But Clara was aloof also from her fellow-workers.
None of these things, however, did she reveal to Paul. She was not the
one to give herself away. There was a sense of mystery about her. She
was so reserved, he felt she had much to reserve. Her history was open
on the surface, but its inner meaning was hidden from everybody. It was
exciting. And then sometimes he caught her looking at him from under
her brows with an almost furtive, sullen scrutiny, which made him move
quickly. Often she met his eyes. But then her own were, as it were,
covered over, revealing nothing. She gave him a little, lenient smile.
She was to him extraordinarily provocative, because of the knowledge she
seemed to possess, and gathered fruit of experience he could not attain.
One day he picked up a copy of _Lettres de mon Moulin_ from her
"You read French, do you?" he cried.
Clara glanced round negligently. She was making an elastic stocking
of heliotrope silk, turning the Spiral machine with slow, balanced
regularity, occasionally bending down to see her work or to adjust the
needles; then her magnificent neck, with its down and fine pencils of
hair, shone white against the lavender, lustrous silk. She turned a few
more rounds, and stopped.
"What did you say?" she asked, smiling sweetly.
Paul's eyes glittered at her insolent indifference to him.
"I did not know you read French," he said, very polite.
"Did you not?" she replied, with a faint, sarcastic smile.
"Rotten swank!" he said, but scarcely loud enough to be heard.
He shut his mouth angrily as he watched her. She seemed to scorn the
work she mechanically produced; yet the hose she made were as nearly
perfect as possible.
"You don't like Spiral work," he said.
"Oh, well, all work is work," she answered, as if she knew all about it.
He marvelled at her coldness. He had to do everything hotly. She must be
"What would you prefer to do?" he asked.
She laughed at him indulgently, as she said:
"There is so little likelihood of my ever being given a choice, that I
haven't wasted time considering."
"Pah!" he said, contemptuous on his side now. "You only say that because
you're too proud to own up what you want and can't get."
"You know me very well," she replied coldly.
"I know you think you're terrific great shakes, and that you live under
the eternal insult of working in a factory."
He was very angry and very rude. She merely turned away from him in
disdain. He walked whistling down the room, flirted and laughed with
Later on he said to himself:
"What was I so impudent to Clara for?" He was rather annoyed with
himself, at the same time glad. "Serve her right; she stinks with silent
pride," he said to himself angrily.
In the afternoon he came down. There was a certain weight on his
heart which he wanted to remove. He thought to do it by offering her
"Have one?" he said. "I bought a handful to sweeten me up."
To his great relief, she accepted. He sat on the work-bench beside her
machine, twisting a piece of silk round his finger. She loved him for
his quick, unexpected movements, like a young animal. His feet swung
as he pondered. The sweets lay strewn on the bench. She bent over her
machine, grinding rhythmically, then stooping to see the stocking
that hung beneath, pulled down by the weight. He watched the handsome
crouching of her back, and the apron-strings curling on the floor.
"There is always about you," he said, "a sort of waiting. Whatever I see
you doing, you're not really there: you are waiting - like Penelope when
she did her weaving." He could not help a spurt of wickedness. "I'll
call you Penelope," he said.
"Would it make any difference?" she said, carefully removing one of her
"That doesn't matter, so long as it pleases me. Here, I say, you seem to
forget I'm your boss. It just occurs to me."
"And what does that mean?" she asked coolly.
"It means I've got a right to boss you."
"Is there anything you want to complain about?"
"Oh, I say, you needn't be nasty," he said angrily.
"I don't know what you want," she said, continuing her task.
"I want you to treat me nicely and respectfully."
"Call you 'sir', perhaps?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, call me 'sir'. I should love it."
"Then I wish you would go upstairs, sir."
His mouth closed, and a frown came on his face. He jumped suddenly down.
"You're too blessed superior for anything," he said.
And he went away to the other girls. He felt he was being angrier than
he had any need to be. In fact, he doubted slightly that he was showing
off. But if he were, then he would. Clara heard him laughing, in a way
she hated, with the girls down the next room.
When at evening he went through the department after the girls had gone,
he saw his chocolates lying untouched in front of Clara's machine. He
left them. In the morning they were still there, and Clara was at work.
Later on Minnie, a little brunette they called Pussy, called to him:
"Hey, haven't you got a chocolate for anybody?"
