“By the way,” said Dr. Ansell one evening when Morel was in Sheffield, “we’ve got a man in the fever hospital here who comes from Nottingham — Dawes. He doesn’t seem to have many belongings in this world.”
“Baxter Dawes!” Paul exclaimed.
“That’s the man — has been a fine fellow, physically, I should think. Been in a bit of a mess lately. You know him?”
“He used to work at the place where I am.”
“Did he? Do you know anything about him? He’s just sulking, or he’d be a lot better than he is by now.”
“I don’t know anything of his home circumstances, except that he’s separated from his wife and has been a bit down, I believe. But tell him about me, will you? Tell him I’ll come and see him.”
The next time Morel saw the doctor he said:
“And what about Dawes?”
“I said to him,” answered the other, “‘Do you know a man from Nottingham named Morel?’ and he looked at me as if he’d jump at my throat. So I said: ‘I see you know the name; it’s Paul Morel.’ Then I told him about your saying you would go and see him. ‘What does he want?’ he said, as if you were a policeman.”
“And did he say he would see me?” asked Paul.
“He wouldn’t say anything — good, bad or indifferent,” replied the doctor.
“That’s what I want to know. There he lies and sulks, day in, day out. Can’t get a word of information out of him.”
“Do you think I might go?” asked Paul.
There was a feeling of connection between the rival men, more than ever since they had fought. In a way Morel felt guilty towards the other, and more or less responsible. And being in such a state of soul himself, he felt an almost painful nearness to Dawes, who was suffering and despairing, too. Besides, they had met in a naked extremity of hate, and it was a bond. At any rate, the elemental man in each had met.
He went down to the isolation hospital, with Dr. Ansell’s card. This sister, a healthy young Irishwoman, led him down the ward.
“A visitor to see you, Jim Crow,” she said.
Dawes turned over suddenly with a startled grunt.
“Caw!” she mocked. “He can only say ‘Caw!’ I have brought you a gentleman to see you. Now say ‘Thank you,’ and show some manners.”
Dawes looked swiftly with his dark, startled eyes beyond the sister at Paul. His look was full of fear, mistrust, hate, and misery. Morel met the swift, dark eyes, and hesitated. The two men were afraid of the naked selves they had been.
“Dr. Ansell told me you were here,” said Morel, holding out his hand.
Dawes mechanically shook hands.
“So I thought I’d come in,” continued Paul.
There was no answer. Dawes lay staring at the opposite wall.
“Say ‘Caw!”’ mocked the nurse. “Say ‘Caw!’ Jim Crow.”
“He is getting on all right?” said Paul to her.
“Oh yes! He lies and imagines he’s going to die,” said the nurse, “and it frightens every word out of his mouth.”
“And you MUST have somebody to talk to,” laughed Morel.
“That’s it!” laughed the nurse. “Only two old men and a boy who always cries. It is hard lines! Here am I dying to hear Jim Crow’s voice, and nothing but an odd ‘Caw!’ will he give!”
“So rough on you!” said Morel.
“Isn’t it?” said the nurse.
“I suppose I am a godsend,” he laughed.
“Oh, dropped straight from heaven!” laughed the nurse.
Presently she left the two men alone. Dawes was thinner, and handsome again, but life seemed low in him. As the doctor said, he was lying sulking, and would not move forward towards convalescence. He seemed to grudge every beat of his heart.
“Have you had a bad time?” asked Paul.
Suddenly again Dawes looked at him.
“What are you doing in Sheffield?” he asked.
“My mother was taken ill at my sister’s in Thurston Street. What are you doing here?”
There was no answer.
“How long have you been in?” Morel asked.
“I couldn’t say for sure,” Dawes answered grudgingly.
He lay staring across at the wall opposite, as if trying to believe Morel was not there. Paul felt his heart go hard and angry.
“Dr. Ansell told me you were here,” he said coldly.
The other man did not answer.
“Typhoid’s pretty bad, I know,” Morel persisted.
Suddenly Dawes said:
“What did you come for?”
“Because Dr. Ansell said you didn’t know anybody here. Do you?”
“I know nobody nowhere,” said Dawes.
