pit to work, and to be sent home again spoilt his temper.
"Good gracious, at this time!" exclaimed his wife, as he entered.
"Can I help it, woman?" he shouted.
"And I've not done half enough dinner."
"Then I'll eat my bit o' snap as I took with me," he bawled
pathetically. He felt ignominious and sore.
And the children, coming home from school, would wonder to see their
father eating with his dinner the two thick slices of rather dry and
dirty bread-and-butter that had been to pit and back.
"What's my dad eating his snap for now?" asked Arthur.
"I should ha'e it holled at me if I didna," snorted Morel.
"What a story!" exclaimed his wife.
"An' is it goin' to be wasted?" said Morel. "I'm not such a extravagant
mortal as you lot, with your waste. If I drop a bit of bread at pit, in
all the dust an' dirt, I pick it up an' eat it."
"The mice would eat it," said Paul. "It wouldn't be wasted."
"Good bread-an'-butter's not for mice, either," said Morel. "Dirty or
not dirty, I'd eat it rather than it should be wasted."
"You might leave it for the mice and pay for it out of your next pint,"
said Mrs. Morel.
"Oh, might I?" he exclaimed.
They were very poor that autumn. William had just gone away to London,
and his mother missed his money. He sent ten shillings once or twice,
but he had many things to pay for at first. His letters came regularly
once a week. He wrote a good deal to his mother, telling her all his
life, how he made friends, and was exchanging lessons with a Frenchman,
how he enjoyed London. His mother felt again he was remaining to her
just as when he was at home. She wrote to him every week her direct,
rather witty letters. All day long, as she cleaned the house, she
thought of him. He was in London: he would do well. Almost, he was like
her knight who wore HER favour in the battle.
He was coming at Christmas for five days. There had never been such
preparations. Paul and Arthur scoured the land for holly and evergreens.
Annie made the pretty paper hoops in the old-fashioned way. And there
was unheard-of extravagance in the larder. Mrs. Morel made a big and
magnificent cake. Then, feeling queenly, she showed Paul how to blanch
almonds. He skinned the long nuts reverently, counting them all, to see
not one was lost. It was said that eggs whisked better in a cold place.
So the boy stood in the scullery, where the temperature was nearly at
freezing-point, and whisked and whisked, and flew in excitement to his
mother as the white of egg grew stiffer and more snowy.
"Just look, mother! Isn't it lovely?"
And he balanced a bit on his nose, then blew it in the air.
"Now, don't waste it," said the mother.
Everybody was mad with excitement. William was coming on Christmas Eve.
Mrs. Morel surveyed her pantry. There was a big plum cake, and a rice
cake, jam tarts, lemon tarts, and mince-pies - two enormous dishes. She
was finishing cooking - Spanish tarts and cheese-cakes. Everywhere was
decorated. The kissing bunch of berried holly hung with bright and
glittering things, spun slowly over Mrs. Morel's head as she trimmed her
little tarts in the kitchen. A great fire roared. There was a scent of
cooked pastry. He was due at seven o'clock, but he would be late. The
three children had gone to meet him. She was alone. But at a quarter to
seven Morel came in again. Neither wife nor husband spoke. He sat in his
armchair, quite awkward with excitement, and she quietly went on with
her baking. Only by the careful way in which she did things could it be
told how much moved she was. The clock ticked on.
"What time dost say he's coming?" Morel asked for the fifth time.
"The train gets in at half-past six," she replied emphatically.
"Then he'll be here at ten past seven."
"Eh, bless you, it'll be hours late on the Midland," she said
indifferently. But she hoped, by expecting him late, to bring him early.
Morel went down the entry to look for him. Then he came back.
"Goodness, man!" she said. "You're like an ill-sitting hen."
"Hadna you better be gettin' him summat t' eat ready?" asked the father.
"There's plenty of time," she answered.
"There's not so much as I can see on," he answered, turning crossly in
his chair. She began to clear her table. The kettle was singing. They
waited and waited.
Meantime the three children were on the platform at Sethley Bridge,
on the Midland main line, two miles from home. They waited one hour.
A train came - he was not there. Down the line the red and green lights
shone. It was very dark and very cold.
"Ask him if the London train's come," said Paul to Annie, when they saw
a man in a tip cap.
"I'm not," said Annie. "You be quiet - he might send us off."
