ARTHUR finished his apprenticeship, and got a job on the electrical plant a_inton Pit. He earned very little, but had a good chance of getting on. But h_as wild and restless. He did not drink nor gamble. Yet he somehow contrive_o get into endless scrapes, always through some hot-headed thoughtlessness.
Either he went rabbiting in the woods, like a poacher, or he stayed i_ottingham all night instead of coming home, or he miscalculated his dive int_he canal at Bestwood, and scored his chest into one mass of wounds on the ra_tones and tins at the bottom.
He had not been at his work many months when again he did not come home on_ight.
"Do you know where Arthur is?" asked Paul at breakfast.
"I do not," replied his mother.
"He is a fool," said Paul. "And if he DID anything I shouldn't mind. But no, he simply can't come away from a game of whist, or else he must see a gir_ome from the skating-rink—quite proprietously—and so can't get home. He's _ool."
"I don't know that it would make it any better if he did something to make u_ll ashamed," said Mrs. Morel.
"Well, I should respect him more," said Paul.
"I very much doubt it," said his mother coldly.
They went on with breakfast.
"Are you fearfully fond of him?" Paul asked his mother.
"What do you ask that for?"
"Because they say a woman always like the youngest best."
"She may do—but I don't. No, he wearies me."
"And you'd actually rather he was good?"
"I'd rather he showed some of a man's common sense."
Paul was raw and irritable. He also wearied his mother very often. She saw th_unshine going out of him, and she resented it.
As they were finishing breakfast came the postman with a letter from Derby.
Mrs. Morel screwed up her eyes to look at the address.
"Give it here, blind eye!" exclaimed her son, snatching it away from her.
She started, and almost boxed his ears.
"It's from your son, Arthur," he said.
"What now—!" cried Mrs. Morel.
"'My dearest Mother,'" Paul read, "'I don't know what made me such a fool. _ant you to come and fetch me back from here. I came with Jack Bredo_esterday, instead of going to work, and enlisted. He said he was sick o_earing the seat of a stool out, and, like the idiot you know I am, I cam_way with him.
"'I have taken the King's shilling, but perhaps if you came for me they woul_et me go back with you. I was a fool when I did it. I don't want to be in th_rmy. My dear mother, I am nothing but a trouble to you. But if you get me ou_f this, I promise I will have more sense and consideration… .'"
Mrs. Morel sat down in her rocking-chair.
"Well, NOW," she cried, "let him stop!"
"Yes," said Paul, "let him stop."
There was silence. The mother sat with her hands folded in her apron, her fac_et, thinking.
"If I'm not SICK!" she cried suddenly. "Sick!"
"Now," said Paul, beginning to frown, "you're not going to worry your soul ou_bout this, do you hear."
"I suppose I'm to take it as a blessing," she flashed, turning on her son.
"You're not going to mount it up to a tragedy, so there," he retorted.
"The FOOL!—the young fool!" she cried.
"He'll look well in uniform," said Paul irritatingly.
His mother turned on him like a fury.
"Oh, will he!" she cried. "Not in my eyes!"
"He should get in a cavalry regiment; he'll have the time of his life, an_ill look an awful swell."
"Swell!—SWELL!—a mighty swell idea indeed!—a common soldier!"
"Well," said Paul, "what am I but a common clerk?"
"A good deal, my boy!" cried his mother, stung.
"At any rate, a MAN, and not a thing in a red coat."
"I shouldn't mind being in a red coat—or dark blue, that would suit m_etter—if they didn't boss me about too much."
But his mother had ceased to listen.
"Just as he was getting on, or might have been getting on, at his job—a youn_uisance—here he goes and ruins himself for life. What good will he be, do yo_hink, after THIS?"
"It may lick him into shape beautifully," said Paul.
"Lick him into shape!—lick what marrow there WAS out of his bones. _OLDIER!—a common SOLDIER!—nothing but a body that makes movements when i_ears a shout! It's a fine thing!"
"I can't understand why it upsets you," said Paul.
"No, perhaps you can't. But I understand"; and she sat back in her chair, he_hin in one hand, holding her elbow with the other, brimmed up with wrath an_hagrin.
"And shall you go to Derby?" asked Paul.
"It's no good."
"I'll see for myself."
"And why on earth don't you let him stop. It's just what he wants."
"Of course," cried the mother, "YOU know what he wants!"
She got ready and went by the first train to Derby, where she saw her son an_he sergeant. It was, however, no good.
When Morel was having his dinner in the evening, she said suddenly:
"I've had to go to Derby to-day."
The miner turned up his eyes, showing the whites in his black face.
"Has ter, lass. What took thee there?"
"Oh—an' what's agate now?"
"He's only enlisted."
Morel put down his knife and leaned back in his chair.
"Nay," he said, "that he niver 'as!"
"And is going down to Aldershot tomorrow."
"Well!" exclaimed the miner. "That's a winder." He considered it a moment, said "H'm!" and proceeded with his dinner. Suddenly his face contracted wit_rath. "I hope he may never set foot i' my house again," he said.
"The idea!" cried Mrs. Morel. "Saying such a thing!"
"I do," repeated Morel. "A fool as runs away for a soldier, let 'im look after
'issen; I s'll do no more for 'im."
"A fat sight you have done as it is," she said.
And Morel was almost ashamed to go to his public-house that evening.
"Well, did you go?" said Paul to his mother when he came home.
"And could you see him?"
"And what did he say?"
"He blubbered when I came away."
"And so did I, so you needn't 'h'm'!"
Mrs. Morel fretted after her son. She knew he would not like the army. He di_ot. The discipline was intolerable to him.
"But the doctor," she said with some pride to Paul, "said he was perfectl_roportioned—almost exactly; all his measurements were correct. He IS good- looking, you know."
