PAUL had been many times up to Willey Farm during the autumn. He was friends with the two youngest boys. Edgar the eldest, would not condescend at first. And Miriam also refused to be approached. She was afraid of being set at nought, as by her own brothers. The girl was romantic in her soul. Everywhere was a Walter Scott heroine being loved by men with helmets or with plumes in their caps. She herself was something of a princess turned into a swine-girl in her own imagination. And she was afraid lest this boy, who, nevertheless, looked something like a Walter Scott hero, who could paint and speak French, and knew what algebra meant, and who went by train to Nottingham every day, might consider her simply as the swine-girl, unable to perceive the princess beneath; so she held aloof.
Her great companion was her mother. They were both brown-eyed, and inclined to be mystical, such women as treasure religion inside them, breathe it in their nostrils, and see the whole of life in a mist thereof. So to Miriam, Christ and God made one great figure, which she loved tremblingly and passionately when a tremendous sunset burned out the western sky, and Ediths, and Lucys, and Rowenas, Brian de Bois Guilberts, Rob Roys, and Guy Mannerings, rustled the sunny leaves in the morning, or sat in her bedroom aloft, alone, when it snowed. That was life to her. For the rest, she drudged in the house, which work she would not have minded had not her clean red floor been mucked up immediately by the trampling farm-boots of her brothers. She madly wanted her little brother of four to let her swathe him and stifle him in her love; she went to church reverently, with bowed head, and quivered in anguish from the vulgarity of the other choir-girls and from the common-sounding voice of the curate; she fought with her brothers, whom she considered brutal louts; and she held not her father in too high esteem because he did not carry any mystical ideals cherished in his heart, but only wanted to have as easy a time as he could, and his meals when he was ready for them.
She hated her position as swine-girl. She wanted to be considered. She wanted to learn, thinking that if she could read, as Paul said he could read, “Colomba”, or the “Voyage autour de ma Chambre”, the world would have a different face for her and a deepened respect. She could not be princess by wealth or standing. So she was mad to have learning whereon to pride herself. For she was different from other folk, and must not be scooped up among the common fry. Learning was the only distinction to which she thought to aspire.
Her beauty — that of a shy, wild, quiveringly sensitive thing — seemed nothing to her. Even her soul, so strong for rhapsody, was not enough. She must have something to reinforce her pride, because she felt different from other people. Paul she eyed rather wistfully. On the whole, she scorned the male sex. But here was a new specimen, quick, light, graceful, who could be gentle and who could be sad, and who was clever, and who knew a lot, and who had a death in the family. The boy’s poor morsel of learning exalted him almost sky-high in her esteem. Yet she tried hard to scorn him, because he would not see in her the princess but only the swine-girl. And he scarcely observed her.
Then he was so ill, and she felt he would be weak. Then she would be stronger than he. Then she could love him. If she could be mistress of him in his weakness, take care of him, if he could depend on her, if she could, as it were, have him in her arms, how she would love him!
As soon as the skies brightened and plum-blossom was out, Paul drove off in the milkman’s heavy float up to Willey Farm. Mr. Leivers shouted in a kindly fashion at the boy, then clicked to the horse as they climbed the hill slowly, in the freshness of the morning. White clouds went on their way, crowding to the back of the hills that were rousing in the springtime. The water of Nethermere lay below, very blue against the seared meadows and the thorn-trees.
It was four and a half miles’ drive. Tiny buds on the hedges, vivid as copper-green, were opening into rosettes; and thrushes called, and blackbirds shrieked and scolded. It was a new, glamorous world.
Miriam, peeping through the kitchen window, saw the horse walk through the big white gate into the farmyard that was backed by the oak-wood, still bare. Then a youth in a heavy overcoat climbed down. He put up his hands for the whip and the rug that the good-looking, ruddy farmer handed down to him.
Miriam appeared in the doorway. She was nearly sixteen, very beautiful, with her warm colouring, her gravity, her eyes dilating suddenly like an ecstasy.
“I say,” said Paul, turning shyly aside, “your daffodils are nearly out. Isn’t it early? But don’t they look cold?”
“Cold!” said Miriam, in her musical, caressing voice.
“The green on their buds —-” and he faltered into silence timidly.
“Let me take the rug,” said Miriam over-gently.
“I can carry it,” he answered, rather injured. But he yielded it to her.
Then Mrs. Leivers appeared.
“I’m sure you’re tired and cold,” she said. “Let me take your coat. It IS heavy. You mustn’t walk far in it.”
She helped him off with his coat. He was quite unused to such attention. She was almost smothered under its weight.
“Why, mother,” laughed the farmer as he passed through the kitchen, swinging the great milk-churns, “you’ve got almost more than you can manage there.”
She beat up the sofa cushions for the youth.
The kitchen was very small and irregular. The farm had been originally a labourer’s cottage. And the furniture was old and battered. But Paul loved it — loved the sack-bag that formed the hearthrug, and the funny little corner under the stairs, and the small window deep in the corner, through which, bending a little, be could see the plum trees in the back garden and the lovely round hills beyond.
“Won’t you lie down?” said Mrs. Leivers.
“Oh no; I’m not tired,” he said. “Isn’t it lovely coming out, don’t you think? I saw a sloe-bush in blossom and a lot of celandines. I’m glad it’s sunny.”
“Can I give you anything to eat or to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“How’s your mother?”
“I think she’s tired now. I think she’s had too much to do. Perhaps in a little while she’ll go to Skegness with me. Then she’ll be able to rest. I s’ll be glad if she can.”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Leivers. “It’s a wonder she isn’t ill herself.”
Miriam was moving about preparing dinner. Paul watched everything that happened. His face was pale and thin, but his eyes were quick and bright with life as ever. He watched the strange, almost rhapsodic way in which the girl moved about, carrying a great stew-jar to the oven, or looking in the saucepan. The atmosphere was different from that of his own home, where everything seemed so ordinary. When Mr. Leivers called loudly outside to the horse, that was reaching over to feed on the rose-bushes in the garden, the girl started, looked round with dark eyes, as if something had come breaking in on her world. There was a sense of silence inside the house and out. Miriam seemed as in some dreamy tale, a maiden in bondage, her spirit dreaming in a land far away and magical. And her discoloured, old blue frock and her broken boots seemed only like the romantic rags of King Cophetua’s beggar-maid.
She suddenly became aware of his keen blue eyes upon her, taking her all in. Instantly her broken boots and her frayed old frock hurt her. She resented his seeing everything. Even he knew that her stocking was not pulled up. She went into the scullery, blushing deeply. And afterwards her hands trembled slightly at her work. She nearly dropped all she handled. When her inside dream was shaken, her body quivered with trepidation. She resented that he saw so much.
Mrs. Leivers sat for some time talking to the boy, although she was needed at her work. She was too polite to leave him. Presently she excused herself and rose. After a while she looked into the tin saucepan.
“Oh DEAR, Miriam,” she cried, “these potatoes have boiled dry!”
Miriam started as if she had been stung.
“HAVE they, mother?” she cried.
“I shouldn’t care, Miriam,” said the mother, “if I hadn’t trusted them to you.” She peered into the pan.
The girl stiffened as if from a blow. Her dark eyes dilated; she remained standing in the same spot.
“Well,” she answered, gripped tight in self-conscious shame, “I’m sure I looked at them five minutes since.”
“Yes,” said the mother, “I know it’s easily done.”
“They’re not much burned,” said Paul. “It doesn’t matter, does it?”
Mrs. Leivers looked at the youth with her brown, hurt eyes.
“It wouldn’t matter but for the boys,” she said to him. “Only Miriam knows what a trouble they make if the potatoes are ‘caught’.”
“Then,” thought Paul to himself, “you shouldn’t let them make a trouble.”
After a while Edgar came in. He wore leggings, and his boots were covered with earth. He was rather small, rather formal, for a farmer. He glanced at Paul, nodded to him distantly, and said:
“Nearly, Edgar,” replied the mother apologetically.
“I’m ready for mine,” said the young man, taking up the newspaper and reading. Presently the rest of the family trooped in. Dinner was served. The meal went rather brutally. The over-gentleness and apologetic tone of the mother brought out all the brutality of manners in the sons. Edgar tasted the potatoes, moved his mouth quickly like a rabbit, looked indignantly at his mother, and said:
“These potatoes are burnt, mother.”
“Yes, Edgar. I forgot them for a minute. Perhaps you’ll have bread if you can’t eat them.”
Edgar looked in anger across at Miriam.
“What was Miriam doing that she couldn’t attend to them?” he said.
Miriam looked up. Her mouth opened, her dark eyes blazed and winced, but she said nothing. She swallowed her anger and her shame, bowing her dark head.
“I’m sure she was trying hard,” said the mother.