“Well,” said Paul, “it’s because you don’t choose to, then.”
There was another silence.
“We s’ll be taking my mother home as soon as we can,” said Paul.
“What’s a-matter with her?” asked Dawes, with a sick man’s interest in illness.
“She’s got a cancer.”
There was another silence.
“But we want to get her home,” said Paul. “We s’ll have to get a motor-car.”
Dawes lay thinking.
“Why don’t you ask Thomas Jordan to lend you his?” said Dawes.
“It’s not big enough,” Morel answered.
Dawes blinked his dark eyes as he lay thinking.
“Then ask Jack Pilkington; he’d lend it you. You know him.”
“I think I s’ll hire one,” said Paul.
“You’re a fool if you do,” said Dawes.
The sick man was gaunt and handsome again. Paul was sorry for him because his eyes looked so tired.
“Did you get a job here?” he asked.
“I was only here a day or two before I was taken bad,” Dawes replied.
“You want to get in a convalescent home,” said Paul.
The other’s face clouded again.
“I’m goin’ in no convalescent home,” he said.
“My father’s been in the one at Seathorpe, an’ he liked it. Dr. Ansell would get you a recommend.”
Dawes lay thinking. It was evident he dared not face the world again.
“The seaside would be all right just now,” Morel said. “Sun on those sandhills, and the waves not far out.”
The other did not answer.
“By Gad!” Paul concluded, too miserable to bother much; “it’s all right when you know you’re going to walk again, and swim!”
Dawes glanced at him quickly. The man’s dark eyes were afraid to meet any other eyes in the world. But the real misery and helplessness in Paul’s tone gave him a feeling of relief.
“Is she far gone?” he asked.
“She’s going like wax,” Paul answered; “but cheerful — lively!”
He bit his lip. After a minute he rose.
“Well, I’ll be going,” he said. “I’ll leave you this half-crown.”
“I don’t want it,” Dawes muttered.
Morel did not answer, but left the coin on the table.
“Well,” he said, “I’ll try and run in when I’m back in Sheffield. Happen you might like to see my brother-in-law? He works in Pyecrofts.”
“I don’t know him,” said Dawes.
“He’s all right. Should I tell him to come? He might bring you some papers to look at.”
The other man did not answer. Paul went. The strong emotion that Dawes aroused in him, repressed, made him shiver.
He did not tell his mother, but next day he spoke to Clara about this interview. It was in the dinner-hour. The two did not often go out together now, but this day he asked her to go with him to the Castle grounds. There they sat while the scarlet geraniums and the yellow calceolarias blazed in the sunlight. She was now always rather protective, and rather resentful towards him.
“Did you know Baxter was in Sheffield Hospital with typhoid?” he asked.
She looked at him with startled grey eyes, and her face went pale.
“No,” she said, frightened.
“He’s getting better. I went to see him yesterday — the doctor told me.”
Clara seemed stricken by the news.
“Is he very bad?” she asked guiltily.
“He has been. He’s mending now.”
“What did he say to you?”
“Oh, nothing! He seems to be sulking.”
There was a distance between the two of them. He gave her more information.
She went about shut up and silent. The next time they took a walk together, she disengaged herself from his arm, and walked at a distance from him. He was wanting her comfort badly.
“Won’t you be nice with me?” he asked.
She did not answer.
“What’s the matter?” he said, putting his arm across her shoulder.
“Don’t!” she said, disengaging herself.
He left her alone, and returned to his own brooding.
“Is it Baxter that upsets you?” he asked at length.
“I HAVE been VILE to him!” she said.
“I’ve said many a time you haven’t treated him well,” he replied.
And there was a hostility between them. Each pursued his own train of thought.
“I’ve treated him — no, I’ve treated him badly,” she said. “And now you treat ME badly. It serves me right.”
“How do I treat you badly?” he said.
“It serves me right,” she repeated. “I never considered him worth having, and now you don’t consider ME. But it serves me right. He loved me a thousand times better than you ever did.”
“He didn’t!” protested Paul.
“He did! At any rate, he did respect me, and that’s what you don’t do.”
“It looked as if he respected you!” he said.
“He did! And I MADE him horrid — I know I did! You’ve taught me that. And he loved me a thousand times better than ever you do.”
