Suddenly she appeared in the inner doorway rather shyly. She had got a new cotton blouse on. Paul jumped up and went forward.
"Oh, my stars!" he exclaimed. "What a bobby-dazzler!"
She sniffed in a little haughty way, and put her head up.
"It's not a bobby-dazzler at all!" she replied. "It's very quiet."
She walked forward, whilst he hovered round her.
"Well," she asked, quite shy, but pretending to be high and mighty, "do you like it?"
"Awfully! You ARE a fine little woman to go jaunting out with!"
He went and surveyed her from the back.
"Well," he said, "if I was walking down the street behind you, I should say: 'Doesn't THAT little person fancy herself!"'
"Well, she doesn't," replied Mrs. Morel. "She's not sure it suits her."
"Oh no! she wants to be in dirty black, looking as if she was wrapped in burnt paper. It DOES suit you, and I say you look nice."
She sniffed in her little way, pleased, but pretending to know better.
"Well," she said, "it's cost me just three shillings. You couldn't have got it ready-made for that price, could you?"
"I should think you couldn't," he replied.
"And, you know, it's good stuff."
"Awfully pretty," he said.
The blouse was white, with a little sprig of heliotrope and black.
"Too young for me, though, I'm afraid," she said.
"Too young for you!" he exclaimed in disgust. "Why don't you buy some false white hair and stick it on your head."
"I s'll soon have no need," she replied. "I'm going white fast enough."
"Well, you've no business to," he said. "What do I want with a white-haired mother?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to put up with one, my lad," she said rather strangely.
They set off in great style, she carrying the umbrella William had given her, because of the sun. Paul was considerably taller than she, though he was not big. He fancied himself.
On the fallow land the young wheat shone silkily. Minton pit waved its plumes of white steam, coughed, and rattled hoarsely.
"Now look at that!" said Mrs. Morel. Mother and son stood on the road to watch. Along the ridge of the great pit-hill crawled a little group in silhouette against the sky, a horse, a small truck, and a man. They climbed the incline against the heavens. At the end the man tipped the wagon. There was an undue rattle as the waste fell down the sheer slope of the enormous bank.
"You sit a minute, mother," he said, and she took a seat on a bank, whilst he sketched rapidly. She was silent whilst he worked, looking round at the afternoon, the red cottages shining among their greenness.
"The world is a wonderful place," she said, "and wonderfully beautiful."
"And so's the pit," he said. "Look how it heaps together, like something alive almost—a big creature that you don't know."
"Yes," she said. "Perhaps!"
"And all the trucks standing waiting, like a string of beasts to be fed," he said.
"And very thankful I am they ARE standing," she said, "for that means they'll turn middling time this week."
"But I like the feel of MEN on things, while they're alive. There's a feel of men about trucks, because they've been handled with men's hands, all of them."
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel.
They went along under the trees of the highroad. He was constantly informing her, but she was interested. They passed the end of Nethermere, that was tossing its sunshine like petals lightly in its lap. Then they turned on a private road, and in some trepidation approached a big farm. A dog barked furiously. A woman came out to see.
"Is this the way to Willey Farm?" Mrs. Morel asked.
Paul hung behind in terror of being sent back. But the woman was amiable, and directed them. The mother and son went through the wheat and oats, over a little bridge into a wild meadow. Peewits, with their white breasts glistening, wheeled and screamed about them. The lake was still and blue. High overhead a heron floated. Opposite, the wood heaped on the hill, green and still.
"It's a wild road, mother," said Paul. "Just like Canada."
"Isn't it beautiful!" said Mrs. Morel, looking round.
"See that heron—see—see her legs?"
He directed his mother, what she must see and what not. And she was quite content.
"But now," she said, "which way? He told me through the wood."
The wood, fenced and dark, lay on their left.
"I can feel a bit of a path this road," said Paul. "You've got town feet, somehow or other, you have."
They found a little gate, and soon were in a broad green alley of the wood, with a new thicket of fir and pine on one hand, an old oak glade dipping down on the other. And among the oaks the bluebells stood in pools of azure, under the new green hazels, upon a pale fawn floor of oak-leaves. He found flowers for her.
"Here's a bit of new-mown hay," he said; then, again, he brought her forget-me-nots. And, again, his heart hurt with love, seeing her hand, used with work, holding the little bunch of flowers he gave her. She was perfectly happy.
But at the end of the riding was a fence to climb. Paul was over in a second.
"Come," he said, "let me help you."
"No, go away. I will do it in my own way."
He stood below with his hands up ready to help her. She climbed cautiously.
"What a way to climb!" he exclaimed scornfully, when she was safely to earth again.
"Hateful stiles!" she cried.
"Duffer of a little woman," he replied, "who can't get over 'em."
In front, along the edge of the wood, was a cluster of low red farm buildings. The two hastened forward. Flush with the wood was the apple orchard, where blossom was falling on the grindstone. The pond was deep under a hedge and overhanging oak trees. Some cows stood in the shade. The farm and buildings, three sides of a quadrangle, embraced the sunshine towards the wood. It was very still.
Mother and son went into the small railed garden, where was a scent of red gillivers. By the open door were some floury loaves, put out to cool. A hen was just coming to peck them. Then, in the doorway suddenly appeared a girl in a dirty apron. She was about fourteen years old, had a rosy dark face, a bunch of short black curls, very fine and free, and dark eyes; shy, questioning, a little resentful of the strangers, she disappeared. In a minute another figure appeared, a small, frail woman, rosy, with great dark brown eyes.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, smiling with a little glow, "you've come, then. I AM glad to see you." Her voice was intimate and rather sad.
The two women shook hands.
"Now are you sure we're not a bother to you?" said Mrs. Morel. "I know what a farming life is."
"Oh no! We're only too thankful to see a new face, it's so lost up here."
"I suppose so," said Mrs. Morel.
They were taken through into the parlour—a long, low room, with a great bunch of guelder-roses in the fireplace. There the women talked, whilst Paul went out to survey the land. He was in the garden smelling the gillivers and looking at the plants, when the girl came out quickly to the heap of coal which stood by the fence.
"I suppose these are cabbage-roses?" he said to her, pointing to the bushes along the fence.
She looked at him with startled, big brown eyes.
"I suppose they are cabbage-roses when they come out?" he said.
"I don't know," she faltered. "They're white with pink middles."
"Then they're maiden-blush."
Miriam flushed. She had a beautiful warm colouring.
"I don't know," she said.
"You don't have MUCH in your garden," he said.
"This is our first year here," she answered, in a distant, rather superior way, drawing back and going indoors. He did not notice, but went his round of exploration. Presently his mother came out, and they went through the buildings. Paul was hugely delighted.
"And I suppose you have the fowls and calves and pigs to look after?" said Mrs. Morel to Mrs. Leivers.
"No," replied the little woman. "I can't find time to look after cattle, and I'm not used to it. It's as much as I can do to keep going in the house."
"Well, I suppose it is," said Mrs. Morel.
Presently the girl came out.
"Tea is ready, mother," she said in a musical, quiet voice.
"Oh, thank you, Miriam, then we'll come," replied her mother, almost ingratiatingly. "Would you CARE to have tea now, Mrs. Morel?"
"Of course," said Mrs. Morel. "Whenever it's ready."
Paul and his mother and Mrs. Leivers had tea together. Then they went out into the wood that was flooded with bluebells, while fumy forget-me-nots were in the paths. The mother and son were in ecstasy together.
When they got back to the house, Mr. Leivers and Edgar, the eldest son, were in the kitchen. Edgar was about eighteen. Then Geoffrey and Maurice, big lads of twelve and thirteen, were in from school. Mr. Leivers was a good-looking man in the prime of life, with a golden-brown moustache, and blue eyes screwed up against the weather.
The boys were condescending, but Paul scarcely observed it. They went round for eggs, scrambling into all sorts of places. As they were feeding the fowls Miriam came out. The boys took no notice of her. One hen, with her yellow chickens, was in a coop. Maurice took his hand full of corn and let the hen peck from it.
"Durst you do it?" he asked of Paul.
"Let's see," said Paul.
He had a small hand, warm, and rather capable-looking. Miriam watched. He held the corn to the hen. The bird eyed it with her hard, bright eye, and suddenly made a peck into his hand. He started, and laughed. "Rap, rap, rap!" went the bird's beak in his palm. He laughed again, and the other boys joined.
"She knocks you, and nips you, but she never hurts," said Paul, when the last corn had gone. "Now, Miriam," said Maurice, "you come an 'ave a go."
"No," she cried, shrinking back.
"Ha! baby. The mardy-kid!" said her brothers.
"It doesn't hurt a bit," said Paul. "It only just nips rather nicely."
"No," she still cried, shaking her black curls and shrinking.
"She dursn't," said Geoffrey. "She niver durst do anything except recite poitry."
"Dursn't jump off a gate, dursn't tweedle, dursn't go on a slide, dursn't stop a girl hittin' her. She can do nowt but go about thinkin' herself somebody. 'The Lady of the Lake.' Yah!" cried Maurice.
Miriam was crimson with shame and misery.
"I dare do more than you," she cried. "You're never anything but cowards and bullies."
"Oh, cowards and bullies!" they repeated mincingly, mocking her speech.
"Not such a clown shall anger me, A boor is answered silently,"
he quoted against her, shouting with laughter.
She went indoors. Paul went with the boys into the orchard, where they had rigged up a parallel bar. They did feats of strength. He was more agile than strong, but it served. He fingered a piece of apple-blossom that hung low on a swinging bough.
"I wouldn't get the apple-blossom," said Edgar, the eldest brother. "There'll be no apples next year."
"I wasn't going to get it," replied Paul, going away.
The boys felt hostile to him; they were more interested in their own pursuits. He wandered back to the house to look for his mother. As he went round the back, he saw Miriam kneeling in front of the hen-coop, some maize in her hand, biting her lip, and crouching in an intense attitude. The hen was eyeing her wickedly. Very gingerly she put forward her hand. The hen bobbed for her. She drew back quickly with a cry, half of fear, half of chagrin.
