All the while the peewits were screaming in the field. When he came to, he wondered what was near his eyes, curving and strong with life in the dark, and what voice it was speaking. Then he realised it was the grass, and the peewit was calling. The warmth was Clara's breathing heaving. He lifted his head, and looked into her eyes. They were dark and shining and strange, life wild at the source staring into his life, stranger to him, yet meeting him; and he put his face down on her throat, afraid. What was she? A strong, strange, wild life, that breathed with his in the darkness through this hour. It was all so much bigger than themselves that he was hushed. They had met, and included in their meeting the thrust of the manifold grass stems, the cry of the peewit, the wheel of the stars.
When they stood up they saw other lovers stealing down the opposite hedge. It seemed natural they were there; the night contained them.
And after such an evening they both were very still, having known the immensity of passion. They felt small, half-afraid, childish and wondering, like Adam and Eve when they lost their innocence and realised the magnificence of the power which drove them out of Paradise and across the great night and the great day of humanity. It was for each of them an initiation and a satisfaction. To know their own nothingness, to know the tremendous living flood which carried them always, gave them rest within themselves. If so great a magnificent power could overwhelm them, identify them altogether with itself, so that they knew they were only grains in the tremendous heave that lifted every grass blade its little height, and every tree, and living thing, then why fret about themselves? They could let themselves be carried by life, and they felt a sort of peace each in the other. There was a verification which they had had together. Nothing could nullify it, nothing could take it away; it was almost their belief in life.
But Clara was not satisfied. Something great was there, she knew; something great enveloped her. But it did not keep her. In the morning it was not the same. They had KNOWN, but she could not keep the moment. She wanted it again; she wanted something permanent. She had not realised fully. She thought it was he whom she wanted. He was not safe to her. This that had been between them might never be again; he might leave her. She had not got him; she was not satisfied. She had been there, but she had not gripped the—the something—she knew not what—which she was mad to have.
In the morning he had considerable peace, and was happy in himself. It seemed almost as if he had known the baptism of fire in passion, and it left him at rest. But it was not Clara. It was something that happened because of her, but it was not her. They were scarcely any nearer each other. It was as if they had been blind agents of a great force.
When she saw him that day at the factory her heart melted like a drop of fire. It was his body, his brows. The drop of fire grew more intense in her breast; she must hold him. But he, very quiet, very subdued this morning, went on giving his instruction. She followed him into the dark, ugly basement, and lifted her arms to him. He kissed her, and the intensity of passion began to burn him again. Somebody was at the door. He ran upstairs; she returned to her room, moving as if in a trance.
After that the fire slowly went down. He felt more and more that his experience had been impersonal, and not Clara. He loved her. There was a big tenderness, as after a strong emotion they had known together; but it was not she who could keep his soul steady. He had wanted her to be something she could not be.
And she was mad with desire of him. She could not see him without touching him. In the factory, as he talked to her about Spiral hose, she ran her hand secretly along his side. She followed him out into the basement for a quick kiss; her eyes, always mute and yearning, full of unrestrained passion, she kept fixed on his. He was afraid of her, lest she should too flagrantly give herself away before the other girls. She invariably waited for him at dinnertime for him to embrace her before she went. He felt as if she were helpless, almost a burden to him, and it irritated him.
"But what do you always want to be kissing and embracing for?" he said. "Surely there's a time for everything."
She looked up at him, and the hate came into her eyes.
"DO I always want to be kissing you?" she said.
"Always, even if I come to ask you about the work. I don't want anything to do with love when I'm at work. Work's work—"
"And what is love?" she asked. "Has it to have special hours?"
"Yes; out of work hours."
"And you'll regulate it according to Mr. Jordan's closing time?"
"Yes; and according to the freedom from business of any sort."
"It is only to exist in spare time?"
"That's all, and not always then—not the kissing sort of love."
"And that's all you think of it?"
"It's quite enough."
"I'm glad you think so."
And she was cold to him for some time—she hated him; and while she was cold and contemptuous, he was uneasy till she had forgiven him again. But when they started afresh they were not any nearer. He kept her because he never satisfied her.
In the spring they went together to the seaside. They had rooms at a little cottage near Theddlethorpe, and lived as man and wife. Mrs. Radford sometimes went with them.
It was known in Nottingham that Paul Morel and Mrs. Dawes were going together, but as nothing was very obvious, and Clara always a solitary person, and he seemed so simple and innocent, it did not make much difference.
He loved the Lincolnshire coast, and she loved the sea. In the early morning they often went out together to bathe. The grey of the dawn, the far, desolate reaches of the fenland smitten with winter, the sea-meadows rank with herbage, were stark enough to rejoice his soul. As they stepped on to the highroad from their plank bridge, and looked round at the endless monotony of levels, the land a little darker than the sky, the sea sounding small beyond the sandhills, his heart filled strong with the sweeping relentlessness of life. She loved him then. He was solitary and strong, and his eyes had a beautiful light.
They shuddered with cold; then he raced her down the road to the green turf bridge. She could run well. Her colour soon came, her throat was bare, her eyes shone. He loved her for being so luxuriously heavy, and yet so quick. Himself was light; she went with a beautiful rush. They grew warm, and walked hand in hand.
A flush came into the sky, the wan moon, half-way down the west, sank into insignificance. On the shadowy land things began to take life, plants with great leaves became distinct. They came through a pass in the big, cold sandhills on to the beach. The long waste of foreshore lay moaning under the dawn and the sea; the ocean was a flat dark strip with a white edge. Over the gloomy sea the sky grew red. Quickly the fire spread among the clouds and scattered them. Crimson burned to orange, orange to dull gold, and in a golden glitter the sun came up, dribbling fierily over the waves in little splashes, as if someone had gone along and the light had spilled from her pail as she walked.
The breakers ran down the shore in long, hoarse strokes. Tiny seagulls, like specks of spray, wheeled above the line of surf. Their crying seemed larger than they. Far away the coast reached out, and melted into the morning, the tussocky sandhills seemed to sink to a level with the beach. Mablethorpe was tiny on their right. They had alone the space of all this level shore, the sea, and the upcoming sun, the faint noise of the waters, the sharp crying of the gulls.
They had a warm hollow in the sandhills where the wind did not come. He stood looking out to sea.
"It's very fine," he said.
"Now don't get sentimental," she said.
It irritated her to see him standing gazing at the sea, like a solitary and poetic person. He laughed. She quickly undressed.
"There are some fine waves this morning," she said triumphantly.
She was a better swimmer than he; he stood idly watching her.
"Aren't you coming?" she said.
"In a minute," he answered.
She was white and velvet skinned, with heavy shoulders. A little wind, coming from the sea, blew across her body and ruffled her hair.
The morning was of a lovely limpid gold colour. Veils of shadow seemed to be drifting away on the north and the south. Clara stood shrinking slightly from the touch of the wind, twisting her hair. The sea-grass rose behind the white stripped woman. She glanced at the sea, then looked at him. He was watching her with dark eyes which she loved and could not understand. She hugged her breasts between her arms, cringing, laughing:
"Oo, it will be so cold!" she said.
He bent forward and kissed her, held her suddenly close, and kissed her again. She stood waiting. He looked into her eyes, then away at the pale sands.
"Go, then!" he said quietly.
She flung her arms round his neck, drew him against her, kissed him passionately, and went, saying:
"But you'll come in?"
"In a minute."
She went plodding heavily over the sand that was soft as velvet. He, on the sandhills, watched the great pale coast envelop her. She grew smaller, lost proportion, seemed only like a large white bird toiling forward.
"Not much more than a big white pebble on the beach, not much more than a clot of foam being blown and rolled over the sand," he said to himself.
She seemed to move very slowly across the vast sounding shore. As he watched, he lost her. She was dazzled out of sight by the sunshine. Again he saw her, the merest white speck moving against the white, muttering sea-edge.
"Look how little she is!" he said to himself. "She's lost like a grain of sand in the beach—just a concentrated speck blown along, a tiny white foam-bubble, almost nothing among the morning. Why does she absorb me?"
The morning was altogether uninterrupted: she was gone in the water. Far and wide the beach, the sandhills with their blue marrain, the shining water, glowed together in immense, unbroken solitude.
"What is she, after all?" he said to himself. "Here's the seacoast morning, big and permanent and beautiful; there is she, fretting, always unsatisfied, and temporary as a bubble of foam. What does she mean to me, after all? She represents something, like a bubble of foam represents the sea. But what is she? It's not her I care for."
Then, startled by his own unconscious thoughts, that seemed to speak so distinctly that all the morning could hear, he undressed and ran quickly down the sands. She was watching for him. Her arm flashed up to him, she heaved on a wave, subsided, her shoulders in a pool of liquid silver. He jumped through the breakers, and in a moment her hand was on his shoulder.