"He's awfully nice-looking. But he doesn't fetch the girls like William, doe_e?"
"No; it's a different character. He's a good deal like his father, irresponsible."
To console his mother, Paul did not go much to Willey Farm at this time. An_n the autumn exhibition of students' work in the Castle he had two studies, _andscape in water-colour and a still life in oil, both of which had first- prize awards. He was highly excited.
"What do you think I've got for my pictures, mother?" he asked, coming hom_ne evening. She saw by his eyes he was glad. Her face flushed.
"Now, how should I know, my boy!"
"A first prize for those glass jars—"
"And a first prize for that sketch up at Willey Farm."
There was a rosy, bright look about her, though she said nothing.
"It's nice," he said, "isn't it?"
"Why don't you praise me up to the skies?"
"I should have the trouble of dragging you down again," she said.
But she was full of joy, nevertheless. William had brought her his sportin_rophies. She kept them still, and she did not forgive his death. Arthur wa_andsome—at least, a good specimen—and warm and generous, and probably woul_o well in the end. But Paul was going to distinguish himself. She had a grea_elief in him, the more because he was unaware of his own powers. There was s_uch to come out of him. Life for her was rich with promise. She was to se_erself fulfilled. Not for nothing had been her struggle.
Several times during the exhibition Mrs. Morel went to the Castle unknown t_aul. She wandered down the long room looking at the other exhibits. Yes, the_ere good. But they had not in them a certain something which she demanded fo_er satisfaction. Some made her jealous, they were so good. She looked at the_ long time trying to find fault with them. Then suddenly she had a shock tha_ade her heart beat. There hung Paul's picture! She knew it as if it wer_rinted on her heart.
"Name—Paul Morel—First Prize."
It looked so strange, there in public, on the walls of the Castle gallery, where in her lifetime she had seen so many pictures. And she glanced round t_ee if anyone had noticed her again in front of the same sketch.
But she felt a proud woman. When she met well-dressed ladies going home to th_ark, she thought to herself:
"Yes, you look very well—but I wonder if YOUR son has two first prizes in th_astle."
And she walked on, as proud a little woman as any in Nottingham. And Paul fel_e had done something for her, if only a trifle. All his work was hers.
One day, as he was going up Castle Gate, he met Miriam. He had seen her on th_unday, and had not expected to meet her in town. She was walking with _ather striking woman, blonde, with a sullen expression, and a defian_arriage. It was strange how Miriam, in her bowed, meditative bearing, looke_warfed beside this woman with the handsome shoulders. Miriam watched Pau_earchingly. His gaze was on the stranger, who ignored him. The girl saw hi_asculine spirit rear its head.
"Hello!" he said, "you didn't tell me you were coming to town."
"No," replied Miriam, half apologetically. "I drove in to Cattle Market wit_ather."
He looked at her companion.
"I've told you about Mrs. Dawes," said Miriam huskily; she was nervous.
"Clara, do you know Paul?"
"I think I've seen him before," replied Mrs. Dawes indifferently, as she shoo_ands with him. She had scornful grey eyes, a skin like white honey, and _ull mouth, with a slightly lifted upper lip that did not know whether it wa_aised in scorn of all men or out of eagerness to be kissed, but whic_elieved the former. She carried her head back, as if she had drawn away i_ontempt, perhaps from men also. She wore a large, dowdy hat of black beaver, and a sort of slightly affected simple dress that made her look rather sack- like. She was evidently poor, and had not much taste. Miriam usually looke_ice.
"Where have you seen me?" Paul asked of the woman.
She looked at him as if she would not trouble to answer. Then:
"Walking with Louie Travers," she said.
Louie was one of the "Spiral" girls.
"Why, do you know her?" he asked.
She did not answer. He turned to Miriam.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"To the Castle."
"What train are you going home by?"
"I am driving with father. I wish you could come too. What time are you free?"
"You know not till eight to-night, damn it!"
And directly the two women moved on.
Paul remembered that Clara Dawes was the daughter of an old friend of Mrs.
Leivers. Miriam had sought her out because she had once been Spiral oversee_t Jordan's, and because her husband, Baxter Dawes, was smith for the factory, making the irons for cripple instruments, and so on. Through her Miriam fel_he got into direct contact with Jordan's, and could estimate better Paul'_osition. But Mrs. Dawes was separated from her husband, and had taken u_omen's Rights. She was supposed to be clever. It interested Paul.
Baxter Dawes he knew and disliked. The smith was a man of thirty-one o_hirty-two. He came occasionally through Paul's corner—a big, well-set man, also striking to look at, and handsome. There was a peculiar similarit_etween himself and his wife. He had the same white skin, with a clear, golde_inge. His hair was of soft brown, his moustache was golden. And he had _imilar defiance in his bearing and manner. But then came the difference. Hi_yes, dark brown and quick-shifting, were dissolute. They protruded ver_lightly, and his eyelids hung over them in a way that was half hate. Hi_outh, too, was sensual. His whole manner was of cowed defiance, as if he wer_eady to knock anybody down who disapproved of him—perhaps because he reall_isapproved of himself.
From the first day he had hated Paul. Finding the lad's impersonal, deliberat_aze of an artist on his face, he got into a fury.
"What are yer lookin' at?" he sneered, bullying.
The boy glanced away. But the smith used to stand behind the counter and tal_o Mr. Pappleworth. His speech was dirty, with a kind of rottenness. Again h_ound the youth with his cool, critical gaze fixed on his face. The smit_tarted round as if he had been stung.
"What'r yer lookin' at, three hap'orth o' pap?" he snarled.
The boy shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"Why yer—!" shouted Dawes.
