Sons and Lovers - 2
THE YOUNG LIFE OF PAUL
Paul would be built like his mother, slightly and rather small. His fair hair went reddish, and then dark brown; his eyes were grey. He was a pale, quiet child, with eyes that seemed to listen, and with a full, dropping underlip.
As a rule he seemed old for his years. He was so conscious of what other people felt, particularly his mother. When she fretted he understood, and could have no peace. His soul seemed always attentive to her.
As he grew older he became stronger. William was too far removed from him to accept him as a companion. So the smaller boy belonged at first almost entirely to Annie. She was a tomboy and a “flybie-skybie”, as her mother called her. But she was intensely fond of her second brother. So Paul was towed round at the heels of Annie, sharing her game. She raced wildly at lerky with the other young wild-cats of the Bottoms. And always Paul flew beside her, living her share of the game, having as yet no part of his own. He was quiet and not noticeable. But his sister adored him. He always seemed to care for things if she wanted him to.
She had a big doll of which she was fearfully proud, though not so fond. So she laid the doll on the sofa, and covered it with an antimacassar, to sleep. Then she forgot it. Meantime Paul must practise jumping off the sofa arm. So he jumped crash into the face of the hidden doll. Annie rushed up, uttered a loud wail, and sat down to weep a dirge. Paul remained quite still.
“You couldn’t tell it was there, mother; you couldn’t tell it was there,” he repeated over and over. So long as Annie wept for the doll he sat helpless with misery. Her grief wore itself out. She forgave her brother—he was so much upset. But a day or two afterwards she was shocked.
“Let’s make a sacrifice of Arabella,” he said. “Let’s burn her.”
She was horrified, yet rather fascinated. She wanted to see what the boy would do. He made an altar of bricks, pulled some of the shavings out of Arabella’s body, put the waxen fragments into the hollow face, poured on a little paraffin, and set the whole thing alight. He watched with wicked satisfaction the drops of wax melt off the broken forehead of Arabella, and drop like sweat into the flame. So long as the stupid big doll burned he rejoiced in silence. At the end he poked among the embers with a stick, fished out the arms and legs, all blackened, and smashed them under stones.
“That’s the sacrifice of Missis Arabella,” he said. “An’ I’m glad there’s nothing left of her.”
Which disturbed Annie inwardly, although she could say nothing. He seemed to hate the doll so intensely, because he had broken it.
All the children, but particularly Paul, were peculiarly against their father, along with their mother. Morel continued to bully and to drink. He had periods, months at a time, when he made the whole life of the family a misery. Paul never forgot coming home from the Band of Hope one Monday evening and finding his mother with her eye swollen and discoloured, his father standing on the hearthrug, feet astride, his head down, and William, just home from work, glaring at his father. There was a silence as the young children entered, but none of the elders looked round.
William was white to the lips, and his fists were clenched. He waited until the children were silent, watching with children’s rage and hate; then he said:
“You coward, you daren’t do it when I was in.”
But Morel’s blood was up. He swung round on his son. William was bigger, but Morel was hard-muscled, and mad with fury.
“Dossn’t I?” he shouted. “Dossn’t I? Ha’e much more o’ thy chelp, my young jockey, an’ I’ll rattle my fist about thee. Ay, an’ I sholl that, dost see?”
Morel crouched at the knees and showed his fist in an ugly, almost beast-like fashion. William was white with rage.
“Will yer?” he said, quiet and intense. “It ’ud be the last time, though.”
Morel danced a little nearer, crouching, drawing back his fist to strike. William put his fists ready. A light came into his blue eyes, almost like a laugh. He watched his father. Another word, and the men would have begun to fight. Paul hoped they would. The three children sat pale on the sofa.
“Stop it, both of you,” cried Mrs. Morel in a hard voice. “We’ve had enough for one night. And you,” she said, turning on to her husband, “look at your children!”
Morel glanced at the sofa.
“Look at the children, you nasty little bitch!” he sneered. “Why, what have I done to the children, I should like to know? But they’re like yourself; you’ve put ’em up to your own tricks and nasty ways—you’ve learned ’em in it, you ’ave.”
She refused to answer him. No one spoke. After a while he threw his boots under the table and went to bed.
“Why didn’t you let me have a go at him?” said William, when his father was upstairs. “I could easily have beaten him.”
“A nice thing—your own father,” she replied.
“‘Father!’” repeated William. “Call him my father!”
“Well, he is—and so—”
“But why don’t you let me settle him? I could do, easily.”
“The idea!” she cried. “It hasn’t come to that yet.”
“No,” he said, “it’s come to worse. Look at yourself. Why didn’t you let me give it him?”
“Because I couldn’t bear it, so never think of it,” she cried quickly.
And the children went to bed, miserably.
When William was growing up, the family moved from the Bottoms to a house on the brow of the hill, commanding a view of the valley, which spread out like a convex cockle-shell, or a clamp-shell, before it. In front of the house was a huge old ash-tree. The west wind, sweeping from Derbyshire, caught the houses with full force, and the tree shrieked again. Morel liked it.
“It’s music,” he said. “It sends me to sleep.”
But Paul and Arthur and Annie hated it. To Paul it became almost a demoniacal noise. The winter of their first year in the new house their father was very bad. The children played in the street, on the brim of the wide, dark valley, until eight o’clock. Then they went to bed. Their mother sat sewing below. Having such a great space in front of the house gave the children a feeling of night, of vastness, and of terror. This terror came in from the shrieking of the tree and the anguish of the home discord. Often Paul would wake up, after he had been asleep a long time, aware of thuds downstairs. Instantly he was wide awake. Then he heard the booming shouts of his father, come home nearly drunk, then the sharp replies of his mother, then the bang, bang of his father’s fist on the table, and the nasty snarling shout as the man’s voice got higher. And then the whole was drowned in a piercing medley of shrieks and cries from the great, wind-swept ash-tree. The children lay silent in suspense, waiting for a lull in the wind to hear what their father was doing. He might hit their mother again. There was a feeling of horror, a kind of bristling in the darkness, and a sense of blood. They lay with their hearts in the grip of an intense anguish. The wind came through the tree fiercer and fiercer. All the chords of the great harp hummed, whistled, and shrieked. And then came the horror of the sudden silence, silence everywhere, outside and downstairs. What was it? Was it a silence of blood? What had he done?
The children lay and breathed the darkness. And then, at last, they heard their father throw down his boots and tramp upstairs in his stockinged feet. Still they listened. Then at last, if the wind allowed, they heard the water of the tap drumming into the kettle, which their mother was filling for morning, and they could go to sleep in peace.
So they were happy in the morning—happy, very happy playing, dancing at night round the lonely lamp-post in the midst of the darkness. But they had one tight place of anxiety in their hearts, one darkness in their eyes, which showed all their lives.
Paul hated his father. As a boy he had a fervent private religion.
“Make him stop drinking,” he prayed every night. “Lord, let my father die,” he prayed very often. “Let him not be killed at pit,” he prayed when, after tea, the father did not come home from work.
That was another time when the family suffered intensely. The children came from school and had their teas. On the hob the big black saucepan was simmering, the stew-jar was in the oven, ready for Morel’s dinner. He was expected at five o’clock. But for months he would stop and drink every night on his way from work.
In the winter nights, when it was cold, and grew dark early, Mrs. Morel would put a brass candlestick on the table, light a tallow candle to save the gas. The children finished their bread-and-butter, or dripping, and were ready to go out to play. But if Morel had not come they faltered. The sense of his sitting in all his pit-dirt, drinking, after a long day’s work, not coming home and eating and washing, but sitting, getting drunk, on an empty stomach, made Mrs. Morel unable to bear herself. From her the feeling was transmitted to the other children. She never suffered alone any more: the children suffered with her.
Paul went out to play with the rest. Down in the great trough of twilight, tiny clusters of lights burned where the pits were. A few last colliers straggled up the dim field path. The lamplighter came along. No more colliers came. Darkness shut down over the valley; work was done. It was night.
Then Paul ran anxiously into the kitchen. The one candle still burned on the table, the big fire glowed red. Mrs. Morel sat alone. On the hob the saucepan steamed; the dinner-plate lay waiting on the table. All the room was full of the sense of waiting, waiting for the man who was sitting in his pit-dirt, dinnerless, some mile away from home, across the darkness, drinking himself drunk. Paul stood in the doorway.
“Has my dad come?” he asked.
“You can see he hasn’t,” said Mrs. Morel, cross with the futility of the question.
Then the boy dawdled about near his mother. They shared the same anxiety. Presently Mrs. Morel went out and strained the potatoes.
“They’re ruined and black,” she said; “but what do I care?”
Not many words were spoken. Paul almost hated his mother for suffering because his father did not come home from work.
“What do you bother yourself for?” he said. “If he wants to stop and get drunk, why don’t you let him?”
“Let him!” flashed Mrs. Morel. “You may well say ‘let him’.”
She knew that the man who stops on the way home from work is on a quick way to ruining himself and his home. The children were yet young, and depended on the breadwinner. William gave her the sense of relief, providing her at last with someone to turn to if Morel failed. But the tense atmosphere of the room on these waiting evenings was the same.
The minutes ticked away. At six o’clock still the cloth lay on the table, still the dinner stood waiting, still the same sense of anxiety and expectation in the room. The boy could not stand it any longer. He could not go out and play. So he ran in to Mrs. Inger, next door but one, for her to talk to him. She had no children. Her husband was good to her but was in a shop, and came home late. So, when she saw the lad at the door, she called:
“Come in, Paul.”
The two sat talking for some time, when suddenly the boy rose, saying:
“Well, I’ll be going and seeing if my mother wants an errand doing.”
He pretended to be perfectly cheerful, and did not tell his friend what ailed him. Then he ran indoors.
Morel at these times came in churlish and hateful.
“This is a nice time to come home,” said Mrs. Morel.
“Wha’s it matter to yo’ what time I come whoam?” he shouted.
And everybody in the house was still, because he was dangerous. He ate his food in the most brutal manner possible, and, when he had done, pushed all the pots in a heap away from him, to lay his arms on the table. Then he went to sleep.
Paul hated his father so. The collier’s small, mean head, with its black hair slightly soiled with grey, lay on the bare arms, and the face, dirty and inflamed, with a fleshy nose and thin, paltry brows, was turned sideways, asleep with beer and weariness and nasty temper. If anyone entered suddenly, or a noise were made, the man looked up and shouted:
“I’ll lay my fist about thy y’ead, I’m tellin’ thee, if tha doesna stop that clatter! Dost hear?”
And the two last words, shouted in a bullying fashion, usually at Annie, made the family writhe with hate of the man.
He was shut out from all family affairs. No one told him anything. The children, alone with their mother, told her all about the day’s happenings, everything. Nothing had really taken place in them until it was told to their mother. But as soon as the father came in, everything stopped. He was like the scotch in the smooth, happy machinery of the home. And he was always aware of this fall of silence on his entry, the shutting off of life, the unwelcome. But now it was gone too far to alter.
He would dearly have liked the children to talk to him, but they could not. Sometimes Mrs. Morel would say:
“You ought to tell your father.”
Paul won a prize in a competition in a child’s paper. Everybody was highly jubilant.
“Now you’d better tell your father when he comes in,” said Mrs. Morel. “You know how he carries on and says he’s never told anything.”
“All right,” said Paul. But he would almost rather have forfeited the prize than have to tell his father.
“I’ve won a prize in a competition, dad,” he said. Morel turned round to him.
“Have you, my boy? What sort of a competition?”
“Oh, nothing—about famous women.”
“And how much is the prize, then, as you’ve got?”
“It’s a book.”
And that was all. Conversation was impossible between the father and any other member of the family. He was an outsider. He had denied the God in him.
The only times when he entered again into the life of his own people was when he worked, and was happy at work. Sometimes, in the evening, he cobbled the boots or mended the kettle or his pit-bottle. Then he always wanted several attendants, and the children enjoyed it. They united with him in the work, in the actual doing of something, when he was his real self again.
He was a good workman, dexterous, and one who, when he was in a good humour, always sang. He had whole periods, months, almost years, of friction and nasty temper. Then sometimes he was jolly again. It was nice to see him run with a piece of red-hot iron into the scullery, crying:
“Out of my road—out of my road!”
Then he hammered the soft, red-glowing stuff on his iron goose, and made the shape he wanted. Or he sat absorbed for a moment, soldering. Then the children watched with joy as the metal sank suddenly molten, and was shoved about against the nose of the soldering-iron, while the room was full of a scent of burnt resin and hot tin, and Morel was silent and intent for a minute. He always sang when he mended boots because of the jolly sound of hammering. And he was rather happy when he sat putting great patches on his moleskin pit trousers, which he would often do, considering them too dirty, and the stuff too hard, for his wife to mend.
But the best time for the young children was when he made fuses. Morel fetched a sheaf of long sound wheat-straws from the attic. These he cleaned with his hand, till each one gleamed like a stalk of gold, after which he cut the straws into lengths of about six inches, leaving, if he could, a notch at the bottom of each piece. He always had a beautifully sharp knife that could cut a straw clean without hurting it. Then he set in the middle of the table a heap of gunpowder, a little pile of black grains upon the white-scrubbed board. He made and trimmed the straws while Paul and Annie rifled and plugged them. Paul loved to see the black grains trickle down a crack in his palm into the mouth of the straw, peppering jollily downwards till the straw was full. Then he bunged up the mouth with a bit of soap—which he got on his thumb-nail from a pat in a saucer—and the straw was finished.
“Look, dad!” he said.
“That’s right, my beauty,” replied Morel, who was peculiarly lavish of endearments to his second son. Paul popped the fuse into the powder-tin, ready for the morning, when Morel would take it to the pit, and use it to fire a shot that would blast the coal down.
Meantime Arthur, still fond of his father, would lean on the arm of Morel’s chair and say:
“Tell us about down pit, daddy.”
This Morel loved to do.
“Well, there’s one little ’oss—we call ’im Taffy,” he would begin. “An’ he’s a fawce un!”
Morel had a warm way of telling a story. He made one feel Taffy’s cunning.
“He’s a brown un,” he would answer, “an’ not very high. Well, he comes i’ th’ stall wi’ a rattle, an’ then yo’ ’ear ’im sneeze.
“‘Ello, Taff,’ you say, ‘what art sneezin’ for? Bin ta’ein’ some snuff?’
“An’ ’e sneezes again. Then he slives up an’ shoves ’is ’ead on yer, that cadin’.
“‘What’s want, Taff?’ yo’ say.”
“And what does he?” Arthur always asked.
“He wants a bit o’ bacca, my duckey.”
This story of Taffy would go on interminably, and everybody loved it.
Or sometimes it was a new tale.
“An’ what dost think, my darlin’? When I went to put my coat on at snap-time, what should go runnin’ up my arm but a mouse.
“‘Hey up, theer!’ I shouts.
“An’ I wor just in time ter get ’im by th’ tail.”
“And did you kill it?”
“I did, for they’re a nuisance. The place is fair snied wi’ ’em.”
“An’ what do they live on?”
