Paul disappeared into the scullery. Beatrice hastily blew her scrapings
into the fire, and sat down innocently. Annie came bursting in. She was
an abrupt, quite smart young woman. She blinked in the strong light.
"Smell of burning!" she exclaimed.
"It's the cigarettes," replied Beatrice demurely.
Leonard had followed Annie. He had a long comic face and blue eyes, very
"I suppose he's left you to settle it between you," he said. He nodded
sympathetically to Miriam, and became gently sarcastic to Beatrice.
"No," said Beatrice, "he's gone off with number nine."
"I just met number five inquiring for him," said Leonard.
"Yes - we're going to share him up like Solomon's baby," said Beatrice.
"Oh, ay," said Leonard. "And which bit should you have?"
"I don't know," said Beatrice. "I'll let all the others pick first."
"An' you'd have the leavings, like?" said Leonard, twisting up a comic
Annie was looking in the oven. Miriam sat ignored. Paul entered.
"This bread's a fine sight, our Paul," said Annie.
"Then you should stop an' look after it," said Paul.
"You mean YOU should do what you're reckoning to do," replied Annie.
"He should, shouldn't he!" cried Beatrice.
"I s'd think he'd got plenty on hand," said Leonard.
"You had a nasty walk, didn't you, Miriam?" said Annie.
"Yes - but I'd been in all week - "
"And you wanted a bit of a change, like," insinuated Leonard kindly.
"Well, you can't be stuck in the house for ever," Annie agreed. She was
quite amiable. Beatrice pulled on her coat, and went out with Leonard
and Annie. She would meet her own boy.
"Don't forget that bread, our Paul," cried Annie. "Good-night, Miriam. I
don't think it will rain."
When they had all gone, Paul fetched the swathed loaf, unwrapped it, and
surveyed it sadly.
"It's a mess!" he said.
"But," answered Miriam impatiently, "what is it, after all - twopence,
"Yes, but - it's the mater's precious baking, and she'll take it to
heart. However, it's no good bothering."
He took the loaf back into the scullery. There was a little distance
between him and Miriam. He stood balanced opposite her for some moments
considering, thinking of his behaviour with Beatrice. He felt guilty
inside himself, and yet glad. For some inscrutable reason it served
Miriam right. He was not going to repent. She wondered what he was
thinking of as he stood suspended. His thick hair was tumbled over his
forehead. Why might she not push it back for him, and remove the marks
of Beatrice's comb? Why might she not press his body with her two hands.
It looked so firm, and every whit living. And he would let other girls,
why not her?
Suddenly he started into life. It made her quiver almost with terror as
he quickly pushed the hair off his forehead and came towards her.
"Half-past eight!" he said. "We'd better buck up. Where's your French?"
Miriam shyly and rather bitterly produced her exercise-book. Every week
she wrote for him a sort of diary of her inner life, in her own French.
He had found this was the only way to get her to do compositions. And
her diary was mostly a love-letter. He would read it now; she felt as
if her soul's history were going to be desecrated by him in his present
mood. He sat beside her. She watched his hand, firm and warm, rigorously
scoring her work. He was reading only the French, ignoring her soul that
was there. But gradually his hand forgot its work. He read in silence,
motionless. She quivered.
"'_Ce matin les oiseaux m'ont eveille,'" he read. "'Il faisait encore un
crepuscule. Mais la petite fenetre de ma chambre etait bleme, et puis,
jaune, et tous les oiseaux du bois eclaterent dans un chanson vif et
resonnant. Toute l'aube tressaillit. J'avais reve de vous. Est-ce
que vous voyez aussi l'aube? Les oiseaux m'eveillent presque tous les
matins, et toujours il y a quelque chose de terreur dans le cri des
grives. Il est si clair_ - '"
Miriam sat tremulous, half ashamed. He remained quite still, trying to
understand. He only knew she loved him. He was afraid of her love for
him. It was too good for him, and he was inadequate. His own love was
at fault, not hers. Ashamed, he corrected her work, humbly writing above
"Look," he said quietly, "the past participle conjugated with _avoir_
agrees with the direct object when it precedes."
