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Chapter 5 Paul Launches Into Life
MOREL was rather a heedless man, careless of danger. So he had endless accidents. Now, when Mrs. Morel heard the rattle of an empty coal-cart cease at her entry-end, she ran into the parlour to look, expecting almost to see her husband seated in the waggon, his face grey under his dirt, his body limp and sick with some hurt or other. If it were he, she would run out to help.

About a year after William went to London, and just after Paul had left school, before he got work, Mrs. Morel was upstairs and her son was painting in the kitchen--he was very clever with his brush--when there came a knock at the door. Crossly he put down his brush to go. At the same moment his mother opened a window upstairs and looked down.

A pit-lad in his dirt stood on the threshold.

"Is this Walter Morel's?" he asked.

"Yes," said Mrs. Morel. "What is it?"

But she had guessed already.

"Your mester's got hurt," he said.

"Eh, dear me!" she exclaimed. "It's a wonder if he hadn't, lad. And what's he done this time?"

"I don't know for sure, but it's 'is leg somewhere. They ta'ein' 'im ter th' 'ospital."

"Good gracious me!" she exclaimed. "Eh, dear, what a one he is! There's not five minutes of peace, I'll be hanged if there is! His thumb's nearly better, and now--- Did you see him?"

"I seed him at th' bottom. An' I seed 'em bring 'im up in a tub, an' 'e wor in a dead faint. But he shouted like anythink when Doctor Fraser examined him i' th' lamp cabin--an' cossed an' swore, an' said as 'e wor goin' to be ta'en whoam--'e worn't goin' ter th' 'ospital."

The boy faltered to an end.

"He WOULD want to come home, so that I can have all the bother. Thank you, my lad. Eh, dear, if I'm not sick--sick and surfeited, I am!"

She came downstairs. Paul had mechanically resumed his painting.

"And it must be pretty bad if they've taken him to the hospital," she went on. "But what a CARELESS creature he is! OTHER men don't have all these accidents. Yes, he WOULD want to put all the burden on me. Eh, dear, just as we WERE getting easy a bit at last. Put those things away, there's no time to be painting now. What time is there a train? I know I s'll have to go trailing to Keston. I s'll have to leave that bedroom."

"I can finish it," said Paul.

"You needn't. I shall catch the seven o'clock back, I should think. Oh, my blessed heart, the fuss and commotion he'll make! And those granite setts at Tinder Hill--he might well call them kidney pebbles--they'll jolt him almost to bits. I wonder why they can't mend them, the state they're in, an' all the men as go across in that ambulance. You'd think they'd have a hospital here. The men bought the ground, and, my sirs, there'd be accidents enough to keep it going. But no, they must trail them ten miles in a slow ambulance to Nottingham. It's a crying shame! Oh, and the fuss he'll make! I know he will! I wonder who's with him. Barker, I s'd think. Poor beggar, he'll wish himself anywhere rather. But he'll look after him, I know. Now there's no telling how long he'll be stuck in that hospital--and WON'T he hate it! But if it's only his leg it's not so bad."

All the time she was getting ready. Hurriedly taking off her bodice, she crouched at the boiler while the water ran slowly into her lading-can.

"I wish this boiler was at the bottom of the sea!" she exclaimed, wriggling the handle impatiently. She had very handsome, strong arms, rather surprising on a smallish woman.

Paul cleared away, put on the kettle, and set the table.

"There isn't a train till four-twenty," he said. "You've time enough."

"Oh no, I haven't!" she cried, blinking at him over the towel as she wiped her face.

"Yes, you have. You must drink a cup of tea at any rate. Should I come with you to Keston?"

"Come with me? What for, I should like to know? Now, what have I to take him? Eh, dear! His clean shirt--and it's a blessing it IS clean. But it had better be aired. And stockings--he won't want them--and a towel, I suppose; and handkerchiefs. Now what else?"

"A comb, a knife and fork and spoon," said Paul. His father had been in the hospital before.

"Goodness knows what sort of state his feet were in," continued Mrs. Morel, as she combed her long brown hair, that was fine as silk, and was touched now with grey. "He's very particular to wash himself to the waist, but below he thinks doesn't matter. But there, I suppose they see plenty like it."

Paul had laid the table. He cut his mother one or two pieces of very thin bread and butter.

"Here you are," he said, putting her cup of tea in her place.

"I can't be bothered!" she exclaimed crossly.

"Well, you've got to, so there, now it's put out ready," he insisted.

So she sat down and sipped her tea, and ate a little, in silence. She was thinking.

In a few minutes she was gone, to walk the two and a half miles to Keston Station. All the things she was taking him she had in her bulging string bag. Paul watched her go up the road between the hedges--a little, quick-stepping figure, and his heart ached for her, that she was thrust forward again into pain and trouble. And she, tripping so quickly in her anxiety, felt at the back of her her son's heart waiting on her, felt him bearing what part of the burden he could, even supporting her. And when she was at the hospital, she thought: "It WILL upset that lad when I tell him how bad it is. I'd better be careful." And when she was trudging home again, she felt he was coming to share her burden.

"Is it bad?" asked Paul, as soon as she entered the house.

"It's bad enough," she replied.

"What?"

