meeting was not a success. But she left him roses and fruit and money.
She wanted to make restitution. It was not that she loved him. As she
looked at him lying there her heart did not warm with love. Only she
wanted to humble herself to him, to kneel before him. She wanted now to
be self-sacrificial. After all, she had failed to make Morel really
love her. She was morally frightened. She wanted to do penance. So she
kneeled to Dawes, and it gave him a subtle pleasure. But the distance
between them was still very great - too great. It frightened the man. It
almost pleased the woman. She liked to feel she was serving him across
an insuperable distance. She was proud now.
Morel went to see Dawes once or twice. There was a sort of friendship
between the two men, who were all the while deadly rivals. But they
never mentioned the woman who was between them.
Mrs. Morel got gradually worse. At first they used to carry her
downstairs, sometimes even into the garden. She sat propped in her
chair, smiling, and so pretty. The gold wedding-ring shone on her
white hand; her hair was carefully brushed. And she watched the tangled
sunflowers dying, the chrysanthemums coming out, and the dahlias.
Paul and she were afraid of each other. He knew, and she knew, that she
was dying. But they kept up a pretence of cheerfulness. Every morning,
when he got up, he went into her room in his pyjamas.
"Did you sleep, my dear?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered.
"Not very well?"
Then he knew she had lain awake. He saw her hand under the bedclothes,
pressing the place on her side where the pain was.
"Has it been bad?" he asked.
"No. It hurt a bit, but nothing to mention."
And she sniffed in her old scornful way. As she lay she looked like a
girl. And all the while her blue eyes watched him. But there were the
dark pain-circles beneath that made him ache again.
"It's a sunny day," he said.
"It's a beautiful day."
"Do you think you'll be carried down?"
"I shall see."
Then he went away to get her breakfast. All day long he was conscious of
nothing but her. It was a long ache that made him feverish. Then, when
he got home in the early evening, he glanced through the kitchen window.
She was not there; she had not got up.
He ran straight upstairs and kissed her. He was almost afraid to ask:
"Didn't you get up, pigeon?"
"No," she said, "it was that morphia; it made me tired."
"I think he gives you too much," he said.
"I think he does," she answered.
He sat down by the bed, miserably. She had a way of curling and lying on
her side, like a child. The grey and brown hair was loose over her ear.
"Doesn't it tickle you?" he said, gently putting it back.
"It does," she replied.
His face was near hers. Her blue eyes smiled straight into his, like a
girl's - warm, laughing with tender love. It made him pant with terror,
agony, and love.
"You want your hair doing in a plait," he said. "Lie still."
And going behind her, he carefully loosened her hair, brushed it out. It
was like fine long silk of brown and grey. Her head was snuggled between
her shoulders. As he lightly brushed and plaited her hair, he bit his
lip and felt dazed. It all seemed unreal, he could not understand it.
At night he often worked in her room, looking up from time to time. And
so often he found her blue eyes fixed on him. And when their eyes met,
she smiled. He worked away again mechanically, producing good stuff
without knowing what he was doing.
Sometimes he came in, very pale and still, with watchful, sudden eyes,
like a man who is drunk almost to death. They were both afraid of the
veils that were ripping between them.
Then she pretended to be better, chattered to him gaily, made a great
fuss over some scraps of news. For they had both come to the condition
when they had to make much of the trifles, lest they should give in to
the big thing, and their human independence would go smash. They were
afraid, so they made light of things and were gay.
Sometimes as she lay he knew she was thinking of the past. Her mouth
gradually shut hard in a line. She was holding herself rigid, so that
she might die without ever uttering the great cry that was tearing from
her. He never forgot that hard, utterly lonely and stubborn clenching
of her mouth, which persisted for weeks. Sometimes, when it was lighter,
she talked about her husband. Now she hated him. She did not forgive
him. She could not bear him to be in the room. And a few things, the
things that had been most bitter to her, came up again so strongly that
they broke from her, and she told her son.
He felt as if his life were being destroyed, piece by piece, within him.
Often the tears came suddenly. He ran to the station, the tear-drops
falling on the pavement. Often he could not go on with his work. The
pen stopped writing. He sat staring, quite unconscious. And when he came
round again he felt sick, and trembled in his limbs. He never questioned
what it was. His mind did not try to analyse or understand. He merely
submitted, and kept his eyes shut; let the thing go over him.