"It won't hurt you," said Paul.
She flushed crimson and started up.
"I only wanted to try," she said in a low voice.
"See, it doesn't hurt," he said, and, putting only two corns in his palm, he let the hen peck, peck, peck at his bare hand. "It only makes you laugh," he said.
She put her hand forward and dragged it away, tried again, and started back with a cry. He frowned.
"Why, I'd let her take corn from my face," said Paul, "only she bumps a bit. She's ever so neat. If she wasn't, look how much ground she'd peck up every day."
He waited grimly, and watched. At last Miriam let the bird peck from her hand. She gave a little cry—fear, and pain because of fear—rather pathetic. But she had done it, and she did it again.
"There, you see," said the boy. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"
She looked at him with dilated dark eyes.
"No," she laughed, trembling.
Then she rose and went indoors. She seemed to be in some way resentful of the boy.
"He thinks I'm only a common girl," she thought, and she wanted to prove she was a grand person like the "Lady of the Lake".
Paul found his mother ready to go home. She smiled on her son. He took the great bunch of flowers. Mr. and Mrs. Leivers walked down the fields with them. The hills were golden with evening; deep in the woods showed the darkening purple of bluebells. It was everywhere perfectly stiff, save for the rustling of leaves and birds.
"But it is a beautiful place," said Mrs. Morel.
"Yes," answered Mr. Leivers; "it's a nice little place, if only it weren't for the rabbits. The pasture's bitten down to nothing. I dunno if ever I s'll get the rent off it."
He clapped his hands, and the field broke into motion near the woods, brown rabbits hopping everywhere.
"Would you believe it!" exclaimed Mrs. Morel.
She and Paul went on alone together.
"Wasn't it lovely, mother?" he said quietly.
A thin moon was coming out. His heart was full of happiness till it hurt. His mother had to chatter, because she, too, wanted to cry with happiness.
"Now WOULDN'T I help that man!" she said. "WOULDN'T I see to the fowls and the young stock! And I'D learn to milk, and I'D talk with him, and I'D plan with him. My word, if I were his wife, the farm would be run, I know! But there, she hasn't the strength—she simply hasn't the strength. She ought never to have been burdened like it, you know. I'm sorry for her, and I'm sorry for him too. My word, if I'D had him, I shouldn't have thought him a bad husband! Not that she does either; and she's very lovable."
William came home again with his sweetheart at the Whitsuntide. He had one week of his holidays then. It was beautiful weather. As a rule, William and Lily and Paul went out in the morning together for a walk. William did not talk to his beloved much, except to tell her things from his boyhood. Paul talked endlessly to both of them. They lay down, all three, in a meadow by Minton Church. On one side, by the Castle Farm, was a beautiful quivering screen of poplars. Hawthorn was dropping from the hedges; penny daisies and ragged robin were in the field, like laughter. William, a big fellow of twenty-three, thinner now and even a bit gaunt, lay back in the sunshine and dreamed, while she fingered with his hair. Paul went gathering the big daisies. She had taken off her hat; her hair was black as a horse's mane. Paul came back and threaded daisies in her jet-black hair—big spangles of white and yellow, and just a pink touch of ragged robin.
"Now you look like a young witch-woman," the boy said to her. "Doesn't she, William?"
Lily laughed. William opened his eyes and looked at her. In his gaze was a certain baffled look of misery and fierce appreciation.
"Has he made a sight of me?" she asked, laughing down on her lover.
"That he has!" said William, smiling.
He looked at her. Her beauty seemed to hurt him. He glanced at her flower-decked head and frowned.
"You look nice enough, if that's what you want to know," he said.
And she walked without her hat. In a little while William recovered, and was rather tender to her. Coming to a bridge, he carved her initials and his in a heart.
L. L. W.
She watched his strong, nervous hand, with its glistening hairs and freckles, as he carved, and she seemed fascinated by it.
All the time there was a feeling of sadness and warmth, and a certain tenderness in the house, whilst William and Lily were at home. But often he got irritable. She had brought, for an eight-days' stay, five dresses and six blouses.
"Oh, would you mind," she said to Annie, "washing me these two blouses, and these things?"
And Annie stood washing when William and Lily went out the next morning. Mrs. Morel was furious. And sometimes the young man, catching a glimpse of his sweetheart's attitude towards his sister, hated her.
On Sunday morning she looked very beautiful in a dress of foulard, silky and sweeping, and blue as a jay-bird's feather, and in a large cream hat covered with many roses, mostly crimson. Nobody could admire her enough. But in the evening, when she was going out, she asked again:
"Chubby, have you got my gloves?"
"Which?" asked William.
"My new black SUEDE."
There was a hunt. She had lost them.
"Look here, mother," said William, "that's the fourth pair she's lost since Christmas—at five shillings a pair!"
"You only gave me TWO of them," she remonstrated.
And in the evening, after supper, he stood on the hearthrug whilst she sat on the sofa, and he seemed to hate her. In the afternoon he had left her whilst he went to see some old friend. She had sat looking at a book. After supper William wanted to write a letter.
"Here is your book, Lily," said Mrs. Morel. "Would you care to go on with it for a few minutes?"
"No, thank you," said the girl. "I will sit still."
"But it is so dull."
William scribbled irritably at a great rate. As he sealed the envelope he said:
"Read a book! Why, she's never read a book in her life."
"Oh, go along!" said Mrs. Morel, cross with the exaggeration,
"It's true, mother—she hasn't," he cried, jumping up and taking his old position on the hearthrug. "She's never read a book in her life."
"'Er's like me," chimed in Morel. "'Er canna see what there is i' books, ter sit borin' your nose in 'em for, nor more can I."
"But you shouldn't say these things," said Mrs. Morel to her son.
"But it's true, mother—she CAN'T read. What did you give her?"
"Well, I gave her a little thing of Annie Swan's. Nobody wants to read dry stuff on Sunday afternoon."
"Well, I'll bet she didn't read ten lines of it."
"You are mistaken," said his mother.
All the time Lily sat miserably on the sofa. He turned to her swiftly.
"DID you read any?" he asked.
"Yes, I did," she replied.
"I don't know how many pages."
"Tell me ONE THING you read."
She could not.
She never got beyond the second page. He read a great deal, and had a quick, active intelligence. She could understand nothing but love-making and chatter. He was accustomed to having all his thoughts sifted through his mother's mind; so, when he wanted companionship, and was asked in reply to be the billing and twittering lover, he hated his betrothed.
"You know, mother," he said, when he was alone with her at night, "she's no idea of money, she's so wessel-brained. When she's paid, she'll suddenly buy such rot as marrons glaces, and then I have to buy her season ticket, and her extras, even her underclothing. And she wants to get married, and I think myself we might as well get married next year. But at this rate—"
"A fine mess of a marriage it would be," replied his mother. "I should consider it again, my boy."
"Oh, well, I've gone too far to break off now," he said, "and so I shall get married as soon as I can."
"Very well, my boy. If you will, you will, and there's no stopping you; but I tell you, I can't sleep when I think about it."
"Oh, she'll be all right, mother. We shall manage."
"And she lets you buy her underclothing?" asked the mother.
"Well," he began apologetically, "she didn't ask me; but one morning—and it WAS cold—I found her on the station shivering, not able to keep still; so I asked her if she was well wrapped up. She said: 'I think so.' So I said: 'Have you got warm underthings on?' And she said: 'No, they were cotton.' I asked her why on earth she hadn't got something thicker on in weather like that, and she said because she HAD nothing. And there she is—a bronchial subject! I HAD to take her and get some warm things. Well, mother, I shouldn't mind the money if we had any. And, you know, she OUGHT to keep enough to pay for her season-ticket; but no, she comes to me about that, and I have to find the money."
"It's a poor lookout," said Mrs. Morel bitterly.
He was pale, and his rugged face, that used to be so perfectly careless and laughing, was stamped with conflict and despair.
"But I can't give her up now; it's gone too far," he said. "And, besides, for SOME things I couldn't do without her."
"My boy, remember you're taking your life in your hands," said Mrs. Morel. "NOTHING is as bad as a marriage that's a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough, God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk."
He leaned with his back against the side of the chimney-piece, his hands in his pockets. He was a big, raw-boned man, who looked as if he would go to the world's end if he wanted to. But she saw the despair on his face.
"I couldn't give her up now," he said.
"Well," she said, "remember there are worse wrongs than breaking off an engagement."
"I can't give her up NOW," he said.
The clock ticked on; mother and son remained in silence, a conflict between them; but he would say no more. At last she said:
"Well, go to bed, my son. You'll feel better in the morning, and perhaps you'll know better."
He kissed her, and went. She raked the fire. Her heart was heavy now as it had never been. Before, with her husband, things had seemed to be breaking down in her, but they did not destroy her power to live. Now her soul felt lamed in itself. It was her hope that was struck.
And so often William manifested the same hatred towards his betrothed. On the last evening at home he was railing against her.
"Well," he said, "if you don't believe me, what she's like, would you believe she has been confirmed three times?"
"Nonsense!" laughed Mrs. Morel.
"Nonsense or not, she HAS! That's what confirmation means for her—a bit of a theatrical show where she can cut a figure."
"I haven't, Mrs. Morel!" cried the girl—"I haven't! it is not true!"
"What!" he cried, flashing round on her. "Once in Bromley, once in Beckenham, and once somewhere else."
"Nowhere else!" she said, in tears—"nowhere else!"
"It WAS! And if it wasn't why were you confirmed TWICE?"
"Once I was only fourteen, Mrs. Morel," she pleaded, tears in her eyes.
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel; "I can quite understand it, child. Take no notice of him. You ought to be ashamed, William, saying such things."
"But it's true. She's religious—she had blue velvet Prayer-Books—and she's not as much religion, or anything else, in her than that table-leg. Gets confirmed three times for show, to show herself off, and that's how she is in EVERYTHING—EVERYTHING!"
The girl sat on the sofa, crying. She was not strong.
