SOON after Paul had been to the theatre with Clara, he was drinking in the Punch Bowl with some friends of his when Dawes came in. Clara's husband was growing stout; his eyelids were getting slack over his brown eyes; he was losing his healthy firmness of flesh. He was very evidently on the downward track. Having quarrelled with his sister, he had gone into cheap lodgings. His mistress had left him for a man who would marry her. He had been in prison one night for fighting when he was drunk, and there was a shady betting episode in which he was concerned.
Paul and he were confirmed enemies, and yet there was between them that peculiar feeling of intimacy, as if they were secretly near to each other, which sometimes exists between two people, although they never speak to one another. Paul often thought of Baxter Dawes, often wanted to get at him and be friends with him. He knew that Dawes often thought about him, and that the man was drawn to him by some bond or other. And yet the two never looked at each other save in hostility.
Since he was a superior employee at Jordan's, it was the thing for Paul to offer Dawes a drink.
"What'll you have?" he asked of him.
"Nowt wi' a bleeder like you!" replied the man.
Paul turned away with a slight disdainful movement of the shoulders, very irritating.
"The aristocracy," he continued, "is really a military institution. Take Germany, now. She's got thousands of aristocrats whose only means of existence is the army. They're deadly poor, and life's deadly slow. So they hope for a war. They look for war as a chance of getting on. Till there's a war they are idle good-for-nothings. When there's a war, they are leaders and commanders. There you are, then--they WANT war!"
He was not a favourite debater in the public-house, being too quick and overbearing. He irritated the older men by his assertive manner, and his cocksureness. They listened in silence, and were not sorry when he finished.
Dawes interrupted the young man's flow of eloquence by asking, in a loud sneer:
"Did you learn all that at th' theatre th' other night?"
Paul looked at him; their eyes met. Then he knew Dawes had seen him coming out of the theatre with Clara.
"Why, what about th' theatre?" asked one of Paul's associates, glad to get a dig at the young fellow, and sniffing something tasty.
"Oh, him in a bob-tailed evening suit, on the lardy-da!" sneered Dawes, jerking his head contemptuously at Paul.
"That's comin' it strong," said the mutual friend. "Tart an' all?"
"Tart, begod!" said Dawes.
"Go on; let's have it!" cried the mutual friend.
"You've got it," said Dawes, "an' I reckon Morelly had it an' all."
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" said the mutual friend. "An' was it a proper tart?"
"Tart, God blimey--yes!"
"How do you know?"
"Oh," said Dawes, "I reckon he spent th' night---"
There was a good deal of laughter at Paul's expense.
"But who WAS she? D'you know her?" asked the mutual friend.
"I should SHAY SHO," said Dawes.
This brought another burst of laughter.
"Then spit it out," said the mutual friend.
Dawes shook his head, and took a gulp of beer.
"It's a wonder he hasn't let on himself," he said. "He'll be braggin' of it in a bit."
"Come on, Paul," said the friend; "it's no good. You might just as well own up."
"Own up what? That I happened to take a friend to the theatre?"
"Oh well, if it was all right, tell us who she was, lad," said the friend.
"She WAS all right," said Dawes.
Paul was furious. Dawes wiped his golden moustache with his fingers, sneering.
"Strike me---! One o' that sort?" said the mutual friend. "Paul, boy, I'm surprised at you. And do you know her, Baxter?"
"Just a bit, like!"
He winked at the other men.
"Oh well," said Paul, "I'll be going!"
The mutual friend laid a detaining hand on his shoulder.
"Nay," he said, "you don't get off as easy as that, my lad. We've got to have a full account of this business."
"Then get it from Dawes!" he said.
"You shouldn't funk your own deeds, man," remonstrated the friend.
Then Dawes made a remark which caused Paul to throw half a glass of beer in his face.
"Oh, Mr. Morel!" cried the barmaid, and she rang the bell for the "chucker-out".
Dawes spat and rushed for the young man. At that minute a brawny fellow with his shirt-sleeves rolled up and his trousers tight over his haunches intervened.
"Now, then!" he said, pushing his chest in front of Dawes.
"Come out!" cried Dawes.
Paul was leaning, white and quivering, against the brass rail of the bar. He hated Dawes, wished something could exterminate him at that minute; and at the same time, seeing the wet hair on the man's forehead, he thought he looked pathetic. He did not move.
"Come out, you ---," said Dawes.
"That's enough, Dawes," cried the barmaid.
"Come on," said the "chucker-out", with kindly insistence, "you'd better be getting on."
And, by making Dawes edge away from his own close proximity, he worked him to the door.
"THAT'S the little sod as started it!" cried Dawes, half-cowed, pointing to Paul Morel.
"Why, what a story, Mr. Dawes!" said the barmaid. "You know it was you all the time."
Still the "chucker-out" kept thrusting his chest forward at him, still he kept edging back, until he was in the doorway and on the steps outside; then he turned round.
"All right," he said, nodding straight at his rival.
Paul had a curious sensation of pity, almost of affection, mingled with violent hate, for the man. The coloured door swung to; there was silence in the bar.
"Serve, him, jolly well right!" said the barmaid.
"But it's a nasty thing to get a glass of beer in your eyes," said the mutual friend.
"I tell you I was glad he did," said the barmaid. "Will you have another, Mr. Morel?"
She held up Paul's glass questioningly. He nodded.
"He's a man as doesn't care for anything, is Baxter Dawes," said one.
"Pooh! is he?" said the barmaid. "He's a loud-mouthed one, he is, and they're never much good. Give me a pleasant-spoken chap, if you want a devil!"
"Well, Paul, my lad," said the friend, "you'll have to take care of yourself now for a while."
"You won't have to give him a chance over you, that's all," said the barmaid.
"Can you box?" asked a friend.
"Not a bit," he answered, still very white.
"I might give you a turn or two," said the friend.
"Thanks, I haven't time."
And presently he took his departure.
"Go along with him, Mr. Jenkinson," whispered the barmaid, tipping Mr. Jenkinson the wink.
The man nodded, took his hat, said: "Good-night all!" very heartily, and followed Paul, calling:
"Half a minute, old man. You an' me's going the same road, I believe."
"Mr. Morel doesn't like it," said the barmaid. "You'll see, we shan't have him in much more. I'm sorry; he's good company. And Baxter Dawes wants locking up, that's what he wants."
Paul would have died rather than his mother should get to know of this affair. He suffered tortures of humiliation and self-consciousness. There was now a good deal of his life of which necessarily he could not speak to his mother. He had a life apart from her--his sexual life. The rest she still kept. But he felt he had to conceal something from her, and it irked him. There was a certain silence between them, and he felt he had, in that silence, to defend himself against her; he felt condemned by her. Then sometimes he hated her, and pulled at her bondage. His life wanted to free itself of her. It was like a circle where life turned back on itself, and got no farther. She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go forward with his own life, really love another woman. At this period, unknowingly, he resisted his mother's influence. He did not tell her things; there was a distance between them.
Clara was happy, almost sure of him. She felt she had at last got him for herself; and then again came the uncertainty. He told her jestingly of the affair with her husband. Her colour came up, her grey eyes flashed.
"That's him to a 'T'," she cried--"like a navvy! He's not fit for mixing with decent folk."
"Yet you married him," he said.
It made her furious that he reminded her.
"I did!" she cried. "But how was I to know?"
"I think he might have been rather nice," he said.
"You think I made him what he is!" she exclaimed.
"Oh no! he made himself. But there's something about him---"
Clara looked at her lover closely. There was something in him she hated, a sort of detached criticism of herself, a coldness which made her woman's soul harden against him.
"And what are you going to do?" she asked.
"There's nothing to do, is there?" he replied.
"You can fight him if you have to, I suppose?" she said.
"No; I haven't the least sense of the 'fist'. It's funny. With most men there's the instinct to clench the fist and hit. It's not so with me. I should want a knife or a pistol or something to fight with."
"Then you'd better carry something," she said.
"Nay," he laughed; "I'm not daggeroso."
"But he'll do something to you. You don't know him."
"All right," he said, "we'll see."
"And you'll let him?"
"Perhaps, if I can't help it."
"And if he kills you?" she said.
