known all his life.
"And Major Moreton has bought it!" she cried.
"It looks like meanin' something, that does, Mrs. Morel," said the
postman, his blue eyes bright. He was glad to have brought such a lucky
letter. Mrs. Morel went indoors and sat down, trembling. Paul was afraid
lest she might have misread the letter, and might be disappointed after
all. He scrutinised it once, twice. Yes, he became convinced it was
true. Then he sat down, his heart beating with joy.
"Mother!" he exclaimed.
"Didn't I SAY we should do it!" she said, pretending she was not crying.
He took the kettle off the fire and mashed the tea.
"You didn't think, mother - " he began tentatively.
"No, my son - not so much - but I expected a good deal."
"But not so much," he said.
"No - no - but I knew we should do it."
And then she recovered her composure, apparently at least. He sat with
his shirt turned back, showing his young throat almost like a girl's,
and the towel in his hand, his hair sticking up wet.
"Twenty guineas, mother! That's just what you wanted to buy Arthur out.
Now you needn't borrow any. It'll just do."
"Indeed, I shan't take it all," she said.
"Because I shan't."
"Well - you have twelve pounds, I'll have nine."
They cavilled about sharing the twenty guineas. She wanted to take only
the five pounds she needed. He would not hear of it. So they got over
the stress of emotion by quarrelling.
Morel came home at night from the pit, saying:
"They tell me Paul's got first prize for his picture, and sold it to
Lord Henry Bentley for fifty pound."
"Oh, what stories people do tell!" she cried.
"Ha!" he answered. "I said I wor sure it wor a lie. But they said tha'd
told Fred Hodgkisson."
"As if I would tell him such stuff!"
"Ha!" assented the miner.
But he was disappointed nevertheless.
"It's true he has got the first prize," said Mrs. Morel.
The miner sat heavily in his chair.
"Has he, beguy!" he exclaimed.
He stared across the room fixedly.
"But as for fifty pounds - such nonsense!" She was silent awhile. "Major
Moreton bought it for twenty guineas, that's true."
"Twenty guineas! Tha niver says!" exclaimed Morel.
"Yes, and it was worth it."
"Ay!" he said. "I don't misdoubt it. But twenty guineas for a bit of a
paintin' as he knocked off in an hour or two!"
He was silent with conceit of his son. Mrs. Morel sniffed, as if it were
"And when does he handle th' money?" asked the collier.
"That I couldn't tell you. When the picture is sent home, I suppose."
There was silence. Morel stared at the sugar-basin instead of eating his
dinner. His black arm, with the hand all gnarled with work lay on the
table. His wife pretended not to see him rub the back of his hand across
his eyes, nor the smear in the coal-dust on his black face.
"Yes, an' that other lad 'ud 'a done as much if they hadna ha' killed
'im," he said quietly.
The thought of William went through Mrs. Morel like a cold blade. It
left her feeling she was tired, and wanted rest.
Paul was invited to dinner at Mr. Jordan's. Afterwards he said:
"Mother, I want an evening suit."
"Yes, I was afraid you would," she said. She was glad. There was
a moment or two of silence. "There's that one of William's," she
continued, "that I know cost four pounds ten and which he'd only worn
"Should you like me to wear it, mother?" he asked.
"Yes. I think it would fit you - at least the coat. The trousers would
He went upstairs and put on the coat and vest. Coming down, he looked
strange in a flannel collar and a flannel shirt-front, with an evening
coat and vest. It was rather large.
"The tailor can make it right," she said, smoothing her hand over his
shoulder. "It's beautiful stuff. I never could find in my heart to let
your father wear the trousers, and very glad I am now."
And as she smoothed her hand over the silk collar she thought of her
eldest son. But this son was living enough inside the clothes. She
passed her hand down his back to feel him. He was alive and hers. The
other was dead.
He went out to dinner several times in his evening suit that had been
William's. Each time his mother's heart was firm with pride and joy. He
was started now. The studs she and the children had bought for William
were in his shirt-front; he wore one of William's dress shirts. But he
had an elegant figure. His face was rough, but warm-looking and rather
pleasing. He did not look particularly a gentleman, but she thought he
looked quite a man.
He told her everything that took place, everything that was said. It was
as if she had been there. And he was dying to introduce her to these new
friends who had dinner at seven-thirty in the evening.