“She hasn’t got sense even to boil the potatoes,” said Edgar. “What is she kept at home for?”
“On’y for eating everything that’s left in th’ pantry,” said Maurice.
“They don’t forget that potato-pie against our Miriam,” laughed the father.
She was utterly humiliated. The mother sat in silence, suffering, like some saint out of place at the brutal board.
It puzzled Paul. He wondered vaguely why all this intense feeling went running because of a few burnt potatoes. The mother exalted everything — even a bit of housework — to the plane of a religious trust. The sons resented this; they felt themselves cut away underneath, and they answered with brutality and also with a sneering superciliousness.
Paul was just opening out from childhood into manhood. This atmosphere, where everything took a religious value, came with a subtle fascination to him. There was something in the air. His own mother was logical. Here there was something different, something he loved, something that at times he hated.
Miriam quarrelled with her brothers fiercely. Later in the afternoon, when they had gone away again, her mother said:
“You disappointed me at dinner-time, Miriam.”
The girl dropped her head.
“They are such BRUTES!” she suddenly cried, looking up with flashing eyes.
“But hadn’t you promised not to answer them?” said the mother. “And I believed in you. I CAN’T stand it when you wrangle.”
“But they’re so hateful!” cried Miriam, “and — and LOW.”
“Yes, dear. But how often have I asked you not to answer Edgar back? Can’t you let him say what he likes?”
“But why should he say what he likes?”
“Aren’t you strong enough to bear it, Miriam, if even for my sake? Are you so weak that you must wrangle with them?”
Mrs. Leivers stuck unflinchingly to this doctrine of “the other cheek”. She could not instil it at all into the boys. With the girls she succeeded better, and Miriam was the child of her heart. The boys loathed the other cheek when it was presented to them. Miriam was often sufficiently lofty to turn it. Then they spat on her and hated her. But she walked in her proud humility, living within herself.
There was always this feeling of jangle and discord in the Leivers family. Although the boys resented so bitterly this eternal appeal to their deeper feelings of resignation and proud humility, yet it had its effect on them. They could not establish between themselves and an outsider just the ordinary human feeling and unexaggerated friendship; they were always restless for the something deeper. Ordinary folk seemed shallow to them, trivial and inconsiderable. And so they were unaccustomed, painfully uncouth in the simplest social intercourse, suffering, and yet insolent in their superiority. Then beneath was the yearning for the soul-intimacy to which they could not attain because they were too dumb, and every approach to close connection was blocked by their clumsy contempt of other people. They wanted genuine intimacy, but they could not get even normally near to anyone, because they scorned to take the first steps, they scorned the triviality which forms common human intercourse.
Paul fell under Mrs. Leivers’s spell. Everything had a religious and intensified meaning when he was with her. His soul, hurt, highly developed, sought her as if for nourishment. Together they seemed to sift the vital fact from an experience.
Miriam was her mother’s daughter. In the sunshine of the afternoon mother and daughter went down the fields with him. They looked for nests. There was a jenny wren’s in the hedge by the orchard.
“I DO want you to see this,” said Mrs. Leivers.
He crouched down and carefully put his finger through the thorns into the round door of the nest.
“It’s almost as if you were feeling inside the live body of the bird,” he said, “it’s so warm. They say a bird makes its nest round like a cup with pressing its breast on it. Then how did it make the ceiling round, I wonder?”
The nest seemed to start into life for the two women. After that, Miriam came to see it every day. It seemed so close to her. Again, going down the hedgeside with the girl, he noticed the celandines, scalloped splashes of gold, on the side of the ditch.
“I like them,” he said, “when their petals go flat back with the sunshine. They seemed to be pressing themselves at the sun.”
And then the celandines ever after drew her with a little spell. Anthropomorphic as she was, she stimulated him into appreciating things thus, and then they lived for her. She seemed to need things kindling in her imagination or in her soul before she felt she had them. And she was cut off from ordinary life by her religious intensity which made the world for her either a nunnery garden or a paradise, where sin and knowledge were not, or else an ugly, cruel thing.
So it was in this atmosphere of subtle intimacy, this meeting in their common feeling for something in Nature, that their love started.
Personally, he was a long time before he realized her. For ten months he had to stay at home after his illness. For a while he went to Skegness with his mother, and was perfectly happy. But even from the seaside he wrote long letters to Mrs. Leivers about the shore and the sea. And he brought back his beloved sketches of the flat Lincoln coast, anxious for them to see. Almost they would interest the Leivers more than they interested his mother. It was not his art Mrs. Morel cared about; it was himself and his achievement. But Mrs. Leivers and her children were almost his disciples. They kindled him and made him glow to his work, whereas his mother’s influence was to make him quietly determined, patient, dogged, unwearied.
He soon was friends with the boys, whose rudeness was only superficial. They had all, when they could trust themselves, a strange gentleness and lovableness.
“Will you come with me on to the fallow?” asked Edgar, rather hesitatingly.
Paul went joyfully, and spent the afternoon helping to hoe or to single turnips with his friend. He used to lie with the three brothers in the hay piled up in the barn and tell them about Nottingham and about Jordan’s. In return, they taught him to milk, and let him do little jobs — chopping hay or pulping turnips — just as much as he liked. At midsummer he worked all through hay-harvest with them, and then he loved them. The family was so cut off from the world actually. They seemed, somehow, like “les derniers fils d’une race epuisee”. Though the lads were strong and healthy, yet they had all that over-sensitiveness and hanging-back which made them so lonely, yet also such close, delicate friends once their intimacy was won. Paul loved them dearly, and they him.
Miriam came later. But he had come into her life before she made any mark on his. One dull afternoon, when the men were on the land and the rest at school, only Miriam and her mother at home, the girl said to him, after having hesitated for some time:
“Have you seen the swing?”
“No,” he answered. “Where?”
“In the cowshed,” she replied.
She always hesitated to offer or to show him anything. Men have such different standards of worth from women, and her dear things — the valuable things to her — her brothers had so often mocked or flouted.
“Come on, then,” he replied, jumping up.
There were two cowsheds, one on either side of the barn. In the lower, darker shed there was standing for four cows. Hens flew scolding over the manger-wall as the youth and girl went forward for the great thick rope which hung from the beam in the darkness overhead, and was pushed back over a peg in the wall.
“It’s something like a rope!” he exclaimed appreciatively; and he sat down on it, anxious to try it. Then immediately he rose.
“Come on, then, and have first go,” he said to the girl.
“See,” she answered, going into the barn, “we put some bags on the seat”; and she made the swing comfortable for him. That gave her pleasure. He held the rope.
“Come on, then,” he said to her.
“No, I won’t go first,” she answered.
She stood aside in her still, aloof fashion.
“You go,” she pleaded.
Almost for the first time in her life she had the pleasure of giving up to a man, of spoiling him. Paul looked at her.
“All right,” he said, sitting down. “Mind out!”
He set off with a spring, and in a moment was flying through the air, almost out of the door of the shed, the upper half of which was open, showing outside the drizzling rain, the filthy yard, the cattle standing disconsolate against the black cartshed, and at the back of all the grey-green wall of the wood. She stood below in her crimson tam-o’-shanter and watched. He looked down at her, and she saw his blue eyes sparkling.
“It’s a treat of a swing,” he said.
He was swinging through the air, every bit of him swinging, like a bird that swoops for joy of movement. And he looked down at her. Her crimson cap hung over her dark curls, her beautiful warm face, so still in a kind of brooding, was lifted towards him. It was dark and rather cold in the shed. Suddenly a swallow came down from the high roof and darted out of the door.
“I didn’t know a bird was watching,” he called.
He swung negligently. She could feel him falling and lifting through the air, as if he were lying on some force.
“Now I’ll die,” he said, in a detached, dreamy voice, as though he were the dying motion of the swing. She watched him, fascinated. Suddenly he put on the brake and jumped out.
“I’ve had a long turn,” he said. “But it’s a treat of a swing — it’s a real treat of a swing!”
Miriam was amused that he took a swing so seriously and felt so warmly over it.
“No; you go on,” she said.
“Why, don’t you want one?” he asked, astonished.
“Well, not much. I’ll have just a little.”
She sat down, whilst he kept the bags in place for her.
“It’s so ripping!” he said, setting her in motion. “Keep your heels up, or they’ll bang the manger wall.”
She felt the accuracy with which he caught her, exactly at the right moment, and the exactly proportionate strength of his thrust, and she was afraid. Down to her bowels went the hot wave of fear. She was in his hands. Again, firm and inevitable came the thrust at the right moment. She gripped the rope, almost swooning.
“Ha!” she laughed in fear. “No higher!”
“But you’re not a BIT high,” he remonstrated.
“But no higher.”
He heard the fear in her voice, and desisted. Her heart melted in hot pain when the moment came for him to thrust her forward again. But he left her alone. She began to breathe.