His mother did the same. She thought of the pain, of the morphia, of the
next day; hardly ever of the death. That was coming, she knew. She had
to submit to it. But she would never entreat it or make friends with
it. Blind, with her face shut hard and blind, she was pushed towards the
door. The days passed, the weeks, the months.
Sometimes, in the sunny afternoons, she seemed almost happy.
"I try to think of the nice times - when we went to Mablethorpe, and
Robin Hood's Bay, and Shanklin," she said. "After all, not everybody has
seen those beautiful places. And wasn't it beautiful! I try to think of
that, not of the other things."
Then, again, for a whole evening she spoke not a word; neither did he.
They were together, rigid, stubborn, silent. He went into his room
at last to go to bed, and leaned against the doorway as if paralysed,
unable to go any farther. His consciousness went. A furious storm, he
knew not what, seemed to ravage inside him. He stood leaning there,
submitting, never questioning.
In the morning they were both normal again, though her face was grey
with the morphia, and her body felt like ash. But they were bright
again, nevertheless. Often, especially if Annie or Arthur were at home,
he neglected her. He did not see much of Clara. Usually he was with
men. He was quick and active and lively; but when his friends saw him
go white to the gills, his eyes dark and glittering, they had a certain
mistrust of him. Sometimes he went to Clara, but she was almost cold to
"Take me!" he said simply.
Occasionally she would. But she was afraid. When he had her then,
there was something in it that made her shrink away from him - something
unnatural. She grew to dread him. He was so quiet, yet so strange. She
was afraid of the man who was not there with her, whom she could feel
behind this make-belief lover; somebody sinister, that filled her with
horror. She began to have a kind of horror of him. It was almost as if
he were a criminal. He wanted her - he had her - and it made her feel as
if death itself had her in its grip. She lay in horror. There was no
man there loving her. She almost hated him. Then came little bouts of
tenderness. But she dared not pity him.
Dawes had come to Colonel Seely's Home near Nottingham. There Paul
visited him sometimes, Clara very occasionally. Between the two men
the friendship developed peculiarly. Dawes, who mended very slowly and
seemed very feeble, seemed to leave himself in the hands of Morel.
In the beginning of November Clara reminded Paul that it was her
"I'd nearly forgotten," he said.
"I'd thought quite," she replied.
"No. Shall we go to the seaside for the week-end?"
They went. It was cold and rather dismal. She waited for him to be warm
and tender with her, instead of which he seemed hardly aware of her.
He sat in the railway-carriage, looking out, and was startled when she
spoke to him. He was not definitely thinking. Things seemed as if they
did not exist. She went across to him.
"What is it dear?" she asked.
"Nothing!" he said. "Don't those windmill sails look monotonous?"
He sat holding her hand. He could not talk nor think. It was a comfort,
however, to sit holding her hand. She was dissatisfied and miserable. He
was not with her; she was nothing.
And in the evening they sat among the sandhills, looking at the black,
"She will never give in," he said quietly.
Clara's heart sank.
"No," she replied.
"There are different ways of dying. My father's people are frightened,
and have to be hauled out of life into death like cattle into a
slaughter-house, pulled by the neck; but my mother's people are pushed
from behind, inch by inch. They are stubborn people, and won't die."
"Yes," said Clara.
"And she won't die. She can't. Mr. Renshaw, the parson, was in the other
day. 'Think!' he said to her; 'you will have your mother and father, and
your sisters, and your son, in the Other Land.' And she said: 'I have
done without them for a long time, and CAN do without them now. It is
the living I want, not the dead.' She wants to live even now."
"Oh, how horrible!" said Clara, too frightened to speak.
"And she looks at me, and she wants to stay with me," he went on
monotonously. "She's got such a will, it seems as if she would never
go - never!"
"Don't think of it!" cried Clara.
"And she was religious - she is religious now - but it is no good. She
simply won't give in. And do you know, I said to her on Thursday:
'Mother, if I had to die, I'd die. I'd WILL to die.' And she said to
me, sharp: 'Do you think I haven't? Do you think you can die when you
His voice ceased. He did not cry, only went on speaking monotonously.
Clara wanted to run. She looked round. There was the black, re-echoing
shore, the dark sky down on her. She got up terrified. She wanted to be
where there was light, where there were other people. She wanted to be
away from him. He sat with his head dropped, not moving a muscle.