But Paul was dying for the man to know they were expecting someone by
the London train: it sounded so grand. Yet he was much too much scared
of broaching any man, let alone one in a peaked cap, to dare to ask. The
three children could scarcely go into the waiting-room for fear of being
sent away, and for fear something should happen whilst they were off the
platform. Still they waited in the dark and cold.
"It's an hour an' a half late," said Arthur pathetically.
"Well," said Annie, "it's Christmas Eve."
They all grew silent. He wasn't coming. They looked down the darkness
of the railway. There was London! It seemed the utter-most of distance.
They thought anything might happen if one came from London. They were
all too troubled to talk. Cold, and unhappy, and silent, they huddled
together on the platform.
At last, after more than two hours, they saw the lights of an engine
peering round, away down the darkness. A porter ran out. The children
drew back with beating hearts. A great train, bound for Manchester, drew
up. Two doors opened, and from one of them, William. They flew to him.
He handed parcels to them cheerily, and immediately began to explain
that this great train had stopped for HIS sake at such a small station
as Sethley Bridge: it was not booked to stop.
Meanwhile the parents were getting anxious. The table was set, the chop
was cooked, everything was ready. Mrs. Morel put on her black apron.
She was wearing her best dress. Then she sat, pretending to read. The
minutes were a torture to her.
"H'm!" said Morel. "It's an hour an' a ha'ef."
"And those children waiting!" she said.
"Th' train canna ha' come in yet," he said.
"I tell you, on Christmas Eve they're HOURS wrong."
They were both a bit cross with each other, so gnawed with anxiety. The
ash tree moaned outside in a cold, raw wind. And all that space of night
from London home! Mrs. Morel suffered. The slight click of the works
inside the clock irritated her. It was getting so late; it was getting
At last there was a sound of voices, and a footstep in the entry.
"Ha's here!" cried Morel, jumping up.
Then he stood back. The mother ran a few steps towards the door and
waited. There was a rush and a patter of feet, the door burst open.
William was there. He dropped his Gladstone bag and took his mother in
"Mater!" he said.
"My boy!" she cried.
And for two seconds, no longer, she clasped him and kissed him. Then she
withdrew and said, trying to be quite normal:
"But how late you are!"
"Aren't I!" he cried, turning to his father. "Well, dad!"
The two men shook hands.
"Well, my lad!"
Morel's eyes were wet.
"We thought tha'd niver be commin'," he said.
"Oh, I'd come!" exclaimed William.
Then the son turned round to his mother.
"But you look well," she said proudly, laughing.
"Well!" he exclaimed. "I should think so - coming home!"
He was a fine fellow, big, straight, and fearless-looking. He looked
round at the evergreens and the kissing bunch, and the little tarts that
lay in their tins on the hearth.
"By jove! mother, it's not different!" he said, as if in relief.
Everybody was still for a second. Then he suddenly sprang forward,
picked a tart from the hearth, and pushed it whole into his mouth.
"Well, did iver you see such a parish oven!" the father exclaimed.
He had brought them endless presents. Every penny he had he had spent
on them. There was a sense of luxury overflowing in the house. For his
mother there was an umbrella with gold on the pale handle. She kept
it to her dying day, and would have lost anything rather than that.
Everybody had something gorgeous, and besides, there were pounds of
unknown sweets: Turkish delight, crystallised pineapple, and such-like
things which, the children thought, only the splendour of London could
provide. And Paul boasted of these sweets among his friends.
"Real pineapple, cut off in slices, and then turned into crystal - fair
Everybody was mad with happiness in the family. Home was home, and they
loved it with a passion of love, whatever the suffering had been. There
were parties, there were rejoicings. People came in to see William, to
see what difference London had made to him. And they all found him "such
a gentleman, and SUCH a fine fellow, my word"!
When he went away again the children retired to various places to weep
alone. Morel went to bed in misery, and Mrs. Morel felt as if she were
numbed by some drug, as if her feelings were paralysed. She loved him
He was in the office of a lawyer connected with a large shipping firm,
and at the midsummer his chief offered him a trip in the Mediterranean
on one of the boats, for quite a small cost. Mrs. Morel wrote: "Go, go,
my boy. You may never have a chance again, and I should love to think of
you cruising there in the Mediterranean almost better than to have you
at home." But William came home for his fortnight's holiday. Not even
the Mediterranean, which pulled at all his young man's desire to travel,
and at his poor man's wonder at the glamorous south, could take him away
when he might come home. That compensated his mother for much.