"As for LOVE!" he cried, "you might as well ask a fly to love you! It'll love settling on you—"
"Now, say no more," commanded Mrs. Morel. "If you want to say these things, you must find another place than this. I am ashamed of you, William! Why don't you be more manly. To do nothing but find fault with a girl, and then pretend you're engaged to her!"
Mrs. Morel subsided in wrath and indignation.
William was silent, and later he repented, kissed and comforted the girl. Yet it was true, what he had said. He hated her.
When they were going away, Mrs. Morel accompanied them as far as Nottingham. It was a long way to Keston station.
"You know, mother," he said to her, "Gyp's shallow. Nothing goes deep with her."
"William, I WISH you wouldn't say these things," said Mrs. Morel, very uncomfortable for the girl who walked beside her.
"But it doesn't, mother. She's very much in love with me now, but if I died she'd have forgotten me in three months."
Mrs. Morel was afraid. Her heart beat furiously, hearing the quiet bitterness of her son's last speech.
"How do you know?" she replied. "You DON'T know, and therefore you've no right to say such a thing."
"He's always saying these things!" cried the girl.
"In three months after I was buried you'd have somebody else, and I should be forgotten," he said. "And that's your love!"
Mrs. Morel saw them into the train in Nottingham, then she returned home.
"There's one comfort," she said to Paul—"he'll never have any money to marry on, that I AM sure of. And so she'll save him that way."
So she took cheer. Matters were not yet very desperate. She firmly believed William would never marry his Gipsy. She waited, and she kept Paul near to her.
All summer long William's letters had a feverish tone; he seemed unnatural and intense. Sometimes he was exaggeratedly jolly, usually he was flat and bitter in his letter.
"Ah," his mother said, "I'm afraid he's ruining himself against that creature, who isn't worthy of his love—no, no more than a rag doll."
He wanted to come home. The midsummer holiday was gone; it was a long while to Christmas. He wrote in wild excitement, saying he could come for Saturday and Sunday at Goose Fair, the first week in October.
"You are not well, my boy," said his mother, when she saw him. She was almost in tears at having him to herself again.
"No, I've not been well," he said. "I've seemed to have a dragging cold all the last month, but it's going, I think."
It was sunny October weather. He seemed wild with joy, like a schoolboy escaped; then again he was silent and reserved. He was more gaunt than ever, and there was a haggard look in his eyes.
"You are doing too much," said his mother to him.
He was doing extra work, trying to make some money to marry on, he said. He only talked to his mother once on the Saturday night; then he was sad and tender about his beloved.
"And yet, you know, mother, for all that, if I died she'd be broken-hearted for two months, and then she'd start to forget me. You'd see, she'd never come home here to look at my grave, not even once."
"Why, William," said his mother, "you're not going to die, so why talk about it?"
"But whether or not—" he replied.
"And she can't help it. She is like that, and if you choose her—well, you can't grumble," said his mother.
On the Sunday morning, as he was putting his collar on:
"Look," he said to his mother, holding up his chin, "what a rash my collar's made under my chin!"
Just at the junction of chin and throat was a big red inflammation.
"It ought not to do that," said his mother. "Here, put a bit of this soothing ointment on. You should wear different collars."
He went away on Sunday midnight, seeming better and more solid for his two days at home.
On Tuesday morning came a telegram from London that he was ill. Mrs. Morel got off her knees from washing the floor, read the telegram, called a neighbour, went to her landlady and borrowed a sovereign, put on her things, and set off. She hurried to Keston, caught an express for London in Nottingham. She had to wait in Nottingham nearly an hour. A small figure in her black bonnet, she was anxiously asking the porters if they knew how to get to Elmers End. The journey was three hours. She sat in her corner in a kind of stupor, never moving. At King's Cross still no one could tell her how to get to Elmers End. Carrying her string bag, that contained her nightdress, a comb and brush, she went from person to person. At last they sent her underground to Cannon Street.
It was six o'clock when she arrived at William's lodging. The blinds were not down.
"How is he?" she asked.
"No better," said the landlady.
She followed the woman upstairs. William lay on the bed, with bloodshot eyes, his face rather discoloured. The clothes were tossed about, there was no fire in the room, a glass of milk stood on the stand at his bedside. No one had been with him.
"Why, my son!" said the mother bravely.
He did not answer. He looked at her, but did not see her. Then he began to say, in a dull voice, as if repeating a letter from dictation: "Owing to a leakage in the hold of this vessel, the sugar had set, and become converted into rock. It needed hacking—"
He was quite unconscious. It had been his business to examine some such cargo of sugar in the Port of London.
"How long has he been like this?" the mother asked the landlady.
"He got home at six o'clock on Monday morning, and he seemed to sleep all day; then in the night we heard him talking, and this morning he asked for you. So I wired, and we fetched the doctor."
"Will you have a fire made?"
Mrs. Morel tried to soothe her son, to keep him still.
The doctor came. It was pneumonia, and, he said, a peculiar erysipelas, which had started under the chin where the collar chafed, and was spreading over the face. He hoped it would not get to the brain.
Mrs. Morel settled down to nurse. She prayed for William, prayed that he would recognise her. But the young man's face grew more discoloured. In the night she struggled with him. He raved, and raved, and would not come to consciousness. At two o'clock, in a dreadful paroxysm, he died.
Mrs. Morel sat perfectly still for an hour in the lodging bedroom; then she roused the household.
At six o'clock, with the aid of the charwoman, she laid him out; then she went round the dreary London village to the registrar and the doctor.
At nine o'clock to the cottage on Scargill Street came another wire:
"William died last night. Let father come, bring money."
Annie, Paul, and Arthur were at home; Mr. Morel was gone to work. The three children said not a word. Annie began to whimper with fear; Paul set off for his father.
It was a beautiful day. At Brinsley pit the white steam melted slowly in the sunshine of a soft blue sky; the wheels of the headstocks twinkled high up; the screen, shuffling its coal into the trucks, made a busy noise.
"I want my father; he's got to go to London," said the boy to the first man he met on the bank.
"Tha wants Walter Morel? Go in theer an' tell Joe Ward."
Paul went into the little top office.
"I want my father; he's got to go to London."
"Thy feyther? Is he down? What's his name?"
"What, Walter? Is owt amiss?"
"He's got to go to London."
The man went to the telephone and rang up the bottom office.
"Walter Morel's wanted, number 42, Hard. Summat's amiss; there's his lad here."
Then he turned round to Paul.
"He'll be up in a few minutes," he said.
Paul wandered out to the pit-top. He watched the chair come up, with its wagon of coal. The great iron cage sank back on its rest, a full carfle was hauled off, an empty tram run on to the chair, a bell ting'ed somewhere, the chair heaved, then dropped like a stone.
Paul did not realise William was dead; it was impossible, with such a bustle going on. The puller-off swung the small truck on to the turn-table, another man ran with it along the bank down the curving lines.
"And William is dead, and my mother's in London, and what will she be doing?" the boy asked himself, as if it were a conundrum.
He watched chair after chair come up, and still no father. At last, standing beside a wagon, a man's form! the chair sank on its rests, Morel stepped off. He was slightly lame from an accident.
"Is it thee, Paul? Is 'e worse?"
"You've got to go to London."
The two walked off the pit-bank, where men were watching curiously. As they came out and went along the railway, with the sunny autumn field on one side and a wall of trucks on the other, Morel said in a frightened voice:
"'E's niver gone, child?"
"Last night. We had a telegram from my mother."
Morel walked on a few strides, then leaned up against a truck-side, his hand over his eyes. He was not crying. Paul stood looking round, waiting. On the weighing machine a truck trundled slowly. Paul saw everything, except his father leaning against the truck as if he were tired.
Morel had only once before been to London. He set off, scared and peaked, to help his wife. That was on Tuesday. The children were left alone in the house. Paul went to work, Arthur went to school, and Annie had in a friend to be with her.
On Saturday night, as Paul was turning the corner, coming home from Keston, he saw his mother and father, who had come to Sethley Bridge Station. They were walking in silence in the dark, tired, straggling apart. The boy waited.
"Mother!" he said, in the darkness.
Mrs. Morel's small figure seemed not to observe. He spoke again.
"Paul!" she said, uninterestedly.
She let him kiss her, but she seemed unaware of him.
In the house she was the same—small, white, and mute. She noticed nothing, she said nothing, only:
"The coffin will be here to-night, Walter. You'd better see about some help." Then, turning to the children: "We're bringing him home."
Then she relapsed into the same mute looking into space, her hands folded on her lap. Paul, looking at her, felt he could not breathe. The house was dead silent.
"I went to work, mother," he said plaintively.
"Did you?" she answered, dully.
After half an hour Morel, troubled and bewildered, came in again.
"Wheer s'll we ha'e him when he DOES come?" he asked his wife.
"In the front-room."
"Then I'd better shift th' table?"
"An' ha'e him across th' chairs?"
"You know there—Yes, I suppose so."
Morel and Paul went, with a candle, into the parlour. There was no gas there. The father unscrewed the top of the big mahogany oval table, and cleared the middle of the room; then he arranged six chairs opposite each other, so that the coffin could stand on their beds.
"You niver seed such a length as he is!" said the miner, and watching anxiously as he worked.
Paul went to the bay window and looked out. The ash-tree stood monstrous and black in front of the wide darkness. It was a faintly luminous night. Paul went back to his mother.
At ten o'clock Morel called:
Everyone started. There was a noise of unbarring and unlocking the front door, which opened straight from the night into the room.
"Bring another candle," called Morel.
Annie and Arthur went. Paul followed with his mother. He stood with his arm round her waist in the inner doorway. Down the middle of the cleared room waited six chairs, face to face. In the window, against the lace curtains, Arthur held up one candle, and by the open door, against the night, Annie stood leaning forward, her brass candlestick glittering.
There was the noise of wheels. Outside in the darkness of the street below Paul could see horses and a black vehicle, one lamp, and a few pale faces; then some men, miners, all in their shirt-sleeves, seemed to struggle in the obscurity. Presently two men appeared, bowed beneath a great weight. It was Morel and his neighbour.