She sighed and sat down, undoing her bonnet-strings. Her son watched her face as it was lifted, and her small, work-hardened hands fingering at the bow under her chin.

"Well," she answered, "it's not really dangerous, but the nurse says it's a dreadful smash. You see, a great piece of rock fell on his leg--here--and it's a compound fracture. There are pieces of bone sticking through---"

"Ugh--how horrid!" exclaimed the children.

"And," she continued, "of course he says he's going to die--it wouldn't be him if he didn't. 'I'm done for, my lass!' he said, looking at me. 'Don't be so silly,' I said to him. 'You're not going to die of a broken leg, however badly it's smashed.' 'I s'll niver come out of 'ere but in a wooden box,' he groaned. 'Well,' I said, 'if you want them to carry you into the garden in a wooden box, when you're better, I've no doubt they will.' 'If we think it's good for him,' said the Sister. She's an awfully nice Sister, but rather strict."

Mrs. Morel took off her bonnet. The children waited in silence.

"Of course, he IS bad," she continued, "and he will be. It's a great shock, and he's lost a lot of blood; and, of course, it IS a very dangerous smash. It's not at all sure that it will mend so easily. And then there's the fever and the mortification--if it took bad ways he'd quickly be gone. But there, he's a clean-blooded man, with wonderful healing flesh, and so I see no reason why it SHOULD take bad ways. Of course there's a wound---"

She was pale now with emotion and anxiety. The three children realised that it was very bad for their father, and the house was silent, anxious.

"But he always gets better," said Paul after a while.

"That's what I tell him," said the mother.

Everybody moved about in silence.

"And he really looked nearly done for," she said. "But the Sister says that is the pain."

Annie took away her mother's coat and bonnet.

"And he looked at me when I came away! I said: 'I s'll have to go now, Walter, because of the train--and the children.' And he looked at me. It seems hard."

Paul took up his brush again and went on painting. Arthur went outside for some coal. Annie sat looking dismal. And Mrs. Morel, in her little rocking-chair that her husband had made for her when the first baby was coming, remained motionless, brooding. She was grieved, and bitterly sorry for the man who was hurt so much. But still, in her heart of hearts, where the love should have burned, there was a blank. Now, when all her woman's pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him, even when he roused her strong emotions. She brooded a while.

"And there," she said suddenly, "when I'd got halfway to Keston, I found I'd come out in my working boots--and LOOK at them." They were an old pair of Paul's, brown and rubbed through at the toes. "I didn't know what to do with myself, for shame," she added.

In the morning, when Annie and Arthur were at school, Mrs. Morel talked again to her son, who was helping her with her housework.

"I found Barker at the hospital. He did look bad, poor little fellow! 'Well,' I said to him, 'what sort of a journey did you have with him?' 'Dunna ax me, missis!' he said. 'Ay,' I said, 'I know what he'd be.' 'But it WOR bad for him, Mrs. Morel, it WOR that!' he said. 'I know,' I said. 'At ivry jolt I thought my 'eart would ha' flown clean out o' my mouth,' he said. 'An' the scream 'e gives sometimes! Missis, not for a fortune would I go through wi' it again.' 'I can quite understand it,' I said. 'It's a nasty job, though,' he said, 'an' one as'll be a long while afore it's right again.' 'I'm afraid it will,' I said. I like Mr. Barker--I DO like him. There's something so manly about him."

Paul resumed his task silently.

"And of course," Mrs. Morel continued, "for a man like your father, the hospital IS hard. He CAN'T understand rules and regulations. And he won't let anybody else touch him, not if he can help it. When he smashed the muscles of his thigh, and it had to be dressed four times a day, WOULD he let anybody but me or his mother do it? He wouldn't. So, of course, he'll suffer in there with the nurses. And I didn't like leaving him. I'm sure, when I kissed him an' came away, it seemed a shame."

So she talked to her son, almost as if she were thinking aloud to him, and he took it in as best he could, by sharing her trouble to lighten it. And in the end she shared almost everything with him without knowing.

Morel had a very bad time. For a week he was in a critical condition. Then he began to mend. And then, knowing he was going to get better, the whole family sighed with relief, and proceeded to live happily.

They were not badly off whilst Morel was in the hospital. There were fourteen shillings a week from the pit, ten shillings from the sick club, and five shillings from the Disability Fund; and then every week the butties had something for Mrs. Morel--five or seven shillings--so that she was quite well to do. And whilst Morel was progressing favourably in the hospital, the family was extraordinarily happy and peaceful. On Saturdays and Wednesdays Mrs. Morel went to Nottingham to see her husband. Then she always brought back some little thing: a small tube of paints for Paul, or some thick paper; a couple of postcards for Annie, that the whole family rejoiced over for days before the girl was allowed to send them away; or a fret-saw for Arthur, or a bit of pretty wood. She described her adventures into the big shops with joy. Soon the folk in the picture-shop knew her, and knew about Paul. The girl in the book-shop took a keen interest in her. Mrs. Morel was full of information when she got home from Nottingham. The three sat round till bed-time, listening, putting in, arguing. Then Paul often raked the fire.

"I'm the man in the house now," he used to say to his mother with joy. They learned how perfectly peaceful the home could be. And they almost regretted--though none of them would have owned to such callousness--that their father was soon coming back.