She bent forward, trying to see and to understand. Her free, fine curls
tickled his face. He started as if they had been red hot, shuddering. He
saw her peering forward at the page, her red lips parted piteously, the
black hair springing in fine strands across her tawny, ruddy cheek. She
was coloured like a pomegranate for richness. His breath came short as
he watched her. Suddenly she looked up at him. Her dark eyes were naked
with their love, afraid, and yearning. His eyes, too, were dark, and
they hurt her. They seemed to master her. She lost all her self-control,
was exposed in fear. And he knew, before he could kiss her, he must
drive something out of himself. And a touch of hate for her crept back
again into his heart. He returned to her exercise.
Suddenly he flung down the pencil, and was at the oven in a leap,
turning the bread. For Miriam he was too quick. She started violently,
and it hurt her with real pain. Even the way he crouched before the oven
hurt her. There seemed to be something cruel in it, something cruel in
the swift way he pitched the bread out of the tins, caught it up again.
If only he had been gentle in his movements she would have felt so rich
and warm. As it was, she was hurt.
He returned and finished the exercise.
"You've done well this week," he said.
She saw he was flattered by her diary. It did not repay her entirely.
"You really do blossom out sometimes," he said. "You ought to write
She lifted her head with joy, then she shook it mistrustfully.
"I don't trust myself," she said.
"You should try!"
Again she shook her head.
"Shall we read, or is it too late?" he asked.
"It is late - but we can read just a little," she pleaded.
She was really getting now the food for her life during the next week.
He made her copy Baudelaire's "Le Balcon". Then he read it for her. His
voice was soft and caressing, but growing almost brutal. He had a way of
lifting his lips and showing his teeth, passionately and bitterly, when
he was much moved. This he did now. It made Miriam feel as if he were
trampling on her. She dared not look at him, but sat with her head
bowed. She could not understand why he got into such a tumult and fury.
It made her wretched. She did not like Baudelaire, on the whole - nor
"Behold her singing in the field
Yon solitary highland lass."
That nourished her heart. So did "Fair Ines". And -
"It was a beauteous evening, calm and pure,
And breathing holy quiet like a nun."
These were like herself. And there was he, saying in his throat
"_Tu te rappelleras la beaute des caresses_."
The poem was finished; he took the bread out of the oven, arranging the
burnt loaves at the bottom of the panchion, the good ones at the top.
The desiccated loaf remained swathed up in the scullery.
"Mater needn't know till morning," he said. "It won't upset her so much
then as at night."
Miriam looked in the bookcase, saw what postcards and letters he had
received, saw what books were there. She took one that had interested
him. Then he turned down the gas and they set off. He did not trouble to
lock the door.
He was not home again until a quarter to eleven. His mother was seated
in the rocking-chair. Annie, with a rope of hair hanging down her back,
remained sitting on a low stool before the fire, her elbows on her
knees, gloomily. On the table stood the offending loaf unswathed. Paul
entered rather breathless. No one spoke. His mother was reading the
little local newspaper. He took off his coat, and went to sit down on
the sofa. His mother moved curtly aside to let him pass. No one spoke.
He was very uncomfortable. For some minutes he sat pretending to read a
piece of paper he found on the table. Then -
"I forgot that bread, mother," he said.
There was no answer from either woman.
"Well," he said, "it's only twopence ha'penny. I can pay you for that."
Being angry, he put three pennies on the table and slid them towards his
mother. She turned away her head. Her mouth was shut tightly.
"Yes," said Annie, "you don't know how badly my mother is!"
The girl sat staring glumly into the fire.
"Why is she badly?" asked Paul, in his overbearing way.
"Well!" said Annie. "She could scarcely get home."
He looked closely at his mother. She looked ill.
"WHY could you scarcely get home?" he asked her, still sharply. She
would not answer.
"I found her as white as a sheet sitting here," said Annie, with a
suggestion of tears in her voice.
"Well, WHY?" insisted Paul. His brows were knitting, his eyes dilating
"It was enough to upset anybody," said Mrs. Morel, "hugging those
parcels - meat, and green-groceries, and a pair of curtains - "
"Well, why DID you hug them; you needn't have done."
"Then who would?"
"Let Annie fetch the meat."
"Yes, and I WOULD fetch the meat, but how was I to know. You were off
with Miriam, instead of being in when my mother came."
"And what was the matter with you?" asked Paul of his mother.
"I suppose it's my heart," she replied. Certainly she looked bluish
round the mouth.
"And have you felt it before?"
"Yes - often enough."
"Then why haven't you told me? - and why haven't you seen a doctor?"
Mrs. Morel shifted in her chair, angry with him for his hectoring.
"You'd never notice anything," said Annie. "You're too eager to be off
"Oh, am I - and any worse than you with Leonard?"