He was a poor swimmer, and could not stay long in the water. She played round him in triumph, sporting with her superiority, which he begrudged her. The sunshine stood deep and fine on the water. They laughed in the sea for a minute or two, then raced each other back to the sandhills.
When they were drying themselves, panting heavily, he watched her laughing, breathless face, her bright shoulders, her breasts that swayed and made him frightened as she rubbed them, and he thought again:
"But she is magnificent, and even bigger than the morning and the sea. Is she—? Is she—"
She, seeing his dark eyes fixed on her, broke off from her drying with a laugh.
"What are you looking at?" she said.
"You," he answered, laughing.
Her eyes met his, and in a moment he was kissing her white "goose-fleshed" shoulder, and thinking:
"What is she? What is she?"
She loved him in the morning. There was something detached, hard, and elemental about his kisses then, as if he were only conscious of his own will, not in the least of her and her wanting him.
Later in the day he went out sketching.
"You," he said to her, "go with your mother to Sutton. I am so dull."
She stood and looked at him. He knew she wanted to come with him, but he preferred to be alone. She made him feel imprisoned when she was there, as if he could not get a free deep breath, as if there were something on top of him. She felt his desire to be free of her.
In the evening he came back to her. They walked down the shore in the darkness, then sat for a while in the shelter of the sandhills.
"It seems," she said, as they stared over the darkness of the sea, where no light was to be seen—"it seemed as if you only loved me at night—as if you didn't love me in the daytime."
He ran the cold sand through his fingers, feeling guilty under the accusation.
"The night is free to you," he replied. "In the daytime I want to be by myself."
"But why?" she said. "Why, even now, when we are on this short holiday?"
"I don't know. Love-making stifles me in the daytime."
"But it needn't be always love-making," she said.
"It always is," he answered, "when you and I are together."
She sat feeling very bitter.
"Do you ever want to marry me?" he asked curiously.
"Do you me?" she replied.
"Yes, yes; I should like us to have children," he answered slowly.
She sat with her head bent, fingering the sand.
"But you don't really want a divorce from Baxter, do you?" he said.
It was some minutes before she replied.
"No," she said, very deliberately; "I don't think I do."
"I don't know."
"Do you feel as if you belonged to him?"
"No; I don't think so."
"I think he belongs to me," she replied.
He was silent for some minutes, listening to the wind blowing over the hoarse, dark sea.
"And you never really intended to belong to ME?" he said.
"Yes, I do belong to you," she answered.
"No," he said; "because you don't want to be divorced."
It was a knot they could not untie, so they left it, took what they could get, and what they could not attain they ignored.
"I consider you treated Baxter rottenly," he said another time.
He half-expected Clara to answer him, as his mother would: "You consider your own affairs, and don't know so much about other people's." But she took him seriously, almost to his own surprise.
"Why?" she said.
"I suppose you thought he was a lily of the valley, and so you put him in an appropriate pot, and tended him according. You made up your mind he was a lily of the valley and it was no good his being a cow-parsnip. You wouldn't have it."
"I certainly never imagined him a lily of the valley."
"You imagined him something he wasn't. That's just what a woman is. She thinks she knows what's good for a man, and she's going to see he gets it; and no matter if he's starving, he may sit and whistle for what he needs, while she's got him, and is giving him what's good for him."
"And what are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm thinking what tune I shall whistle," he laughed.
And instead of boxing his ears, she considered him in earnest.
"You think I want to give you what's good for you?" she asked.
"I hope so; but love should give a sense of freedom, not of prison. Miriam made me feel tied up like a donkey to a stake. I must feed on her patch, and nowhere else. It's sickening!"
"And would YOU let a WOMAN do as she likes?"
"Yes; I'll see that she likes to love me. If she doesn't—well, I don't hold her."
"If you were as wonderful as you say—," replied Clara.
"I should be the marvel I am," he laughed.
There was a silence in which they hated each other, though they laughed.
"Love's a dog in a manger," he said.
"And which of us is the dog?" she asked.
"Oh well, you, of course."
So there went on a battle between them. She knew she never fully had him. Some part, big and vital in him, she had no hold over; nor did she ever try to get it, or even to realise what it was. And he knew in some way that she held herself still as Mrs. Dawes. She did not love Dawes, never had loved him; but she believed he loved her, at least depended on her. She felt a certain surety about him that she never felt with Paul Morel. Her passion for the young man had filled her soul, given her a certain satisfaction, eased her of her self-mistrust, her doubt. Whatever else she was, she was inwardly assured. It was almost as if she had gained HERSELF, and stood now distinct and complete. She had received her confirmation; but she never believed that her life belonged to Paul Morel, nor his to her. They would separate in the end, and the rest of her life would be an ache after him. But at any rate, she knew now, she was sure of herself. And the same could almost be said of him. Together they had received the baptism of life, each through the other; but now their missions were separate. Where he wanted to go she could not come with him. They would have to part sooner or later. Even if they married, and were faithful to each other, still he would have to leave her, go on alone, and she would only have to attend to him when he came home. But it was not possible. Each wanted a mate to go side by side with.
Clara had gone to live with her mother upon Mapperley Plains. One evening, as Paul and she were walking along Woodborough Road, they met Dawes. Morel knew something about the bearing of the man approaching, but he was absorbed in his thinking at the moment, so that only his artist's eye watched the form of the stranger. Then he suddenly turned to Clara with a laugh, and put his hand on her shoulder, saying, laughing:
"But we walk side by side, and yet I'm in London arguing with an imaginary Orpen; and where are you?"
At that instant Dawes passed, almost touching Morel. The young man glanced, saw the dark brown eyes burning, full of hate and yet tired.
"Who was that?" he asked of Clara.
"It was Baxter," she replied.
Paul took his hand from her shoulder and glanced round; then he saw again distinctly the man's form as it approached him. Dawes still walked erect, with his fine shoulders flung back, and his face lifted; but there was a furtive look in his eyes that gave one the impression he was trying to get unnoticed past every person he met, glancing suspiciously to see what they thought of him. And his hands seemed to be wanting to hide. He wore old clothes, the trousers were torn at the knee, and the handkerchief tied round his throat was dirty; but his cap was still defiantly over one eye. As she saw him, Clara felt guilty. There was a tiredness and despair on his face that made her hate him, because it hurt her.
"He looks shady," said Paul.
But the note of pity in his voice reproached her, and made her feel hard.
"His true commonness comes out," she answered.
"Do you hate him?" he asked.
"You talk," she said, "about the cruelty of women; I wish you knew the cruelty of men in their brute force. They simply don't know that the woman exists."
"Don't I?" he said.
"No," she answered.
"Don't I know you exist?"
"About ME you know nothing," she said bitterly—"about ME!"
"No more than Baxter knew?" he asked.
"Perhaps not as much."
He felt puzzled, and helpless, and angry. There she walked unknown to him, though they had been through such experience together.
"But you know ME pretty well," he said.
She did not answer.
"Did you know Baxter as well as you know me?" he asked.
"He wouldn't let me," she said.
"And I have let you know me?"
"It's what men WON'T let you do. They won't let you get really near to them," she said.
"And haven't I let you?"
"Yes," she answered slowly; "but you've never come near to me. You can't come out of yourself, you can't. Baxter could do that better than you."
He walked on pondering. He was angry with her for preferring Baxter to him.
"You begin to value Baxter now you've not got him," he said.
"No; I can only see where he was different from you."
But he felt she had a grudge against him.
One evening, as they were coming home over the fields, she startled him by asking:
"Do you think it's worth it—the—the sex part?"
"The act of loving, itself?"
"Yes; is it worth anything to you?"
"But how can you separate it?" he said. "It's the culmination of everything. All our intimacy culminates then."
"Not for me," she said.
He was silent. A flash of hate for her came up. After all, she was dissatisfied with him, even there, where he thought they fulfilled each other. But he believed her too implicitly.
"I feel," she continued slowly, "as if I hadn't got you, as if all of you weren't there, and as if it weren't ME you were taking—"
"Something just for yourself. It has been fine, so that I daren't think of it. But is it ME you want, or is it IT?"
He again felt guilty. Did he leave Clara out of count, and take simply women? But he thought that was splitting a hair.
"When I had Baxter, actually had him, then I DID feel as if I had all of him," she said.
"And it was better?" he asked.
"Yes, yes; it was more whole. I don't say you haven't given me more than he ever gave me."
"Or could give you."
"Yes, perhaps; but you've never given me yourself."
He knitted his brows angrily.
"If I start to make love to you," he said, "I just go like a leaf down the wind."
"And leave me out of count," she said.
"And then is it nothing to you?" he asked, almost rigid with chagrin.
"It's something; and sometimes you have carried me away—right away—I know—and—I reverence you for it—but—"
"Don't 'but' me," he said, kissing her quickly, as a fire ran through him.