"Leave him alone," said Mr. Pappleworth, in that insinuating voice whic_eans, "He's only one of your good little sops who can't help it."
Since that time the boy used to look at the man every time he came throug_ith the same curious criticism, glancing away before he met the smith's eye.
It made Dawes furious. They hated each other in silence.
Clara Dawes had no children. When she had left her husband the home had bee_roken up, and she had gone to live with her mother. Dawes lodged with hi_ister. In the same house was a sister-in-law, and somehow Paul knew that thi_irl, Louie Travers, was now Dawes's woman. She was a handsome, insolen_ussy, who mocked at the youth, and yet flushed if he walked along to th_tation with her as she went home.
The next time he went to see Miriam it was Saturday evening. She had a fire i_he parlour, and was waiting for him. The others, except her father and mothe_nd the young children, had gone out, so the two had the parlour together. I_as a long, low, warm room. There were three of Paul's small sketches on th_all, and his photo was on the mantelpiece. On the table and on the high ol_osewood piano were bowls of coloured leaves. He sat in the armchair, sh_rouched on the hearthrug near his feet. The glow was warm on her handsome, pensive face as she kneeled there like a devotee.
"What did you think of Mrs. Dawes?" she asked quietly.
"She doesn't look very amiable," he replied.
"No, but don't you think she's a fine woman?" she said, in a deep tone,
"Yes—in stature. But without a grain of taste. I like her for some things. I_he disagreeable?"
"I don't think so. I think she's dissatisfied."
"Well—how would you like to be tied for life to a man like that?"
"Why did she marry him, then, if she was to have revulsions so soon?"
"Ay, why did she!" repeated Miriam bitterly.
"And I should have thought she had enough fight in her to match him," he said.
Miriam bowed her head.
"Ay?" she queried satirically. "What makes you think so?"
"Look at her mouth—made for passion—and the very setback of her throat—" H_hrew his head back in Clara's defiant manner.
Miriam bowed a little lower.
"Yes," she said.
There was a silence for some moments, while he thought of Clara.
"And what were the things you liked about her?" she asked.
"I don't know—her skin and the texture of her—and her—I don't know—there's _ort of fierceness somewhere in her. I appreciate her as an artist, that'_ll."
He wondered why Miriam crouched there brooding in that strange way. I_rritated him.
"You don't really like her, do you?" he asked the girl.
She looked at him with her great, dazzled dark eyes.
"I do," she said.
"You don't—you can't—not really."
"Then what?" she asked slowly.
"Eh, I don't know—perhaps you like her because she's got a grudge agains_en."
That was more probably one of his own reasons for liking Mrs. Dawes, but thi_id not occur to him. They were silent. There had come into his forehead _nitting of the brows which was becoming habitual with him, particularly whe_e was with Miriam. She longed to smooth it away, and she was afraid of it. I_eemed the stamp of a man who was not her man in Paul Morel.
There were some crimson berries among the leaves in the bowl. He reached ove_nd pulled out a bunch.
"If you put red berries in your hair," he said, "why would you look like som_itch or priestess, and never like a reveller?"
She laughed with a naked, painful sound.
"I don't know," she said.
His vigorous warm hands were playing excitedly with the berries.
"Why can't you laugh?" he said. "You never laugh laughter. You only laugh whe_omething is odd or incongruous, and then it almost seems to hurt you."
She bowed her head as if he were scolding her.
"I wish you could laugh at me just for one minute—just for one minute. I fee_s if it would set something free."
"But"—and she looked up at him with eyes frightened and struggling—"I do laug_t you—I DO."
"Never! There's always a kind of intensity. When you laugh I could always cry; it seems as if it shows up your suffering. Oh, you make me knit the brows o_y very soul and cogitate."
Slowly she shook her head despairingly.
"I'm sure I don't want to," she said.
"I'm so damned spiritual with YOU always!" he cried.
She remained silent, thinking, "Then why don't you be otherwise." But he sa_er crouching, brooding figure, and it seemed to tear him in two.
"But, there, it's autumn," he said, "and everybody feels like a disembodie_pirit then."
There was still another silence. This peculiar sadness between them thrille_er soul. He seemed so beautiful with his eyes gone dark, and looking as i_hey were deep as the deepest well.
"You make me so spiritual!" he lamented. "And I don't want to be spiritual."
She took her finger from her mouth with a little pop, and looked up at hi_lmost challenging. But still her soul was naked in her great dark eyes, an_here was the same yearning appeal upon her. If he could have kissed her i_bstract purity he would have done so. But he could not kiss her thus—and sh_eemed to leave no other way. And she yearned to him.
He gave a brief laugh.
"Well," he said, "get that French and we'll do some—some Verlaine."
"Yes," she said in a deep tone, almost of resignation. And she rose and go_he books. And her rather red, nervous hands looked so pitiful, he was mad t_omfort her and kiss her. But then be dared not—or could not. There wa_omething prevented him. His kisses were wrong for her. They continued th_eading till ten o'clock, when they went into the kitchen, and Paul wa_atural and jolly again with the father and mother. His eyes were dark an_hining; there was a kind of fascination about him.
When he went into the barn for his bicycle he found the front wheel punctured.
"Fetch me a drop of water in a bowl," he said to her. "I shall be late, an_hen I s'll catch it."
He lighted the hurricane lamp, took off his coat, turned up the bicycle, an_et speedily to work. Miriam came with the bowl of water and stood close t_im, watching. She loved to see his hands doing things. He was slim an_igorous, with a kind of easiness even in his most hasty movements. And bus_t his work he seemed to forget her. She loved him absorbedly. She wanted t_un her hands down his sides. She always wanted to embrace him, so long as h_id not want her.
"There!" he said, rising suddenly. "Now, could you have done it quicker?"
"No!" she laughed.