"I was in at a quarter to ten."
There was silence in the room for a time.
"I should have thought," said Mrs. Morel bitterly, "that she wouldn't
have occupied you so entirely as to burn a whole ovenful of bread."
"Beatrice was here as well as she."
"Very likely. But we know why the bread is spoilt."
"Why?" he flashed.
"Because you were engrossed with Miriam," replied Mrs. Morel hotly.
"Oh, very well - then it was NOT!" he replied angrily.
He was distressed and wretched. Seizing a paper, he began to read.
Annie, her blouse unfastened, her long ropes of hair twisted into a
plait, went up to bed, bidding him a very curt good-night.
Paul sat pretending to read. He knew his mother wanted to upbraid him.
He also wanted to know what had made her ill, for he was troubled. So,
instead of running away to bed, as he would have liked to do, he sat and
waited. There was a tense silence. The clock ticked loudly.
"You'd better go to bed before your father comes in," said the mother
harshly. "And if you're going to have anything to eat, you'd better get
"I don't want anything."
It was his mother's custom to bring him some trifle for supper on Friday
night, the night of luxury for the colliers. He was too angry to go and
find it in the pantry this night. This insulted her.
"If I WANTED you to go to Selby on Friday night, I can imagine the
scene," said Mrs. Morel. "But you're never too tired to go if SHE will
come for you. Nay, you neither want to eat nor drink then."
"I can't let her go alone."
"Can't you? And why does she come?"
"Not because I ask her."
"She doesn't come without you want her - "
"Well, what if I DO want her - " he replied.
"Why, nothing, if it was sensible or reasonable. But to go trapseing up
there miles and miles in the mud, coming home at midnight, and got to go
to Nottingham in the morning - "
"If I hadn't, you'd be just the same."
"Yes, I should, because there's no sense in it. Is she so fascinating
that you must follow her all that way?" Mrs. Morel was bitterly
sarcastic. She sat still, with averted face, stroking with a rhythmic,
jerked movement, the black sateen of her apron. It was a movement that
hurt Paul to see.
"I do like her," he said, "but - "
"LIKE her!" said Mrs. Morel, in the same biting tones. "It seems to me
you like nothing and nobody else. There's neither Annie, nor me, nor
anyone now for you."
"What nonsense, mother - you know I don't love her - I - I tell you I DON'T
love her - she doesn't even walk with my arm, because I don't want her
"Then why do you fly to her so often?"
"I DO like to talk to her - I never said I didn't. But I DON'T love her."
"Is there nobody else to talk to?"
"Not about the things we talk of. There's a lot of things that you're
not interested in, that - "
Mrs. Morel was so intense that Paul began to pant.
"Why - painting - and books. YOU don't care about Herbert Spencer."
"No," was the sad reply. "And YOU won't at my age."
"Well, but I do now - and Miriam does - "
"And how do you know," Mrs. Morel flashed defiantly, "that I shouldn't.
Do you ever try me!"
"But you don't, mother, you know you don't care whether a picture's
decorative or not; you don't care what MANNER it is in."
"How do you know I don't care? Do you ever try me? Do you ever talk to
me about these things, to try?"
"But it's not that that matters to you, mother, you know t's not."
"What is it, then - what is it, then, that matters to me?" she flashed.
He knitted his brows with pain.
"You're old, mother, and we're young."
He only meant that the interests of HER age were not the interests of
his. But he realised the moment he had spoken that he had said the wrong
"Yes, I know it well - I am old. And therefore I may stand aside; I have
nothing more to do with you. You only want me to wait on you - the rest
is for Miriam."
He could not bear it. Instinctively he realised that he was life to her.
And, after all, she was the chief thing to him, the only supreme thing.
"You know it isn't, mother, you know it isn't!"
She was moved to pity by his cry.
"It looks a great deal like it," she said, half putting aside her
"No, mother - I really DON'T love her. I talk to her, but I want to come
home to you."
He had taken off his collar and tie, and rose, bare-throated, to go
to bed. As he stooped to kiss his mother, she threw her arms round his
neck, hid her face on his shoulder, and cried, in a whimpering voice, so
unlike her own that he writhed in agony:
"I can't bear it. I could let another woman - but not her. She'd leave me
no room, not a bit of room - "
And immediately he hated Miriam bitterly.
"And I've never - you know, Paul - I've never had a husband - not really - "
He stroked his mother's hair, and his mouth was on her throat.