PAUL LAUNCHES INTO LIFE
MOREL was rather a heedless man, careless of danger. So he had endless
accidents. Now, when Mrs. Morel heard the rattle of an empty coal-cart
cease at her entry-end, she ran into the parlour to look, expecting
almost to see her husband seated in the waggon, his face grey under his
dirt, his body limp and sick with some hurt or other. If it were he, she
would run out to help.
About a year after William went to London, and just after Paul had left
school, before he got work, Mrs. Morel was upstairs and her son was
painting in the kitchen - he was very clever with his brush - when there
came a knock at the door. Crossly he put down his brush to go. At the
same moment his mother opened a window upstairs and looked down.
A pit-lad in his dirt stood on the threshold.
"Is this Walter Morel's?" he asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Morel. "What is it?"
But she had guessed already.
"Your mester's got hurt," he said.
"Eh, dear me!" she exclaimed. "It's a wonder if he hadn't, lad. And
what's he done this time?"
"I don't know for sure, but it's 'is leg somewhere. They ta'ein' 'im ter
"Good gracious me!" she exclaimed. "Eh, dear, what a one he is! There's
not five minutes of peace, I'll be hanged if there is! His thumb's
nearly better, and now - Did you see him?"
"I seed him at th' bottom. An' I seed 'em bring 'im up in a tub, an'
'e wor in a dead faint. But he shouted like anythink when Doctor Fraser
examined him i' th' lamp cabin - an' cossed an' swore, an' said as 'e wor
goin' to be ta'en whoam - 'e worn't goin' ter th' 'ospital."
The boy faltered to an end.
"He WOULD want to come home, so that I can have all the bother. Thank
you, my lad. Eh, dear, if I'm not sick - sick and surfeited, I am!"
She came downstairs. Paul had mechanically resumed his painting.
"And it must be pretty bad if they've taken him to the hospital," she
went on. "But what a CARELESS creature he is! OTHER men don't have all
these accidents. Yes, he WOULD want to put all the burden on me. Eh,
dear, just as we WERE getting easy a bit at last. Put those things away,
there's no time to be painting now. What time is there a train? I know I
s'll have to go trailing to Keston. I s'll have to leave that bedroom."
"I can finish it," said Paul.
"You needn't. I shall catch the seven o'clock back, I should think. Oh,
my blessed heart, the fuss and commotion he'll make! And those granite
setts at Tinder Hill - he might well call them kidney pebbles - they'll
jolt him almost to bits. I wonder why they can't mend them, the state
they're in, an' all the men as go across in that ambulance. You'd think
they'd have a hospital here. The men bought the ground, and, my sirs,
there'd be accidents enough to keep it going. But no, they must trail
them ten miles in a slow ambulance to Nottingham. It's a crying shame!
Oh, and the fuss he'll make! I know he will! I wonder who's with him.
Barker, I s'd think. Poor beggar, he'll wish himself anywhere rather.
But he'll look after him, I know. Now there's no telling how long he'll
be stuck in that hospital - and WON'T he hate it! But if it's only his
leg it's not so bad."
All the time she was getting ready. Hurriedly taking off her bodice, she
crouched at the boiler while the water ran slowly into her lading-can.
"I wish this boiler was at the bottom of the sea!" she exclaimed,
wriggling the handle impatiently. She had very handsome, strong arms,
rather surprising on a smallish woman.
Paul cleared away, put on the kettle, and set the table.
"There isn't a train till four-twenty," he said. "You've time enough."
"Oh no, I haven't!" she cried, blinking at him over the towel as she
wiped her face.
"Yes, you have. You must drink a cup of tea at any rate. Should I come
with you to Keston?"
"Come with me? What for, I should like to know? Now, what have I to take
him? Eh, dear! His clean shirt - and it's a blessing it IS clean. But it
had better be aired. And stockings - he won't want them - and a towel, I
suppose; and handkerchiefs. Now what else?"
"A comb, a knife and fork and spoon," said Paul. His father had been in
the hospital before.
"Goodness knows what sort of state his feet were in," continued Mrs.
Morel, as she combed her long brown hair, that was fine as silk, and
was touched now with grey. "He's very particular to wash himself to the
waist, but below he thinks doesn't matter. But there, I suppose they see
plenty like it."