She submitted, and was silent.
It was true as he said. As a rule, when he started love-making, the emotion was strong enough to carry with it everything—reason, soul, blood—in a great sweep, like the Trent carries bodily its back-swirls and intertwinings, noiselessly. Gradually the little criticisms, the little sensations, were lost, thought also went, everything borne along in one flood. He became, not a man with a mind, but a great instinct. His hands were like creatures, living; his limbs, his body, were all life and consciousness, subject to no will of his, but living in themselves. Just as he was, so it seemed the vigorous, wintry stars were strong also with life. He and they struck with the same pulse of fire, and the same joy of strength which held the bracken-frond stiff near his eyes held his own body firm. It was as if he, and the stars, and the dark herbage, and Clara were licked up in an immense tongue of flame, which tore onwards and upwards. Everything rushed along in living beside him; everything was still, perfect in itself, along with him. This wonderful stillness in each thing in itself, while it was being borne along in a very ecstasy of living, seemed the highest point of bliss.
And Clara knew this held him to her, so she trusted altogether to the passion. It, however, failed her very often. They did not often reach again the height of that once when the peewits had called. Gradually, some mechanical effort spoilt their loving, or, when they had splendid moments, they had them separately, and not so satisfactorily. So often he seemed merely to be running on alone; often they realised it had been a failure, not what they had wanted. He left her, knowing THAT evening had only made a little split between them. Their loving grew more mechanical, without the marvellous glamour. Gradually they began to introduce novelties, to get back some of the feeling of satisfaction. They would be very near, almost dangerously near to the river, so that the black water ran not far from his face, and it gave a little thrill; or they loved sometimes in a little hollow below the fence of the path where people were passing occasionally, on the edge of the town, and they heard footsteps coming, almost felt the vibration of the tread, and they heard what the passersby said—strange little things that were never intended to be heard. And afterwards each of them was rather ashamed, and these things caused a distance between the two of them. He began to despise her a little, as if she had merited it!
One night he left her to go to Daybrook Station over the fields. It was very dark, with an attempt at snow, although the spring was so far advanced. Morel had not much time; he plunged forward. The town ceases almost abruptly on the edge of a steep hollow; there the houses with their yellow lights stand up against the darkness. He went over the stile, and dropped quickly into the hollow of the fields. Under the orchard one warm window shone in Swineshead Farm. Paul glanced round. Behind, the houses stood on the brim of the dip, black against the sky, like wild beasts glaring curiously with yellow eyes down into the darkness. It was the town that seemed savage and uncouth, glaring on the clouds at the back of him. Some creature stirred under the willows of the farm pond. It was too dark to distinguish anything.
He was close up to the next stile before he saw a dark shape leaning against it. The man moved aside.
"Good-evening!" he said.
"Good-evening!" Morel answered, not noticing.
"Paul Morel?" said the man.
Then he knew it was Dawes. The man stopped his way.
"I've got yer, have I?" he said awkwardly.
"I shall miss my train," said Paul.
He could see nothing of Dawes's face. The man's teeth seemed to chatter as he talked.
"You're going to get it from me now," said Dawes.
Morel attempted to move forward; the other man stepped in front of him.
"Are yer goin' to take that top-coat off," he said, "or are you goin' to lie down to it?"
Paul was afraid the man was mad.
"But," he said, "I don't know how to fight."
"All right, then," answered Dawes, and before the younger man knew where he was, he was staggering backwards from a blow across the face.
The whole night went black. He tore off his overcoat and coat, dodging a blow, and flung the garments over Dawes. The latter swore savagely. Morel, in his shirt-sleeves, was now alert and furious. He felt his whole body unsheath itself like a claw. He could not fight, so he would use his wits. The other man became more distinct to him; he could see particularly the shirt-breast. Dawes stumbled over Paul's coats, then came rushing forward. The young man's mouth was bleeding. It was the other man's mouth he was dying to get at, and the desire was anguish in its strength. He stepped quickly through the stile, and as Dawes was coming through after him, like a flash he got a blow in over the other's mouth. He shivered with pleasure. Dawes advanced slowly, spitting. Paul was afraid; he moved round to get to the stile again. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, came a great blow against his ear, that sent him falling helpless backwards. He heard Dawes's heavy panting, like a wild beast's, then came a kick on the knee, giving him such agony that he got up and, quite blind, leapt clean under his enemy's guard. He felt blows and kicks, but they did not hurt. He hung on to the bigger man like a wild cat, till at last Dawes fell with a crash, losing his presence of mind. Paul went down with him. Pure instinct brought his hands to the man's neck, and before Dawes, in frenzy and agony, could wrench him free, he had got his fists twisted in the scarf and his knuckles dug in the throat of the other man. He was a pure instinct, without reason or feeling. His body, hard and wonderful in itself, cleaved against the struggling body of the other man; not a muscle in him relaxed. He was quite unconscious, only his body had taken upon itself to kill this other man. For himself, he had neither feeling nor reason. He lay pressed hard against his adversary, his body adjusting itself to its one pure purpose of choking the other man, resisting exactly at the right moment, with exactly the right amount of strength, the struggles of the other, silent, intent, unchanging, gradually pressing its knuckles deeper, feeling the struggles of the other body become wilder and more frenzied. Tighter and tighter grew his body, like a screw that is gradually increasing in pressure, till something breaks.
Then suddenly he relaxed, full of wonder and misgiving. Dawes had been yielding. Morel felt his body flame with pain, as he realised what he was doing; he was all bewildered. Dawes's struggles suddenly renewed themselves in a furious spasm. Paul's hands were wrenched, torn out of the scarf in which they were knotted, and he was flung away, helpless. He heard the horrid sound of the other's gasping, but he lay stunned; then, still dazed, he felt the blows of the other's feet, and lost consciousness.
Dawes, grunting with pain like a beast, was kicking the prostrate body of his rival. Suddenly the whistle of the train shrieked two fields away. He turned round and glared suspiciously. What was coming? He saw the lights of the train draw across his vision. It seemed to him people were approaching. He made off across the field into Nottingham, and dimly in his consciousness as he went, he felt on his foot the place where his boot had knocked against one of the lad's bones. The knock seemed to re-echo inside him; he hurried to get away from it.
Morel gradually came to himself. He knew where he was and what had happened, but he did not want to move. He lay still, with tiny bits of snow tickling his face. It was pleasant to lie quite, quite still. The time passed. It was the bits of snow that kept rousing him when he did not want to be roused. At last his will clicked into action.
"I mustn't lie here," he said; "it's silly."
But still he did not move.
"I said I was going to get up," he repeated. "Why don't I?"
And still it was some time before he had sufficiently pulled himself together to stir; then gradually he got up. Pain made him sick and dazed, but his brain was clear. Reeling, he groped for his coats and got them on, buttoning his overcoat up to his ears. It was some time before he found his cap. He did not know whether his face was still bleeding. Walking blindly, every step making him sick with pain, he went back to the pond and washed his face and hands. The icy water hurt, but helped to bring him back to himself. He crawled back up the hill to the tram. He wanted to get to his mother—he must get to his mother—that was his blind intention. He covered his face as much as he could, and struggled sickly along. Continually the ground seemed to fall away from him as he walked, and he felt himself dropping with a sickening feeling into space; so, like a nightmare, he got through with the journey home.
Everybody was in bed. He looked at himself. His face was discoloured and smeared with blood, almost like a dead man's face. He washed it, and went to bed. The night went by in delirium. In the morning he found his mother looking at him. Her blue eyes—they were all he wanted to see. She was there; he was in her hands.
"It's not much, mother," he said. "It was Baxter Dawes."
"Tell me where it hurts you," she said quietly.
"I don't know—my shoulder. Say it was a bicycle accident, mother."
He could not move his arm. Presently Minnie, the little servant, came upstairs with some tea.
"Your mother's nearly frightened me out of my wits—fainted away," she said.
He felt he could not bear it. His mother nursed him; he told her about it.
"And now I should have done with them all," she said quietly.
"I will, mother."
She covered him up.
"And don't think about it," she said—"only try to go to sleep. The doctor won't be here till eleven."
He had a dislocated shoulder, and the second day acute bronchitis set in. His mother was pale as death now, and very thin. She would sit and look at him, then away into space. There was something between them that neither dared mention. Clara came to see him. Afterwards he said to his mother:
"She makes me tired, mother."
"Yes; I wish she wouldn't come," Mrs. Morel replied.
Another day Miriam came, but she seemed almost like a stranger to him.
"You know, I don't care about them, mother," he said.
"I'm afraid you don't, my son," she replied sadly.