“The corn as the ’osses drops—an’ they’ll get in your pocket an’ eat your snap, if you’ll let ’em—no matter where yo’ hing your coat—the slivin’, nibblin’ little nuisances, for they are.”
These happy evenings could not take place unless Morel had some job to do. And then he always went to bed very early, often before the children. There was nothing remaining for him to stay up for, when he had finished tinkering, and had skimmed the headlines of the newspaper.
And the children felt secure when their father was in bed. They lay and talked softly awhile. Then they started as the lights went suddenly sprawling over the ceiling from the lamps that swung in the hands of the colliers tramping by outside, going to take the nine o’clock shift. They listened to the voices of the men, imagined them dipping down into the dark valley. Sometimes they went to the window and watched the three or four lamps growing tinier and tinier, swaying down the fields in the darkness. Then it was a joy to rush back to bed and cuddle closely in the warmth.
Paul was rather a delicate boy, subject to bronchitis. The others were all quite strong; so this was another reason for his mother’s difference in feeling for him. One day he came home at dinner-time feeling ill. But it was not a family to make any fuss.
“What’s the matter with you?” his mother asked sharply.
“Nothing,” he replied.
But he ate no dinner.
“If you eat no dinner, you’re not going to school,” she said.
“Why?” he asked.
So after dinner he lay down on the sofa, on the warm chintz cushions the children loved. Then he fell into a kind of doze. That afternoon Mrs. Morel was ironing. She listened to the small, restless noise the boy made in his throat as she worked. Again rose in her heart the old, almost weary feeling towards him. She had never expected him to live. And yet he had a great vitality in his young body. Perhaps it would have been a little relief to her if he had died. She always felt a mixture of anguish in her love for him.
He, in his semi-conscious sleep, was vaguely aware of the clatter of the iron on the iron-stand, of the faint thud, thud on the ironing-board. Once roused, he opened his eyes to see his mother standing on the hearthrug with the hot iron near her cheek, listening, as it were, to the heat. Her still face, with the mouth closed tight from suffering and disillusion and self-denial, and her nose the smallest bit on one side, and her blue eyes so young, quick, and warm, made his heart contract with love. When she was quiet, so, she looked brave and rich with life, but as if she had been done out of her rights. It hurt the boy keenly, this feeling about her that she had never had her life’s fulfilment: and his own incapability to make up to her hurt him with a sense of impotence, yet made him patiently dogged inside. It was his childish aim.
She spat on the iron, and a little ball of spit bounded, raced off the dark, glossy surface. Then, kneeling, she rubbed the iron on the sack lining of the hearthrug vigorously. She was warm in the ruddy firelight. Paul loved the way she crouched and put her head on one side. Her movements were light and quick. It was always a pleasure to watch her. Nothing she ever did, no movement she ever made, could have been found fault with by her children. The room was warm and full of the scent of hot linen. Later on the clergyman came and talked softly with her.
Paul was laid up with an attack of bronchitis. He did not mind much. What happened happened, and it was no good kicking against the pricks. He loved the evenings, after eight o’clock, when the light was put out, and he could watch the fire-flames spring over the darkness of the walls and ceiling; could watch huge shadows waving and tossing, till the room seemed full of men who battled silently.
On retiring to bed, the father would come into the sickroom. He was always very gentle if anyone were ill. But he disturbed the atmosphere for the boy.
“Are ter asleep, my darlin’?” Morel asked softly.
“No; is my mother comin’?”
“She’s just finishin’ foldin’ the clothes. Do you want anything?” Morel rarely “thee’d” his son.
“I don’t want nothing. But how long will she be?”
“Not long, my duckie.”
The father waited undecidedly on the hearthrug for a moment or two. He felt his son did not want him. Then he went to the top of the stairs and said to his wife:
“This childt’s axin’ for thee; how long art goin’ to be?”
“Until I’ve finished, good gracious! Tell him to go to sleep.”
“She says you’re to go to sleep,” the father repeated gently to Paul.
“Well, I want her to come,” insisted the boy.
“He says he can’t go off till you come,” Morel called downstairs.
“Eh, dear! I shan’t be long. And do stop shouting downstairs. There’s the other children—”
Then Morel came again and crouched before the bedroom fire. He loved a fire dearly.
“She says she won’t be long,” he said.
He loitered about indefinitely. The boy began to get feverish with irritation. His father’s presence seemed to aggravate all his sick impatience. At last Morel, after having stood looking at his son awhile, said softly:
“Good-night, my darling.”
“Good-night,” Paul replied, turning round in relief to be alone.
Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when it is shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing. Paul lay against her and slept, and got better; whilst she, always a bad sleeper, fell later on into a profound sleep that seemed to give her faith.
In convalescence he would sit up in bed, see the fluffy horses feeding at the troughs in the field, scattering their hay on the trodden yellow snow; watch the miners troop home—small, black figures trailing slowly in gangs across the white field. Then the night came up in dark blue vapour from the snow.
In convalescence everything was wonderful. The snowflakes, suddenly arriving on the window-pane, clung there a moment like swallows, then were gone, and a drop of water was crawling down the glass. The snowflakes whirled round the corner of the house, like pigeons dashing by. Away across the valley the little black train crawled doubtfully over the great whiteness.
While they were so poor, the children were delighted if they could do anything to help economically. Annie and Paul and Arthur went out early in the morning, in summer, looking for mushrooms, hunting through the wet grass, from which the larks were rising, for the white-skinned, wonderful naked bodies crouched secretly in the green. And if they got half a pound they felt exceedingly happy: there was the joy of finding something, the joy of accepting something straight from the hand of Nature, and the joy of contributing to the family exchequer.
But the most important harvest, after gleaning for frumenty, was the blackberries. Mrs. Morel must buy fruit for puddings on the Saturdays; also she liked blackberries. So Paul and Arthur scoured the coppices and woods and old quarries, so long as a blackberry was to be found, every week-end going on their search. In that region of mining villages blackberries became a comparative rarity. But Paul hunted far and wide. He loved being out in the country, among the bushes. But he also could not bear to go home to his mother empty. That, he felt, would disappoint her, and he would have died rather.
“Good gracious!” she would exclaim as the lads came in, late, and tired to death, and hungry, “wherever have you been?”
“Well,” replied Paul, “there wasn’t any, so we went over Misk Hills. And look here, our mother!”
She peeped into the basket.
“Now, those are fine ones!” she exclaimed.
“And there’s over two pounds—isn’t there over two pounds”?
She tried the basket.
“Yes,” she answered doubtfully.
Then Paul fished out a little spray. He always brought her one spray, the best he could find.
“Pretty!” she said, in a curious tone, of a woman accepting a love-token.
The boy walked all day, went miles and miles, rather than own himself beaten and come home to her empty-handed. She never realised this, whilst he was young. She was a woman who waited for her children to grow up. And William occupied her chiefly.
But when William went to Nottingham, and was not so much at home, the mother made a companion of Paul. The latter was unconsciously jealous of his brother, and William was jealous of him. At the same time, they were good friends.
Mrs. Morel’s intimacy with her second son was more subtle and fine, perhaps not so passionate as with her eldest. It was the rule that Paul should fetch the money on Friday afternoons. The colliers of the five pits were paid on Fridays, but not individually. All the earnings of each stall were put down to the chief butty, as contractor, and he divided the wages again, either in the public-house or in his own home. So that the children could fetch the money, school closed early on Friday afternoons. Each of the Morel children—William, then Annie, then Paul—had fetched the money on Friday afternoons, until they went themselves to work. Paul used to set off at half-past three, with a little calico bag in his pocket. Down all the paths, women, girls, children, and men were seen trooping to the offices.
These offices were quite handsome: a new, red-brick building, almost like a mansion, standing in its own grounds at the end of Greenhill Lane. The waiting-room was the hall, a long, bare room paved with blue brick, and having a seat all round, against the wall. Here sat the colliers in their pit-dirt. They had come up early. The women and children usually loitered about on the red gravel paths. Paul always examined the grass border, and the big grass bank, because in it grew tiny pansies and tiny forget-me-nots. There was a sound of many voices. The women had on their Sunday hats. The girls chattered loudly. Little dogs ran here and there. The green shrubs were silent all around.
Then from inside came the cry “Spinney Park—Spinney Park.” All the folk for Spinney Park trooped inside. When it was time for Bretty to be paid, Paul went in among the crowd. The pay-room was quite small. A counter went across, dividing it into half. Behind the counter stood two men—Mr. Braithwaite and his clerk, Mr. Winterbottom. Mr. Braithwaite was large, somewhat of the stern patriarch in appearance, having a rather thin white beard. He was usually muffled in an enormous silk neckerchief, and right up to the hot summer a huge fire burned in the open grate. No window was open. Sometimes in winter the air scorched the throats of the people, coming in from the freshness. Mr. Winterbottom was rather small and fat, and very bald. He made remarks that were not witty, whilst his chief launched forth patriarchal admonitions against the colliers.
The room was crowded with miners in their pit-dirt, men who had been home and changed, and women, and one or two children, and usually a dog. Paul was quite small, so it was often his fate to be jammed behind the legs of the men, near the fire which scorched him. He knew the order of the names—they went according to stall number.
“Holliday,” came the ringing voice of Mr. Braithwaite. Then Mrs. Holliday stepped silently forward, was paid, drew aside.
A boy stepped to the counter. Mr. Braithwaite, large and irascible, glowered at him over his spectacles.
“John Bower!” he repeated.
“It’s me,” said the boy.
“Why, you used to ’ave a different nose than that,” said glossy Mr. Winterbottom, peering over the counter. The people tittered, thinking of John Bower senior.
“How is it your father’s not come!” said Mr. Braithwaite, in a large and magisterial voice.
“He’s badly,” piped the boy.
“You should tell him to keep off the drink,” pronounced the great cashier.
“An’ niver mind if he puts his foot through yer,” said a mocking voice from behind.
All the men laughed. The large and important cashier looked down at his next sheet.
“Fred Pilkington!” he called, quite indifferent.
Mr. Braithwaite was an important shareholder in the firm.
Paul knew his turn was next but one, and his heart began to beat. He was pushed against the chimney-piece. His calves were burning. But he did not hope to get through the wall of men.
“Walter Morel!” came the ringing voice.
“Here!” piped Paul, small and inadequate.
“Morel—Walter Morel!” the cashier repeated, his finger and thumb on the invoice, ready to pass on.
Paul was suffering convulsions of self-consciousness, and could not or would not shout. The backs of the men obliterated him. Then Mr. Winterbottom came to the rescue.
“He’s here. Where is he? Morel’s lad?”
The fat, red, bald little man peered round with keen eyes. He pointed at the fireplace. The colliers looked round, moved aside, and disclosed the boy.
“Here he is!” said Mr. Winterbottom.
Paul went to the counter.
“Seventeen pounds eleven and fivepence. Why don’t you shout up when you’re called?” said Mr. Braithwaite. He banged on to the invoice a five-pound bag of silver, then in a delicate and pretty movement, picked up a little ten-pound column of gold, and plumped it beside the silver. The gold slid in a bright stream over the paper. The cashier finished counting off the money; the boy dragged the whole down the counter to Mr. Winterbottom, to whom the stoppages for rent and tools must be paid. Here he suffered again.
“Sixteen an’ six,” said Mr. Winterbottom.
The lad was too much upset to count. He pushed forward some loose silver and half a sovereign.
“How much do you think you’ve given me?” asked Mr. Winterbottom.
The boy looked at him, but said nothing. He had not the faintest notion.
“Haven’t you got a tongue in your head?”
Paul bit his lip, and pushed forward some more silver.
“Don’t they teach you to count at the Board-school?” he asked.
“Nowt but algibbra an’ French,” said a collier.
“An’ cheek an’ impidence,” said another.
Paul was keeping someone waiting. With trembling fingers he got his money into the bag and slid out. He suffered the tortures of the damned on these occasions.
His relief, when he got outside, and was walking along the Mansfield Road, was infinite. On the park wall the mosses were green. There were some gold and some white fowls pecking under the apple trees of an orchard. The colliers were walking home in a stream. The boy went near the wall, self-consciously. He knew many of the men, but could not recognise them in their dirt. And this was a new torture to him.
When he got down to the New Inn, at Bretty, his father was not yet come. Mrs. Wharmby, the landlady, knew him. His grandmother, Morel’s mother, had been Mrs. Wharmby’s friend.
“Your father’s not come yet,” said the landlady, in the peculiar half-scornful, half-patronising voice of a woman who talks chiefly to grown men. “Sit you down.”
Paul sat down on the edge of the bench in the bar. Some colliers were “reckoning”—sharing out their money—in a corner; others came in. They all glanced at the boy without speaking. At last Morel came; brisk, and with something of an air, even in his blackness.
“Hello!” he said rather tenderly to his son. “Have you bested me? Shall you have a drink of something?”
Paul and all the children were bred up fierce anti-alcoholists, and he would have suffered more in drinking a lemonade before all the men than in having a tooth drawn.
The landlady looked at him de haut en bas, rather pitying, and at the same time, resenting his clear, fierce morality. Paul went home, glowering. He entered the house silently. Friday was baking day, and there was usually a hot bun. His mother put it before him.
Suddenly he turned on her in a fury, his eyes flashing:
“I’m not going to the office any more,” he said.
“Why, what’s the matter?” his mother asked in surprise. His sudden rages rather amused her.
“I’m not going any more,” he declared.
“Oh, very well, tell your father so.”
He chewed his bun as if he hated it.
“I’m not—I’m not going to fetch the money.”
“Then one of Carlin’s children can go; they’d be glad enough of the sixpence,” said Mrs. Morel.
This sixpence was Paul’s only income. It mostly went in buying birthday presents; but it was an income, and he treasured it. But—
“They can have it, then!” he said. “I don’t want it.”
“Oh, very well,” said his mother. “But you needn’t bully me about it.”
“They’re hateful, and common, and hateful, they are, and I’m not going any more. Mr. Braithwaite drops his ‘h’s’, an’ Mr. Winterbottom says ‘You was’.”
“And is that why you won’t go any more?” smiled Mrs. Morel.
The boy was silent for some time. His face was pale, his eyes dark and furious. His mother moved about at her work, taking no notice of him.
“They always stan’ in front of me, so’s I can’t get out,” he said.
“Well, my lad, you’ve only to ask them,” she replied.
“An’ then Alfred Winterbottom says, ‘What do they teach you at the Board-school?’”
“They never taught him much,” said Mrs. Morel, “that is a fact—neither manners nor wit—and his cunning he was born with.”
So, in her own way, she soothed him. His ridiculous hypersensitiveness made her heart ache. And sometimes the fury in his eyes roused her, made her sleeping soul lift up its head a moment, surprised.
“What was the cheque?” she asked.
“Seventeen pounds eleven and fivepence, and sixteen and six stoppages,” replied the boy. “It’s a good week; and only five shillings stoppages for my father.”
So she was able to calculate how much her husband had earned, and could call him to account if he gave her short money. Morel always kept to himself the secret of the week’s amount.
