"Now we're back at the ordinary level," he said.
She sat down, panting, on the tussocky grass. Her cheeks were flushed
pink. He kissed her, and she gave way to joy.
"And now I'll clean thy boots and make thee fit for respectable folk,"
He kneeled at her feet, worked away with a stick and tufts of grass. She
put her fingers in his hair, drew his head to her, and kissed it.
"What am I supposed to be doing," he said, looking at her laughing;
"cleaning shoes or dibbling with love? Answer me that!"
"Just whichever I please," she replied.
"I'm your boot-boy for the time being, and nothing else!" But they
remained looking into each other's eyes and laughing. Then they kissed
with little nibbling kisses.
"T-t-t-t!" he went with his tongue, like his mother. "I tell you,
nothing gets done when there's a woman about."
And he returned to his boot-cleaning, singing softly. She touched his
thick hair, and he kissed her fingers. He worked away at her shoes. At
last they were quite presentable.
"There you are, you see!" he said. "Aren't I a great hand at restoring
you to respectability? Stand up! There, you look as irreproachable as
He cleaned his own boots a little, washed his hands in a puddle, and
sang. They went on into Clifton village. He was madly in love with her;
every movement she made, every crease in her garments, sent a hot flash
through him and seemed adorable.
The old lady at whose house they had tea was roused into gaiety by them.
"I could wish you'd had something of a better day," she said, hovering
"Nay!" he laughed. "We've been saying how nice it is."
The old lady looked at him curiously. There was a peculiar glow
and charm about him. His eyes were dark and laughing. He rubbed his
moustache with a glad movement.
"Have you been saying SO!" she exclaimed, a light rousing in her old
"Truly!" he laughed.
"Then I'm sure the day's good enough," said the old lady.
She fussed about, and did not want to leave them.
"I don't know whether you'd like some radishes as well," she said to
Clara; "but I've got some in the garden - AND a cucumber."
Clara flushed. She looked very handsome.
"I should like some radishes," she answered.
And the old lady pottered off gleefully.
"If she knew!" said Clara quietly to him.
"Well, she doesn't know; and it shows we're nice in ourselves, at any
rate. You look quite enough to satisfy an archangel, and I'm sure I feel
harmless - so - if it makes you look nice, and makes folk happy when they
have us, and makes us happy - why, we're not cheating them out of much!"
They went on with the meal. When they were going away, the old lady came
timidly with three tiny dahlias in full blow, neat as bees, and speckled
scarlet and white. She stood before Clara, pleased with herself, saying:
"I don't know whether - " and holding the flowers forward in her old
"Oh, how pretty!" cried Clara, accepting the flowers.
"Shall she have them all?" asked Paul reproachfully of the old woman.
"Yes, she shall have them all," she replied, beaming with joy. "You have
got enough for your share."
"Ah, but I shall ask her to give me one!" he teased.
"Then she does as she pleases," said the old lady, smiling. And she
bobbed a little curtsey of delight.
Clara was rather quiet and uncomfortable. As they walked along, he said:
"You don't feel criminal, do you?"
She looked at him with startled grey eyes.
"Criminal!" she said. "No."
"But you seem to feel you have done a wrong?"
"No," she said. "I only think, 'If they knew!'"
"If they knew, they'd cease to understand. As it is, they do understand,
and they like it. What do they matter? Here, with only the trees and me,
you don't feel not the least bit wrong, do you?"
He took her by the arm, held her facing him, holding her eyes with his.
Something fretted him.
"Not sinners, are we?" he said, with an uneasy little frown.
"No," she replied.
He kissed her, laughing.
"You like your little bit of guiltiness, I believe," he said. "I believe
Eve enjoyed it, when she went cowering out of Paradise."
But there was a certain glow and quietness about her that made him glad.
When he was alone in the railway-carriage, he found himself tumultuously
happy, and the people exceedingly nice, and the night lovely, and
Mrs. Morel was sitting reading when he got home. Her health was not good
now, and there had come that ivory pallor into her face which he never
noticed, and which afterwards he never forgot. She did not mention her
own ill-health to him. After all, she thought, it was not much.
"You are late!" she said, looking at him.
His eyes were shining; his face seemed to glow. He smiled to her.
"Yes; I've been down Clifton Grove with Clara."