"Steady!" called Morel, out of breath.
He and his fellow mounted the steep garden step, heaved into the candlelight with their gleaming coffin-end. Limbs of other men were seen struggling behind. Morel and Burns, in front, staggered; the great dark weight swayed.
"Steady, steady!" cried Morel, as if in pain.
All the six bearers were up in the small garden, holding the great coffin aloft. There were three more steps to the door. The yellow lamp of the carriage shone alone down the black road.
"Now then!" said Morel.
The coffin swayed, the men began to mount the three steps with their load. Annie's candle flickered, and she whimpered as the first men appeared, and the limbs and bowed heads of six men struggled to climb into the room, bearing the coffin that rode like sorrow on their living flesh.
"Oh, my son—my son!" Mrs. Morel sang softly, and each time the coffin swung to the unequal climbing of the men: "Oh, my son—my son—my son!"
"Mother!" Paul whimpered, his hand round her waist.
She did not hear.
"Oh, my son—my son!" she repeated.
Paul saw drops of sweat fall from his father's brow. Six men were in the room—six coatless men, with yielding, struggling limbs, filling the room and knocking against the furniture. The coffin veered, and was gently lowered on to the chairs. The sweat fell from Morel's face on its boards.
"My word, he's a weight!" said a man, and the five miners sighed, bowed, and, trembling with the struggle, descended the steps again, closing the door behind them.
The family was alone in the parlour with the great polished box. William, when laid out, was six feet four inches long. Like a monument lay the bright brown, ponderous coffin. Paul thought it would never be got out of the room again. His mother was stroking the polished wood.
They buried him on the Monday in the little cemetery on the hillside that looks over the fields at the big church and the houses. It was sunny, and the white chrysanthemums frilled themselves in the warmth.
Mrs. Morel could not be persuaded, after this, to talk and take her old bright interest in life. She remained shut off. All the way home in the train she had said to herself: "If only it could have been me!"
When Paul came home at night he found his mother sitting, her day's work done, with hands folded in her lap upon her coarse apron. She always used to have changed her dress and put on a black apron, before. Now Annie set his supper, and his mother sat looking blankly in front of her, her mouth shut tight. Then he beat his brains for news to tell her.
"Mother, Miss Jordan was down to-day, and she said my sketch of a colliery at work was beautiful."
But Mrs. Morel took no notice. Night after night he forced himself to tell her things, although she did not listen. It drove him almost insane to have her thus. At last:
"What's a-matter, mother?" he asked.
She did not hear.
"What's a-matter?" he persisted. "Mother, what's a-matter?"
"You know what's the matter," she said irritably, turning away.
The lad—he was sixteen years old—went to bed drearily. He was cut off and wretched through October, November and December. His mother tried, but she could not rouse herself. She could only brood on her dead son; he had been let to die so cruelly.
At last, on December 23, with his five shillings Christmas-box in his pocket, Paul wandered blindly home. His mother looked at him, and her heart stood still.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"I'm badly, mother!" he replied. "Mr. Jordan gave me five shillings for a Christmas-box!"
He handed it to her with trembling hands. She put it on the table.
"You aren't glad!" he reproached her; but he trembled violently.
"Where hurts you?" she said, unbuttoning his overcoat.
It was the old question.
"I feel badly, mother."
She undressed him and put him to bed. He had pneumonia dangerously, the doctor said.
"Might he never have had it if I'd kept him at home, not let him go to Nottingham?" was one of the first things she asked.
"He might not have been so bad," said the doctor.
Mrs. Morel stood condemned on her own ground.
"I should have watched the living, not the dead," she told herself.
Paul was very ill. His mother lay in bed at nights with him; they could not afford a nurse. He grew worse, and the crisis approached. One night he tossed into consciousness in the ghastly, sickly feeling of dissolution, when all the cells in the body seem in intense irritability to be breaking down, and consciousness makes a last flare of struggle, like madness.
"I s'll die, mother!" he cried, heaving for breath on the pillow.
She lifted him up, crying in a small voice:
"Oh, my son—my son!"
That brought him to. He realised her. His whole will rose up and arrested him. He put his head on her breast, and took ease of her for love.
"For some things," said his aunt, "it was a good thing Paul was ill that Christmas. I believe it saved his mother."
Paul was in bed for seven weeks. He got up white and fragile. His father had bought him a pot of scarlet and gold tulips. They used to flame in the window in the March sunshine as he sat on the sofa chattering to his mother. The two knitted together in perfect intimacy. Mrs. Morel's life now rooted itself in Paul.
William had been a prophet. Mrs. Morel had a little present and a letter from Lily at Christmas. Mrs. Morel's sister had a letter at the New Year.
"I was at a ball last night. Some delightful people were there, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly," said the letter. "I had every dance—did not sit out one."
Mrs. Morel never heard any more of her.
Morel and his wife were gentle with each other for some time after the death of their son. He would go into a kind of daze, staring wide-eyed and blank across the room. Then he got up suddenly and hurried out to the Three Spots, returning in his normal state. But never in his life would he go for a walk up Shepstone, past the office where his son had worked, and he always avoided the cemetery.
PAUL had been many times up to Willey Farm during the autumn. He was friends with the two youngest boys. Edgar the eldest, would not condescend at first. And Miriam also refused to be approached. She was afraid of being set at nought, as by her own brothers. The girl was romantic in her soul. Everywhere was a Walter Scott heroine being loved by men with helmets or with plumes in their caps. She herself was something of a princess turned into a swine-girl in her own imagination. And she was afraid lest this boy, who, nevertheless, looked something like a Walter Scott hero, who could paint and speak French, and knew what algebra meant, and who went by train to Nottingham every day, might consider her simply as the swine-girl, unable to perceive the princess beneath; so she held aloof.
Her great companion was her mother. They were both brown-eyed, and inclined to be mystical, such women as treasure religion inside them, breathe it in their nostrils, and see the whole of life in a mist thereof. So to Miriam, Christ and God made one great figure, which she loved tremblingly and passionately when a tremendous sunset burned out the western sky, and Ediths, and Lucys, and Rowenas, Brian de Bois Guilberts, Rob Roys, and Guy Mannerings, rustled the sunny leaves in the morning, or sat in her bedroom aloft, alone, when it snowed. That was life to her. For the rest, she drudged in the house, which work she would not have minded had not her clean red floor been mucked up immediately by the trampling farm-boots of her brothers. She madly wanted her little brother of four to let her swathe him and stifle him in her love; she went to church reverently, with bowed head, and quivered in anguish from the vulgarity of the other choir-girls and from the common-sounding voice of the curate; she fought with her brothers, whom she considered brutal louts; and she held not her father in too high esteem because he did not carry any mystical ideals cherished in his heart, but only wanted to have as easy a time as he could, and his meals when he was ready for them.
She hated her position as swine-girl. She wanted to be considered. She wanted to learn, thinking that if she could read, as Paul said he could read, "Colomba", or the "Voyage autour de ma Chambre", the world would have a different face for her and a deepened respect. She could not be princess by wealth or standing. So she was mad to have learning whereon to pride herself. For she was different from other folk, and must not be scooped up among the common fry. Learning was the only distinction to which she thought to aspire.
Her beauty—that of a shy, wild, quiveringly sensitive thing—seemed nothing to her. Even her soul, so strong for rhapsody, was not enough. She must have something to reinforce her pride, because she felt different from other people. Paul she eyed rather wistfully. On the whole, she scorned the male sex. But here was a new specimen, quick, light, graceful, who could be gentle and who could be sad, and who was clever, and who knew a lot, and who had a death in the family. The boy's poor morsel of learning exalted him almost sky-high in her esteem. Yet she tried hard to scorn him, because he would not see in her the princess but only the swine-girl. And he scarcely observed her.
Then he was so ill, and she felt he would be weak. Then she would be stronger than he. Then she could love him. If she could be mistress of him in his weakness, take care of him, if he could depend on her, if she could, as it were, have him in her arms, how she would love him!
As soon as the skies brightened and plum-blossom was out, Paul drove off in the milkman's heavy float up to Willey Farm. Mr. Leivers shouted in a kindly fashion at the boy, then clicked to the horse as they climbed the hill slowly, in the freshness of the morning. White clouds went on their way, crowding to the back of the hills that were rousing in the springtime. The water of Nethermere lay below, very blue against the seared meadows and the thorn-trees.
It was four and a half miles' drive. Tiny buds on the hedges, vivid as copper-green, were opening into rosettes; and thrushes called, and blackbirds shrieked and scolded. It was a new, glamorous world.
Miriam, peeping through the kitchen window, saw the horse walk through the big white gate into the farmyard that was backed by the oak-wood, still bare. Then a youth in a heavy overcoat climbed down. He put up his hands for the whip and the rug that the good-looking, ruddy farmer handed down to him.
Miriam appeared in the doorway. She was nearly sixteen, very beautiful, with her warm colouring, her gravity, her eyes dilating suddenly like an ecstasy.
"I say," said Paul, turning shyly aside, "your daffodils are nearly out. Isn't it early? But don't they look cold?"
"Cold!" said Miriam, in her musical, caressing voice.
"The green on their buds—" and he faltered into silence timidly.
"Let me take the rug," said Miriam over-gently.
"I can carry it," he answered, rather injured. But he yielded it to her.
Then Mrs. Leivers appeared.
"I'm sure you're tired and cold," she said. "Let me take your coat. It IS heavy. You mustn't walk far in it."
She helped him off with his coat. He was quite unused to such attention. She was almost smothered under its weight.
"Why, mother," laughed the farmer as he passed through the kitchen, swinging the great milk-churns, "you've got almost more than you can manage there."
She beat up the sofa cushions for the youth.
The kitchen was very small and irregular. The farm had been originally a labourer's cottage. And the furniture was old and battered. But Paul loved it—loved the sack-bag that formed the hearthrug, and the funny little corner under the stairs, and the small window deep in the corner, through which, bending a little, he could see the plum trees in the back garden and the lovely round hills beyond.