“Won’t you really go any farther?” he asked. “Should I keep you there?”
“No; let me go by myself,” she answered.
He moved aside and watched her.
“Why, you’re scarcely moving,” he said.
She laughed slightly with shame, and in a moment got down.
“They say if you can swing you won’t be sea-sick,” he said, as he mounted again. “I don’t believe I should ever be sea-sick.”
Away he went. There was something fascinating to her in him. For the moment he was nothing but a piece of swinging stuff; not a particle of him that did not swing. She could never lose herself so, nor could her brothers. It roused a warmth in her. It was almost as if he were a flame that had lit a warmth in her whilst he swung in the middle air.
And gradually the intimacy with the family concentrated for Paul on three persons — the mother, Edgar, and Miriam. To the mother he went for that sympathy and that appeal which seemed to draw him out. Edgar was his very close friend. And to Miriam he more or less condescended, because she seemed so humble.
But the girl gradually sought him out. If he brought up his sketch-book, it was she who pondered longest over the last picture. Then she would look up at him. Suddenly, her dark eyes alight like water that shakes with a stream of gold in the dark, she would ask:
“Why do I like this so?”
Always something in his breast shrank from these close, intimate, dazzled looks of hers.
“Why DO you?” he asked.
“I don’t know. It seems so true.”
“It’s because — it’s because there is scarcely any shadow in it; it’s more shimmery, as if I’d painted the shimmering protoplasm in the leaves and everywhere, and not the stiffness of the shape. That seems dead to me. Only this shimmeriness is the real living. The shape is a dead crust. The shimmer is inside really.”
And she, with her little finger in her mouth, would ponder these sayings. They gave her a feeling of life again, and vivified things which had meant nothing to her. She managed to find some meaning in his struggling, abstract speeches. And they were the medium through which she came distinctly at her beloved objects.
Another day she sat at sunset whilst he was painting some pine-trees which caught the red glare from the west. He had been quiet.
“There you are!” he said suddenly. “I wanted that. Now, look at them and tell me, are they pine trunks or are they red coals, standing-up pieces of fire in that darkness? There’s God’s burning bush for you, that burned not away.”
Miriam looked, and was frightened. But the pine trunks were wonderful to her, and distinct. He packed his box and rose. Suddenly he looked at her.
“Why are you always sad?” he asked her.
“Sad!” she exclaimed, looking up at him with startled, wonderful brown eyes.
“Yes,” he replied. “You are always sad.”
“I am not — oh, not a bit!” she cried.
“But even your joy is like a flame coming off of sadness,” he persisted. “You’re never jolly, or even just all right.”
“No,” she pondered. “I wonder — why?”
“Because you’re not; because you’re different inside, like a pine-tree, and then you flare up; but you’re not just like an ordinary tree, with fidgety leaves and jolly —-”
He got tangled up in his own speech; but she brooded on it, and he had a strange, roused sensation, as if his feelings were new. She got so near him. It was a strange stimulant.
Then sometimes he hated her. Her youngest brother was only five. He was a frail lad, with immense brown eyes in his quaint fragile face — one of Reynolds’s “Choir of Angels”, with a touch of elf. Often Miriam kneeled to the child and drew him to her.
“Eh, my Hubert!” she sang, in a voice heavy and surcharged with love. “Eh, my Hubert!”
And, folding him in her arms, she swayed slightly from side to side with love, her face half lifted, her eyes half closed, her voice drenched with love.
“Don’t!” said the child, uneasy —“don’t, Miriam!”
“Yes; you love me, don’t you?” she murmured deep in her throat, almost as if she were in a trance, and swaying also as if she were swooned in an ecstasy of love.
“Don’t!” repeated the child, a frown on his clear brow.
“You love me, don’t you?” she murmured.
“What do you make such a FUSS for?” cried Paul, all in suffering because of her extreme emotion. “Why can’t you be ordinary with him?”
She let the child go, and rose, and said nothing. Her intensity, which would leave no emotion on a normal plane, irritated the youth into a frenzy. And this fearful, naked contact of her on small occasions shocked him. He was used to his mother’s reserve. And on such occasions he was thankful in his heart and soul that he had his mother, so sane and wholesome.
All the life of Miriam’s body was in her eyes, which were usually dark as a dark church, but could flame with light like a conflagration. Her face scarcely ever altered from its look of brooding. She might have been one of the women who went with Mary when Jesus was dead. Her body was not flexible and living. She walked with a swing, rather heavily, her head bowed forward, pondering. She was not clumsy, and yet none of her movements seemed quite THE movement. Often, when wiping the dishes, she would stand in bewilderment and chagrin because she had pulled in two halves a cup or a tumbler. It was as if, in her fear and self-mistrust, she put too much strength into the effort. There was no looseness or abandon about her. Everything was gripped stiff with intensity, and her effort, overcharged, closed in on itself.
She rarely varied from her swinging, forward, intense walk. Occasionally she ran with Paul down the fields. Then her eyes blazed naked in a kind of ecstasy that frightened him. But she was physically afraid. If she were getting over a stile, she gripped his hands in a little hard anguish, and began to lose her presence of mind. And he could not persuade her to jump from even a small height. Her eyes dilated, became exposed and palpitating.
“No!” she cried, half laughing in terror —“no!”
“You shall!” he cried once, and, jerking her forward, he brought her falling from the fence. But her wild “Ah!” of pain, as if she were losing consciousness, cut him. She landed on her feet safely, and afterwards had courage in this respect.
She was very much dissatisfied with her lot.
“Don’t you like being at home?” Paul asked her, surprised.
“Who would?” she answered, low and intense. “What is it? I’m all day cleaning what the boys make just as bad in five minutes. I don’t WANT to be at home.”
“What do you want, then?”
“I want to do something. I want a chance like anybody else. Why should 1, because I’m a girl, be kept at home and not allowed to be anything? What chance HAVE I?”
“Chance of what?”
“Of knowing anything — of learning, of doing anything. It’s not fair, because I’m a woman.”
She seemed very bitter. Paul wondered. In his own home Annie was almost glad to be a girl. She had not so much responsibility; things were lighter for her. She never wanted to be other than a girl. But Miriam almost fiercely wished she were a man. And yet she hated men at the same time.
“But it’s as well to be a woman as a man,” he said, frowning.
“Ha! Is it? Men have everything.”
“I should think women ought to be as glad to be women as men are to be men,” he answered.
“No!”— she shook her head —“no! Everything the men have.”
“But what do you want?” he asked.
“I want to learn. Why SHOULD it be that I know nothing?”
“What! such as mathematics and French?”
“Why SHOULDN’T I know mathematics? Yes!” she cried, her eye expanding in a kind of defiance.
“Well, you can learn as much as I know,” he said. “I’ll teach you, if you like.”
Her eyes dilated. She mistrusted him as teacher.
“Would you?” he asked.
Her head had dropped, and she was sucking her finger broodingly.
“Yes,” she said hesitatingly.
He used to tell his mother all these things.
“I’m going to teach Miriam algebra,” he said.
“Well,” replied Mrs. Morel, “I hope she’ll get fat on it.”
When he went up to the farm on the Monday evening, it was drawing twilight. Miriam was just sweeping up the kitchen, and was kneeling at the hearth when he entered. Everyone was out but her. She looked round at him, flushed, her dark eyes shining, her fine hair falling about her face.
“Hello!” she said, soft and musical. “I knew it was you.”
“I knew your step. Nobody treads so quick and firm.”
He sat down, sighing.
“Ready to do some algebra?” he asked, drawing a little book from his pocket.
He could feel her backing away.
“You said you wanted,” he insisted.
“To-night, though?” she faltered.
“But I came on purpose. And if you want to learn it, you must begin.”
She took up her ashes in the dustpan and looked at him, half tremulously, laughing.
“Yes, but to-night! You see, I haven’t thought of it.”
“Well, my goodness! Take the ashes and come.”
He went and sat on the stone bench in the back-yard, where the big milk-cans were standing, tipped up, to air. The men were in the cowsheds. He could hear the little sing-song of the milk spurting into the pails. Presently she came, bringing some big greenish apples.
“You know you like them,” she said.
He took a bite.
“Sit down,” he said, with his mouth full.
She was short-sighted, and peered over his shoulder. It irritated him. He gave her the book quickly.
“Here,” he said. “It’s only letters for figures. You put down ‘a’ instead of ‘2’ or ‘6’.”
They worked, he talking, she with her head down on the book. He was quick and hasty. She never answered. Occasionally, when he demanded of her, “Do you see?” she looked up at him, her eyes wide with the half-laugh that comes of fear. “Don’t you?” he cried.