"And I don't want her to eat," he said, "and she knows it. When I ask
her: 'Shall you have anything' she's almost afraid to say 'Yes.' 'I'll
have a cup of Benger's,' she says. 'It'll only keep your strength up,'
I said to her. 'Yes' - and she almost cried - 'but there's such a gnawing
when I eat nothing, I can't bear it.' So I went and made her the food.
It's the cancer that gnaws like that at her. I wish she'd die!"
"Come!" said Clara roughly. "I'm going."
He followed her down the darkness of the sands. He did not come to her.
He seemed scarcely aware of her existence. And she was afraid of him,
and disliked him.
In the same acute daze they went back to Nottingham. He was always
busy, always doing something, always going from one to the other of his
On the Monday he went to see Baxter Dawes. Listless and pale, the man
rose to greet the other, clinging to his chair as he held out his hand.
"You shouldn't get up," said Paul.
Dawes sat down heavily, eyeing Morel with a sort of suspicion.
"Don't you waste your time on me," he said, "if you've owt better to
"I wanted to come," said Paul. "Here! I brought you some sweets."
The invalid put them aside.
"It's not been much of a week-end," said Morel.
"How's your mother?" asked the other.
"Hardly any different."
"I thought she was perhaps worse, being as you didn't come on Sunday."
"I was at Skegness," said Paul. "I wanted a change."
The other looked at him with dark eyes. He seemed to be waiting, not
quite daring to ask, trusting to be told.
"I went with Clara," said Paul.
"I knew as much," said Dawes quietly.
"It was an old promise," said Paul.
"You have it your own way," said Dawes.
This was the first time Clara had been definitely mentioned between
"Nay," said Morel slowly; "she's tired of me."
Again Dawes looked at him.
"Since August she's been getting tired of me," Morel repeated.
The two men were very quiet together. Paul suggested a game of draughts.
They played in silence.
"I s'll go abroad when my mother's dead," said Paul.
"Abroad!" repeated Dawes.
"Yes; I don't care what I do."
They continued the game. Dawes was winning.
"I s'll have to begin a new start of some sort," said Paul; "and you as
well, I suppose."
He took one of Dawes's pieces.
"I dunno where," said the other.
"Things have to happen," Morel said. "It's no good doing anything - at
least - no, I don't know. Give me some toffee."
The two men ate sweets, and began another game of draughts.
"What made that scar on your mouth?" asked Dawes.
Paul put his hand hastily to his lips, and looked over the garden.
"I had a bicycle accident," he said.
Dawes's hand trembled as he moved the piece.
"You shouldn't ha' laughed at me," he said, very low.
"That night on Woodborough Road, when you and her passed me - you with
your hand on her shoulder."
"I never laughed at you," said Paul.
Dawes kept his fingers on the draught-piece.
"I never knew you were there till the very second when you passed," said
"It was that as did me," Dawes said, very low.
Paul took another sweet.
"I never laughed," he said, "except as I'm always laughing."
They finished the game.
That night Morel walked home from Nottingham, in order to have something
to do. The furnaces flared in a red blotch over Bulwell; the black
clouds were like a low ceiling. As he went along the ten miles of
highroad, he felt as if he were walking out of life, between the black
levels of the sky and the earth. But at the end was only the sick-room.
If he walked and walked for ever, there was only that place to come to.
He was not tired when he got near home, or He did not know it. Across
the field he could see the red firelight leaping in her bedroom window.
"When she's dead," he said to himself, "that fire will go out."
He took off his boots quietly and crept upstairs. His mothers door was
wide open, because she slept alone still. The red firelight dashed its
glow on the landing. Soft as a shadow, he peeped in her doorway.
"Paul!" she murmured.
His heart seemed to break again. He went in and sat by the bed.
"How late you are!" she murmured.
"Not very," he said.
"Why, what time is it?" The murmur came plaintive and helpless.
"It's only just gone eleven."
That was not true; it was nearly one o'clock.
"Oh!" she said; "I thought it was later."
And he knew the unutterable misery of her nights that would not go.
"Can't you sleep, my pigeon?" he said.
"No, I can't," she wailed.
"Never mind, Little!" He said crooning. "Never mind, my love. I'll stop
with you half an hour, my pigeon; then perhaps it will be better."