"I should be sorry, for his sake and mine."
Clara was silent for a moment.
"You DO make me angry!" she exclaimed.
"That's nothing afresh," he laughed.
"But why are you so silly? You don't know him."
"And don't want."
"Yes, but you're not going to let a man do as he likes with you?"
"What must I do?" he replied, laughing.
"I should carry a revolver," she said. "I'm sure he's dangerous."
"I might blow my fingers off," he said.
"No; but won't you?" she pleaded.
"And you'll leave him to---?"
"You are a fool!"
She set her teeth with anger.
"I could SHAKE you!" she cried, trembling with passion.
"Let a man like HIM do as he likes with you."
"You can go back to him if he triumphs," he said.
"Do you want me to hate you?" she asked.
"Well, I only tell you," he said.
"And YOU say you LOVE me!" she exclaimed, low and indignant.
"Ought I to slay him to please you?" he said. "But if I did, see what a hold he'd have over me."
"Do you think I'm a fool!" she exclaimed.
"Not at all. But you don't understand me, my dear."
There was a pause between them.
"But you ought NOT to expose yourself," she pleaded.
He shrugged his shoulders.
She looked at him searchingly.
"I wish I could understand you," she said.
"There's simply nothing to understand," he laughed.
She bowed her head, brooding.
He did not see Dawes for several days; then one morning as he ran upstairs from the Spiral room he almost collided with the burly metal-worker.
"What the---!" cried the smith.
"Sorry!" said Paul, and passed on.
"SORRY!" sneered Dawes.
Paul whistled lightly, "Put Me among the Girls".
"I'll stop your whistle, my jockey!" he said.
The other took no notice.
"You're goin' to answer for that job of the other night."
Paul went to his desk in his corner, and turned over the leaves of the ledger.
"Go and tell Fanny I want order 097, quick!" he said to his boy.
Dawes stood in the doorway, tall and threatening, looking at the top of the young man's head.
"Six and five's eleven and seven's one-and-six," Paul added aloud.
"An' you hear, do you!" said Dawes.
"FIVE AND NINEPENCE!" He wrote a figure. "What's that?" he said.
"I'm going to show you what it is," said the smith.
The other went on adding the figures aloud.
"Yer crawlin' little ---, yer daresn't face me proper!"
Paul quickly snatched the heavy ruler. Dawes started. The young man ruled some lines in his ledger. The elder man was infuriated.
"But wait till I light on you, no matter where it is, I'll settle your hash for a bit, yer little swine!"
"All right," said Paul.
At that the smith started heavily from the doorway. Just then a whistle piped shrilly. Paul went to the speaking-tube.
"Yes!" he said, and he listened. "Er--yes!" He listened, then he laughed. "I'll come down directly. I've got a visitor just now."
Dawes knew from his tone that he had been speaking to Clara. He stepped forward.
"Yer little devil!" he said. "I'll visitor you, inside of two minutes! Think I'm goin' to have YOU whipperty-snappin' round?"
The other clerks in the warehouse looked up. Paul's office-boy appeared, holding some white article.
"Fanny says you could have had it last night if you'd let her know," he said.
"All right," answered Paul, looking at the stocking. "Get it off." Dawes stood frustrated, helpless with rage. Morel turned round.
"Excuse me a minute," he said to Dawes, and he would have run downstairs.
"By God, I'll stop your gallop!" shouted the smith, seizing him by the arm. He turned quickly.
"Hey! Hey!" cried the office-boy, alarmed.
Thomas Jordan started out of his little glass office, and came running down the room.
"What's a-matter, what's a-matter?" he said, in his old man's sharp voice.
"I'm just goin' ter settle this little ---, that's all," said Dawes desperately.
"What do you mean?" snapped Thomas Jordan.
"What I say," said Dawes, but he hung fire.
Morel was leaning against the counter, ashamed, half-grinning.
"What's it all about?" snapped Thomas Jordan.
"Couldn't say," said Paul, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.
"Couldn't yer, couldn't yer!" cried Dawes, thrusting forward his handsome, furious face, and squaring his fist.
"Have you finished?" cried the old man, strutting. "Get off about your business, and don't come here tipsy in the morning."
Dawes turned his big frame slowly upon him.
"Tipsy!" he said. "Who's tipsy? I'm no more tipsy than YOU are!"
"We've heard that song before," snapped the old man. "Now you get off, and don't be long about it. Comin' HERE with your rowdying."
The smith looked down contemptuously on his employer. His hands, large, and grimy, and yet well shaped for his labour, worked restlessly. Paul remembered they were the hands of Clara's husband, and a flash of hate went through him.
"Get out before you're turned out!" snapped Thomas Jordan.
"Why, who'll turn me out?" said Dawes, beginning to sneer.
Mr. Jordan started, marched up to the smith, waving him off, thrusting his stout little figure at the man, saying:
"Get off my premises--get off!"
He seized and twitched Dawes's arm.
"Come off!" said the smith, and with a jerk of the elbow he sent the little manufacturer staggering backwards.
Before anyone could help him, Thomas Jordan had collided with the flimsy spring-door. It had given way, and let him crash down the half-dozen steps into Fanny's room. There was a second of amazement; then men and girls were running. Dawes stood a moment looking bitterly on the scene, then he took his departure.
Thomas Jordan was shaken and braised, not otherwise hurt. He was, however, beside himself with rage. He dismissed Dawes from his employment, and summoned him for assault.
At the trial Paul Morel had to give evidence. Asked how the trouble began, he said:
"Dawes took occasion to insult Mrs. Dawes and me because I accompanied her to the theatre one evening; then I threw some beer at him, and he wanted his revenge."
"Cherchez la femme!" smiled the magistrate.
The case was dismissed after the magistrate had told Dawes he thought him a skunk.
"You gave the case away," snapped Mr. Jordan to Paul.
"I don't think I did," replied the latter. "Besides, you didn't really want a conviction, did you?"
"What do you think I took the case up for?"
"Well," said Paul, "I'm sorry if I said the wrong thing." Clara was also very angry.
"Why need MY name have been dragged in?" she said.
"Better speak it openly than leave it to be whispered."
"There was no need for anything at all," she declared.
"We are none the poorer," he said indifferently.
"YOU may not be," she said.
"And you?" he asked.
"I need never have been mentioned."
"I'm sorry," he said; but he did not sound sorry.
He told himself easily: "She will come round." And she did.
He told his mother about the fall of Mr. Jordan and the trial of Dawes. Mrs. Morel watched him closely.
"And what do you think of it all?" she asked him.
"I think he's a fool," he said.
But he was very uncomfortable, nevertheless.
"Have you ever considered where it will end?" his mother said.
"No," he answered; "things work out of themselves."
"They do, in a way one doesn't like, as a rule," said his mother.
"And then one has to put up with them," he said.
"You'll find you're not as good at 'putting up' as you imagine," she said.
He went on working rapidly at his design.
"Do you ever ask HER opinion?" she said at length.
"Of you, and the whole thing."
"I don't care what her opinion of me is. She's fearfully in love with me, but it's not very deep."
"But quite as deep as your feeling for her."
He looked up at his mother curiously.
"Yes," he said. "You know, mother, I think there must be something the matter with me, that I CAN'T love. When she's there, as a rule, I DO love her. Sometimes, when I see her just as THE WOMAN, I love her, mother; but then, when she talks and criticises, I often don't listen to her."
"Yet she's as much sense as Miriam."
"Perhaps; and I love her better than Miriam. But WHY don't they hold me?"
The last question was almost a lamentation. His mother turned away her face, sat looking across the room, very quiet, grave, with something of renunciation.
"But you wouldn't want to marry Clara?" she said.
"No; at first perhaps I would. But why--why don't I want to marry her or anybody? I feel sometimes as if I wronged my women, mother."
"How wronged them, my son?"
"I don't know."
He went on painting rather despairingly; he had touched the quick of the trouble.
"And as for wanting to marry," said his mother, "there's plenty of time yet."
"But no, mother. I even love Clara, and I did Miriam; but to GIVE myself to them in marriage I couldn't. I couldn't belong to them. They seem to want ME, and I can't ever give it them."
"You haven't met the right woman."