His mother looked at him again.
"But won't people talk?" she said.
"Why? They know she's a suffragette, and so on. And what if they do
"Of course, there may be nothing wrong in it," said his mother. "But you
know what folks are, and if once she gets talked about - "
"Well, I can't help it. Their jaw isn't so almighty important, after
"I think you ought to consider HER."
"So I DO! What can people say? - that we take a walk together. I believe
"You know I should be GLAD if she weren't a married woman."
"Well, my dear, she lives separate from her husband, and talks on
platforms; so she's already singled out from the sheep, and, as far as
I can see, hasn't much to lose. No; her life's nothing to her, so what's
the worth of nothing? She goes with me - it becomes something. Then she
must pay - we both must pay! Folk are so frightened of paying; they'd
rather starve and die."
"Very well, my son. We'll see how it will end."
"Very well, my mother. I'll abide by the end."
"And she's - she's AWFULLY nice, mother; she is really! You don't know!"
"That's not the same as marrying her."
"It's perhaps better."
There was silence for a while. He wanted to ask his mother something,
but was afraid.
"Should you like to know her?" He hesitated.
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel coolly. "I should like to know what she's like."
"But she's nice, mother, she is! And not a bit common!"
"I never suggested she was."
"But you seem to think she's - not as good as - She's better than
ninety-nine folk out of a hundred, I tell you! She's BETTER, she is!
She's fair, she's honest, she's straight! There isn't anything underhand
or superior about her. Don't be mean about her!"
Mrs. Morel flushed.
"I am sure I am not mean about her. She may be quite as you say, but - "
"You don't approve," he finished.
"And do you expect me to?" she answered coldly.
"Yes! - yes! - if you'd anything about you, you'd be glad! Do you WANT to
"I said I did."
"Then I'll bring her - shall I bring her here?"
"You please yourself."
"Then I WILL bring her here - one Sunday - to tea. If you think a horrid
thing about her, I shan't forgive you."
His mother laughed.
"As if it would make any difference!" she said. He knew he had won.
"Oh, but it feels so fine, when she's there! She's such a queen in her
Occasionally he still walked a little way from chapel with Miriam and
Edgar. He did not go up to the farm. She, however, was very much the
same with him, and he did not feel embarrassed in her presence. One
evening she was alone when he accompanied her. They began by talking
books: it was their unfailing topic. Mrs. Morel had said that his and
Miriam's affair was like a fire fed on books - if there were no more
volumes it would die out. Miriam, for her part, boasted that she could
read him like a book, could place her finger any minute on the chapter
and the line. He, easily taken in, believed that Miriam knew more about
him than anyone else. So it pleased him to talk to her about himself,
like the simplest egoist. Very soon the conversation drifted to his own
doings. It flattered him immensely that he was of such supreme interest.
"And what have you been doing lately?"
"I - oh, not much! I made a sketch of Bestwood from the garden, that is
nearly right at last. It's the hundredth try."
So they went on. Then she said:
"You've not been out, then, lately?"
"Yes; I went up Clifton Grove on Monday afternoon with Clara."
"It was not very nice weather," said Miriam, "was it?"
"But I wanted to go out, and it was all right. The Trent IS full."
"And did you go to Barton?" she asked.
"No; we had tea in Clifton."
"DID you! That would be nice."
"It was! The jolliest old woman! She gave us several pompom dahlias, as
pretty as you like."
Miriam bowed her head and brooded. He was quite unconscious of
concealing anything from her.
"What made her give them you?" she asked.
"Because she liked us - because we were jolly, I should think."
Miriam put her finger in her mouth.
"Were you late home?" she asked.
At last he resented her tone.
"I caught the seven-thirty."
They walked on in silence, and he was angry.
"And how IS Clara?" asked Miriam.
"Quite all right, I think."
"That's good!" she said, with a tinge of irony. "By the way, what of her
husband? One never hears anything of him."
"He's got some other woman, and is also quite all right," he replied.
"At least, so I think."
"I see - you don't know for certain. Don't you think a position like that
is hard on a woman?"
"It's so unjust!" said Miriam. "The man does as he likes - "
"Then let the woman also," he said.
"How can she? And if she does, look at her position!"
"What of it?"
