, talking softly all the time.
Miriam plucked the flowers lovingly, lingering over them.
He always seemed to her too quick and almost scientific.
Yet his bunches had a natural beauty more than hers.
He loved them, but as if they were his and he had a right
to them. She had more reverence for them:
they held something she had not.
The flowers were very fresh and sweet. He wanted to drink them.
As he gathered them, he ate the little yellow trumpets.
Clara was still wandering about disconsolately. Going towards her,
"Why don't you get some?"
"I don't believe in it. They look better growing."
"But you'd like some?"
"They want to be left."
"I don't believe they do."
"I don't want the corpses of flowers about me," she said.
"That's a stiff, artificial notion," he said. "They don't die
any quicker in water than on their roots. And besides, they LOOK
nice in a bowl--they look jolly. And you only call a thing a corpse
because it looks corpse-like."
"Whether it is one or not?" she argued.
"It isn't one to me. A dead flower isn't a corpse of a flower."
Clara now ignored him.
"And even so--what right have you to pull them?" she asked.
"Because I like them, and want them--and there's plenty of them."
"And that is sufficient?"
"Yes. Why not? I'm sure they'd smell nice in your room
"And I should have the pleasure of watching them die."
"But then--it does not matter if they do die."
Whereupon he left her, and went stooping over the clumps
of tangled flowers which thickly sprinkled the field like pale,
luminous foam-clots. Miriam had come close. Clara was kneeling,
breathing some scent from the cowslips.
"I think," said Miriam, "if you treat them with reverence you
don't do them any harm. It is the spirit you pluck them in that matters."
"Yes," he said. "But no, you get 'em because you want 'em,
and that's all." He held out his bunch.
Miriam was silent. He picked some more.
"Look at these!" he continued; "sturdy and lusty like little
trees and like boys with fat legs."
Clara's hat lay on the grass not far off. She was kneeling,
bending forward still to smell the flowers. Her neck gave him
a sharp pang, such a beautiful thing, yet not proud of itself
just now. Her breasts swung slightly in her blouse. The arching
curve of her back was beautiful and strong; she wore no stays.
Suddenly, without knowing, he was scattering a handful of cowslips
over her hair and neck, saying:
"Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,
If the Lord won't have you the devil must."
The chill flowers fell on her neck. She looked up at him,
with almost pitiful, scared grey eyes, wondering what he was doing.
Flowers fell on her face, and she shut her eyes.
Suddenly, standing there above her, he felt awkward.
"I thought you wanted a funeral," he said, ill at ease.
Clara laughed strangely, and rose, picking the cowslips from
her hair. She took up her hat and pinned it on. One flower had
remained tangled in her hair. He saw, but would not tell her.
He gathered up the flowers he had sprinkled over her.
At the edge of the wood the bluebells had flowed over into the
field and stood there like flood-water. But they were fading now.
Clara strayed up to them. He wandered after her. The bluebells
"Look how they've come out of the wood!" he said.
Then she turned with a flash of warmth and of gratitude.
"Yes," she smiled.
His blood beat up.
"It makes me think of the wild men of the woods, how terrified
they would be when they got breast to breast with the open space."
"Do you think they were?" she asked.
"I wonder which was more frightened among old tribes--those
bursting out of their darkness of woods upon all the space of light,
or those from the open tiptoeing into the forests."
"I should think the second," she answered.
"Yes, you DO feel like one of the open space sort, trying to
force yourself into the dark, don't you?"
"How should I know?" she answered queerly.
The conversation ended there.
The evening was deepening over the earth. Already the valley was
full of shadow. One tiny square of light stood opposite at Crossleigh
Bank Farm. Brightness was swimming on the tops of the hills.
Miriam came up slowly, her face in her big, loose bunch of flowers,
walking ankle-deep through the scattered froth of the cowslips.
Beyond her the trees were coming into shape, all shadow.
"Shall we go?" she asked.
And the three turned away. They were all silent.
Going down the path they could see the light of home right across,
and on the ridge of the hill a thin dark outline with little lights,
where the colliery village touched the sky.
"It has been nice, hasn't it?" he asked.
Miriam murmured assent. Clara was silent.
"Don't you think so?" he persisted.
But she walked with her head up, and still did not answer.
He could tell by the way she moved, as if she didn't care,
that she suffered.
At this time Paul took his mother to Lincoln. She was bright
and enthusiastic as ever, but as he sat opposite her in the
railway carriage, she seemed to look frail. He had a momentary
sensation as if she were slipping away from him. Then he
wanted to get hold of her, to fasten her, almost to chain her.
He felt he must keep hold of her with his hand.
They drew near to the city. Both were at the window looking
for the cathedral.
"There she is, mother!" he cried.
They saw the great cathedral lying couchant above the plain.
"Ah!" she exclaimed. "So she is!"
He looked at his mother. Her blue eyes were watching the
cathedral quietly. She seemed again to be beyond him. Something in
the eternal repose of the uplifted cathedral, blue and noble
against the sky, was reflected in her, something of the fatality.
What was, WAS. With all his young will he could not alter it.
He saw her face, the skin still fresh and pink and downy,
but crow's-feet near her eyes, her eyelids steady, sinking a little,
her mouth always closed with disillusion; and there was on her the same
eternal look, as if she knew fate at last. He beat against it
with all the strength of his soul.
"Look, mother, how big she is above the town! Think, there are streets
and streets below her! She looks bigger than the city altogether."
"So she does!" exclaimed his mother, breaking bright
into life again. But he had seen her sitting, looking steady
out of the window at the cathedral, her face and eyes fixed,
reflecting the relentlessness of life. And the crow's-feet near
her eyes, and her mouth shut so hard, made him feel he would go mad.