It was given out everywhere that it was a bicycle accident. Soon he was able to go to work again, but now there was a constant sickness and gnawing at his heart. He went to Clara, but there seemed, as it were, nobody there. He could not work. He and his mother seemed almost to avoid each other. There was some secret between them which they could not bear. He was not aware of it. He only knew that his life seemed unbalanced, as if it were going to smash into pieces.
Clara did not know what was the matter with him. She realised that he seemed unaware of her. Even when he came to her he seemed unaware of her; always he was somewhere else. She felt she was clutching for him, and he was somewhere else. It tortured her, and so she tortured him. For a month at a time she kept him at arm's length. He almost hated her, and was driven to her in spite of himself. He went mostly into the company of men, was always at the George or the White Horse. His mother was ill, distant, quiet, shadowy. He was terrified of something; he dared not look at her. Her eyes seemed to grow darker, her face more waxen; still she dragged about at her work.
At Whitsuntide he said he would go to Blackpool for four days with his friend Newton. The latter was a big, jolly fellow, with a touch of the bounder about him. Paul said his mother must go to Sheffield to stay a week with Annie, who lived there. Perhaps the change would do her good. Mrs. Morel was attending a woman's doctor in Nottingham. He said her heart and her digestion were wrong. She consented to go to Sheffield, though she did not want to; but now she would do everything her son wished of her. Paul said he would come for her on the fifth day, and stay also in Sheffield till the holiday was up. It was agreed.
The two young men set off gaily for Blackpool. Mrs. Morel was quite lively as Paul kissed her and left her. Once at the station, he forgot everything. Four days were clear—not an anxiety, not a thought. The two young men simply enjoyed themselves. Paul was like another man. None of himself remained—no Clara, no Miriam, no mother that fretted him. He wrote to them all, and long letters to his mother; but they were jolly letters that made her laugh. He was having a good time, as young fellows will in a place like Blackpool. And underneath it all was a shadow for her.
Paul was very gay, excited at the thought of staying with his mother in Sheffield. Newton was to spend the day with them. Their train was late. Joking, laughing, with their pipes between their teeth, the young men swung their bags on to the tram-car. Paul had bought his mother a little collar of real lace that he wanted to see her wear, so that he could tease her about it.
Annie lived in a nice house, and had a little maid. Paul ran gaily up the steps. He expected his mother laughing in the hall, but it was Annie who opened to him. She seemed distant to him. He stood a second in dismay. Annie let him kiss her cheek.
"Is my mother ill?" he said.
"Yes; she's not very well. Don't upset her."
"Is she in bed?"
And then the queer feeling went over him, as if all the sunshine had gone out of him, and it was all shadow. He dropped the bag and ran upstairs. Hesitating, he opened the door. His mother sat up in bed, wearing a dressing-gown of old-rose colour. She looked at him almost as if she were ashamed of herself, pleading to him, humble. He saw the ashy look about her.
"Mother!" he said.
"I thought you were never coming," she answered gaily.
But he only fell on his knees at the bedside, and buried his face in the bedclothes, crying in agony, and saying:
She stroked his hair slowly with her thin hand.
"Don't cry," she said. "Don't cry—it's nothing."
But he felt as if his blood was melting into tears, and he cried in terror and pain.
"Don't—don't cry," his mother faltered.
Slowly she stroked his hair. Shocked out of himself, he cried, and the tears hurt in every fibre of his body. Suddenly he stopped, but he dared not lift his face out of the bedclothes.
"You ARE late. Where have you been?" his mother asked.
"The train was late," he replied, muffled in the sheet.
"Yes; that miserable Central! Is Newton come?"
"I'm sure you must be hungry, and they've kept dinner waiting."
With a wrench he looked up at her.
"What is it, mother?" he asked brutally.
She averted her eyes as she answered:
"Only a bit of a tumour, my boy. You needn't trouble. It's been there—the lump has—a long time."
Up came the tears again. His mind was clear and hard, but his body was crying.
"Where?" he said.
She put her hand on her side.
"Here. But you know they can sweal a tumour away."
He stood feeling dazed and helpless, like a child. He thought perhaps it was as she said. Yes; he reassured himself it was so. But all the while his blood and his body knew definitely what it was. He sat down on the bed, and took her hand. She had never had but the one ring—her wedding-ring.
"When were you poorly?" he asked.
"It was yesterday it began," she answered submissively.
"Yes; but not more than I've often had at home. I believe Dr. Ansell is an alarmist."
"You ought not to have travelled alone," he said, to himself more than to her.
"As if that had anything to do with it!" she answered quickly.
They were silent for a while.
"Now go and have your dinner," she said. "You MUST be hungry."
"Have you had yours?"
"Yes; a beautiful sole I had. Annie IS good to me."
They talked a little while, then he went downstairs. He was very white and strained. Newton sat in miserable sympathy.
After dinner he went into the scullery to help Annie to wash up. The little maid had gone on an errand.
"Is it really a tumour?" he asked.
Annie began to cry again.
"The pain she had yesterday—I never saw anybody suffer like it!" she cried. "Leonard ran like a madman for Dr. Ansell, and when she'd got to bed she said to me: 'Annie, look at this lump on my side. I wonder what it is?' And there I looked, and I thought I should have dropped. Paul, as true as I'm here, it's a lump as big as my double fist. I said: 'Good gracious, mother, whenever did that come?' 'Why, child,' she said, 'it's been there a long time.' I thought I should have died, our Paul, I did. She's been having these pains for months at home, and nobody looking after her."
The tears came to his eyes, then dried suddenly.
"But she's been attending the doctor in Nottingham—and she never told me," he said.
"If I'd have been at home," said Annie, "I should have seen for myself."
He felt like a man walking in unrealities. In the afternoon he went to see the doctor. The latter was a shrewd, lovable man.
"But what is it?" he said.
The doctor looked at the young man, then knitted his fingers.
"It may be a large tumour which has formed in the membrane," he said slowly, "and which we MAY be able to make go away."
"Can't you operate?" asked Paul.
"Not there," replied the doctor.
"Are you sure?"
Paul meditated a while.
"Are you sure it's a tumour?" he asked. "Why did Dr. Jameson in Nottingham never find out anything about it? She's been going to him for weeks, and he's treated her for heart and indigestion."
"Mrs. Morel never told Dr. Jameson about the lump," said the doctor.
"And do you KNOW it's a tumour?"
"No, I am not sure."
"What else MIGHT it be? You asked my sister if there was cancer in the family. Might it be cancer?"
"I don't know."
"And what shall you do?"
"I should like an examination, with Dr. Jameson."
"Then have one."
"You must arrange about that. His fee wouldn't be less than ten guineas to come here from Nottingham."
"When would you like him to come?"
"I will call in this evening, and we will talk it over."
Paul went away, biting his lip.
His mother could come downstairs for tea, the doctor said. Her son went upstairs to help her. She wore the old-rose dressing-gown that Leonard had given Annie, and, with a little colour in her face, was quite young again.
"But you look quite pretty in that," he said.
"Yes; they make me so fine, I hardly know myself," she answered.
But when she stood up to walk, the colour went. Paul helped her, half-carrying her. At the top of the stairs she was gone. He lifted her up and carried her quickly downstairs; laid her on the couch. She was light and frail. Her face looked as if she were dead, with blue lips shut tight. Her eyes opened—her blue, unfailing eyes—and she looked at him pleadingly, almost wanting him to forgive her. He held brandy to her lips, but her mouth would not open. All the time she watched him lovingly. She was only sorry for him. The tears ran down his face without ceasing, but not a muscle moved. He was intent on getting a little brandy between her lips. Soon she was able to swallow a teaspoonful. She lay back, so tired. The tears continued to run down his face.
"But," she panted, "it'll go off. Don't cry!"
"I'm not doing," he said.
After a while she was better again. He was kneeling beside the couch. They looked into each other's eyes.
"I don't want you to make a trouble of it," she said.
"No, mother. You'll have to be quite still, and then you'll get better soon."
But he was white to the lips, and their eyes as they looked at each other understood. Her eyes were so blue—such a wonderful forget-me-not blue! He felt if only they had been of a different colour he could have borne it better. His heart seemed to be ripping slowly in his breast. He kneeled there, holding her hand, and neither said anything. Then Annie came in.
"Are you all right?" she murmured timidly to her mother.
"Of course," said Mrs. Morel.
Paul sat down and told her about Blackpool. She was curious.
A day or two after, he went to see Dr. Jameson in Nottingham, to arrange for a consultation. Paul had practically no money in the world. But he could borrow.
His mother had been used to go to the public consultation on Saturday morning, when she could see the doctor for only a nominal sum. Her son went on the same day. The waiting-room was full of poor women, who sat patiently on a bench around the wall. Paul thought of his mother, in her little black costume, sitting waiting likewise. The doctor was late. The women all looked rather frightened. Paul asked the nurse in attendance if he could see the doctor immediately he came. It was arranged so. The women sitting patiently round the walls of the room eyed the young man curiously.