Friday was the baking night and market night. It was the rule that Paul should stay at home and bake. He loved to stop in and draw or read; he was very fond of drawing. Annie always “gallivanted” on Friday nights; Arthur was enjoying himself as usual. So the boy remained alone.
Mrs. Morel loved her marketing. In the tiny market-place on the top of the hill, where four roads, from Nottingham and Derby, Ilkeston and Mansfield, meet, many stalls were erected. Brakes ran in from surrounding villages. The market-place was full of women, the streets packed with men. It was amazing to see so many men everywhere in the streets. Mrs. Morel usually quarrelled with her lace woman, sympathised with her fruit man—who was a gabey, but his wife was a bad un—laughed with the fish man—who was a scamp but so droll—put the linoleum man in his place, was cold with the odd-wares man, and only went to the crockery man when she was driven—or drawn by the cornflowers on a little dish; then she was coldly polite.
“I wondered how much that little dish was,” she said.
“Sevenpence to you.”
She put the dish down and walked away; but she could not leave the market-place without it. Again she went by where the pots lay coldly on the floor, and she glanced at the dish furtively, pretending not to.
She was a little woman, in a bonnet and a black costume. Her bonnet was in its third year; it was a great grievance to Annie.
“Mother!” the girl implored, “don’t wear that nubbly little bonnet.”
“Then what else shall I wear,” replied the mother tartly. “And I’m sure it’s right enough.”
It had started with a tip; then had had flowers; now was reduced to black lace and a bit of jet.
“It looks rather come down,” said Paul. “Couldn’t you give it a pick-me-up?”
“I’ll jowl your head for impudence,” said Mrs. Morel, and she tied the strings of the black bonnet valiantly under her chin.
She glanced at the dish again. Both she and her enemy, the pot man, had an uncomfortable feeling, as if there were something between them. Suddenly he shouted:
“Do you want it for fivepence?”
She started. Her heart hardened; but then she stooped and took up her dish.
“I’ll have it,” she said.
“Yer’ll do me the favour, like?” he said. “Yer’d better spit in it, like yer do when y’ave something give yer.”
Mrs. Morel paid him the fivepence in a cold manner.
“I don’t see you give it me,” she said. “You wouldn’t let me have it for fivepence if you didn’t want to.”
“In this flamin’, scrattlin’ place you may count yerself lucky if you can give your things away,” he growled.
“Yes; there are bad times, and good,” said Mrs. Morel.
But she had forgiven the pot man. They were friends. She dare now finger his pots. So she was happy.
Paul was waiting for her. He loved her home-coming. She was always her best so—triumphant, tired, laden with parcels, feeling rich in spirit. He heard her quick, light step in the entry and looked up from his drawing.
“Oh!” she sighed, smiling at him from the doorway.
“My word, you are loaded!” he exclaimed, putting down his brush.
“I am!” she gasped. “That brazen Annie said she’d meet me. Such a weight!”
She dropped her string bag and her packages on the table.
“Is the bread done?” she asked, going to the oven.
“The last one is soaking,” he replied. “You needn’t look, I’ve not forgotten it.”
“Oh, that pot man!” she said, closing the oven door. “You know what a wretch I’ve said he was? Well, I don’t think he’s quite so bad.”
The boy was attentive to her. She took off her little black bonnet.
“No. I think he can’t make any money—well, it’s everybody’s cry alike nowadays—and it makes him disagreeable.”
“It would me,” said Paul.
“Well, one can’t wonder at it. And he let me have—how much do you think he let me have this for?”
She took the dish out of its rag of newspaper, and stood looking on it with joy.
“Show me!” said Paul.
The two stood together gloating over the dish.
“I love cornflowers on things,” said Paul.
“Yes, and I thought of the teapot you bought me—”
“One and three,” said Paul.
“It’s not enough, mother.”
“No. Do you know, I fairly sneaked off with it. But I’d been extravagant, I couldn’t afford any more. And he needn’t have let me have it if he hadn’t wanted to.”
“No, he needn’t, need he,” said Paul, and the two comforted each other from the fear of having robbed the pot man.
“We c’n have stewed fruit in it,” said Paul.
“Or custard, or a jelly,” said his mother.
“Or radishes and lettuce,” said he.
“Don’t forget that bread,” she said, her voice bright with glee.
Paul looked in the oven; tapped the loaf on the base.
“It’s done,” he said, giving it to her.
She tapped it also.
“Yes,” she replied, going to unpack her bag. “Oh, and I’m a wicked, extravagant woman. I know I s’ll come to want.”
He hopped to her side eagerly, to see her latest extravagance. She unfolded another lump of newspaper and disclosed some roots of pansies and of crimson daisies.
“Four penn’orth!” she moaned.
“How cheap!” he cried.
“Yes, but I couldn’t afford it this week of all weeks.”
“But lovely!” he cried.
“Aren’t they!” she exclaimed, giving way to pure joy. “Paul, look at this yellow one, isn’t it—and a face just like an old man!”
“Just!” cried Paul, stooping to sniff. “And smells that nice! But he’s a bit splashed.”
He ran in the scullery, came back with the flannel, and carefully washed the pansy.
“Now look at him now he’s wet!” he said.
“Yes!” she exclaimed, brimful of satisfaction.
The children of Scargill Street felt quite select. At the end where the Morels lived there were not many young things. So the few were more united. Boys and girls played together, the girls joining in the fights and the rough games, the boys taking part in the dancing games and rings and make-belief of the girls.
Annie and Paul and Arthur loved the winter evenings, when it was not wet. They stayed indoors till the colliers were all gone home, till it was thick dark, and the street would be deserted. Then they tied their scarves round their necks, for they scorned overcoats, as all the colliers’ children did, and went out. The entry was very dark, and at the end the whole great night opened out, in a hollow, with a little tangle of lights below where Minton pit lay, and another far away opposite for Selby. The farthest tiny lights seemed to stretch out the darkness for ever. The children looked anxiously down the road at the one lamp-post, which stood at the end of the field path. If the little, luminous space were deserted, the two boys felt genuine desolation. They stood with their hands in their pockets under the lamp, turning their backs on the night, quite miserable, watching the dark houses. Suddenly a pinafore under a short coat was seen, and a long-legged girl came flying up.
“Where’s Billy Pillins an’ your Annie an’ Eddie Dakin?”
“I don’t know.”
But it did not matter so much—there were three now. They set up a game round the lamp-post, till the others rushed up, yelling. Then the play went fast and furious.
There was only this one lamp-post. Behind was the great scoop of darkness, as if all the night were there. In front, another wide, dark way opened over the hill brow. Occasionally somebody came out of this way and went into the field down the path. In a dozen yards the night had swallowed them. The children played on.
They were brought exceedingly close together owing to their isolation. If a quarrel took place, the whole play was spoilt. Arthur was very touchy, and Billy Pillins—really Philips—was worse. Then Paul had to side with Arthur, and on Paul’s side went Alice, while Billy Pillins always had Emmie Limb and Eddie Dakin to back him up. Then the six would fight, hate with a fury of hatred, and flee home in terror. Paul never forgot, after one of these fierce internecine fights, seeing a big red moon lift itself up, slowly, between the waste road over the hilltop, steadily, like a great bird. And he thought of the Bible, that the moon should be turned to blood. And the next day he made haste to be friends with Billy Pillins. And then the wild, intense games went on again under the lamp-post, surrounded by so much darkness. Mrs. Morel, going into her parlour, would hear the children singing away:
“My shoes are made of Spanish leather,
My socks are made of silk;
I wear a ring on every finger,
I wash myself in milk.”
They sounded so perfectly absorbed in the game as their voices came out of the night, that they had the feel of wild creatures singing. It stirred the mother; and she understood when they came in at eight o’clock, ruddy, with brilliant eyes, and quick, passionate speech.
They all loved the Scargill Street house for its openness, for the great scallop of the world it had in view. On summer evenings the women would stand against the field fence, gossiping, facing the west, watching the sunsets flare quickly out, till the Derbyshire hills ridged across the crimson far away, like the black crest of a newt.
In this summer season the pits never turned full time, particularly the soft coal. Mrs. Dakin, who lived next door to Mrs. Morel, going to the field fence to shake her hearthrug, would spy men coming slowly up the hill. She saw at once they were colliers. Then she waited, a tall, thin, shrew-faced woman, standing on the hill brow, almost like a menace to the poor colliers who were toiling up. It was only eleven o’clock. From the far-off wooded hills the haze that hangs like fine black crape at the back of a summer morning had not yet dissipated. The first man came to the stile. “Chock-chock!” went the gate under his thrust.
“What, han’ yer knocked off?” cried Mrs. Dakin.
“We han, missis.”
“It’s a pity as they letn yer goo,” she said sarcastically.
“It is that,” replied the man.
“Nay, you know you’re flig to come up again,” she said.
And the man went on. Mrs. Dakin, going up her yard, spied Mrs. Morel taking the ashes to the ash-pit.
“I reckon Minton’s knocked off, missis,” she cried.
“Isn’t it sickenin’!” exclaimed Mrs. Morel in wrath.
“Ha! But I’n just seed Jont Hutchby.”
“They might as well have saved their shoe-leather,” said Mrs. Morel. And both women went indoors disgusted.
The colliers, their faces scarcely blackened, were trooping home again. Morel hated to go back. He loved the sunny morning. But he had gone to pit to work, and to be sent home again spoilt his temper.
“Good gracious, at this time!” exclaimed his wife, as he entered.
“Can I help it, woman?” he shouted.
“And I’ve not done half enough dinner.”
“Then I’ll eat my bit o’ snap as I took with me,” he bawled pathetically. He felt ignominious and sore.
And the children, coming home from school, would wonder to see their father eating with his dinner the two thick slices of rather dry and dirty bread-and-butter that had been to pit and back.
“What’s my dad eating his snap for now?” asked Arthur.
“I should ha’e it holled at me if I didna,” snorted Morel.
“What a story!” exclaimed his wife.
“An’ is it goin’ to be wasted?” said Morel. “I’m not such a extravagant mortal as you lot, with your waste. If I drop a bit of bread at pit, in all the dust an’ dirt, I pick it up an’ eat it.”
“The mice would eat it,” said Paul. “It wouldn’t be wasted.”
“Good bread-an’-butter’s not for mice, either,” said Morel. “Dirty or not dirty, I’d eat it rather than it should be wasted.”
“You might leave it for the mice and pay for it out of your next pint,” said Mrs. Morel.
“Oh, might I?” he exclaimed.
They were very poor that autumn. William had just gone away to London, and his mother missed his money. He sent ten shillings once or twice, but he had many things to pay for at first. His letters came regularly once a week. He wrote a good deal to his mother, telling her all his life, how he made friends, and was exchanging lessons with a Frenchman, how he enjoyed London. His mother felt again he was remaining to her just as when he was at home. She wrote to him every week her direct, rather witty letters. All day long, as she cleaned the house, she thought of him. He was in London: he would do well. Almost, he was like her knight who wore her favour in the battle.
He was coming at Christmas for five days. There had never been such preparations. Paul and Arthur scoured the land for holly and evergreens. Annie made the pretty paper hoops in the old-fashioned way. And there was unheard-of extravagance in the larder. Mrs. Morel made a big and magnificent cake. Then, feeling queenly, she showed Paul how to blanch almonds. He skinned the long nuts reverently, counting them all, to see not one was lost. It was said that eggs whisked better in a cold place. So the boy stood in the scullery, where the temperature was nearly at freezing-point, and whisked and whisked, and flew in excitement to his mother as the white of egg grew stiffer and more snowy.
“Just look, mother! Isn’t it lovely?”
And he balanced a bit on his nose, then blew it in the air.
“Now, don’t waste it,” said the mother.
Everybody was mad with excitement. William was coming on Christmas Eve. Mrs. Morel surveyed her pantry. There was a big plum cake, and a rice cake, jam tarts, lemon tarts, and mince-pies—two enormous dishes. She was finishing cooking—Spanish tarts and cheese-cakes. Everywhere was decorated. The kissing-bunch of berried holly hung with bright and glittering things, spun slowly over Mrs. Morel’s head as she trimmed her little tarts in the kitchen. A great fire roared. There was a scent of cooked pastry. He was due at seven o’clock, but he would be late. The three children had gone to meet him. She was alone. But at a quarter to seven Morel came in again. Neither wife nor husband spoke. He sat in his armchair, quite awkward with excitement, and she quietly went on with her baking. Only by the careful way in which she did things could it be told how much moved she was. The clock ticked on.
“What time dost say he’s coming?” Morel asked for the fifth time.
“The train gets in at half-past six,” she replied emphatically.
“Then he’ll be here at ten past seven.”
“Eh, bless you, it’ll be hours late on the Midland,” she said indifferently. But she hoped, by expecting him late, to bring him early. Morel went down the entry to look for him. Then he came back.
“Goodness, man!” she said. “You’re like an ill-sitting hen.”
“Hadna you better be gettin’ him summat t’ eat ready?” asked the father.
“There’s plenty of time,” she answered.
“There’s not so much as I can see on,” he answered, turning crossly in his chair. She began to clear her table. The kettle was singing. They waited and waited.
Meantime the three children were on the platform at Sethley Bridge, on the Midland main line, two miles from home. They waited one hour. A train came—he was not there. Down the line the red and green lights shone. It was very dark and very cold.
“Ask him if the London train’s come,” said Paul to Annie, when they saw a man in a tip cap.
“I’m not,” said Annie. “You be quiet—he might send us off.”
But Paul was dying for the man to know they were expecting someone by the London train: it sounded so grand. Yet he was much too much scared of broaching any man, let alone one in a peaked cap, to dare to ask. The three children could scarcely go into the waiting-room for fear of being sent away, and for fear something should happen whilst they were off the platform. Still they waited in the dark and cold.
“It’s an hour an’ a half late,” said Arthur pathetically.
“Well,” said Annie, “it’s Christmas Eve.”
They all grew silent. He wasn’t coming. They looked down the darkness of the railway. There was London! It seemed the utter-most of distance. They thought anything might happen if one came from London. They were all too troubled to talk. Cold, and unhappy, and silent, they huddled together on the platform.
At last, after more than two hours, they saw the lights of an engine peering round, away down the darkness. A porter ran out. The children drew back with beating hearts. A great train, bound for Manchester, drew up. Two doors opened, and from one of them, William. They flew to him. He handed parcels to them cheerily, and immediately began to explain that this great train had stopped for his sake at such a small station as Sethley Bridge: it was not booked to stop.
Meanwhile the parents were getting anxious. The table was set, the chop was cooked, everything was ready. Mrs. Morel put on her black apron. She was wearing her best dress. Then she sat, pretending to read. The minutes were a torture to her.
“H’m!” said Morel. “It’s an hour an’ a ha’ef.”
“And those children waiting!” she said.
“Th’ train canna ha’ come in yet,” he said.
“I tell you, on Christmas Eve they’re hours wrong.”
They were both a bit cross with each other, so gnawed with anxiety. The ash-tree moaned outside in a cold, raw wind. And all that space of night from London home! Mrs. Morel suffered. The slight click of the works inside the clock irritated her. It was getting so late; it was getting unbearable.