"Go along with you!" she said. "What do they want to know me for?"
"They do!" he cried indignantly. "If they want to know me - and they say
they do - then they want to know you, because you are quite as clever as
"Go along with you, child!" she laughed.
But she began to spare her hands. They, too, were work-gnarled now. The
skin was shiny with so much hot water, the knuckles rather swollen. But
she began to be careful to keep them out of soda. She regretted what
they had been - so small and exquisite. And when Annie insisted on her
having more stylish blouses to suit her age, she submitted. She even
went so far as to allow a black velvet bow to be placed on her hair.
Then she sniffed in her sarcastic manner, and was sure she looked a
sight. But she looked a lady, Paul declared, as much as Mrs. Major
Moreton, and far, far nicer. The family was coming on. Only Morel
remained unchanged, or rather, lapsed slowly.
Paul and his mother now had long discussions about life. Religion was
fading into the background. He had shovelled away an the beliefs that
would hamper him, had cleared the ground, and come more or less to the
bedrock of belief that one should feel inside oneself for right and
wrong, and should have the patience to gradually realise one's God. Now
life interested him more.
"You know," he said to his mother, "I don't want to belong to the
well-to-do middle class. I like my common people best. I belong to the
"But if anyone else said so, my son, wouldn't you be in a tear. YOU know
you consider yourself equal to any gentleman."
"In myself," he answered, "not in my class or my education or my
manners. But in myself I am."
"Very well, then. Then why talk about the common people?"
"Because - the difference between people isn't in their class, but in
themselves. Only from the middle classes one gets ideas, and from the
common people - life itself, warmth. You feel their hates and loves."
"It's all very well, my boy. But, then, why don't you go and talk to
your father's pals?"
"But they're rather different."
"Not at all. They're the common people. After all, whom do you mix with
now - among the common people? Those that exchange ideas, like the middle
classes. The rest don't interest you."
"But - there's the life - "
"I don't believe there's a jot more life from Miriam than you could get
from any educated girl - say Miss Moreton. It is YOU who are snobbish
She frankly WANTED him to climb into the middle classes, a thing not
very difficult, she knew. And she wanted him in the end to marry a lady.
Now she began to combat him in his restless fretting. He still kept up
his connection with Miriam, could neither break free nor go the whole
length of engagement. And this indecision seemed to bleed him of his
energy. Moreover, his mother suspected him of an unrecognised leaning
towards Clara, and, since the latter was a married woman, she wished he
would fall in love with one of the girls in a better station of life.
But he was stupid, and would refuse to love or even to admire a girl
much, just because she was his social superior.
"My boy," said his mother to him, "all your cleverness, your breaking
away from old things, and taking life in your own hands, doesn't seem to
bring you much happiness."
"What is happiness!" he cried. "It's nothing to me! How AM I to be
The plump question disturbed her.
"That's for you to judge, my lad. But if you could meet some GOOD
woman who would MAKE you happy - and you began to think of settling your
life - when you have the means - so that you could work without all this
fretting - it would be much better for you."
He frowned. His mother caught him on the raw of his wound of Miriam.
He pushed the tumbled hair off his forehead, his eyes full of pain and
"You mean easy, mother," he cried. "That's a woman's whole doctrine for
life - ease of soul and physical comfort. And I do despise it."
"Oh, do you!" replied his mother. "And do you call yours a divine
"Yes. I don't care about its divinity. But damn your happiness! So long
as life's full, it doesn't matter whether it's happy or not. I'm afraid
your happiness would bore me."
"You never give it a chance," she said. Then suddenly all her passion
of grief over him broke out. "But it does matter!" she cried. "And you
OUGHT to be happy, you ought to try to be happy, to live to be happy.
How could I bear to think your life wouldn't be a happy one!"
"Your own's been bad enough, mater, but it hasn't left you so much worse
off than the folk who've been happier. I reckon you've done well. And I
am the same. Aren't I well enough off?"
"You're not, my son. Battle - battle - and suffer. It's about all you do,
as far as I can see."
"But why not, my dear? I tell you it's the best - "
"It isn't. And one OUGHT to be happy, one OUGHT."