And he sat by the bedside, slowly, rhythmically stroking her brows
with his finger-tips, stroking her eyes shut, soothing her, holding her
fingers in his free hand. They could hear the sleepers' breathing in the
"Now go to bed," she murmured, lying quite still under his fingers and
"Will you sleep?" he asked.
"Yes, I think so."
"You feel better, my Little, don't you?"
"Yes," she said, like a fretful, half-soothed child.
Still the days and the weeks went by. He hardly ever went to see Clara
now. But he wandered restlessly from one person to another for some
help, and there was none anywhere. Miriam had written to him tenderly.
He went to see her. Her heart was very sore when she saw him, white,
gaunt, with his eyes dark and bewildered. Her pity came up, hurting her
till she could not bear it.
"How is she?" she asked.
"The same - the same!" he said. "The doctor says she can't last, but I
know she will. She'll be here at Christmas."
Miriam shuddered. She drew him to her; she pressed him to her bosom; she
kissed him and kissed him. He submitted, but it was torture. She could
not kiss his agony. That remained alone and apart. She kissed his face,
and roused his blood, while his soul was apart writhing with the agony
of death. And she kissed him and fingered his body, till at last,
feeling he would go mad, he got away from her. It was not what he wanted
just then - not that. And she thought she had soothed him and done him
December came, and some snow. He stayed at home all the while now.
They could not afford a nurse. Annie came to look after her mother; the
parish nurse, whom they loved, came in morning and evening. Paul shared
the nursing with Annie. Often, in the evenings, when friends were in the
kitchen with them, they all laughed together and shook with laughter. It
was reaction. Paul was so comical, Annie was so quaint. The whole party
laughed till they cried, trying to subdue the sound. And Mrs. Morel,
lying alone in the darkness heard them, and among her bitterness was a
feeling of relief.
Then Paul would go upstairs gingerly, guiltily, to see if she had heard.
"Shall I give you some milk?" he asked.
"A little," she replied plaintively.
And he would put some water with it, so that it should not nourish her.
Yet he loved her more than his own life.
She had morphia every night, and her heart got fitful. Annie slept
beside her. Paul would go in in the early morning, when his sister
got up. His mother was wasted and almost ashen in the morning with the
morphia. Darker and darker grew her eyes, all pupil, with the torture.
In the mornings the weariness and ache were too much to bear. Yet she
could not - would not - weep, or even complain much.
"You slept a bit later this morning, little one," he would say to her.
"Did I?" she answered, with fretful weariness.
"Yes; it's nearly eight o'clock."
He stood looking out of the window. The whole country was bleak and
pallid under the snow. Then he felt her pulse. There was a strong stroke
and a weak one, like a sound and its echo. That was supposed to betoken
the end. She let him feel her wrist, knowing what he wanted.
Sometimes they looked in each other's eyes. Then they almost seemed to
make an agreement. It was almost as if he were agreeing to die also.
But she did not consent to die; she would not. Her body was wasted to a
fragment of ash. Her eyes were dark and full of torture.
"Can't you give her something to put an end to it?" he asked the doctor
But the doctor shook his head.
"She can't last many days now, Mr. Morel," he said.
Paul went indoors.
"I can't bear it much longer; we shall all go mad," said Annie.
The two sat down to breakfast.
"Go and sit with her while we have breakfast, Minnie," said Annie. But
the girl was frightened.
Paul went through the country, through the woods, over the snow. He saw
the marks of rabbits and birds in the white snow. He wandered miles
and miles. A smoky red sunset came on slowly, painfully, lingering. He
thought she would die that day. There was a donkey that came up to him
over the snow by the wood's edge, and put its head against him, and
walked with him alongside. He put his arms round the donkey's neck, and
stroked his cheeks against his ears.
His mother, silent, was still alive, with her hard mouth gripped grimly,
her eyes of dark torture only living.
It was nearing Christmas; there was more snow. Annie and he felt as if
they could go on no more. Still her dark eyes were alive. Morel, silent
and frightened, obliterated himself. Sometimes he would go into the
sick-room and look at her. Then he backed out, bewildered.
She kept her hold on life still. The miners had been out on strike, and
returned a fortnight or so before Christmas. Minnie went upstairs with
the feeding-cup. It was two days after the men had been in.