He straightened himself. His back was towards her. She put her two hands o_is sides, and ran them quickly down.
"You are so FINE!" she said.
He laughed, hating her voice, but his blood roused to a wave of flame by he_ands. She did not seem to realise HIM in all this. He might have been a_bject. She never realised the male he was.
He lighted his bicycle-lamp, bounced the machine on the barn floor to see tha_he tyres were sound, and buttoned his coat.
"That's all right!" he said.
She was trying the brakes, that she knew were broken.
"Did you have them mended?" she asked.
"But why didn't you?"
"The back one goes on a bit."
"But it's not safe."
"I can use my toe."
"I wish you'd had them mended," she murmured.
"Don't worry—come to tea tomorrow, with Edgar."
"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, wa_uite black in front.
"Till tomorrow," he said, jumping on his bicycle.
"You'll take care, won't you?" she pleaded.
His voice already came out of the darkness. She stood a moment watching th_ight from his lamp race into obscurity along the ground. She turned ver_lowly indoors. Orion was wheeling up over the wood, his dog twinkling afte_im, 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 hi_afety that night. When he left her, she often lay in anxiety, wondering if h_ad got home safely.
He dropped down the hills on his bicycle. The roads were greasy, so he had t_et it go. He felt a pleasure as the machine plunged over the second, steepe_rop in the hill. "Here goes!" he said. It was risky, because of the curve i_he darkness at the bottom, and because of the brewers' waggons with drunke_aggoners 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 no_alued, so he will risk destroying himself to deprive her altogether.
The stars on the lake seemed to leap like grasshoppers, silver upon th_lackness, as he spun past. Then there was the long climb home.
"See, mother!" he said, as he threw her the berries and leaves on to th_able.
"H'm!" she said, glancing at them, then away again. She sat reading, alone, a_he 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. She'l_ome."
He was very angry with his mother. He knew it was merely Miriam she objecte_o. He flung off his boots and went to bed.
Paul went to meet his friends the next afternoon. He was glad to see the_oming. They arrived home at about four o'clock. Everywhere was clean an_till 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 Miria_old and rather grudging. Yet Paul thought the girl looked so nice in he_rown 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, h_hought, a certain distinction. The chairs were only wooden, and the sofa wa_ld. But the hearthrug and cushions were cosy; the pictures were prints i_ood taste; there was a simplicity in everything, and plenty of books. He wa_ever ashamed in the least of his home, nor was Miriam of hers, because bot_ere what they should be, and warm. And then he was proud of the table; th_hina was pretty, the cloth was fine. It did not matter that the spoons wer_ot silver nor the knives ivory-handled; everything looked nice. Mrs. More_ad managed wonderfully while her children were growing up, so that nothin_as out of place.
Miriam talked books a little. That was her unfailing topic. But Mrs. Morel wa_ot cordial, and turned soon to Edgar.
At first Edgar and Miriam used to go into Mrs. Morel's pew. Morel never wen_o 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 sa_ext to him. Then the chapel was like home. It was a pretty place, with dar_ews and slim, elegant pillars, and flowers. And the same people had sat i_he same places ever since he was a boy. It was wonderfully sweet and soothin_o 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 fel_arm and happy and religious at once. And after chapel he walked home wit_iriam, 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 an_iriam. He never went past the pits at night, by the lighted lamp-house, th_all black headstocks and lines of trucks, past the fans spinning slowly lik_hadows, without the feeling of Miriam returning to him, keen and almos_nbearable.
She did not very long occupy the Morels' pew. Her father took one fo_hemselves 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 alway_mpty. He was anxious for fear she would not come: it was so far, and ther_ere so many rainy Sundays. Then, often very late indeed, she came in, wit_er long stride, her head bowed, her face hidden under her bat of dark gree_elvet. Her face, as she sat opposite, was always in shadow. But it gave him _ery keen feeling, as if all his soul stirred within him, to see her there. I_as not the same glow, happiness, and pride, that he felt in having his mothe_n charge: something more wonderful, less human, and tinged to intensity by _ain, 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 s_ild, 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. Bu_iriam suffered exquisite pain, as, with an intellect like a knife, the ma_he loved examined her religion in which she lived and moved and had he_eing. But he did not spare her. He was cruel. And when they went alone he wa_ven more fierce, as if he would kill her soul. He bled her beliefs till sh_lmost lost consciousness.
"She exults—she exults as she carries him off from me," Mrs. Morel cried i_er heart when Paul had gone. "She's not like an ordinary woman, who can leav_e my share in him. She wants to absorb him. She wants to draw him out an_bsorb him till there is nothing left of him, even for himself. He will neve_e a man on his own feet—she will suck him up." So the mother sat, and battle_nd brooded bitterly.
And he, coming home from his walks with Miriam, was wild with torture. H_alked 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. Ther_as a great hollow of darkness fronting him, and on the black upslopes patche_f tiny lights, and in the lowest trough of the night, a flare of the pit. I_as all weird and dreadful. Why was he torn so, almost bewildered, and unabl_o move? Why did his mother sit at home and suffer? He knew she suffere_adly. But why should she? And why did he hate Miriam, and feel so crue_owards her, at the thought of his mother. If Miriam caused his mothe_uffering, then he hated her—and he easily hated her. Why did she make hi_eel as if he were uncertain of himself, insecure, an indefinite thing, as i_e had not sufficient sheathing to prevent the night and the space breakin_nto 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 o_ome agony, and she said nothing. But he had to make her talk to him. Then sh_as 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 lik_er. 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 h_ecided to stay away from her. Then came the hours when he knew Miriam wa_xpecting him. His mother watched him growing restless. He could not go o_ith his work. He could do nothing. It was as if something were drawing hi_oul 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 sighe_ith 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 besid_im. It was a glistening, white-and-blue day. Big clouds, so brilliant, wen_y overhead, while shadows stole along on the water. The clear spaces in th_ky were of clean, cold blue. Paul lay on his back in the old grass, lookin_p. He could not bear to look at Miriam. She seemed to want him, and h_esisted. He resisted all the time. He wanted now to give her passion an_enderness, and he could not. He felt that she wanted the soul out of hi_ody, and not him. All his strength and energy she drew into herself throug_ome channel which united them. She did not want to meet him, so that ther_ere two of them, man and woman together. She wanted to draw all of him int_er. 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 th_ery quivering tissue, the very protoplasm of life, as she heard him. It gav_er deepest satisfaction. And in the end it frightened her. There he lay i_he white intensity of his search, and his voice gradually filled her wit_ear, so level it was, almost inhuman, as if in a trance.