"And I never shall meet the right woman while you live," he said.
She was very quiet. Now she began to feel again tired, as if she were done.
"We'll see, my son," she answered.
The feeling that things were going in a circle made him mad.
Clara was, indeed, passionately in love with him, and he with her, as far as passion went. In the daytime he forgot her a good deal. She was working in the same building, but he was not aware of it. He was busy, and her existence was of no matter to him. But all the time she was in her Spiral room she had a sense that he was upstairs, a physical sense of his person in the same building. Every second she expected him to come through the door, and when he came it was a shock to her. But he was often short and offhand with her. He gave her his directions in an official manner, keeping her at bay. With what wits she had left she listened to him. She dared not misunderstand or fail to remember, but it was a cruelty to her. She wanted to touch his chest. She knew exactly how his breast was shapen under the waistcoat, and she wanted to touch it. It maddened her to hear his mechanical voice giving orders about the work. She wanted to break through the sham of it, smash the trivial coating of business which covered him with hardness, get at the man again; but she was afraid, and before she could feel one touch of his warmth he was gone, and she ached again.
He knew that she was dreary every evening she did not see him, so he gave her a good deal of his time. The days were often a misery to her, but the evenings and the nights were usually a bliss to them both. Then they were silent. For hours they sat together, or walked together in the dark, and talked only a few, almost meaningless words. But he had her hand in his, and her bosom left its warmth in his chest, making him feel whole.
One evening they were walking down by the canal, and something was troubling him. She knew she had not got him. All the time he whistled softly and persistently to himself. She listened, feeling she could learn more from his whistling than from his speech. It was a sad dissatisfied tune--a tune that made her feel he would not stay with her. She walked on in silence. When they came to the swing bridge he sat down on the great pole, looking at the stars in the water. He was a long way from her. She had been thinking.
"Will you always stay at Jordan's?" she asked.
"No," he answered without reflecting. "No; I s'll leave Nottingham and go abroad--soon."
"Go abroad! What for?"
"I dunno! I feel restless."
"But what shall you do?"
"I shall have to get some steady designing work, and some sort of sale for my pictures first," he said. "I am gradually making my way. I know I am."
"And when do you think you'll go?"
"I don't know. I shall hardly go for long, while there's my mother."
"You couldn't leave her?"
"Not for long."
She looked at the stars in the black water. They lay very white and staring. It was an agony to know he would leave her, but it was almost an agony to have him near her.
"And if you made a nice lot of money, what would you do?" she asked.
"Go somewhere in a pretty house near London with my mother."
There was a long pause.
"I could still come and see you," he said. "I don't know. Don't ask me what I should do; I don't know."
There was a silence. The stars shuddered and broke upon the water. There came a breath of wind. He went suddenly to her, and put his hand on her shoulder.
"Don't ask me anything about the future," he said miserably. "I don't know anything. Be with me now, will you, no matter what it is?"
And she took him in her arms. After all, she was a married woman, and she had no right even to what he gave her. He needed her badly. She had him in her arms, and he was miserable. With her warmth she folded him over, consoled him, loved him. She would let the moment stand for itself.
After a moment he lifted his head as if he wanted to speak.
"Clara," he said, struggling.
She caught him passionately to her, pressed his head down on her breast with her hand. She could not bear the suffering in his voice. She was afraid in her soul. He might have anything of her--anything; but she did not want to KNOW. She felt she could not bear it. She wanted him to be soothed upon her--soothed. She stood clasping him and caressing him, and he was something unknown to her--something almost uncanny. She wanted to soothe him into forgetfulness.
And soon the struggle went down in his soul, and he forgot. But then Clara was not there for him, only a woman, warm, something he loved and almost worshipped, there in the dark. But it was not Clara, and she submitted to him. The naked hunger and inevitability of his loving her, something strong and blind and ruthless in its primitiveness, made the hour almost terrible to her. She knew how stark and alone he was, and she felt it was great that he came to her; and she took him simply because his need was bigger either than her or him, and her soul was still within her. She did this for him in his need, even if he left her, for she loved him.
All the while the peewits were screaming in the field. When he came to, he wondered what was near his eyes, curving and strong with life in the dark, and what voice it was speaking. Then he realised it was the grass, and the peewit was calling. The warmth was Clara's breathing heaving. He lifted his head, and looked into her eyes. They were dark and shining and strange, life wild at the source staring into his life, stranger to him, yet meeting him; and he put his face down on her throat, afraid. What was she? A strong, strange, wild life, that breathed with his in the darkness through this hour. It was all so much bigger than themselves that he was hushed. They had met, and included in their meeting the thrust of the manifold grass stems, the cry of the peewit, the wheel of the stars.
When they stood up they saw other lovers stealing down the opposite hedge. It seemed natural they were there; the night contained them.
And after such an evening they both were very still, having known the immensity of passion. They felt small, half-afraid, childish and wondering, like Adam and Eve when they lost their innocence and realised the magnificence of the power which drove them out of Paradise and across the great night and the great day of humanity. It was for each of them an initiation and a satisfaction. To know their own nothingness, to know the tremendous living flood which carried them always, gave them rest within themselves. If so great a magnificent power could overwhelm them, identify them altogether with itself, so that they knew they were only grains in the tremendous heave that lifted every grass blade its little height, and every tree, and living thing, then why fret about themselves? They could let themselves be carried by life, and they felt a sort of peace each in the other. There was a verification which they had had together. Nothing could nullify it, nothing could take it away; it was almost their belief in life.
But Clara was not satisfied. Something great was there, she knew; something great enveloped her. But it did not keep her. In the morning it was not the same. They had KNOWN, but she could not keep the moment. She wanted it again; she wanted something permanent. She had not realised fully. She thought it was he whom she wanted. He was not safe to her. This that had been between them might never be again; he might leave her. She had not got him; she was not satisfied. She had been there, but she had not gripped the--the something--she knew not what--which she was mad to have.
In the morning he had considerable peace, and was happy in himself. It seemed almost as if he had known the baptism of fire in passion, and it left him at rest. But it was not Clara. It was something that happened because of her, but it was not her. They were scarcely any nearer each other. It was as if they had been blind agents of a great force.
When she saw him that day at the factory her heart melted like a drop of fire. It was his body, his brows. The drop of fire grew more intense in her breast; she must hold him. But he, very quiet, very subdued this morning, went on giving his instruction. She followed him into the dark, ugly basement, and lifted her arms to him. He kissed her, and the intensity of passion began to burn him again. Somebody was at the door. He ran upstairs; she returned to her room, moving as if in a trance.
After that the fire slowly went down. He felt more and more that his experience had been impersonal, and not Clara. He loved her. There was a big tenderness, as after a strong emotion they had known together; but it was not she who could keep his soul steady. He had wanted her to be something she could not be.
And she was mad with desire of him. She could not see him without touching him. In the factory, as he talked to her about Spiral hose, she ran her hand secretly along his side. She followed him out into the basement for a quick kiss; her eyes, always mute and yearning, full of unrestrained passion, she kept fixed on his. He was afraid of her, lest she should too flagrantly give herself away before the other girls. She invariably waited for him at dinnertime for him to embrace her before she went. He felt as if she were helpless, almost a burden to him, and it irritated him.
"But what do you always want to be kissing and embracing for?" he said. "Surely there's a time for everything."
She looked up at him, and the hate came into her eyes.
"DO I always want to be kissing you?" she said.
"Always, even if I come to ask you about the work. I don't want anything to do with love when I'm at work. Work's work---"
"And what is love?" she asked. "Has it to have special hours?"
"Yes; out of work hours."
"And you'll regulate it according to Mr. Jordan's closing time?"
"Yes; and according to the freedom from business of any sort."
"It is only to exist in spare time?"
"That's all, and not always then--not the kissing sort of love."
"And that's all you think of it?"
"It's quite enough."
"I'm glad you think so."
And she was cold to him for some time--she hated him; and while she was cold and contemptuous, he was uneasy till she had forgiven him again. But when they started afresh they were not any nearer. He kept her because he never satisfied her.
In the spring they went together to the seaside. They had rooms at a little cottage near Theddlethorpe, and lived as man and wife. Mrs. Radford sometimes went with them.