By this time Mrs. Morel was trembling violently. Struggles of this kind
often took place between her and her son, when she seemed to fight for
his very life against his own will to die. He took her in his arms. She
was ill and pitiful.
"Never mind, Little," he murmured. "So long as you don't feel life's
paltry and a miserable business, the rest doesn't matter, happiness or
She pressed him to her.
"But I want you to be happy," she said pathetically.
"Eh, my dear - say rather you want me to live."
Mrs. Morel felt as if her heart would break for him. At this rate she
knew he would not live. He had that poignant carelessness about himself,
his own suffering, his own life, which is a form of slow suicide. It
almost broke her heart. With all the passion of her strong nature she
hated Miriam for having in this subtle way undermined his joy. It did
not matter to her that Miriam could not help it. Miriam did it, and she
She wished so much he would fall in love with a girl equal to be his
mate - educated and strong. But he would not look at anybody above him
in station. He seemed to like Mrs. Dawes. At any rate that feeling was
wholesome. His mother prayed and prayed for him, that he might not be
wasted. That was all her prayer - not for his soul or his righteousness,
but that he might not be wasted. And while he slept, for hours and hours
she thought and prayed for him.
He drifted away from Miriam imperceptibly, without knowing he was going.
Arthur only left the army to be married. The baby was born six months
after his wedding. Mrs. Morel got him a job under the firm again, at
twenty-one shillings a week. She furnished for him, with the help of
Beatrice's mother, a little cottage of two rooms. He was caught now. It
did not matter how he kicked and struggled, he was fast. For a time he
chafed, was irritable with his young wife, who loved him; he went almost
distracted when the baby, which was delicate, cried or gave trouble. He
grumbled for hours to his mother. She only said: "Well, my lad, you did
it yourself, now you must make the best of it." And then the grit
came out in him. He buckled to work, undertook his responsibilities,
acknowledged that he belonged to his wife and child, and did make a good
best of it. He had never been very closely inbound into the family. Now
he was gone altogether.
The months went slowly along. Paul had more or less got into connection
with the Socialist, Suffragette, Unitarian people in Nottingham, owing
to his acquaintance with Clara. One day a friend of his and of Clara's,
in Bestwood, asked him to take a message to Mrs. Dawes. He went in the
evening across Sneinton Market to Bluebell Hill. He found the house in
a mean little street paved with granite cobbles and having causeways of
dark blue, grooved bricks. The front door went up a step from off this
rough pavement, where the feet of the passersby rasped and clattered.
The brown paint on the door was so old that the naked wood showed
between the rents. He stood on the street below and knocked. There came
a heavy footstep; a large, stout woman of about sixty towered above him.
He looked up at her from the pavement. She had a rather severe face.
She admitted him into the parlour, which opened on to the street. It was
a small, stuffy, defunct room, of mahogany, and deathly enlargements of
photographs of departed people done in carbon. Mrs. Radford left him.
She was stately, almost martial. In a moment Clara appeared. She flushed
deeply, and he was covered with confusion. It seemed as if she did not
like being discovered in her home circumstances.
"I thought it couldn't be your voice," she said.
But she might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. She invited him
out of the mausoleum of a parlour into the kitchen.
That was a little, darkish room too, but it was smothered in white lace.
The mother had seated herself again by the cupboard, and was drawing
thread from a vast web of lace. A clump of fluff and ravelled cotton was
at her right hand, a heap of three-quarter-inch lace lay on her
left, whilst in front of her was the mountain of lace web, piling the
hearthrug. Threads of curly cotton, pulled out from between the lengths
of lace, strewed over the fender and the fireplace. Paul dared not go
forward, for fear of treading on piles of white stuff.
On the table was a jenny for carding the lace. There was a pack of brown
cardboard squares, a pack of cards of lace, a little box of pins, and on
the sofa lay a heap of drawn lace.
The room was all lace, and it was so dark and warm that the white, snowy
stuff seemed the more distinct.
"If you're coming in you won't have to mind the work," said Mrs.
Radford. "I know we're about blocked up. But sit you down."
Clara, much embarrassed, gave him a chair against the wall opposite the
white heaps. Then she herself took her place on the sofa, shamedly.
"Will you drink a bottle of stout?" Mrs. Radford asked. "Clara, get him
a bottle of stout."
He protested, but Mrs. Radford insisted.