He had been too fast. But she said nothing. He questioned her more, then got hot. It made his blood rouse to see her there, as it were, at his mercy, her mouth open, her eyes dilated with laughter that was afraid, apologetic, ashamed. Then Edgar came along with two buckets of milk.
“Hello!” he said. “What are you doing?”
“Algebra,” replied Paul.
“Algebra!” repeated Edgar curiously. Then he passed on with a laugh. Paul took a bite at his forgotten apple, looked at the miserable cabbages in the garden, pecked into lace by the fowls, and he wanted to pull them up. Then he glanced at Miriam. She was poring over the book, seemed absorbed in it, yet trembling lest she could not get at it. It made him cross. She was ruddy and beautiful. Yet her soul seemed to be intensely supplicating. The algebra-book she closed, shrinking, knowing he was angered; and at the same instant he grew gentle, seeing her hurt because she did not understand.
But things came slowly to her. And when she held herself in a grip, seemed so utterly humble before the lesson, it made his blood rouse. He stormed at her, got ashamed, continued the lesson, and grew furious again, abusing her. She listened in silence. Occasionally, very rarely, she defended herself. Her liquid dark eyes blazed at him.
“You don’t give me time to learn it,” she said.
“All right,” he answered, throwing the book on the table and lighting a cigarette. Then, after a while, he went back to her repentant. So the lessons went. He was always either in a rage or very gentle.
“What do you tremble your SOUL before it for?” he cried. “You don’t learn algebra with your blessed soul. Can’t you look at it with your clear simple wits?”
Often, when he went again into the kitchen, Mrs. Leivers would look at him reproachfully, saying:
“Paul, don’t be so hard on Miriam. She may not be quick, but I’m sure she tries.”
“I can’t help it,” he said rather pitiably. “I go off like it.”
“You don’t mind me, Miriam, do you?” he asked of the girl later.
“No,” she reassured him in her beautiful deep tones —“no, I don’t mind.”
“Don’t mind me; it’s my fault.”
But, in spite of himself, his blood began to boil with her. It was strange that no one else made him in such fury. He flared against her. Once he threw the pencil in her face. There was a silence. She turned her face slightly aside.
“I didn’t —-” he began, but got no farther, feeling weak in all his bones. She never reproached him or was angry with him. He was often cruelly ashamed. But still again his anger burst like a bubble surcharged; and still, when he saw her eager, silent, as it were, blind face, he felt he wanted to throw the pencil in it; and still, when he saw her hand trembling and her mouth parted with suffering, his heart was scalded with pain for her. And because of the intensity to which she roused him, he sought her.
Then he often avoided her and went with Edgar. Miriam and her brother were naturally antagonistic. Edgar was a rationalist, who was curious, and had a sort of scientific interest in life. It was a great bitterness to Miriam to see herself deserted by Paul for Edgar, who seemed so much lower. But the youth was very happy with her elder brother. The two men spent afternoons together on the land or in the loft doing carpentry, when it rained. And they talked together, or Paul taught Edgar the songs he himself had learned from Annie at the piano. And often all the men, Mr. Leivers as well, had bitter debates on the nationalizing of the land and similar problems. Paul had already heard his mother’s views, and as these were as yet his own, he argued for her. Miriam attended and took part, but was all the time waiting until it should be over and a personal communication might begin.
“After all,” she said within herself, “if the land were nationalized, Edgar and Paul and I would be just the same.” So she waited for the youth to come back to her.
He was studying for his painting. He loved to sit at home, alone with his mother, at night, working and working. She sewed or read. Then, looking up from his task, he would rest his eyes for a moment on her face, that was bright with living warmth, and he returned gladly to his work.
“I can do my best things when you sit there in your rocking-chair, mother,” he said.
“I’m sure!” she exclaimed, sniffing with mock scepticism. But she felt it was so, and her heart quivered with brightness. For many hours she sat still, slightly conscious of him labouring away, whilst she worked or read her book. And he, with all his soul’s intensity directing his pencil, could feel her warmth inside him like strength. They were both very happy so, and both unconscious of it. These times, that meant so much, and which were real living, they almost ignored.
He was conscious only when stimulated. A sketch finished, he always wanted to take it to Miriam. Then he was stimulated into knowledge of the work he had produced unconsciously. In contact with Miriam he gained insight; his vision went deeper. From his mother he drew the life-warmth, the strength to produce; Miriam urged this warmth into intensity like a white light.
When he returned to the factory the conditions of work were better. He had Wednesday afternoon off to go to the Art School — Miss Jordan’s provision — returning in the evening. Then the factory closed at six instead of eight on Thursday and Friday evenings.
One evening in the summer Miriam and he went over the fields by Herod’s Farm on their way from the library home. So it was only three miles to Willey Farm. There was a yellow glow over the mowing-grass, and the sorrel-heads burned crimson. Gradually, as they walked along the high land, the gold in the west sank down to red, the red to crimson, and then the chill blue crept up against the glow.
They came out upon the high road to Alfreton, which ran white between the darkening fields. There Paul hesitated. It was two miles home for him, one mile forward for Miriam. They both looked up the road that ran in shadow right under the glow of the north-west sky. On the crest of the hill, Selby, with its stark houses and the up-pricked headstocks of the pit, stood in black silhouette small against the sky.
He looked at his watch.
“Nine o’clock!” he said.
The pair stood, loth to part, hugging their books.
“The wood is so lovely now,” she said. “I wanted you to see it.”
He followed her slowly across the road to the white gate.
“They grumble so if I’m late,” he said.
“But you’re not doing anything wrong,” she answered impatiently.
He followed her across the nibbled pasture in the dusk. There was a coolness in the wood, a scent of leaves, of honeysuckle, and a twilight. The two walked in silence. Night came wonderfully there, among the throng of dark tree-trunks. He looked round, expectant.
She wanted to show him a certain wild-rose bush she had discovered. She knew it was wonderful. And yet, till he had seen it, she felt it had not come into her soul. Only he could make it her own, immortal. She was dissatisfied.
Dew was already on the paths. In the old oak-wood a mist was rising, and he hesitated, wondering whether one whiteness were a strand of fog or only campion-flowers pallid in a cloud.
By the time they came to the pine-trees Miriam was getting very eager and very tense. Her bush might be gone. She might not be able to find it; and she wanted it so much. Almost passionately she wanted to be with him when be stood before the flowers. They were going to have a communion together — something that thrilled her, something holy. He was walking beside her in silence. They were very near to each other. She trembled, and he listened, vaguely anxious.
Coming to the edge of the wood, they saw the sky in front, like mother-of-pearl, and the earth growing dark. Somewhere on the outermost branches of the pine-wood the honeysuckle was streaming scent.
“Where?” he asked.
“Down the middle path,” she murmured, quivering.
When they turned the corner of the path she stood still. In the wide walk between the pines, gazing rather frightened, she could distinguish nothing for some moments; the greying light robbed things of their colour. Then she saw her bush.
“Ah!” she cried, hastening forward.
It was very still. The tree was tall and straggling. It had thrown its briers over a hawthorn-bush, and its long streamers trailed thick, right down to the grass, splashing the darkness everywhere with great spilt stars, pure white. In bosses of ivory and in large splashed stars the roses gleamed on the darkness of foliage and stems and grass. Paul and Miriam stood close together, silent, and watched. Point after point the steady roses shone out to them, seeming to kindle something in their souls. The dusk came like smoke around, and still did not put out the roses.
Paul looked into Miriam’s eyes. She was pale and expectant with wonder, her lips were parted, and her dark eyes lay open to him. His look seemed to travel down into her. Her soul quivered. It was the communion she wanted. He turned aside, as if pained. He turned to the bush.
“They seem as if they walk like butterflies, and shake themselves,” he said.
She looked at her roses. They were white, some incurved and holy, others expanded in an ecstasy. The tree was dark as a shadow. She lifted her hand impulsively to the flowers; she went forward and touched them in worship.
“Let us go,” he said.
There was a cool scent of ivory roses — a white, virgin scent. Something made him feel anxious and imprisoned. The two walked in silence.
“Till Sunday,” he said quietly, and left her; and she walked home slowly, feeling her soul satisfied with the holiness of the night. He stumbled down the path. And as soon as he was out of the wood, in the free open meadow, where he could breathe, he started to run as fast as he could. It was like a delicious delirium in his veins.
Always when he went with Miriam, and it grew rather late, he knew his mother was fretting and getting angry about him — why, he could not understand. As he went into the house, flinging down his cap, his mother looked up at the clock. She had been sitting thinking, because a chill to her eyes prevented her reading. She could feel Paul being drawn away by this girl. And she did not care for Miriam. “She is one of those who will want to suck a man’s soul out till he has none of his own left,” she said to herself; “and he is just such a gaby as to let himself be absorbed. She will never let him become a man; she never will.” So, while he was away with Miriam, Mrs. Morel grew more and more worked up.