Paul was now fourteen, and was looking for work. He was a rather small and rather finely-made boy, with dark brown hair and light blue eyes. His face had already lost its youthful chubbiness, and was becoming somewhat like William's--rough-featured, almost rugged--and it was extraordinarily mobile. Usually he looked as if he saw things, was full of life, and warm; then his smile, like his mother's, came suddenly and was very lovable; and then, when there was any clog in his soul's quick running, his face went stupid and ugly. He was the sort of boy that becomes a clown and a lout as soon as he is not understood, or feels himself held cheap; and, again, is adorable at the first touch of warmth.

He suffered very much from the first contact with anything. When he was seven, the starting school had been a nightmare and a torture to him. But afterwards he liked it. And now that he felt he had to go out into life, he went through agonies of shrinking self-consciousness. He was quite a clever painter for a boy of his years, and he knew some French and German and mathematics that Mr. Heaton had taught him. But nothing he had was of any commercial value. He was not strong enough for heavy manual work, his mother said. He did not care for making things with his hands, preferred racing about, or making excursions into the country, or reading, or painting.

"What do you want to be?" his mother asked.

"Anything."

"That is no answer," said Mrs. Morel.

But it was quite truthfully the only answer he could give. His ambition, as far as this world's gear went, was quietly to earn his thirty or thirty-five shillings a week somewhere near home, and then, when his father died, have a cottage with his mother, paint and go out as he liked, and live happy ever after. That was his programme as far as doing things went. But he was proud within himself, measuring people against himself, and placing them, inexorably. And he thought that PERHAPS he might also make a painter, the real thing. But that he left alone.

"Then," said his mother, "you must look in the paper for the advertisements."

He looked at her. It seemed to him a bitter humiliation and an anguish to go through. But he said nothing. When he got up in the morning, his whole being was knotted up over this one thought:

"I've got to go and look for advertisements for a job."

It stood in front of the morning, that thought, killing all joy and even life, for him. His heart felt like a tight knot.

And then, at ten o'clock, he set off. He was supposed to be a queer, quiet child. Going up the sunny street of the little town, he felt as if all the folk he met said to themselves: "He's going to the Co-op. reading-room to look in the papers for a place. He can't get a job. I suppose he's living on his mother." Then he crept up the stone stairs behind the drapery shop at the Co-op., and peeped in the reading-room. Usually one or two men were there, either old, useless fellows, or colliers "on the club". So he entered, full of shrinking and suffering when they looked up, seated himself at the table, and pretended to scan the news. He knew they would think: "What does a lad of thirteen want in a reading-room with a newspaper?" and he suffered.

Then he looked wistfully out of the window. Already he was a prisoner of industrialism. Large sunflowers stared over the old red wall of the garden opposite, looking in their jolly way down on the women who were hurrying with something for dinner. The valley was full of corn, brightening in the sun. Two collieries, among the fields, waved their small white plumes of steam. Far off on the hills were the woods of Annesley, dark and fascinating. Already his heart went down. He was being taken into bondage. His freedom in the beloved home valley was going now.

The brewers' waggons came rolling up from Keston with enormous barrels, four a side, like beans in a burst bean-pod. The waggoner, throned aloft, rolling massively in his seat, was not so much below Paul's eye. The man's hair, on his small, bullet head, was bleached almost white by the sun, and on his thick red arms, rocking idly on his sack apron, the white hairs glistened. His red face shone and was almost asleep with sunshine. The horses, handsome and brown, went on by themselves, looking by far the masters of the show.

Paul wished he were stupid. "I wish," he thought to himself, "I was fat like him, and like a dog in the sun. I wish I was a pig and a brewer's waggoner."

Then, the room being at last empty, he would hastily copy an advertisement on a scrap of paper, then another, and slip out in immense relief. His mother would scan over his copies.

"Yes," she said, "you may try."

William had written out a letter of application, couched in admirable business language, which Paul copied, with variations. The boy's handwriting was execrable, so that William, who did all things well, got into a fever of impatience.

The elder brother was becoming quite swanky. In London he found that he could associate with men far above his Bestwood friends in station. Some of the clerks in the office had studied for the law, and were more or less going through a kind of apprenticeship. William always made friends among men wherever he went, he was so jolly. Therefore he was soon visiting and staying in houses of men who, in Bestwood, would have looked down on the unapproachable bank manager, and would merely have called indifferently on the Rector. So he began to fancy himself as a great gun. He was, indeed, rather surprised at the ease with which he became a gentleman.

His mother was glad, he seemed so pleased. And his lodging in Walthamstow was so dreary. But now there seemed to come a kind of fever into the young man's letters. He was unsettled by all the change, he did not stand firm on his own feet, but seemed to spin rather giddily on the quick current of the new life. His mother was anxious for him. She could feel him losing himself. He had danced and gone to the theatre, boated on the river, been out with friends; and she knew he sat up afterwards in his cold bedroom grinding away at Latin, because he intended to get on in his office, and in the law as much as he could. He never sent his mother any money now. It was all taken, the little he had, for his own life. And she did not want any, except sometimes, when she was in a tight corner, and when ten shillings would have saved her much worry. She still dreamed of William, and of what he would do, with herself behind him. Never for a minute would she admit to herself how heavy and anxious her heart was because of him.