"You look as if you could do with it," she said. "Haven't you never any
more colour than that?"
"It's only a thick skin I've got that doesn't show the blood through,"
Clara, ashamed and chagrined, brought him a bottle of stout and a glass.
He poured out some of the black stuff.
"Well," he said, lifting the glass, "here's health!"
"And thank you," said Mrs. Radford.
He took a drink of stout.
"And light yourself a cigarette, so long as you don't set the house on
fire," said Mrs. Radford.
"Thank you," he replied.
"Nay, you needn't thank me," she answered. "I s'll be glad to smell a
bit of smoke in th' 'ouse again. A house o' women is as dead as a house
wi' no fire, to my thinkin'. I'm not a spider as likes a corner to
myself. I like a man about, if he's only something to snap at."
Clara began to work. Her jenny spun with a subdued buzz; the white
lace hopped from between her fingers on to the card. It was filled; she
snipped off the length, and pinned the end down to the banded lace. Then
she put a new card in her jenny. Paul watched her. She sat square and
magnificent. Her throat and arms were bare. The blood still mantled
below her ears; she bent her head in shame of her humility. Her face was
set on her work. Her arms were creamy and full of life beside the white
lace; her large, well-kept hands worked with a balanced movement, as if
nothing would hurry them. He, not knowing, watched her all the time. He
saw the arch of her neck from the shoulder, as she bent her head; he saw
the coil of dun hair; he watched her moving, gleaming arms.
"I've heard a bit about you from Clara," continued the mother. "You're
in Jordan's, aren't you?" She drew her lace unceasing.
"Ay, well, and I can remember when Thomas Jordan used to ask ME for one
of my toffies."
"Did he?" laughed Paul. "And did he get it?"
"Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't - which was latterly. For he's the
sort that takes all and gives naught, he is - or used to be."
"I think he's very decent," said Paul.
"Yes; well, I'm glad to hear it."
Mrs. Radford looked across at him steadily. There was something
determined about her that he liked. Her face was falling loose, but her
eyes were calm, and there was something strong in her that made it
seem she was not old; merely her wrinkles and loose cheeks were an
anachronism. She had the strength and sang-froid of a woman in the prime
of life. She continued drawing the lace with slow, dignified movements.
The big web came up inevitably over her apron; the length of lace fell
away at her side. Her arms were finely shapen, but glossy and yellow
as old ivory. They had not the peculiar dull gleam that made Clara's so
fascinating to him.
"And you've been going with Miriam Leivers?" the mother asked him.
"Well - " he answered.
"Yes, she's a nice girl," she continued. "She's very nice, but she's a
bit too much above this world to suit my fancy."
"She is a bit like that," he agreed.
"She'll never be satisfied till she's got wings and can fly over
everybody's head, she won't," she said.
Clara broke in, and he told her his message. She spoke humbly to him. He
had surprised her in her drudgery. To have her humble made him feel as
if he were lifting his head in expectation.
"Do you like jennying?" he asked.
"What can a woman do!" she replied bitterly.
"Is it sweated?"
"More or less. Isn't ALL woman's work? That's another trick the men have
played, since we force ourselves into the labour market."
"Now then, you shut up about the men," said her mother. "If the women
wasn't fools, the men wouldn't be bad uns, that's what I say. No man was
ever that bad wi' me but what he got it back again. Not but what they're
a lousy lot, there's no denying it."
"But they're all right really, aren't they?" he asked.
"Well, they're a bit different from women," she answered.
"Would you care to be back at Jordan's?" he asked Clara.
"I don't think so," she replied.
"Yes, she would!" cried her mother; "thank her stars if she could get
back. Don't you listen to her. She's for ever on that 'igh horse of
hers, an' it's back's that thin an' starved it'll cut her in two one of
Clara suffered badly from her mother. Paul felt as if his eyes were
coming very wide open. Wasn't he to take Clara's fulminations so
seriously, after all? She spun steadily at her work. He experienced a
thrill of joy, thinking she might need his help. She seemed denied and
deprived of so much. And her arm moved mechanically, that should never
have been subdued to a mechanism, and her head was bowed to the lace,
that never should have been bowed. She seemed to be stranded there
among the refuse that life has thrown away, doing her jennying. It was
a bitter thing to her to be put aside by life, as if it had no use for
her. No wonder she protested.