"Won't you lie down?" said Mrs. Leivers.
"Oh no; I'm not tired," he said. "Isn't it lovely coming out, don't you think? I saw a sloe-bush in blossom and a lot of celandines. I'm glad it's sunny."
"Can I give you anything to eat or to drink?"
"No, thank you."
"How's your mother?"
"I think she's tired now. I think she's had too much to do. Perhaps in a little while she'll go to Skegness with me. Then she'll be able to rest. I s'll be glad if she can."
"Yes," replied Mrs. Leivers. "It's a wonder she isn't ill herself."
Miriam was moving about preparing dinner. Paul watched everything that happened. His face was pale and thin, but his eyes were quick and bright with life as ever. He watched the strange, almost rhapsodic way in which the girl moved about, carrying a great stew-jar to the oven, or looking in the saucepan. The atmosphere was different from that of his own home, where everything seemed so ordinary. When Mr. Leivers called loudly outside to the horse, that was reaching over to feed on the rose-bushes in the garden, the girl started, looked round with dark eyes, as if something had come breaking in on her world. There was a sense of silence inside the house and out. Miriam seemed as in some dreamy tale, a maiden in bondage, her spirit dreaming in a land far away and magical. And her discoloured, old blue frock and her broken boots seemed only like the romantic rags of King Cophetua's beggar-maid.
She suddenly became aware of his keen blue eyes upon her, taking her all in. Instantly her broken boots and her frayed old frock hurt her. She resented his seeing everything. Even he knew that her stocking was not pulled up. She went into the scullery, blushing deeply. And afterwards her hands trembled slightly at her work. She nearly dropped all she handled. When her inside dream was shaken, her body quivered with trepidation. She resented that he saw so much.
Mrs. Leivers sat for some time talking to the boy, although she was needed at her work. She was too polite to leave him. Presently she excused herself and rose. After a while she looked into the tin saucepan.
"Oh DEAR, Miriam," she cried, "these potatoes have boiled dry!"
Miriam started as if she had been stung.
"HAVE they, mother?" she cried.
"I shouldn't care, Miriam," said the mother, "if I hadn't trusted them to you." She peered into the pan.
The girl stiffened as if from a blow. Her dark eyes dilated; she remained standing in the same spot.
"Well," she answered, gripped tight in self-conscious shame, "I'm sure I looked at them five minutes since."
"Yes," said the mother, "I know it's easily done."
"They're not much burned," said Paul. "It doesn't matter, does it?"
Mrs. Leivers looked at the youth with her brown, hurt eyes.
"It wouldn't matter but for the boys," she said to him. "Only Miriam knows what a trouble they make if the potatoes are 'caught'."
"Then," thought Paul to himself, "you shouldn't let them make a trouble."
After a while Edgar came in. He wore leggings, and his boots were covered with earth. He was rather small, rather formal, for a farmer. He glanced at Paul, nodded to him distantly, and said:
"Nearly, Edgar," replied the mother apologetically.
"I'm ready for mine," said the young man, taking up the newspaper and reading. Presently the rest of the family trooped in. Dinner was served. The meal went rather brutally. The over-gentleness and apologetic tone of the mother brought out all the brutality of manners in the sons. Edgar tasted the potatoes, moved his mouth quickly like a rabbit, looked indignantly at his mother, and said:
"These potatoes are burnt, mother."
"Yes, Edgar. I forgot them for a minute. Perhaps you'll have bread if you can't eat them."
Edgar looked in anger across at Miriam.
"What was Miriam doing that she couldn't attend to them?" he said.
Miriam looked up. Her mouth opened, her dark eyes blazed and winced, but she said nothing. She swallowed her anger and her shame, bowing her dark head.
"I'm sure she was trying hard," said the mother.
"She hasn't got sense even to boil the potatoes," said Edgar. "What is she kept at home for?"
"On'y for eating everything that's left in th' pantry," said Maurice.
"They don't forget that potato-pie against our Miriam," laughed the father.
She was utterly humiliated. The mother sat in silence, suffering, like some saint out of place at the brutal board.
It puzzled Paul. He wondered vaguely why all this intense feeling went running because of a few burnt potatoes. The mother exalted everything—even a bit of housework—to the plane of a religious trust. The sons resented this; they felt themselves cut away underneath, and they answered with brutality and also with a sneering superciliousness.
Paul was just opening out from childhood into manhood. This atmosphere, where everything took a religious value, came with a subtle fascination to him. There was something in the air. His own mother was logical. Here there was something different, something he loved, something that at times he hated.
Miriam quarrelled with her brothers fiercely. Later in the afternoon, when they had gone away again, her mother said:
"You disappointed me at dinner-time, Miriam."
The girl dropped her head.
"They are such BRUTES!" she suddenly cried, looking up with flashing eyes.
"But hadn't you promised not to answer them?" said the mother. "And I believed in you. I CAN'T stand it when you wrangle."
"But they're so hateful!" cried Miriam, "and—and LOW."
"Yes, dear. But how often have I asked you not to answer Edgar back? Can't you let him say what he likes?"
"But why should he say what he likes?"
"Aren't you strong enough to bear it, Miriam, if even for my sake? Are you so weak that you must wrangle with them?"
Mrs. Leivers stuck unflinchingly to this doctrine of "the other cheek". She could not instil it at all into the boys. With the girls she succeeded better, and Miriam was the child of her heart. The boys loathed the other cheek when it was presented to them. Miriam was often sufficiently lofty to turn it. Then they spat on her and hated her. But she walked in her proud humility, living within herself.
There was always this feeling of jangle and discord in the Leivers family. Although the boys resented so bitterly this eternal appeal to their deeper feelings of resignation and proud humility, yet it had its effect on them. They could not establish between themselves and an outsider just the ordinary human feeling and unexaggerated friendship; they were always restless for the something deeper. Ordinary folk seemed shallow to them, trivial and inconsiderable. And so they were unaccustomed, painfully uncouth in the simplest social intercourse, suffering, and yet insolent in their superiority. Then beneath was the yearning for the soul-intimacy to which they could not attain because they were too dumb, and every approach to close connection was blocked by their clumsy contempt of other people. They wanted genuine intimacy, but they could not get even normally near to anyone, because they scorned to take the first steps, they scorned the triviality which forms common human intercourse.
Paul fell under Mrs. Leivers's spell. Everything had a religious and intensified meaning when he was with her. His soul, hurt, highly developed, sought her as if for nourishment. Together they seemed to sift the vital fact from an experience.
Miriam was her mother's daughter. In the sunshine of the afternoon mother and daughter went down the fields with him. They looked for nests. There was a jenny wren's in the hedge by the orchard.
"I DO want you to see this," said Mrs. Leivers.
He crouched down and carefully put his finger through the thorns into the round door of the nest.
"It's almost as if you were feeling inside the live body of the bird," he said, "it's so warm. They say a bird makes its nest round like a cup with pressing its breast on it. Then how did it make the ceiling round, I wonder?"
The nest seemed to start into life for the two women. After that, Miriam came to see it every day. It seemed so close to her. Again, going down the hedgeside with the girl, he noticed the celandines, scalloped splashes of gold, on the side of the ditch.
"I like them," he said, "when their petals go flat back with the sunshine. They seemed to be pressing themselves at the sun."
And then the celandines ever after drew her with a little spell. Anthropomorphic as she was, she stimulated him into appreciating things thus, and then they lived for her. She seemed to need things kindling in her imagination or in her soul before she felt she had them. And she was cut off from ordinary life by her religious intensity which made the world for her either a nunnery garden or a paradise, where sin and knowledge were not, or else an ugly, cruel thing.
So it was in this atmosphere of subtle intimacy, this meeting in their common feeling for something in Nature, that their love started.
Personally, he was a long time before he realized her. For ten months he had to stay at home after his illness. For a while he went to Skegness with his mother, and was perfectly happy. But even from the seaside he wrote long letters to Mrs. Leivers about the shore and the sea. And he brought back his beloved sketches of the flat Lincoln coast, anxious for them to see. Almost they would interest the Leivers more than they interested his mother. It was not his art Mrs. Morel cared about; it was himself and his achievement. But Mrs. Leivers and her children were almost his disciples. They kindled him and made him glow to his work, whereas his mother's influence was to make him quietly determined, patient, dogged, unwearied.
He soon was friends with the boys, whose rudeness was only superficial. They had all, when they could trust themselves, a strange gentleness and lovableness.
"Will you come with me on to the fallow?" asked Edgar, rather hesitatingly.
Paul went joyfully, and spent the afternoon helping to hoe or to single turnips with his friend. He used to lie with the three brothers in the hay piled up in the barn and tell them about Nottingham and about Jordan's. In return, they taught him to milk, and let him do little jobs—chopping hay or pulping turnips—just as much as he liked. At midsummer he worked all through hay-harvest with them, and then he loved them. The family was so cut off from the world actually. They seemed, somehow, like "les derniers fils d'une race epuisee". Though the lads were strong and healthy, yet they had all that over-sensitiveness and hanging-back which made them so lonely, yet also such close, delicate friends once their intimacy was won. Paul loved them dearly, and they him.
Miriam came later. But he had come into her life before she made any mark on his. One dull afternoon, when the men were on the land and the rest at school, only Miriam and her mother at home, the girl said to him, after having hesitated for some time:
"Have you seen the swing?"
"No," he answered. "Where?"
"In the cowshed," she replied.
She always hesitated to offer or to show him anything. Men have such different standards of worth from women, and her dear things—the valuable things to her—her brothers had so often mocked or flouted.
"Come on, then," he replied, jumping up.
There were two cowsheds, one on either side of the barn. In the lower, darker shed there was standing for four cows. Hens flew scolding over the manger-wall as the youth and girl went forward for the great thick rope which hung from the beam in the darkness overhead, and was pushed back over a peg in the wall.