It was known in Nottingham that Paul Morel and Mrs. Dawes were going together, but as nothing was very obvious, and Clara always a solitary person, and he seemed so simple and innocent, it did not make much difference.
He loved the Lincolnshire coast, and she loved the sea. In the early morning they often went out together to bathe. The grey of the dawn, the far, desolate reaches of the fenland smitten with winter, the sea-meadows rank with herbage, were stark enough to rejoice his soul. As they stepped on to the highroad from their plank bridge, and looked round at the endless monotony of levels, the land a little darker than the sky, the sea sounding small beyond the sandhills, his heart filled strong with the sweeping relentlessness of life. She loved him then. He was solitary and strong, and his eyes had a beautiful light.
They shuddered with cold; then he raced her down the road to the green turf bridge. She could run well. Her colour soon came, her throat was bare, her eyes shone. He loved her for being so luxuriously heavy, and yet so quick. Himself was light; she went with a beautiful rush. They grew warm, and walked hand in hand.
A flush came into the sky, the wan moon, half-way down the west, sank into insignificance. On the shadowy land things began to take life, plants with great leaves became distinct. They came through a pass in the big, cold sandhills on to the beach. The long waste of foreshore lay moaning under the dawn and the sea; the ocean was a flat dark strip with a white edge. Over the gloomy sea the sky grew red. Quickly the fire spread among the clouds and scattered them. Crimson burned to orange, orange to dull gold, and in a golden glitter the sun came up, dribbling fierily over the waves in little splashes, as if someone had gone along and the light had spilled from her pail as she walked.
The breakers ran down the shore in long, hoarse strokes. Tiny seagulls, like specks of spray, wheeled above the line of surf. Their crying seemed larger than they. Far away the coast reached out, and melted into the morning, the tussocky sandhills seemed to sink to a level with the beach. Mablethorpe was tiny on their right. They had alone the space of all this level shore, the sea, and the upcoming sun, the faint noise of the waters, the sharp crying of the gulls.
They had a warm hollow in the sandhills where the wind did not come. He stood looking out to sea.
"It's very fine," he said.
"Now don't get sentimental," she said.
It irritated her to see him standing gazing at the sea, like a solitary and poetic person. He laughed. She quickly undressed.
"There are some fine waves this morning," she said triumphantly.
She was a better swimmer than he; he stood idly watching her.
"Aren't you coming?" she said.
"In a minute," he answered.
She was white and velvet skinned, with heavy shoulders. A little wind, coming from the sea, blew across her body and ruffled her hair.
The morning was of a lovely limpid gold colour. Veils of shadow seemed to be drifting away on the north and the south. Clara stood shrinking slightly from the touch of the wind, twisting her hair. The sea-grass rose behind the white stripped woman. She glanced at the sea, then looked at him. He was watching her with dark eyes which she loved and could not understand. She hugged her breasts between her arms, cringing, laughing:
"Oo, it will be so cold!" she said.
He bent forward and kissed her, held her suddenly close, and kissed her again. She stood waiting. He looked into her eyes, then away at the pale sands.
"Go, then!" he said quietly.
She flung her arms round his neck, drew him against her, kissed him passionately, and went, saying:
"But you'll come in?"
"In a minute."
She went plodding heavily over the sand that was soft as velvet. He, on the sandhills, watched the great pale coast envelop her. She grew smaller, lost proportion, seemed only like a large white bird toiling forward.
"Not much more than a big white pebble on the beach, not much more than a clot of foam being blown and rolled over the sand," he said to himself.
She seemed to move very slowly across the vast sounding shore. As he watched, he lost her. She was dazzled out of sight by the sunshine. Again he saw her, the merest white speck moving against the white, muttering sea-edge.
"Look how little she is!" he said to himself. "She's lost like a grain of sand in the beach--just a concentrated speck blown along, a tiny white foam-bubble, almost nothing among the morning. Why does she absorb me?"
The morning was altogether uninterrupted: she was gone in the water. Far and wide the beach, the sandhills with their blue marrain, the shining water, glowed together in immense, unbroken solitude.
"What is she, after all?" he said to himself. "Here's the seacoast morning, big and permanent and beautiful; there is she, fretting, always unsatisfied, and temporary as a bubble of foam. What does she mean to me, after all? She represents something, like a bubble of foam represents the sea. But what is she? It's not her I care for."
Then, startled by his own unconscious thoughts, that seemed to speak so distinctly that all the morning could hear, he undressed and ran quickly down the sands. She was watching for him. Her arm flashed up to him, she heaved on a wave, subsided, her shoulders in a pool of liquid silver. He jumped through the breakers, and in a moment her hand was on his shoulder.
He was a poor swimmer, and could not stay long in the water. She played round him in triumph, sporting with her superiority, which he begrudged her. The sunshine stood deep and fine on the water. They laughed in the sea for a minute or two, then raced each other back to the sandhills.
When they were drying themselves, panting heavily, he watched her laughing, breathless face, her bright shoulders, her breasts that swayed and made him frightened as she rubbed them, and he thought again:
"But she is magnificent, and even bigger than the morning and the sea. Is she---? Is she---"
She, seeing his dark eyes fixed on her, broke off from her drying with a laugh.
"What are you looking at?" she said.
"You," he answered, laughing.
Her eyes met his, and in a moment he was kissing her white "goose-fleshed" shoulder, and thinking:
"What is she? What is she?"
She loved him in the morning. There was something detached, hard, and elemental about his kisses then, as if he were only conscious of his own will, not in the least of her and her wanting him.
Later in the day he went out sketching.
"You," he said to her, "go with your mother to Sutton. I am so dull."
She stood and looked at him. He knew she wanted to come with him, but he preferred to be alone. She made him feel imprisoned when she was there, as if he could not get a free deep breath, as if there were something on top of him. She felt his desire to be free of her.
In the evening he came back to her. They walked down the shore in the darkness, then sat for a while in the shelter of the sandhills.
"It seems," she said, as they stared over the darkness of the sea, where no light was to be seen--"it seemed as if you only loved me at night--as if you didn't love me in the daytime."
He ran the cold sand through his fingers, feeling guilty under the accusation.
"The night is free to you," he replied. "In the daytime I want to be by myself."
"But why?" she said. "Why, even now, when we are on this short holiday?"
"I don't know. Love-making stifles me in the daytime."
"But it needn't be always love-making," she said.
"It always is," he answered, "when you and I are together."
She sat feeling very bitter.
"Do you ever want to marry me?" he asked curiously.
"Do you me?" she replied.
"Yes, yes; I should like us to have children," he answered slowly.
She sat with her head bent, fingering the sand.
"But you don't really want a divorce from Baxter, do you?" he said.
It was some minutes before she replied.
"No," she said, very deliberately; "I don't think I do."
"I don't know."
"Do you feel as if you belonged to him?"
"No; I don't think so."
"I think he belongs to me," she replied.
He was silent for some minutes, listening to the wind blowing over the hoarse, dark sea.
"And you never really intended to belong to ME?" he said.
"Yes, I do belong to you," she answered.
"No," he said; "because you don't want to be divorced."
It was a knot they could not untie, so they left it, took what they could get, and what they could not attain they ignored.
"I consider you treated Baxter rottenly," he said another time.
He half-expected Clara to answer him, as his mother would: "You consider your own affairs, and don't know so much about other people's." But she took him seriously, almost to his own surprise.
"Why?" she said.
"I suppose you thought he was a lily of the valley, and so you put him in an appropriate pot, and tended him according. You made up your mind he was a lily of the valley and it was no good his being a cow-parsnip. You wouldn't have it."
"I certainly never imagined him a lily of the valley."
"You imagined him something he wasn't. That's just what a woman is. She thinks she knows what's good for a man, and she's going to see he gets it; and no matter if he's starving, he may sit and whistle for what he needs, while she's got him, and is giving him what's good for him."
"And what are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm thinking what tune I shall whistle," he laughed.
And instead of boxing his ears, she considered him in earnest.
"You think I want to give you what's good for you?" she asked.
"I hope so; but love should give a sense of freedom, not of prison. Miriam made me feel tied up like a donkey to a stake. I must feed on her patch, and nowhere else. It's sickening!"