At last the doctor came. He was about forty, good-looking, brown-skinned. His wife had died, and he, who had loved her, had specialised on women's ailments. Paul told his name and his mother's. The doctor did not remember.
"Number forty-six M.," said the nurse; and the doctor looked up the case in his book.
"There is a big lump that may be a tumour," said Paul. "But Dr. Ansell was going to write you a letter."
"Ah, yes!" replied the doctor, drawing the letter from his pocket. He was very friendly, affable, busy, kind. He would come to Sheffield the next day.
"What is your father?" he asked.
"He is a coal-miner," replied Paul.
"Not very well off, I suppose?"
"This—I see after this," said Paul.
"And you?" smiled the doctor.
"I am a clerk in Jordan's Appliance Factory."
The doctor smiled at him.
"Er—to go to Sheffield!" he said, putting the tips of his fingers together, and smiling with his eyes. "Eight guineas?"
"Thank you!" said Paul, flushing and rising. "And you'll come to-morrow?"
"To-morrow—Sunday? Yes! Can you tell me about what time there is a train in the afternoon?"
"There is a Central gets in at four-fifteen."
"And will there be any way of getting up to the house? Shall I have to walk?" The doctor smiled.
"There is the tram," said Paul; "the Western Park tram."
The doctor made a note of it.
"Thank you!" he said, and shook hands.
Then Paul went on home to see his father, who was left in the charge of Minnie. Walter Morel was getting very grey now. Paul found him digging in the garden. He had written him a letter. He shook hands with his father.
"Hello, son! Tha has landed, then?" said the father.
"Yes," replied the son. "But I'm going back to-night."
"Are ter, beguy!" exclaimed the collier. "An' has ter eaten owt?"
"That's just like thee," said Morel. "Come thy ways in."
The father was afraid of the mention of his wife. The two went indoors. Paul ate in silence; his father, with earthy hands, and sleeves rolled up, sat in the arm-chair opposite and looked at him.
"Well, an' how is she?" asked the miner at length, in a little voice.
"She can sit up; she can be carried down for tea," said Paul.
"That's a blessin'!" exclaimed Morel. "I hope we s'll soon be havin' her whoam, then. An' what's that Nottingham doctor say?"
"He's going to-morrow to have an examination of her."
"Is he beguy! That's a tidy penny, I'm thinkin'!"
"Eight guineas!" the miner spoke breathlessly. "Well, we mun find it from somewhere."
"I can pay that," said Paul.
There was silence between them for some time.
"She says she hopes you're getting on all right with Minnie," Paul said.
"Yes, I'm all right, an' I wish as she was," answered Morel. "But Minnie's a good little wench, bless 'er heart!" He sat looking dismal.
"I s'll have to be going at half-past three," said Paul.
"It's a trapse for thee, lad! Eight guineas! An' when dost think she'll be able to get as far as this?"
"We must see what the doctors say to-morrow," Paul said.
Morel sighed deeply. The house seemed strangely empty, and Paul thought his father looked lost, forlorn, and old.
"You'll have to go and see her next week, father," he said.
"I hope she'll be a-whoam by that time," said Morel.
"If she's not," said Paul, "then you must come."
"I dunno wheer I s'll find th' money," said Morel.
"And I'll write to you what the doctor says," said Paul.
"But tha writes i' such a fashion, I canna ma'e it out," said Morel.
"Well, I'll write plain."
It was no good asking Morel to answer, for he could scarcely do more than write his own name.
The doctor came. Leonard felt it his duty to meet him with a cab. The examination did not take long. Annie, Arthur, Paul, and Leonard were waiting in the parlour anxiously. The doctors came down. Paul glanced at them. He had never had any hope, except when he had deceived himself.
"It MAY be a tumour; we must wait and see," said Dr. Jameson.
"And if it is," said Annie, "can you sweal it away?"
"Probably," said the doctor.
Paul put eight sovereigns and half a sovereign on the table. The doctor counted them, took a florin out of his purse, and put that down.
"Thank you!" he said. "I'm sorry Mrs. Morel is so ill. But we must see what we can do."
"There can't be an operation?" said Paul.
The doctor shook his head.
"No," he said; "and even if there could, her heart wouldn't stand it."
"Is her heart risky?" asked Paul.
"Yes; you must be careful with her."
"No—er—no, no! Just take care."
And the doctor was gone.
Then Paul carried his mother downstairs. She lay simply, like a child. But when he was on the stairs, she put her arms round his neck, clinging.
"I'm so frightened of these beastly stairs," she said.
And he was frightened, too. He would let Leonard do it another time. He felt he could not carry her.
"He thinks it's only a tumour!" cried Annie to her mother. "And he can sweal it away."
"I KNEW he could," protested Mrs. Morel scornfully.
She pretended not to notice that Paul had gone out of the room. He sat in the kitchen, smoking. Then he tried to brush some grey ash off his coat. He looked again. It was one of his mother's grey hairs. It was so long! He held it up, and it drifted into the chimney. He let go. The long grey hair floated and was gone in the blackness of the chimney.
The next day he kissed her before going back to work. It was very early in the morning, and they were alone.
"You won't fret, my boy!" she said.
"No; it would be silly. And take care of yourself."
"Yes," he answered. Then, after a while: "And I shall come next Saturday, and shall bring my father?"
"I suppose he wants to come," she replied. "At any rate, if he does you'll have to let him."
He kissed her again, and stroked the hair from her temples, gently, tenderly, as if she were a lover.
"Shan't you be late?" she murmured.
"I'm going," he said, very low.
Still he sat a few minutes, stroking the brown and grey hair from her temples.
"And you won't be any worse, mother?"
"No, my son."
"You promise me?"
"Yes; I won't be any worse."
He kissed her, held her in his arms for a moment, and was gone. In the early sunny morning he ran to the station, crying all the way; he did not know what for. And her blue eyes were wide and staring as she thought of him.
In the afternoon he went a walk with Clara. They sat in the little wood where bluebells were standing. He took her hand.
"You'll see," he said to Clara, "she'll never be better."
"Oh, you don't know!" replied the other.
"I do," he said.
She caught him impulsively to her breast.
"Try and forget it, dear," she said; "try and forget it."
"I will," he answered.
Her breast was there, warm for him; her hands were in his hair. It was comforting, and he held his arms round her. But he did not forget. He only talked to Clara of something else. And it was always so. When she felt it coming, the agony, she cried to him:
"Don't think of it, Paul! Don't think of it, my darling!"
And she pressed him to her breast, rocked him, soothed him like a child. So he put the trouble aside for her sake, to take it up again immediately he was alone. All the time, as he went about, he cried mechanically. His mind and hands were busy. He cried, he did not know why. It was his blood weeping. He was just as much alone whether he was with Clara or with the men in the White Horse. Just himself and this pressure inside him, that was all that existed. He read sometimes. He had to keep his mind occupied. And Clara was a way of occupying his mind.
On the Saturday Walter Morel went to Sheffield. He was a forlorn figure, looking rather as if nobody owned him. Paul ran upstairs.
"My father's come," he said, kissing his mother.
"Has he?" she answered wearily.
The old collier came rather frightened into the bedroom.
"How dun I find thee, lass?" he said, going forward and kissing her in a hasty, timid fashion.
"Well, I'm middlin'," she replied.
"I see tha art," he said. He stood looking down on her. Then he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. Helpless, and as if nobody owned him, he looked.
"Have you gone on all right?" asked the wife, rather wearily, as if it were an effort to talk to him.
"Yis," he answered. "'Er's a bit behint-hand now and again, as yer might expect."
"Does she have your dinner ready?" asked Mrs. Morel.
"Well, I've 'ad to shout at 'er once or twice," he said.
"And you MUST shout at her if she's not ready. She WILL leave things to the last minute."
She gave him a few instructions. He sat looking at her as if she were almost a stranger to him, before whom he was awkward and humble, and also as if he had lost his presence of mind, and wanted to run. This feeling that he wanted to run away, that he was on thorns to be gone from so trying a situation, and yet must linger because it looked better, made his presence so trying. He put up his eyebrows for misery, and clenched his fists on his knees, feeling so awkward in presence of big trouble.
Mrs. Morel did not change much. She stayed in Sheffield for two months. If anything, at the end she was rather worse. But she wanted to go home. Annie had her children. Mrs. Morel wanted to go home. So they got a motor-car from Nottingham—for she was too ill to go by train—and she was driven through the sunshine. It was just August; everything was bright and warm. Under the blue sky they could all see she was dying. Yet she was jollier than she had been for weeks. They all laughed and talked.
"Annie," she exclaimed, "I saw a lizard dart on that rock!"
Her eyes were so quick; she was still so full of life.