She came with him to the door. He stood below in the mean street,
looking up at her. So fine she was in her stature and her bearing, she
reminded him of Juno dethroned. As she stood in the doorway, she winced
from the street, from her surroundings.
"And you will go with Mrs. Hodgkisson to Hucknall?"
He was talking quite meaninglessly, only watching her. Her grey eyes at
last met his. They looked dumb with humiliation, pleading with a kind of
captive misery. He was shaken and at a loss. He had thought her high and
When he left her, he wanted to run. He went to the station in a sort of
dream, and was at home without realising he had moved out of her street.
He had an idea that Susan, the overseer of the Spiral girls, was about
to be married. He asked her the next day.
"I say, Susan, I heard a whisper of your getting married. What about
Susan flushed red.
"Who's been talking to you?" she replied.
"Nobody. I merely heard a whisper that you WERE thinking - "
"Well, I am, though you needn't tell anybody. What's more, I wish I
"Nay, Susan, you won't make me believe that."
"Shan't I? You CAN believe it, though. I'd rather stop here a thousand
Paul was perturbed.
The girl's colour was high, and her eyes flashed.
"And must you?"
For answer, she looked at him. There was about him a candour and
gentleness which made the women trust him. He understood.
"Ah, I'm sorry," he said.
Tears came to her eyes.
"But you'll see it'll turn out all right. You'll make the best of it,"
he continued rather wistfully.
"There's nothing else for it."
"Yea, there's making the worst of it. Try and make it all right."
He soon made occasion to call again on Clara.
"Would you," he said, "care to come back to Jordan's?"
She put down her work, laid her beautiful arms on the table, and looked
at him for some moments without answering. Gradually the flush mounted
"Why?" she asked.
Paul felt rather awkward.
"Well, because Susan is thinking of leaving," he said.
Clara went on with her jennying. The white lace leaped in little jumps
and bounds on to the card. He waited for her. Without raising her head,
she said at last, in a peculiar low voice:
"Have you said anything about it?"
"Except to you, not a word."
There was again a long silence.
"I will apply when the advertisement is out," she said.
"You will apply before that. I will let you know exactly when."
She went on spinning her little machine, and did not contradict him.
Clara came to Jordan's. Some of the older hands, Fanny among them,
remembered her earlier rule, and cordially disliked the memory. Clara
had always been "ikey", reserved, and superior. She had never mixed with
the girls as one of themselves. If she had occasion to find fault, she
did it coolly and with perfect politeness, which the defaulter felt to
be a bigger insult than crassness. Towards Fanny, the poor, overstrung
hunchback, Clara was unfailingly compassionate and gentle, as a result
of which Fanny shed more bitter tears than ever the rough tongues of the
other overseers had caused her.
There was something in Clara that Paul disliked, and much that piqued
him. If she were about, he always watched her strong throat or her neck,
upon which the blonde hair grew low and fluffy. There was a fine down,
almost invisible, upon the skin of her face and arms, and when once he
had perceived it, he saw it always.
When he was at his work, painting in the afternoon, she would come and
stand near to him, perfectly motionless. Then he felt her, though she
neither spoke nor touched him. Although she stood a yard away he felt
as if he were in contact with her. Then he could paint no more. He flung
down the brushes, and turned to talk to her.
Sometimes she praised his work; sometimes she was critical and cold.
"You are affected in that piece," she would say; and, as there was an
element of truth in her condemnation, his blood boiled with anger.
Again: "What of this?" he would ask enthusiastically.
"H'm!" She made a small doubtful sound. "It doesn't interest me much."
"Because you don't understand it," he retorted.
"Then why ask me about it?"
"Because I thought you would understand."
She would shrug her shoulders in scorn of his work. She maddened him. He
was furious. Then he abused her, and went into passionate exposition of
his stuff. This amused and stimulated her. But she never owned that she
had been wrong.
During the ten years that she had belonged to the women's movement
she had acquired a fair amount of education, and, having had some of
Miriam's passion to be instructed, had taught herself French, and could
read in that language with a struggle. She considered herself as a woman
apart, and particularly apart, from her class. The girls in the Spiral
department were all of good homes. It was a small, special industry, and
had a certain distinction. There was an air of refinement in both rooms.