"Why, it's impossible! You don't understand what a woman forfeits - "
"No, I don't. But if a woman's got nothing but her fair fame to feed on,
why, it's thin tack, and a donkey would die of it!"
So she understood his moral attitude, at least, and she knew he would
She never asked him anything direct, but she got to know enough.
Another day, when he saw Miriam, the conversation turned to marriage,
then to Clara's marriage with Dawes.
"You see," he said, "she never knew the fearful importance of marriage.
She thought it was all in the day's march - it would have to come - and
Dawes - well, a good many women would have given their souls to get
him; so why not him? Then she developed into the femme incomprise, and
treated him badly, I'll bet my boots."
"And she left him because he didn't understand her?"
"I suppose so. I suppose she had to. It isn't altogether a question
of understanding; it's a question of living. With him, she was only
half-alive; the rest was dormant, deadened. And the dormant woman was
the femme incomprise, and she HAD to be awakened."
"And what about him."
"I don't know. I rather think he loves her as much as he can, but he's a
"It was something like your mother and father," said Miriam.
"Yes; but my mother, I believe, got real joy and satisfaction out of
my father at first. I believe she had a passion for him; that's why she
stayed with him. After all, they were bound to each other."
"Yes," said Miriam.
"That's what one MUST HAVE, I think," he continued - "the real, real
flame of feeling through another person - once, only once, if it only
lasts three months. See, my mother looks as if she'd HAD everything that
was necessary for her living and developing. There's not a tiny bit of
feeling of sterility about her."
"No," said Miriam.
"And with my father, at first, I'm sure she had the real thing. She
knows; she has been there. You can feet it about her, and about him, and
about hundreds of people you meet every day; and, once it has happened
to you, you can go on with anything and ripen."
"What happened, exactly?" asked Miriam.
"It's so hard to say, but the something big and intense that changes
you when you really come together with somebody else. It almost seems to
fertilise your soul and make it that you can go on and mature."
"And you think your mother had it with your father?"
"Yes; and at the bottom she feels grateful to him for giving it her,
even now, though they are miles apart."
"And you think Clara never had it?"
Miriam pondered this. She saw what he was seeking - a sort of baptism of
fire in passion, it seemed to her. She realised that he would never be
satisfied till he had it. Perhaps it was essential to him, as to some
men, to sow wild oats; and afterwards, when he was satisfied, he would
not rage with restlessness any more, but could settle down and give her
his life into her hands. Well, then, if he must go, let him go and have
his fill - something big and intense, he called it. At any rate, when he
had got it, he would not want it - that he said himself; he would want
the other thing that she could give him. He would want to be owned, so
that he could work. It seemed to her a bitter thing that he must go, but
she could let him go into an inn for a glass of whisky, so she could let
him go to Clara, so long as it was something that would satisfy a need
in him, and leave him free for herself to possess.
"Have you told your mother about Clara?" she asked.
She knew this would be a test of the seriousness of his feeling for the
other woman: she knew he was going to Clara for something vital, not as
a man goes for pleasure to a prostitute, if he told his mother.
"Yes," he said, "and she is coming to tea on Sunday."
"To your house?"
"Yes; I want mater to see her."
There was a silence. Things had gone quicker than she thought. She felt
a sudden bitterness that he could leave her so soon and so entirely.
And was Clara to be accepted by his people, who had been so hostile to
"I may call in as I go to chapel," she said. "It is a long time since I
"Very well," he said, astonished, and unconsciously angry.
On the Sunday afternoon he went to Keston to meet Clara at the station.
As he stood on the platform he was trying to examine in himself if he
had a premonition.
"Do I FEEL as if she'd come?" he said to himself, and he tried to find
out. His heart felt queer and contracted. That seemed like foreboding.
Then he HAD a foreboding she would not come! Then she would not come,
and instead of taking her over the fields home, as he had imagined,
he would have to go alone. The train was late; the afternoon would
be wasted, and the evening. He hated her for not coming. Why had she
promised, then, if she could not keep her promise? Perhaps she had
missed her train - he himself was always missing trains - but that was no
reason why she should miss this particular one. He was angry with her;
he was furious.
Suddenly he saw the train crawling, sneaking round the corner. Here,
then, was the train, but of course she had not come. The green engine
hissed along the platform, the row of brown carriages drew up, several
doors opened. No; she had not come! No! Yes; ah, there she was! She had
a big black hat on! He was at her side in a moment.