At last there was a sound of voices, and a footstep in the entry.
“Ha’s here!” cried Morel, jumping up.
Then he stood back. The mother ran a few steps towards the door and waited. There was a rush and a patter of feet, the door burst open. William was there. He dropped his Gladstone bag and took his mother in his arms.
“Mater!” he said.
“My boy!” she cried.
And for two seconds, no longer, she clasped him and kissed him. Then she withdrew and said, trying to be quite normal:
“But how late you are!”
“Aren’t I!” he cried, turning to his father. “Well, dad!”
The two men shook hands.
“Well, my lad!”
Morel’s eyes were wet.
“We thought tha’d niver be commin’,” he said.
“Oh, I’d come!” exclaimed William.
Then the son turned round to his mother.
“But you look well,” she said proudly, laughing.
“Well!” he exclaimed. “I should think so—coming home!”
He was a fine fellow, big, straight, and fearless-looking. He looked round at the evergreens and the kissing-bunch, and the little tarts that lay in their tins on the hearth.
“By jove! mother, it’s not different!” he said, as if in relief.
Everybody was still for a second. Then he suddenly sprang forward, picked a tart from the hearth, and pushed it whole into his mouth.
“Well, did iver you see such a parish oven!” the father exclaimed.
He had brought them endless presents. Every penny he had he had spent on them. There was a sense of luxury overflowing in the house. For his mother there was an umbrella with gold on the pale handle. She kept it to her dying day, and would have lost anything rather than that. Everybody had something gorgeous, and besides, there were pounds of unknown sweets: Turkish delight, crystallised pineapple, and such-like things which, the children thought, only the splendour of London could provide. And Paul boasted of these sweets among his friends.
“Real pineapple, cut off in slices, and then turned into crystal—fair grand!”
Everybody was mad with happiness in the family. Home was home, and they loved it with a passion of love, whatever the suffering had been. There were parties, there were rejoicings. People came in to see William, to see what difference London had made to him. And they all found him “such a gentleman, and such a fine fellow, my word!”
When he went away again the children retired to various places to weep alone. Morel went to bed in misery, and Mrs. Morel felt as if she were numbed by some drug, as if her feelings were paralysed. She loved him passionately.
He was in the office of a lawyer connected with a large shipping firm, and at the midsummer his chief offered him a trip in the Mediterranean on one of the boats, for quite a small cost. Mrs. Morel wrote: “Go, go, my boy. You may never have a chance again, and I should love to think of you cruising there in the Mediterranean almost better than to have you at home.” But William came home for his fortnight’s holiday. Not even the Mediterranean, which pulled at all his young man’s desire to travel, and at his poor man’s wonder at the glamorous south, could take him away when he might come home. That compensated his mother for much.
PAUL LAUNCHES INTO LIFE
Morel was rather a heedless man, careless of danger. So he had endless accidents. Now, when Mrs. Morel heard the rattle of an empty coal-cart cease at her entry-end, she ran into the parlour to look, expecting almost to see her husband seated in the waggon, his face grey under his dirt, his body limp and sick with some hurt or other. If it were he, she would run out to help.
About a year after William went to London, and just after Paul had left school, before he got work, Mrs. Morel was upstairs and her son was painting in the kitchen—he was very clever with his brush—when there came a knock at the door. Crossly he put down his brush to go. At the same moment his mother opened a window upstairs and looked down.
A pit-lad in his dirt stood on the threshold.
“Is this Walter Morel’s?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Morel. “What is it?”
But she had guessed already.
“Your mester’s got hurt,” he said.
“Eh, dear me!” she exclaimed. “It’s a wonder if he hadn’t, lad. And what’s he done this time?”
“I don’t know for sure, but it’s ’is leg somewhere. They ta’ein’ ’im ter th’ ’ospital.”
“Good gracious me!” she exclaimed. “Eh, dear, what a one he is! There’s not five minutes of peace, I’ll be hanged if there is! His thumb’s nearly better, and now—Did you see him?”
“I seed him at th’ bottom. An’ I seed ’em bring ’im up in a tub, an’ ’e wor in a dead faint. But he shouted like anythink when Doctor Fraser examined him i’ th’ lamp cabin—an’ cossed an’ swore, an’ said as ’e wor goin’ to be ta’en whoam—’e worn’t goin’ ter th’ ’ospital.”
The boy faltered to an end.
“He would want to come home, so that I can have all the bother. Thank you, my lad. Eh, dear, if I’m not sick—sick and surfeited, I am!”
She came downstairs. Paul had mechanically resumed his painting.
“And it must be pretty bad if they’ve taken him to the hospital,” she went on. “But what a careless creature he is! Other men don’t have all these accidents. Yes, he would want to put all the burden on me. Eh, dear, just as we were getting easy a bit at last. Put those things away, there’s no time to be painting now. What time is there a train? I know I s’ll have to go trailing to Keston. I s’ll have to leave that bedroom.”
“I can finish it,” said Paul.
“You needn’t. I shall catch the seven o’clock back, I should think. Oh, my blessed heart, the fuss and commotion he’ll make! And those granite setts at Tinder Hill—he might well call them kidney pebbles—they’ll jolt him almost to bits. I wonder why they can’t mend them, the state they’re in, an’ all the men as go across in that ambulance. You’d think they’d have a hospital here. The men bought the ground, and, my sirs, there’d be accidents enough to keep it going. But no, they must trail them ten miles in a slow ambulance to Nottingham. It’s a crying shame! Oh, and the fuss he’ll make! I know he will! I wonder who’s with him. Barker, I s’d think. Poor beggar, he’ll wish himself anywhere rather. But he’ll look after him, I know. Now there’s no telling how long he’ll be stuck in that hospital—and won’t he hate it! But if it’s only his leg it’s not so bad.”
All the time she was getting ready. Hurriedly taking off her bodice, she crouched at the boiler while the water ran slowly into her lading-can.
“I wish this boiler was at the bottom of the sea!” she exclaimed, wriggling the handle impatiently. She had very handsome, strong arms, rather surprising on a smallish woman.
Paul cleared away, put on the kettle, and set the table.
“There isn’t a train till four-twenty,” he said. “You’ve time enough.”
“Oh no, I haven’t!” she cried, blinking at him over the towel as she wiped her face.
“Yes, you have. You must drink a cup of tea at any rate. Should I come with you to Keston?”
“Come with me? What for, I should like to know? Now, what have I to take him? Eh, dear! His clean shirt—and it’s a blessing it is clean. But it had better be aired. And stockings—he won’t want them—and a towel, I suppose; and handkerchiefs. Now what else?”
“A comb, a knife and fork and spoon,” said Paul. His father had been in the hospital before.
“Goodness knows what sort of state his feet were in,” continued Mrs. Morel, as she combed her long brown hair, that was fine as silk, and was touched now with grey. “He’s very particular to wash himself to the waist, but below he thinks doesn’t matter. But there, I suppose they see plenty like it.”
Paul had laid the table. He cut his mother one or two pieces of very thin bread and butter.
“Here you are,” he said, putting her cup of tea in her place.
“I can’t be bothered!” she exclaimed crossly.
“Well, you’ve got to, so there, now it’s put out ready,” he insisted.
So she sat down and sipped her tea, and ate a little, in silence. She was thinking.
In a few minutes she was gone, to walk the two and a half miles to Keston Station. All the things she was taking him she had in her bulging string bag. Paul watched her go up the road between the hedges—a little, quick-stepping figure, and his heart ached for her, that she was thrust forward again into pain and trouble. And she, tripping so quickly in her anxiety, felt at the back of her her son’s heart waiting on her, felt him bearing what part of the burden he could, even supporting her. And when she was at the hospital, she thought: “It will upset that lad when I tell him how bad it is. I’d better be careful.” And when she was trudging home again, she felt he was coming to share her burden.
“Is it bad?” asked Paul, as soon as she entered the house.
“It’s bad enough,” she replied.
She sighed and sat down, undoing her bonnet-strings. Her son watched her face as it was lifted, and her small, work-hardened hands fingering at the bow under her chin.
“Well,” she answered, “it’s not really dangerous, but the nurse says it’s a dreadful smash. You see, a great piece of rock fell on his leg—here—and it’s a compound fracture. There are pieces of bone sticking through—”
“Ugh—how horrid!” exclaimed the children.
“And,” she continued, “of course he says he’s going to die—it wouldn’t be him if he didn’t. ‘I’m done for, my lass!’ he said, looking at me. ‘Don’t be so silly,’ I said to him. ‘You’re not going to die of a broken leg, however badly it’s smashed.’ ‘I s’ll niver come out of ’ere but in a wooden box,’ he groaned. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘if you want them to carry you into the garden in a wooden box, when you’re better, I’ve no doubt they will.’ ‘If we think it’s good for him,’ said the Sister. She’s an awfully nice Sister, but rather strict.”
Mrs. Morel took off her bonnet. The children waited in silence.
“Of course, he is bad,” she continued, “and he will be. It’s a great shock, and he’s lost a lot of blood; and, of course, it is a very dangerous smash. It’s not at all sure that it will mend so easily. And then there’s the fever and the mortification—if it took bad ways he’d quickly be gone. But there, he’s a clean-blooded man, with wonderful healing flesh, and so I see no reason why it should take bad ways. Of course there’s a wound—”
She was pale now with emotion and anxiety. The three children realised that it was very bad for their father, and the house was silent, anxious.
“But he always gets better,” said Paul after a while.
“That’s what I tell him,” said the mother.
Everybody moved about in silence.
“And he really looked nearly done for,” she said. “But the Sister says that is the pain.”
Annie took away her mother’s coat and bonnet.
“And he looked at me when I came away! I said: ‘I s’ll have to go now, Walter, because of the train—and the children.’ And he looked at me. It seems hard.”
Paul took up his brush again and went on painting. Arthur went outside for some coal. Annie sat looking dismal. And Mrs. Morel, in her little rocking-chair that her husband had made for her when the first baby was coming, remained motionless, brooding. She was grieved, and bitterly sorry for the man who was hurt so much. But still, in her heart of hearts, where the love should have burned, there was a blank. Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him, even when he roused her strong emotions. She brooded awhile.
“And there,” she said suddenly, “when I’d got halfway to Keston, I found I’d come out in my working boots—and look at them.” They were an old pair of Paul’s, brown and rubbed through at the toes. “I didn’t know what to do with myself, for shame,” she added.
In the morning, when Annie and Arthur were at school, Mrs. Morel talked again to her son, who was helping her with her housework.
“I found Barker at the hospital. He did look bad, poor little fellow! ‘Well,’ I said to him, ‘what sort of a journey did you have with him?’ ‘Dunna ax me, missis!’ he said. ‘Ay,’ I said, ‘I know what he’d be.’ ‘But it wor bad for him, Mrs. Morel, it wor that!’ he said. ‘I know,’ I said. ‘At ivry jolt I thought my ’eart would ha’ flown clean out o’ my mouth,’ he said. ‘An’ the scream ’e gives sometimes! Missis, not for a fortune would I go through wi’ it again.’ ‘I can quite understand it,’ I said. ‘It’s a nasty job, though,’ he said, ‘an’ one as’ll be a long while afore it’s right again.’ ‘I’m afraid it will,’ I said. I like Mr. Barker—I do like him. There’s something so manly about him.”
Paul resumed his task silently.
“And of course,” Mrs. Morel continued, “for a man like your father, the hospital is hard. He can’t understand rules and regulations. And he won’t let anybody else touch him, not if he can help it. When he smashed the muscles of his thigh, and it had to be dressed four times a day, would he let anybody but me or his mother do it? He wouldn’t. So, of course, he’ll suffer in there with the nurses. And I didn’t like leaving him. I’m sure, when I kissed him an’ came away, it seemed a shame.”
So she talked to her son, almost as if she were thinking aloud to him, and he took it in as best he could, by sharing her trouble to lighten it. And in the end she shared almost everything with him without knowing.
Morel had a very bad time. For a week he was in a critical condition. Then he began to mend. And then, knowing he was going to get better, the whole family sighed with relief, and proceeded to live happily.
They were not badly off whilst Morel was in the hospital. There were fourteen shillings a week from the pit, ten shillings from the sick club, and five shillings from the Disability Fund; and then every week the butties had something for Mrs. Morel—five or seven shillings—so that she was quite well to do. And whilst Morel was progressing favourably in the hospital, the family was extraordinarily happy and peaceful. On Saturdays and Wednesdays Mrs. Morel went to Nottingham to see her husband. Then she always brought back some little thing: a small tube of paints for Paul, or some thick paper; a couple of postcards for Annie, that the whole family rejoiced over for days before the girl was allowed to send them away; or a fret-saw for Arthur, or a bit of pretty wood. She described her adventures into the big shops with joy. Soon the folk in the picture-shop knew her, and knew about Paul. The girl in the book-shop took a keen interest in her. Mrs. Morel was full of information when she got home from Nottingham. The three sat round till bed-time, listening, putting in, arguing. Then Paul often raked the fire.
“I’m the man in the house now,” he used to say to his mother with joy. They learned how perfectly peaceful the home could be. And they almost regretted—though none of them would have owned to such callousness—that their father was soon coming back.
Paul was now fourteen, and was looking for work. He was a rather small and rather finely-made boy, with dark brown hair and light blue eyes. His face had already lost its youthful chubbiness, and was becoming somewhat like William’s—rough-featured, almost rugged—and it was extraordinarily mobile. Usually he looked as if he saw things, was full of life, and warm; then his smile, like his mother’s, came suddenly and was very lovable; and then, when there was any clog in his soul’s quick running, his face went stupid and ugly. He was the sort of boy that becomes a clown and a lout as soon as he is not understood, or feels himself held cheap; and, again, is adorable at the first touch of warmth.
He suffered very much from the first contact with anything. When he was seven, the starting school had been a nightmare and a torture to him. But afterwards he liked it. And now that he felt he had to go out into life, he went through agonies of shrinking self-consciousness. He was quite a clever painter for a boy of his years, and he knew some French and German and mathematics that Mr. Heaton had taught him. But nothing he had was of any commercial value. He was not strong enough for heavy manual work, his mother said. He did not care for making things with his hands, preferred racing about, or making excursions into the country, or reading, or painting.
“What do you want to be?” his mother asked.
“That is no answer,” said Mrs. Morel.
But it was quite truthfully the only answer he could give. His ambition, as far as this world’s gear went, was quietly to earn his thirty or thirty-five shillings a week somewhere near home, and then, when his father died, have a cottage with his mother, paint and go out as he liked, and live happy ever after. That was his programme as far as doing things went. But he was proud within himself, measuring people against himself, and placing them, inexorably. And he thought that perhaps he might also make a painter, the real thing. But that he left alone.
“Then,” said his mother, “you must look in the paper for the advertisements.”
He looked at her. It seemed to him a bitter humiliation and an anguish to go through. But he said nothing. When he got up in the morning, his whole being was knotted up over this one thought:
“I’ve got to go and look for advertisements for a job.”
It stood in front of the morning, that thought, killing all joy and even life, for him. His heart felt like a tight knot.