She glanced at the clock and said, coldly and rather tired:
“You have been far enough to-night.”
His soul, warm and exposed from contact with the girl, shrank.
“You must have been right home with her,” his mother continued.
He would not answer. Mrs. Morel, looking at him quickly, saw his hair was damp on his forehead with haste, saw him frowning in his heavy fashion, resentfully.
“She must be wonderfully fascinating, that you can’t get away from her, but must go trailing eight miles at this time of night.”
He was hurt between the past glamour with Miriam and the knowledge that his mother fretted. He had meant not to say anything, to refuse to answer. But he could not harden his heart to ignore his mother.
“I DO like to talk to her,” he answered irritably.
“Is there nobody else to talk to?”
“You wouldn’t say anything if I went with Edgar.”
“You know I should. You know, whoever you went with, I should say it was too far for you to go trailing, late at night, when you’ve been to Nottingham. Besides”— her voice suddenly flashed into anger and contempt —“it is disgusting — bits of lads and girls courting.”
“It is NOT courting,” he cried.
“I don’t know what else you call it.”
“It’s not! Do you think we SPOON and do? We only talk.”
“Till goodness knows what time and distance,” was the sarcastic rejoinder.
Paul snapped at the laces of his boots angrily.
“What are you so mad about?” he asked. “Because you don’t like her.”
“I don’t say I don’t like her. But I don’t hold with children keeping company, and never did.”
“But you don’t mind our Annie going out with Jim Inger.”
“They’ve more sense than you two.”
“Our Annie’s not one of the deep sort.”
He failed to see the meaning of this remark. But his mother looked tired. She was never so strong after William’s death; and her eyes hurt her.
“Well,” he said, “it’s so pretty in the country. Mr. Sleath asked about you. He said he’d missed you. Are you a bit better?”
“I ought to have been in bed a long time ago,” she replied.
“Why, mother, you know you wouldn’t have gone before quarter-past ten.”
“Oh, yes, I should!”
“Oh, little woman, you’d say anything now you’re disagreeable with me, wouldn’t you?”
He kissed her forehead that he knew so well: the deep marks between the brows, the rising of the fine hair, greying now, and the proud setting of the temples. His hand lingered on her shoulder after his kiss. Then he went slowly to bed. He had forgotten Miriam; he only saw how his mother’s hair was lifted back from her warm, broad brow. And somehow, she was hurt.
Then the next time he saw Miriam he said to her:
“Don’t let me be late to-night — not later than ten o’clock. My mother gets so upset.”
Miriam dropped her bead, brooding.
“Why does she get upset?” she asked.
“Because she says I oughtn’t to be out late when I have to get up early.”
“Very well!” said Miriam, rather quietly, with just a touch of a sneer.
He resented that. And he was usually late again.
That there was any love growing between him and Miriam neither of them would have acknowledged. He thought he was too sane for such sentimentality, and she thought herself too lofty. They both were late in coming to maturity, and psychical ripeness was much behind even the physical. Miriam was exceedingly sensitive, as her mother had always been. The slightest grossness made her recoil almost in anguish. Her brothers were brutal, but never coarse in speech. The men did all the discussing of farm matters outside. But, perhaps, because of the continual business of birth and of begetting which goes on upon every farm, Miriam was the more hypersensitive to the matter, and her blood was chastened almost to disgust of the faintest suggestion of such intercourse. Paul took his pitch from her, and their intimacy went on in an utterly blanched and chaste fashion. It could never be mentioned that the mare was in foal.
When he was nineteen, he was earning only twenty shillings a week, but he was happy. His painting went well, and life went well enough. On the Good Friday he organised a walk to the Hemlock Stone. There were three lads of his own age, then Annie and Arthur, Miriam and Geoffrey. Arthur, apprenticed as an electrician in Nottingham, was home for the holiday. Morel, as usual, was up early, whistling and sawing in the yard. At seven o’clock the family heard him buy threepennyworth of hot-cross buns; he talked with gusto to the little girl who brought them, calling her “my darling”. He turned away several boys who came with more buns, telling them they had been “kested” by a little lass. Then Mrs. Morel got up, and the family straggled down. It was an immense luxury to everybody, this lying in bed just beyond the ordinary time on a weekday. And Paul and Arthur read before breakfast, and had the meal unwashed, sitting in their shirt-sleeves. This was another holiday luxury. The room was warm. Everything felt free of care and anxiety. There was a sense of plenty in the house.
While the boys were reading, Mrs. Morel went into the garden. They were now in another house, an old one, near the Scargill Street home, which had been left soon after William had died. Directly came an excited cry from the garden:
“Paul! Paul! come and look!”
It was his mother’s voice. He threw down his book and went out. There was a long garden that ran to a field. It was a grey, cold day, with a sharp wind blowing out of Derbyshire. Two fields away Bestwood began, with a jumble of roofs and red house-ends, out of which rose the church tower and the spire of the Congregational Chapel. And beyond went woods and hills, right away to the pale grey heights of the Pennine Chain.
Paul looked down the garden for his mother. Her head appeared among the young currant-bushes.
“Come here!” she cried.
“What for?” he answered.
“Come and see.”
She had been looking at the buds on the currant trees. Paul went up.
“To think,” she said, “that here I might never have seen them!”
Her son went to her side. Under the fence, in a little bed, was a ravel of poor grassy leaves, such as come from very immature bulbs, and three scyllas in bloom. Mrs. Morel pointed to the deep blue flowers.
“Now, just see those!” she exclaimed. “I was looking at the currant bushes, when, thinks I to myself, ‘There’s something very blue; is it a bit of sugar-bag?’ and there, behold you! Sugar-bag! Three glories of the snow, and such beauties! But where on earth did they come from?”
“I don’t know,” said Paul.
“Well, that’s a marvel, now! I THOUGHT I knew every weed and blade in this garden. But HAVEN’T they done well? You see, that gooseberry-bush just shelters them. Not nipped, not touched!”
He crouched down and turned up the bells of the little blue flowers.
“They’re a glorious colour!” he said.
“Aren’t they!” she cried. “I guess they come from Switzerland, where they say they have such lovely things. Fancy them against the snow! But where have they come from? They can’t have BLOWN here, can they?”
Then he remembered having set here a lot of little trash of bulbs to mature.
“And you never told me,” she said.
“No! I thought I’d leave it till they might flower.”
“And now, you see! I might have missed them. And I’ve never had a glory of the snow in my garden in my life.”
She was full of excitement and elation. The garden was an endless joy to her. Paul was thankful for her sake at last to be in a house with a long garden that went down to a field. Every morning after breakfast she went out and was happy pottering about in it. And it was true, she knew every weed and blade.
Everybody turned up for the walk. Food was packed, and they set off, a merry, delighted party. They hung over the wall of the mill-race, dropped paper in the water on one side of the tunnel and watched it shoot out on the other. They stood on the foot-bridge over Boathouse Station and looked at the metals gleaming coldly.
“You should see the Flying Scotsman come through at half-past six!” said Leonard, whose father was a signalman. “Lad, but she doesn’t half buzz!” and the little party looked up the lines one way, to London, and the other way, to Scotland, and they felt the touch of these two magical places.
In Ilkeston the colliers were waiting in gangs for the public-houses to open. It was a town of idleness and lounging. At Stanton Gate the iron foundry blazed. Over everything there were great discussions. At Trowell they crossed again from Derbyshire into Nottinghamshire. They came to the Hemlock Stone at dinner-time. Its field was crowded with folk from Nottingham and Ilkeston.
They had expected a venerable and dignified monument. They found a little, gnarled, twisted stump of rock, something like a decayed mushroom, standing out pathetically on the side of a field. Leonard and Dick immediately proceeded to carve their initials, “L. W.” and “R. P.”, in the old red sandstone; but Paul desisted, because he had read in the newspaper satirical remarks about initial-carvers, who could find no other road to immortality. Then all the lads climbed to the top of the rock to look round.
Everywhere in the field below, factory girls and lads were eating lunch or sporting about. Beyond was the garden of an old manor. It had yew-hedges and thick clumps and borders of yellow crocuses round the lawn.
“See,” said Paul to Miriam, “what a quiet garden!”
She saw the dark yews and the golden crocuses, then she looked gratefully. He had not seemed to belong to her among all these others; he was different then — not her Paul, who understood the slightest quiver of her innermost soul, but something else, speaking another language than hers. How it hurt her, and deadened her very perceptions. Only when he came right back to her, leaving his other, his lesser self, as she thought, would she feel alive again. And now he asked her to look at this garden, wanting the contact with her again. Impatient of the set in the field, she turned to the quiet lawn, surrounded by sheaves of shut-up crocuses. A feeling of stillness, almost of ecstasy, came over her. It felt almost as if she were alone with him in this garden.