Morel knew she was coming. He had the front door open. Everybody was on tiptoe. Half the street turned out. They heard the sound of the great motor-car. Mrs. Morel, smiling, drove home down the street.
"And just look at them all come out to see me!" she said. "But there, I suppose I should have done the same. How do you do, Mrs. Mathews? How are you, Mrs. Harrison?"
They none of them could hear, but they saw her smile and nod. And they all saw death on her face, they said. It was a great event in the street.
Morel wanted to carry her indoors, but he was too old. Arthur took her as if she were a child. They had set her a big, deep chair by the hearth where her rocking-chair used to stand. When she was unwrapped and seated, and had drunk a little brandy, she looked round the room.
"Don't think I don't like your house, Annie," she said; "but it's nice to be in my own home again."
And Morel answered huskily:
"It is, lass, it is."
And Minnie, the little quaint maid, said:
"An' we glad t' 'ave yer."
There was a lovely yellow ravel of sunflowers in the garden. She looked out of the window.
"There are my sunflowers!" she said.
"By the way," said Dr. Ansell one evening when Morel was in Sheffield, "we've got a man in the fever hospital here who comes from Nottingham—Dawes. He doesn't seem to have many belongings in this world."
"Baxter Dawes!" Paul exclaimed.
"That's the man—has been a fine fellow, physically, I should think. Been in a bit of a mess lately. You know him?"
"He used to work at the place where I am."
"Did he? Do you know anything about him? He's just sulking, or he'd be a lot better than he is by now."
"I don't know anything of his home circumstances, except that he's separated from his wife and has been a bit down, I believe. But tell him about me, will you? Tell him I'll come and see him."
The next time Morel saw the doctor he said:
"And what about Dawes?"
"I said to him," answered the other, "'Do you know a man from Nottingham named Morel?' and he looked at me as if he'd jump at my throat. So I said: 'I see you know the name; it's Paul Morel.' Then I told him about your saying you would go and see him. 'What does he want?' he said, as if you were a policeman."
"And did he say he would see me?" asked Paul.
"He wouldn't say anything—good, bad or indifferent," replied the doctor.
"That's what I want to know. There he lies and sulks, day in, day out. Can't get a word of information out of him."
"Do you think I might go?" asked Paul.
There was a feeling of connection between the rival men, more than ever since they had fought. In a way Morel felt guilty towards the other, and more or less responsible. And being in such a state of soul himself, he felt an almost painful nearness to Dawes, who was suffering and despairing, too. Besides, they had met in a naked extremity of hate, and it was a bond. At any rate, the elemental man in each had met.
He went down to the isolation hospital, with Dr. Ansell's card. This sister, a healthy young Irishwoman, led him down the ward.
"A visitor to see you, Jim Crow," she said.
Dawes turned over suddenly with a startled grunt.
"Caw!" she mocked. "He can only say 'Caw!' I have brought you a gentleman to see you. Now say 'Thank you,' and show some manners."
Dawes looked swiftly with his dark, startled eyes beyond the sister at Paul. His look was full of fear, mistrust, hate, and misery. Morel met the swift, dark eyes, and hesitated. The two men were afraid of the naked selves they had been.
"Dr. Ansell told me you were here," said Morel, holding out his hand.
Dawes mechanically shook hands.
"So I thought I'd come in," continued Paul.
There was no answer. Dawes lay staring at the opposite wall.
"Say 'Caw!"' mocked the nurse. "Say 'Caw!' Jim Crow."
"He is getting on all right?" said Paul to her.
"Oh yes! He lies and imagines he's going to die," said the nurse, "and it frightens every word out of his mouth."
"And you MUST have somebody to talk to," laughed Morel.
"That's it!" laughed the nurse. "Only two old men and a boy who always cries. It is hard lines! Here am I dying to hear Jim Crow's voice, and nothing but an odd 'Caw!' will he give!"
"So rough on you!" said Morel.
"Isn't it?" said the nurse.
"I suppose I am a godsend," he laughed.
"Oh, dropped straight from heaven!" laughed the nurse.
Presently she left the two men alone. Dawes was thinner, and handsome again, but life seemed low in him. As the doctor said, he was lying sulking, and would not move forward towards convalescence. He seemed to grudge every beat of his heart.
"Have you had a bad time?" asked Paul.
Suddenly again Dawes looked at him.
"What are you doing in Sheffield?" he asked.
"My mother was taken ill at my sister's in Thurston Street. What are you doing here?"
There was no answer.
"How long have you been in?" Morel asked.
"I couldn't say for sure," Dawes answered grudgingly.
He lay staring across at the wall opposite, as if trying to believe Morel was not there. Paul felt his heart go hard and angry.
"Dr. Ansell told me you were here," he said coldly.
The other man did not answer.
"Typhoid's pretty bad, I know," Morel persisted.
Suddenly Dawes said:
"What did you come for?"
"Because Dr. Ansell said you didn't know anybody here. Do you?"
"I know nobody nowhere," said Dawes.
"Well," said Paul, "it's because you don't choose to, then."
There was another silence.
"We s'll be taking my mother home as soon as we can," said Paul.
"What's a-matter with her?" asked Dawes, with a sick man's interest in illness.
"She's got a cancer."
There was another silence.
"But we want to get her home," said Paul. "We s'll have to get a motor-car."
Dawes lay thinking.
"Why don't you ask Thomas Jordan to lend you his?" said Dawes.
"It's not big enough," Morel answered.
Dawes blinked his dark eyes as he lay thinking.
"Then ask Jack Pilkington; he'd lend it you. You know him."
"I think I s'll hire one," said Paul.
"You're a fool if you do," said Dawes.
The sick man was gaunt and handsome again. Paul was sorry for him because his eyes looked so tired.
"Did you get a job here?" he asked.
"I was only here a day or two before I was taken bad," Dawes replied.
"You want to get in a convalescent home," said Paul.
The other's face clouded again.
"I'm goin' in no convalescent home," he said.
"My father's been in the one at Seathorpe, an' he liked it. Dr. Ansell would get you a recommend."
Dawes lay thinking. It was evident he dared not face the world again.
"The seaside would be all right just now," Morel said. "Sun on those sandhills, and the waves not far out."
The other did not answer.
"By Gad!" Paul concluded, too miserable to bother much; "it's all right when you know you're going to walk again, and swim!"
Dawes glanced at him quickly. The man's dark eyes were afraid to meet any other eyes in the world. But the real misery and helplessness in Paul's tone gave him a feeling of relief.
"Is she far gone?" he asked.
"She's going like wax," Paul answered; "but cheerful—lively!"
He bit his lip. After a minute he rose.
"Well, I'll be going," he said. "I'll leave you this half-crown."
"I don't want it," Dawes muttered.
Morel did not answer, but left the coin on the table.
"Well," he said, "I'll try and run in when I'm back in Sheffield. Happen you might like to see my brother-in-law? He works in Pyecrofts."
"I don't know him," said Dawes.
"He's all right. Should I tell him to come? He might bring you some papers to look at."
The other man did not answer. Paul went. The strong emotion that Dawes aroused in him, repressed, made him shiver.
He did not tell his mother, but next day he spoke to Clara about this interview. It was in the dinner-hour. The two did not often go out together now, but this day he asked her to go with him to the Castle grounds. There they sat while the scarlet geraniums and the yellow calceolarias blazed in the sunlight. She was now always rather protective, and rather resentful towards him.
"Did you know Baxter was in Sheffield Hospital with typhoid?" he asked.
She looked at him with startled grey eyes, and her face went pale.
"No," she said, frightened.
"He's getting better. I went to see him yesterday—the doctor told me."
Clara seemed stricken by the news.
"Is he very bad?" she asked guiltily.
"He has been. He's mending now."
"What did he say to you?"
"Oh, nothing! He seems to be sulking."
There was a distance between the two of them. He gave her more information.
She went about shut up and silent. The next time they took a walk together, she disengaged herself from his arm, and walked at a distance from him. He was wanting her comfort badly.
"Won't you be nice with me?" he asked.
She did not answer.
"What's the matter?" he said, putting his arm across her shoulder.
"Don't!" she said, disengaging herself.
He left her alone, and returned to his own brooding.
"Is it Baxter that upsets you?" he asked at length.
"I HAVE been VILE to him!" she said.
"I've said many a time you haven't treated him well," he replied.
And there was a hostility between them. Each pursued his own train of thought.
"I've treated him—no, I've treated him badly," she said. "And now you treat ME badly. It serves me right."
"How do I treat you badly?" he said.
"It serves me right," she repeated. "I never considered him worth having, and now you don't consider ME. But it serves me right. He loved me a thousand times better than you ever did."
"He didn't!" protested Paul.
"He did! At any rate, he did respect me, and that's what you don't do."
"It looked as if he respected you!" he said.