They ate a meal that she considered wildly extravagant.
"Don't imagine I like it," she said, as she ate her cutlet.
"I DON'T like it, I really don't! Just THINK of your money wasted!"
"You never mind my money," he said. "You forget I'm a fellow
taking his girl for an outing."
And he bought her some blue violets.
"Stop it at once, sir!" she commanded. "How can I do it?"
"You've got nothing to do. Stand still!"
And in the middle of High Street he stuck the flowers in her coat.
"An old thing like me!" she said, sniffing.
"You see," he said, "I want people to think we're awful swells.
So look ikey."
"I'll jowl your head," she laughed.
"Strut!" he commanded. "Be a fantail pigeon."
It took him an hour to get her through the street. She stood
above Glory Hole, she stood before Stone Bow, she stood everywhere,
A man came up, took off his hat, and bowed to her.
"Can I show you the town, madam?"
"No, thank you," she answered. "I've got my son."
Then Paul was cross with her for not answering with more dignity.
"You go away with you!" she exclaimed. "Ha! that's
the Jew's House. Now, do you remember that lecture, Paul--?"
But she could scarcely climb the cathedral hill.
He did not notice. Then suddenly he found her unable to speak.
He took her into a little public-house, where she rested.
"It's nothing," she said. "My heart is only a bit old;
one must expect it."
He did not answer, but looked at her. Again his heart was
crushed in a hot grip. He wanted to cry, he wanted to smash things
They set off again, pace by pace, so slowly. And every
step seemed like a weight on his chest. He felt as if his heart
would burst. At last they came to the top. She stood enchanted,
looking at the castle gate, looking at the cathedral front.
She had quite forgotten herself.
"Now THIS is better than I thought it could be!" she cried.
But he hated it. Everywhere he followed her, brooding.
They sat together in the cathedral. They attended a little service
in the choir. She was timid.
"I suppose it is open to anybody?" she asked him.
"Yes," he replied. "Do you think they'd have the damned cheek
to send us away."
"Well, I'm sure," she exclaimed, "they would if they heard
Her face seemed to shine again with joy and peace during
the service. And all the time he was wanting to rage and smash
things and cry.
Afterwards, when they were leaning over the wall, looking at
the town below, he blurted suddenly:
"Why can't a man have a YOUNG mother? What is she old for?"
"Well," his mother laughed, "she can scarcely help it."
"And why wasn't I the oldest son? Look--they say the young
ones have the advantage--but look, THEY had the young mother.
You should have had me for your eldest son."
"I didn't arrange it," she remonstrated. "Come to consider,
you're as much to blame as me."
He turned on her, white, his eyes furious.
"What are you old for!" he said, mad with his impotence.
"WHY can't you walk? WHY can't you come with me to places?"
"At one time," she replied, "I could have run up that hill
a good deal better than you."
"What's the good of that to ME?" he cried, hitting his fist
on the wall. Then he became plaintive. "It's too bad of you
to be ill. Little, it is--"
"Ill!" she cried. "I'm a bit old, and you'll have to put up
with it, that's all."
They were quiet. But it was as much as they could bear. They got
jolly again over tea. As they sat by Brayford, watching the boats,
he told her about Clara. His mother asked him innumerable questions.
"Then who does she live with?"
"With her mother, on Bluebell Hill."
"And have they enough to keep them?"
"I don't think so. I think they do lace work."
"And wherein lies her charm, my boy?"
"I don't know that she's charming, mother. But she's nice.
And she seems straight, you know--not a bit deep, not a bit."
"But she's a good deal older than you."
"She's thirty, I'm going on twenty-three."
"You haven't told me what you like her for."
"Because I don't know--a sort of defiant way she's got--a sort
of angry way."
Mrs. Morel considered. She would have been glad now for her son
to fall in love with some woman who would--she did not know what.
But he fretted so, got so furious suddenly, and again was melancholic.
She wished he knew some nice woman-- She did not know what she wished,
but left it vague. At any rate, she was not hostile to the idea
Annie, too, was getting married. Leonard had gone away to work
in Birmingham. One week-end when he was home she had said to him:
"You don't look very well, my lad."
"I dunno," he said. "I feel anyhow or nohow, ma."
He called her "ma" already in his boyish fashion.
"Are you sure they're good lodgings?" she asked.
"Yes--yes. Only--it's a winder when you have to pour your own
tea out--an' nobody to grouse if you team it in your saucer and sup
it up. It somehow takes a' the taste out of it."
Mrs. Morel laughed.
"And so it knocks you up?" she said.
"I dunno. I want to get married," he blurted, twisting his
fingers and looking down at his boots. There was a silence.
"But," she exclaimed, "I thought you said you'd wait another year."
"Yes, I did say so," he replied stubbornly.
Again she considered.
"And you know," she said, "Annie's a bit of a spendthrift.
She's saved no more than eleven pounds. And I know, lad, you haven't
had much chance."
He coloured up to the ears.
"I've got thirty-three quid," he said.
"It doesn't go far," she answered.
He said nothing, but twisted his fingers.
"And you know," she said, "I've nothing---"
"I didn't want, ma!" he cried, very red, suffering and remonstrating.
"No, my lad, I know. I was only wishing I had. And take away
five pounds for the wedding and things--it leaves twenty-nine pounds.
You won't do much on that."
He twisted still, impotent, stubborn, not looking up.
"But do you really want to get married?" she asked. "Do you
feel as if you ought?"
He gave her one straight look from his blue eyes.
"Yes," he said.
"Then," she replied, "we must all do the best we can for it, lad."
The next time he looked up there were tears in his eyes.
"I don't want Annie to feel handicapped," he said, struggling.