Then he left her again and joined the others. Soon they started home. Miriam loitered behind, alone. She did not fit in with the others; she could very rarely get into human relations with anyone: so her friend, her companion, her lover, was Nature. She saw the sun declining wanly. In the dusky, cold hedgerows were some red leaves. She lingered to gather them, tenderly, passionately. The love in her finger-tips caressed the leaves; the passion in her heart came to a glow upon the leaves.
Suddenly she realised she was alone in a strange road, and she hurried forward. Turning a corner in the lane, she came upon Paul, who stood bent over something, his mind fixed on it, working away steadily, patiently, a little hopelessly. She hesitated in her approach, to watch.
He remained concentrated in the middle of the road. Beyond, one rift of rich gold in that colourless grey evening seemed to make him stand out in dark relief. She saw him, slender and firm, as if the setting sun had given him to her. A deep pain took hold of her, and she knew she must love him. And she had discovered him, discovered in him a rare potentiality, discovered his loneliness. Quivering as at some “annunciation”, she went slowly forward.
At last he looked up.
“Why,” he exclaimed gratefully, “have you waited for me!”
She saw a deep shadow in his eyes.
“What is it?” she asked.
“The spring broken here;” and he showed her where his umbrella was injured.
Instantly, with some shame, she knew he had not done the damage himself, but that Geoffrey was responsible.
“It is only an old umbrella, isn’t it?” she asked.
She wondered why he, who did not usually trouble over trifles, made such a mountain of this molehill.
“But it was William’s an’ my mother can’t help but know,” he said quietly, still patiently working at the umbrella.
The words went through Miriam like a blade. This, then, was the confirmation of her vision of him! She looked at him. But there was about him a certain reserve, and she dared not comfort him, not even speak softly to him.
“Come on,” he said. “I can’t do it;” and they went in silence along the road.
That same evening they were walking along under the trees by Nether Green. He was talking to her fretfully, seemed to be struggling to convince himself.
“You know,” he said, with an effort, “if one person loves, the other does.”
“Ah!” she answered. “Like mother said to me when I was little, ‘Love begets love.’”
“Yes, something like that, I think it MUST be.”
“I hope so, because, if it were not, love might be a very terrible thing,” she said.
“Yes, but it IS— at least with most people,” he answered.
And Miriam, thinking he had assured himself, felt strong in herself. She always regarded that sudden coming upon him in the lane as a revelation. And this conversation remained graven in her mind as one of the letters of the law.
Now she stood with him and for him. When, about this time, he outraged the family feeling at Willey Farm by some overbearing insult, she stuck to him, and believed he was right. And at this time she dreamed dreams of him, vivid, unforgettable. These dreams came again later on, developed to a more subtle psychological stage.
On the Easter Monday the same party took an excursion to Wingfield Manor. It was great excitement to Miriam to catch a train at Sethley Bridge, amid all the bustle of the Bank Holiday crowd. They left the train at Alfreton. Paul was interested in the street and in the colliers with their dogs. Here was a new race of miners. Miriam did not live till they came to the church. They were all rather timid of entering, with their bags of food, for fear of being turned out. Leonard, a comic, thin fellow, went first; Paul, who would have died rather than be sent back, went last. The place was decorated for Easter. In the font hundreds of white narcissi seemed to be growing. The air was dim and coloured from the windows and thrilled with a subtle scent of lilies and narcissi. In that atmosphere Miriam’s soul came into a glow. Paul was afraid of the things he mustn’t do; and he was sensitive to the feel of the place. Miriam turned to him. He answered. They were together. He would not go beyond the Communion-rail. She loved him for that. Her soul expanded into prayer beside him. He felt the strange fascination of shadowy religious places. All his latent mysticism quivered into life. She was drawn to him. He was a prayer along with her.
Miriam very rarely talked to the other lads. They at once became awkward in conversation with her. So usually she was silent.
It was past midday when they climbed the steep path to the manor. All things shone softly in the sun, which was wonderfully warm and enlivening. Celandines and violets were out. Everybody was tip-top full with happiness. The glitter of the ivy, the soft, atmospheric grey of the castle walls, the gentleness of everything near the ruin, was perfect.
The manor is of hard, pale grey stone, and the other walls are blank and calm. The young folk were in raptures. They went in trepidation, almost afraid that the delight of exploring this ruin might be denied them. In the first courtyard, within the high broken walls, were farm-carts, with their shafts lying idle on the ground, the tyres of the wheels brilliant with gold-red rust. It was very still.
All eagerly paid their sixpences, and went timidly through the fine clean arch of the inner courtyard. They were shy. Here on the pavement, where the hall had been, an old thorn tree was budding. All kinds of strange openings and broken rooms were in the shadow around them.
After lunch they set off once more to explore the ruin. This time the girls went with the boys, who could act as guides and expositors. There was one tall tower in a corner, rather tottering, where they say Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned.
“Think of the Queen going up here!” said Miriam in a low voice, as she climbed the hollow stairs.
“If she could get up,” said Paul, “for she had rheumatism like anything. I reckon they treated her rottenly.”
“You don’t think she deserved it?” asked Miriam.
“No, I don’t. She was only lively.”
They continued to mount the winding staircase. A high wind, blowing through the loopholes, went rushing up the shaft, and filled the girl’s skirts like a balloon, so that she was ashamed, until he took the hem of her dress and held it down for her. He did it perfectly simply, as he would have picked up her glove. She remembered this always.
Round the broken top of the tower the ivy bushed out, old and handsome. Also, there were a few chill gillivers, in pale cold bud. Miriam wanted to lean over for some ivy, but he would not let her. Instead, she had to wait behind him, and take from him each spray as he gathered it and held it to her, each one separately, in the purest manner of chivalry. The tower seemed to rock in the wind. They looked over miles and miles of wooded country, and country with gleams of pasture.
The crypt underneath the manor was beautiful, and in perfect preservation. Paul made a drawing: Miriam stayed with him. She was thinking of Mary Queen of Scots looking with her strained, hopeless eyes, that could not understand misery, over the hills whence no help came, or sitting in this crypt, being told of a God as cold as the place she sat in.
They set off again gaily, looking round on their beloved manor that stood so clean and big on its hill.
“Supposing you could have THAT farm,” said Paul to Miriam.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely to come and see you!”
They were now in the bare country of stone walls, which he loved, and which, though only ten miles from home, seemed so foreign to Miriam. The party was straggling. As they were crossing a large meadow that sloped away from the sun, along a path embedded with innumerable tiny glittering points, Paul, walking alongside, laced his fingers in the strings of the bag Miriam was carrying, and instantly she felt Annie behind, watchful and jealous. But the meadow was bathed in a glory of sunshine, and the path was jewelled, and it was seldom that he gave her any sign. She held her fingers very still among the strings of the bag, his fingers touching; and the place was golden as a vision.
At last they came into the straggling grey village of Crich, that lies high. Beyond the village was the famous Crich Stand that Paul could see from the garden at home. The party pushed on. Great expanse of country spread around and below. The lads were eager to get to the top of the hill. It was capped by a round knoll, half of which was by now cut away, and on the top of which stood an ancient monument, sturdy and squat, for signalling in old days far down into the level lands of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.
It was blowing so hard, high up there in the exposed place, that the only way to be safe was to stand nailed by the wind to the wan of the tower. At their feet fell the precipice where the limestone was quarried away. Below was a jumble of hills and tiny villages — Mattock, Ambergate, Stoney Middleton. The lads were eager to spy out the church of Bestwood, far away among the rather crowded country on the left. They were disgusted that it seemed to stand on a plain. They saw the hills of Derbyshire fall into the monotony of the Midlands that swept away South.
Miriam was somewhat scared by the wind, but the lads enjoyed it. They went on, miles and miles, to Whatstandwell. All the food was eaten, everybody was hungry, and there was very little money to get home with. But they managed to procure a loaf and a currant-loaf, which they hacked to pieces with shut-knives, and ate sitting on the wall near the bridge, watching the bright Derwent rushing by, and the brakes from Matlock pulling up at the inn.
Paul was now pale with weariness. He had been responsible for the party all day, and now he was done. Miriam understood, and kept close to him, and he left himself in her hands.
They had an hour to wait at Ambergate Station. Trains came, crowded with excursionists returning to Manchester, Birmingham, and London.
“We might be going there — folk easily might think we’re going that far,” said Paul.
They got back rather late. Miriam, walking home with Geoffrey, watched the moon rise big and red and misty. She felt something was fulfilled in her.
She had an elder sister, Agatha, who was a school-teacher. Between the two girls was a feud. Miriam considered Agatha worldly. And she wanted herself to be a school-teacher.