"He did! And I MADE him horrid—I know I did! You've taught me that. And he loved me a thousand times better than ever you do."
"All right," said Paul.
He only wanted to be left alone now. He had his own trouble, which was almost too much to bear. Clara only tormented him and made him tired. He was not sorry when he left her.
She went on the first opportunity to Sheffield to see her husband. The meeting was not a success. But she left him roses and fruit and money. She wanted to make restitution. It was not that she loved him. As she looked at him lying there her heart did not warm with love. Only she wanted to humble herself to him, to kneel before him. She wanted now to be self-sacrificial. After all, she had failed to make Morel really love her. She was morally frightened. She wanted to do penance. So she kneeled to Dawes, and it gave him a subtle pleasure. But the distance between them was still very great—too great. It frightened the man. It almost pleased the woman. She liked to feel she was serving him across an insuperable distance. She was proud now.
Morel went to see Dawes once or twice. There was a sort of friendship between the two men, who were all the while deadly rivals. But they never mentioned the woman who was between them.
Mrs. Morel got gradually worse. At first they used to carry her downstairs, sometimes even into the garden. She sat propped in her chair, smiling, and so pretty. The gold wedding-ring shone on her white hand; her hair was carefully brushed. And she watched the tangled sunflowers dying, the chrysanthemums coming out, and the dahlias.
Paul and she were afraid of each other. He knew, and she knew, that she was dying. But they kept up a pretence of cheerfulness. Every morning, when he got up, he went into her room in his pyjamas.
"Did you sleep, my dear?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"Not very well?"
Then he knew she had lain awake. He saw her hand under the bedclothes, pressing the place on her side where the pain was.
"Has it been bad?" he asked.
"No. It hurt a bit, but nothing to mention."
And she sniffed in her old scornful way. As she lay she looked like a girl. And all the while her blue eyes watched him. But there were the dark pain-circles beneath that made him ache again.
"It's a sunny day," he said.
"It's a beautiful day."
"Do you think you'll be carried down?"
"I shall see."
Then he went away to get her breakfast. All day long he was conscious of nothing but her. It was a long ache that made him feverish. Then, when he got home in the early evening, he glanced through the kitchen window. She was not there; she had not got up.
He ran straight upstairs and kissed her. He was almost afraid to ask:
"Didn't you get up, pigeon?"
"No," she said, "it was that morphia; it made me tired."
"I think he gives you too much," he said.
"I think he does," she answered.
He sat down by the bed, miserably. She had a way of curling and lying on her side, like a child. The grey and brown hair was loose over her ear.
"Doesn't it tickle you?" he said, gently putting it back.
"It does," she replied.
His face was near hers. Her blue eyes smiled straight into his, like a girl's—warm, laughing with tender love. It made him pant with terror, agony, and love.
"You want your hair doing in a plait," he said. "Lie still."
And going behind her, he carefully loosened her hair, brushed it out. It was like fine long silk of brown and grey. Her head was snuggled between her shoulders. As he lightly brushed and plaited her hair, he bit his lip and felt dazed. It all seemed unreal, he could not understand it.
At night he often worked in her room, looking up from time to time. And so often he found her blue eyes fixed on him. And when their eyes met, she smiled. He worked away again mechanically, producing good stuff without knowing what he was doing.
Sometimes he came in, very pale and still, with watchful, sudden eyes, like a man who is drunk almost to death. They were both afraid of the veils that were ripping between them.
Then she pretended to be better, chattered to him gaily, made a great fuss over some scraps of news. For they had both come to the condition when they had to make much of the trifles, lest they should give in to the big thing, and their human independence would go smash. They were afraid, so they made light of things and were gay.
Sometimes as she lay he knew she was thinking of the past. Her mouth gradually shut hard in a line. She was holding herself rigid, so that she might die without ever uttering the great cry that was tearing from her. He never forgot that hard, utterly lonely and stubborn clenching of her mouth, which persisted for weeks. Sometimes, when it was lighter, she talked about her husband. Now she hated him. She did not forgive him. She could not bear him to be in the room. And a few things, the things that had been most bitter to her, came up again so strongly that they broke from her, and she told her son.
He felt as if his life were being destroyed, piece by piece, within him. Often the tears came suddenly. He ran to the station, the tear-drops falling on the pavement. Often he could not go on with his work. The pen stopped writing. He sat staring, quite unconscious. And when he came round again he felt sick, and trembled in his limbs. He never questioned what it was. His mind did not try to analyse or understand. He merely submitted, and kept his eyes shut; let the thing go over him.
His mother did the same. She thought of the pain, of the morphia, of the next day; hardly ever of the death. That was coming, she knew. She had to submit to it. But she would never entreat it or make friends with it. Blind, with her face shut hard and blind, she was pushed towards the door. The days passed, the weeks, the months.
Sometimes, in the sunny afternoons, she seemed almost happy.
"I try to think of the nice times—when we went to Mablethorpe, and Robin Hood's Bay, and Shanklin," she said. "After all, not everybody has seen those beautiful places. And wasn't it beautiful! I try to think of that, not of the other things."
Then, again, for a whole evening she spoke not a word; neither did he. They were together, rigid, stubborn, silent. He went into his room at last to go to bed, and leaned against the doorway as if paralysed, unable to go any farther. His consciousness went. A furious storm, he knew not what, seemed to ravage inside him. He stood leaning there, submitting, never questioning.
In the morning they were both normal again, though her face was grey with the morphia, and her body felt like ash. But they were bright again, nevertheless. Often, especially if Annie or Arthur were at home, he neglected her. He did not see much of Clara. Usually he was with men. He was quick and active and lively; but when his friends saw him go white to the gills, his eyes dark and glittering, they had a certain mistrust of him. Sometimes he went to Clara, but she was almost cold to him.
"Take me!" he said simply.
Occasionally she would. But she was afraid. When he had her then, there was something in it that made her shrink away from him—something unnatural. She grew to dread him. He was so quiet, yet so strange. She was afraid of the man who was not there with her, whom she could feel behind this make-belief lover; somebody sinister, that filled her with horror. She began to have a kind of horror of him. It was almost as if he were a criminal. He wanted her—he had her—and it made her feel as if death itself had her in its grip. She lay in horror. There was no man there loving her. She almost hated him. Then came little bouts of tenderness. But she dared not pity him.
Dawes had come to Colonel Seely's Home near Nottingham. There Paul visited him sometimes, Clara very occasionally. Between the two men the friendship developed peculiarly. Dawes, who mended very slowly and seemed very feeble, seemed to leave himself in the hands of Morel.
In the beginning of November Clara reminded Paul that it was her birthday.
"I'd nearly forgotten," he said.
"I'd thought quite," she replied.
"No. Shall we go to the seaside for the week-end?"
They went. It was cold and rather dismal. She waited for him to be warm and tender with her, instead of which he seemed hardly aware of her. He sat in the railway-carriage, looking out, and was startled when she spoke to him. He was not definitely thinking. Things seemed as if they did not exist. She went across to him.
"What is it dear?" she asked.
"Nothing!" he said. "Don't those windmill sails look monotonous?"
He sat holding her hand. He could not talk nor think. It was a comfort, however, to sit holding her hand. She was dissatisfied and miserable. He was not with her; she was nothing.
And in the evening they sat among the sandhills, looking at the black, heavy sea.
"She will never give in," he said quietly.
Clara's heart sank.
"No," she replied.
"There are different ways of dying. My father's people are frightened, and have to be hauled out of life into death like cattle into a slaughter-house, pulled by the neck; but my mother's people are pushed from behind, inch by inch. They are stubborn people, and won't die."
"Yes," said Clara.
"And she won't die. She can't. Mr. Renshaw, the parson, was in the other day. 'Think!' he said to her; 'you will have your mother and father, and your sisters, and your son, in the Other Land.' And she said: 'I have done without them for a long time, and CAN do without them now. It is the living I want, not the dead.' She wants to live even now."
"Oh, how horrible!" said Clara, too frightened to speak.
"And she looks at me, and she wants to stay with me," he went on monotonously. "She's got such a will, it seems as if she would never go—never!"
"Don't think of it!" cried Clara.
"And she was religious—she is religious now—but it is no good. She simply won't give in. And do you know, I said to her on Thursday: 'Mother, if I had to die, I'd die. I'd WILL to die.' And she said to me, sharp: 'Do you think I haven't? Do you think you can die when you like?'"
His voice ceased. He did not cry, only went on speaking monotonously. Clara wanted to run. She looked round. There was the black, re-echoing shore, the dark sky down on her. She got up terrified. She wanted to be where there was light, where there were other people. She wanted to be away from him. He sat with his head dropped, not moving a muscle.