"My lad," she said, "you're steady--you've got a decent place.
If a man had NEEDED me I'd have married him on his last week's wages.
She may find it a bit hard to start humbly. Young girls ARE like that.
They look forward to the fine home they think they'll have.
But I had expensive furniture. It's not everything."
So the wedding took place almost immediately. Arthur came home,
and was splendid in uniform. Annie looked nice in a dove-grey
dress that she could take for Sundays. Morel called her a fool
for getting married, and was cool with his son-in-law. Mrs. Morel
had white tips in her bonnet, and some white on her blouse,
and was teased by both her sons for fancying herself so grand.
Leonard was jolly and cordial, and felt a fearful fool. Paul could
not quite see what Annie wanted to get married for. He was fond of her,
and she of him. Still, he hoped rather lugubriously that it would
turn out all right. Arthur was astonishingly handsome in his scarlet
and yellow, and he knew it well, but was secretly ashamed of the uniform.
Annie cried her eyes up in the kitchen, on leaving her mother.
Mrs. Morel cried a little, then patted her on the back and said:
"But don't cry, child, he'll be good to you."
Morel stamped and said she was a fool to go and tie herself up.
Leonard looked white and overwrought. Mrs. Morel said to him:
"I s'll trust her to you, my lad, and hold you responsible
"You can," he said, nearly dead with the ordeal. And it
was all over.
When Morel and Arthur were in bed, Paul sat talking, as he
often did, with his mother.
"You're not sorry she's married, mother, are you?" he asked.
"I'm not sorry she's married--but--it seems strange that she
should go from me. It even seems to me hard that she can prefer
to go with her Leonard. That's how mothers are--I know it's silly."
"And shall you be miserable about her?"
"When I think of my own wedding day," his mother answered,
"I can only hope her life will be different."
"But you can trust him to be good to her?"
"Yes, yes. They say he's not good enough for her. But I say
if a man is GENUINE, as he is, and a girl is fond of him--then--it
should be all right. He's as good as she."
"So you don't mind?"
"I would NEVER have let a daughter of mine marry a man I didn't
FEEL to be genuine through and through. And yet, there's a gap
now she's gone."
They were both miserable, and wanted her back again.
It seemed to Paul his mother looked lonely, in her new black silk
blouse with its bit of white trimming.
"At any rate, mother, I s'll never marry," he said.
"Ay, they all say that, my lad. You've not met the one yet.
Only wait a year or two."
"But I shan't marry, mother. I shall live with you, and we'll
have a servant."
"Ay, my lad, it's easy to talk. We'll see when the time comes."
"What time? I'm nearly twenty-three."
"Yes, you're not one that would marry young. But in
three years' time---"
"I shall be with you just the same."
"We'll see, my boy, we'll see."
"But you don't want me to marry?"
"I shouldn't like to think of you going through your life
without anybody to care for you and do--no."
"And you think I ought to marry?"
"Sooner or later every man ought."
"But you'd rather it were later."
"It would be hard--and very hard. It's as they say:
"'A son's my son till he takes him a wife,
But my daughter's my daughter the whole of her life.'"
"And you think I'd let a wife take me from you?"
"Well, you wouldn't ask her to marry your mother as well as you,"
Mrs. Morel smiled.
"She could do what she liked; she wouldn't have to interfere."
"She wouldn't--till she'd got you--and then you'd see."
"I never will see. I'll never marry while I've got you--I won't."
"But I shouldn't like to leave you with nobody, my boy,"
"You're not going to leave me. What are you? Fifty-three! I'll
give you till seventy-five. There you are, I'm fat and forty-four.
Then I'll marry a staid body. See!"
His mother sat and laughed.
"Go to bed," she said--"go to bed."
"And we'll have a pretty house, you and me, and a servant,
and it'll be just all right. I s'll perhaps be rich with my painting."
"Will you go to bed!"
"And then you s'll have a pony-carriage. See yourself--a little
Queen Victoria trotting round."
"I tell you to go to bed," she laughed.
He kissed her and went. His plans for the future were always
Mrs. Morel sat brooding--about her daughter, about Paul,
about Arthur. She fretted at losing Annie. The family was very
closely bound. And she felt she MUST live now, to be with her
children. Life was so rich for her. Paul wanted her, and so did Arthur.
Arthur never knew how deeply he loved her. He was a creature
of the moment. Never yet had he been forced to realise himself.
The army had disciplined his body, but not his soul. He was in
perfect health and very handsome. His dark, vigorous hair sat close
to his smallish head. There was something childish about his nose,
something almost girlish about his dark blue eyes. But he had the fun
red mouth of a man under his brown moustache, and his jaw was strong.
It was his father's mouth; it was the nose and eyes of her own mother's
people--good-looking, weak-principled folk. Mrs. Morel was anxious
about him. Once he had really run the rig he was safe. But how far
would he go?
The army had not really done him any good. He resented
bitterly the authority of the officers. He hated having to obey
as if he were an animal. But he had too much sense to kick.
So he turned his attention to getting the best out of it.
He could sing, he was a boon-companion. Often he got into scrapes,
but they were the manly scrapes that are easily condoned. So he made
a good time out of it, whilst his self-respect was in suppression.
He trusted to his good looks and handsome figure, his refinement,
his decent education to get him most of what he wanted, and he
was not disappointed. Yet he was restless. Something seemed
to gnaw him inside. He was never still, he was never alone.
With his mother he was rather humble. Paul he admired and loved
and despised slightly. And Paul admired and loved and despised
Mrs. Morel had had a few pounds left to her by her father,
and she decided to buy her son out of the army. He was wild with joy.
Now he was like a lad taking a holiday.
He had always been fond of Beatrice Wyld, and during his furlough
he picked up with her again. She was stronger and better in health.