Paul had laid the table. He cut his mother one or two pieces of very
thin bread and butter.
"Here you are," he said, putting her cup of tea in her place.
"I can't be bothered!" she exclaimed crossly.
"Well, you've got to, so there, now it's put out ready," he insisted.
So she sat down and sipped her tea, and ate a little, in silence. She
In a few minutes she was gone, to walk the two and a half miles to
Keston Station. All the things she was taking him she had in her bulging
string bag. Paul watched her go up the road between the hedges - a
little, quick-stepping figure, and his heart ached for her, that she was
thrust forward again into pain and trouble. And she, tripping so quickly
in her anxiety, felt at the back of her her son's heart waiting on her,
felt him bearing what part of the burden he could, even supporting her.
And when she was at the hospital, she thought: "It WILL upset that lad
when I tell him how bad it is. I'd better be careful." And when she was
trudging home again, she felt he was coming to share her burden.
"Is it bad?" asked Paul, as soon as she entered the house.
"It's bad enough," she replied.
She sighed and sat down, undoing her bonnet-strings. Her son watched her
face as it was lifted, and her small, work-hardened hands fingering at
the bow under her chin.
"Well," she answered, "it's not really dangerous, but the nurse says
it's a dreadful smash. You see, a great piece of rock fell on his
leg - here - and it's a compound fracture. There are pieces of bone
sticking through - "
"Ugh - how horrid!" exclaimed the children.
"And," she continued, "of course he says he's going to die - it wouldn't
be him if he didn't. 'I'm done for, my lass!' he said, looking at me.
'Don't be so silly,' I said to him. 'You're not going to die of a broken
leg, however badly it's smashed.' 'I s'll niver come out of 'ere but in
a wooden box,' he groaned. 'Well,' I said, 'if you want them to carry
you into the garden in a wooden box, when you're better, I've no doubt
they will.' 'If we think it's good for him,' said the Sister. She's an
awfully nice Sister, but rather strict."
Mrs. Morel took off her bonnet. The children waited in silence.
"Of course, he IS bad," she continued, "and he will be. It's a great
shock, and he's lost a lot of blood; and, of course, it IS a very
dangerous smash. It's not at all sure that it will mend so easily. And
then there's the fever and the mortification - if it took bad ways he'd
quickly be gone. But there, he's a clean-blooded man, with wonderful
healing flesh, and so I see no reason why it SHOULD take bad ways. Of
course there's a wound - "
She was pale now with emotion and anxiety. The three children realised
that it was very bad for their father, and the house was silent,
"But he always gets better," said Paul after a while.
"That's what I tell him," said the mother.
Everybody moved about in silence.
"And he really looked nearly done for," she said. "But the Sister says
that is the pain."
Annie took away her mother's coat and bonnet.
"And he looked at me when I came away! I said: 'I s'll have to go now,
Walter, because of the train - and the children.' And he looked at me. It
Paul took up his brush again and went on painting. Arthur went outside
for some coal. Annie sat looking dismal. And Mrs. Morel, in her little
rocking-chair that her husband had made for her when the first baby was
coming, remained motionless, brooding. She was grieved, and bitterly
sorry for the man who was hurt so much. But still, in her heart of
hearts, where the love should have burned, there was a blank. Now, when
all her woman's pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have
slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would
have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside
her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her
most of all, this failure to love him, even when he roused her strong
emotions. She brooded a while.
"And there," she said suddenly, "when I'd got halfway to Keston, I found
I'd come out in my working boots - and LOOK at them." They were an old
pair of Paul's, brown and rubbed through at the toes. "I didn't know
what to do with myself, for shame," she added.
In the morning, when Annie and Arthur were at school, Mrs. Morel talked
again to her son, who was helping her with her housework.
"I found Barker at the hospital. He did look bad, poor little fellow!
'Well,' I said to him, 'what sort of a journey did you have with him?'
'Dunna ax me, missis!' he said. 'Ay,' I said, 'I know what he'd be.'
'But it WOR bad for him, Mrs. Morel, it WOR that!' he said. 'I know,' I
said. 'At ivry jolt I thought my 'eart would ha' flown clean out o' my
mouth,' he said. 'An' the scream 'e gives sometimes! Missis, not for a
fortune would I go through wi' it again.' 'I can quite understand it,'
I said. 'It's a nasty job, though,' he said, 'an' one as'll be a long
while afore it's right again.' 'I'm afraid it will,' I said. I like Mr.