"I thought you weren't coming," he said.
She was laughing rather breathlessly as she put out her hand to him;
their eyes met. He took her quickly along the platform, talking at a
great rate to hide his feeling. She looked beautiful. In her hat were
large silk roses, coloured like tarnished gold. Her costume of dark
cloth fitted so beautifully over her breast and shoulders. His pride
went up as he walked with her. He felt the station people, who knew him,
eyed her with awe and admiration.
"I was sure you weren't coming," he laughed shakily.
She laughed in answer, almost with a little cry.
"And I wondered, when I was in the train, WHATEVER I should do if you
weren't there!" she said.
He caught her hand impulsively, and they went along the narrow twitchel.
They took the road into Nuttall and over the Reckoning House Farm. It
was a blue, mild day. Everywhere the brown leaves lay scattered; many
scarlet hips stood upon the hedge beside the wood. He gathered a few for
her to wear.
"Though, really," he said, as he fitted them into the breast of her
coat, "you ought to object to my getting them, because of the birds.
But they don't care much for rose-hips in this part, where they can
get plenty of stuff. You often find the berries going rotten in the
So he chattered, scarcely aware of what he said, only knowing he was
putting berries in the bosom of her coat, while she stood patiently for
him. And she watched his quick hands, so full of life, and it seemed to
her she had never SEEN anything before. Till now, everything had been
They came near to the colliery. It stood quite still and black among the
corn-fields, its immense heap of slag seen rising almost from the oats.
"What a pity there is a coal-pit here where it is so pretty!" said
"Do you think so?" he answered. "You see, I am so used to it I should
miss it. No; and I like the pits here and there. I like the rows of
trucks, and the headstocks, and the steam in the daytime, and the lights
at night. When I was a boy, I always thought a pillar of cloud by day
and a pillar of fire by night was a pit, with its steam, and its
lights, and the burning bank, - and I thought the Lord was always at the
As they drew near home she walked in silence, and seemed to hang back.
He pressed her fingers in his own. She flushed, but gave no response.
"Don't you want to come home?" he asked.
"Yes, I want to come," she replied.
It did not occur to him that her position in his home would be rather a
peculiar and difficult one. To him it seemed just as if one of his men
friends were going to be introduced to his mother, only nicer.
The Morels lived in a house in an ugly street that ran down a steep
hill. The street itself was hideous. The house was rather superior
to most. It was old, grimy, with a big bay window, and it was
semi-detached; but it looked gloomy. Then Paul opened the door to the
garden, and all was different. The sunny afternoon was there, like
another land. By the path grew tansy and little trees. In front of the
window was a plot of sunny grass, with old lilacs round it. And away
went the garden, with heaps of dishevelled chrysanthemums in the
sunshine, down to the sycamore-tree, and the field, and beyond one
looked over a few red-roofed cottages to the hills with all the glow of
the autumn afternoon.
Mrs. Morel sat in her rocking-chair, wearing her black silk blouse.
Her grey-brown hair was taken smooth back from her brow and her high
temples; her face was rather pale. Clara, suffering, followed Paul into
the kitchen. Mrs. Morel rose. Clara thought her a lady, even rather
stiff. The young woman was very nervous. She had almost a wistful look,
"Mother - Clara," said Paul.
Mrs. Morel held out her hand and smiled.
"He has told me a good deal about you," she said.
The blood flamed in Clara's cheek.
"I hope you don't mind my coming," she faltered.
"I was pleased when he said he would bring you," replied Mrs. Morel.
Paul, watching, felt his heart contract with pain. His mother looked so
small, and sallow, and done-for beside the luxuriant Clara.
"It's such a pretty day, mother!" he said. "And we saw a jay."
His mother looked at him; he had turned to her. She thought what a
man he seemed, in his dark, well-made clothes. He was pale and
detached-looking; it would be hard for any woman to keep him. Her heart
glowed; then she was sorry for Clara.
"Perhaps you'll leave your things in the parlour," said Mrs. Morel
nicely to the young woman.
"Oh, thank you," she replied.