"And would YOU let a WOMAN do as she likes?"
"Yes; I'll see that she likes to love me. If she doesn't--well, I don't hold her."
"If you were as wonderful as you say---," replied Clara.
"I should be the marvel I am," he laughed.
There was a silence in which they hated each other, though they laughed.
"Love's a dog in a manger," he said.
"And which of us is the dog?" she asked.
"Oh well, you, of course."
So there went on a battle between them. She knew she never fully had him. Some part, big and vital in him, she had no hold over; nor did she ever try to get it, or even to realise what it was. And he knew in some way that she held herself still as Mrs. Dawes. She did not love Dawes, never had loved him; but she believed he loved her, at least depended on her. She felt a certain surety about him that she never felt with Paul Morel. Her passion for the young man had filled her soul, given her a certain satisfaction, eased her of her self-mistrust, her doubt. Whatever else she was, she was inwardly assured. It was almost as if she had gained HERSELF, and stood now distinct and complete. She had received her confirmation; but she never believed that her life belonged to Paul Morel, nor his to her. They would separate in the end, and the rest of her life would be an ache after him. But at any rate, she knew now, she was sure of herself. And the same could almost be said of him. Together they had received the baptism of life, each through the other; but now their missions were separate. Where he wanted to go she could not come with him. They would have to part sooner or later. Even if they married, and were faithful to each other, still he would have to leave her, go on alone, and she would only have to attend to him when he came home. But it was not possible. Each wanted a mate to go side by side with.
Clara had gone to live with her mother upon Mapperley Plains. One evening, as Paul and she were walking along Woodborough Road, they met Dawes. Morel knew something about the bearing of the man approaching, but he was absorbed in his thinking at the moment, so that only his artist's eye watched the form of the stranger. Then he suddenly turned to Clara with a laugh, and put his hand on her shoulder, saying, laughing:
"But we walk side by side, and yet I'm in London arguing with an imaginary Orpen; and where are you?"
At that instant Dawes passed, almost touching Morel. The young man glanced, saw the dark brown eyes burning, full of hate and yet tired.
"Who was that?" he asked of Clara.
"It was Baxter," she replied.
Paul took his hand from her shoulder and glanced round; then he saw again distinctly the man's form as it approached him. Dawes still walked erect, with his fine shoulders flung back, and his face lifted; but there was a furtive look in his eyes that gave one the impression he was trying to get unnoticed past every person he met, glancing suspiciously to see what they thought of him. And his hands seemed to be wanting to hide. He wore old clothes, the trousers were torn at the knee, and the handkerchief tied round his throat was dirty; but his cap was still defiantly over one eye. As she saw him, Clara felt guilty. There was a tiredness and despair on his face that made her hate him, because it hurt her.
"He looks shady," said Paul.
But the note of pity in his voice reproached her, and made her feel hard.
"His true commonness comes out," she answered.
"Do you hate him?" he asked.
"You talk," she said, "about the cruelty of women; I wish you knew the cruelty of men in their brute force. They simply don't know that the woman exists."
"Don't I?" he said.
"No," she answered.
"Don't I know you exist?"
"About ME you know nothing," she said bitterly--"about ME!"
"No more than Baxter knew?" he asked.
"Perhaps not as much."
He felt puzzled, and helpless, and angry. There she walked unknown to him, though they had been through such experience together.
"But you know ME pretty well," he said.
She did not answer.
"Did you know Baxter as well as you know me?" he asked.
"He wouldn't let me," she said.
"And I have let you know me?"
"It's what men WON'T let you do. They won't let you get really near to them," she said.
"And haven't I let you?"
"Yes," she answered slowly; "but you've never come near to me. You can't come out of yourself, you can't. Baxter could do that better than you."
He walked on pondering. He was angry with her for prefering Baxter to him.
"You begin to value Baxter now you've not got him," he said.
"No; I can only see where he was different from you."
But he felt she had a grudge against him.
One evening, as they were coming home over the fields, she startled him by asking:
"Do you think it's worth it--the--the sex part?"
"The act of loving, itself?"
"Yes; is it worth anything to you?"
"But how can you separate it?" he said. "It's the culmination of everything. All our intimacy culminates then."
"Not for me," she said.
He was silent. A flash of hate for her came up. After all, she was dissatisfied with him, even there, where he thought they fulfilled each other. But he believed her too implicitly.
"I feel," she continued slowly, "as if I hadn't got you, as if all of you weren't there, and as if it weren't ME you were taking---"
"Something just for yourself. It has been fine, so that I daren't think of it. But is it ME you want, or is it IT?"
He again felt guilty. Did he leave Clara out of count, and take simply women? But he thought that was splitting a hair.
"When I had Baxter, actually had him, then I DID feel as if I had all of him," she said.
"And it was better?" he asked.
"Yes, yes; it was more whole. I don't say you haven't given me more than he ever gave me."
"Or could give you."
"Yes, perhaps; but you've never given me yourself."
He knitted his brows angrily.
"If I start to make love to you," he said, "I just go like a leaf down the wind."
"And leave me out of count," she said.
"And then is it nothing to you?" he asked, almost rigid with chagrin.
"It's something; and sometimes you have carried me away--right away--I know--and--I reverence you for it--but---"
"Don't 'but' me," he said, kissing her quickly, as a fire ran through him.
She submitted, and was silent.
It was true as he said. As a rule, when he started love-making, the emotion was strong enough to carry with it everything--reason, soul, blood--in a great sweep, like the Trent carries bodily its back-swirls and intertwinings, noiselessly. Gradually the little criticisms, the little sensations, were lost, thought also went, everything borne along in one flood. He became, not a man with a mind, but a great instinct. His hands were like creatures, living; his limbs, his body, were all life and consciousness, subject to no will of his, but living in themselves. Just as he was, so it seemed the vigorous, wintry stars were strong also with life. He and they struck with the same pulse of fire, and the same joy of strength which held the bracken-frond stiff near his eyes held his own body firm. It was as if he, and the stars, and the dark herbage, and Clara were licked up in an immense tongue of flame, which tore onwards and upwards. Everything rushed along in living beside him; everything was still, perfect in itself, along with him. This wonderful stillness in each thing in itself, while it was being borne along in a very ecstasy of living, seemed the highest point of bliss.
And Clara knew this held him to her, so she trusted altogether to the passion. It, however, failed her very often. They did not often reach again the height of that once when the peewits had called. Gradually, some mechanical effort spoilt their loving, or, when they had splendid moments, they had them separately, and not so satisfactorily. So often he seemed merely to be running on alone; often they realised it had been a failure, not what they had wanted. He left her, knowing THAT evening had only made a little split between them. Their loving grew more mechanical, without the marvellous glamour. Gradually they began to introduce novelties, to get back some of the feeling of satisfaction. They would be very near, almost dangerously near to the river, so that the black water ran not far from his face, and it gave a little thrill; or they loved sometimes in a little hollow below the fence of the path where people were passing occasionally, on the edge of the town, and they heard footsteps coming, almost felt the vibration of the tread, and they heard what the passersby said--strange little things that were never intended to be heard. And afterwards each of them was rather ashamed, and these things caused a distance between the two of them. He began to despise her a little, as if she had merited it!
One night he left her to go to Daybrook Station over the fields. It was very dark, with an attempt at snow, although the spring was so far advanced. Morel had not much time; he plunged forward. The town ceases almost abruptly on the edge of a steep hollow; there the houses with their yellow lights stand up against the darkness. He went over the stile, and dropped quickly into the hollow of the fields. Under the orchard one warm window shone in Swineshead Farm. Paul glanced round. Behind, the houses stood on the brim of the dip, black against the sky, like wild beasts glaring curiously with yellow eyes down into the darkness. It was the town that seemed savage and uncouth, glaring on the clouds at the back of him. Some creature stirred under the willows of the farm pond. It was too dark to distinguish anything.
He was close up to the next stile before he saw a dark shape leaning against it. The man moved aside.
"Good-evening!" he said.
"Good-evening!" Morel answered, not noticing.
"Paul Morel?" said the man.
Then he knew it was Dawes. The man stopped his way.
