but they could not get even normally near to anyone, because they
scorned to take the first steps, they scorned the triviality which forms
common human intercourse.
Paul fell under Mrs. Leivers's spell. Everything had a religious
and intensified meaning when he was with her. His soul, hurt, highly
developed, sought her as if for nourishment. Together they seemed to
sift the vital fact from an experience.
Miriam was her mother's daughter. In the sunshine of the afternoon
mother and daughter went down the fields with him. They looked for
nests. There was a jenny wren's in the hedge by the orchard.
"I DO want you to see this," said Mrs. Leivers.
He crouched down and carefully put his finger through the thorns into
the round door of the nest.
"It's almost as if you were feeling inside the live body of the bird,"
he said, "it's so warm. They say a bird makes its nest round like a cup
with pressing its breast on it. Then how did it make the ceiling round,
The nest seemed to start into life for the two women. After that, Miriam
came to see it every day. It seemed so close to her. Again, going
down the hedgeside with the girl, he noticed the celandines, scalloped
splashes of gold, on the side of the ditch.
"I like them," he said, "when their petals go flat back with the
sunshine. They seemed to be pressing themselves at the sun."
And then the celandines ever after drew her with a little spell.
Anthropomorphic as she was, she stimulated him into appreciating things
thus, and then they lived for her. She seemed to need things kindling in
her imagination or in her soul before she felt she had them. And she
was cut off from ordinary life by her religious intensity which made
the world for her either a nunnery garden or a paradise, where sin and
knowledge were not, or else an ugly, cruel thing.
So it was in this atmosphere of subtle intimacy, this meeting in their
common feeling for something in Nature, that their love started.
Personally, he was a long time before he realized her. For ten months he
had to stay at home after his illness. For a while he went to Skegness
with his mother, and was perfectly happy. But even from the seaside he
wrote long letters to Mrs. Leivers about the shore and the sea. And he
brought back his beloved sketches of the flat Lincoln coast, anxious
for them to see. Almost they would interest the Leivers more than they
interested his mother. It was not his art Mrs. Morel cared about; it
was himself and his achievement. But Mrs. Leivers and her children were
almost his disciples. They kindled him and made him glow to his work,
whereas his mother's influence was to make him quietly determined,
patient, dogged, unwearied.
He soon was friends with the boys, whose rudeness was only superficial.
They had all, when they could trust themselves, a strange gentleness and
"Will you come with me on to the fallow?" asked Edgar, rather
Paul went joyfully, and spent the afternoon helping to hoe or to single
turnips with his friend. He used to lie with the three brothers in
the hay piled up in the barn and tell them about Nottingham and about
Jordan's. In return, they taught him to milk, and let him do little
jobs - chopping hay or pulping turnips - just as much as he liked. At
midsummer he worked all through hay-harvest with them, and then he loved
them. The family was so cut off from the world actually. They seemed,
somehow, like "_les derniers fils d'une race epuisee_". Though the lads
were strong and healthy, yet they had all that over-sensitiveness and
hanging-back which made them so lonely, yet also such close, delicate
friends once their intimacy was won. Paul loved them dearly, and they
Miriam came later. But he had come into her life before she made any
mark on his. One dull afternoon, when the men were on the land and the
rest at school, only Miriam and her mother at home, the girl said to
him, after having hesitated for some time:
"Have you seen the swing?"
"No," he answered. "Where?"
"In the cowshed," she replied.
She always hesitated to offer or to show him anything. Men have such
different standards of worth from women, and her dear things - the
valuable things to her - her brothers had so often mocked or flouted.
"Come on, then," he replied, jumping up.
There were two cowsheds, one on either side of the barn. In the lower,
darker shed there was standing for four cows. Hens flew scolding over
the manger-wall as the youth and girl went forward for the great thick
rope which hung from the beam in the darkness overhead, and was pushed
back over a peg in the wall.
"It's something like a rope!" he exclaimed appreciatively; and he sat
down on it, anxious to try it. Then immediately he rose.
"Come on, then, and have first go," he said to the girl.
"See," she answered, going into the barn, "we put some bags on the
seat"; and she made the swing comfortable for him. That gave her
pleasure. He held the rope.
"Come on, then," he said to her.
"No, I won't go first," she answered.
She stood aside in her still, aloof fashion.
"You go," she pleaded.