"Don't talk any more," she pleaded softly, laying her hand on his forehead.
He lay quite still, almost unable to move. His body was somewhere discarded.
"Why not? Are you tired?"
"Yes, and it wears you out."
He laughed shortly, realising.
"Yet you always make me like it," he said.
"I don't wish to," she said, very low.
"Not when you've gone too far, and you feel you can't bear it. But you_nconscious self always asks it of me. And I suppose I want it."
He went on, in his dead fashion:
"If only you could want ME, and not want what I can reel off for you!"
"I!" she cried bitterly—"I! Why, when would you let me take you?"
"Then it's my fault," he said, and, gathering himself together, he got up an_egan to talk trivialities. He felt insubstantial. In a vague way he hated he_or it. And he knew he was as much to blame himself. This, however, did no_revent his hating her.
One evening about this time he had walked along the home road with her. The_tood by the pasture leading down to the wood, unable to part. As the star_ame 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 ha_azed at him in their strange, surcharged hours of feeling, until they seeme_hemselves to live in every one of his stars. This evening Paul had been mood_nd perverse. Orion had seemed just an ordinary constellation to him. He ha_ought against his glamour and fascination. Miriam was watching her lover'_ood carefully. But he said nothing that gave him away, till the moment cam_o part, when he stood frowning gloomily at the gathered clouds, behind whic_he great constellation must be striding still.
There was to be a little party at his house the next day, at which she was t_ttend.
"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 tha_or 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 lef_im, wanting to spare him any further humiliation. A fine rain blew in he_ace as she walked along the road. She was hurt deep down; and she despise_im for being blown about by any wind of authority. And in her heart o_earts, unconsciously, she felt that he was trying to get away from her. Thi_he 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 a_he year-end, if things went well.
Still on Friday night Miriam often came down for her French lesson. Paul di_ot go so frequently to Willey Farm, and she grieved at the thought of he_ducation's coming to end; moreover, they both loved to be together, in spit_f discords. So they read Balzac, and did compositions, and felt highl_ultured.
Friday night was reckoning night for the miners. Morel "reckoned"—shared u_he 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, s_ow 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 earning_ere 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 a_our 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," h_hreatened from the midst of his soap-suds. Paul and the mother frowned t_ear him.
Presently he came running out of the scullery, with the soapy water drippin_rom 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 hav_ullied and blustered. He squatted on his heels before the hot baking-fire t_ry 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 th_iner, 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 tha_uch draught i' yon scullery, as it blows through your ribs like through _ive-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 o_e."
"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, withou_ny fat. His skin was smooth and clear. It might have been the body of a ma_f twenty-eight, except that there were, perhaps, too many blue scars, lik_attoo-marks, where the coal-dust remained under the skin, and that his ches_as too hairy. But he put his hand on his side ruefully. It was his fixe_elief that, because he did not get fat, he was as thin as a starved rat. Pau_ooked at his father's thick, brownish hands all scarred, with broken nails, rubbing the fine smoothness of his sides, and the incongruity struck him. I_eemed 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 wa_rying to get in the smallest space he could."
"Me!" exclaimed Morel—"me a good figure! I wor niver much more n'r _keleton."
"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 wo_oin' off in a rapid decline."
She sat and laughed.
"You've had a constitution like iron," she said; "and never a man had a bette_tart, 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 onc_andsome bearing.
Morel watched her shyly. He saw again the passion she had had for him. I_lazed upon her for a moment. He was shy, rather scared, and humble. Yet agai_e felt his old glow. And then immediately he felt the ruin he had made durin_hese 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. H_ave 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 wa_ery rarely she would do anything so personal for him. The children did thos_hings.
"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 h_truggled into his shirt. Then, ruddy and shiny, with hair on end, and hi_lannelette shirt hanging over his pit-trousers, he stood warming the garment_e was going to put on. He turned them, he pulled them inside out, he scorche_hem.
"Goodness, man!" cried Mrs. Morel, "get dressed!"
"Should thee like to clap thysen into britches as cowd as a tub o' water?" h_aid.
At last he took off his pit-trousers and donned decent black. He did all thi_n the hearthrug, as he would have done if Annie and her familiar friends ha_een present.
Mrs. Morel turned the bread in the oven. Then from the red earthenwar_anchion 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 s_arker knocked and entered. He was a quiet, compact little man, who looked a_f he would go through a stone wall. His black hair was cropped short, hi_ead 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 mea_n the Friday nights, and she admired him. "Barker's little, but he's te_imes the man you are," she said to her husband.
Just then Wesson entered. He was thin, rather frail-looking, with a boyis_ngenuousness and a slightly foolish smile, despite his seven children. Bu_is 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 wa_ointed 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 th_earth. The hearth is sacred to the family.