Also he talked a good deal now of a girl he had met at a dance, a handsome brunette, quite young, and a lady, after whom the men were running thick and fast.

"I wonder if you would run, my boy," his mother wrote to him, "unless you saw all the other men chasing her too. You feel safe enough and vain enough in a crowd. But take care, and see how you feel when you find yourself alone, and in triumph." William resented these things, and continued the chase. He had taken the girl on the river. "If you saw her, mother, you would know how I feel. Tall and elegant, with the clearest of clear, transparent olive complexions, hair as black as jet, and such grey eyes--bright, mocking, like lights on water at night. It is all very well to be a bit satirical till you see her. And she dresses as well as any woman in London. I tell you, your son doesn't half put his head up when she goes walking down Piccadilly with him."

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. "But there," she told herself, "I am very likely a silly--meeting trouble halfway." Nevertheless, the load of anxiety scarcely ever left her heart, lest William should do the wrong thing by himself.

Presently, Paul was bidden call upon Thomas Jordan, Manufacturer of Surgical Appliances, at 21, Spaniel Row, Nottingham. Mrs. Morel was all joy.

"There, you see!" she cried, her eyes shining. "You've only written four letters, and the third is answered. You're lucky, my boy, as I always said you were."

Paul looked at the picture of a wooden leg, adorned with elastic stockings and other appliances, that figured on Mr. Jordan's notepaper, and he felt alarmed. He had not known that elastic stockings existed. And he seemed to feel the business world, with its regulated system of values, and its impersonality, and he dreaded it. It seemed monstrous also that a business could be run on wooden legs.

Mother and son set off together one Tuesday morning. It was August and blazing hot. Paul walked with something screwed up tight inside him. He would have suffered much physical pain rather than this unreasonable suffering at being exposed to strangers, to be accepted or rejected. Yet he chattered away with his mother. He would never have confessed to her how he suffered over these things, and she only partly guessed. She was gay, like a sweetheart. She stood in front of the ticket-office at Bestwood, and Paul watched her take from her purse the money for the tickets. As he saw her hands in their old black kid gloves getting the silver out of the worn purse, his heart contracted with pain of love of her.

She was quite excited, and quite gay. He suffered because she WOULD talk aloud in presence of the other travellers.

"Now look at that silly cow!" she said, "careering round as if it thought it was a circus."

"It's most likely a bottfly," he said very low.

"A what?" she asked brightly and unashamed.

They thought a while. He was sensible all the time of having her opposite him. Suddenly their eyes met, and she smiled to him--a rare, intimate smile, beautiful with brightness and love. Then each looked out of the window.

The sixteen slow miles of railway journey passed. The mother and son walked down Station Street, feeling the excitement of lovers having an adventure together. In Carrington Street they stopped to hang over the parapet and look at the barges on the canal below.

"It's just like Venice," he said, seeing the sunshine on the water that lay between high factory walls.

"Perhaps," she answered, smiling.

They enjoyed the shops immensely.

"Now you see that blouse," she would say, "wouldn't that just suit our Annie? And for one-and-eleven-three. Isn't that cheap?"

"And made of needlework as well," he said.

"Yes."

They had plenty of time, so they did not hurry. The town was strange and delightful to them. But the boy was tied up inside in a knot of apprehension. He dreaded the interview with Thomas Jordan.

It was nearly eleven o'clock by St. Peter's Church. They turned up a narrow street that led to the Castle. It was gloomy and old-fashioned, having low dark shops and dark green house doors with brass knockers, and yellow-ochred doorsteps projecting on to the pavement; then another old shop whose small window looked like a cunning, half-shut eye. Mother and son went cautiously, looking everywhere for "Thomas Jordan and Son". It was like hunting in some wild place. They were on tiptoe of excitement.

Suddenly they spied a big, dark archway, in which were names of various firms, Thomas Jordan among them.

"Here it is!" said Mrs. Morel. "But now WHERE is it?"

They looked round. On one side was a queer, dark, cardboard factory, on the other a Commercial Hotel.

"It's up the entry," said Paul.

And they ventured under the archway, as into the jaws of the dragon. They emerged into a wide yard, like a well, with buildings all round. It was littered with straw and boxes, and cardboard. The sunshine actually caught one crate whose straw was streaming on to the yard like gold. But elsewhere the place was like a pit. There were several doors, and two flights of steps. Straight in front, on a dirty glass door at the top of a staircase, loomed the ominous words "Thomas Jordan and Son--Surgical Appliances." Mrs. Morel went first, her son followed her. Charles I mounted his scaffold with a lighter heart than had Paul Morel as he followed his mother up the dirty steps to the dirty door.

She pushed open the door, and stood in pleased surprise. In front of her was a big warehouse, with creamy paper parcels everywhere, and clerks, with their shirt-sleeves rolled back, were going about in an at-home sort of way. The light was subdued, the glossy cream parcels seemed luminous, the counters were of dark brown wood. All was quiet and very homely. Mrs. Morel took two steps forward, then waited. Paul stood behind her. She had on her Sunday bonnet and a black veil; he wore a boy's broad white collar and a Norfolk suit.

