He was tipful of excitement now she had come, led her about the ground, showed her everything. Then, at the peep-show, she explained the pictures, in a sort of story, to which he listened as if spell-bound. He would not leave her. All the time, he stuck close to her, bristling with a small boy’s pride of her. For no other woman looked such a lady as she did, in her little black bonnet and her cloak.
Gertrude herself was rather contemptuous of dancing: she had not the slightest inclination towards that accomplishment, and had never learned even a Roger de Coverley. She was a puritan, like her father, high-minded, and really stern. Therefore the dusky, golden softness of this man’s sensuous flame of life, that flowed from off his flesh like the flame from a candle, not baffled and gripped into incandescence by thought and spirit as her life was, seemed to her something wonderful, beyond her.
Afterwards, she said she had been silly, that the boy’s hair would have had to be cut, sooner or later. In the end, she even brought herself to say to her husband, it was just as well he had played barber when he did. But she knew, and Morel knew, that that act had caused something momentous to take place in her soul. She remembered the scene all her life, as one in which she had suffered the most intensely.
Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time, the child too melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.
His ideas were quaint and fantastic, she brought him judiciously to earth. It was a discussion of the Wedding at Cana.
“When He changed the water into wine at Cana,” he said, “that is a symbol, that the ordinary life, even the blood, of the married husband and wife, which had before been uninspired, like water, became filled with the spirit, and was as wine, because, when love enters, the whole spiritual constitution of a man changes, is filled with the Holy Ghost, and almost his form is altered.”
Mrs. Morel thought to herself: “Yes, poor fellow, his young wife is dead; that is why he makes his love into the Holy Ghost.”
She no longer loved her husband; she had not wanted this child to come, and there it lay in her arms and pulled at her heart. She felt as if the navel string that had connected its frail little body with hers had not been broken. A wave of hot love went over her to the infant. She held it close to her face and breast. With all her force, with all her soul she would make up to it for having brought it into the world unloved. She would love it all the more now it was here, carry it in her love.
She thrust the infant forward to the crimson, throbbing sun, almost with relief. She saw him lift his little fist. Then she put him to her bosom again, ashamed almost of her impulse to give him back again whence he came.
“I will call him ‘Paul’,” she said, suddenly, she knew not why. After a while, she went home. A fine shadow was flung over the deep green meadow, darkening all.
“And now,” he said, “you’ll see me again when you do.”
“It’ll be before I want to,” she replied, and at that, he marched out of the house with his bundle. She sat trembling slightly, but her heart brimming with contempt. What would she do if he went to some other pit, obtained work, and got in with another woman? But she knew him too well—he couldn’t. She was dead sure of him. Nevertheless her heart was gnawed inside her.
It seemed queer to the children to see their mother, who was always busy about the house, sitting writing in her rapid fashion, thinking, referring to books, and writing again. They felt for her on such occasions the deepest respect. But they loved the ‘Guild.’ It was the only thing to which they did not grudge their mother: and that partly because she enjoyed it, partly because of the treats they derived from it. The guild was called by some hostile husbands, who found their wives getting too independent, the “clatfart” shop: that is, the gossip shop. It is true, from off the basis of the guild, the women could look at their homes, at the conditions of their own lives, and find fault.
Paul was treated to dazzling descriptions of all kinds of flower-like ladies, most of whom lived like cut blooms in William’s heart, for a brief fortnight.
He watched with wicked satisfaction the drops of wax melt off the broken forehead of Arabella, and drop like sweat into the flame. So long as the stupid big doll burned, he rejoiced in silence. At the end, he poked among the embers with a stick, fished out the arms and legs, all blackened, and smashed them under stones.
“That’s the sacrifice of Missis Arabella,” he said. “An’ I’m glad there’s nothing left of her.”
Which disturbed Annie inwardly, although she could say nothing. He seemed to hate the doll so intensely, because he had broken it.