He rose and went awkwardly. He sat in Morel's armchair awkwardly. It was to_reat 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 flanne_inglet 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 a_ard 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 dow_n the table. There was a five-pound bag of silver, sovereigns and loos_oney. He counted quickly, referred to the checks—the written papers givin_mount 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 o_he house, sat in his armchair, with his back to the hot fire. The two buttie_ad cooler seats. None of them counted the money.
"What did we say Simpson's was?" asked Morel; and the butties cavilled for _inute 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 ha_een deducted, Morel and Barker took four-and-six each. And because Morel'_oals had come, and the leading was stopped, Barker and Wesson took fou_hillings each. Then it was plain sailing. Morel gave each of them a sovereig_ill there were no more sovereigns; each half a crown till there were no mor_alf-crowns; each a shilling till there were no more shillings. If there wa_nything 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 hi_ife came down. She heard the door close, and descended. She looked hastily a_he 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 th_eek's money, and her wrath rising,
"T-t-t-t-t!" went her tongue.
He frowned. He could not work when she was cross. She counted again.
"A measly twenty-five shillings!" she exclaimed. "How much was the cheque?"
"Ten pounds eleven," said Paul irritably. He dreaded what was coming.
"And he gives me a scrattlin' twenty-five, an' his club this week! But I kno_im. 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 t_anage?"
"Well, it won't make it any better to whittle about it."
"I should like to know what you'd do if you had it to put up with."
"It won't be long. You can have my money. Let him go to hell."
He went back to his work, and she tied her bonnet-strings grimly. When she wa_retted he could not bear it. But now he began to insist on her recognizin_im.
"The two loaves at the top," she said, "will be done in twenty minutes. Don'_orget them."
"All right," he answered; and she went to market.
He remained alone working. But his usual intense concentration becam_nsettled. He listened for the yard-gate. At a quarter-past seven came a lo_nock, and Miriam entered.
"All alone?" she said.
As if at home, she took off her tam-o'-shanter and her long coat, hanging the_p. It gave him a thrill. This might be their own house, his and hers. The_he 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, searchin_im out. He went into the parlour and returned with a bundle of brownis_inen. Carefully unfolding it, he spread it on the floor. It proved to be _urtain 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, al_o simple, and somehow so wicked-looking, lay at her feet. She went on he_nees before it, her dark curls dropping. He saw her crouched voluptuousl_efore 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 _over'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 hav_he money."
"Yes," said Miriam. He had spoken with a touch of bitterness, and Miria_ympathised. Money would have been nothing to HER.
He took the cloth back into the parlour. When he returned he threw to Miriam _maller 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 becam_mbarrassed.
"By Jove, the bread!" he cried.
He took the top loaves out, tapped them vigorously. They were done. He pu_hem 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 bit_f dough from his hands.
"You do like it?" he asked.
She looked up at him, with her dark eyes one flame of love. He laughe_ncomfortably. Then he began to talk about the design. There was for him th_ost 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 an_onceived his work. She brought forth to him his imaginations. She did no_nderstand, any more than a woman understands when she conceives a child i_er 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 _riend 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 ne_read. Brown, crisp loaves stood on the hearth.
"I shouldn't have expected to see you here to-night, Miriam Leivers," sai_eatrice 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-consciou_nd self-mistrustful she was. And they were covered with mud.
"Glory! You're a positive muck-heap," exclaimed Beatrice. "Who cleans you_oots?"
"I clean them myself."
"Then you wanted a job," said Beatrice. "It would ha' taken a lot of men t_a' 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 a_others, and fathers, and sisters, and brothers, and men friends, and lad_riends, 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 int_nother burst of wicked, silent laughter.
Miriam sat silent, withdrawn into herself. Every one of Paul's friend_elighted in taking sides against her, and he left her in the lurch—seeme_lmost 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 th_xam?"
"I don't know," said Beatrice coldly.
"Agatha says you're as good as any teacher anywhere. It seems to m_idiculous. 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 hi_ars. She had beautiful small hands. He held her wrists while she wrestle_ith him. At last she broke free, and seized two handfuls of his thick, dar_rown hair, which she shook.
"Beat!" he said, as he pulled his hair straight with his fingers. "I hat_ou!"
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 plac_or her between him and Miriam.
"Did it ruffle his pretty hair, then!" she cried; and, with her hair-comb, sh_ombed him straight. "And his nice little moustache!" she exclaimed. Sh_ilted 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 thos_igarettes?"
He pulled his cigarette-case from his pocket. Beatrice looked inside it.
"And fancy me having Connie's last cig.," said Beatrice, putting the thin_etween 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 hi_s 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 bea_t. As he was now, she had no connection with him; she might as well not hav_xisted. She saw the cigarette dancing on his full red lips. She hated hi_hick hair for being tumbled loose on his forehead.
"Sweet boy!" said Beatrice, tipping up his chin and giving him a little kis_n the cheek.
"I s'll kiss thee back, Beat," he said.
"Tha wunna!" she giggled, jumping up and going away. "Isn't he shameless, Miriam?"
"Quite," said Miriam. "By the way, aren't you forgetting the bread?"
"By Jove!" he cried, flinging open the oven door.
Out puffed the bluish smoke and a smell of burned bread.
"Oh, golly!" cried Beatrice, coming to his side. He crouched before the oven, she peered over his shoulder. "This is what comes of the oblivion of love, m_oy."
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 th_read on to a newspaper on the table. He set the doors open to blow away th_mell of burned bread. Beatrice grated away, puffing her cigarette, knockin_he 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 burne_he cakes. Now I see it! 'Postle would fix up a tale about his work making hi_orget, if he thought it would wash. If that old woman had come in a bi_ooner, 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 dam_owel."
Paul disappeared into the scullery. Beatrice hastily blew her scrapings int_he 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 nodde_ympathetically to Miriam, and became gently sarcastic to Beatrice.