"Sorry, Pussy," he replied. "I meant to have offered them; then I went
and forgot 'em."
"I think you did," she answered.
"I'll bring you some this afternoon. You don't want them after they've
been lying about, do you?"
"Oh, I'm not particular," smiled Pussy.
"Oh no," he said. "They'll be dusty."
He went up to Clara's bench.
"Sorry I left these things littering about," he said.
She flushed scarlet. He gathered them together in his fist.
"They'll be dirty now," he said. "You should have taken them. I wonder
why you didn't. I meant to have told you I wanted you to."
He flung them out of the window into the yard below. He just glanced at
her. She winced from his eyes.
In the afternoon he brought another packet.
"Will you take some?" he said, offering them first to Clara. "These are
She accepted one, and put it on to the bench.
"Oh, take several - for luck," he said.
She took a couple more, and put them on the bench also. Then she turned
in confusion to her work. He went on up the room.
"Here you are, Pussy," he said. "Don't be greedy!"
"Are they all for her?" cried the others, rushing up.
"Of course they're not," he said.
The girls clamoured round. Pussy drew back from her mates.
"Come out!" she cried. "I can have first pick, can't I, Paul?"
"Be nice with 'em," he said, and went away.
"You ARE a dear," the girls cried.
"Tenpence," he answered.
He went past Clara without speaking. She felt the three chocolate creams
would burn her if she touched them. It needed all her courage to slip
them into the pocket of her apron.
The girls loved him and were afraid of him. He was so nice while he
was nice, but if he were offended, so distant, treating them as if they
scarcely existed, or not more than the bobbins of thread. And then, if
they were impudent, he said quietly: "Do you mind going on with your
work," and stood and watched.
When he celebrated his twenty-third birthday, the house was in trouble.
Arthur was just going to be married. His mother was not well. His
father, getting an old man, and lame from his accidents, was given
a paltry, poor job. Miriam was an eternal reproach. He felt he owed
himself to her, yet could not give himself. The house, moreover, needed
his support. He was pulled in all directions. He was not glad it was his
birthday. It made him bitter.
He got to work at eight o'clock. Most of the clerks had not turned up.
The girls were not due till 8.30. As he was changing his coat, he heard
a voice behind him say:
"Paul, Paul, I want you."
It was Fanny, the hunchback, standing at the top of her stairs, her face
radiant with a secret. Paul looked at her in astonishment.
"I want you," she said.
He stood, at a loss.
"Come on," she coaxed. "Come before you begin on the letters."
He went down the half-dozen steps into her dry, narrow, "finishing-off"
room. Fanny walked before him: her black bodice was short - the waist was
under her armpits - and her green-black cashmere skirt seemed very
long, as she strode with big strides before the young man, himself so
graceful. She went to her seat at the narrow end of the room, where the
window opened on to chimney-pots. Paul watched her thin hands and her
flat red wrists as she excitedly twitched her white apron, which was
spread on the bench in front of her. She hesitated.
"You didn't think we'd forgot you?" she asked, reproachful.
"Why?" he asked. He had forgotten his birthday himself.
"'Why,' he says! 'Why!' Why, look here!" She pointed to the calendar,
and he saw, surrounding the big black number "21", hundreds of little
crosses in black-lead.
"Oh, kisses for my birthday," he laughed. "How did you know?"
"Yes, you want to know, don't you?" Fanny mocked, hugely delighted.
"There's one from everybody - except Lady Clara - and two from some. But I
shan't tell you how many I put."
"Oh, I know, you're spooney," he said.
"There you ARE mistaken!" she cried, indignant. "I could never be so
soft." Her voice was strong and contralto.
"You always pretend to be such a hard-hearted hussy," he laughed. "And
you know you're as sentimental - "
"I'd rather be called sentimental than frozen meat," Fanny blurted. Paul
knew she referred to Clara, and he smiled.
"Do you say such nasty things about me?" he laughed.
"No, my duck," the hunchback woman answered, lavishly tender. She was
thirty-nine. "No, my duck, because you don't think yourself a fine
figure in marble and us nothing but dirt. I'm as good as you, aren't I,
Paul?" and the question delighted her.
"Why, we're not better than one another, are we?" he replied.
"But I'm as good as you, aren't I, Paul?" she persisted daringly.