And then, at ten o’clock, he set off. He was supposed to be a queer, quiet child. Going up the sunny street of the little town, he felt as if all the folk he met said to themselves: “He’s going to the Co-op. reading-room to look in the papers for a place. He can’t get a job. I suppose he’s living on his mother.” Then he crept up the stone stairs behind the drapery shop at the Co-op., and peeped in the reading-room. Usually one or two men were there, either old, useless fellows, or colliers “on the club”. So he entered, full of shrinking and suffering when they looked up, seated himself at the table, and pretended to scan the news. He knew they would think: “What does a lad of thirteen want in a reading-room with a newspaper?” and he suffered.
Then he looked wistfully out of the window. Already he was a prisoner of industrialism. Large sunflowers stared over the old red wall of the garden opposite, looking in their jolly way down on the women who were hurrying with something for dinner. The valley was full of corn, brightening in the sun. Two collieries, among the fields, waved their small white plumes of steam. Far off on the hills were the woods of Annesley, dark and fascinating. Already his heart went down. He was being taken into bondage. His freedom in the beloved home valley was going now.
The brewers’ waggons came rolling up from Keston with enormous barrels, four a side, like beans in a burst bean-pod. The waggoner, throned aloft, rolling massively in his seat, was not so much below Paul’s eye. The man’s hair, on his small, bullet head, was bleached almost white by the sun, and on his thick red arms, rocking idly on his sack apron, the white hairs glistened. His red face shone and was almost asleep with sunshine. The horses, handsome and brown, went on by themselves, looking by far the masters of the show.
Paul wished he were stupid. “I wish,” he thought to himself, “I was fat like him, and like a dog in the sun. I wish I was a pig and a brewer’s waggoner.”
Then, the room being at last empty, he would hastily copy an advertisement on a scrap of paper, then another, and slip out in immense relief. His mother would scan over his copies.
“Yes,” she said, “you may try.”
William had written out a letter of application, couched in admirable business language, which Paul copied, with variations. The boy’s handwriting was execrable, so that William, who did all things well, got into a fever of impatience.
The elder brother was becoming quite swanky. In London he found that he could associate with men far above his Bestwood friends in station. Some of the clerks in the office had studied for the law, and were more or less going through a kind of apprenticeship. William always made friends among men wherever he went, he was so jolly. Therefore he was soon visiting and staying in houses of men who, in Bestwood, would have looked down on the unapproachable bank manager, and would merely have called indifferently on the Rector. So he began to fancy himself as a great gun. He was, indeed, rather surprised at the ease with which he became a gentleman.
His mother was glad, he seemed so pleased. And his lodging in Walthamstow was so dreary. But now there seemed to come a kind of fever into the young man’s letters. He was unsettled by all the change, he did not stand firm on his own feet, but seemed to spin rather giddily on the quick current of the new life. His mother was anxious for him. She could feel him losing himself. He had danced and gone to the theatre, boated on the river, been out with friends; and she knew he sat up afterwards in his cold bedroom grinding away at Latin, because he intended to get on in his office, and in the law as much as he could. He never sent his mother any money now. It was all taken, the little he had, for his own life. And she did not want any, except sometimes, when she was in a tight corner, and when ten shillings would have saved her much worry. She still dreamed of William, and of what he would do, with herself behind him. Never for a minute would she admit to herself how heavy and anxious her heart was because of him.
Also he talked a good deal now of a girl he had met at a dance, a handsome brunette, quite young, and a lady, after whom the men were running thick and fast.
“I wonder if you would run, my boy,” his mother wrote to him, “unless you saw all the other men chasing her too. You feel safe enough and vain enough in a crowd. But take care, and see how you feel when you find yourself alone, and in triumph.” William resented these things, and continued the chase. He had taken the girl on the river. “If you saw her, mother, you would know how I feel. Tall and elegant, with the clearest of clear, transparent olive complexions, hair as black as jet, and such grey eyes—bright, mocking, like lights on water at night. It is all very well to be a bit satirical till you see her. And she dresses as well as any woman in London. I tell you, your son doesn’t half put his head up when she goes walking down Piccadilly with him.”
Mrs. Morel wondered, in her heart, if her son did not go walking down Piccadilly with an elegant figure and fine clothes, rather than with a woman who was near to him. But she congratulated him in her doubtful fashion. And, as she stood over the washing-tub, the mother brooded over her son. She saw him saddled with an elegant and expensive wife, earning little money, dragging along and getting draggled in some small, ugly house in a suburb. “But there,” she told herself, “I am very likely a silly—meeting trouble halfway.” Nevertheless, the load of anxiety scarcely ever left her heart, lest William should do the wrong thing by himself.
Presently, Paul was bidden call upon Thomas Jordan, Manufacturer of Surgical Appliances, at 21, Spaniel Row, Nottingham. Mrs. Morel was all joy.
“There, you see!” she cried, her eyes shining. “You’ve only written four letters, and the third is answered. You’re lucky, my boy, as I always said you were.”
Paul looked at the picture of a wooden leg, adorned with elastic stockings and other appliances, that figured on Mr. Jordan’s notepaper, and he felt alarmed. He had not known that elastic stockings existed. And he seemed to feel the business world, with its regulated system of values, and its impersonality, and he dreaded it. It seemed monstrous also that a business could be run on wooden legs.
Mother and son set off together one Tuesday morning. It was August and blazing hot. Paul walked with something screwed up tight inside him. He would have suffered much physical pain rather than this unreasonable suffering at being exposed to strangers, to be accepted or rejected. Yet he chattered away with his mother. He would never have confessed to her how he suffered over these things, and she only partly guessed. She was gay, like a sweetheart. She stood in front of the ticket-office at Bestwood, and Paul watched her take from her purse the money for the tickets. As he saw her hands in their old black kid gloves getting the silver out of the worn purse, his heart contracted with pain of love of her.
She was quite excited, and quite gay. He suffered because she would talk aloud in presence of the other travellers.
“Now look at that silly cow!” she said, “careering round as if it thought it was a circus.”
“It’s most likely a bottfly,” he said very low.
“A what?” she asked brightly and unashamed.
They thought awhile. He was sensible all the time of having her opposite him. Suddenly their eyes met, and she smiled to him—a rare, intimate smile, beautiful with brightness and love. Then each looked out of the window.
The sixteen slow miles of railway journey passed. The mother and son walked down Station Street, feeling the excitement of lovers having an adventure together. In Carrington Street they stopped to hang over the parapet and look at the barges on the canal below.
“It’s just like Venice,” he said, seeing the sunshine on the water that lay between high factory walls.
“Perhaps,” she answered, smiling.
They enjoyed the shops immensely.
“Now you see that blouse,” she would say, “wouldn’t that just suit our Annie? And for one-and-eleven-three. Isn’t that cheap?”
“And made of needlework as well,” he said.
They had plenty of time, so they did not hurry. The town was strange and delightful to them. But the boy was tied up inside in a knot of apprehension. He dreaded the interview with Thomas Jordan.
It was nearly eleven o’clock by St. Peter’s Church. They turned up a narrow street that led to the Castle. It was gloomy and old-fashioned, having low dark shops and dark green house doors with brass knockers, and yellow-ochred doorsteps projecting on to the pavement; then another old shop whose small window looked like a cunning, half-shut eye. Mother and son went cautiously, looking everywhere for “Thomas Jordan and Son”. It was like hunting in some wild place. They were on tiptoe of excitement.
Suddenly they spied a big, dark archway, in which were names of various firms, Thomas Jordan among them.
“Here it is!” said Mrs. Morel. “But now where is it?”
They looked round. On one side was a queer, dark, cardboard factory, on the other a Commercial Hotel.
“It’s up the entry,” said Paul.
And they ventured under the archway, as into the jaws of the dragon. They emerged into a wide yard, like a well, with buildings all round. It was littered with straw and boxes, and cardboard. The sunshine actually caught one crate whose straw was streaming on to the yard like gold. But elsewhere the place was like a pit. There were several doors, and two flights of steps. Straight in front, on a dirty glass door at the top of a staircase, loomed the ominous words “Thomas Jordan and Son—Surgical Appliances.” Mrs. Morel went first, her son followed her. Charles I. mounted his scaffold with a lighter heart than had Paul Morel as he followed his mother up the dirty steps to the dirty door.
She pushed open the door, and stood in pleased surprise. In front of her was a big warehouse, with creamy paper parcels everywhere, and clerks, with their shirt-sleeves rolled back, were going about in an at-home sort of way. The light was subdued, the glossy cream parcels seemed luminous, the counters were of dark brown wood. All was quiet and very homely. Mrs. Morel took two steps forward, then waited. Paul stood behind her. She had on her Sunday bonnet and a black veil; he wore a boy’s broad white collar and a Norfolk suit.
One of the clerks looked up. He was thin and tall, with a small face. His way of looking was alert. Then he glanced round to the other end of the room, where was a glass office. And then he came forward. He did not say anything, but leaned in a gentle, inquiring fashion towards Mrs. Morel.
“Can I see Mr. Jordan?” she asked.
“I’ll fetch him,” answered the young man.
He went down to the glass office. A red-faced, white-whiskered old man looked up. He reminded Paul of a pomeranian dog. Then the same little man came up the room. He had short legs, was rather stout, and wore an alpaca jacket. So, with one ear up, as it were, he came stoutly and inquiringly down the room.
“Good-morning!” he said, hesitating before Mrs. Morel, in doubt as to whether she were a customer or not.
“Good-morning. I came with my son, Paul Morel. You asked him to call this morning.”
“Come this way,” said Mr. Jordan, in a rather snappy little manner intended to be businesslike.
They followed the manufacturer into a grubby little room, upholstered in black American leather, glossy with the rubbing of many customers. On the table was a pile of trusses, yellow wash-leather hoops tangled together. They looked new and living. Paul sniffed the odour of new wash-leather. He wondered what the things were. By this time he was so much stunned that he only noticed the outside things.
“Sit down!” said Mr. Jordan, irritably pointing Mrs. Morel to a horse-hair chair. She sat on the edge in an uncertain fashion. Then the little old man fidgeted and found a paper.
“Did you write this letter?” he snapped, thrusting what Paul recognised as his own notepaper in front of him.
“Yes,” he answered.
At that moment he was occupied in two ways: first, in feeling guilty for telling a lie, since William had composed the letter; second, in wondering why his letter seemed so strange and different, in the fat, red hand of the man, from what it had been when it lay on the kitchen table. It was like part of himself, gone astray. He resented the way the man held it.
“Where did you learn to write?” said the old man crossly.
Paul merely looked at him shamedly, and did not answer.
“He is a bad writer,” put in Mrs. Morel apologetically. Then she pushed up her veil. Paul hated her for not being prouder with this common little man, and he loved her face clear of the veil.
“And you say you know French?” inquired the little man, still sharply.
“Yes,” said Paul.
“What school did you go to?”
“And did you learn it there?”
“No—I—” The boy went crimson and got no farther.
“His godfather gave him lessons,” said Mrs. Morel, half pleading and rather distant.
Mr. Jordan hesitated. Then, in his irritable manner—he always seemed to keep his hands ready for action—he pulled another sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolded it. The paper made a crackling noise. He handed it to Paul.
“Read that,” he said.
It was a note in French, in thin, flimsy foreign handwriting that the boy could not decipher. He stared blankly at the paper.
“‘Monsieur,’” he began; then he looked in great confusion at Mr. Jordan. “It’s the—it’s the—”
He wanted to say “handwriting”, but his wits would no longer work even sufficiently to supply him with the word. Feeling an utter fool, and hating Mr. Jordan, he turned desperately to the paper again.
“‘Sir,—Please send me’—er—er—I can’t tell the—er—‘two pairs—gris fil bas—grey thread stockings’—er—er—‘sans—without’—er—I can’t tell the words—er—‘doigts—fingers’—er—I can’t tell the—”
He wanted to say “handwriting”, but the word still refused to come. Seeing him stuck, Mr. Jordan snatched the paper from him.
“‘Please send by return two pairs grey thread stockings without toes.’”
“Well,” flashed Paul, “‘doigts’ means ‘fingers’—as well—as a rule—”
The little man looked at him. He did not know whether “doigts” meant “fingers”; he knew that for all his purposes it meant “toes”.
“Fingers to stockings!” he snapped.
“Well, it does mean fingers,” the boy persisted.
He hated the little man, who made such a clod of him. Mr. Jordan looked at the pale, stupid, defiant boy, then at the mother, who sat quiet and with that peculiar shut-off look of the poor who have to depend on the favour of others.
“And when could he come?” he asked.
“Well,” said Mrs. Morel, “as soon as you wish. He has finished school now.”
“He would live in Bestwood?”
“Yes; but he could be in—at the station—at quarter to eight.”
It ended by Paul’s being engaged as junior spiral clerk at eight shillings a week. The boy did not open his mouth to say another word, after having insisted that “doigts” meant “fingers”. He followed his mother down the stairs. She looked at him with her bright blue eyes full of love and joy.
“I think you’ll like it,” she said.
“‘Doigts’ does mean ‘fingers’, mother, and it was the writing. I couldn’t read the writing.”
“Never mind, my boy. I’m sure he’ll be all right, and you won’t see much of him. Wasn’t that first young fellow nice? I’m sure you’ll like them.”
“But wasn’t Mr. Jordan common, mother? Does he own it all?”
“I suppose he was a workman who has got on,” she said. “You mustn’t mind people so much. They’re not being disagreeable to you—it’s their way. You always think people are meaning things for you. But they don’t.”
It was very sunny. Over the big desolate space of the market-place the blue sky shimmered, and the granite cobbles of the paving glistened. Shops down the Long Row were deep in obscurity, and the shadow was full of colour. Just where the horse trams trundled across the market was a row of fruit stalls, with fruit blazing in the sun—apples and piles of reddish oranges, small green-gage plums and bananas. There was a warm scent of fruit as mother and son passed. Gradually his feeling of ignominy and of rage sank.
“Where should we go for dinner?” asked the mother.
It was felt to be a reckless extravagance. Paul had only been in an eating-house once or twice in his life, and then only to have a cup of tea and a bun. Most of the people of Bestwood considered that tea and bread-and-butter, and perhaps potted beef, was all they could afford to eat in Nottingham. Real cooked dinner was considered great extravagance. Paul felt rather guilty.
They found a place that looked quite cheap. But when Mrs. Morel scanned the bill of fare, her heart was heavy, things were so dear. So she ordered kidney-pies and potatoes as the cheapest available dish.
“We oughtn’t to have come here, mother,” said Paul.
“Never mind,” she said. “We won’t come again.”
She insisted on his having a small currant tart, because he liked sweets.
“I don’t want it, mother,” he pleaded.
“Yes,” she insisted; “you’ll have it.”
And she looked round for the waitress. But the waitress was busy, and Mrs. Morel did not like to bother her then. So the mother and son waited for the girl’s pleasure, whilst she flirted among the men.
“Brazen hussy!” said Mrs. Morel to Paul. “Look now, she’s taking that man his pudding, and he came long after us.”
“It doesn’t matter, mother,” said Paul.