"No," said Beatrice, "he's gone off with number nine."
"I just met number five inquiring for him," said Leonard.
"Yes—we're going to share him up like Solomon's baby," said Beatrice.
"Oh, ay," said Leonard. "And which bit should you have?"
"I don't know," said Beatrice. "I'll let all the others pick first."
"An' you'd have the leavings, like?" said Leonard, twisting up a comic face.
Annie was looking in the oven. Miriam sat ignored. Paul entered.
"This bread's a fine sight, our Paul," said Annie.
"Then you should stop an' look after it," said Paul.
"You mean YOU should do what you're reckoning to do," replied Annie.
"He should, shouldn't he!" cried Beatrice.
"I s'd think he'd got plenty on hand," said Leonard.
"You had a nasty walk, didn't you, Miriam?" said Annie.
"Yes—but I'd been in all week—"
"And you wanted a bit of a change, like," insinuated Leonard kindly.
"Well, you can't be stuck in the house for ever," Annie agreed. She was quit_miable. Beatrice pulled on her coat, and went out with Leonard and Annie. Sh_ould meet her own boy.
"Don't forget that bread, our Paul," cried Annie. "Good-night, Miriam. I don'_hink it will rain."
When they had all gone, Paul fetched the swathed loaf, unwrapped it, an_urveyed 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 betwee_im and Miriam. He stood balanced opposite her for some moments considering, thinking of his behaviour with Beatrice. He felt guilty inside himself, an_et glad. For some inscrutable reason it served Miriam right. He was not goin_o repent. She wondered what he was thinking of as he stood suspended. Hi_hick hair was tumbled over his forehead. Why might she not push it back fo_im, and remove the marks of Beatrice's comb? Why might she not press his bod_ith her two hands. It looked so firm, and every whit living. And he would le_ther girls, why not her?
Suddenly he started into life. It made her quiver almost with terror as h_uickly pushed the hair off his forehead and came towards her.
"Half-past eight!" he said. "We'd better buck up. Where's your French?"
Miriam shyly and rather bitterly produced her exercise-book. Every week sh_rote for him a sort of diary of her inner life, in her own French. He ha_ound this was the only way to get her to do compositions. And her diary wa_ostly a love-letter. He would read it now; she felt as if her soul's histor_ere going to be desecrated by him in his present mood. He sat beside her. Sh_atched his hand, firm and warm, rigorously scoring her work. He was readin_nly the French, ignoring her soul that was there. But gradually his han_orgot its work. He read in silence, motionless. She quivered.
"'Ce matin les oiseaux m'ont eveille,'" he read. "'Il faisait encore u_repuscule. 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. Tout_'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 quelqu_hose de terreur dans le cri des grives. Il est si clair—'"
Miriam sat tremulous, half ashamed. He remained quite still, trying t_nderstand. He only knew she loved him. He was afraid of her love for him. I_as too good for him, and he was inadequate. His own love was at fault, no_ers. Ashamed, he corrected her work, humbly writing above her words.
"Look," he said quietly, "the past participle conjugated with avoir agree_ith the direct object when it precedes."
She bent forward, trying to see and to understand. Her free, fine curl_ickled his face. He started as if they had been red hot, shuddering. He sa_er peering forward at the page, her red lips parted piteously, the black hai_pringing in fine strands across her tawny, ruddy cheek. She was coloured lik_ pomegranate for richness. His breath came short as he watched her. Suddenl_he looked up at him. Her dark eyes were naked with their love, afraid, an_earning. His eyes, too, were dark, and they hurt her. They seemed to maste_er. She lost all her self-control, was exposed in fear. And he knew, befor_e could kiss her, he must drive something out of himself. And a touch of hat_or 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 th_read. For Miriam he was too quick. She started violently, and it hurt he_ith real pain. Even the way he crouched before the oven hurt her. Ther_eemed to be something cruel in it, something cruel in the swift way h_itched the bread out of the tins, caught it up again. If only he had bee_entle in his movements she would have felt so rich and warm. As it was, sh_as hurt.
He returned and finished the exercise.
"You've done well this week," he said.
She saw he was flattered by her diary. It did not repay her entirely.
"You really do blossom out sometimes," he said. "You ought to write poetry."
She lifted her head with joy, then she shook it mistrustfully.
"I don't trust myself," she said.
"You should try!"
Again she shook her head.
"Shall we read, or is it too late?" he asked.
"It is late—but we can read just a little," she pleaded.
She was really getting now the food for her life during the next week. He mad_er copy Baudelaire's "Le Balcon". Then he read it for her. His voice was sof_nd caressing, but growing almost brutal. He had a way of lifting his lips an_howing his teeth, passionately and bitterly, when he was much moved. This h_id now. It made Miriam feel as if he were trampling on her. She dared no_ook at him, but sat with her head bowed. She could not understand why he go_nto such a tumult and fury. It made her wretched. She did not lik_audelaire, on the whole—nor Verlaine.
"Behold her singing in the field
Yon solitary highland lass."
That nourished her heart. So did "Fair Ines". And—
"It was a beauteous evening, calm and pure,
And breathing holy quiet like a nun."
These were like herself. And there was he, saying in his throat bitterly:
"Tu te rappelleras la beaute des caresses."
The poem was finished; he took the bread out of the oven, arranging the burn_oaves at the bottom of the panchion, the good ones at the top. The desiccate_oaf remained swathed up in the scullery.
"Mater needn't know till morning," he said. "It won't upset her so much the_s 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 h_urned 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 th_ocking-chair. Annie, with a rope of hair hanging down her back, remaine_itting on a low stool before the fire, her elbows on her knees, gloomily. O_he table stood the offending loaf unswathed. Paul entered rather breathless.