"Come on," said Paul, and he led the way into the little front room,
with its old piano, its mahogany furniture, its yellowing marble
mantelpiece. A fire was burning; the place was littered with books and
drawing-boards. "I leave my things lying about," he said. "It's so much
She loved his artist's paraphernalia, and the books, and the photos of
people. Soon he was telling her: this was William, this was William's
young lady in the evening dress, this was Annie and her husband, this
was Arthur and his wife and the baby. She felt as if she were being
taken into the family. He showed her photos, books, sketches, and they
talked a little while. Then they returned to the kitchen. Mrs. Morel put
aside her book. Clara wore a blouse of fine silk chiffon, with narrow
black-and-white stripes; her hair was done simply, coiled on top of her
head. She looked rather stately and reserved.
"You have gone to live down Sneinton Boulevard?" said Mrs. Morel. "When
I was a girl - girl, I say! - when I was a young woman WE lived in Minerva
"Oh, did you!" said Clara. "I have a friend in number 6."
And the conversation had started. They talked Nottingham and Nottingham
people; it interested them both. Clara was still rather nervous; Mrs.
Morel was still somewhat on her dignity. She clipped her language very
clear and precise. But they were going to get on well together, Paul
Mrs. Morel measured herself against the younger woman, and found herself
easily stronger. Clara was deferential. She knew Paul's surprising
regard for his mother, and she had dreaded the meeting, expecting
someone rather hard and cold. She was surprised to find this little
interested woman chatting with such readiness; and then she felt, as she
felt with Paul, that she would not care to stand in Mrs. Morel's way.
There was something so hard and certain in his mother, as if she never
had a misgiving in her life.
Presently Morel came down, ruffled and yawning, from his afternoon
sleep. He scratched his grizzled head, he plodded in his stocking feet,
his waistcoat hung open over his shirt. He seemed incongruous.
"This is Mrs. Dawes, father," said Paul.
Then Morel pulled himself together. Clara saw Paul's manner of bowing
and shaking hands.
"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed Morel. "I am very glad to see you - I am, I
assure you. But don't disturb yourself. No, no make yourself quite
comfortable, and be very welcome."
Clara was astonished at this flood of hospitality from the old collier.
He was so courteous, so gallant! She thought him most delightful.
"And may you have come far?" he asked.
"Only from Nottingham," she said.
"From Nottingham! Then you have had a beautiful day for your journey."
Then he strayed into the scullery to wash his hands and face, and from
force of habit came on to the hearth with the towel to dry himself.
At tea Clara felt the refinement and sang-froid of the household. Mrs.
Morel was perfectly at her ease. The pouring out the tea and attending
to the people went on unconsciously, without interrupting her in her
talk. There was a lot of room at the oval table; the china of dark blue
willow-pattern looked pretty on the glossy cloth. There was a little
bowl of small, yellow chrysanthemums. Clara felt she completed the
circle, and it was a pleasure to her. But she was rather afraid of the
self-possession of the Morels, father and all. She took their tone;
there was a feeling of balance. It was a cool, clear atmosphere, where
everyone was himself, and in harmony. Clara enjoyed it, but there was a
fear deep at the bottom of her.
Paul cleared the table whilst his mother and Clara talked. Clara was
conscious of his quick, vigorous body as it came and went, seeming blown
quickly by a wind at its work. It was almost like the hither and thither
of a leaf that comes unexpected. Most of herself went with him. By the
way she leaned forward, as if listening, Mrs. Morel could see she was
possessed elsewhere as she talked, and again the elder woman was sorry
Having finished, he strolled down the garden, leaving the two women
to talk. It was a hazy, sunny afternoon, mild and soft. Clara glanced
through the window after him as he loitered among the chrysanthemums.
She felt as if something almost tangible fastened her to him; yet he
seemed so easy in his graceful, indolent movement, so detached as he
tied up the too-heavy flower branches to their stakes, that she wanted
to shriek in her helplessness.
Mrs. Morel rose.
"You will let me help you wash up," said Clara.
"Eh, there are so few, it will only take a minute," said the other.
Clara, however, dried the tea-things, and was glad to be on such good
terms with his mother; but it was torture not to be able to follow him
down the garden. At last she allowed herself to go; she felt as if a
rope were taken off her ankle.
The afternoon was golden over the hills of Derbyshire. He stood across
in the other garden, beside a bush of pale Michaelmas daisies, watching