"Have the men been saying their hands are sore, Minnie?" she asked,
in the faint, querulous voice that would not give in. Minnie stood
"Not as I know of, Mrs. Morel," she answered.
"But I'll bet they are sore," said the dying woman, as she moved her
head with a sigh of weariness. "But, at any rate, there'll be something
to buy in with this week."
Not a thing did she let slip.
"Your father's pit things will want well airing, Annie," she said, when
the men were going back to work.
"Don't you bother about that, my dear," said Annie.
One night Annie and Paul were alone. Nurse was upstairs.
"She'll live over Christmas," said Annie. They were both full of horror.
"She won't," he replied grimly. "I s'll give her morphia."
"Which?" said Annie.
"All that came from Sheffield," said Paul.
"Ay - do!" said Annie.
The next day he was painting in the bedroom. She seemed to be asleep.
He stepped softly backwards and forwards at his painting. Suddenly her
small voice wailed:
"Don't walk about, Paul."
He looked round. Her eyes, like dark bubbles in her face, were looking
"No, my dear," he said gently. Another fibre seemed to snap in his
That evening he got all the morphia pills there were, and took them
downstairs. Carefully he crushed them to powder.
"What are you doing?" said Annie.
"I s'll put 'em in her night milk."
Then they both laughed together like two conspiring children. On top of
all their horror flicked this little sanity.
Nurse did not come that night to settle Mrs. Morel down. Paul went up
with the hot milk in a feeding-cup. It was nine o'clock.
She was reared up in bed, and he put the feeding-cup between her lips
that he would have died to save from any hurt. She took a sip, then put
the spout of the cup away and looked at him with her dark, wondering
eyes. He looked at her.
"Oh, it IS bitter, Paul!" she said, making a little grimace.
"It's a new sleeping draught the doctor gave me for you," he said. "He
thought it would leave you in such a state in the morning."
"And I hope it won't," she said, like a child.
She drank some more of the milk.
"But it IS horrid!" she said.
He saw her frail fingers over the cup, her lips making a little move.
"I know - I tasted it," he said. "But I'll give you some clean milk
"I think so," she said, and she went on with the draught. She was
obedient to him like a child. He wondered if she knew. He saw her
poor wasted throat moving as she drank with difficulty. Then he ran
downstairs for more milk. There were no grains in the bottom of the cup.
"Has she had it?" whispered Annie.
"Yes - and she said it was bitter."
"Oh!" laughed Annie, putting her under lip between her teeth.
"And I told her it was a new draught. Where's that milk?"
They both went upstairs.
"I wonder why nurse didn't come to settle me down?" complained the
mother, like a child, wistfully.
"She said she was going to a concert, my love," replied Annie.
They were silent a minute. Mrs. Morel gulped the little clean milk.
"Annie, that draught WAS horrid!" she said plaintively.
"Was it, my love? Well, never mind."
The mother sighed again with weariness. Her pulse was very irregular.
"Let US settle you down," said Annie. "Perhaps nurse will be so late."
"Ay," said the mother - "try."
They turned the clothes back. Paul saw his mother LIke a girl curled up
in her flannel nightdress. Quickly they made one half of the bed, moved
her, made the other, straightened her nightgown over her small feet, and
covered her up.
"There," said Paul, stroking her softly. "There! - now you'll sleep."
"Yes," she said. "I didn't think you could do the bed so nicely," she
added, almost gaily. Then she curled up, with her cheek on her hand, her
head snugged between her shoulders. Paul put the long thin plait of grey
hair over her shoulder and kissed her.
"You'll sleep, my love," he said.
"Yes," she answered trustfully. "Good-night."
They put out the light, and it was still.
Morel was in bed. Nurse did not come. Annie and Paul came to look at her
at about eleven. She seemed to be sleeping as usual after her draught.
Her mouth had come a bit open.
"Shall we sit up?" said Paul.
"I s'll lie with her as I always do," said Annie. "She might wake up."
"All right. And call me if you see any difference."
They lingered before the bedroom fire, feeling the night big and black
and snowy outside, their two selves alone in the world. At last he went
into the next room and went to bed.
He slept almost immediately, but kept waking every now and again. Then
he went sound asleep. He started awake at Annie's whispered, "Paul,
Paul!" He saw his sister in her white nightdress, with her long plait of
hair down her back, standing in the darkness.
"Yes?" he whispered, sitting up.