"I've got yer, have I?" he said awkwardly.
"I shall miss my train," said Paul.
He could see nothing of Dawes's face. The man's teeth seemed to chatter as he talked.
"You're going to get it from me now," said Dawes.
Morel attempted to move forward; the other man stepped in front of him.
"Are yer goin' to take that top-coat off," he said, "or are you goin' to lie down to it?"
Paul was afraid the man was mad.
"But," he said, "I don't know how to fight."
"All right, then," answered Dawes, and before the younger man knew where he was, he was staggering backwards from a blow across the face.
The whole night went black. He tore off his overcoat and coat, dodging a blow, and flung the garments over Dawes. The latter swore savagely. Morel, in his shirt-sleeves, was now alert and furious. He felt his whole body unsheath itself like a claw. He could not fight, so he would use his wits. The other man became more distinct to him; he could see particularly the shirt-breast. Dawes stumbled over Paul's coats, then came rushing forward. The young man's mouth was bleeding. It was the other man's mouth he was dying to get at, and the desire was anguish in its strength. He stepped quickly through the stile, and as Dawes was coming through after him, like a flash he got a blow in over the other's mouth. He shivered with pleasure. Dawes advanced slowly, spitting. Paul was afraid; he moved round to get to the stile again. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, came a great blow against his ear, that sent him falling helpless backwards. He heard Dawes's heavy panting, like a wild beast's, then came a kick on the knee, giving him such agony that he got up and, quite blind, leapt clean under his enemy's guard. He felt blows and kicks, but they did not hurt. He hung on to the bigger man like a wild cat, till at last Dawes fell with a crash, losing his presence of mind. Paul went down with him. Pure instinct brought his hands to the man's neck, and before Dawes, in frenzy and agony, could wrench him free, he had got his fists twisted in the scarf and his knuckles dug in the throat of the other man. He was a pure instinct, without reason or feeling. His body, hard and wonderful in itself, cleaved against the struggling body of the other man; not a muscle in him relaxed. He was quite unconscious, only his body had taken upon itself to kill this other man. For himself, he had neither feeling nor reason. He lay pressed hard against his adversary, his body adjusting itself to its one pure purpose of choking the other man, resisting exactly at the right moment, with exactly the right amount of strength, the struggles of the other, silent, intent, unchanging, gradually pressing its knuckles deeper, feeling the struggles of the other body become wilder and more frenzied. Tighter and tighter grew his body, like a screw that is gradually increasing in pressure, till something breaks.
Then suddenly he relaxed, full of wonder and misgiving. Dawes had been yielding. Morel felt his body flame with pain, as he realised what he was doing; he was all bewildered. Dawes's struggles suddenly renewed themselves in a furious spasm. Paul's hands were wrenched, torn out of the scarf in which they were knotted, and he was flung away, helpless. He heard the horrid sound of the other's gasping, but he lay stunned; then, still dazed, he felt the blows of the other's feet, and lost consciousness.
Dawes, grunting with pain like a beast, was kicking the prostrate body of his rival. Suddenly the whistle of the train shrieked two fields away. He turned round and glared suspiciously. What was coming? He saw the lights of the train draw across his vision. It seemed to him people were approaching. He made off across the field into Nottingham, and dimly in his consciousness as he went, he felt on his foot the place where his boot had knocked against one of the lad's bones. The knock seemed to re-echo inside him; he hurried to get away from it.
Morel gradually came to himself. He knew where he was and what had happened, but he did not want to move. He lay still, with tiny bits of snow tickling his face. It was pleasant to lie quite, quite still. The time passed. It was the bits of snow that kept rousing him when he did not want to be roused. At last his will clicked into action.
"I mustn't lie here," he said; "it's silly."
But still he did not move.
"I said I was going to get up," he repeated. "Why don't I?"
And still it was some time before he had sufficiently pulled himself together to stir; then gradually he got up. Pain made him sick and dazed, but his brain was clear. Reeling, he groped for his coats and got them on, buttoning his overcoat up to his ears. It was some time before he found his cap. He did not know whether his face was still bleeding. Walking blindly, every step making him sick with pain, he went back to the pond and washed his face and hands. The icy water hurt, but helped to bring him back to himself. He crawled back up the hill to the tram. He wanted to get to his mother--he must get to his mother--that was his blind intention. He covered his face as much as he could, and struggled sickly along. Continually the ground seemed to fall away from him as he walked, and he felt himself dropping with a sickening feeling into space; so, like a nightmare, he got through with the journey home.
Everybody was in bed. He looked at himself. His face was discoloured and smeared with blood, almost like a dead man's face. He washed it, and went to bed. The night went by in delirium. In the morning he found his mother looking at him. Her blue eyes--they were all he wanted to see. She was there; he was in her hands.
"It's not much, mother," he said. "It was Baxter Dawes."
"Tell me where it hurts you," she said quietly.
"I don't know--my shoulder. Say it was a bicycle accident, mother."
He could not move his arm. Presently Minnie, the little servant, came upstairs with some tea.
"Your mother's nearly frightened me out of my wits--fainted away," she said.
He felt he could not bear it. His mother nursed him; he told her about it.
"And now I should have done with them all," she said quietly.
"I will, mother."
She covered him up.
"And don't think about it," she said--"only try to go to sleep. The doctor won't be here till eleven."
He had a dislocated shoulder, and the second day acute bronchitis set in. His mother was pale as death now, and very thin. She would sit and look at him, then away into space. There was something between them that neither dared mention. Clara came to see him. Afterwards he said to his mother:
"She makes me tired, mother."
"Yes; I wish she wouldn't come," Mrs. Morel replied.
Another day Miriam came, but she seemed almost like a stranger to him.
"You know, I don't care about them, mother," he said.
"I'm afraid you don't, my son," she replied sadly.
It was given out everywhere that it was a bicycle accident. Soon he was able to go to work again, but now there was a constant sickness and gnawing at his heart. He went to Clara, but there seemed, as it were, nobody there. He could not work. He and his mother seemed almost to avoid each other. There was some secret between them which they could not bear. He was not aware of it. He only knew that his life seemed unbalanced, as if it were going to smash into pieces.
Clara did not know what was the matter with him. She realised that he seemed unaware of her. Even when he came to her he seemed unaware of her; always he was somewhere else. She felt she was clutching for him, and he was somewhere else. It tortured her, and so she tortured him. For a month at a time she kept him at arm's length. He almost hated her, and was driven to her in spite of himself. He went mostly into the company of men, was always at the George or the White Horse. His mother was ill, distant, quiet, shadowy. He was terrified of something; he dared not look at her. Her eyes seemed to grow darker, her face more waxen; still she dragged about at her work.
At Whitsuntide he said he would go to Blackpool for four days with his friend Newton. The latter was a big, jolly fellow, with a touch of the bounder about him. Paul said his mother must go to Sheffield to stay a week with Annie, who lived there. Perhaps the change would do her good. Mrs. Morel was attending a woman's doctor in Nottingham. He said her heart and her digestion were wrong. She consented to go to Sheffield, though she did not want to; but now she would do everything her son wished of her. Paul said he would come for her on the fifth day, and stay also in Sheffield till the holiday was up. It was agreed.
The two young men set off gaily for Blackpool. Mrs. Morel was quite lively as Paul kissed her and left her. Once at the station, he forgot everything. Four days were clear--not an anxiety, not a thought. The two young men simply enjoyed themselves. Paul was like another man. None of himself remained--no Clara, no Miriam, no mother that fretted him. He wrote to them all, and long letters to his mother; but they were jolly letters that made her laugh. He was having a good time, as young fellows will in a place like Blackpool. And underneath it all was a shadow for her.
Paul was very gay, excited at the thought of staying with his mother in Sheffield. Newton was to spend the day with them. Their train was late. Joking, laughing, with their pipes between their teeth, the young men swung their bags on to the tram-car. Paul had bought his mother a little collar of real lace that he wanted to see her wear, so that he could tease her about it.
Annie lived in a nice house, and had a little maid. Paul ran gaily up the steps. He expected his mother laughing in the hall, but it was Annie who opened to him. She seemed distant to him. He stood a second in dismay. Annie let him kiss her cheek.