“All right,” said Paul.
He only wanted to be left alone now. He had his own trouble, which was almost too much to bear. Clara only tormented him and made him tired. He was not sorry when he left her.
She went on the first opportunity to Sheffield to see her husband. The 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?”
“Well, yes! ”
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 him.
“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 birthday.
“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, heavy sea.
“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 like?’”
His voice ceased. He did not cry, only went on speaking mo-notonously. 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 friends.
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 do.”
“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 them.
“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 Morel.
“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 other rooms.
“Now go to bed,” she murmured, lying quite still under his fingers and his love.
“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 good.
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 at last.
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 surprised.
“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 at him.
“No, my dear,” he said gently. Another fibre seemed to snap in his heart.
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 afterwards.”
“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.
“Come and look at her.”
He slipped out of bed. A bud of gas was burning in the sick chamber. His mother lay with her cheek on her hand, curled up as she had gone to sleep. But her mouth had fallen open, and she breathed with great, hoarse breaths, like snoring, and there were long intervals between.
“She’s going!” he whispered.
“Yes,” said Annie.
“How long has she been like it?”
“I only just woke up.”
Annie huddled into the dressing-gown, Paul wrapped himself in a brown blanket. It was three o’clock. He mended the fire. Then the two sat waiting. The great, snoring breath was taken — held awhile — then given back. There was a space — a long space. Then they started. The great, snoring breath was taken again. He bent close down and looked at her.
“Isn’t it awful!” whispered Annie.
He nodded. They sat down again helplessly. Again came the great, snoring breath. Again they hung suspended. Again it was given back, long and harsh. The sound, so irregular, at such wide intervals, sounded through the house. Morel, in his room, slept on. Paul and Annie sat crouched, huddled, motionless. The great snoring sound began again — there was a painful pause while the breath was held — back came the rasping breath. Minute after minute passed. Paul looked at her again, bending low over her.
“She may last like this,” he said.
They were both silent. He looked out of the window, and could faintly discern the snow on the garden.
“You go to my bed,” he said to Annie. “I’ll sit up.”
“No,” she said, “I’ll stop with you.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” he said.
At last Annie crept out of the room, and he was alone. He hugged himself in his brown blanket, crouched in front of his mother, watching. She looked dreadful, with the bottom jaw fallen back. He watched. Sometimes he thought the great breath would never begin again. He could not bear it — the waiting. Then suddenly, startling him, came the great harsh sound. He mended the fire again, noiselessly. She must not be disturbed. The minutes went by. The night was going, breath by breath. Each time the sound came he felt it wring him, till at last he could not feel so much.
His father got up. Paul heard the miner drawing his stockings on, yawning. Then Morel, in shirt and stockings, entered.
“Hush!” said Paul.
Morel stood watching. Then he looked at his son, helplessly, and in horror.
“Had I better stop a-whoam?” he whispered.
“No. Go to work. She’ll last through to-morrow.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Yes. Go to work.”
The miner looked at her again, in fear, and went obediently out of the room. Paul saw the tape of his garters swinging against his legs.
After another half-hour Paul went downstairs and drank a cup of tea, then returned. Morel, dressed for the pit, came upstairs again.
“Am I to go?” he said.
And in a few minutes Paul heard his father’s heavy steps go thudding over the deadening snow. Miners called in the streets as they tramped in gangs to work. The terrible, long-drawn breaths continued — heave — heave — heave; then a long pause — then — ah-h-h-h-h! as it came back. Far away over the snow sounded the hooters of the ironworks. One after another they crowed and boomed, some small and far away, some near, the blowers of the collieries and the other works. Then there was silence. He mended the fire. The great breaths broke the silence — she looked just the same. He put back the blind and peered out. Still it was dark. Perhaps there was a lighter tinge. Perhaps the snow was bluer. He drew up the blind and got dressed. Then, shuddering, he drank brandy from the bottle on the wash-stand. The snow WAS growing blue. He heard a cart clanking down the street. Yes, it was seven o’clock, and it was coming a little bit light. He heard some people calling. The world was waking. A grey, deathly dawn crept over the snow. Yes, he could see the houses. He put out the gas. It seemed very dark. The breathing came still, but he was almost used to it. He could see her. She was just the same. He wondered if he piled heavy clothes on top of her it would stop. He looked at her. That was not her — not her a bit. If he piled the blanket and heavy coats on her —-
Suddenly the door opened, and Annie entered. She looked at him questioningly.