Almost for the first time in her life she had the pleasure of giving up
to a man, of spoiling him. Paul looked at her.
"All right," he said, sitting down. "Mind out!"
He set off with a spring, and in a moment was flying through the air,
almost out of the door of the shed, the upper half of which was open,
showing outside the drizzling rain, the filthy yard, the cattle standing
disconsolate against the black cartshed, and at the back of all
the grey-green wall of the wood. She stood below in her crimson
tam-o'-shanter and watched. He looked down at her, and she saw his blue
"It's a treat of a swing," he said.
He was swinging through the air, every bit of him swinging, like a bird
that swoops for joy of movement. And he looked down at her. Her crimson
cap hung over her dark curls, her beautiful warm face, so still in a
kind of brooding, was lifted towards him. It was dark and rather cold in
the shed. Suddenly a swallow came down from the high roof and darted out
of the door.
"I didn't know a bird was watching," he called.
He swung negligently. She could feel him falling and lifting through the
air, as if he were lying on some force.
"Now I'll die," he said, in a detached, dreamy voice, as though he were
the dying motion of the swing. She watched him, fascinated. Suddenly he
put on the brake and jumped out.
"I've had a long turn," he said. "But it's a treat of a swing - it's a
real treat of a swing!"
Miriam was amused that he took a swing so seriously and felt so warmly
"No; you go on," she said.
"Why, don't you want one?" he asked, astonished.
"Well, not much. I'll have just a little."
She sat down, whilst he kept the bags in place for her.
"It's so ripping!" he said, setting her in motion. "Keep your heels up,
or they'll bang the manger wall."
She felt the accuracy with which he caught her, exactly at the right
moment, and the exactly proportionate strength of his thrust, and she
was afraid. Down to her bowels went the hot wave of fear. She was in his
hands. Again, firm and inevitable came the thrust at the right moment.
She gripped the rope, almost swooning.
"Ha!" she laughed in fear. "No higher!"
"But you're not a BIT high," he remonstrated.
"But no higher."
He heard the fear in her voice, and desisted. Her heart melted in hot
pain when the moment came for him to thrust her forward again. But he
left her alone. She began to breathe.
"Won't you really go any farther?" he asked. "Should I keep you there?"
"No; let me go by myself," she answered.
He moved aside and watched her.
"Why, you're scarcely moving," he said.
She laughed slightly with shame, and in a moment got down.
"They say if you can swing you won't be sea-sick," he said, as he
mounted again. "I don't believe I should ever be sea-sick."
Away he went. There was something fascinating to her in him. For the
moment he was nothing but a piece of swinging stuff; not a particle of
him that did not swing. She could never lose herself so, nor could her
brothers. It roused a warmth in her. It was almost as if he were a flame
that had lit a warmth in her whilst he swung in the middle air.
And gradually the intimacy with the family concentrated for Paul on
three persons - the mother, Edgar, and Miriam. To the mother he went for
that sympathy and that appeal which seemed to draw him out. Edgar was
his very close friend. And to Miriam he more or less condescended,
because she seemed so humble.
But the girl gradually sought him out. If he brought up his sketch-book,
it was she who pondered longest over the last picture. Then she would
look up at him. Suddenly, her dark eyes alight like water that shakes
with a stream of gold in the dark, she would ask:
"Why do I like this so?"
Always something in his breast shrank from these close, intimate,
dazzled looks of hers.
"Why DO you?" he asked.
"I don't know. It seems so true."
"It's because - it's because there is scarcely any shadow in it; it's
more shimmery, as if I'd painted the shimmering protoplasm in the leaves
and everywhere, and not the stiffness of the shape. That seems dead
to me. Only this shimmeriness is the real living. The shape is a dead
crust. The shimmer is inside really."
And she, with her little finger in her mouth, would ponder these
sayings. They gave her a feeling of life again, and vivified things
which had meant nothing to her. She managed to find some meaning in his
struggling, abstract speeches. And they were the medium through which
she came distinctly at her beloved objects.
Another day she sat at sunset whilst he was painting some pine-trees
which caught the red glare from the west. He had been quiet.
"There you are!" he said suddenly. "I wanted that. Now, look at them and
tell me, are they pine trunks or are they red coals, standing-up pieces
of fire in that darkness? There's God's burning bush for you, that
burned not away."