"Is my mother ill?" he said.
"Yes; she's not very well. Don't upset her."
"Is she in bed?"
And then the queer feeling went over him, as if all the sunshine had gone out of him, and it was all shadow. He dropped the bag and ran upstairs. Hesitating, he opened the door. His mother sat up in bed, wearing a dressing-gown of old-rose colour. She looked at him almost as if she were ashamed of herself, pleading to him, humble. He saw the ashy look about her.
"Mother!" he said.
"I thought you were never coming," she answered gaily.
But he only fell on his knees at the bedside, and buried his face in the bedclothes, crying in agony, and saying:
She stroked his hair slowly with her thin hand.
"Don't cry," she said. "Don't cry--it's nothing."
But he felt as if his blood was melting into tears, and he cried in terror and pain.
"Don't--don't cry," his mother faltered.
Slowly she stroked his hair. Shocked out of himself, he cried, and the tears hurt in every fibre of his body. Suddenly he stopped, but he dared not lift his face out of the bedclothes.
"You ARE late. Where have you been?" his mother asked.
"The train was late," he replied, muffled in the sheet.
"Yes; that miserable Central! Is Newton come?"
"I'm sure you must be hungry, and they've kept dinner waiting."
With a wrench he looked up at her.
"What is it, mother?" he asked brutally.
She averted her eyes as she answered:
"Only a bit of a tumour, my boy. You needn't trouble. It's been there--the lump has--a long time."
Up came the tears again. His mind was clear and hard, but his body was crying.
"Where?" he said.
She put her hand on her side.
"Here. But you know they can sweal a tumour away."
He stood feeling dazed and helpless, like a child. He thought perhaps it was as she said. Yes; he reassured himself it was so. But all the while his blood and his body knew definitely what it was. He sat down on the bed, and took her hand. She had never had but the one ring--her wedding-ring.
"When were you poorly?" he asked.
"It was yesterday it began," she answered submissively.
"Yes; but not more than I've often had at home. I believe Dr. Ansell is an alarmist."
"You ought not to have travelled alone," he said, to himself more than to her.
"As if that had anything to do with it!" she answered quickly.
They were silent for a while.
"Now go and have your dinner," she said. "You MUST be hungry."
"Have you had yours?"
"Yes; a beautiful sole I had. Annie IS good to me."
They talked a little while, then he went downstairs. He was very white and strained. Newton sat in miserable sympathy.
After dinner he went into the scullery to help Annie to wash up. The little maid had gone on an errand.
"Is it really a tumour?" he asked.
Annie began to cry again.
"The pain she had yesterday--I never saw anybody suffer like it!" she cried. "Leonard ran like a madman for Dr. Ansell, and when she'd got to bed she said to me: 'Annie, look at this lump on my side. I wonder what it is?' And there I looked, and I thought I should have dropped. Paul, as true as I'm here, it's a lump as big as my double fist. I said: 'Good gracious, mother, whenever did that come?' 'Why, child,' she said, 'it's been there a long time.' I thought I should have died, our Paul, I did. She's been having these pains for months at home, and nobody looking after her."
The tears came to his eyes, then dried suddenly.
"But she's been attending the doctor in Nottingham--and she never told me," he said.
"If I'd have been at home," said Annie, "I should have seen for myself."
He felt like a man walking in unrealities. In the afternoon he went to see the doctor. The latter was a shrewd, lovable man.
"But what is it?" he said.
The doctor looked at the young man, then knitted his fingers.
"It may be a large tumour which has formed in the membrane," he said slowly, "and which we MAY be able to make go away."
"Can't you operate?" asked Paul.
"Not there," replied the doctor.
"Are you sure?"
Paul meditated a while.
"Are you sure it's a tumour?" he asked. "Why did Dr. Jameson in Nottingham never find out anything about it? She's been going to him for weeks, and he's treated her for heart and indigestion."
"Mrs. Morel never told Dr. Jameson about the lump," said the doctor.
"And do you KNOW it's a tumour?"
"No, I am not sure."
"What else MIGHT it be? You asked my sister if there was cancer in the family. Might it be cancer?"
"I don't know."
"And what shall you do?"
"I should like an examination, with Dr. Jameson."
"Then have one."
"You must arrange about that. His fee wouldn't be less than ten guineas to come here from Nottingham."
"When would you like him to come?"
"I will call in this evening, and we will talk it over."
Paul went away, biting his lip.
His mother could come downstairs for tea, the doctor said. Her son went upstairs to help her. She wore the old-rose dressing-gown that Leonard had given Annie, and, with a little colour in her face, was quite young again.
"But you look quite pretty in that," he said.
"Yes; they make me so fine, I hardly know myself," she answered.
But when she stood up to walk, the colour went. Paul helped her, half-carrying her. At the top of the stairs she was gone. He lifted her up and carried her quickly downstairs; laid her on the couch. She was light and frail. Her face looked as if she were dead, with blue lips shut tight. Her eyes opened--her blue, unfailing eyes-- and she looked at him pleadingly, almost wanting him to forgive her. He held brandy to her lips, but her mouth would not open. All the time she watched him lovingly. She was only sorry for him. The tears ran down his face without ceasing, but not a muscle moved. He was intent on getting a little brandy between her lips. Soon she was able to swallow a teaspoonful. She lay back, so tired. The tears continued to run down his face.
"But," she panted, "it'll go off. Don't cry!"
"I'm not doing," he said.
After a while she was better again. He was kneeling beside the couch. They looked into each other's eyes.
"I don't want you to make a trouble of it," she said.
"No, mother. You'll have to be quite still, and then you'll get better soon."
But he was white to the lips, and their eyes as they looked at each other understood. Her eyes were so blue--such a wonderful forget-me-not blue! He felt if only they had been of a different colour he could have borne it better. His heart seemed to be ripping slowly in his breast. He kneeled there, holding her hand, and neither said anything. Then Annie came in.
"Are you all right?" she murmured timidly to her mother.
"Of course," said Mrs. Morel.
Paul sat down and told her about Blackpool. She was curious.
A day or two after, he went to see Dr. Jameson in Nottingham, to arrange for a consultation. Paul had practically no money in the world. But he could borrow.
His mother had been used to go to the public consultation on Saturday morning, when she could see the doctor for only a nominal sum. Her son went on the same day. The waiting-room was full of poor women, who sat patiently on a bench around the wall. Paul thought of his mother, in her little black costume, sitting waiting likewise. The doctor was late. The women all looked rather frightened. Paul asked the nurse in attendance if he could see the doctor immediately he came. It was arranged so. The women sitting patiently round the walls of the room eyed the young man curiously.
At last the doctor came. He was about forty, good-looking, brown-skinned. His wife had died, and he, who had loved her, had specialised on women's ailments. Paul told his name and his mother's. The doctor did not remember.
"Number forty-six M.," said the nurse; and the doctor looked up the case in his book.
"There is a big lump that may be a tumour," said Paul. "But Dr. Ansell was going to write you a letter."
"Ah, yes!" replied the doctor, drawing the letter from his pocket. He was very friendly, affable, busy, kind. He would come to Sheffield the next day.
"What is your father?" he asked.
"He is a coal-miner," replied Paul.
"Not very well off, I suppose?"
"This--I see after this," said Paul.
"And you?" smiled the doctor.
"I am a clerk in Jordan's Appliance Factory."
The doctor smiled at him.
"Er--to go to Sheffield!" he said, putting the tips of his fingers together, and smiling with his eyes. "Eight guineas?"
"Thank you!" said Paul, flushing and rising. "And you'll come to-morrow?"
"To-morrow--Sunday? Yes! Can you tell me about what time there is a train in the afternoon?"
"There is a Central gets in at four-fifteen."
"And will there be any way of getting up to the house? Shall I have to walk?" The doctor smiled.
"There is the tram," said Paul; "the Western Park tram."
The doctor made a note of it.
"Thank you!" he said, and shook hands.
Then Paul went on home to see his father, who was left in the charge of Minnie. Walter Morel was getting very grey now. Paul found him digging in the garden. He had written him a letter. He shook hands with his father.
"Hello, son! Tha has landed, then?" said the father.