“Just the same,” he said calmly.
They whispered together a minute, then he went downstairs to get breakfast. It was twenty to eight. Soon Annie came down.
“Isn’t it awful! Doesn’t she look awful!” she whispered, dazed with horror.
“If she looks like that!” said Annie.
“Drink some tea,” he said.
They went upstairs again. Soon the neighbours came with their frightened question:
“How is she?”
It went on just the same. She lay with her cheek in her hand, her mouth fallen open, and the great, ghastly snores came and went.
At ten o’clock nurse came. She looked strange and woebegone.
“Nurse,” cried Paul, “she’ll last like this for days?”
“She can’t, Mr. Morel,” said nurse. “She can’t.”
There was a silence.
“Isn’t it dreadful!” wailed the nurse. “Who would have thought she could stand it? Go down now, Mr. Morel, go down.”
At last, at about eleven o’clock, he went downstairs and sat in the neighbour’s house. Annie was downstairs also. Nurse and Arthur were upstairs. Paul sat with his head in his hand. Suddenly Annie came flying across the yard crying, half mad:
“Paul — Paul — she’s gone!”
In a second he was back in his own house and upstairs. She lay curled up and still, with her face on her hand, and nurse was wiping her mouth. They all stood back. He kneeled down, and put his face to hers and his arms round her:
“My love — my love — oh, my love!” he whispered again and again. “My love — oh, my love!”
Then he heard the nurse behind him, crying, saying:
“She’s better, Mr. Morel, she’s better.”
When he took his face up from his warm, dead mother he went straight downstairs and began blacking his boots.
There was a good deal to do, letters to write, and so on. The doctor came and glanced at her, and sighed.
“Ay — poor thing!” he said, then turned away. “Well, call at the surgery about six for the certificate.”
The father came home from work at about four o’clock. He dragged silently into the house and sat down. Minnie bustled to give him his dinner. Tired, he laid his black arms on the table. There were swede turnips for his dinner, which he liked. Paul wondered if he knew. It was some time, and nobody had spoken. At last the son said:
“You noticed the blinds were down?”
Morel looked up.
“No,” he said. “Why — has she gone?”
“When wor that?”
“About twelve this morning.”
The miner sat still for a moment, then began his dinner. It was as if nothing had happened. He ate his turnips in silence. Afterwards he washed and went upstairs to dress. The door of her room was shut.
“Have you seen her?” Annie asked of him when he came down.
“No,” he said.
In a little while he went out. Annie went away, and Paul called on the undertaker, the clergyman, the doctor, the registrar. It was a long business. He got back at nearly eight o’clock. The undertaker was coming soon to measure for the coffin. The house was empty except for her. He took a candle and went upstairs.
The room was cold, that had been warm for so long. Flowers, bottles, plates, all sick-room litter was taken away; everything was harsh and austere. She lay raised on the bed, the sweep of the sheet from the raised feet was like a clean curve of snow, so silent. She lay like a maiden asleep. With his candle in his hand, he bent over her. She lay like a girl asleep and dreaming of her love. The mouth was a little open as if wondering from the suffering, but her face was young, her brow clear and white as if life had never touched it. He looked again at the eyebrows, at the small, winsome nose a bit on one side. She was young again. Only the hair as it arched so beautifully from her temples was mixed with silver, and the two simple plaits that lay on her shoulders were filigree of silver and brown. She would wake up. She would lift her eyelids. She was with him still. He bent and kissed her passionately. But there was coldness against his mouth. He bit his lips with horror. Looking at her, he felt he could never, never let her go. No! He stroked the hair from her temples. That, too, was cold. He saw the mouth so dumb and wondering at the hurt. Then he crouched on the floor, whispering to her:
He was still with her when the undertakers came, young men who had been to school with him. They touched her reverently, and in a quiet, businesslike fashion. They did not look at her. He watched jealously. He and Annie guarded her fiercely. They would not let anybody come to see her, and the neighbours were offended.