"Of course you are. If it comes to goodness, you're better."
She was rather afraid of the situation. She might get hysterical.
"I thought I'd get here before the others - won't they say I'm deep! Now
shut your eyes - " she said.
"And open your mouth, and see what God sends you," he continued, suiting
action to words, and expecting a piece of chocolate. He heard the rustle
of the apron, and a faint clink of metal. "I'm going to look," he said.
He opened his eyes. Fanny, her long cheeks flushed, her blue eyes
shining, was gazing at him. There was a little bundle of paint-tubes on
the bench before him. He turned pale.
"No, Fanny," he said quickly.
"From us all," she answered hastily.
"No, but - "
"Are they the right sort?" she asked, rocking herself with delight.
"Jove! they're the best in the catalogue."
"But they're the right sorts?" she cried.
"They're off the little list I'd made to get when my ship came in." He
bit his lip.
Fanny was overcome with emotion. She must turn the conversation.
"They was all on thorns to do it; they all paid their shares, all except
the Queen of Sheba."
The Queen of Sheba was Clara.
"And wouldn't she join?" Paul asked.
"She didn't get the chance; we never told her; we wasn't going to have
HER bossing THIS show. We didn't WANT her to join."
Paul laughed at the woman. He was much moved. At last he must go. She
was very close to him. Suddenly she flung her arms round his neck and
kissed him vehemently.
"I can give you a kiss to-day," she said apologetically. "You've looked
so white, it's made my heart ache."
Paul kissed her, and left her. Her arms were so pitifully thin that his
heart ached also.
That day he met Clara as he ran downstairs to wash his hands at
"You have stayed to dinner!" he exclaimed. It was unusual for her.
"Yes; and I seem to have dined on old surgical-appliance stock. I MUST
go out now, or I shall feel stale india-rubber right through."
She lingered. He instantly caught at her wish.
"You are going anywhere?" he asked.
They went together up to the Castle. Outdoors she dressed very plainly,
down to ugliness; indoors she always looked nice. She walked with
hesitating steps alongside Paul, bowing and turning away from him.
Dowdy in dress, and drooping, she showed to great disadvantage. He could
scarcely recognise her strong form, that seemed to slumber with power.
She appeared almost insignificant, drowning her stature in her stoop, as
she shrank from the public gaze.
The Castle grounds were very green and fresh. Climbing the precipitous
ascent, he laughed and chattered, but she was silent, seeming to brood
over something. There was scarcely time to go inside the squat, square
building that crowns the bluff of rock. They leaned upon the wall where
the cliff runs sheer down to the Park. Below them, in their holes in the
sandstone, pigeons preened themselves and cooed softly. Away down upon
the boulevard at the foot of the rock, tiny trees stood in their
own pools of shadow, and tiny people went scurrying about in almost
"You feel as if you could scoop up the folk like tadpoles, and have a
handful of them," he said.
She laughed, answering:
"Yes; it is not necessary to get far off in order to see us
proportionately. The trees are much more significant."
"Bulk only," he said.
She laughed cynically.
Away beyond the boulevard the thin stripes of the metals showed upon the
railway-track, whose margin was crowded with little stacks of timber,
beside which smoking toy engines fussed. Then the silver string of the
canal lay at random among the black heaps. Beyond, the dwellings, very
dense on the river flat, looked like black, poisonous herbage, in thick
rows and crowded beds, stretching right away, broken now and then by
taller plants, right to where the river glistened in a hieroglyph across
the country. The steep scarp cliffs across the river looked puny. Great
stretches of country darkened with trees and faintly brightened with
corn-land, spread towards the haze, where the hills rose blue beyond
"It is comforting," said Mrs. Dawes, "to think the town goes no farther.
It is only a LITTLE sore upon the country yet."
"A little scab," Paul said.
She shivered. She loathed the town. Looking drearily across at the
country which was forbidden her, her impassive face, pale and hostile,
she reminded Paul of one of the bitter, remorseful angels.
"But the town's all right," he said; "it's only temporary. This is the
crude, clumsy make-shift we've practised on, till we find out what the
idea is. The town will come all right."
The pigeons in the pockets of rock, among the perched bushes, cooed
comfortably. To the left the large church of St. Mary rose into space,
to keep close company with the Castle, above the heaped rubble of the
town. Mrs. Dawes smiled brightly as she looked across the country.
