Think I'm goin' to have YOU whipperty-snappin' round?"
The other clerks in the warehouse looked up. Paul's office-boy appeared,
holding some white article.
"Fanny says you could have had it last night if you'd let her know," he
"All right," answered Paul, looking at the stocking. "Get it off." Dawes
stood frustrated, helpless with rage. Morel turned round.
"Excuse me a minute," he said to Dawes, and he would have run
"By God, I'll stop your gallop!" shouted the smith, seizing him by the
arm. He turned quickly.
"Hey! Hey!" cried the office-boy, alarmed.
Thomas Jordan started out of his little glass office, and came running
down the room.
"What's a-matter, what's a-matter?" he said, in his old man's sharp
"I'm just goin' ter settle this little - , that's all," said Dawes
"What do you mean?" snapped Thomas Jordan.
"What I say," said Dawes, but he hung fire.
Morel was leaning against the counter, ashamed, half-grinning.
"What's it all about?" snapped Thomas Jordan.
"Couldn't say," said Paul, shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders.
"Couldn't yer, couldn't yer!" cried Dawes, thrusting forward his
handsome, furious face, and squaring his fist.
"Have you finished?" cried the old man, strutting. "Get off about your
business, and don't come here tipsy in the morning."
Dawes turned his big frame slowly upon him.
"Tipsy!" he said. "Who's tipsy? I'm no more tipsy than YOU are!"
"We've heard that song before," snapped the old man. "Now you get off,
and don't be long about it. Comin' HERE with your rowdying."
The smith looked down contemptuously on his employer. His hands, large,
and grimy, and yet well shaped for his labour, worked restlessly. Paul
remembered they were the hands of Clara's husband, and a flash of hate
went through him.
"Get out before you're turned out!" snapped Thomas Jordan.
"Why, who'll turn me out?" said Dawes, beginning to sneer.
Mr. Jordan started, marched up to the smith, waving him off, thrusting
his stout little figure at the man, saying:
"Get off my premises - get off!"
He seized and twitched Dawes's arm.
"Come off!" said the smith, and with a jerk of the elbow he sent the
little manufacturer staggering backwards.
Before anyone could help him, Thomas Jordan had collided with the flimsy
spring-door. It had given way, and let him crash down the half-dozen
steps into Fanny's room. There was a second of amazement; then men and
girls were running. Dawes stood a moment looking bitterly on the scene,
then he took his departure.
Thomas Jordan was shaken and braised, not otherwise hurt. He was,
however, beside himself with rage. He dismissed Dawes from his
employment, and summoned him for assault.
At the trial Paul Morel had to give evidence. Asked how the trouble
began, he said:
"Dawes took occasion to insult Mrs. Dawes and me because I accompanied
her to the theatre one evening; then I threw some beer at him, and he
wanted his revenge."
"_Cherchez la femme!_" smiled the magistrate.
The case was dismissed after the magistrate had told Dawes he thought
him a skunk.
"You gave the case away," snapped Mr. Jordan to Paul.
"I don't think I did," replied the latter. "Besides, you didn't really
want a conviction, did you?"
"What do you think I took the case up for?"
"Well," said Paul, "I'm sorry if I said the wrong thing." Clara was also
"Why need MY name have been dragged in?" she said.
"Better speak it openly than leave it to be whispered."
"There was no need for anything at all," she declared.
"We are none the poorer," he said indifferently.
"YOU may not be," she said.
"And you?" he asked.
"I need never have been mentioned."
"I'm sorry," he said; but he did not sound sorry.
He told himself easily: "She will come round." And she did.
He told his mother about the fall of Mr. Jordan and the trial of Dawes.
Mrs. Morel watched him closely.
"And what do you think of it all?" she asked him.
"I think he's a fool," he said.
But he was very uncomfortable, nevertheless.
"Have you ever considered where it will end?" his mother said.
"No," he answered; "things work out of themselves."
"They do, in a way one doesn't like, as a rule," said his mother.
"And then one has to put up with them," he said.
"You'll find you're not as good at 'putting up' as you imagine," she
He went on working rapidly at his design.
"Do you ever ask HER opinion?" she said at length.
"Of you, and the whole thing."