After a while Paul went out of the house, and played cards at a friend’s. It was midnight when he got back. His father rose from the couch as he entered, saying in a plaintive way:
“I thought tha wor niver comin’, lad.”
“I didn’t think you’d sit up,” said Paul.
His father looked so forlorn. Morel had been a man without fear — simply nothing frightened him. Paul realised with a start that he had been afraid to go to bed, alone in the house with his dead. He was sorry.
“I forgot you’d be alone, father,” he said.
“Dost want owt to eat?” asked Morel.
“Sithee — I made thee a drop o’ hot milk. Get it down thee; it’s cold enough for owt.”
Paul drank it.
After a while Morel went to bed. He hurried past the closed door, and left his own door open. Soon the son came upstairs also. He went in to kiss her good-night, as usual. It was cold and dark. He wished they had kept her fire burning. Still she dreamed her young dream. But she would be cold.
“My dear!” he whispered. “My dear!”
And he did not kiss her, for fear she should be cold and strange to him. It eased him she slept so beautifully. He shut her door softly, not to wake her, and went to bed.
In the morning Morel summoned his courage, hearing Annie downstairs and Paul coughing in the room across the landing. He opened her door, and went into the darkened room. He saw the white uplifted form in the twilight, but her he dared not see. Bewildered, too frightened to possess any of his faculties, he got out of the room again and left her. He never looked at her again. He had not seen her for months, because he had not dared to look. And she looked like his young wife again.
“Have you seen her?” Annie asked of him sharply after breakfast.
“Yes,” he said.
“And don’t you think she looks nice?”
He went out of the house soon after. And all the time He seemed to be creeping aside to avoid it.
Paul went about from place to place, doing the business of the death. He met Clara in Nottingham, and they had tea together in a cafe, when they were quite jolly again. She was infinitely relieved to find he did not take it tragically.
Later, when the relatives began to come for the funeral, the affair became public, and the children became social beings. They put themselves aside. They buried her in a furious storm of rain and wind. The wet clay glistened, all the white flowers were soaked. Annie gripped his arm and leaned forward. Down below she saw a dark corner of William’s coffin. The oak box sank steadily. She was gone. The rain poured in the grave. The procession of black, with its umbrellas glistening, turned away. The cemetery was deserted under the drenching cold rain.
Paul went home and busied himself supplying the guests with drinks. His father sat in the kitchen with Mrs. Morel’s relatives, “superior” people, and wept, and said what a good lass she’d been, and how he’d tried to do everything he could for her — everything. He had striven all his life to do what he could for her, and he’d nothing to reproach himself with. She was gone, but he’d done his best for her. He wiped his eyes with his white handkerchief. He’d nothing to reproach himself for, he repeated. All his life he’d done his best for her.
And that was how he tried to dismiss her. He never thought of her personally. Everything deep in him he denied. Paul hated his father for sitting sentimentalising over her. He knew he would do it in the public-houses. For the real tragedy went on in Morel in spite of himself. Sometimes, later, he came down from his afternoon sleep, white and cowering.
“I HAVE been dreaming of thy mother,” he said in a small voice.
“Have you, father? When I dream of her it’s always just as she was when she was well. I dream of her often, but it seems quite nice and natural, as if nothing had altered.”
But Morel crouched in front of the fire in terror.
The weeks passed half-real, not much pain, not much of anything, perhaps a little relief, mostly a nuit blanche. Paul went restless from place to place. For some months, since his mother had been worse, he had not made love to Clara. She was, as it were, dumb to him, rather distant. Dawes saw her very occasionally, but the two could not get an inch across the great distance between them. The three of them were drifting forward.
Dawes mended very slowly. He was in the convalescent home at Skegness at Christmas, nearly well again. Paul went to the seaside for a few days. His father was with Annie in Sheffield. Dawes came to Paul’s lodgings. His time in the home was up. The two men, between whom was such a big reserve, seemed faithful to each other. Dawes depended on Morel now. He knew Paul and Clara had practically separated.