Then Paul fished out a little spray. He always brought her one spray, the best he could find. “Pretty!” she said, in a curious tone, of a woman accepting a love-token. The boy walked all day, went miles and miles, rather than own himself beaten, and come home to her empty-handed. She never realized this, whilst he was young. She was a woman who waited for her children to grow up. And William occupied her chiefly. But when William went to Nottingham, and was not so much at home, the mother made a companion of Paul. The latter was unconsciously jealous of his brother, and William was jealous of him. At the same time, they were good friends.
Mrs. Morel wondered, in her heart, if her son did not go walking down Piccadilly with an elegant figure and fine clothes, rather than with a woman who was near to him. But she congratulated him, in her doubtful fashion. And, as she stood over the washing tub, the mother brooded over her son. She saw him saddled with an elegant and expensive wife, earning little money, dragging along and getting draggled in some small ugly house in a suburb.
Mrs. Morel was one of those naturally exquisite people who can walk in mud without dirtying their shoes. But Paul had to clean them for her. They were kid boots at eight shillings a pair. He however, thought them the most dainty boots in the world, and he cleaned them with as much reverence as if they had been flowers.
He waited grimly, and watched. At last Miriam let the bird peck from her hand. She gave a little cry, fear, and pain because of fear, rather pathetic. But she had done it, and she did it again.
William opened his eyes and looked at her. In his gaze was a certain baffled look of misery and fierce appreciation. “Has he made a sight of me?” she asked, laughing down on her lover. “That he has!” said William, smiling. And as he lay he continued to look at her. His eyes never sought hers. He did not want to meet her eyes. He only wanted to look at her, not to come together with her in her gaze. And the fact that he wanted to avoid her was in his eyes like misery.
“If you want to say these things, you must find another place than this. I am ashamed of you, William. Why don’t you be more manly. To do nothing but find fault with a girl—and then pretend you’re engaged to her—!” Mrs Morel subsided in wrath and indignation.
Paul was in bed for seven weeks. He got up white and fragile. His father had bought him a pot of scarlet and gold tulips. They used to flame in the window, in the March sunshine, as he sat on the sofa chattering to his mother. The two knitted together in perfect intimacy. Mrs. Morel’s life now rooted itself in Paul.
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.
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 … 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 she stood before the flowers. They were going to have a communion together, something that thrilled her, something holy.
Spring was the worst time. He was changeable and intense and cruel. So he decided to stay away from her. Then came the hours when he knew Miriam was expecting him. His mother watched him growing restless. He could not go on with his work. He could do nothing. It was as if something were drawing his soul out, towards Willey Farm. Then he put on his hat and went, saying nothing. And his mother knew he was gone. And as soon as he was on the way, he sighed with relief. And when he was with her, he was cruel again.
Her big brown eyes were watching him, still and resigned and loving; she lay as if she had given herself up to sacrifice: there was her body for him; but the look at the back of her eyes, like a creature awaiting immolation, arrested him, and all his blood fell back … She was very quiet, very calm. She only realized that she was doing something for him. He could hardly bear it. She lay to be sacrificed for him, because she loved him so much. And he had to sacrifice her. For a second, he wished he were sex-less, or dead. Then he shut his eyes again to her, and his blood beat back again.
His mother looked at him. He had turned to her. She thought what a man he seemed, in his dark, well-made clothes. He was pale and detached-looking, it would be hard for any woman to keep him. Her heart glowed. Then she was sorry for Clara.
He had a life apart from her—his sexual life. The rest she still kept. But he felt he had to conceal something from her, and it irked him. There was a certain silence between them, and he felt he had, in that silence, to defend himself against her. He felt condemned by her. Then sometimes he hated her, and pulled at her bondage. His life wanted to free itself of her. It was like a circle where life turned back on itself, and got no further. She bore him, loved him, kept him, and his love turned back into her, so that he could not be free to go forward with his own life, really love another woman.
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.
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.
The realest thing was the thick darkness at night. That seemed to him whole and comprehensible and restful. He could leave himself to it. Suddenly a piece of paper started near his feet and blew along down the pavement. He stood still, rigid, with clenched fists, a flame of agony going over him. And he saw again the sick room, his mother, her eyes. Unconsciously he had been with her, in her company. The swift hop of the paper reminded him she was gone. But he had been with her. He wanted everything to stand still, so he could be with her again.