No one spoke. His mother was reading the little local newspaper. He took of_is coat, and went to sit down on the sofa. His mother moved curtly aside t_et him pass. No one spoke. He was very uncomfortable. For some minutes he sa_retending to read a piece of paper he found on the table. Then—
"I forgot that bread, mother," he said.
There was no answer from either woman.
"Well," he said, "it's only twopence ha'penny. I can pay you for that."
Being angry, he put three pennies on the table and slid them towards hi_other. 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 no_nswer.
"I found her as white as a sheet sitting here," said Annie, with a suggestio_f tears in her voice.
"Well, WHY?" insisted Paul. His brows were knitting, his eyes dilatin_assionately.
"It was enough to upset anybody," said Mrs. Morel, "hugging thos_arcels—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 wit_iriam, 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 th_outh.
"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 wit_iriam."
"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 hav_ccupied you so entirely as to burn a whole ovenful of bread."
"Beatrice was here as well as she."
"Very likely. But we know why the bread is spoilt."
"Why?" he flashed.
"Because you were engrossed with Miriam," replied Mrs. Morel hotly.
"Oh, very well—then it was NOT!" he replied angrily.
He was distressed and wretched. Seizing a paper, he began to read. Annie, he_louse unfastened, her long ropes of hair twisted into a plait, went up t_ed, bidding him a very curt good-night.
Paul sat pretending to read. He knew his mother wanted to upbraid him. He als_anted to know what had made her ill, for he was troubled. So, instead o_unning away to bed, as he would have liked to do, he sat and waited. Ther_as 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 Frida_ight, the night of luxury for the colliers. He was too angry to go and fin_t 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 ther_iles and miles in the mud, coming home at midnight, and got to go t_ottingham 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 yo_ust follow her all that way?" Mrs. Morel was bitterly sarcastic. She sa_till, with averted face, stroking with a rhythmic, jerked movement, the blac_ateen 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 yo_ike nothing and nobody else. There's neither Annie, nor me, nor anyone no_or you."
"What nonsense, mother—you know I don't love her—I—I tell you I DON'T lov_er—she doesn't even walk with my arm, because I don't want her to."
"Then why do you fly to her so often?"
"I DO like to talk to her—I never said I didn't. But I DON'T love her."
"Is there nobody else to talk to?"
"Not about the things we talk of. There's a lot of things that you're no_nterested 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 yo_ver try me!"
"But you don't, mother, you know you don't care whether a picture's decorativ_r 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 m_bout these things, to try?"
"But it's not that that matters to you, mother, you know t's not."
"What is it, then—what is it, then, that matters to me?" she flashed. H_nitted 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. Bu_e 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 nothin_ore to do with you. You only want me to wait on you—the rest is for Miriam."
He could not bear it. Instinctively he realised that he was life to her. And, after all, she was the chief thing to him, the only supreme thing.
"You know it isn't, mother, you know it isn't!"
She was moved to pity by his cry.
"It looks a great deal like it," she said, half putting aside her despair.
"No, mother—I really DON'T love her. I talk to her, but I want to come home t_ou."
He had taken off his collar and tie, and rose, bare-throated, to go to bed. A_e stooped to kiss his mother, she threw her arms round his neck, hid her fac_n his shoulder, and cried, in a whimpering voice, so unlike her own that h_rithed in agony:
"I can't bear it. I could let another woman—but not her. She'd leave me n_oom, not a bit of room—"
And immediately he hated Miriam bitterly.
"And I've never—you know, Paul—I've never had a husband—not really—"
He stroked his mother's hair, and his mouth was on her throat.
"And she exults so in taking you from me—she's not like ordinary girls."
"Well, I don't love her, mother," he murmured, bowing his head and hiding hi_yes 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—no_o." Suddenly she looked at him almost as if in fear. "Perhaps I'm selfish. I_ou want her, take her, my boy."
His mother looked so strange, Paul kissed her, trembling.
"Ha—mother!" he said softly.
Morel came in, walking unevenly. His hat was over one corner of his eye. H_alanced in the doorway.
"At your mischief again?" he said venomously.
Mrs. Morel's emotion turned into sudden hate of the drunkard who had come i_hus 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 an_oat. Then they heard him go down three steps to the pantry. He returned wit_ piece of pork-pie in his fist. It was what Mrs. Morel had bought for he_on.
"Nor was that bought for you. If you can give me no more than twenty-fiv_hillings, I'm sure I'm not going to buy you pork-pie to stuff, after you'v_willed 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 o_emper, 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'l_how yer, yer young jockey!"
"All right!" said Paul viciously, putting his head on one side. "Show me!"
He would at that moment dearly have loved to have a smack at something. More_as half crouching, fists up, ready to spring. The young man stood, smilin_ith his lips.
"Ussha!" hissed the father, swiping round with a great stroke just past hi_on'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 i_nother instant his fist would have hit. He ached for that stroke. But h_eard a faint moan from behind. His mother was deadly pale and dark at th_outh. 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 sh_ould not move. Gradually she was coming to herself. He laid her down on th_ofa, and ran upstairs for a little whisky, which at last she could sip. Th_ears were hopping down his face. As he kneeled in front of her he did no_ry, but the tears ran down his face quickly. Morel, on the opposite side o_he 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 las_ight was fought in that home.
Paul kneeled there, stroking his mother's hand.
"Don't be poorly, mother—don't be poorly!" he said time after time.
"It's nothing, my boy," she murmured.
At last he rose, fetched in a large piece of coal, and raked the fire. Then h_leared the room, put everything straight, laid the things for breakfast, an_rought 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 i_is soul, he was at peace because he still loved his mother best. It was th_itter peace of resignation.
The efforts of his father to conciliate him next day were a great humiliatio_o him.