Mrs. Morel was angry. But she was too poor, and her orders were too meagre, so that she had not the courage to insist on her rights just then. They waited and waited.
“Should we go, mother?” he said.
Then Mrs. Morel stood up. The girl was passing near.
“Will you bring one currant tart?” said Mrs. Morel clearly.
The girl looked round insolently.
“Directly,” she said.
“We have waited quite long enough,” said Mrs. Morel.
In a moment the girl came back with the tart. Mrs. Morel asked coldly for the bill. Paul wanted to sink through the floor. He marvelled at his mother’s hardness. He knew that only years of battling had taught her to insist even so little on her rights. She shrank as much as he.
“It’s the last time I go there for anything!” she declared, when they were outside the place, thankful to be clear.
“We’ll go,” she said, “and look at Keep’s and Boot’s, and one or two places, shall we?”
They had discussions over the pictures, and Mrs. Morel wanted to buy him a little sable brush that he hankered after. But this indulgence he refused. He stood in front of milliners’ shops and drapers’ shops almost bored, but content for her to be interested. They wandered on.
“Now, just look at those black grapes!” she said. “They make your mouth water. I’ve wanted some of those for years, but I s’ll have to wait a bit before I get them.”
Then she rejoiced in the florists, standing in the doorway sniffing.
“Oh! oh! Isn’t it simply lovely!”
Paul saw, in the darkness of the shop, an elegant young lady in black peering over the counter curiously.
“They’re looking at you,” he said, trying to draw his mother away.
“But what is it?” she exclaimed, refusing to be moved.
“Stocks!” he answered, sniffing hastily. “Look, there’s a tubful.”
“So there is—red and white. But really, I never knew stocks to smell like it!” And, to his great relief, she moved out of the doorway, but only to stand in front of the window.
“Paul!” she cried to him, who was trying to get out of sight of the elegant young lady in black—the shop-girl. “Paul! Just look here!”
He came reluctantly back.
“Now, just look at that fuchsia!” she exclaimed, pointing.
“H’m!” He made a curious, interested sound. “You’d think every second as the flowers was going to fall off, they hang so big an’ heavy.”
“And such an abundance!” she cried.
“And the way they drop downwards with their threads and knots!”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “Lovely!”
“I wonder who’ll buy it!” he said.
“I wonder!” she answered. “Not us.”
“It would die in our parlour.”
“Yes, beastly cold, sunless hole; it kills every bit of a plant you put in, and the kitchen chokes them to death.”
They bought a few things, and set off towards the station. Looking up the canal, through the dark pass of the buildings, they saw the Castle on its bluff of brown, green-bushed rock, in a positive miracle of delicate sunshine.
“Won’t it be nice for me to come out at dinner-times?” said Paul. “I can go all round here and see everything. I s’ll love it.”
“You will,” assented his mother.
He had spent a perfect afternoon with his mother. They arrived home in the mellow evening, happy, and glowing, and tired.
In the morning he filled in the form for his season-ticket and took it to the station. When he got back, his mother was just beginning to wash the floor. He sat crouched up on the sofa.
“He says it’ll be here on Saturday,” he said.
“And how much will it be?”
“About one pound eleven,” he said.
She went on washing her floor in silence.
“Is it a lot?” he asked.
“It’s no more than I thought,” she answered.
“An’ I s’ll earn eight shillings a week,” he said.
She did not answer, but went on with her work. At last she said:
“That William promised me, when he went to London, as he’d give me a pound a month. He has given me ten shillings—twice; and now I know he hasn’t a farthing if I asked him. Not that I want it. Only just now you’d think he might be able to help with this ticket, which I’d never expected.”
“He earns a lot,” said Paul.
“He earns a hundred and thirty pounds. But they’re all alike. They’re large in promises, but it’s precious little fulfilment you get.”
“He spends over fifty shillings a week on himself,” said Paul.
“And I keep this house on less than thirty,” she replied; “and am supposed to find money for extras. But they don’t care about helping you, once they’ve gone. He’d rather spend it on that dressed-up creature.”
“She should have her own money if she’s so grand,” said Paul.
“She should, but she hasn’t. I asked him. And I know he doesn’t buy her a gold bangle for nothing. I wonder whoever bought me a gold bangle.”
William was succeeding with his “Gipsy”, as he called her. He asked the girl—her name was Louisa Lily Denys Western—for a photograph to send to his mother. The photo came—a handsome brunette, taken in profile, smirking slightly—and, it might be, quite naked, for on the photograph not a scrap of clothing was to be seen, only a naked bust.
“Yes,” wrote Mrs. Morel to her son, “the photograph of Louie is very striking, and I can see she must be attractive. But do you think, my boy, it was very good taste of a girl to give her young man that photo to send to his mother—the first? Certainly the shoulders are beautiful, as you say. But I hardly expected to see so much of them at the first view.”
Morel found the photograph standing on the chiffonier in the parlour. He came out with it between his thick thumb and finger.
“Who dost reckon this is?” he asked of his wife.
“It’s the girl our William is going with,” replied Mrs. Morel.
“H’m! ’Er’s a bright spark, from th’ look on ’er, an’ one as wunna do him owermuch good neither. Who is she?”
“Her name is Louisa Lily Denys Western.”
“An’ come again to-morrer!” exclaimed the miner. “An’ is ’er an actress?”
“She is not. She’s supposed to be a lady.”
“I’ll bet!” he exclaimed, still staring at the photo. “A lady, is she? An’ how much does she reckon ter keep up this sort o’ game on?”
“On nothing. She lives with an old aunt, whom she hates, and takes what bit of money’s given her.”
“H’m!” said Morel, laying down the photograph. “Then he’s a fool to ha’ ta’en up wi’ such a one as that.”
“Dear Mater,” William replied. “I’m sorry you didn’t like the photograph. It never occurred to me when I sent it, that you mightn’t think it decent. However, I told Gyp that it didn’t quite suit your prim and proper notions, so she’s going to send you another, that I hope will please you better. She’s always being photographed; in fact, the photographers ask her if they may take her for nothing.”
Presently the new photograph came, with a little silly note from the girl. This time the young lady was seen in a black satin evening bodice, cut square, with little puff sleeves, and black lace hanging down her beautiful arms.
“I wonder if she ever wears anything except evening clothes,” said Mrs. Morel sarcastically. “I’m sure I ought to be impressed.”
“You are disagreeable, mother,” said Paul. “I think the first one with bare shoulders is lovely.”
“Do you?” answered his mother. “Well, I don’t.”
On the Monday morning the boy got up at six to start work. He had the season-ticket, which had cost such bitterness, in his waistcoat pocket. He loved it with its bars of yellow across. His mother packed his dinner in a small, shut-up basket, and he set off at a quarter to seven to catch the 7.15 train. Mrs. Morel came to the entry-end to see him off.
It was a perfect morning. From the ash-tree the slender green fruits that the children call “pigeons” were twinkling gaily down on a little breeze, into the front gardens of the houses. The valley was full of a lustrous dark haze, through which the ripe corn shimmered, and in which the steam from Minton pit melted swiftly. Puffs of wind came. Paul looked over the high woods of Aldersley, where the country gleamed, and home had never pulled at him so powerfully.
“Good-morning, mother,” he said, smiling, but feeling very unhappy.
“Good-morning,” she replied cheerfully and tenderly.
She stood in her white apron on the open road, watching him as he crossed the field. He had a small, compact body that looked full of life. She felt, as she saw him trudging over the field, that where he determined to go he would get. She thought of William. He would have leaped the fence instead of going round the stile. He was away in London, doing well. Paul would be working in Nottingham. Now she had two sons in the world. She could think of two places, great centres of industry, and feel that she had put a man into each of them, that these men would work out what she wanted; they were derived from her, they were of her, and their works also would be hers. All the morning long she thought of Paul.
At eight o’clock he climbed the dismal stairs of Jordan’s Surgical Appliance Factory, and stood helplessly against the first great parcel-rack, waiting for somebody to pick him up. The place was still not awake. Over the counters were great dust sheets. Two men only had arrived, and were heard talking in a corner, as they took off their coats and rolled up their shirt-sleeves. It was ten past eight. Evidently there was no rush of punctuality. Paul listened to the voices of the two clerks. Then he heard someone cough, and saw in the office at the end of the room an old, decaying clerk, in a round smoking-cap of black velvet embroidered with red and green, opening letters. He waited and waited. One of the junior clerks went to the old man, greeted him cheerily and loudly. Evidently the old “chief” was deaf. Then the young fellow came striding importantly down to his counter. He spied Paul.
“Hello!” he said. “You the new lad?”
“Yes,” said Paul.
“H’m! What’s your name?”
“Paul Morel? All right, you come on round here.”
Paul followed him round the rectangle of counters. The room was second storey. It had a great hole in the middle of the floor, fenced as with a wall of counters, and down this wide shaft the lifts went, and the light for the bottom storey. Also there was a corresponding big, oblong hole in the ceiling, and one could see above, over the fence of the top floor, some machinery; and right away overhead was the glass roof, and all light for the three storeys came downwards, getting dimmer, so that it was always night on the ground floor and rather gloomy on the second floor. The factory was the top floor, the warehouse the second, the storehouse the ground floor. It was an insanitary, ancient place.
Paul was led round to a very dark corner.
“This is the ‘Spiral’ corner,” said the clerk. “You’re Spiral, with Pappleworth. He’s your boss, but he’s not come yet. He doesn’t get here till half-past eight. So you can fetch the letters, if you like, from Mr. Melling down there.”
The young man pointed to the old clerk in the office.
“All right,” said Paul.
“Here’s a peg to hang your cap on. Here are your entry ledgers. Mr. Pappleworth won’t be long.”
And the thin young man stalked away with long, busy strides over the hollow wooden floor.
After a minute or two Paul went down and stood in the door of the glass office. The old clerk in the smoking-cap looked down over the rim of his spectacles.
“Good-morning,” he said, kindly and impressively. “You want the letters for the Spiral department, Thomas?”
Paul resented being called “Thomas”. But he took the letters and returned to his dark place, where the counter made an angle, where the great parcel-rack came to an end, and where there were three doors in the corner. He sat on a high stool and read the letters—those whose handwriting was not too difficult. They ran as follows:
“Will you please send me at once a pair of lady’s silk spiral thigh-hose, without feet, such as I had from you last year; length, thigh to knee, etc.” Or, “Major Chamberlain wishes to repeat his previous order for a silk non-elastic suspensory bandage.”
Many of these letters, some of them in French or Norwegian, were a great puzzle to the boy. He sat on his stool nervously awaiting the arrival of his “boss”. He suffered tortures of shyness when, at half-past eight, the factory girls for upstairs trooped past him.
Mr. Pappleworth arrived, chewing a chlorodyne gum, at about twenty to nine, when all the other men were at work. He was a thin, sallow man with a red nose, quick, staccato, and smartly but stiffly dressed. He was about thirty-six years old. There was something rather “doggy”, rather smart, rather ’cute and shrewd, and something warm, and something slightly contemptible about him.
“You my new lad?” he said.
Paul stood up and said he was.
“Fetched the letters?”
Mr. Pappleworth gave a chew to his gum.
“Well, come on then, let’s look slippy. Changed your coat?”
“You want to bring an old coat and leave it here.” He pronounced the last words with the chlorodyne gum between his side teeth. He vanished into the darkness behind the great parcel-rack, reappeared coatless, turning up a smart striped shirt-cuff over a thin and hairy arm. Then he slipped into his coat. Paul noticed how thin he was, and that his trousers were in folds behind. He seized a stool, dragged it beside the boy’s, and sat down.
“Sit down,” he said.
Paul took a seat.
Mr. Pappleworth was very close to him. The man seized the letters, snatched a long entry-book out of a rack in front of him, flung it open, seized a pen, and said:
“Now look here. You want to copy these letters in here.” He sniffed twice, gave a quick chew at his gum, stared fixedly at a letter, then went very still and absorbed, and wrote the entry rapidly, in a beautiful flourishing hand. He glanced quickly at Paul.
“Think you can do it all right?”
“All right then, let’s see you.”
He sprang off his stool. Paul took a pen. Mr. Pappleworth disappeared. Paul rather liked copying the letters, but he wrote slowly, laboriously, and exceedingly badly. He was doing the fourth letter, and feeling quite busy and happy, when Mr. Pappleworth reappeared.
“Now then, how’r’ yer getting on? Done ’em?”
He leaned over the boy’s shoulder, chewing, and smelling of chlorodyne.
“Strike my bob, lad, but you’re a beautiful writer!” he exclaimed satirically. “Ne’er mind, how many h’yer done? Only three! I’d ’a eaten ’em. Get on, my lad, an’ put numbers on ’em. Here, look! Get on!”
Paul ground away at the letters, whilst Mr. Pappleworth fussed over various jobs. Suddenly the boy started as a shrill whistle sounded near his ear. Mr. Pappleworth came, took a plug out of a pipe, and said, in an amazingly cross and bossy voice:
Paul heard a faint voice, like a woman’s, out of the mouth of the tube. He gazed in wonder, never having seen a speaking-tube before.
“Well,” said Mr. Pappleworth disagreeably into the tube, “you’d better get some of your back work done, then.”
Again the woman’s tiny voice was heard, sounding pretty and cross.
“I’ve not time to stand here while you talk,” said Mr. Pappleworth, and he pushed the plug into the tube.
“Come, my lad,” he said imploringly to Paul, “there’s Polly crying out for them orders. Can’t you buck up a bit? Here, come out!”
He took the book, to Paul’s immense chagrin, and began the copying himself. He worked quickly and well. This done, he seized some strips of long yellow paper, about three inches wide, and made out the day’s orders for the work-girls.
“You’d better watch me,” he said to Paul, working all the while rapidly. Paul watched the weird little drawings of legs, and thighs, and ankles, with the strokes across and the numbers, and the few brief directions which his chief made upon the yellow paper. Then Mr. Pappleworth finished and jumped up.
“Come on with me,” he said, and the yellow papers flying in his hands, he dashed through a door and down some stairs, into the basement where the gas was burning. They crossed the cold, damp storeroom, then a long, dreary room with a long table on trestles, into a smaller, cosy apartment, not very high, which had been built on to the main building. In this room a small woman with a red serge blouse, and her black hair done on top of her head, was waiting like a proud little bantam.
“Here y’are!” said Pappleworth.
“I think it is ‘here you are’!” exclaimed Polly. “The girls have been here nearly half an hour waiting. Just think of the time wasted!”
“You think of getting your work done and not talking so much,” said Mr. Pappleworth. “You could ha’ been finishing off.”
“You know quite well we finished everything off on Saturday!” cried Polly, flying at him, her dark eyes flashing.
“Tu-tu-tu-tu-terterter!” he mocked. “Here’s your new lad. Don’t ruin him as you did the last.”
“As we did the last!” repeated Polly. “Yes, we do a lot of ruining, we do. My word, a lad would take some ruining after he’d been with you.”
“It’s time for work now, not for talk,” said Mr. Pappleworth severely and coldly.
“It was time for work some time back,” said Polly, marching away with her head in the air. She was an erect little body of forty.