The two often went long walks together, Arthur taking her arm
in soldier's fashion, rather stiffly. And she came to play the
piano whilst he sang. Then Arthur would unhook his tunic collar.
He grew flushed, his eyes were bright, he sang in a manly tenor.
Afterwards they sat together on the sofa. He seemed to flaunt
his body: she was aware of him so--the strong chest, the sides,
the thighs in their close-fitting trousers.
He liked to lapse into the dialect when he talked to her.
She would sometimes smoke with him. Occasionally she
would only take a few whiffs at his cigarette.
"Nay," he said to her one evening, when she reached
for his cigarette. "Nay, tha doesna. I'll gi'e thee a smoke
kiss if ter's a mind."
"I wanted a whiff, no kiss at all," she answered.
"Well, an' tha s'lt ha'e a whiff," he said, "along wi' t' kiss."
"I want a draw at thy fag," she cried, snatching for the
cigarette between his lips.
He was sitting with his shoulder touching her. She was small
and quick as lightning. He just escaped.
"I'll gi'e thee a smoke kiss," he said.
"Tha'rt a knivey nuisance, Arty Morel," she said, sitting back.
"Ha'e a smoke kiss?"
The soldier leaned forward to her, smiling. His face was
"Shonna!" she replied, turning away her head.
He took a draw at his cigarette, and pursed up his mouth,
and put his lips close to her. His dark-brown cropped moustache
stood out like a brush. She looked at the puckered crimson lips,
then suddenly snatched the cigarette from his fingers and darted away.
He, leaping after her, seized the comb from her back hair. She turned,
threw the cigarette at him. He picked it up, put it in his mouth,
and sat down.
"Nuisance!" she cried. "Give me my comb!"
She was afraid that her hair, specially done for him,
would come down. She stood with her hands to her head. He hid
the comb between his knees.
"I've non got it," he said.
The cigarette trembled between his lips with laughter as he spoke.
"Liar!" she said.
"'S true as I'm here!" he laughed, showing his hands.
"You brazen imp!" she exclaimed, rushing and scuffling for
the comb, which he had under his knees. As she wrestled with him,
pulling at his smooth, tight-covered knees, he laughed till he
lay back on the sofa shaking with laughter. The cigarette fell
from his mouth almost singeing his throat. Under his delicate tan
the blood flushed up, and he laughed till his blue eyes were blinded,
his throat swollen almost to choking. Then he sat up. Beatrice was
putting in her comb.
"Tha tickled me, Beat," he said thickly.
Like a flash her small white hand went out and smacked his face.
He started up, glaring at her. They stared at each other.
Slowly the flush mounted her cheek, she dropped her eyes, then her head.
He sat down sulkily. She went into the scullery to adjust her hair.
In private there she shed a few tears, she did not know what for.
When she returned she was pursed up close. But it was only a film
over her fire. He, with ruffled hair, was sulking upon the sofa.
She sat down opposite, in the armchair, and neither spoke.
The clock ticked in the silence like blows.
"You are a little cat, Beat," he said at length, half apologetically.
"Well, you shouldn't be brazen," she replied.
There was again a long silence. He whistled to himself
like a man much agitated but defiant. Suddenly she went across
to him and kissed him.
"Did it, pore fing!" she mocked.
He lifted his face, smiling curiously.
"Kiss?" he invited her.
"Daren't I?" she asked.
"Go on!" he challenged, his mouth lifted to her.
Deliberately, and with a peculiar quivering smile that
seemed to overspread her whole body, she put her mouth on his.
Immediately his arms folded round her. As soon as the long kiss was
finished she drew back her head from him, put her delicate fingers
on his neck, through the open collar. Then she closed her eyes,
giving herself up again in a kiss.
She acted of her own free will. What she would do she did,
and made nobody responsible.
Paul felt life changing around him. The conditions of youth
were gone. Now it was a home of grown-up people. Annie was
a married woman, Arthur was following his own pleasure in a way
unknown to his folk. For so long they had all lived at home,
and gone out to pass their time. But now, for Annie and Arthur,
life lay outside their mother's house. They came home for holiday
and for rest. So there was that strange, half-empty feeling about
the house, as if the birds had flown. Paul became more and more
unsettled. Annie and Arthur had gone. He was restless to follow.
Yet home was for him beside his mother. And still there was
something else, something outside, something he wanted.
He grew more and more restless. Miriam did not satisfy him.
His old mad desire to be with her grew weaker. Sometimes he met
Clara in Nottingham, sometimes he went to meetings with her,
sometimes he saw her at Willey Farm. But on these last occasions
the situation became strained. There was a triangle of antagonism
between Paul and Clara and Miriam. With Clara he took on a smart,
worldly, mocking tone very antagonistic to Miriam. It did not
matter what went before. She might be intimate and sad with him.
Then as soon as Clara appeared, it all vanished, and he played to
Miriam had one beautiful evening with him in the hay.
He had been on the horse-rake, and having finished, came to help
her to put the hay in cocks. Then he talked to her of his hopes
and despairs, and his whole soul seemed to lie bare before her.
She felt as if she watched the very quivering stuff of life in him.
The moon came out: they walked home together: he seemed to have
come to her because he needed her so badly, and she listened to him,
gave him all her love and her faith. It seemed to her he brought
her the best of himself to keep, and that she would guard it all
her life. Nay, the sky did not cherish the stars more surely and
eternally than she would guard the good in the soul of Paul Morel.
She went on home alone, feeling exalted, glad in her faith.
And then, the next day, Clara came. They were to have tea
in the hayfield. Miriam watched the evening drawing to gold
and shadow. And all the time Paul was sporting with Clara.