One of the clerks looked up. He was thin and tall, with a small face. His way of looking was alert. Then he glanced round to the other end of the room, where was a glass office. And then he came forward. He did not say anything, but leaned in a gentle, inquiring fashion towards Mrs. Morel.

"Can I see Mr. Jordan?" she asked.

"I'll fetch him," answered the young man.

He went down to the glass office. A red-faced, white-whiskered old man looked up. He reminded Paul of a pomeranian dog. Then the same little man came up the room. He had short legs, was rather stout, and wore an alpaca jacket. So, with one ear up, as it were, he came stoutly and inquiringly down the room.

"Good-morning!" he said, hesitating before Mrs. Morel, in doubt as to whether she were a customer or not.

"Good-morning. I came with my son, Paul Morel. You asked him to call this morning."

"Come this way," said Mr. Jordan, in a rather snappy little manner intended to be businesslike.

They followed the manufacturer into a grubby little room, upholstered in black American leather, glossy with the rubbing of many customers. On the table was a pile of trusses, yellow wash-leather hoops tangled together. They looked new and living. Paul sniffed the odour of new wash-leather. He wondered what the things were. By this time he was so much stunned that he only noticed the outside things.

"Sit down!" said Mr. Jordan, irritably pointing Mrs. Morel to a horse-hair chair. She sat on the edge in an uncertain fashion. Then the little old man fidgeted and found a paper.

"Did you write this letter?" he snapped, thrusting what Paul recognised as his own notepaper in front of him.

"Yes," he answered.

At that moment he was occupied in two ways: first, in feeling guilty for telling a lie, since William had composed the letter; second, in wondering why his letter seemed so strange and different, in the fat, red hand of the man, from what it had been when it lay on the kitchen table. It was like part of himself, gone astray. He resented the way the man held it.

"Where did you learn to write?" said the old man crossly.

Paul merely looked at him shamedly, and did not answer.

"He IS a bad writer," put in Mrs. Morel apologetically. Then she pushed up her veil. Paul hated her for not being prouder with this common little man, and he loved her face clear of the veil.

"And you say you know French?" inquired the little man, still sharply.

"Yes," said Paul.

"What school did you go to?"

"The Board-school."

"And did you learn it there?"

"No--I---" The boy went crimson and got no farther.

"His godfather gave him lessons," said Mrs. Morel, half pleading and rather distant.

Mr. Jordan hesitated. Then, in his irritable manner--he always seemed to keep his hands ready for action--he pulled another sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolded it. The paper made a crackling noise. He handed it to Paul.

"Read that," he said.

It was a note in French, in thin, flimsy foreign handwriting that the boy could not decipher. He stared blankly at the paper.

"'Monsieur,'" he began; then he looked in great confusion at Mr. Jordan. "It's the--it's the---"

He wanted to say "handwriting", but his wits would no longer work even sufficiently to supply him with the word. Feeling an utter fool, and hating Mr. Jordan, he turned desperately to the paper again.

"'Sir,--Please send me'--er--er--I can't tell the--er--'two pairs--gris fil bas--grey thread stockings'--er--er--'sans--without'-er--I can't tell the words--er--'doigts--fingers'--er--I can't tell the---"

He wanted to say "handwriting", but the word still refused to come. Seeing him stuck, Mr. Jordan snatched the paper from him.

"'Please send by return two pairs grey thread stockings without TOES.'"

"Well," flashed Paul, "'doigts' means 'fingers'--as well--as a rule---"

The little man looked at him. He did not know whether "doigts" meant "fingers"; he knew that for all HIS purposes it meant "toes".

"Fingers to stockings!" he snapped.

"Well, it DOES mean fingers," the boy persisted.

He hated the little man, who made such a clod of him. Mr. Jordan looked at the pale, stupid, defiant boy, then at the mother, who sat quiet and with that peculiar shut-off look of the poor who have to depend on the favour of others.

"And when could he come?" he asked.

"Well," said Mrs. Morel, "as soon as you wish. He has finished school now."

"He would live in Bestwood?"

"Yes; but he could be in--at the station--at quarter to eight."

"H'm!"

It ended by Paul's being engaged as junior spiral clerk at eight shillings a week. The boy did not open his mouth to say another word, after having insisted that "doigts" meant "fingers". He followed his mother down the stairs. She looked at him with her bright blue eyes full of love and joy.

"I think you'll like it," she said.

"'Doigts' does mean 'fingers', mother, and it was the writing. I couldn't read the writing."

"Never mind, my boy. I'm sure he'll be all right, and you won't see much of him. Wasn't that first young fellow nice? I'm sure you'll like them."

"But wasn't Mr. Jordan common, mother? Does he own it all?"

"I suppose he was a workman who has got on," she said. "You mustn't mind people so much. They're not being disagreeable to YOU--it's their way. You always think people are meaning things for you. But they don't."

It was very sunny. Over the big desolate space of the market-place the blue sky shimmered, and the granite cobbles of the paving glistened. Shops down the Long Row were deep in obscurity, and the shadow was full of colour. Just where the horse trams trundled across the market was a row of fruit stalls, with fruit blazing in the sun--apples and piles of reddish oranges, small green-gage plums and bananas. There was a warm scent of fruit as mother and son passed. Gradually his feeling of ignominy and of rage sank.