In that room were two round spiral machines on the bench under the window. Through the inner doorway was another longer room, with six more machines. A little group of girls, nicely dressed in white aprons, stood talking together.
“Have you nothing else to do but talk?” said Mr. Pappleworth.
“Only wait for you,” said one handsome girl, laughing.
“Well, get on, get on,” he said. “Come on, my lad. You’ll know your road down here again.”
And Paul ran upstairs after his chief. He was given some checking and invoicing to do. He stood at the desk, labouring in his execrable handwriting. Presently Mr. Jordan came strutting down from the glass office and stood behind him, to the boy’s great discomfort. Suddenly a red and fat finger was thrust on the form he was filling in.
“Mr. J. A. Bates, Esquire!” exclaimed the cross voice just behind his ear.
Paul looked at “Mr. J. A. Bates, Esquire” in his own vile writing, and wondered what was the matter now.
“Didn’t they teach you any better than that while they were at it? If you put ‘Mr.’ you don’t put ‘Esquire’—a man can’t be both at once.”
The boy regretted his too-much generosity in disposing of honours, hesitated, and with trembling fingers, scratched out the “Mr.” Then all at once Mr. Jordan snatched away the invoice.
“Make another! Are you going to send that to a gentleman?” And he tore up the blue form irritably.
Paul, his ears red with shame, began again. Still Mr. Jordan watched.
“I don’t know what they do teach in schools. You’ll have to write better than that. Lads learn nothing nowadays, but how to recite poetry and play the fiddle. Have you seen his writing?” he asked of Mr. Pappleworth.
“Yes; prime, isn’t it?” replied Mr. Pappleworth indifferently.
Mr. Jordan gave a little grunt, not unamiable. Paul divined that his master’s bark was worse than his bite. Indeed, the little manufacturer, although he spoke bad English, was quite gentleman enough to leave his men alone and to take no notice of trifles. But he knew he did not look like the boss and owner of the show, so he had to play his role of proprietor at first, to put things on a right footing.
“Let’s see, what’s your name?” asked Mr. Pappleworth of the boy.
It is curious that children suffer so much at having to pronounce their own names.
“Paul Morel, is it? All right, you Paul-Morel through them things there, and then—”
Mr. Pappleworth subsided on to a stool, and began writing. A girl came up from out of a door just behind, put some newly-pressed elastic web appliances on the counter, and returned. Mr. Pappleworth picked up the whitey-blue knee-band, examined it, and its yellow order-paper quickly, and put it on one side. Next was a flesh-pink “leg”. He went through the few things, wrote out a couple of orders, and called to Paul to accompany him. This time they went through the door whence the girl had emerged. There Paul found himself at the top of a little wooden flight of steps, and below him saw a room with windows round two sides, and at the farther end half a dozen girls sitting bending over the benches in the light from the window, sewing. They were singing together “Two Little Girls in Blue”. Hearing the door opened, they all turned round, to see Mr. Pappleworth and Paul looking down on them from the far end of the room. They stopped singing.
“Can’t you make a bit less row?” said Mr. Pappleworth. “Folk’ll think we keep cats.”
A hunchback woman on a high stool turned her long, rather heavy face towards Mr. Pappleworth, and said, in a contralto voice:
“They’re all tom-cats then.”
In vain Mr. Pappleworth tried to be impressive for Paul’s benefit. He descended the steps into the finishing-off room, and went to the hunchback Fanny. She had such a short body on her high stool that her head, with its great bands of bright brown hair, seemed over large, as did her pale, heavy face. She wore a dress of green-black cashmere, and her wrists, coming out of the narrow cuffs, were thin and flat, as she put down her work nervously. He showed her something that was wrong with a knee-cap.
“Well,” she said, “you needn’t come blaming it on to me. It’s not my fault.” Her colour mounted to her cheek.
“I never said it was your fault. Will you do as I tell you?” replied Mr. Pappleworth shortly.
“You don’t say it’s my fault, but you’d like to make out as it was,” the hunchback woman cried, almost in tears. Then she snatched the knee-cap from her “boss”, saying: “Yes, I’ll do it for you, but you needn’t be snappy.”
“Here’s your new lad,” said Mr. Pappleworth.
Fanny turned, smiling very gently on Paul.
“Oh!” she said.
“Yes; don’t make a softy of him between you.”
“It’s not us as ’ud make a softy of him,” she said indignantly.
“Come on then, Paul,” said Mr. Pappleworth.
“Au revoy, Paul,” said one of the girls.
There was a titter of laughter. Paul went out, blushing deeply, not having spoken a word.
The day was very long. All morning the work-people were coming to speak to Mr. Pappleworth. Paul was writing or learning to make up parcels, ready for the midday post. At one o’clock, or, rather, at a quarter to one, Mr. Pappleworth disappeared to catch his train: he lived in the suburbs. At one o’clock, Paul, feeling very lost, took his dinner-basket down into the stockroom in the basement, that had the long table on trestles, and ate his meal hurriedly, alone in that cellar of gloom and desolation. Then he went out of doors. The brightness and the freedom of the streets made him feel adventurous and happy. But at two o’clock he was back in the corner of the big room. Soon the work-girls went trooping past, making remarks. It was the commoner girls who worked upstairs at the heavy tasks of truss-making and the finishing of artificial limbs. He waited for Mr. Pappleworth, not knowing what to do, sitting scribbling on the yellow order-paper. Mr. Pappleworth came at twenty minutes to three. Then he sat and gossiped with Paul, treating the boy entirely as an equal, even in age.
In the afternoon there was never very much to do, unless it were near the week-end, and the accounts had to be made up. At five o’clock all the men went down into the dungeon with the table on trestles, and there they had tea, eating bread-and-butter on the bare, dirty boards, talking with the same kind of ugly haste and slovenliness with which they ate their meal. And yet upstairs the atmosphere among them was always jolly and clear. The cellar and the trestles affected them.
After tea, when all the gases were lighted, work went more briskly. There was the big evening post to get off. The hose came up warm and newly pressed from the workrooms. Paul had made out the invoices. Now he had the packing up and addressing to do, then he had to weigh his stock of parcels on the scales. Everywhere voices were calling weights, there was the chink of metal, the rapid snapping of string, the hurrying to old Mr. Melling for stamps. And at last the postman came with his sack, laughing and jolly. Then everything slacked off, and Paul took his dinner-basket and ran to the station to catch the eight-twenty train. The day in the factory was just twelve hours long.
His mother sat waiting for him rather anxiously. He had to walk from Keston, so was not home until about twenty past nine. And he left the house before seven in the morning. Mrs. Morel was rather anxious about his health. But she herself had had to put up with so much that she expected her children to take the same odds. They must go through with what came. And Paul stayed at Jordan’s, although all the time he was there his health suffered from the darkness and lack of air and the long hours.
He came in pale and tired. His mother looked at him. She saw he was rather pleased, and her anxiety all went.
“Well, and how was it?” she asked.
“Ever so funny, mother,” he replied. “You don’t have to work a bit hard, and they’re nice with you.”
“And did you get on all right?”
“Yes: they only say my writing’s bad. But Mr. Pappleworth—he’s my man—said to Mr. Jordan I should be all right. I’m Spiral, mother; you must come and see. It’s ever so nice.”
Soon he liked Jordan’s. Mr. Pappleworth, who had a certain “saloon bar” flavour about him, was always natural, and treated him as if he had been a comrade. Sometimes the “Spiral boss” was irritable, and chewed more lozenges than ever. Even then, however, he was not offensive, but one of those people who hurt themselves by their own irritability more than they hurt other people.
“Haven’t you done that yet?” he would cry. “Go on, be a month of Sundays.”
Again, and Paul could understand him least then, he was jocular and in high spirits.
“I’m going to bring my little Yorkshire terrier bitch to-morrow,” he said jubilantly to Paul.
“What’s a Yorkshire terrier?”
“Don’t know what a Yorkshire terrier is? Don’t know a Yorkshire—” Mr. Pappleworth was aghast.
“Is it a little silky one—colours of iron and rusty silver?”
“That’s it, my lad. She’s a gem. She’s had five pounds’ worth of pups already, and she’s worth over seven pounds herself; and she doesn’t weigh twenty ounces.”
The next day the bitch came. She was a shivering, miserable morsel. Paul did not care for her; she seemed so like a wet rag that would never dry. Then a man called for her, and began to make coarse jokes. But Mr. Pappleworth nodded his head in the direction of the boy, and the talk went on sotto voce.
Mr. Jordan only made one more excursion to watch Paul, and then the only fault he found was seeing the boy lay his pen on the counter.
“Put your pen in your ear, if you’re going to be a clerk. Pen in your ear!” And one day he said to the lad: “Why don’t you hold your shoulders straighter? Come down here,” when he took him into the glass office and fitted him with special braces for keeping the shoulders square.
But Paul liked the girls best. The men seemed common and rather dull. He liked them all, but they were uninteresting. Polly, the little brisk overseer downstairs, finding Paul eating in the cellar, asked him if she could cook him anything on her little stove. Next day his mother gave him a dish that could be heated up. He took it into the pleasant, clean room to Polly. And very soon it grew to be an established custom that he should have dinner with her. When he came in at eight in the morning he took his basket to her, and when he came down at one o’clock she had his dinner ready.
He was not very tall, and pale, with thick chestnut hair, irregular features, and a wide, full mouth. She was like a small bird. He often called her a “robinet”. Though naturally rather quiet, he would sit and chatter with her for hours telling her about his home. The girls all liked to hear him talk. They often gathered in a little circle while he sat on a bench, and held forth to them, laughing. Some of them regarded him as a curious little creature, so serious, yet so bright and jolly, and always so delicate in his way with them. They all liked him, and he adored them. Polly he felt he belonged to. Then Connie, with her mane of red hair, her face of apple-blossom, her murmuring voice, such a lady in her shabby black frock, appealed to his romantic side.
“When you sit winding,” he said, “it looks as if you were spinning at a spinning-wheel—it looks ever so nice. You remind me of Elaine in the ‘Idylls of the King’. I’d draw you if I could.”
And she glanced at him blushing shyly. And later on he had a sketch he prized very much: Connie sitting on the stool before the wheel, her flowing mane of red hair on her rusty black frock, her red mouth shut and serious, running the scarlet thread off the hank on to the reel.
With Louie, handsome and brazen, who always seemed to thrust her hip at him, he usually joked.
Emma was rather plain, rather old, and condescending. But to condescend to him made her happy, and he did not mind.
“How do you put needles in?” he asked.
“Go away and don’t bother.”
“But I ought to know how to put needles in.”
She ground at her machine all the while steadily.
“There are many things you ought to know,” she replied.
“Tell me, then, how to stick needles in the machine.”
“Oh, the boy, what a nuisance he is! Why, this is how you do it.”
He watched her attentively. Suddenly a whistle piped. Then Polly appeared, and said in a clear voice:
“Mr. Pappleworth wants to know how much longer you’re going to be down here playing with the girls, Paul.”
Paul flew upstairs, calling “Good-bye!” and Emma drew herself up.
“It wasn’t me who wanted him to play with the machine,” she said.
As a rule, when all the girls came back at two o’clock, he ran upstairs to Fanny, the hunchback, in the finishing-off room. Mr. Pappleworth did not appear till twenty to three, and he often found his boy sitting beside Fanny, talking, or drawing, or singing with the girls.
Often, after a minute’s hesitation, Fanny would begin to sing. She had a fine contralto voice. Everybody joined in the chorus, and it went well. Paul was not at all embarrassed, after a while, sitting in the room with the half a dozen work-girls.
At the end of the song Fanny would say:
“I know you’ve been laughing at me.”
“Don’t be so soft, Fanny!” cried one of the girls.
Once there was mention of Connie’s red hair.
“Fanny’s is better, to my fancy,” said Emma.
“You needn’t try to make a fool of me,” said Fanny, flushing deeply.
“No, but she has, Paul; she’s got beautiful hair.”
“It’s a treat of a colour,” said he. “That coldish colour like earth, and yet shiny. It’s like bog-water.”
“Goodness me!” exclaimed one girl, laughing.
“How I do but get criticised,” said Fanny.
“But you should see it down, Paul,” cried Emma earnestly. “It’s simply beautiful. Put it down for him, Fanny, if he wants something to paint.”
Fanny would not, and yet she wanted to.
“Then I’ll take it down myself,” said the lad.
“Well, you can if you like,” said Fanny.
And he carefully took the pins out of the knot, and the rush of hair, of uniform dark brown, slid over the humped back.
“What a lovely lot!” he exclaimed.
The girls watched. There was silence. The youth shook the hair loose from the coil.
“It’s splendid!” he said, smelling its perfume. “I’ll bet it’s worth pounds.”
“I’ll leave it you when I die, Paul,” said Fanny, half joking.
“You look just like anybody else, sitting drying their hair,” said one of the girls to the long-legged hunchback.
Poor Fanny was morbidly sensitive, always imagining insults. Polly was curt and businesslike. The two departments were for ever at war, and Paul was always finding Fanny in tears. Then he was made the recipient of all her woes, and he had to plead her case with Polly.
So the time went along happily enough. The factory had a homely feel. No one was rushed or driven. Paul always enjoyed it when the work got faster, towards post-time, and all the men united in labour. He liked to watch his fellow-clerks at work. The man was the work and the work was the man, one thing, for the time being. It was different with the girls. The real woman never seemed to be there at the task, but as if left out, waiting.
From the train going home at night he used to watch the lights of the town, sprinkled thick on the hills, fusing together in a blaze in the valleys. He felt rich in life and happy. Drawing farther off, there was a patch of lights at Bulwell like myriad petals shaken to the ground from the shed stars; and beyond was the red glare of the furnaces, playing like hot breath on the clouds.
He had to walk two and more miles from Keston home, up two long hills, down two short hills. He was often tired, and he counted the lamps climbing the hill above him, how many more to pass. And from the hilltop, on pitch-dark nights, he looked round on the villages five or six miles away, that shone like swarms of glittering living things, almost a heaven against his feet. Marlpool and Heanor scattered the far-off darkness with brilliance. And occasionally the black valley space between was traced, violated by a great train rushing south to London or north to Scotland. The trains roared by like projectiles level on the darkness, fuming and burning, making the valley clang with their passage. They were gone, and the lights of the towns and villages glittered in silence.
And then he came to the corner at home, which faced the other side of the night. The ash-tree seemed a friend now. His mother rose with gladness as he entered. He put his eight shillings proudly on the table.
“It’ll help, mother?” he asked wistfully.
“There’s precious little left,” she answered, “after your ticket and dinners and such are taken off.”
Then he told her the budget of the day. His life-story, like an Arabian Nights, was told night after night to his mother. It was almost as if it were her own life.
DEATH IN THE FAMILY
Arthur Morel was growing up. He was a quick, careless, impulsive boy, a good deal like his father. He hated study, made a great moan if he had to work, and escaped as soon as possible to his sport again.
In appearance he remained the flower of the family, being well made, graceful, and full of life. His dark brown hair and fresh colouring, and his exquisite dark blue eyes shaded with long lashes, together with his generous manner and fiery temper, made him a favourite. But as he grew older his temper became uncertain. He flew into rages over nothing, seemed unbearably raw and irritable.