"I don't care what her opinion of me is. She's fearfully in love with
me, but it's not very deep."
"But quite as deep as your feeling for her."
He looked up at his mother curiously.
"Yes," he said. "You know, mother, I think there must be something the
matter with me, that I CAN'T love. When she's there, as a rule, I DO
love her. Sometimes, when I see her just as THE WOMAN, I love her,
mother; but then, when she talks and criticises, I often don't listen to
"Yet she's as much sense as Miriam."
"Perhaps; and I love her better than Miriam. But WHY don't they hold
The last question was almost a lamentation. His mother turned away her
face, sat looking across the room, very quiet, grave, with something of
"But you wouldn't want to marry Clara?" she said.
"No; at first perhaps I would. But why - why don't I want to marry her or
anybody? I feel sometimes as if I wronged my women, mother."
"How wronged them, my son?"
"I don't know."
He went on painting rather despairingly; he had touched the quick of the
"And as for wanting to marry," said his mother, "there's plenty of time
"But no, mother. I even love Clara, and I did Miriam; but to GIVE myself
to them in marriage I couldn't. I couldn't belong to them. They seem to
want ME, and I can't ever give it them."
"You haven't met the right woman."
"And I never shall meet the right woman while you live," he said.
She was very quiet. Now she began to feel again tired, as if she were
"We'll see, my son," she answered.
The feeling that things were going in a circle made him mad.
Clara was, indeed, passionately in love with him, and he with her, as
far as passion went. In the daytime he forgot her a good deal. She was
working in the same building, but he was not aware of it. He was busy,
and her existence was of no matter to him. But all the time she was in
her Spiral room she had a sense that he was upstairs, a physical sense
of his person in the same building. Every second she expected him to
come through the door, and when he came it was a shock to her. But he
was often short and offhand with her. He gave her his directions in an
official manner, keeping her at bay. With what wits she had left she
listened to him. She dared not misunderstand or fail to remember, but
it was a cruelty to her. She wanted to touch his chest. She knew exactly
how his breast was shapen under the waistcoat, and she wanted to touch
it. It maddened her to hear his mechanical voice giving orders about
the work. She wanted to break through the sham of it, smash the trivial
coating of business which covered him with hardness, get at the man
again; but she was afraid, and before she could feel one touch of his
warmth he was gone, and she ached again.
He knew that she was dreary every evening she did not see him, so he
gave her a good deal of his time. The days were often a misery to her,
but the evenings and the nights were usually a bliss to them both. Then
they were silent. For hours they sat together, or walked together in the
dark, and talked only a few, almost meaningless words. But he had her
hand in his, and her bosom left its warmth in his chest, making him feel
One evening they were walking down by the canal, and something was
troubling him. She knew she had not got him. All the time he whistled
softly and persistently to himself. She listened, feeling she could
learn more from his whistling than from his speech. It was a sad
dissatisfied tune - a tune that made her feel he would not stay with her.
She walked on in silence. When they came to the swing bridge he sat down
on the great pole, looking at the stars in the water. He was a long way
from her. She had been thinking.
"Will you always stay at Jordan's?" she asked.
"No," he answered without reflecting. "No; I s'll leave Nottingham and
go abroad - soon."
"Go abroad! What for?"
"I dunno! I feel restless."
"But what shall you do?"
"I shall have to get some steady designing work, and some sort of sale
for my pictures first," he said. "I am gradually making my way. I know I
"And when do you think you'll go?"
"I don't know. I shall hardly go for long, while there's my mother."
"You couldn't leave her?"
"Not for long."
She looked at the stars in the black water. They lay very white and
staring. It was an agony to know he would leave her, but it was almost
an agony to have him near her.
"And if you made a nice lot of money, what would you do?" she asked.
"Go somewhere in a pretty house near London with my mother."
There was a long pause.
"I could still come and see you," he said. "I don't know. Don't ask me
what I should do; I don't know."
There was a silence. The stars shuddered and broke upon the water. There
came a breath of wind. He went suddenly to her, and put his hand on her
"Don't ask me anything about the future," he said miserably. "I don't
know anything. Be with me now, will you, no matter what it is?"