"Where should we go for dinner?" asked the mother.

It was felt to be a reckless extravagance. Paul had only been in an eating-house once or twice in his life, and then only to have a cup of tea and a bun. Most of the people of Bestwood considered that tea and bread-and-butter, and perhaps potted beef, was all they could afford to eat in Nottingham. Real cooked dinner was considered great extravagance. Paul felt rather guilty.

They found a place that looked quite cheap. But when Mrs. Morel scanned the bill of fare, her heart was heavy, things were so dear. So she ordered kidney-pies and potatoes as the cheapest available dish.

"We oughtn't to have come here, mother," said Paul.

"Never mind," she said. "We won't come again."

She insisted on his having a small currant tart, because he liked sweets.

"I don't want it, mother," he pleaded.

"Yes," she insisted; "you'll have it."

And she looked round for the waitress. But the waitress was busy, and Mrs. Morel did not like to bother her then. So the mother and son waited for the girl's pleasure, whilst she flirted among the men.

"Brazen hussy!" said Mrs. Morel to Paul. "Look now, she's taking that man HIS pudding, and he came long after us."

"It doesn't matter, mother," said Paul.

Mrs. Morel was angry. But she was too poor, and her orders were too meagre, so that she had not the courage to insist on her rights just then. They waited and waited.

"Should we go, mother?" he said.

Then Mrs. Morel stood up. The girl was passing near.

"Will you bring one currant tart?" said Mrs. Morel clearly.

The girl looked round insolently.

"Directly," she said.

"We have waited quite long enough," said Mrs. Morel.

In a moment the girl came back with the tart. Mrs. Morel asked coldly for the bill. Paul wanted to sink through the floor. He marvelled at his mother's hardness. He knew that only years of battling had taught her to insist even so little on her rights. She shrank as much as he.

"It's the last time I go THERE for anything!" she declared, when they were outside the place, thankful to be clear.

"We'll go," she said, "and look at Keep's and Boot's, and one or two places, shall we?"

They had discussions over the pictures, and Mrs. Morel wanted to buy him a little sable brush that be hankered after. But this indulgence he refused. He stood in front of milliners' shops and drapers' shops almost bored, but content for her to be interested. They wandered on.

"Now, just look at those black grapes!" she said. "They make your mouth water. I've wanted some of those for years, but I s'll have to wait a bit before I get them."

Then she rejoiced in the florists, standing in the doorway sniffing.

"Oh! oh! Isn't it simply lovely!"

Paul saw, in the darkness of the shop, an elegant young lady in black peering over the counter curiously.

"They're looking at you," he said, trying to draw his mother away.

"But what is it?" she exclaimed, refusing to be moved.

"Stocks!" he answered, sniffing hastily. "Look, there's a tubful."

"So there is--red and white. But really, I never knew stocks to smell like it!" And, to his great relief, she moved out of the doorway, but only to stand in front of the window.

"Paul!" she cried to him, who was trying to get out of sight of the elegant young lady in black--the shop-girl. "Paul! Just look here!"

He came reluctantly back.

"Now, just look at that fuchsia!" she exclaimed, pointing.

"H'm!" He made a curious, interested sound. "You'd think every second as the flowers was going to fall off, they hang so big an' heavy."

"And such an abundance!" she cried.

"And the way they drop downwards with their threads and knots!"

"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Lovely!"

"I wonder who'll buy it!" he said.

"I wonder!" she answered. "Not us."

"It would die in our parlour."

"Yes, beastly cold, sunless hole; it kills every bit of a plant you put in, and the kitchen chokes them to death."

They bought a few things, and set off towards the station. Looking up the canal, through the dark pass of the buildings, they saw the Castle on its bluff of brown, green-bushed rock, in a positive miracle of delicate sunshine.

"Won't it be nice for me to come out at dinner-times?" said Paul. "I can go all round here and see everything. I s'll love it."

"You will," assented his mother.

He had spent a perfect afternoon with his mother. They arrived home in the mellow evening, happy, and glowing, and tired.

In the morning he filled in the form for his season-ticket and took it to the station. When he got back, his mother was just beginning to wash the floor. He sat crouched up on the sofa.

"He says it'll be here on Saturday," he said.

"And how much will it be?"

"About one pound eleven," he said.

She went on washing her floor in silence.

"Is it a lot?" he asked.

"It's no more than I thought," she answered.

"An' I s'll earn eight shillings a week," he said.

She did not answer, but went on with her work. At last she said:

"That William promised me, when he went to London, as he'd give me a pound a month. He has given me ten shillings--twice; and now I know he hasn't a farthing if I asked him. Not that I want it. Only just now you'd think he might be able to help with this ticket, which I'd never expected."

"He earns a lot," said Paul.

"He earns a hundred and thirty pounds. But they're all alike. They're large in promises, but it's precious little fulfilment you get."

"He spends over fifty shillings a week on himself," said Paul.

"And I keep this house on less than thirty," she replied; "and am supposed to find money for extras. But they don't care about helping you, once they've gone. He'd rather spend it on that dressed-up creature."

"She should have her own money if she's so grand," said Paul.