Barker - I DO like him. There's something so manly about him."
Paul resumed his task silently.
"And of course," Mrs. Morel continued, "for a man like your father,
the hospital IS hard. He CAN'T understand rules and regulations. And he
won't let anybody else touch him, not if he can help it. When he smashed
the muscles of his thigh, and it had to be dressed four times a day,
WOULD he let anybody but me or his mother do it? He wouldn't. So, of
course, he'll suffer in there with the nurses. And I didn't like leaving
him. I'm sure, when I kissed him an' came away, it seemed a shame."
So she talked to her son, almost as if she were thinking aloud to him,
and he took it in as best he could, by sharing her trouble to lighten
it. And in the end she shared almost everything with him without
Morel had a very bad time. For a week he was in a critical condition.
Then he began to mend. And then, knowing he was going to get better, the
whole family sighed with relief, and proceeded to live happily.
They were not badly off whilst Morel was in the hospital. There were
fourteen shillings a week from the pit, ten shillings from the sick
club, and five shillings from the Disability Fund; and then every week
the butties had something for Mrs. Morel - five or seven shillings - so
that she was quite well to do. And whilst Morel was progressing
favourably in the hospital, the family was extraordinarily happy and
peaceful. On Saturdays and Wednesdays Mrs. Morel went to Nottingham to
see her husband. Then she always brought back some little thing: a small
tube of paints for Paul, or some thick paper; a couple of postcards for
Annie, that the whole family rejoiced over for days before the girl was
allowed to send them away; or a fret-saw for Arthur, or a bit of pretty
wood. She described her adventures into the big shops with joy. Soon the
folk in the picture-shop knew her, and knew about Paul. The girl in
the book-shop took a keen interest in her. Mrs. Morel was full of
information when she got home from Nottingham. The three sat round till
bed-time, listening, putting in, arguing. Then Paul often raked the
"I'm the man in the house now," he used to say to his mother with joy.
They learned how perfectly peaceful the home could be. And they
almost regretted - though none of them would have owned to such
callousness - that their father was soon coming back.
Paul was now fourteen, and was looking for work. He was a rather small
and rather finely-made boy, with dark brown hair and light blue eyes.
His face had already lost its youthful chubbiness, and was becoming
somewhat like William's - rough-featured, almost rugged - and it was
extraordinarily mobile. Usually he looked as if he saw things, was full
of life, and warm; then his smile, like his mother's, came suddenly and
was very lovable; and then, when there was any clog in his soul's quick
running, his face went stupid and ugly. He was the sort of boy that
becomes a clown and a lout as soon as he is not understood, or feels
himself held cheap; and, again, is adorable at the first touch of
He suffered very much from the first contact with anything. When he was
seven, the starting school had been a nightmare and a torture to him.
But afterwards he liked it. And now that he felt he had to go out into
life, he went through agonies of shrinking self-consciousness. He was
quite a clever painter for a boy of his years, and he knew some French
and German and mathematics that Mr. Heaton had taught him. But nothing
he had was of any commercial value. He was not strong enough for heavy
manual work, his mother said. He did not care for making things with his
hands, preferred racing about, or making excursions into the country, or
reading, or painting.
"What do you want to be?" his mother asked.
"That is no answer," said Mrs. Morel.
But it was quite truthfully the only answer he could give. His ambition,
as far as this world's gear went, was quietly to earn his thirty or
thirty-five shillings a week somewhere near home, and then, when his
father died, have a cottage with his mother, paint and go out as he
liked, and live happy ever after. That was his programme as far as doing
things went. But he was proud within himself, measuring people against
himself, and placing them, inexorably. And he thought that PERHAPS he
might also make a painter, the real thing. But that he left alone.
"Then," said his mother, "you must look in the paper for the
He looked at her. It seemed to him a bitter humiliation and an anguish
to go through. But he said nothing. When he got up in the morning, his
whole being was knotted up over this one thought:
"I've got to go and look for advertisements for a job."
It stood in front of the morning, that thought, killing all joy and even
life, for him. His heart felt like a tight knot.
And then, at ten o'clock, he set off. He was supposed to be a queer,
quiet child. Going up the sunny street of the little town, he felt as
if all the folk he met said to themselves: "He's going to the Co-op.
reading-room to look in the papers for a place. He can't get a job. I