"I feel better," she said.
"Thank you," he replied. "Great compliment!"
"Oh, my brother!" she laughed.
"H'm! that's snatching back with the left hand what you gave with the
right, and no mistake," he said.
She laughed in amusement at him.
"But what was the matter with you?" he asked. "I know you were brooding
something special. I can see the stamp of it on your face yet."
"I think I will not tell you," she said.
"All right, hug it," he answered.
She flushed and bit her lip.
"No," she said, "it was the girls."
"What about 'em?" Paul asked.
"They have been plotting something for a week now, and to-day they seem
particularly full of it. All alike; they insult me with their secrecy."
"Do they?" he asked in concern.
"I should not mind," she went on, in the metallic, angry tone, "if they
did not thrust it into my face - the fact that they have a secret."
"Just like women," said he.
"It is hateful, their mean gloating," she said intensely.
Paul was silent. He knew what the girls gloated over. He was sorry to be
the cause of this new dissension.
"They can have all the secrets in the world," she went on, brooding
bitterly; "but they might refrain from glorying in them, and making me
feel more out of it than ever. It is - it is almost unbearable."
Paul thought for a few minutes. He was much perturbed.
"I will tell you what it's all about," he said, pale and nervous. "It's
my birthday, and they've bought me a fine lot of paints, all the
girls. They're jealous of you" - he felt her stiffen coldly at the word
'jealous' - "merely because I sometimes bring you a book," he added
slowly. "But, you see, it's only a trifle. Don't bother about it, will
you - because" - he laughed quickly - "well, what would they say if they
saw us here now, in spite of their victory?"
She was angry with him for his clumsy reference to their present
intimacy. It was almost insolent of him. Yet he was so quiet, she
forgave him, although it cost her an effort.
Their two hands lay on the rough stone parapet of the Castle wall. He
had inherited from his mother a fineness of mould, so that his hands
were small and vigorous. Hers were large, to match her large limbs, but
white and powerful looking. As Paul looked at them he knew her. "She is
wanting somebody to take her hands - for all she is so contemptuous of
us," he said to himself. And she saw nothing but his two hands, so warm
and alive, which seemed to live for her. He was brooding now, staring
out over the country from under sullen brows. The little, interesting
diversity of shapes had vanished from the scene; all that remained was a
vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy, the same in all the houses
and the river-flats and the people and the birds; they were only shapen
differently. And now that the forms seemed to have melted away, there
remained the mass from which all the landscape was composed, a dark mass
of struggle and pain. The factory, the girls, his mother, the
large, uplifted church, the thicket of the town, merged into one
atmosphere - dark, brooding, and sorrowful, every bit.
"Is that two o'clock striking?" Mrs. Dawes said in surprise.
Paul started, and everything sprang into form, regained its
individuality, its forgetfulness, and its cheerfulness.
They hurried back to work.
When he was in the rush of preparing for the night's post, examining the
work up from Fanny's room, which smelt of ironing, the evening postman
"'Mr. Paul Morel,'" he said, smiling, handing Paul a package. "A lady's
handwriting! Don't let the girls see it."
The postman, himself a favourite, was pleased to make fun of the girls'
affection for Paul.
It was a volume of verse with a brief note: "You will allow me to send
you this, and so spare me my isolation. I also sympathise and wish you
well. - C.D." Paul flushed hot.
"Good Lord! Mrs. Dawes. She can't afford it. Good Lord, who ever'd have
He was suddenly intensely moved. He was filled with the warmth of her.
In the glow he could almost feel her as if she were present - her arms,
her shoulders, her bosom, see them, feel them, almost contain them.
This move on the part of Clara brought them into closer intimacy. The
other girls noticed that when Paul met Mrs. Dawes his eyes lifted and
gave that peculiar bright greeting which they could interpret. Knowing
he was unaware, Clara made no sign, save that occasionally she turned
aside her face from him when he came upon her.
They walked out together very often at dinner-time; it was quite open,
quite frank. Everybody seemed to feel that he was quite unaware of the
state of his own feeling, and that nothing was wrong. He talked to her
now with some of the old fervour with which he had talked to Miriam, but
he cared less about the talk; he did not bother about his conclusions.