"She should, but she hasn't. I asked him. And I know he doesn't buy her a gold bangle for nothing. I wonder whoever bought ME a gold bangle."

William was succeeding with his "Gipsy", as he called her. He asked the girl--her name was Louisa Lily Denys Western--for a photograph to send to his mother. The photo came--a handsome brunette, taken in profile, smirking slightly--and, it might be, quite naked, for on the photograph not a scrap of clothing was to be seen, only a naked bust.

"Yes," wrote Mrs. Morel to her son, "the photograph of Louie is very striking, and I can see she must be attractive. But do you think, my boy, it was very good taste of a girl to give her young man that photo to send to his mother--the first? Certainly the shoulders are beautiful, as you say. But I hardly expected to see so much of them at the first view."

Morel found the photograph standing on the chiffonier in the parlour. He came out with it between his thick thumb and finger.

"Who dost reckon this is?" he asked of his wife.

"It's the girl our William is going with," replied Mrs. Morel.

"H'm! 'Er's a bright spark, from th' look on 'er, an' one as wunna do him owermuch good neither. Who is she?"

"Her name is Louisa Lily Denys Western."

"An' come again to-morrer!" exclaimed the miner. "An' is 'er an actress?"

"She is not. She's supposed to be a lady."

"I'll bet!" he exclaimed, still staring at the photo. "A lady, is she? An' how much does she reckon ter keep up this sort o' game on?"

"On nothing. She lives with an old aunt, whom she hates, and takes what bit of money's given her."

"H'm!" said Morel, laying down the photograph. "Then he's a fool to ha' ta'en up wi' such a one as that."

"Dear Mater," William replied. "I'm sorry you didn't like the photograph. It never occurred to me when I sent it, that you mightn't think it decent. However, I told Gyp that it didn't quite suit your prim and proper notions, so she's going to send you another, that I hope will please you better. She's always being photographed; in fact, the photographers ask her if they may take her for nothing."

Presently the new photograph came, with a little silly note from the girl. This time the young lady was seen in a black satin evening bodice, cut square, with little puff sleeves, and black lace hanging down her beautiful arms.

"I wonder if she ever wears anything except evening clothes," said Mrs. Morel sarcastically. "I'm sure I ought to be impressed."

"You are disagreeable, mother," said Paul. "I think the first one with bare shoulders is lovely."

"Do you?" answered his mother. "Well, I don't."

On the Monday morning the boy got up at six to start work. He had the season-ticket, which had cost such bitterness, in his waistcoat pocket. He loved it with its bars of yellow across. His mother packed his dinner in a small, shut-up basket, and he set off at a quarter to seven to catch the 7.15 train. Mrs. Morel came to the entry-end to see him off.

It was a perfect morning. From the ash tree the slender green fruits that the children call "pigeons" were twinkling gaily down on a little breeze, into the front gardens of the houses. The valley was full of a lustrous dark haze, through which the ripe corn shimmered, and in which the steam from Minton pit melted swiftly. Puffs of wind came. Paul looked over the high woods of Aldersley, where the country gleamed, and home had never pulled at him so powerfully.

"Good-morning, mother," he said, smiling, but feeling very unhappy.

"Good-morning," she replied cheerfully and tenderly.

She stood in her white apron on the open road, watching him as he crossed the field. He had a small, compact body that looked full of life. She felt, as she saw him trudging over the field, that where he determined to go he would get. She thought of William. He would have leaped the fence instead of going round the stile. He was away in London, doing well. Paul would be working in Nottingham. Now she had two sons in the world. She could think of two places, great centres of industry, and feel that she had put a man into each of them, that these men would work out what SHE wanted; they were derived from her, they were of her, and their works also would be hers. All the morning long she thought of Paul.

At eight o'clock he climbed the dismal stairs of Jordan's Surgical Appliance Factory, and stood helplessly against the first great parcel-rack, waiting for somebody to pick him up. The place was still not awake. Over the counters were great dust sheets. Two men only had arrived, and were heard talking in a corner, as they took off their coats and rolled up their shirt-sleeves. It was ten past eight. Evidently there was no rush of punctuality. Paul listened to the voices of the two clerks. Then he heard someone cough, and saw in the office at the end of the room an old, decaying clerk, in a round smoking-cap of black velvet embroidered with red and green, opening letters. He waited and waited. One of the junior clerks went to the old man, greeted him cheerily and loudly. Evidently the old "chief" was deaf. Then the young fellow came striding importantly down to his counter. He spied Paul.

"Hello!" he said. "You the new lad?"

"Yes," said Paul.

"H'm! What's your name?"

"Paul Morel."

"Paul Morel? All right, you come on round here."

Paul followed him round the rectangle of counters. The room was second storey. It had a great hole in the middle of the floor, fenced as with a wall of counters, and down this wide shaft the lifts went, and the light for the bottom storey. Also there was a corresponding big, oblong hole in the ceiling, and one could see above, over the fence of the top floor, some machinery; and right away overhead was the glass roof, and all light for the three storeys came downwards, getting dimmer, so that it was always night on the ground floor and rather gloomy on the second floor. The factory was the top floor, the warehouse the second, the storehouse the ground floor. It was an insanitary, ancient place.