Two days after Christmas Paul was to go back to Nottingham. The evening before he sat with Dawes smoking before the fire.
“You know Clara’s coming down for the day to-morrow?” he said.
The other man glanced at him.
“Yes, you told me,” he replied.
Paul drank the remainder of his glass of whisky.
“I told the landlady your wife was coming,” he said.
“Did you?” said Dawes, shrinking, but almost leaving himself in the other’s hands. He got up rather stiffly, and reached for Morel’s glass.
“Let me fill you up,” he said.
Paul jumped up.
“You sit still,” he said.
But Dawes, with rather shaky hand, continued to mix the drink.
“Say when,” he said.
“Thanks!” replied the other. “But you’ve no business to get up.”
“It does me good, lad,” replied Dawes. “I begin to think I’m right again, then.”
“You are about right, you know.”
“I am, certainly I am,” said Dawes, nodding to him.
“And Len says he can get you on in Sheffield.”
Dawes glanced at him again, with dark eyes that agreed with everything the other would say, perhaps a trifle dominated by him.
“It’s funny,” said Paul, “starting again. I feel in a lot bigger mess than you.”
“In what way, lad?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s as if I was in a tangled sort of hole, rather dark and dreary, and no road anywhere.”
“I know — I understand it,” Dawes said, nodding. “But you’ll find it’ll come all right.”
He spoke caressingly.
“I suppose so,” said Paul.
Dawes knocked his pipe in a hopeless fashion.
“You’ve not done for yourself like I have,” he said.
Morel saw the wrist and the white hand of the other man gripping the stem of the pipe and knocking out the ash, as if he had given up.
“How old are you?” Paul asked.
“Thirty-nine,” replied Dawes, glancing at him.
Those brown eyes, full of the consciousness of failure, almost pleading for reassurance, for someone to re-establish the man in himself, to warm him, to set him up firm again, troubled Paul.
“You’ll just be in your prime,” said Morel. “You don’t look as if much life had gone out of you.”
The brown eyes of the other flashed suddenly.
“It hasn’t,” he said. “The go is there.”
Paul looked up and laughed.
“We’ve both got plenty of life in us yet to make things fly,” he said.
The eyes of the two men met. They exchanged one look. Having recognised the stress of passion each in the other, they both drank their whisky.
“Yes, begod!” said Dawes, breathless.
There was a pause.
“And I don’t see,” said Paul, “why you shouldn’t go on where you left off.”
“What —-” said Dawes, suggestively.
“Yes — fit your old home together again.”
Dawes hid his face and shook his head.
“Couldn’t be done,” he said, and looked up with an ironic smile.
“Why? Because you don’t want?”
They smoked in silence. Dawes showed his teeth as he bit his pipe stem.
“You mean you don’t want her?” asked Paul.
Dawes stared up at the picture with a caustic expression on his face.
“I hardly know,” he said.
The smoke floated softly up.
“I believe she wants you,” said Paul.
“Do you?” replied the other, soft, satirical, abstract.
“Yes. She never really hitched on to me — you were always there in the background. That’s why she wouldn’t get a divorce.”
Dawes continued to stare in a satirical fashion at the picture over the mantelpiece.
“That’s how women are with me,” said Paul. “They want me like mad, but they don’t want to belong to me. And she BELONGED to you all the time. I knew.”
The triumphant male came up in Dawes. He showed his teeth more distinctly.
“Perhaps I was a fool,” he said.
“You were a big fool,” said Morel.
“But perhaps even THEN you were a bigger fool,” said Dawes.
There was a touch of triumph and malice in it.
“Do you think so?” said Paul.
They were silent for some time.
“At any rate, I’m clearing out to-morrow,” said Morel.
“I see,” answered Dawes.
Then they did not talk any more. The instinct to murder each other had returned. They almost avoided each other.
They shared the same bedroom. When they retired Dawes seemed abstract, thinking of something. He sat on the side of the bed in his shirt, looking at his legs.
“Aren’t you getting cold?” asked Morel.
“I was lookin’ at these legs,” replied the other.
“What’s up with ’em? They look all right,” replied Paul, from his bed.
“They look all right. But there’s some water in ’em yet.”
“And what about it?”
“Come and look.”