One Saturday afternoon Agatha and Miriam were upstairs dressing. Their bedroom was over the stable. It was a low room, not very large, and bare. Miriam had nailed on the wall a reproduction of Veronese’s “St. Catherine”. She loved the woman who sat in the window, dreaming. Her own windows were too small to sit in. But the front one was dripped over with honeysuckle and virginia creeper, and looked upon the tree-tops of the oak-wood across the yard, while the little back window, no bigger than a handkerchief, was a loophole to the east, to the dawn beating up against the beloved round hills.
The two sisters did not talk much to each other. Agatha, who was fair and small and determined, had rebelled against the home atmosphere, against the doctrine of “the other cheek”. She was out in the world now, in a fair way to be independent. And she insisted on worldly values, on appearance, on manners, on position, which Miriam would fain have ignored.
Both girls liked to be upstairs, out of the way, when Paul came. They preferred to come running down, open the stair-foot door, and see him watching, expectant of them. Miriam stood painfully pulling over her head a rosary he had given her. It caught in the fine mesh of her hair. But at last she had it on, and the red-brown wooden beads looked well against her cool brown neck. She was a well-developed girl, and very handsome. But in the little looking-glass nailed against the whitewashed wall she could only see a fragment of herself at a time. Agatha had bought a little mirror of her own, which she propped up to suit herself. Miriam was near the window. Suddenly she heard the well-known click of the chain, and she saw Paul fling open the gate, push his bicycle into the yard. She saw him look at the house, and she shrank away. He walked in a nonchalant fashion, and his bicycle went with him as if it were a live thing.
“Paul’s come!” she exclaimed.
“Aren’t you glad?” said Agatha cuttingly.
Miriam stood still in amazement and bewilderment.
“Well, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yes, but I’m not going to let him see it, and think I wanted him.”
Miriam was startled. She heard him putting his bicycle in the stable underneath, and talking to Jimmy, who had been a pit-horse, and who was seedy.
“Well, Jimmy my lad, how are ter? Nobbut sick an’ sadly, like? Why, then, it’s a shame, my owd lad.”
She heard the rope run through the hole as the horse lifted its head from the lad’s caress. How she loved to listen when he thought only the horse could hear. But there was a serpent in her Eden. She searched earnestly in herself to see if she wanted Paul Morel. She felt there would be some disgrace in it. Full of twisted feeling, she was afraid she did want him. She stood self-convicted. Then came an agony of new shame. She shrank within herself in a coil of torture. Did she want Paul Morel, and did he know she wanted him? What a subtle infamy upon her. She felt as if her whole soul coiled into knots of shame.
Agatha was dressed first, and ran downstairs. Miriam heard her greet the lad gaily, knew exactly how brilliant her grey eyes became with that tone. She herself would have felt it bold to have greeted him in such wise. Yet there she stood under the self-accusation of wanting him, tied to that stake of torture. In bitter perplexity she kneeled down and prayed:
“O Lord, let me not love Paul Morel. Keep me from loving him, if I ought not to love him.”
Something anomalous in the prayer arrested her. She lifted her head and pondered. How could it be wrong to love him? Love was God’s gift. And yet it caused her shame. That was because of him, Paul Morel. But, then, it was not his affair, it was her own, between herself and God. She was to be a sacrifice. But it was God’s sacrifice, not Paul Morel’s or her own. After a few minutes she hid her face in the pillow again, and said:
“But, Lord, if it is Thy will that I should love him, make me love him — as Christ would, who died for the souls of men. Make me love him splendidly, because he is Thy son.”
She remained kneeling for some time, quite still, and deeply moved, her black hair against the red squares and the lavender-sprigged squares of the patchwork quilt. Prayer was almost essential to her. Then she fell into that rapture of self-sacrifice, identifying herself with a God who was sacrificed, which gives to so many human souls their deepest bliss.
When she went downstairs Paul was lying back in an armchair, holding forth with much vehemence to Agatha, who was scorning a little painting he had brought to show her. Miriam glanced at the two, and avoided their levity. She went into the parlour to be alone.
It was tea-time before she was able to speak to Paul, and then her manner was so distant he thought he had offended her.
Miriam discontinued her practice of going each Thursday evening to the library in Bestwood. After calling for Paul regularly during the whole spring, a number of trifling incidents and tiny insults from his family awakened her to their attitude towards her, and she decided to go no more. So she announced to Paul one evening she would not call at his house again for him on Thursday nights.
“Why?” he asked, very short.
“Nothing. Only I’d rather not.”
“But,” she faltered, “if you’d care to meet me, we could still go together.”
“Meet you where?”
“Somewhere — where you like.”
“I shan’t meet you anywhere. I don’t see why you shouldn’t keep calling for me. But if you won’t, I don’t want to meet you.”
So the Thursday evenings which had been so precious to her, and to him, were dropped. He worked instead. Mrs. Morel sniffed with satisfaction at this arrangement.
He would not have it that they were lovers. The intimacy between them had been kept so abstract, such a matter of the soul, all thought and weary struggle into consciousness, that he saw it only as a platonic friendship. He stoutly denied there was anything else between them. Miriam was silent, or else she very quietly agreed. He was a fool who did not know what was happening to himself. By tacit agreement they ignored the remarks and insinuations of their acquaintances.
“We aren’t lovers, we are friends,” he said to her. “WE know it. Let them talk. What does it matter what they say.”
Sometimes, as they were walking together, she slipped her arm timidly into his. But he always resented it, and she knew it. It caused a violent conflict in him. With Miriam he was always on the high plane of abstraction, when his natural fire of love was transmitted into the fine stream of thought. She would have it so. If he were jolly and, as she put it, flippant, she waited till he came back to her, till the change had taken place in him again, and he was wrestling with his own soul, frowning, passionate in his desire for understanding. And in this passion for understanding her soul lay close to his; she had him all to herself. But he must be made abstract first.
Then, if she put her arm in his, it caused him almost torture. His consciousness seemed to split. The place where she was touching him ran hot with friction. He was one internecine battle, and he became cruel to her because of it.
One evening in midsummer Miriam called at the house, warm from climbing. Paul was alone in the kitchen; his mother could be heard moving about upstairs.
“Come and look at the sweet-peas,” he said to the girl.
They went into the garden. The sky behind the townlet and the church was orange-red; the flower-garden was flooded with a strange warm light that lifted every leaf into significance. Paul passed along a fine row of sweet-peas, gathering a blossom here and there, all cream and pale blue. Miriam followed, breathing the fragrance. To her, flowers appealed with such strength she felt she must make them part of herself. When she bent and breathed a flower, it was as if she and the flower were loving each other. Paul hated her for it. There seemed a sort of exposure about the action, something too intimate.
When he had got a fair bunch, they returned to the house. He listened for a moment to his mother’s quiet movement upstairs, then he said:
“Come here, and let me pin them in for you.” He arranged them two or three at a time in the bosom of her dress, stepping back now and then to see the effect. “You know,” he said, taking the pin out of his mouth, “a woman ought always to arrange her flowers before her glass.”
Miriam laughed. She thought flowers ought to be pinned in one’s dress without any care. That Paul should take pains to fix her flowers for her was his whim.
He was rather offended at her laughter.
“Some women do — those who look decent,” he said.
Miriam laughed again, but mirthlessly, to hear him thus mix her up with women in a general way. From most men she would have ignored it. But from him it hurt her.
He had nearly finished arranging the flowers when he heard his mother’s footstep on the stairs. Hurriedly he pushed in the last pin and turned away.
“Don’t let mater know,” he said.
Miriam picked up her books and stood in the doorway looking with chagrin at the beautiful sunset. She would call for Paul no more, she said.
“Good-evening, Mrs. Morel,” she said, in a deferential way. She sounded as if she felt she had no right to be there.
“Oh, is it you, Miriam?” replied Mrs. Morel coolly.
But Paul insisted on everybody’s accepting his friendship with the girl, and Mrs. Morel was too wise to have any open rupture.
It was not till he was twenty years old that the family could ever afford to go away for a holiday. Mrs. Morel had never been away for a holiday, except to see her sister, since she had been married. Now at last Paul had saved enough money, and they were all going. There was to be a party: some of Annie’s friends, one friend of Paul’s, a young man in the same office where William had previously been, and Miriam.
It was great excitement writing for rooms. Paul and his mother debated it endlessly between them. They wanted a furnished cottage for two weeks. She thought one week would be enough, but he insisted on two.
At last they got an answer from Mablethorpe, a cottage such as they wished for thirty shillings a week. There was immense jubilation. Paul was wild with joy for his mother’s sake. She would have a real holiday now. He and she sat at evening picturing what it would be like. Annie came in, and Leonard, and Alice, and Kitty. There was wild rejoicing and anticipation. Paul told Miriam. She seemed to brood with joy over it. But the Morel’s house rang with excitement.