Miriam looked, and was frightened. But the pine trunks were wonderful
to her, and distinct. He packed his box and rose. Suddenly he looked at
"Why are you always sad?" he asked her.
"Sad!" she exclaimed, looking up at him with startled, wonderful brown
"Yes," he replied. "You are always sad."
"I am not - oh, not a bit!" she cried.
"But even your joy is like a flame coming off of sadness," he persisted.
"You're never jolly, or even just all right."
"No," she pondered. "I wonder - why?"
"Because you're not; because you're different inside, like a pine-tree,
and then you flare up; but you're not just like an ordinary tree, with
fidgety leaves and jolly - "
He got tangled up in his own speech; but she brooded on it, and he had a
strange, roused sensation, as if his feelings were new. She got so near
him. It was a strange stimulant.
Then sometimes he hated her. Her youngest brother was only five. He was
a frail lad, with immense brown eyes in his quaint fragile face - one of
Reynolds's "Choir of Angels", with a touch of elf. Often Miriam kneeled
to the child and drew him to her.
"Eh, my Hubert!" she sang, in a voice heavy and surcharged with love.
"Eh, my Hubert!"
And, folding him in her arms, she swayed slightly from side to side with
love, her face half lifted, her eyes half closed, her voice drenched
"Don't!" said the child, uneasy - "don't, Miriam!"
"Yes; you love me, don't you?" she murmured deep in her throat, almost
as if she were in a trance, and swaying also as if she were swooned in
an ecstasy of love.
"Don't!" repeated the child, a frown on his clear brow.
"You love me, don't you?" she murmured.
"What do you make such a FUSS for?" cried Paul, all in suffering because
of her extreme emotion. "Why can't you be ordinary with him?"
She let the child go, and rose, and said nothing. Her intensity, which
would leave no emotion on a normal plane, irritated the youth into
a frenzy. And this fearful, naked contact of her on small occasions
shocked him. He was used to his mother's reserve. And on such occasions
he was thankful in his heart and soul that he had his mother, so sane
All the life of Miriam's body was in her eyes, which were usually dark
as a dark church, but could flame with light like a conflagration. Her
face scarcely ever altered from its look of brooding. She might have
been one of the women who went with Mary when Jesus was dead. Her body
was not flexible and living. She walked with a swing, rather heavily,
her head bowed forward, pondering. She was not clumsy, and yet none of
her movements seemed quite THE movement. Often, when wiping the dishes,
she would stand in bewilderment and chagrin because she had pulled
in two halves a cup or a tumbler. It was as if, in her fear and
self-mistrust, she put too much strength into the effort. There was
no looseness or abandon about her. Everything was gripped stiff with
intensity, and her effort, overcharged, closed in on itself.
She rarely varied from her swinging, forward, intense walk. Occasionally
she ran with Paul down the fields. Then her eyes blazed naked in a kind
of ecstasy that frightened him. But she was physically afraid. If
she were getting over a stile, she gripped his hands in a little hard
anguish, and began to lose her presence of mind. And he could not
persuade her to jump from even a small height. Her eyes dilated, became
exposed and palpitating.
"No!" she cried, half laughing in terror - "no!"
"You shall!" he cried once, and, jerking her forward, he brought her
falling from the fence. But her wild "Ah!" of pain, as if she were
losing consciousness, cut him. She landed on her feet safely, and
afterwards had courage in this respect.
She was very much dissatisfied with her lot.
"Don't you like being at home?" Paul asked her, surprised.
"Who would?" she answered, low and intense. "What is it? I'm all day
cleaning what the boys make just as bad in five minutes. I don't WANT to
be at home."
"What do you want, then?"
"I want to do something. I want a chance like anybody else. Why should
I, because I'm a girl, be kept at home and not allowed to be anything?
What chance HAVE I?"
"Chance of what?"
"Of knowing anything - of learning, of doing anything. It's not fair,
because I'm a woman."
She seemed very bitter. Paul wondered. In his own home Annie was almost
glad to be a girl. She had not so much responsibility; things were
lighter for her. She never wanted to be other than a girl. But Miriam
almost fiercely wished she were a man. And yet she hated men at the same
"But it's as well to be a woman as a man," he said, frowning.
"Ha! Is it? Men have everything."
"I should think women ought to be as glad to be women as men are to be
men," he answered.