He made higher and higher heaps of hay that they were jumping over.
Miriam did not care for the game, and stood aside. Edgar and Geoffrey
and Maurice and Clara and Paul jumped. Paul won, because he
was light. Clara's blood was roused. She could run like an Amazon.
Paul loved the determined way she rushed at the hay-cock and leaped,
landed on the other side, her breasts shaken, her thick hair
"You touched!" he cried. "You touched!"
"No!" she flashed, turning to Edgar. "I didn't touch, did I?
Wasn't I clear?"
"I couldn't say," laughed Edgar.
None of them could say.
"But you touched," said Paul. "You're beaten."
"I did NOT touch!" she cried.
"As plain as anything," said Paul.
"Box his ears for me!" she cried to Edgar.
"Nay," Edgar laughed. "I daren't. You must do it yourself."
"And nothing can alter the fact that you touched," laughed Paul.
She was furious with him. Her little triumph before these
lads and men was gone. She had forgotten herself in the game.
Now he was to humble her.
"I think you are despicable!" she said.
And again he laughed, in a way that tortured Miriam.
"And I KNEW you couldn't jump that heap," he teased.
She turned her back on him. Yet everybody could see that
the only person she listened to, or was conscious of, was he,
and he of her. It pleased the men to see this battle between them.
But Miriam was tortured.
Paul could choose the lesser in place of the higher, she saw.
He could be unfaithful to himself, unfaithful to the real,
deep Paul Morel. There was a danger of his becoming frivolous, of his
running after his satisfaction like any Arthur, or like his father.
It made Miriam bitter to think that he should throw away his soul
for this flippant traffic of triviality with Clara. She walked
in bitterness and silence, while the other two rallied each other,
and Paul sported.
And afterwards, he would not own it, but he was rather
ashamed of himself, and prostrated himself before Miriam.
Then again he rebelled.
"It's not religious to be religious," he said. "I reckon
a crow is religious when it sails across the sky. But it only
does it because it feels itself carried to where it's going,
not because it thinks it is being eternal."
But Miriam knew that one should be religious in everything,
have God, whatever God might be, present in everything.
"I don't believe God knows such a lot about Himself,"
he cried. "God doesn't KNOW things, He IS things.
And I'm sure He's not soulful."
And then it seemed to her that Paul was arguing God on to his
own side, because he wanted his own way and his own pleasure.
There was a long battle between him and her. He was utterly
unfaithful to her even in her own presence; then he was ashamed,
then repentant; then he hated her, and went off again. Those were
the ever-recurring conditions.
She fretted him to the bottom of his soul. There she
remained--sad, pensive, a worshipper. And he caused her sorrow.
Half the time he grieved for her, half the time he hated her.
She was his conscience; and he felt, somehow, he had got a conscience
that was too much for him. He could not leave her, because in one
way she did hold the best of him. He could not stay with her
because she did not take the rest of him, which was three-quarters.
So he chafed himself into rawness over her.
When she was twenty-one he wrote her a letter which could
only have been written to her.
"May I speak of our old, worn love, this last time. It, too,
is changing, is it not? Say, has not the body of that love died,
and left you its invulnerable soul? You see, I can give you
a spirit love, I have given it you this long, long time; but not
embodied passion. See, you are a nun. I have given you what I
would give a holy nun--as a mystic monk to a mystic nun. Surely you
esteem it best. Yet you regret--no, have regretted--the other.
In all our relations no body enters. I do not talk to you through
the senses--rather through the spirit. That is why we cannot love
in the common sense. Ours is not an everyday affection. As yet we
are mortal, and to live side by side with one another would be dreadful,
for somehow with you I cannot long be trivial, and, you know,
to be always beyond this mortal state would be to lose it.
If people marry, they must live together as affectionate humans,
who may be commonplace with each other without feeling awkward--not
as two souls. So I feel it.
"Ought I to send this letter?--I doubt it. But there--it
is best to understand. Au revoir."
Miriam read this letter twice, after which she sealed it up.
A year later she broke the seal to show her mother the letter.
"You are a nun--you are a nun." The words went into her heart
again and again. Nothing he ever had said had gone into her
so deeply, fixedly, like a mortal wound.
She answered him two days after the party.
"'Our intimacy would have been all-beautiful but for one
little mistake,'" she quoted. "Was the mistake mine?"
Almost immediately he replied to her from Nottingham,
sending her at the same time a little "Omar Khayyam."
"I am glad you answered; you are so calm and natural you put
me to shame. What a ranter I am! We are often out of sympathy.
But in fundamentals we may always be together I think.
"I must thank you for your sympathy with my painting and drawing.
Many a sketch is dedicated to you. I do look forward to your criticisms,
which, to my shame and glory, are always grand appreciations.
It is a lovely joke, that. Au revoir."
This was the end of the first phase of Paul's love affair.
He was now about twenty-three years old, and, though still virgin,
the sex instinct that Miriam had over-refined for so long now
grew particularly strong. Often, as he talked to Clara Dawes,
came that thickening and quickening of his blood, that peculiar
concentration in the breast, as if something were alive there,
a new self or a new centre of consciousness, warning him that
sooner or later he would have to ask one woman or another. But he
belonged to Miriam. Of that she was so fixedly sure that he allowed
WHEN he was twenty-three years old, Paul sent in a landscape to
the winter exhibition at Nottingham Castle. Miss Jordan had taken
a good deal of interest in him, and invited him to her house,
where he met other artists. He was beginning to grow ambitious.
One morning the postman came just as he was washing in
the scullery. Suddenly he heard a wild noise from his mother.
Rushing into the kitchen, he found her standing on the hearthrug
wildly waving a letter and crying "Hurrah!" as if she had gone mad.