"It's something like a rope!" he exclaimed appreciatively; and he sat down on it, anxious to try it. Then immediately he rose.
"Come on, then, and have first go," he said to the girl.
"See," she answered, going into the barn, "we put some bags on the seat"; and she made the swing comfortable for him. That gave her pleasure. He held the rope.
"Come on, then," he said to her.
"No, I won't go first," she answered.
She stood aside in her still, aloof fashion.
"You go," she pleaded.
Almost for the first time in her life she had the pleasure of giving up to a man, of spoiling him. Paul looked at her.
"All right," he said, sitting down. "Mind out!"
He set off with a spring, and in a moment was flying through the air, almost out of the door of the shed, the upper half of which was open, showing outside the drizzling rain, the filthy yard, the cattle standing disconsolate against the black cartshed, and at the back of all the grey-green wall of the wood. She stood below in her crimson tam-o'-shanter and watched. He looked down at her, and she saw his blue eyes sparkling.
"It's a treat of a swing," he said.
He was swinging through the air, every bit of him swinging, like a bird that swoops for joy of movement. And he looked down at her. Her crimson cap hung over her dark curls, her beautiful warm face, so still in a kind of brooding, was lifted towards him. It was dark and rather cold in the shed. Suddenly a swallow came down from the high roof and darted out of the door.
"I didn't know a bird was watching," he called.
He swung negligently. She could feel him falling and lifting through the air, as if he were lying on some force.
"Now I'll die," he said, in a detached, dreamy voice, as though he were the dying motion of the swing. She watched him, fascinated. Suddenly he put on the brake and jumped out.
"I've had a long turn," he said. "But it's a treat of a swing—it's a real treat of a swing!"
Miriam was amused that he took a swing so seriously and felt so warmly over it.
"No; you go on," she said.
"Why, don't you want one?" he asked, astonished.
"Well, not much. I'll have just a little."
She sat down, whilst he kept the bags in place for her.
"It's so ripping!" he said, setting her in motion. "Keep your heels up, or they'll bang the manger wall."
She felt the accuracy with which he caught her, exactly at the right moment, and the exactly proportionate strength of his thrust, and she was afraid. Down to her bowels went the hot wave of fear. She was in his hands. Again, firm and inevitable came the thrust at the right moment. She gripped the rope, almost swooning.
"Ha!" she laughed in fear. "No higher!"
"But you're not a BIT high," he remonstrated.
"But no higher."
He heard the fear in her voice, and desisted. Her heart melted in hot pain when the moment came for him to thrust her forward again. But he left her alone. She began to breathe.
"Won't you really go any farther?" he asked. "Should I keep you there?"
"No; let me go by myself," she answered.
He moved aside and watched her.
"Why, you're scarcely moving," he said.
She laughed slightly with shame, and in a moment got down.
"They say if you can swing you won't be sea-sick," he said, as he mounted again. "I don't believe I should ever be sea-sick."
Away he went. There was something fascinating to her in him. For the moment he was nothing but a piece of swinging stuff; not a particle of him that did not swing. She could never lose herself so, nor could her brothers. It roused a warmth in her. It was almost as if he were a flame that had lit a warmth in her whilst he swung in the middle air.
And gradually the intimacy with the family concentrated for Paul on three persons—the mother, Edgar, and Miriam. To the mother he went for that sympathy and that appeal which seemed to draw him out. Edgar was his very close friend. And to Miriam he more or less condescended, because she seemed so humble.
But the girl gradually sought him out. If he brought up his sketch-book, it was she who pondered longest over the last picture. Then she would look up at him. Suddenly, her dark eyes alight like water that shakes with a stream of gold in the dark, she would ask:
"Why do I like this so?"
Always something in his breast shrank from these close, intimate, dazzled looks of hers.
"Why DO you?" he asked.
"I don't know. It seems so true."
"It's because—it's because there is scarcely any shadow in it; it's more shimmery, as if I'd painted the shimmering protoplasm in the leaves and everywhere, and not the stiffness of the shape. That seems dead to me. Only this shimmeriness is the real living. The shape is a dead crust. The shimmer is inside really."
And she, with her little finger in her mouth, would ponder these sayings. They gave her a feeling of life again, and vivified things which had meant nothing to her. She managed to find some meaning in his struggling, abstract speeches. And they were the medium through which she came distinctly at her beloved objects.
Another day she sat at sunset whilst he was painting some pine-trees which caught the red glare from the west. He had been quiet.
"There you are!" he said suddenly. "I wanted that. Now, look at them and tell me, are they pine trunks or are they red coals, standing-up pieces of fire in that darkness? There's God's burning bush for you, that burned not away."
Miriam looked, and was frightened. But the pine trunks were wonderful to her, and distinct. He packed his box and rose. Suddenly he looked at her.
"Why are you always sad?" he asked her.
"Sad!" she exclaimed, looking up at him with startled, wonderful brown eyes.
"Yes," he replied. "You are always sad."
"I am not—oh, not a bit!" she cried.
"But even your joy is like a flame coming off of sadness," he persisted. "You're never jolly, or even just all right."
"No," she pondered. "I wonder—why?"
"Because you're not; because you're different inside, like a pine-tree, and then you flare up; but you're not just like an ordinary tree, with fidgety leaves and jolly—"
He got tangled up in his own speech; but she brooded on it, and he had a strange, roused sensation, as if his feelings were new. She got so near him. It was a strange stimulant.
Then sometimes he hated her. Her youngest brother was only five. He was a frail lad, with immense brown eyes in his quaint fragile face—one of Reynolds's "Choir of Angels", with a touch of elf. Often Miriam kneeled to the child and drew him to her.
"Eh, my Hubert!" she sang, in a voice heavy and surcharged with love. "Eh, my Hubert!"
And, folding him in her arms, she swayed slightly from side to side with love, her face half lifted, her eyes half closed, her voice drenched with love.
"Don't!" said the child, uneasy—"don't, Miriam!"
"Yes; you love me, don't you?" she murmured deep in her throat, almost as if she were in a trance, and swaying also as if she were swooned in an ecstasy of love.
"Don't!" repeated the child, a frown on his clear brow.
"You love me, don't you?" she murmured.
"What do you make such a FUSS for?" cried Paul, all in suffering because of her extreme emotion. "Why can't you be ordinary with him?"
She let the child go, and rose, and said nothing. Her intensity, which would leave no emotion on a normal plane, irritated the youth into a frenzy. And this fearful, naked contact of her on small occasions shocked him. He was used to his mother's reserve. And on such occasions he was thankful in his heart and soul that he had his mother, so sane and wholesome.
All the life of Miriam's body was in her eyes, which were usually dark as a dark church, but could flame with light like a conflagration. Her face scarcely ever altered from its look of brooding. She might have been one of the women who went with Mary when Jesus was dead. Her body was not flexible and living. She walked with a swing, rather heavily, her head bowed forward, pondering. She was not clumsy, and yet none of her movements seemed quite THE movement. Often, when wiping the dishes, she would stand in bewilderment and chagrin because she had pulled in two halves a cup or a tumbler. It was as if, in her fear and self-mistrust, she put too much strength into the effort. There was no looseness or abandon about her. Everything was gripped stiff with intensity, and her effort, overcharged, closed in on itself.
She rarely varied from her swinging, forward, intense walk. Occasionally she ran with Paul down the fields. Then her eyes blazed naked in a kind of ecstasy that frightened him. But she was physically afraid. If she were getting over a stile, she gripped his hands in a little hard anguish, and began to lose her presence of mind. And he could not persuade her to jump from even a small height. Her eyes dilated, became exposed and palpitating.
"No!" she cried, half laughing in terror—"no!"
"You shall!" he cried once, and, jerking her forward, he brought her falling from the fence. But her wild "Ah!" of pain, as if she were losing consciousness, cut him. She landed on her feet safely, and afterwards had courage in this respect.
She was very much dissatisfied with her lot.
"Don't you like being at home?" Paul asked her, surprised.
"Who would?" she answered, low and intense. "What is it? I'm all day cleaning what the boys make just as bad in five minutes. I don't WANT to be at home."
"What do you want, then?"
"I want to do something. I want a chance like anybody else. Why should I, because I'm a girl, be kept at home and not allowed to be anything? What chance HAVE I?"
"Chance of what?"
"Of knowing anything—of learning, of doing anything. It's not fair, because I'm a woman."
She seemed very bitter. Paul wondered. In his own home Annie was almost glad to be a girl. She had not so much responsibility; things were lighter for her. She never wanted to be other than a girl. But Miriam almost fiercely wished she were a man. And yet she hated men at the same time.
"But it's as well to be a woman as a man," he said, frowning.
"Ha! Is it? Men have everything."
"I should think women ought to be as glad to be women as men are to be men," he answered.
"No!"—she shook her head—"no! Everything the men have."
"But what do you want?" he asked.
"I want to learn. Why SHOULD it be that I know nothing?"
"What! such as mathematics and French?"
"Why SHOULDN'T I know mathematics? Yes!" she cried, her eye expanding in a kind of defiance.
"Well, you can learn as much as I know," he said. "I'll teach you, if you like."
Her eyes dilated. She mistrusted him as teacher.
"Would you?" he asked.
Her head had dropped, and she was sucking her finger broodingly.
"Yes," she said hesitatingly.
He used to tell his mother all these things.
"I'm going to teach Miriam algebra," he said.
"Well," replied Mrs. Morel, "I hope she'll get fat on it."
When he went up to the farm on the Monday evening, it was drawing twilight. Miriam was just sweeping up the kitchen, and was kneeling at the hearth when he entered. Everyone was out but her. She looked round at him, flushed, her dark eyes shining, her fine hair falling about her face.
"Hello!" she said, soft and musical. "I knew it was you."
"I knew your step. Nobody treads so quick and firm."
He sat down, sighing.
"Ready to do some algebra?" he asked, drawing a little book from his pocket.
He could feel her backing away.
"You said you wanted," he insisted.
"To-night, though?" she faltered.
"But I came on purpose. And if you want to learn it, you must begin."