"No!" - she shook her head - "no! Everything the men have."
"But what do you want?" he asked.
"I want to learn. Why SHOULD it be that I know nothing?"
"What! such as mathematics and French?"
"Why SHOULDN'T I know mathematics? Yes!" she cried, her eye expanding in
a kind of defiance.
"Well, you can learn as much as I know," he said. "I'll teach you, if
Her eyes dilated. She mistrusted him as teacher.
"Would you?" he asked.
Her head had dropped, and she was sucking her finger broodingly.
"Yes," she said hesitatingly.
He used to tell his mother all these things.
"I'm going to teach Miriam algebra," he said.
"Well," replied Mrs. Morel, "I hope she'll get fat on it."
When he went up to the farm on the Monday evening, it was drawing
twilight. Miriam was just sweeping up the kitchen, and was kneeling at
the hearth when he entered. Everyone was out but her. She looked round
at him, flushed, her dark eyes shining, her fine hair falling about her
"Hello!" she said, soft and musical. "I knew it was you."
"I knew your step. Nobody treads so quick and firm."
He sat down, sighing.
"Ready to do some algebra?" he asked, drawing a little book from his
"But - "
He could feel her backing away.
"You said you wanted," he insisted.
"To-night, though?" she faltered.
"But I came on purpose. And if you want to learn it, you must begin."
She took up her ashes in the dustpan and looked at him, half
"Yes, but to-night! You see, I haven't thought of it."
"Well, my goodness! Take the ashes and come."
He went and sat on the stone bench in the back-yard, where the big
milk-cans were standing, tipped up, to air. The men were in the
cowsheds. He could hear the little sing-song of the milk spurting into
the pails. Presently she came, bringing some big greenish apples.
"You know you like them," she said.
He took a bite.
"Sit down," he said, with his mouth full.
She was short-sighted, and peered over his shoulder. It irritated him.
He gave her the book quickly.
"Here," he said. "It's only letters for figures. You put down 'a'
instead of '2' or '6'."
They worked, he talking, she with her head down on the book. He was
quick and hasty. She never answered. Occasionally, when he demanded
of her, "Do you see?" she looked up at him, her eyes wide with the
half-laugh that comes of fear. "Don't you?" he cried.
He had been too fast. But she said nothing. He questioned her more, then
got hot. It made his blood rouse to see her there, as it were, at his
mercy, her mouth open, her eyes dilated with laughter that was afraid,
apologetic, ashamed. Then Edgar came along with two buckets of milk.
"Hello!" he said. "What are you doing?"
"Algebra," replied Paul.
"Algebra!" repeated Edgar curiously. Then he passed on with a laugh.
Paul took a bite at his forgotten apple, looked at the miserable
cabbages in the garden, pecked into lace by the fowls, and he wanted to
pull them up. Then he glanced at Miriam. She was poring over the book,
seemed absorbed in it, yet trembling lest she could not get at it. It
made him cross. She was ruddy and beautiful. Yet her soul seemed to be
intensely supplicating. The algebra-book she closed, shrinking, knowing
he was angered; and at the same instant he grew gentle, seeing her hurt
because she did not understand.
But things came slowly to her. And when she held herself in a grip,
seemed so utterly humble before the lesson, it made his blood rouse.
He stormed at her, got ashamed, continued the lesson, and grew furious
again, abusing her. She listened in silence. Occasionally, very rarely,
she defended herself. Her liquid dark eyes blazed at him.
"You don't give me time to learn it," she said.
"All right," he answered, throwing the book on the table and lighting
a cigarette. Then, after a while, he went back to her repentant. So the
lessons went. He was always either in a rage or very gentle.
"What do you tremble your SOUL before it for?" he cried. "You don't
learn algebra with your blessed soul. Can't you look at it with your
clear simple wits?"
Often, when he went again into the kitchen, Mrs. Leivers would look at
him reproachfully, saying:
"Paul, don't be so hard on Miriam. She may not be quick, but I'm sure
"I can't help it," he said rather pitiably. "I go off like it."
"You don't mind me, Miriam, do you?" he asked of the girl later.
"No," she reassured him in her beautiful deep tones - "no, I don't mind."
"Don't mind me; it's my fault."
But, in spite of himself, his blood began to boil with her. It was
strange that no one else made him in such fury. He flared against her.