He was shocked and frightened.
"Why, mother!" he exclaimed.
She flew to him, flung her arms round him for a moment,
then waved the letter, crying:
"Hurrah, my boy! I knew we should do it!"
He was afraid of her--the small, severe woman with graying hair
suddenly bursting out in such frenzy. The postman came running back,
afraid something had happened. They saw his tipped cap over the
short curtains. Mrs. Morel rushed to the door.
"His picture's got first prize, Fred," she cried, "and is sold
for twenty guineas."
"My word, that's something like!" said the young postman,
whom they had known all his life.
"And Major Moreton has bought it!" she cried.
"It looks like meanin' something, that does, Mrs. Morel,"
said the postman, his blue eyes bright. He was glad to have brought
such a lucky letter. Mrs. Morel went indoors and sat down, trembling.
Paul was afraid lest she might have misread the letter, and might be
disappointed after all. He scrutinised it once, twice. Yes, he became
convinced it was true. Then he sat down, his heart beating with joy.
"Mother!" he exclaimed.
"Didn't I SAY we should do it!" she said, pretending she
was not crying.
He took the kettle off the fire and mashed the tea.
"You didn't think, mother--" he began tentatively.
"No, my son--not so much--but I expected a good deal."
"But not so much," he said.
"No--no--but I knew we should do it."
And then she recovered her composure, apparently at least.
He sat with his shirt turned back, showing his young throat almost
like a girl's, and the towel in his hand, his hair sticking up wet.
"Twenty guineas, mother! That's just what you wanted to buy
Arthur out. Now you needn't borrow any. It'll just do."
"Indeed, I shan't take it all," she said.
"Because I shan't."
"Well--you have twelve pounds, I'll have nine."
They cavilled about sharing the twenty guineas. She wanted
to take only the five pounds she needed. He would not hear of it.
So they got over the stress of emotion by quarrelling.
Morel came home at night from the pit, saying:
"They tell me Paul's got first prize for his picture, and sold
it to Lord Henry Bentley for fifty pound."
"Oh, what stories people do tell!" she cried.
"Ha!" he answered. "I said I wor sure it wor a lie.
But they said tha'd told Fred Hodgkisson."
"As if I would tell him such stuff!"
"Ha!" assented the miner.
But he was disappointed nevertheless.
"It's true he has got the first prize," said Mrs. Morel.
The miner sat heavily in his chair.
"Has he, beguy!" he exclaimed.
He stared across the room fixedly.
"But as for fifty pounds--such nonsense!" She was silent awhile.
"Major Moreton bought it for twenty guineas, that's true."
"Twenty guineas! Tha niver says!" exclaimed Morel.
"Yes, and it was worth it."
"Ay!" he said. "I don't misdoubt it. But twenty guineas
for a bit of a paintin' as he knocked off in an hour or two!"
He was silent with conceit of his son. Mrs. Morel sniffed,
as if it were nothing.
"And when does he handle th' money?" asked the collier.
"That I couldn't tell you. When the picture is sent home,
There was silence. Morel stared at the sugar-basin instead
of eating his dinner. His black arm, with the hand all gnarled
with work lay on the table. His wife pretended not to see him rub
the back of his hand across his eyes, nor the smear in the coal-dust
on his black face.
"Yes, an' that other lad 'ud 'a done as much if they hadna
ha' killed 'im," he said quietly.
The thought of William went through Mrs. Morel like a cold blade.
It left her feeling she was tired, and wanted rest.
Paul was invited to dinner at Mr. Jordan's. Afterwards he said:
"Mother, I want an evening suit."
"Yes, I was afraid you would," she said. She was glad.
There was a moment or two of silence. "There's that one of William's,"
she continued, "that I know cost four pounds ten
and which he'd only worn three times."
"Should you like me to wear it, mother?" he asked.
"Yes. I think it would fit you--at least the coat. The trousers
would want shortening."
He went upstairs and put on the coat and vest. Coming down,
he looked strange in a flannel collar and a flannel shirt-front,
with an evening coat and vest. It was rather large.
"The tailor can make it right," she said, smoothing her hand
over his shoulder. "It's beautiful stuff. I never could find
in my heart to let your father wear the trousers, and very glad
I am now."
And as she smoothed her hand over the silk collar she thought
of her eldest son. But this son was living enough inside the clothes.
She passed her hand down his back to feel him. He was alive and hers.
The other was dead.
He went out to dinner several times in his evening suit that had
been William's. Each time his mother's heart was firm with pride
and joy. He was started now. The studs she and the children had
bought for William were in his shirt-front; he wore one of William's
dress shirts. But he had an elegant figure. His face was rough,
but warm-looking and rather pleasing. He did not look particularly
a gentleman, but she thought he looked quite a man.
He told her everything that took place, everything that was said.
It was as if she had been there. And he was dying to introduce her
to these new friends who had dinner at seven-thirty in the evening.
"Go along with you!" she said. "What do they want to know
"They do!" he cried indignantly. "If they want to know me--and
they say they do--then they want to know you, because you are quite
as clever as I am. "
"Go along with you, child! " she laughed.
But she began to spare her hands. They, too, were work-gnarled now.
The skin was shiny with so much hot water, the knuckles rather swollen.
But she began to be careful to keep them out of soda. She regretted
what they had been--so small and exquisite. And when Annie insisted
on her having more stylish blouses to suit her age, she submitted.
She even went so far as to allow a black velvet bow to be placed
on her hair. Then she sniffed in her sarcastic manner, and was
sure she looked a sight. But she looked a lady, Paul declared,
as much as Mrs. Major Moreton, and far, far nicer. The family
was coming on. Only Morel remained unchanged, or rather,
Paul and his mother now had long discussions about life.