They were to go on Saturday morning by the seven train. Paul suggested that Miriam should sleep at his house, because it was so far for her to walk. She came down for supper. Everybody was so excited that even Miriam was accepted with warmth. But almost as soon as she entered the feeling in the family became close and tight. He had discovered a poem by Jean Ingelow which mentioned Mablethorpe, and so he must read it to Miriam. He would never have got so far in the direction of sentimentality as to read poetry to his own family. But now they condescended to listen. Miriam sat on the sofa absorbed in him. She always seemed absorbed in him, and by him, when he was present. Mrs. Morel sat jealously in her own chair. She was going to hear also. And even Annie and the father attended, Morel with his head cocked on one side, like somebody listening to a sermon and feeling conscious of the fact. Paul ducked his head over the book. He had got now all the audience he cared for. And Mrs. Morel and Annie almost contested with Miriam who should listen best and win his favour. He was in very high feather.
“But,” interrupted Mrs. Morel, “what IS the ‘Bride of Enderby’ that the bells are supposed to ring?”
“It’s an old tune they used to play on the bells for a warning against water. I suppose the Bride of Enderby was drowned in a flood,” he replied. He had not the faintest knowledge what it really was, but he would never have sunk so low as to confess that to his womenfolk. They listened and believed him. He believed himself.
“And the people knew what that tune meant?” said his mother.
“Yes — just like the Scotch when they heard ‘The Flowers o’ the Forest’— and when they used to ring the bells backward for alarm.”
“How?” said Annie. “A bell sounds the same whether it’s rung backwards or forwards.”
“But,” he said, “if you start with the deep bell and ring up to the high one — der — der — der — der — der — der — der — der!”
He ran up the scale. Everybody thought it clever. He thought so too. Then, waiting a minute, he continued the poem.
“Hm!” said Mrs. Morel curiously, when he finished. “But I wish everything that’s written weren’t so sad.”
“I canna see what they want drownin’ theirselves for,” said Morel.
There was a pause. Annie got up to clear the table.
Miriam rose to help with the pots.
“Let ME help to wash up,” she said.
“Certainly not,” cried Annie. “You sit down again. There aren’t many.”
And Miriam, who could not be familiar and insist, sat down again to look at the book with Paul.
He was master of the party; his father was no good. And great tortures he suffered lest the tin box should be put out at Firsby instead of at Mablethorpe. And he wasn’t equal to getting a carriage. His bold little mother did that.
“Here!” she cried to a man. “Here!”
Paul and Annie got behind the rest, convulsed with shamed laughter.
“How much will it be to drive to Brook Cottage?” said Mrs. Morel.
“Why, how far is it?”
“A good way.”
“I don’t believe it,” she said.
But she scrambled in. There were eight crowded in one old seaside carriage.
“You see,” said Mrs. Morel, “it’s only threepence each, and if it were a tramcar —-”
They drove along. Each cottage they came to, Mrs. Morel cried:
“Is it this? Now, this is it!”
Everybody sat breathless. They drove past. There was a universal sigh.
“I’m thankful it wasn’t that brute,” said Mrs. Morel. “I WAS frightened.” They drove on and on.
At last they descended at a house that stood alone over the dyke by the highroad. There was wild excitement because they had to cross a little bridge to get into the front garden. But they loved the house that lay so solitary, with a sea-meadow on one side, and immense expanse of land patched in white barley, yellow oats, red wheat, and green root-crops, flat and stretching level to the sky.
Paul kept accounts. He and his mother ran the show. The total expenses — lodging, food, everything — was sixteen shillings a week per person. He and Leonard went bathing in the mornings. Morel was wandering abroad quite early.
“You, Paul,” his mother called from the bedroom, “eat a piece of bread-and-butter.”
“All right,” he answered.
And when he got back he saw his mother presiding in state at the breakfast-table. The woman of the house was young. Her husband was blind, and she did laundry work. So Mrs. Morel always washed the pots in the kitchen and made the beds.
“But you said you’d have a real holiday,” said Paul, “and now you work.”
“Work!” she exclaimed. “What are you talking about!”
He loved to go with her across the fields to the village and the sea. She was afraid of the plank bridge, and he abused her for being a baby. On the whole he stuck to her as if he were HER man.
Miriam did not get much of him, except, perhaps, when all the others went to the “Coons”. Coons were insufferably stupid to Miriam, so he thought they were to himself also, and he preached priggishly to Annie about the fatuity of listening to them. Yet he, too, knew all their songs, and sang them along the roads roisterously. And if he found himself listening, the stupidity pleased him very much. Yet to Annie he said:
“Such rot! there isn’t a grain of intelligence in it. Nobody with more gumption than a grasshopper could go and sit and listen.” And to Miriam he said, with much scorn of Annie and the others: “I suppose they’re at the ‘Coons’.”
It was queer to see Miriam singing coon songs. She had a straight chin that went in a perpendicular line from the lower lip to the turn. She always reminded Paul of some sad Botticelli angel when she sang, even when it was:
“Come down lover’s lane
For a walk with me, talk with me.”
Only when he sketched, or at evening when the others were at the “Coons”, she had him to herself. He talked to her endlessly about his love of horizontals: how they, the great levels of sky and land in Lincolnshire, meant to him the eternality of the will, just as the bowed Norman arches of the church, repeating themselves, meant the dogged leaping forward of the persistent human soul, on and on, nobody knows where; in contradiction to the perpendicular lines and to the Gothic arch, which, he said, leapt up at heaven and touched the ecstasy and lost itself in the divine. Himself, he said, was Norman, Miriam was Gothic. She bowed in consent even to that.
One evening he and she went up the great sweeping shore of sand towards Theddlethorpe. The long breakers plunged and ran in a hiss of foam along the coast. It was a warm evening. There was not a figure but themselves on the far reaches of sand, no noise but the sound of the sea. Paul loved to see it clanging at the land. He loved to feel himself between the noise of it and the silence of the sandy shore. Miriam was with him. Everything grew very intense. It was quite dark when they turned again. The way home was through a gap in the sandhills, and then along a raised grass road between two dykes. The country was black and still. From behind the sandhills came the whisper of the sea. Paul and Miriam walked in silence. Suddenly he started. The whole of his blood seemed to burst into flame, and he could scarcely breathe. An enormous orange moon was staring at them from the rim of the sandhills. He stood still, looking at it.
“Ah!” cried Miriam, when she saw it.
He remained perfectly still, staring at the immense and ruddy moon, the only thing in the far-reaching darkness of the level. His heart beat heavily, the muscles of his arms contracted.
“What is it?” murmured Miriam, waiting for him.
He turned and looked at her. She stood beside him, for ever in shadow. Her face, covered with the darkness of her hat, was watching him unseen. But she was brooding. She was slightly afraid — deeply moved and religious. That was her best state. He was impotent against it. His blood was concentrated like a flame in his chest. But he could not get across to her. There were flashes in his blood. But somehow she ignored them. She was expecting some religious state in him. Still yearning, she was half aware of his passion, and gazed at him, troubled.
“What is it?” she murmured again.
“It’s the moon,” he answered, frowning.
“Yes,” she assented. “Isn’t it wonderful?” She was curious about him. The crisis was past.
He did not know himself what was the matter. He was naturally so young, and their intimacy was so abstract, he did not know he wanted to crush her on to his breast to ease the ache there. He was afraid of her. The fact that he might want her as a man wants a woman had in him been suppressed into a shame. When she shrank in her convulsed, coiled torture from the thought of such a thing, he had winced to the depths of his soul. And now this “purity” prevented even their first love-kiss. It was as if she could scarcely stand the shock of physical love, even a passionate kiss, and then he was too shrinking and sensitive to give it.
As they walked along the dark fen-meadow he watched the moon and did not speak. She plodded beside him. He hated her, for she seemed in some way to make him despise himself. Looking ahead — he saw the one light in the darkness, the window of their lamp-lit cottage.
He loved to think of his mother, and the other jolly people.
“Well, everybody else has been in long ago!” said his mother as they entered.
“What does that matter!” he cried irritably. “I can go a walk if I like, can’t I?”
“And I should have thought you could get in to supper with the rest,” said Mrs. Morel.
“I shall please myself,” he retorted. “It’s not LATE. I shall do as I like.”
“Very well,” said his mother cuttingly, “then DO as you like.” And she took no further notice of him that evening. Which he pretended neither to notice nor to care about, but sat reading. Miriam read also, obliterating herself. Mrs. Morel hated her for making her son like this. She watched Paul growing irritable, priggish, and melancholic. For this she put the blame on Miriam. Annie and all her friends joined against the girl. Miriam had no friend of her own, only Paul. But she did not suffer so much, because she despised the triviality of these other people.
And Paul hated her because, somehow, she spoilt his ease and naturalness. And he writhed himself with a feeling of humiliation.
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23