And she took him in her arms. After all, she was a married woman, and
she had no right even to what he gave her. He needed her badly. She had
him in her arms, and he was miserable. With her warmth she folded
him over, consoled him, loved him. She would let the moment stand for
After a moment he lifted his head as if he wanted to speak.
"Clara," he said, struggling.
She caught him passionately to her, pressed his head down on her breast
with her hand. She could not bear the suffering in his voice. She was
afraid in her soul. He might have anything of her - anything; but she did
not want to KNOW. She felt she could not bear it. She wanted him to be
soothed upon her - soothed. She stood clasping him and caressing him, and
he was something unknown to her - something almost uncanny. She wanted to
soothe him into forgetfulness.
And soon the struggle went down in his soul, and he forgot. But then
Clara was not there for him, only a woman, warm, something he loved
and almost worshipped, there in the dark. But it was not Clara, and she
submitted to him. The naked hunger and inevitability of his loving her,
something strong and blind and ruthless in its primitiveness, made the
hour almost terrible to her. She knew how stark and alone he was, and
she felt it was great that he came to her; and she took him simply
because his need was bigger either than her or him, and her soul was
still within her. She did this for him in his need, even if he left her,
for she loved him.
All the while the peewits were screaming in the field. When he came to,
he wondered what was near his eyes, curving and strong with life in the
dark, and what voice it was speaking. Then he realised it was the grass,
and the peewit was calling. The warmth was Clara's breathing heaving.
He lifted his head, and looked into her eyes. They were dark and shining
and strange, life wild at the source staring into his life, stranger to
him, yet meeting him; and he put his face down on her throat, afraid.
What was she? A strong, strange, wild life, that breathed with his
in the darkness through this hour. It was all so much bigger than
themselves that he was hushed. They had met, and included in their
meeting the thrust of the manifold grass stems, the cry of the peewit,
the wheel of the stars.
When they stood up they saw other lovers stealing down the opposite
hedge. It seemed natural they were there; the night contained them.
And after such an evening they both were very still, having known
the immensity of passion. They felt small, half-afraid, childish and
wondering, like Adam and Eve when they lost their innocence and realised
the magnificence of the power which drove them out of Paradise and
across the great night and the great day of humanity. It was for each of
them an initiation and a satisfaction. To know their own nothingness,
to know the tremendous living flood which carried them always, gave them
rest within themselves. If so great a magnificent power could overwhelm
them, identify them altogether with itself, so that they knew they were
only grains in the tremendous heave that lifted every grass blade its
little height, and every tree, and living thing, then why fret about
themselves? They could let themselves be carried by life, and they felt
a sort of peace each in the other. There was a verification which they
had had together. Nothing could nullify it, nothing could take it away;
it was almost their belief in life.
But Clara was not satisfied. Something great was there, she knew;
something great enveloped her. But it did not keep her. In the morning
it was not the same. They had KNOWN, but she could not keep the moment.
She wanted it again; she wanted something permanent. She had not
realised fully. She thought it was he whom she wanted. He was not safe
to her. This that had been between them might never be again; he might
leave her. She had not got him; she was not satisfied. She had been
there, but she had not gripped the - the something - she knew not
what - which she was mad to have.
In the morning he had considerable peace, and was happy in himself. It
seemed almost as if he had known the baptism of fire in passion, and it
left him at rest. But it was not Clara. It was something that happened
because of her, but it was not her. They were scarcely any nearer each
other. It was as if they had been blind agents of a great force.
When she saw him that day at the factory her heart melted like a drop of
fire. It was his body, his brows. The drop of fire grew more intense
in her breast; she must hold him. But he, very quiet, very subdued this
morning, went on giving his instruction. She followed him into the
dark, ugly basement, and lifted her arms to him. He kissed her, and the
intensity of passion began to burn him again. Somebody was at the door.
He ran upstairs; she returned to her room, moving as if in a trance.
After that the fire slowly went down. He felt more and more that his
experience had been impersonal, and not Clara. He loved her. There was
a big tenderness, as after a strong emotion they had known together; but
it was not she who could keep his soul steady. He had wanted her to be
something she could not be.