Religion was fading into the background. He had shovelled away
an the beliefs that would hamper him, had cleared the ground,
and come more or less to the bedrock of belief that one should feel
inside oneself for right and wrong, and should have the patience to
gradually realise one's God. Now life interested him more.
"You know," he said to his mother, "I don't want to belong
to the well-to-do middle class. I like my common people best.
I belong to the common people."
"But if anyone else said so, my son, wouldn't you be in a tear.
YOU know you consider yourself equal to any gentleman."
"In myself," he answered, "not in my class or my education
or my manners. But in myself I am."
"Very well, then. Then why talk about the common people?"
"Because--the difference between people isn't in their class,
but in themselves. Only from the middle classes one gets ideas,
and from the common people--life itself, warmth. You feel their hates
"It's all very well, my boy. But, then, why don't you go
and talk to your father's pals?"
"But they're rather different."
"Not at all. They're the common people. After all, whom do you
mix with now--among the common people? Those that exchange ideas,
like the middle classes. The rest don't interest you."
"But--there's the life---"
"I don't believe there's a jot more life from Miriam than you
could get from any educated girl--say Miss Moreton. It is YOU
who are snobbish about class."
She frankly WANTED him to climb into the middle classes,
a thing not very difficult, she knew. And she wanted him in the end
to marry a lady.
Now she began to combat him in his restless fretting.
He still kept up his connection with Miriam, could neither break
free nor go the whole length of engagement. And this indecision
seemed to bleed him of his energy. Moreover, his mother suspected
him of an unrecognised leaning towards Clara, and, since the latter
was a married woman, she wished he would fall in love with one
of the girls in a better station of life. But he was stupid,
and would refuse to love or even to admire a girl much, just because
she was his social superior.
"My boy," said his mother to him, "all your cleverness,
your breaking away from old things, and taking life in your own hands,
doesn't seem to bring you much happiness."
"What is happiness!" he cried. "It's nothing to me!
How AM I to be happy?"
The plump question disturbed her.
"That's for you to judge, my lad. But if you could meet
some GOOD woman who would MAKE you happy--and you began to think
of settling your life--when you have the means--so that you could
work without all this fretting--it would be much better for you."
He frowned. His mother caught him on the raw of his wound
of Miriam. He pushed the tumbled hair off his forehead, his eyes
full of pain and fire.
"You mean easy, mother," he cried. "That's a woman's whole doctrine
for life--ease of soul and physical comfort. And I do despise it."
"Oh, do you!" replied his mother. "And do you call yours
a divine discontent?"
"Yes. I don't care about its divinity. But damn your happiness!
So long as life's full, it doesn't matter whether it's happy or not.
I'm afraid your happiness would bore me."
"You never give it a chance," she said. Then suddenly all
her passion of grief over him broke out. "But it does matter!"
she cried. "And you OUGHT to be happy, you ought to try to be happy,
to live to be happy. How could I bear to think your life wouldn't
be a happy one!"
"Your own's been bad enough, mater, but it hasn't left you
so much worse off than the folk who've been happier. I reckon
you've done well. And I am the same. Aren't I well enough off?"
"You're not, my son. Battle--battle--and suffer. It's about
all you do, as far as I can see."
"But why not, my dear? I tell you it's the best---"
"It isn't. And one OUGHT to be happy, one OUGHT."
By this time Mrs. Morel was trembling violently. Struggles of
this kind often took place between her and her son, when she
seemed to fight for his very life against his own will to die.
He took her in his arms. She was ill and pitiful.
"Never mind, Little," he murmured. "So long as you don't feel
life's paltry and a miserable business, the rest doesn't matter,
happiness or unhappiness."
She pressed him to her.
"But I want you to be happy," she said pathetically.
"Eh, my dear--say rather you want me to live."
Mrs. Morel felt as if her heart would break for him.
At this rate she knew he would not live. He had that poignant
carelessness about himself, his own suffering, his own life,
which is a form of slow suicide. It almost broke her heart.
With all the passion of her strong nature she hated Miriam for having
in this subtle way undermined his joy. It did not matter to her
that Miriam could not help it. Miriam did it, and she hated her.
She wished so much he would fall in love with a girl equal
to be his mate--educated and strong. But he would not look at
anybody above him in station. He seemed to like Mrs. Dawes.
At any rate that feeling was wholesome. His mother prayed and prayed
for him, that he might not be wasted. That was all her prayer--not
for his soul or his righteousness, but that he might not be wasted.
And while he slept, for hours and hours she thought and prayed
He drifted away from Miriam imperceptibly, without knowing he
was going. Arthur only left the army to be married. The baby was
born six months after his wedding. Mrs. Morel got him a job under
the firm again, at twenty-one shillings a week. She furnished for him,
with the help of Beatrice's mother, a little cottage of two rooms.
He was caught now. It did not matter how he kicked and struggled,
he was fast. For a time he chafed, was irritable with his
young wife, who loved him; he went almost distracted when the baby,
which was delicate, cried or gave trouble. He grumbled for hours
to his mother. She only said: "Well, my lad, you did it yourself,
now you must make the best of it." And then the grit came out in him.
He buckled to work, undertook his responsibilities, acknowledged that
he belonged to his wife and child, and did make a good best of it.
He had never been very closely inbound into the family. Now he was
The months went slowly along. Paul had more or less got into
connection with the Socialist, Suffragette, Unitarian people in
Nottingham, owing to his acquaintance with Clara. One day
a friend of his and of Clara's, in Bestwood, asked him to take
a message to Mrs. Dawes. He went in the evening across Sneinton
Market to Bluebell Hill. He found the house in a mean little street
paved with granite cobbles and having causeways of dark blue,
grooved bricks. The front door went up a step from off this
rough pavement, where the feet of the passersby rasped and clattered.