"Yes," replied the son. "But I'm going back to-night."
"Are ter, beguy!" exclaimed the collier. "An' has ter eaten owt?"
"That's just like thee," said Morel. "Come thy ways in."
The father was afraid of the mention of his wife. The two went indoors. Paul ate in silence; his father, with earthy hands, and sleeves rolled up, sat in the arm-chair opposite and looked at him.
"Well, an' how is she?" asked the miner at length, in a little voice.
"She can sit up; she can be carried down for tea," said Paul.
"That's a blessin'!" exclaimed Morel. "I hope we s'll soon be havin' her whoam, then. An' what's that Nottingham doctor say?"
"He's going to-morrow to have an examination of her."
"Is he beguy! That's a tidy penny, I'm thinkin'!"
"Eight guineas!" the miner spoke breathlessly. "Well, we mun find it from somewhere."
"I can pay that," said Paul.
There was silence between them for some time.
"She says she hopes you're getting on all right with Minnie," Paul said.
"Yes, I'm all right, an' I wish as she was," answered Morel. "But Minnie's a good little wench, bless 'er heart!" He sat looking dismal.
"I s'll have to be going at half-past three," said Paul.
"It's a trapse for thee, lad! Eight guineas! An' when dost think she'll be able to get as far as this?"
"We must see what the doctors say to-morrow," Paul said.
Morel sighed deeply. The house seemed strangely empty, and Paul thought his father looked lost, forlorn, and old.
"You'll have to go and see her next week, father," he said.
"I hope she'll be a-whoam by that time," said Morel.
"If she's not," said Paul, "then you must come."
"I dunno wheer I s'll find th' money," said Morel.
"And I'll write to you what the doctor says," said Paul.
"But tha writes i' such a fashion, I canna ma'e it out," said Morel.
"Well, I'll write plain."
It was no good asking Morel to answer, for he could scarcely do more than write his own name.
The doctor came. Leonard felt it his duty to meet him with a cab. The examination did not take long. Annie, Arthur, Paul, and Leonard were waiting in the parlour anxiously. The doctors came down. Paul glanced at them. He had never had any hope, except when he had deceived himself.
"It MAY be a tumour; we must wait and see," said Dr. Jameson.
"And if it is," said Annie, "can you sweal it away?"
"Probably," said the doctor.
Paul put eight sovereigns and half a sovereign on the table. The doctor counted them, took a florin out of his purse, and put that down.
"Thank you!" he said. "I'm sorry Mrs. Morel is so ill. But we must see what we can do."
"There can't be an operation?" said Paul.
The doctor shook his head.
"No," he said; "and even if there could, her heart wouldn't stand it."
"Is her heart risky?" asked Paul.
"Yes; you must be careful with her."
"No--er--no, no! Just take care."
And the doctor was gone.
Then Paul carried his mother downstairs. She lay simply, like a child. But when he was on the stairs, she put her arms round his neck, clinging.
"I'm so frightened of these beastly stairs," she said.
And he was frightened, too. He would let Leonard do it another time. He felt he could not carry her.
"He thinks it's only a tumour!" cried Annie to her mother. "And he can sweal it away."
"I KNEW he could," protested Mrs. Morel scornfully.
She pretended not to notice that Paul had gone out of the room. He sat in the kitchen, smoking. Then he tried to brush some grey ash off his coat. He looked again. It was one of his mother's grey hairs. It was so long! He held it up, and it drifted into the chimney. He let go. The long grey hair floated and was gone in the blackness of the chimney.
The next day he kissed her before going back to work. It was very early in the morning, and they were alone.
"You won't fret, my boy!" she said.
"No; it would be silly. And take care of yourself."
"Yes," he answered. Then, after a while: "And I shall come next Saturday, and shall bring my father?"
"I suppose he wants to come," she replied. "At any rate, if he does you'll have to let him."
He kissed her again, and stroked the hair from her temples, gently, tenderly, as if she were a lover.
"Shan't you be late?" she murmured.
"I'm going," he said, very low.
Still he sat a few minutes, stroking the brown and grey hair from her temples.
"And you won't be any worse, mother?"
"No, my son."
"You promise me?"
"Yes; I won't be any worse."
He kissed her, held her in his arms for a moment, and was gone. In the early sunny morning he ran to the station, crying all the way; he did not know what for. And her blue eyes were wide and staring as she thought of him.
In the afternoon he went a walk with Clara. They sat in the little wood where bluebells were standing. He took her hand.
"You'll see," he said to Clara, "she'll never be better."
"Oh, you don't know!" replied the other.
"I do," he said.
She caught him impulsively to her breast.
"Try and forget it, dear," she said; "try and forget it."
"I will," he answered.
Her breast was there, warm for him; her hands were in his hair. It was comforting, and he held his arms round her. But he did not forget. He only talked to Clara of something else. And it was always so. When she felt it coming, the agony, she cried to him:
"Don't think of it, Paul! Don't think of it, my darling!"
And she pressed him to her breast, rocked him, soothed him like a child. So he put the trouble aside for her sake, to take it up again immediately he was alone. All the time, as he went about, he cried mechanically. His mind and hands were busy. He cried, he did not know why. It was his blood weeping. He was just as much alone whether he was with Clara or with the men in the White Horse. Just himself and this pressure inside him, that was all that existed. He read sometimes. He had to keep his mind occupied. And Clara was a way of occupying his mind.
On the Saturday Walter Morel went to Sheffield. He was a forlorn figure, looking rather as if nobody owned him. Paul ran upstairs.
"My father's come," he said, kissing his mother.
"Has he?" she answered wearily.
The old collier came rather frightened into the bedroom.
"How dun I find thee, lass?" he said, going forward and kissing her in a hasty, timid fashion.
"Well, I'm middlin'," she replied.
"I see tha art," he said. He stood looking down on her. Then he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. Helpless, and as if nobody owned him, he looked.
"Have you gone on all right?" asked the wife, rather wearily, as if it were an effort to talk to him.
"Yis," he answered. "'Er's a bit behint-hand now and again, as yer might expect."
"Does she have your dinner ready?" asked Mrs. Morel.
"Well, I've 'ad to shout at 'er once or twice," he said.
"And you MUST shout at her if she's not ready. She WILL leave things to the last minute."
She gave him a few instructions. He sat looking at her as if she were almost a stranger to him, before whom he was awkward and humble, and also as if he had lost his presence of mind, and wanted to run. This feeling that he wanted to run away, that he was on thorns to be gone from so trying a situation, and yet must linger because it looked better, made his presence so trying. He put up his eyebrows for misery, and clenched his fists on his knees, feeling so awkward in presence of big trouble.
Mrs. Morel did not change much. She stayed in Sheffield for two months. If anything, at the end she was rather worse. But she wanted to go home. Annie had her children. Mrs. Morel wanted to go home. So they got a motor-car from Nottingham--for she was too ill to go by train--and she was driven through the sunshine. It was just August; everything was bright and warm. Under the blue sky they could all see she was dying. Yet she was jollier than she had been for weeks. They all laughed and talked.
"Annie," she exclaimed, "I saw a lizard dart on that rock!"
Her eyes were so quick; she was still so full of life.
Morel knew she was coming. He had the front door open. Everybody was on tiptoe. Half the street turned out. They heard the sound of the great motor-car. Mrs. Morel, smiling, drove home down the street.
"And just look at them all come out to see me!" she said. "But there, I suppose I should have done the same. How do you do, Mrs. Mathews? How are you, Mrs. Harrison?"
They none of them could hear, but they saw her smile and nod. And they all saw death on her face, they said. It was a great event in the street.
Morel wanted to carry her indoors, but he was too old. Arthur took her as if she were a child. They had set her a big, deep chair by the hearth where her rocking-chair used to stand. When she was unwrapped and seated, and had drunk a little brandy, she looked round the room.
"Don't think I don't like your house, Annie," she said; "but it's nice to be in my own home again."
And Morel answered huskily:
"It is, lass, it is."
And Minnie, the little quaint maid, said:
"An' we glad t' 'ave yer."
There was a lovely yellow ravel of sunflowers in the garden. She looked out of the window.
"There are my sunflowers!" she said.