And she was mad with desire of him. She could not see him without
touching him. In the factory, as he talked to her about Spiral hose,
she ran her hand secretly along his side. She followed him out into the
basement for a quick kiss; her eyes, always mute and yearning, full of
unrestrained passion, she kept fixed on his. He was afraid of her, lest
she should too flagrantly give herself away before the other girls. She
invariably waited for him at dinnertime for him to embrace her before
she went. He felt as if she were helpless, almost a burden to him, and
it irritated him.
"But what do you always want to be kissing and embracing for?" he said.
"Surely there's a time for everything."
She looked up at him, and the hate came into her eyes.
"DO I always want to be kissing you?" she said.
"Always, even if I come to ask you about the work. I don't want anything
to do with love when I'm at work. Work's work - "
"And what is love?" she asked. "Has it to have special hours?"
"Yes; out of work hours."
"And you'll regulate it according to Mr. Jordan's closing time?"
"Yes; and according to the freedom from business of any sort."
"It is only to exist in spare time?"
"That's all, and not always then - not the kissing sort of love."
"And that's all you think of it?"
"It's quite enough."
"I'm glad you think so."
And she was cold to him for some time - she hated him; and while she was
cold and contemptuous, he was uneasy till she had forgiven him again.
But when they started afresh they were not any nearer. He kept her
because he never satisfied her.
In the spring they went together to the seaside. They had rooms at
a little cottage near Theddlethorpe, and lived as man and wife. Mrs.
Radford sometimes went with them.
It was known in Nottingham that Paul Morel and Mrs. Dawes were going
together, but as nothing was very obvious, and Clara always a solitary
person, and he seemed so simple and innocent, it did not make much
He loved the Lincolnshire coast, and she loved the sea. In the early
morning they often went out together to bathe. The grey of the dawn,
the far, desolate reaches of the fenland smitten with winter, the
sea-meadows rank with herbage, were stark enough to rejoice his soul.
As they stepped on to the highroad from their plank bridge, and looked
round at the endless monotony of levels, the land a little darker than
the sky, the sea sounding small beyond the sandhills, his heart filled
strong with the sweeping relentlessness of life. She loved him then. He
was solitary and strong, and his eyes had a beautiful light.
They shuddered with cold; then he raced her down the road to the green
turf bridge. She could run well. Her colour soon came, her throat was
bare, her eyes shone. He loved her for being so luxuriously heavy, and
yet so quick. Himself was light; she went with a beautiful rush. They
grew warm, and walked hand in hand.
A flush came into the sky, the wan moon, half-way down the west, sank
into insignificance. On the shadowy land things began to take life,
plants with great leaves became distinct. They came through a pass in
the big, cold sandhills on to the beach. The long waste of foreshore lay
moaning under the dawn and the sea; the ocean was a flat dark strip with
a white edge. Over the gloomy sea the sky grew red. Quickly the fire
spread among the clouds and scattered them. Crimson burned to orange,
orange to dull gold, and in a golden glitter the sun came up, dribbling
fierily over the waves in little splashes, as if someone had gone along
and the light had spilled from her pail as she walked.
The breakers ran down the shore in long, hoarse strokes. Tiny seagulls,
like specks of spray, wheeled above the line of surf. Their crying
seemed larger than they. Far away the coast reached out, and melted into
the morning, the tussocky sandhills seemed to sink to a level with the
beach. Mablethorpe was tiny on their right. They had alone the space of
all this level shore, the sea, and the upcoming sun, the faint noise of
the waters, the sharp crying of the gulls.
They had a warm hollow in the sandhills where the wind did not come. He
stood looking out to sea.
"It's very fine," he said.
"Now don't get sentimental," she said.
It irritated her to see him standing gazing at the sea, like a solitary
and poetic person. He laughed. She quickly undressed.
"There are some fine waves this morning," she said triumphantly.
She was a better swimmer than he; he stood idly watching her.
"Aren't you coming?" she said.
"In a minute," he answered.
She was white and velvet skinned, with heavy shoulders. A little wind,
coming from the sea, blew across her body and ruffled her hair.