She took up her ashes in the dustpan and looked at him, half tremulously, laughing.
"Yes, but to-night! You see, I haven't thought of it."
"Well, my goodness! Take the ashes and come."
He went and sat on the stone bench in the back-yard, where the big milk-cans were standing, tipped up, to air. The men were in the cowsheds. He could hear the little sing-song of the milk spurting into the pails. Presently she came, bringing some big greenish apples.
"You know you like them," she said.
He took a bite.
"Sit down," he said, with his mouth full.
She was short-sighted, and peered over his shoulder. It irritated him. He gave her the book quickly.
"Here," he said. "It's only letters for figures. You put down 'a' instead of '2' or '6'."
They worked, he talking, she with her head down on the book. He was quick and hasty. She never answered. Occasionally, when he demanded of her, "Do you see?" she looked up at him, her eyes wide with the half-laugh that comes of fear. "Don't you?" he cried.
He had been too fast. But she said nothing. He questioned her more, then got hot. It made his blood rouse to see her there, as it were, at his mercy, her mouth open, her eyes dilated with laughter that was afraid, apologetic, ashamed. Then Edgar came along with two buckets of milk.
"Hello!" he said. "What are you doing?"
"Algebra," replied Paul.
"Algebra!" repeated Edgar curiously. Then he passed on with a laugh. Paul took a bite at his forgotten apple, looked at the miserable cabbages in the garden, pecked into lace by the fowls, and he wanted to pull them up. Then he glanced at Miriam. She was poring over the book, seemed absorbed in it, yet trembling lest she could not get at it. It made him cross. She was ruddy and beautiful. Yet her soul seemed to be intensely supplicating. The algebra-book she closed, shrinking, knowing he was angered; and at the same instant he grew gentle, seeing her hurt because she did not understand.
But things came slowly to her. And when she held herself in a grip, seemed so utterly humble before the lesson, it made his blood rouse. He stormed at her, got ashamed, continued the lesson, and grew furious again, abusing her. She listened in silence. Occasionally, very rarely, she defended herself. Her liquid dark eyes blazed at him.
"You don't give me time to learn it," she said.
"All right," he answered, throwing the book on the table and lighting a cigarette. Then, after a while, he went back to her repentant. So the lessons went. He was always either in a rage or very gentle.
"What do you tremble your SOUL before it for?" he cried. "You don't learn algebra with your blessed soul. Can't you look at it with your clear simple wits?"
Often, when he went again into the kitchen, Mrs. Leivers would look at him reproachfully, saying:
"Paul, don't be so hard on Miriam. She may not be quick, but I'm sure she tries."
"I can't help it," he said rather pitiably. "I go off like it."
"You don't mind me, Miriam, do you?" he asked of the girl later.
"No," she reassured him in her beautiful deep tones—"no, I don't mind."
"Don't mind me; it's my fault."
But, in spite of himself, his blood began to boil with her. It was strange that no one else made him in such fury. He flared against her. Once he threw the pencil in her face. There was a silence. She turned her face slightly aside.
"I didn't—" he began, but got no farther, feeling weak in all his bones. She never reproached him or was angry with him. He was often cruelly ashamed. But still again his anger burst like a bubble surcharged; and still, when he saw her eager, silent, as it were, blind face, he felt he wanted to throw the pencil in it; and still, when he saw her hand trembling and her mouth parted with suffering, his heart was scalded with pain for her. And because of the intensity to which she roused him, he sought her.
Then he often avoided her and went with Edgar. Miriam and her brother were naturally antagonistic. Edgar was a rationalist, who was curious, and had a sort of scientific interest in life. It was a great bitterness to Miriam to see herself deserted by Paul for Edgar, who seemed so much lower. But the youth was very happy with her elder brother. The two men spent afternoons together on the land or in the loft doing carpentry, when it rained. And they talked together, or Paul taught Edgar the songs he himself had learned from Annie at the piano. And often all the men, Mr. Leivers as well, had bitter debates on the nationalizing of the land and similar problems. Paul had already heard his mother's views, and as these were as yet his own, he argued for her. Miriam attended and took part, but was all the time waiting until it should be over and a personal communication might begin.
"After all," she said within herself, "if the land were nationalized, Edgar and Paul and I would be just the same." So she waited for the youth to come back to her.
He was studying for his painting. He loved to sit at home, alone with his mother, at night, working and working. She sewed or read. Then, looking up from his task, he would rest his eyes for a moment on her face, that was bright with living warmth, and he returned gladly to his work.
"I can do my best things when you sit there in your rocking-chair, mother," he said.
"I'm sure!" she exclaimed, sniffing with mock scepticism. But she felt it was so, and her heart quivered with brightness. For many hours she sat still, slightly conscious of him labouring away, whilst she worked or read her book. And he, with all his soul's intensity directing his pencil, could feel her warmth inside him like strength. They were both very happy so, and both unconscious of it. These times, that meant so much, and which were real living, they almost ignored.
He was conscious only when stimulated. A sketch finished, he always wanted to take it to Miriam. Then he was stimulated into knowledge of the work he had produced unconsciously. In contact with Miriam he gained insight; his vision went deeper. From his mother he drew the life-warmth, the strength to produce; Miriam urged this warmth into intensity like a white light.
When he returned to the factory the conditions of work were better. He had Wednesday afternoon off to go to the Art School—Miss Jordan's provision—returning in the evening. Then the factory closed at six instead of eight on Thursday and Friday evenings.
One evening in the summer Miriam and he went over the fields by Herod's Farm on their way from the library home. So it was only three miles to Willey Farm. There was a yellow glow over the mowing-grass, and the sorrel-heads burned crimson. Gradually, as they walked along the high land, the gold in the west sank down to red, the red to crimson, and then the chill blue crept up against the glow.
They came out upon the high road to Alfreton, which ran white between the darkening fields. There Paul hesitated. It was two miles home for him, one mile forward for Miriam. They both looked up the road that ran in shadow right under the glow of the north-west sky. On the crest of the hill, Selby, with its stark houses and the up-pricked headstocks of the pit, stood in black silhouette small against the sky.
He looked at his watch.
"Nine o'clock!" he said.
The pair stood, loth to part, hugging their books.
"The wood is so lovely now," she said. "I wanted you to see it."
He followed her slowly across the road to the white gate.
"They grumble so if I'm late," he said.
"But you're not doing anything wrong," she answered impatiently.
He followed her across the nibbled pasture in the dusk. There was a coolness in the wood, a scent of leaves, of honeysuckle, and a twilight. The two walked in silence. Night came wonderfully there, among the throng of dark tree-trunks. He looked round, expectant.
She wanted to show him a certain wild-rose bush she had discovered. She knew it was wonderful. And yet, till he had seen it, she felt it had not come into her soul. Only he could make it her own, immortal. She was dissatisfied.
Dew was already on the paths. In the old oak-wood a mist was rising, and he hesitated, wondering whether one whiteness were a strand of fog or only campion-flowers pallid in a cloud.
By the time they came to the pine-trees Miriam was getting very eager and very tense. Her bush might be gone. She might not be able to find it; and she wanted it so much. Almost passionately she wanted to be with him when he stood before the flowers. They were going to have a communion together—something that thrilled her, something holy. He was walking beside her in silence. They were very near to each other. She trembled, and he listened, vaguely anxious.
Coming to the edge of the wood, they saw the sky in front, like mother-of-pearl, and the earth growing dark. Somewhere on the outermost branches of the pine-wood the honeysuckle was streaming scent.
"Where?" he asked.
"Down the middle path," she murmured, quivering.
When they turned the corner of the path she stood still. In the wide walk between the pines, gazing rather frightened, she could distinguish nothing for some moments; the greying light robbed things of their colour. Then she saw her bush.
"Ah!" she cried, hastening forward.
It was very still. The tree was tall and straggling. It had thrown its briers over a hawthorn-bush, and its long streamers trailed thick, right down to the grass, splashing the darkness everywhere with great spilt stars, pure white. In bosses of ivory and in large splashed stars the roses gleamed on the darkness of foliage and stems and grass. Paul and Miriam stood close together, silent, and watched. Point after point the steady roses shone out to them, seeming to kindle something in their souls. The dusk came like smoke around, and still did not put out the roses.
Paul looked into Miriam's eyes. She was pale and expectant with wonder, her lips were parted, and her dark eyes lay open to him. His look seemed to travel down into her. Her soul quivered. It was the communion she wanted. He turned aside, as if pained. He turned to the bush.
"They seem as if they walk like butterflies, and shake themselves," he said.
She looked at her roses. They were white, some incurved and holy, others expanded in an ecstasy. The tree was dark as a shadow. She lifted her hand impulsively to the flowers; she went forward and touched them in worship.
"Let us go," he said.
There was a cool scent of ivory roses—a white, virgin scent. Something made him feel anxious and imprisoned. The two walked in silence.
"Till Sunday," he said quietly, and left her; and she walked home slowly, feeling her soul satisfied with the holiness of the night. He stumbled down the path. And as soon as he was out of the wood, in the free open meadow, where he could breathe, he started to run as fast as he could. It was like a delicious delirium in his veins.
Always when he went with Miriam, and it grew rather late, he knew his mother was fretting and getting angry about him—why, he could not understand. As he went into the house, flinging down his cap, his mother looked up at the clock. She had been sitting thinking, because a chill to her eyes prevented her reading. She could feel Paul being drawn away by this girl. And she did not care for Miriam. "She is one of those who will want to suck a man's soul out till he has none of his own left," she said to herself; "and he is just such a gaby as to let himself be absorbed. She will never let him become a man; she never will." So, while he was away with Miriam, Mrs. Morel grew more and more worked up.
She glanced at the clock and said, coldly and rather tired:
"You have been far enough to-night."
His soul, warm and exposed from contact with the girl, shrank.
"You must have been right home with her," his mother continued.
He would not answer. Mrs. Morel, looking at him quickly, saw his hair was damp on his forehead with haste, saw him frowning in his heavy fashion, resentfully.