His mother, whom he loved, wearied of him sometimes. He thought only of himself. When he wanted amusement, all that stood in his way he hated, even if it were she. When he was in trouble he moaned to her ceaselessly.
“Goodness, boy!” she said, when he groaned about a master who, he said, hated him, “if you don’t like it, alter it, and if you can’t alter it, put up with it.”
And his father, whom he had loved and who had worshipped him, he came to detest. As he grew older Morel fell into a slow ruin. His body, which had been beautiful in movement and in being, shrank, did not seem to ripen with the years, but to get mean and rather despicable. There came over him a look of meanness and of paltriness. And when the mean-looking elderly man bullied or ordered the boy about, Arthur was furious. Moreover, Morel’s manners got worse and worse, his habits somewhat disgusting. When the children were growing up and in the crucial stage of adolescence, the father was like some ugly irritant to their souls. His manners in the house were the same as he used among the colliers down pit.
“Dirty nuisance!” Arthur would cry, jumping up and going straight out of the house when his father disgusted him. And Morel persisted the more because his children hated it. He seemed to take a kind of satisfaction in disgusting them, and driving them nearly mad, while they were so irritably sensitive at the age of fourteen or fifteen. So that Arthur, who was growing up when his father was degenerate and elderly, hated him worst of all.
Then, sometimes, the father would seem to feel the contemptuous hatred of his children.
“There’s not a man tries harder for his family!” he would shout. “He does his best for them, and then gets treated like a dog. But I’m not going to stand it, I tell you!”
But for the threat and the fact that he did not try so hard as he imagined, they would have felt sorry. As it was, the battle now went on nearly all between father and children, he persisting in his dirty and disgusting ways, just to assert his independence. They loathed him.
Arthur was so inflamed and irritable at last, that when he won a scholarship for the Grammar School in Nottingham, his mother decided to let him live in town, with one of her sisters, and only come home at week-ends.
Annie was still a junior teacher in the Board-school, earning about four shillings a week. But soon she would have fifteen shillings, since she had passed her examination, and there would be financial peace in the house.
Mrs. Morel clung now to Paul. He was quiet and not brilliant. But still he stuck to his painting, and still he stuck to his mother. Everything he did was for her. She waited for his coming home in the evening, and then she unburdened herself of all she had pondered, or of all that had occurred to her during the day. He sat and listened with his earnestness. The two shared lives.
William was engaged now to his brunette, and had bought her an engagement ring that cost eight guineas. The children gasped at such a fabulous price.
“Eight guineas!” said Morel. “More fool him! If he’d gen me some on’t, it ’ud ha’ looked better on ’im.”
“Given you some of it!” cried Mrs. Morel. “Why give you some of it!”
She remembered he had bought no engagement ring at all, and she preferred William, who was not mean, if he were foolish. But now the young man talked only of the dances to which he went with his betrothed, and the different resplendent clothes she wore; or he told his mother with glee how they went to the theatre like great swells.
He wanted to bring the girl home. Mrs. Morel said she should come at the Christmas. This time William arrived with a lady, but with no presents. Mrs. Morel had prepared supper. Hearing footsteps, she rose and went to the door. William entered.
“Hello, mother!” He kissed her hastily, then stood aside to present a tall, handsome girl, who was wearing a costume of fine black-and-white check, and furs.
Miss Western held out her hand and showed her teeth in a small smile.
“Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Morel!” she exclaimed.
“I am afraid you will be hungry,” said Mrs. Morel.
“Oh no, we had dinner in the train. Have you got my gloves, Chubby?”
William Morel, big and raw-boned, looked at her quickly.
“How should I?” he said.
“Then I’ve lost them. Don’t be cross with me.”
A frown went over his face, but he said nothing. She glanced round the kitchen. It was small and curious to her, with its glittering kissing-bunch, its evergreens behind the pictures, its wooden chairs and little deal table. At that moment Morel came in.
“Hello, my son! Tha’s let on me!”
The two shook hands, and William presented the lady. She gave the same smile that showed her teeth.
“How do you do, Mr. Morel?”
Morel bowed obsequiously.
“I’m very well, and I hope so are you. You must make yourself very welcome.”
“Oh, thank you,” she replied, rather amused.
“You will like to go upstairs,” said Mrs. Morel.
“If you don’t mind; but not if it is any trouble to you.”
“It is no trouble. Annie will take you. Walter, carry up this box.”
“And don’t be an hour dressing yourself up,” said William to his betrothed.
Annie took a brass candlestick, and, too shy almost to speak, preceded the young lady to the front bedroom, which Mr. and Mrs. Morel had vacated for her. It, too, was small and cold by candlelight. The colliers’ wives only lit fires in bedrooms in case of extreme illness.
“Shall I unstrap the box?” asked Annie.
“Oh, thank you very much!”
Annie played the part of maid, then went downstairs for hot water.
“I think she’s rather tired, mother,” said William. “It’s a beastly journey, and we had such a rush.”
“Is there anything I can give her?” asked Mrs. Morel.
“Oh no, she’ll be all right.”
But there was a chill in the atmosphere. After half an hour Miss Western came down, having put on a purplish-coloured dress, very fine for the collier’s kitchen.
“I told you you’d no need to change,” said William to her.
“Oh, Chubby!” Then she turned with that sweetish smile to Mrs. Morel. “Don’t you think he’s always grumbling, Mrs. Morel?”
“Is he?” said Mrs. Morel. “That’s not very nice of him.”
“It isn’t, really!”
“You are cold,” said the mother. “Won’t you come near the fire?”
Morel jumped out of his armchair.
“Come and sit you here!” he cried. “Come and sit you here!”
“No, dad, keep your own chair. Sit on the sofa, Gyp,” said William.
“No, no!” cried Morel. “This cheer’s warmest. Come and sit here, Miss Wesson.”
“Thank you so much,” said the girl, seating herself in the collier’s armchair, the place of honour. She shivered, feeling the warmth of the kitchen penetrate her.
“Fetch me a hanky, Chubby dear!” she said, putting up her mouth to him, and using the same intimate tone as if they were alone; which made the rest of the family feel as if they ought not to be present. The young lady evidently did not realise them as people: they were creatures to her for the present. William winced.
In such a household, in Streatham, Miss Western would have been a lady condescending to her inferiors. These people were to her, certainly clownish—in short, the working classes. How was she to adjust herself?
“I’ll go,” said Annie.
Miss Western took no notice, as if a servant had spoken. But when the girl came downstairs again with the handkerchief, she said: “Oh, thank you!” in a gracious way.
She sat and talked about the dinner on the train, which had been so poor; about London, about dances. She was really very nervous, and chattered from fear. Morel sat all the time smoking his thick twist tobacco, watching her, and listening to her glib London speech, as he puffed. Mrs. Morel, dressed up in her best black silk blouse, answered quietly and rather briefly. The three children sat round in silence and admiration. Miss Western was the princess. Everything of the best was got out for her: the best cups, the best spoons, the best table cloth, the best coffee-jug. The children thought she must find it quite grand. She felt strange, not able to realise the people, not knowing how to treat them. William joked, and was slightly uncomfortable.
At about ten o’clock he said to her:
“Aren’t you tired, Gyp?”
“Rather, Chubby,” she answered, at once in the intimate tones and putting her head slightly on one side.
“I’ll light her the candle, mother,” he said.
“Very well,” replied the mother.
Miss Western stood up, held out her hand to Mrs. Morel.
“Good-night, Mrs. Morel,” she said.
Paul sat at the boiler, letting the water run from the tap into a stone beer-bottle. Annie swathed the bottle in an old flannel pit-singlet, and kissed her mother good-night. She was to share the room with the lady, because the house was full.
“You wait a minute,” said Mrs. Morel to Annie. And Annie sat nursing the hot-water bottle. Miss Western shook hands all round, to everybody’s discomfort, and took her departure, preceded by William. In five minutes he was downstairs again. His heart was rather sore; he did not know why. He talked very little till everybody had gone to bed, but himself and his mother. Then he stood with his legs apart, in his old attitude on the hearthrug, and said hesitatingly:
“Well, my son?”
She sat in the rocking-chair, feeling somehow hurt and humiliated, for his sake.
“Do you like her?”
“Yes,” came the slow answer.
“She’s shy yet, mother. She’s not used to it. It’s different from her aunt’s house, you know.”
“Of course it is, my boy; and she must find it difficult.”
“She does.” Then he frowned swiftly. “If only she wouldn’t put on her blessed airs!”
“It’s only her first awkwardness, my boy. She’ll be all right.”
“That’s it, mother,” he replied gratefully. But his brow was gloomy. “You know, she’s not like you, mother. She’s not serious, and she can’t think.”
“She’s young, my boy.”
“Yes; and she’s had no sort of show. Her mother died when she was a child. Since then she’s lived with her aunt, whom she can’t bear. And her father was a rake. She’s had no love.”
“No! Well, you must make up to her.”
“And so—you have to forgive her a lot of things.”
“What do you have to forgive her, my boy?”
“I dunno. When she seems shallow, you have to remember she’s never had anybody to bring her deeper side out. And she’s fearfully fond of me.”
“Anybody can see that.”
“But you know, mother—she’s—she’s different from us. Those sort of people, like those she lives amongst, they don’t seem to have the same principles.”
“You mustn’t judge too hastily,” said Mrs. Morel.
But he seemed uneasy within himself.
In the morning, however, he was up singing and larking round the house.
“Hello!” he called, sitting on the stairs. “Are you getting up?”
“Yes,” her voice called faintly.
“Merry Christmas!” he shouted to her.
Her laugh, pretty and tinkling, was heard in the bedroom. She did not come down in half an hour.
“Was she really getting up when she said she was?” he asked of Annie.
“Yes, she was,” replied Annie.
He waited a while, then went to the stairs again.
“Happy New Year,” he called.
“Thank you, Chubby dear!” came the laughing voice, far away.
“Buck up!” he implored.
It was nearly an hour, and still he was waiting for her. Morel, who always rose before six, looked at the clock.
“Well, it’s a winder!” he exclaimed.
The family had breakfasted, all but William. He went to the foot of the stairs.
“Shall I have to send you an Easter egg up there?” he called, rather crossly. She only laughed. The family expected, after that time of preparation, something like magic. At last she came, looking very nice in a blouse and skirt.
“Have you really been all this time getting ready?” he asked.
“Chubby dear! That question is not permitted, is it, Mrs. Morel?”
She played the grand lady at first. When she went with William to chapel, he in his frock-coat and silk hat, she in her furs and London-made costume, Paul and Arthur and Annie expected everybody to bow to the ground in admiration. And Morel, standing in his Sunday suit at the end of the road, watching the gallant pair go, felt he was the father of princes and princesses.
And yet she was not so grand. For a year now she had been a sort of secretary or clerk in a London office. But while she was with the Morels she queened it. She sat and let Annie or Paul wait on her as if they were her servants. She treated Mrs. Morel with a certain glibness and Morel with patronage. But after a day or so she began to change her tune.
William always wanted Paul or Annie to go along with them on their walks. It was so much more interesting. And Paul really did admire “Gipsy” wholeheartedly; in fact, his mother scarcely forgave the boy for the adulation with which he treated the girl.
On the second day, when Lily said: “Oh, Annie, do you know where I left my muff?” William replied:
“You know it is in your bedroom. Why do you ask Annie?”
And Lily went upstairs with a cross, shut mouth. But it angered the young man that she made a servant of his sister.
On the third evening William and Lily were sitting together in the parlour by the fire in the dark. At a quarter to eleven Mrs. Morel was heard raking the fire. William came out to the kitchen, followed by his beloved.
“Is it as late as that, mother?” he said. She had been sitting alone.
“It is not late, my boy, but it is as late as I usually sit up.”
“Won’t you go to bed, then?” he asked.
“And leave you two? No, my boy, I don’t believe in it.”
“Can’t you trust us, mother?”
“Whether I can or not, I won’t do it. You can stay till eleven if you like, and I can read.”
“Go to bed, Gyp,” he said to his girl. “We won’t keep mater waiting.”
“Annie has left the candle burning, Lily,” said Mrs. Morel; “I think you will see.”
“Yes, thank you. Good-night, Mrs. Morel.”
William kissed his sweetheart at the foot of the stairs, and she went. He returned to the kitchen.
“Can’t you trust us, mother?” he repeated, rather offended.
“My boy, I tell you I don’t believe in leaving two young things like you alone downstairs when everyone else is in bed.”
And he was forced to take this answer. He kissed his mother good-night.
At Easter he came over alone. And then he discussed his sweetheart endlessly with his mother.
“You know, mother, when I’m away from her I don’t care for her a bit. I shouldn’t care if I never saw her again. But, then, when I’m with her in the evenings I am awfully fond of her.”
“It’s a queer sort of love to marry on,” said Mrs. Morel, “if she holds you no more than that!”
“It is funny!” he exclaimed. It worried and perplexed him. “But yet—there’s so much between us now I couldn’t give her up.”
“You know best,” said Mrs. Morel. “But if it is as you say, I wouldn’t call it love—at any rate, it doesn’t look much like it.”
“Oh, I don’t know, mother. She’s an orphan, and—”
They never came to any sort of conclusion. He seemed puzzled and rather fretted. She was rather reserved. All his strength and money went in keeping this girl. He could scarcely afford to take his mother to Nottingham when he came over.
Paul’s wages had been raised at Christmas to ten shillings, to his great joy. He was quite happy at Jordan’s, but his health suffered from the long hours and the confinement. His mother, to whom he became more and more significant, thought how to help.
His half-day holiday was on Monday afternoon. On a Monday morning in May, as the two sat alone at breakfast, she said:
“I think it will be a fine day.”
He looked up in surprise. This meant something.
“You know Mr. Leivers has gone to live on a new farm. Well, he asked me last week if I wouldn’t go and see Mrs. Leivers, and I promised to bring you on Monday if it’s fine. Shall we go?”
“I say, little woman, how lovely!” he cried. “And we’ll go this afternoon?”
Paul hurried off to the station jubilant. Down Derby Road was a cherry-tree that glistened. The old brick wall by the Statutes ground burned scarlet, spring was a very flame of green. And the steep swoop of highroad lay, in its cool morning dust, splendid with patterns of sunshine and shadow, perfectly still. The trees sloped their great green shoulders proudly; and inside the warehouse all the morning, the boy had a vision of spring outside.
When he came home at dinner-time his mother was rather excited.
“Are we going?” he asked.
“When I’m ready,” she replied.
Presently he got up.
“Go and get dressed while I wash up,” he said.
She did so. He washed the pots, straightened, and then took her boots. They were quite clean. Mrs. Morel was one of those naturally exquisite people who can walk in mud without dirtying their shoes. But Paul had to clean them for her. They were kid boots at eight shillings a pair. He, however, thought them the most dainty boots in the world, and he cleaned them with as much reverence as if they had been flowers.
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.
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 suède.”
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 glacés, 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.
“Ay,” 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.