The morning was of a lovely limpid gold colour. Veils of shadow seemed
to be drifting away on the north and the south. Clara stood shrinking
slightly from the touch of the wind, twisting her hair. The sea-grass
rose behind the white stripped woman. She glanced at the sea, then
looked at him. He was watching her with dark eyes which she loved and
could not understand. She hugged her breasts between her arms, cringing,
"Oo, it will be so cold!" she said.
He bent forward and kissed her, held her suddenly close, and kissed her
again. She stood waiting. He looked into her eyes, then away at the pale
"Go, then!" he said quietly.
She flung her arms round his neck, drew him against her, kissed him
passionately, and went, saying:
"But you'll come in?"
"In a minute."
She went plodding heavily over the sand that was soft as velvet. He,
on the sandhills, watched the great pale coast envelop her. She grew
smaller, lost proportion, seemed only like a large white bird toiling
"Not much more than a big white pebble on the beach, not much more
than a clot of foam being blown and rolled over the sand," he said to
She seemed to move very slowly across the vast sounding shore. As he
watched, he lost her. She was dazzled out of sight by the sunshine.
Again he saw her, the merest white speck moving against the white,
"Look how little she is!" he said to himself. "She's lost like a grain
of sand in the beach - just a concentrated speck blown along, a tiny
white foam-bubble, almost nothing among the morning. Why does she absorb
The morning was altogether uninterrupted: she was gone in the water. Far
and wide the beach, the sandhills with their blue marrain, the shining
water, glowed together in immense, unbroken solitude.
"What is she, after all?" he said to himself. "Here's the seacoast
morning, big and permanent and beautiful; there is she, fretting, always
unsatisfied, and temporary as a bubble of foam. What does she mean
to me, after all? She represents something, like a bubble of foam
represents the sea. But what is she? It's not her I care for."
Then, startled by his own unconscious thoughts, that seemed to speak so
distinctly that all the morning could hear, he undressed and ran quickly
down the sands. She was watching for him. Her arm flashed up to him, she
heaved on a wave, subsided, her shoulders in a pool of liquid silver.
He jumped through the breakers, and in a moment her hand was on his
He was a poor swimmer, and could not stay long in the water. She played
round him in triumph, sporting with her superiority, which he begrudged
her. The sunshine stood deep and fine on the water. They laughed in the
sea for a minute or two, then raced each other back to the sandhills.
When they were drying themselves, panting heavily, he watched her
laughing, breathless face, her bright shoulders, her breasts that swayed
and made him frightened as she rubbed them, and he thought again:
"But she is magnificent, and even bigger than the morning and the sea.
Is she - ? Is she - "
She, seeing his dark eyes fixed on her, broke off from her drying with a
"What are you looking at?" she said.
"You," he answered, laughing.
Her eyes met his, and in a moment he was kissing her white
"goose-fleshed" shoulder, and thinking:
"What is she? What is she?"
She loved him in the morning. There was something detached, hard, and
elemental about his kisses then, as if he were only conscious of his own
will, not in the least of her and her wanting him.
Later in the day he went out sketching.
"You," he said to her, "go with your mother to Sutton. I am so dull."
She stood and looked at him. He knew she wanted to come with him, but he
preferred to be alone. She made him feel imprisoned when she was there,
as if he could not get a free deep breath, as if there were something on
top of him. She felt his desire to be free of her.
In the evening he came back to her. They walked down the shore in the
darkness, then sat for a while in the shelter of the sandhills.
"It seems," she said, as they stared over the darkness of the sea, where
no light was to be seen - "it seemed as if you only loved me at night - as
if you didn't love me in the daytime."
He ran the cold sand through his fingers, feeling guilty under the
"The night is free to you," he replied. "In the daytime I want to be by
"But why?" she said. "Why, even now, when we are on this short holiday?"
"I don't know. Love-making stifles me in the daytime."
"But it needn't be always love-making," she said.
"It always is," he answered, "when you and I are together."
She sat feeling very bitter.
"Do you ever want to marry me?" he asked curiously.
"Do you me?" she replied.
"Yes, yes; I should like us to have children," he answered slowly.
She sat with her head bent, fingering the sand.
"But you don't really want a divorce from Baxter, do you?" he said.
It was some minutes before she replied.
"No," she said, very deliberately; "I don't think I do."