Paul reluctantly got out of bed and went to look at the rather handsome legs of the other man that were covered with glistening, dark gold hair.
“Look here,” said Dawes, pointing to his shin. “Look at the water under here.”
“Where?” said Paul.
The man pressed in his finger-tips. They left little dents that filled up slowly.
“It’s nothing,” said Paul.
“You feel,” said Dawes.
Paul tried with his fingers. It made little dents.
“H’m!” he said.
“Rotten, isn’t it?” said Dawes.
“Why? It’s nothing much.”
“You’re not much of a man with water in your legs.”
“I can’t see as it makes any difference,” said Morel. “I’ve got a weak chest.”
He returned to his own bed.
“I suppose the rest of me’s all right,” said Dawes, and he put out the light.
In the morning it was raining. Morel packed his bag. The sea was grey and shaggy and dismal. He seemed to be cutting himself off from life more and more. It gave him a wicked pleasure to do it.
The two men were at the station. Clara stepped out of the train, and came along the platform, very erect and coldly composed. She wore a long coat and a tweed hat. Both men hated her for her composure. Paul shook hands with her at the barrier. Dawes was leaning against the bookstall, watching. His black overcoat was buttoned up to the chin because of the rain. He was pale, with almost a touch of nobility in his quietness. He came forward, limping slightly.
“You ought to look better than this,” she said.
“Oh, I’m all right now.”
The three stood at a loss. She kept the two men hesitating near her.
“Shall we go to the lodging straight off,” said Paul, “or somewhere else?”
“We may as well go home,” said Dawes.
Paul walked on the outside of the pavement, then Dawes, then Clara. They made polite conversation. The sitting-room faced the sea, whose tide, grey and shaggy, hissed not far off.
Morel swung up the big arm-chair.
“Sit down, Jack,” he said.
“I don’t want that chair,” said Dawes.
“Sit down!” Morel repeated.
Clara took off her things and laid them on the couch. She had a slight air of resentment. Lifting her hair with her fingers, she sat down, rather aloof and composed. Paul ran downstairs to speak to the landlady.
“I should think you’re cold,” said Dawes to his wife. “Come nearer to the fire.”
“Thank you, I’m quite warm,” she answered.
She looked out of the window at the rain and at the sea.
“When are you going back?” she asked.
“Well, the rooms are taken until to-morrow, so he wants me to stop. He’s going back to-night.”
“And then you’re thinking of going to Sheffield?”
“Are you fit to start work?”
“I’m going to start.”
“You’ve really got a place?”
“Yes — begin on Monday.”
“You don’t look fit.”
“Why don’t I?”
She looked again out of the window instead of answering.
“And have you got lodgings in Sheffield?”
Again she looked away out of the window. The panes were blurred with streaming rain.
“And can you manage all right?” she asked.
“I s’d think so. I s’ll have to!”
They were silent when Morel returned.
“I shall go by the four-twenty,” he said as he entered.
“I wish you’d take your boots off,” he said to Clara.
“There’s a pair of slippers of mine.”
“Thank you,” she said. “They aren’t wet.”
He put the slippers near her feet. She left them there.
Morel sat down. Both the men seemed helpless, and each of them had a rather hunted look. But Dawes now carried himself quietly, seemed to yield himself, while Paul seemed to screw himself up. Clara thought she had never seen him look so small and mean. He was as if trying to get himself into the smallest possible compass. And as he went about arranging, and as he sat talking, there seemed something false about him and out of tune. Watching him unknown, she said to herself there was no stability about him. He was fine in his way, passionate, and able to give her drinks of pure life when he was in one mood. And now he looked paltry and insignificant. There was nothing stable about him. Her husband had more manly dignity. At any rate HE did not waft about with any wind. There was something evanescent about Morel, she thought, something shifting and false. He would never make sure ground for any woman to stand on. She despised him rather for his shrinking together, getting smaller. Her husband at least was manly, and when he was beaten gave in. But this other would never own to being beaten. He would shift round and round, prowl, get smaller. She despised him. And yet she watched him rather than Dawes, and it seemed as if their three fates lay in his hands. She hated him for it.