"And she exults so in taking you from me - she's not like ordinary
"Well, I don't love her, mother," he murmured, bowing his head and
hiding his eyes on her shoulder in misery. His mother kissed him a long,
"My boy!" she said, in a voice trembling with passionate love.
Without knowing, he gently stroked her face.
"There," said his mother, "now go to bed. You'll be so tired in the
morning." As she was speaking she heard her husband coming. "There's
your father - now go." Suddenly she looked at him almost as if in fear.
"Perhaps I'm selfish. If you want her, take her, my boy."
His mother looked so strange, Paul kissed her, trembling.
"Ha - mother!" he said softly.
Morel came in, walking unevenly. His hat was over one corner of his eye.
He balanced in the doorway.
"At your mischief again?" he said venomously.
Mrs. Morel's emotion turned into sudden hate of the drunkard who had
come in thus upon her.
"At any rate, it is sober," she said.
"H'm - h'm! h'm - h'm!" he sneered. He went into the passage, hung up his
hat and coat. Then they heard him go down three steps to the pantry. He
returned with a piece of pork-pie in his fist. It was what Mrs. Morel
had bought for her son.
"Nor was that bought for you. If you can give me no more than
twenty-five shillings, I'm sure I'm not going to buy you pork-pie to
stuff, after you've swilled a bellyful of beer."
"Wha-at - wha-at!" snarled Morel, toppling in his balance. "Wha-at - not
for me?" He looked at the piece of meat and crust, and suddenly, in a
vicious spurt of temper, flung it into the fire.
Paul started to his feet.
"Waste your own stuff!" he cried.
"What - what!" suddenly shouted Morel, jumping up and clenching his fist.
"I'll show yer, yer young jockey!"
"All right!" said Paul viciously, putting his head on one side. "Show
He would at that moment dearly have loved to have a smack at something.
Morel was half crouching, fists up, ready to spring. The young man
stood, smiling with his lips.
"Ussha!" hissed the father, swiping round with a great stroke just past
his son's face. He dared not, even though so close, really touch the
young man, but swerved an inch away.
"Right!" said Paul, his eyes upon the side of his father's mouth, where
in another instant his fist would have hit. He ached for that stroke.
But he heard a faint moan from behind. His mother was deadly pale and
dark at the mouth. Morel was dancing up to deliver another blow.
"Father!" said Paul, so that the word rang.
Morel started, and stood at attention.
"Mother!" moaned the boy. "Mother!"
She began to struggle with herself. Her open eyes watched him, although
she could not move. Gradually she was coming to herself. He laid her
down on the sofa, and ran upstairs for a little whisky, which at last
she could sip. The tears were hopping down his face. As he kneeled in
front of her he did not cry, but the tears ran down his face quickly.
Morel, on the opposite side of the room, sat with his elbows on his
knees glaring across.
"What's a-matter with 'er?" he asked.
"Faint!" replied Paul.
The elderly man began to unlace his boots. He stumbled off to bed. His
last fight was fought in that home.
Paul kneeled there, stroking his mother's hand.
"Don't be poorly, mother - don't be poorly!" he said time after time.
"It's nothing, my boy," she murmured.
At last he rose, fetched in a large piece of coal, and raked the fire.
Then he cleared the room, put everything straight, laid the things for
breakfast, and brought his mother's candle.
"Can you go to bed, mother?"
"Yes, I'll come."
"Sleep with Annie, mother, not with him."
"No. I'll sleep in my own bed."
"Don't sleep with him, mother."
"I'll sleep in my own bed."
She rose, and he turned out the gas, then followed her closely upstairs,
carrying her candle. On the landing he kissed her close.
"Good-night!" she said.
He pressed his face upon the pillow in a fury of misery. And yet,
somewhere in his soul, he was at peace because he still loved his mother
best. It was the bitter peace of resignation.
The efforts of his father to conciliate him next day were a great
humiliation to him.
Everybody tried to forget the scene.