"She must be wonderfully fascinating, that you can't get away from her, but must go trailing eight miles at this time of night."
He was hurt between the past glamour with Miriam and the knowledge that his mother fretted. He had meant not to say anything, to refuse to answer. But he could not harden his heart to ignore his mother.
"I DO like to talk to her," he answered irritably.
"Is there nobody else to talk to?"
"You wouldn't say anything if I went with Edgar."
"You know I should. You know, whoever you went with, I should say it was too far for you to go trailing, late at night, when you've been to Nottingham. Besides"—her voice suddenly flashed into anger and contempt—"it is disgusting—bits of lads and girls courting."
"It is NOT courting," he cried.
"I don't know what else you call it."
"It's not! Do you think we SPOON and do? We only talk."
"Till goodness knows what time and distance," was the sarcastic rejoinder.
Paul snapped at the laces of his boots angrily.
"What are you so mad about?" he asked. "Because you don't like her."
"I don't say I don't like her. But I don't hold with children keeping company, and never did."
"But you don't mind our Annie going out with Jim Inger."
"They've more sense than you two."
"Our Annie's not one of the deep sort."
He failed to see the meaning of this remark. But his mother looked tired. She was never so strong after William's death; and her eyes hurt her.
"Well," he said, "it's so pretty in the country. Mr. Sleath asked about you. He said he'd missed you. Are you a bit better?"
"I ought to have been in bed a long time ago," she replied.
"Why, mother, you know you wouldn't have gone before quarter-past ten."
"Oh, yes, I should!"
"Oh, little woman, you'd say anything now you're disagreeable with me, wouldn't you?"
He kissed her forehead that he knew so well: the deep marks between the brows, the rising of the fine hair, greying now, and the proud setting of the temples. His hand lingered on her shoulder after his kiss. Then he went slowly to bed. He had forgotten Miriam; he only saw how his mother's hair was lifted back from her warm, broad brow. And somehow, she was hurt.
Then the next time he saw Miriam he said to her:
"Don't let me be late to-night—not later than ten o'clock. My mother gets so upset."
Miriam dropped her bead, brooding.
"Why does she get upset?" she asked.
"Because she says I oughtn't to be out late when I have to get up early."
"Very well!" said Miriam, rather quietly, with just a touch of a sneer.
He resented that. And he was usually late again.
That there was any love growing between him and Miriam neither of them would have acknowledged. He thought he was too sane for such sentimentality, and she thought herself too lofty. They both were late in coming to maturity, and psychical ripeness was much behind even the physical. Miriam was exceedingly sensitive, as her mother had always been. The slightest grossness made her recoil almost in anguish. Her brothers were brutal, but never coarse in speech. The men did all the discussing of farm matters outside. But, perhaps, because of the continual business of birth and of begetting which goes on upon every farm, Miriam was the more hypersensitive to the matter, and her blood was chastened almost to disgust of the faintest suggestion of such intercourse. Paul took his pitch from her, and their intimacy went on in an utterly blanched and chaste fashion. It could never be mentioned that the mare was in foal.
When he was nineteen, he was earning only twenty shillings a week, but he was happy. His painting went well, and life went well enough. On the Good Friday he organised a walk to the Hemlock Stone. There were three lads of his own age, then Annie and Arthur, Miriam and Geoffrey. Arthur, apprenticed as an electrician in Nottingham, was home for the holiday. Morel, as usual, was up early, whistling and sawing in the yard. At seven o'clock the family heard him buy threepennyworth of hot-cross buns; he talked with gusto to the little girl who brought them, calling her "my darling". He turned away several boys who came with more buns, telling them they had been "kested" by a little lass. Then Mrs. Morel got up, and the family straggled down. It was an immense luxury to everybody, this lying in bed just beyond the ordinary time on a weekday. And Paul and Arthur read before breakfast, and had the meal unwashed, sitting in their shirt-sleeves. This was another holiday luxury. The room was warm. Everything felt free of care and anxiety. There was a sense of plenty in the house.
While the boys were reading, Mrs. Morel went into the garden. They were now in another house, an old one, near the Scargill Street home, which had been left soon after William had died. Directly came an excited cry from the garden:
"Paul! Paul! come and look!"
It was his mother's voice. He threw down his book and went out. There was a long garden that ran to a field. It was a grey, cold day, with a sharp wind blowing out of Derbyshire. Two fields away Bestwood began, with a jumble of roofs and red house-ends, out of which rose the church tower and the spire of the Congregational Chapel. And beyond went woods and hills, right away to the pale grey heights of the Pennine Chain.
Paul looked down the garden for his mother. Her head appeared among the young currant-bushes.
"Come here!" she cried.
"What for?" he answered.
"Come and see."
She had been looking at the buds on the currant trees. Paul went up.
"To think," she said, "that here I might never have seen them!"
Her son went to her side. Under the fence, in a little bed, was a ravel of poor grassy leaves, such as come from very immature bulbs, and three scyllas in bloom. Mrs. Morel pointed to the deep blue flowers.
"Now, just see those!" she exclaimed. "I was looking at the currant bushes, when, thinks I to myself, 'There's something very blue; is it a bit of sugar-bag?' and there, behold you! Sugar-bag! Three glories of the snow, and such beauties! But where on earth did they come from?"
"I don't know," said Paul.
"Well, that's a marvel, now! I THOUGHT I knew every weed and blade in this garden. But HAVEN'T they done well? You see, that gooseberry-bush just shelters them. Not nipped, not touched!"
He crouched down and turned up the bells of the little blue flowers.
"They're a glorious colour!" he said.
"Aren't they!" she cried. "I guess they come from Switzerland, where they say they have such lovely things. Fancy them against the snow! But where have they come from? They can't have BLOWN here, can they?"
Then he remembered having set here a lot of little trash of bulbs to mature.
"And you never told me," she said.
"No! I thought I'd leave it till they might flower."
"And now, you see! I might have missed them. And I've never had a glory of the snow in my garden in my life."
She was full of excitement and elation. The garden was an endless joy to her. Paul was thankful for her sake at last to be in a house with a long garden that went down to a field. Every morning after breakfast she went out and was happy pottering about in it. And it was true, she knew every weed and blade.
Everybody turned up for the walk. Food was packed, and they set off, a merry, delighted party. They hung over the wall of the mill-race, dropped paper in the water on one side of the tunnel and watched it shoot out on the other. They stood on the foot-bridge over Boathouse Station and looked at the metals gleaming coldly.
"You should see the Flying Scotsman come through at half-past six!" said Leonard, whose father was a signalman. "Lad, but she doesn't half buzz!" and the little party looked up the lines one way, to London, and the other way, to Scotland, and they felt the touch of these two magical places.
In Ilkeston the colliers were waiting in gangs for the public-houses to open. It was a town of idleness and lounging. At Stanton Gate the iron foundry blazed. Over everything there were great discussions. At Trowell they crossed again from Derbyshire into Nottinghamshire. They came to the Hemlock Stone at dinner-time. Its field was crowded with folk from Nottingham and Ilkeston.
They had expected a venerable and dignified monument. They found a little, gnarled, twisted stump of rock, something like a decayed mushroom, standing out pathetically on the side of a field. Leonard and Dick immediately proceeded to carve their initials, "L. W." and "R. P.", in the old red sandstone; but Paul desisted, because he had read in the newspaper satirical remarks about initial-carvers, who could find no other road to immortality. Then all the lads climbed to the top of the rock to look round.
Everywhere in the field below, factory girls and lads were eating lunch or sporting about. Beyond was the garden of an old manor. It had yew-hedges and thick clumps and borders of yellow crocuses round the lawn.
"See," said Paul to Miriam, "what a quiet garden!"
She saw the dark yews and the golden crocuses, then she looked gratefully. He had not seemed to belong to her among all these others; he was different then—not her Paul, who understood the slightest quiver of her innermost soul, but something else, speaking another language than hers. How it hurt her, and deadened her very perceptions. Only when he came right back to her, leaving his other, his lesser self, as she thought, would she feel alive again. And now he asked her to look at this garden, wanting the contact with her again. Impatient of the set in the field, she turned to the quiet lawn, surrounded by sheaves of shut-up crocuses. A feeling of stillness, almost of ecstasy, came over her. It felt almost as if she were alone with him in this garden.
Then he left her again and joined the others. Soon they started home. Miriam loitered behind, alone. She did not fit in with the others; she could very rarely get into human relations with anyone: so her friend, her companion, her lover, was Nature. She saw the sun declining wanly. In the dusky, cold hedgerows were some red leaves. She lingered to gather them, tenderly, passionately. The love in her finger-tips caressed the leaves; the passion in her heart came to a glow upon the leaves.
Suddenly she realised she was alone in a strange road, and she hurried forward. Turning a corner in the lane, she came upon Paul, who stood bent over something, his mind fixed on it, working away steadily, patiently, a little hopelessly. She hesitated in her approach, to watch.
He remained concentrated in the middle of the road. Beyond, one rift of rich gold in that colourless grey evening seemed to make him stand out in dark relief. She saw him, slender and firm, as if the setting sun had given him to her. A deep pain took hold of her, and she knew she must love him. And she had discovered him, discovered in him a rare potentiality, discovered his loneliness. Quivering as at some "annunciation", she went slowly forward.
At last he looked up.
"Why," he exclaimed gratefully, "have you waited for me!"
She saw a deep shadow in his eyes.
"What is it?" she asked.
"The spring broken here;" and he showed her where his umbrella was injured.
Instantly, with some shame, she knew he had not done the damage himself, but that Geoffrey was responsible.
"It is only an old umbrella, isn't it?" she asked.
She wondered why he, who did not usually trouble over trifles, made such a mountain of this molehill.
"But it was William's an' my mother can't help but know," he said quietly, still patiently working at the umbrella.
The words went through Miriam like a blade. This, then, was the confirmation of her vision of him! She looked at him. But there was about him a certain reserve, and she dared not comfort him, not even speak softly to him.