The brown paint on the door was so old that the naked wood showed
between the rents. He stood on the street below and knocked.
There came a heavy footstep; a large, stout woman of about sixty
towered above him. He looked up at her from the pavement.
She had a rather severe face.
She admitted him into the parlour, which opened on to the street.
It was a small, stuffy, defunct room, of mahogany, and deathly
enlargements of photographs of departed people done in carbon.
Mrs. Radford left him. She was stately, almost martial.
In a moment Clara appeared. She flushed deeply, and he was covered
with confusion. It seemed as if she did not like being discovered
in her home circumstances.
"I thought it couldn't be your voice," she said.
But she might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.
She invited him out of the mausoleum of a parlour into the kitchen.
That was a little, darkish room too, but it was smothered
in white lace. The mother had seated herself again by the cupboard,
and was drawing thread from a vast web of lace. A clump of fluff and
ravelled cotton was at her right hand, a heap of three-quarter-inch lace
lay on her left, whilst in front of her was the mountain of lace web,
piling the hearthrug. Threads of curly cotton, pulled out from between
the lengths of lace, strewed over the fender and the fireplace.
Paul dared not go forward, for fear of treading on piles of white stuff.
On the table was a jenny for carding the lace. There was
a pack of brown cardboard squares, a pack of cards of lace,
a little box of pins, and on the sofa lay a heap of drawn lace.
The room was all lace, and it was so dark and warm that the white,
snowy stuff seemed the more distinct.
"If you're coming in you won't have to mind the work,"
said Mrs. Radford. "I know we're about blocked up. But sit
Clara, much embarrassed, gave him a chair against the wall
opposite the white heaps. Then she herself took her place
on the sofa, shamedly.
"Will you drink a bottle of stout?" Mrs. Radford asked.
"Clara, get him a bottle of stout."
He protested, but Mrs. Radford insisted.
"You look as if you could do with it," she said. "Haven't you
never any more colour than that?"
"It's only a thick skin I've got that doesn't show
the blood through," he answered.
Clara, ashamed and chagrined, brought him a bottle of stout
and a glass. He poured out some of the black stuff.
"Well," he said, lifting the glass, "here's health!"
"And thank you," said Mrs. Radford.
He took a drink of stout.
"And light yourself a cigarette, so long as you don't set
the house on fire," said Mrs. Radford.
"Thank you," he replied.
"Nay, you needn't thank me," she answered. "I s'll be
glad to smell a bit of smoke in th' 'ouse again. A house o'
women is as dead as a house wi' no fire, to my thinkin'. I'm
not a spider as likes a corner to myself. I like a man about,
if he's only something to snap at."
Clara began to work. Her jenny spun with a subdued buzz;
the white lace hopped from between her fingers on to the card.
It was filled; she snipped off the length, and pinned the end
down to the banded lace. Then she put a new card in her jenny.
Paul watched her. She sat square and magnificent. Her throat and
arms were bare. The blood still mantled below her ears; she bent
her head in shame of her humility. Her face was set on her work.
Her arms were creamy and full of life beside the white lace;
her large, well-kept hands worked with a balanced movement,
as if nothing would hurry them. He, not knowing, watched her all
the time. He saw the arch of her neck from the shoulder, as she
bent her head; he saw the coil of dun hair; he watched her moving,
"I've heard a bit about you from Clara," continued the mother.
"You're in Jordan's, aren't you?" She drew her lace unceasing.
"Ay, well, and I can remember when Thomas Jordan used to ask
ME for one of my toffies."
"Did he?" laughed Paul. "And did he get it?"
"Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't--which was latterly.
For he's the sort that takes all and gives naught, he is--or used
"I think he's very decent," said Paul.
"Yes; well, I'm glad to hear it."
Mrs. Radford looked across at him steadily. There was something
determined about her that he liked. Her face was falling loose,
but her eyes were calm, and there was something strong in her that
made it seem she was not old; merely her wrinkles and loose cheeks
were an anachronism. She had the strength and sang-froid of a woman
in the prime of life. She continued drawing the lace with slow,
dignified movements. The big web came up inevitably over her apron;
the length of lace fell away at her side. Her arms were finely shapen,
but glossy and yellow as old ivory. They had not the peculiar dull
gleam that made Clara's so fascinating to him.
"And you've been going with Miriam Leivers?" the mother asked him.
"Well--" he answered.
"Yes, she's a nice girl," she continued. "She's very nice,
but she's a bit too much above this world to suit my fancy."
"She is a bit like that," he agreed.
"She'll never be satisfied till she's got wings and can fly
over everybody's head, she won't," she said.
Clara broke in, and he told her his message. She spoke humbly
to him. He had surprised her in her drudgery. To have her humble
made him feel as if he were lifting his head in expectation.
"Do you like jennying?" he asked.
"What can a woman do!" she replied bitterly.
"Is it sweated?"
"More or less. Isn't ALL woman's work? That's another trick
the men have played, since we force ourselves into the labour market."
"Now then, you shut up about the men," said her mother. "If the
women wasn't fools, the men wouldn't be bad uns, that's what I say.
No man was ever that bad wi' me but what he got it back again.
Not but what they're a lousy lot, there's no denying it."
"But they're all right really, aren't they?" he asked.
"Well, they're a bit different from women," she answered.
"Would you care to be back at Jordan's?" he asked Clara.
"I don't think so," she replied.
"Yes, she would!" cried her mother; "thank her stars if she
could get back. Don't you listen to her. She's for ever on that
'igh horse of hers, an' it's back's that thin an' starved it'll