"And I don't want her to eat," he said, "and she knows it. When I ask her: 'Shall you have anything' she's almost afraid to say 'Yes.' 'I'll have a cup of Benger's,' she says. 'It'll only keep your strength up,' I said to her. 'Yes'—and she almost cried—'but there's such a gnawing when I eat nothing, I can't bear it.' So I went and made her the food. It's the cancer that gnaws like that at her. I wish she'd die!"
"Come!" said Clara roughly. "I'm going."
He followed her down the darkness of the sands. He did not come to her. He seemed scarcely aware of her existence. And she was afraid of him, and disliked him.
In the same acute daze they went back to Nottingham. He was always busy, always doing something, always going from one to the other of his friends.
On the Monday he went to see Baxter Dawes. Listless and pale, the man rose to greet the other, clinging to his chair as he held out his hand.
"You shouldn't get up," said Paul.
Dawes sat down heavily, eyeing Morel with a sort of suspicion.
"Don't you waste your time on me," he said, "if you've owt better to do."
"I wanted to come," said Paul. "Here! I brought you some sweets."
The invalid put them aside.
"It's not been much of a week-end," said Morel.
"How's your mother?" asked the other.
"Hardly any different."
"I thought she was perhaps worse, being as you didn't come on Sunday."
"I was at Skegness," said Paul. "I wanted a change."
The other looked at him with dark eyes. He seemed to be waiting, not quite daring to ask, trusting to be told.
"I went with Clara," said Paul.
"I knew as much," said Dawes quietly.
"It was an old promise," said Paul.
"You have it your own way," said Dawes.
This was the first time Clara had been definitely mentioned between them.
"Nay," said Morel slowly; "she's tired of me."
Again Dawes looked at him.
"Since August she's been getting tired of me," Morel repeated.
The two men were very quiet together. Paul suggested a game of draughts. They played in silence.
"I s'll go abroad when my mother's dead," said Paul.
"Abroad!" repeated Dawes.
"Yes; I don't care what I do."
They continued the game. Dawes was winning.
"I s'll have to begin a new start of some sort," said Paul; "and you as well, I suppose."
He took one of Dawes's pieces.
"I dunno where," said the other.
"Things have to happen," Morel said. "It's no good doing anything—at least—no, I don't know. Give me some toffee."
The two men ate sweets, and began another game of draughts.
"What made that scar on your mouth?" asked Dawes.
Paul put his hand hastily to his lips, and looked over the garden.
"I had a bicycle accident," he said.
Dawes's hand trembled as he moved the piece.
"You shouldn't ha' laughed at me," he said, very low.
"That night on Woodborough Road, when you and her passed me—you with your hand on her shoulder."
"I never laughed at you," said Paul.
Dawes kept his fingers on the draught-piece.
"I never knew you were there till the very second when you passed," said Morel.
"It was that as did me," Dawes said, very low.
Paul took another sweet.
"I never laughed," he said, "except as I'm always laughing."
They finished the game.
That night Morel walked home from Nottingham, in order to have something to do. The furnaces flared in a red blotch over Bulwell; the black clouds were like a low ceiling. As he went along the ten miles of highroad, he felt as if he were walking out of life, between the black levels of the sky and the earth. But at the end was only the sick-room. If he walked and walked for ever, there was only that place to come to.
He was not tired when he got near home, or He did not know it. Across the field he could see the red firelight leaping in her bedroom window.
"When she's dead," he said to himself, "that fire will go out."
He took off his boots quietly and crept upstairs. His mothers door was wide open, because she slept alone still. The red firelight dashed its glow on the landing. Soft as a shadow, he peeped in her doorway.
"Paul!" she murmured.
His heart seemed to break again. He went in and sat by the bed.
"How late you are!" she murmured.
"Not very," he said.
"Why, what time is it?" The murmur came plaintive and helpless.
"It's only just gone eleven."
That was not true; it was nearly one o'clock.
"Oh!" she said; "I thought it was later."
And he knew the unutterable misery of her nights that would not go.
"Can't you sleep, my pigeon?" he said.
"No, I can't," she wailed.
"Never mind, Little!" He said crooning. "Never mind, my love. I'll stop with you half an hour, my pigeon; then perhaps it will be better."
And he sat by the bedside, slowly, rhythmically stroking her brows with his finger-tips, stroking her eyes shut, soothing her, holding her fingers in his free hand. They could hear the sleepers' breathing in the other rooms.
"Now go to bed," she murmured, lying quite still under his fingers and his love.
"Will you sleep?" he asked.
"Yes, I think so."
"You feel better, my Little, don't you?"
"Yes," she said, like a fretful, half-soothed child.
Still the days and the weeks went by. He hardly ever went to see Clara now. But he wandered restlessly from one person to another for some help, and there was none anywhere. Miriam had written to him tenderly. He went to see her. Her heart was very sore when she saw him, white, gaunt, with his eyes dark and bewildered. Her pity came up, hurting her till she could not bear it.
"How is she?" she asked.
"The same—the same!" he said. "The doctor says she can't last, but I know she will. She'll be here at Christmas."
Miriam shuddered. She drew him to her; she pressed him to her bosom; she kissed him and kissed him. He submitted, but it was torture. She could not kiss his agony. That remained alone and apart. She kissed his face, and roused his blood, while his soul was apart writhing with the agony of death. And she kissed him and fingered his body, till at last, feeling he would go mad, he got away from her. It was not what he wanted just then—not that. And she thought she had soothed him and done him good.
December came, and some snow. He stayed at home all the while now. They could not afford a nurse. Annie came to look after her mother; the parish nurse, whom they loved, came in morning and evening. Paul shared the nursing with Annie. Often, in the evenings, when friends were in the kitchen with them, they all laughed together and shook with laughter. It was reaction. Paul was so comical, Annie was so quaint. The whole party laughed till they cried, trying to subdue the sound. And Mrs. Morel, lying alone in the darkness heard them, and among her bitterness was a feeling of relief.
Then Paul would go upstairs gingerly, guiltily, to see if she had heard.
"Shall I give you some milk?" he asked.
"A little," she replied plaintively.
And he would put some water with it, so that it should not nourish her. Yet he loved her more than his own life.
She had morphia every night, and her heart got fitful. Annie slept beside her. Paul would go in in the early morning, when his sister got up. His mother was wasted and almost ashen in the morning with the morphia. Darker and darker grew her eyes, all pupil, with the torture. In the mornings the weariness and ache were too much to bear. Yet she could not—would not—weep, or even complain much.
"You slept a bit later this morning, little one," he would say to her.
"Did I?" she answered, with fretful weariness.
"Yes; it's nearly eight o'clock."
He stood looking out of the window. The whole country was bleak and pallid under the snow. Then he felt her pulse. There was a strong stroke and a weak one, like a sound and its echo. That was supposed to betoken the end. She let him feel her wrist, knowing what he wanted.
Sometimes they looked in each other's eyes. Then they almost seemed to make an agreement. It was almost as if he were agreeing to die also. But she did not consent to die; she would not. Her body was wasted to a fragment of ash. Her eyes were dark and full of torture.
"Can't you give her something to put an end to it?" he asked the doctor at last.
But the doctor shook his head.
"She can't last many days now, Mr. Morel," he said.
Paul went indoors.
"I can't bear it much longer; we shall all go mad," said Annie.
The two sat down to breakfast.
"Go and sit with her while we have breakfast, Minnie," said Annie. But the girl was frightened.
Paul went through the country, through the woods, over the snow. He saw the marks of rabbits and birds in the white snow. He wandered miles and miles. A smoky red sunset came on slowly, painfully, lingering. He thought she would die that day. There was a donkey that came up to him over the snow by the wood's edge, and put its head against him, and walked with him alongside. He put his arms round the donkey's neck, and stroked his cheeks against his ears.
His mother, silent, was still alive, with her hard mouth gripped grimly, her eyes of dark torture only living.
It was nearing Christmas; there was more snow. Annie and he felt as if they could go on no more. Still her dark eyes were alive. Morel, silent and frightened, obliterated himself. Sometimes he would go into the sick-room and look at her. Then he backed out, bewildered.
She kept her hold on life still. The miners had been out on strike, and returned a fortnight or so before Christmas. Minnie went upstairs with the feeding-cup. It was two days after the men had been in.
"Have the men been saying their hands are sore, Minnie?" she asked, in the faint, querulous voice that would not give in. Minnie stood surprised.
"Not as I know of, Mrs. Morel," she answered.
"But I'll bet they are sore," said the dying woman, as she moved her head with a sigh of weariness. "But, at any rate, there'll be something to buy in with this week."
Not a thing did she let slip.
"Your father's pit things will want well airing, Annie," she said, when the men were going back to work.
"Don't you bother about that, my dear," said Annie.
One night Annie and Paul were alone. Nurse was upstairs.
"She'll live over Christmas," said Annie. They were both full of horror. "She won't," he replied grimly. "I s'll give her morphia."