DEFEAT OF MIRIAM
PAUL was dissatisfied with himself and with everything. The deepest
of his love belonged to his mother. When he felt he had hurt her, or
wounded his love for her, he could not bear it. Now it was spring, and
there was battle between him and Miriam. This year he had a good deal
against her. She was vaguely aware of it. The old feeling that she was
to be a sacrifice to this love, which she had had when she prayed, was
mingled in all her emotions. She did not at the bottom believe she
ever would have him. She did not believe in herself primarily: doubted
whether she could ever be what he would demand of her. Certainly she
never saw herself living happily through a lifetime with him. She saw
tragedy, sorrow, and sacrifice ahead. And in sacrifice she was proud,
in renunciation she was strong, for she did not trust herself to support
everyday life. She was prepared for the big things and the deep things,
like tragedy. It was the sufficiency of the small day-life she could not
The Easter holidays began happily. Paul was his own frank self. Yet she
felt it would go wrong. On the Sunday afternoon she stood at her bedroom
window, looking across at the oak-trees of the wood, in whose branches a
twilight was tangled, below the bright sky of the afternoon. Grey-green
rosettes of honeysuckle leaves hung before the window, some already, she
fancied, showing bud. It was spring, which she loved and dreaded.
Hearing the clack of the gate she stood in suspense. It was a bright
grey day. Paul came into the yard with his bicycle, which glittered
as he walked. Usually he rang his bell and laughed towards the house.
To-day he walked with shut lips and cold, cruel bearing, that had
something of a slouch and a sneer in it. She knew him well by now, and
could tell from that keen-looking, aloof young body of his what was
happening inside him. There was a cold correctness in the way he put his
bicycle in its place, that made her heart sink.
She came downstairs nervously. She was wearing a new net blouse that she
thought became her. It had a high collar with a tiny ruff, reminding her
of Mary, Queen of Scots, and making her, she thought, look wonderfully
a woman, and dignified. At twenty she was full-breasted and luxuriously
formed. Her face was still like a soft rich mask, unchangeable. But
her eyes, once lifted, were wonderful. She was afraid of him. He would
notice her new blouse.
He, being in a hard, ironical mood, was entertaining the family to
a description of a service given in the Primitive Methodist Chapel,
conducted by one of the well-known preachers of the sect. He sat at
the head of the table, his mobile face, with the eyes that could be so
beautiful, shining with tenderness or dancing with laughter, now taking
on one expression and then another, in imitation of various people he
was mocking. His mockery always hurt her; it was too near the reality.
He was too clever and cruel. She felt that when his eyes were like this,
hard with mocking hate, he would spare neither himself nor anybody else.
But Mrs. Leivers was wiping her eyes with laughter, and Mr. Leivers,
just awake from his Sunday nap, was rubbing his head in amusement.
The three brothers sat with ruffled, sleepy appearance in their
shirt-sleeves, giving a guffaw from time to time. The whole family loved
a "take-off" more than anything.
He took no notice of Miriam. Later, she saw him remark her new blouse,
saw that the artist approved, but it won from him not a spark of warmth.
She was nervous, could hardly reach the teacups from the shelves.
When the men went out to milk, she ventured to address him personally.
"You were late," she said.
"Was I?" he answered.
There was silence for a while.
"Was it rough riding?" she asked.
"I didn't notice it." She continued quickly to lay the table. When she
had finished -
"Tea won't be for a few minutes. Will you come and look at the
daffodils?" she said.
He rose without answering. They went out into the back garden under
the budding damson-trees. The hills and the sky were clean and cold.
Everything looked washed, rather hard. Miriam glanced at Paul. He was
pale and impassive. It seemed cruel to her that his eyes and brows,
which she loved, could look so hurting.
"Has the wind made you tired?" she asked. She detected an underneath
feeling of weariness about him.
"No, I think not," he answered.
"It must be rough on the road - the wood moans so."
"You can see by the clouds it's a south-west wind; that helps me here."
"You see, I don't cycle, so I don't understand," she murmured.
"Is there need to cycle to know that!" he said.
She thought his sarcasms were unnecessary. They went forward in silence.
Round the wild, tussocky lawn at the back of the house was a thorn
hedge, under which daffodils were craning forward from among their
sheaves of grey-green blades. The cheeks of the flowers were greenish
with cold. But still some had burst, and their gold ruffled and glowed.
Miriam went on her knees before one cluster, took a wild-looking
daffodil between her hands, turned up its face of gold to her, and bowed
down, caressing it with her mouth and cheeks and brow. He stood aside,
with his hands in his pockets, watching her. One after another she
turned up to him the faces of the yellow, bursten flowers appealingly,
fondling them lavishly all the while.
"Aren't they magnificent?" she murmured.
"Magnificent! It's a bit thick - they're pretty!"
She bowed again to her flowers at his censure of her praise. He watched
her crouching, sipping the flowers with fervid kisses.