She seemed to understand better now about men, and what they could or would do. She was less afraid of them, more sure of herself. That they were not the small egoists she had imagined them made her more comfortable. She had learned a good deal — almost as much as she wanted to learn. Her cup had been full. It was still as full as she could carry. On the whole, she would not be sorry when he was gone.
They had dinner, and sat eating nuts and drinking by the fire. Not a serious word had been spoken. Yet Clara realised that Morel was withdrawing from the circle, leaving her the option to stay with her husband. It angered her. He was a mean fellow, after all, to take what he wanted and then give her back. She did not remember that she herself had had what she wanted, and really, at the bottom of her heart, wished to be given back.
Paul felt crumpled up and lonely. His mother had really supported his life. He had loved her; they two had, in fact, faced the world together. Now she was gone, and for ever behind him was the gap in life, the tear in the veil, through which his life seemed to drift slowly, as if he were drawn towards death. He wanted someone of their own free initiative to help him. The lesser things he began to let go from him, for fear of this big thing, the lapse towards death, following in the wake of his beloved. Clara could not stand for him to hold on to. She wanted him, but not to understand him. He felt she wanted the man on top, not the real him that was in trouble. That would be too much trouble to her; he dared not give it her. She could not cope with him. It made him ashamed. So, secretly ashamed because he was in such a mess, because his own hold on life was so unsure, because nobody held him, feeling unsubstantial, shadowy, as if he did not count for much in this concrete world, he drew himself together smaller and smaller. He did not want to die; he would not give in. But he was not afraid of death. If nobody would help, he would go on alone.
Dawes had been driven to the extremity of life, until he was afraid. He could go to the brink of death, he could lie on the edge and look in. Then, cowed, afraid, he had to crawl back, and like a beggar take what offered. There was a certain nobility in it. As Clara saw, he owned himself beaten, and he wanted to be taken back whether or not. That she could do for him. It was three o’clock.
“I am going by the four-twenty,” said Paul again to Clara. “Are you coming then or later?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“I’m meeting my father in Nottingham at seven-fifteen,” he said.
“Then,” she answered, “I’ll come later.”
Dawes jerked suddenly, as if he had been held on a strain. He looked out over the sea, but he saw nothing.
“There are one or two books in the corner,” said Morel. “I’ve done with ’em.”
At about four o’clock he went.
“I shall see you both later,” he said, as he shook hands.
“I suppose so,” said Dawes. “An’ perhaps — one day — I s’ll be able to pay you back the money as —-”
“I shall come for it, you’ll see,” laughed Paul. “I s’ll be on the rocks before I’m very much older.”
“Ay — well —-” said Dawes.
“Good-bye,” he said to Clara.
“Good-bye,” she said, giving him her hand. Then she glanced at him for the last time, dumb and humble.
He was gone. Dawes and his wife sat down again.
“It’s a nasty day for travelling,” said the man.
“Yes,” she answered.
They talked in a desultory fashion until it grew dark. The landlady brought in the tea. Dawes drew up his chair to the table without being invited, like a husband. Then he sat humbly waiting for his cup. She served him as she would, like a wife, not consulting his wish.
After tea, as it drew near to six o’clock, he went to the window. All was dark outside. The sea was roaring.
“It’s raining yet,” he said.
“Is it?” she answered.
“You won’t go to-night, shall you?” he said, hesitating.
She did not answer. He waited.
“I shouldn’t go in this rain,” he said.
“Do you WANT me to stay?” she asked.
His hand as he held the dark curtain trembled.
“Yes,” he said.
He remained with his back to her. She rose and went slowly to him. He let go the curtain, turned, hesitating, towards her. She stood with her hands behind her back, looking up at him in a heavy, inscrutable fashion.
“Do you want me, Baxter?” she asked.
His voice was hoarse as he answered:
“Do you want to come back to me?”
She made a moaning noise, lifted her arms, and put them round his neck, drawing him to her. He hid his face on her shoulder, holding her clasped.
“Take me back!” she whispered, ecstatic. “Take me back, take me back!” And she put her fingers through his fine, thin dark hair, as if she were only semi-conscious. He tightened his grasp on her.
“Do you want me again?” he murmured, broken.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57