Once he threw the pencil in her face. There was a silence. She turned
her face slightly aside.
"I didn't - " he began, but got no farther, feeling weak in all his
bones. She never reproached him or was angry with him. He was often
cruelly ashamed. But still again his anger burst like a bubble
surcharged; and still, when he saw her eager, silent, as it were, blind
face, he felt he wanted to throw the pencil in it; and still, when he
saw her hand trembling and her mouth parted with suffering, his heart
was scalded with pain for her. And because of the intensity to which she
roused him, he sought her.
Then he often avoided her and went with Edgar. Miriam and her brother
were naturally antagonistic. Edgar was a rationalist, who was curious,
and had a sort of scientific interest in life. It was a great bitterness
to Miriam to see herself deserted by Paul for Edgar, who seemed so much
lower. But the youth was very happy with her elder brother. The two men
spent afternoons together on the land or in the loft doing carpentry,
when it rained. And they talked together, or Paul taught Edgar the songs
he himself had learned from Annie at the piano. And often all the men,
Mr. Leivers as well, had bitter debates on the nationalizing of the land
and similar problems. Paul had already heard his mother's views, and as
these were as yet his own, he argued for her. Miriam attended and
took part, but was all the time waiting until it should be over and a
personal communication might begin.
"After all," she said within herself, "if the land were nationalized,
Edgar and Paul and I would be just the same." So she waited for the
youth to come back to her.
He was studying for his painting. He loved to sit at home, alone with
his mother, at night, working and working. She sewed or read. Then,
looking up from his task, he would rest his eyes for a moment on her
face, that was bright with living warmth, and he returned gladly to his
"I can do my best things when you sit there in your rocking-chair,
mother," he said.
"I'm sure!" she exclaimed, sniffing with mock scepticism. But she felt
it was so, and her heart quivered with brightness. For many hours she
sat still, slightly conscious of him labouring away, whilst she worked
or read her book. And he, with all his soul's intensity directing his
pencil, could feel her warmth inside him like strength. They were both
very happy so, and both unconscious of it. These times, that meant so
much, and which were real living, they almost ignored.
He was conscious only when stimulated. A sketch finished, he always
wanted to take it to Miriam. Then he was stimulated into knowledge of
the work he had produced unconsciously. In contact with Miriam he
gained insight; his vision went deeper. From his mother he drew the
life-warmth, the strength to produce; Miriam urged this warmth into
intensity like a white light.
When he returned to the factory the conditions of work were better.
He had Wednesday afternoon off to go to the Art School - Miss Jordan's
provision - returning in the evening. Then the factory closed at six
instead of eight on Thursday and Friday evenings.
One evening in the summer Miriam and he went over the fields by Herod's
Farm on their way from the library home. So it was only three miles
to Willey Farm. There was a yellow glow over the mowing-grass, and the
sorrel-heads burned crimson. Gradually, as they walked along the high
land, the gold in the west sank down to red, the red to crimson, and
then the chill blue crept up against the glow.
They came out upon the high road to Alfreton, which ran white between
the darkening fields. There Paul hesitated. It was two miles home for
him, one mile forward for Miriam. They both looked up the road that ran
in shadow right under the glow of the north-west sky. On the crest of
the hill, Selby, with its stark houses and the up-pricked headstocks of
the pit, stood in black silhouette small against the sky.
He looked at his watch.
"Nine o'clock!" he said.
The pair stood, loth to part, hugging their books.
"The wood is so lovely now," she said. "I wanted you to see it."
He followed her slowly across the road to the white gate.
"They grumble so if I'm late," he said.
"But you're not doing anything wrong," she answered impatiently.
He followed her across the nibbled pasture in the dusk. There was a
coolness in the wood, a scent of leaves, of honeysuckle, and a twilight.
The two walked in silence. Night came wonderfully there, among the
throng of dark tree-trunks. He looked round, expectant.
She wanted to show him a certain wild-rose bush she had discovered. She
knew it was wonderful. And yet, till he had seen it, she felt it had
not come into her soul. Only he could make it her own, immortal. She was
Dew was already on the paths. In the old oak-wood a mist was rising, and
he hesitated, wondering whether one whiteness were a strand of fog or
only campion-flowers pallid in a cloud.
By the time they came to the pine-trees Miriam was getting very eager