One day in October they went out to Lambley for tea. Suddenly they came
to a halt on top of the hill. He climbed and sat on a gate, she sat
on the stile. The afternoon was perfectly still, with a dim haze, and
yellow sheaves glowing through. They were quiet.
"How old were you when you married?" he asked quietly.
Her voice was subdued, almost submissive. She would tell him now.
"It is eight years ago?"
"And when did you leave him?"
"Three years ago."
"Five years! Did you love him when you married him?"
She was silent for some time; then she said slowly:
"I thought I did - more or less. I didn't think much about it. And he
wanted me. I was very prudish then."
"And you sort of walked into it without thinking?"
"Yes. I seemed to have been asleep nearly all my life."
"_Somnambule_? But - when did you wake up?"
"I don't know that I ever did, or ever have - since I was a child."
"You went to sleep as you grew to be a woman? How queer! And he didn't
"No; he never got there," she replied, in a monotone.
The brown birds dashed over the hedges where the rose-hips stood naked
"Got where?" he asked.
"At me. He never really mattered to me."
The afternoon was so gently warm and dim. Red roofs of the cottages
burned among the blue haze. He loved the day. He could feel, but he
could not understand, what Clara was saying.
"But why did you leave him? Was he horrid to you?"
She shuddered lightly.
"He - he sort of degraded me. He wanted to bully me because he hadn't
got me. And then I felt as if I wanted to run, as if I was fastened and
bound up. And he seemed dirty."
He did not at all see.
"And was he always dirty?" he asked.
"A bit," she replied slowly. "And then he seemed as if he couldn't get
AT me, really. And then he got brutal - he WAS brutal!"
"And why did you leave him finally?"
"Because - because he was unfaithful to me - "
They were both silent for some time. Her hand lay on the gate-post as
she balanced. He put his own over it. His heart beat quickly.
"But did you - were you ever - did you ever give him a chance?"
"To come near to you."
"I married him - and I was willing - "
They both strove to keep their voices steady.
"I believe he loves you," he said.
"It looks like it," she replied.
He wanted to take his hand away, and could not. She saved him by
removing her own. After a silence, he began again:
"Did you leave him out of count all along?"
"He left me," she said.
"And I suppose he couldn't MAKE himself mean everything to you?"
"He tried to bully me into it."
But the conversation had got them both out of their depth. Suddenly Paul
"Come on," he said. "Let's go and get some tea."
They found a cottage, where they sat in the cold parlour. She poured out
his tea. She was very quiet. He felt she had withdrawn again from him.
After tea, she stared broodingly into her tea-cup, twisting her wedding
ring all the time. In her abstraction she took the ring off her finger,
stood it up, and spun it upon the table. The gold became a diaphanous,
glittering globe. It fell, and the ring was quivering upon the table.
She spun it again and again. Paul watched, fascinated.
But she was a married woman, and he believed in simple friendship. And
he considered that he was perfectly honourable with regard to her.
It was only a friendship between man and woman, such as any civilised
persons might have.
He was like so many young men of his own age. Sex had become so
complicated in him that he would have denied that he ever could want
Clara or Miriam or any woman whom he knew. Sex desire was a sort of
detached thing, that did not belong to a woman. He loved Miriam with his
soul. He grew warm at the thought of Clara, he battled with her, he
knew the curves of her breast and shoulders as if they had been moulded
inside him; and yet he did not positively desire her. He would have
denied it for ever. He believed himself really bound to Miriam. If ever
he should marry, some time in the far future, it would be his duty to
marry Miriam. That he gave Clara to understand, and she said nothing,
but left him to his courses. He came to her, Mrs. Dawes, whenever
he could. Then he wrote frequently to Miriam, and visited the girl
occasionally. So he went on through the winter; but he seemed not so
fretted. His mother was easier about him. She thought he was getting
away from Miriam.
Miriam knew now how strong was the attraction of Clara for him; but
still she was certain that the best in him would triumph. His feeling
for Mrs. Dawes - who, moreover, was a married woman - was shallow and
temporal, compared with his love for herself. He would come back to her,
she was sure; with some of his young freshness gone, perhaps, but cured
of his desire for the lesser things which other women than herself could
give him. She could bear all if he were inwardly true to her and must
He saw none of the anomaly of his position. Miriam was his old friend,