Paul was led round to a very dark corner.

"This is the 'Spiral' corner," said the clerk. "You're Spiral, with Pappleworth. He's your boss, but he's not come yet. He doesn't get here till half-past eight. So you can fetch the letters, if you like, from Mr. Melling down there."

The young man pointed to the old clerk in the office.

"All right," said Paul.

"Here's a peg to hang your cap on. Here are your entry ledgers. Mr. Pappleworth won't be long."

And the thin young man stalked away with long, busy strides over the hollow wooden floor.

After a minute or two Paul went down and stood in the door of the glass office. The old clerk in the smoking-cap looked down over the rim of his spectacles.

"Good-morning," he said, kindly and impressively. "You want the letters for the Spiral department, Thomas?"

Paul resented being called "Thomas". But he took the letters and returned to his dark place, where the counter made an angle, where the great parcel-rack came to an end, and where there were three doors in the corner. He sat on a high stool and read the letters--those whose handwriting was not too difficult. They ran as follows:

"Will you please send me at once a pair of lady's silk spiral thigh-hose, without feet, such as I had from you last year; length, thigh to knee, etc." Or, "Major Chamberlain wishes to repeat his previous order for a silk non-elastic suspensory bandage."

Many of these letters, some of them in French or Norwegian, were a great puzzle to the boy. He sat on his stool nervously awaiting the arrival of his "boss". He suffered tortures of shyness when, at half-past eight, the factory girls for upstairs trooped past him.

Mr. Pappleworth arrived, chewing a chlorodyne gum, at about twenty to nine, when all the other men were at work. He was a thin, sallow man with a red nose, quick, staccato, and smartly but stiffly dressed. He was about thirty-six years old. There was something rather "doggy", rather smart, rather 'cute and shrewd, and something warm, and something slightly contemptible about him.

"You my new lad?" he said.

Paul stood up and said he was.

"Fetched the letters?"

Mr. Pappleworth gave a chew to his gum.

"Yes."

"Copied 'em?"

"No."

"Well, come on then, let's look slippy. Changed your coat?"

"No."

"You want to bring an old coat and leave it here." He pronounced the last words with the chlorodyne gum between his side teeth. He vanished into the darkness behind the great parcel-rack, reappeared coatless, turning up a smart striped shirt-cuff over a thin and hairy arm. Then he slipped into his coat. Paul noticed how thin he was, and that his trousers were in folds behind. He seized a stool, dragged it beside the boy's, and sat down.

"Sit down," he said.

Paul took a seat.

Mr. Pappleworth was very close to him. The man seized the letters, snatched a long entry-book out of a rack in front of him, flung it open, seized a pen, and said:

"Now look here. You want to copy these letters in here." He sniffed twice, gave a quick chew at his gum, stared fixedly at a letter, then went very still and absorbed, and wrote the entry rapidly, in a beautiful flourishing hand. He glanced quickly at Paul.

"See that?"

"Yes."

"Think you can do it all right?"

"Yes."

"All right then, let's see you."

He sprang off his stool. Paul took a pen. Mr. Pappleworth disappeared. Paul rather liked copying the letters, but he wrote slowly, laboriously, and exceedingly badly. He was doing the fourth letter, and feeling quite busy and happy, when Mr. Pappleworth reappeared.

"Now then, how'r' yer getting on? Done 'em?"

He leaned over the boy's shoulder, chewing, and smelling of chlorodyne.

"Strike my bob, lad, but you're a beautiful writer!" he exclaimed satirically. "Ne'er mind, how many h'yer done? Only three! I'd 'a eaten 'em. Get on, my lad, an' put numbers on 'em. Here, look! Get on!"

Paul ground away at the letters, whilst Mr. Pappleworth fussed over various jobs. Suddenly the boy started as a shrill whistle sounded near his ear. Mr. Pappleworth came, took a plug out of a pipe, and said, in an amazingly cross and bossy voice:

"Yes?"

Paul heard a faint voice, like a woman's, out of the mouth of the tube. He gazed in wonder, never having seen a speaking-tube before.

"Well," said Mr. Pappleworth disagreeably into the tube, "you'd better get some of your back work done, then."

Again the woman's tiny voice was heard, sounding pretty and cross.

"I've not time to stand here while you talk," said Mr. Pappleworth, and he pushed the plug into the tube.

"Come, my lad," he said imploringly to Paul, "there's Polly crying out for them orders. Can't you buck up a bit? Here, come out!"

He took the book, to Paul's immense chagrin, and began the copying himself. He worked quickly and well. This done, he seized some strips of long yellow paper, about three inches wide, and made out the day's orders for the work-girls.

"You'd better watch me," he said to Paul, working all the while rapidly. Paul watched the weird little drawings of legs, and thighs, and ankles, with the strokes across and the numbers, and the few brief directions which his chief made upon the yellow paper. Then Mr. Pappleworth finished and jumped up.

"Come on with me," he said, and the yellow papers flying in his hands, he dashed through a door and down some stairs, into the basement where the gas was burning. They crossed the cold, damp storeroom, then a long, dreary room with a long table on trestles, into a smaller, cosy apartment, not very high, which had been built on to the main building. In this room a small woman with a red serge blouse, and her black hair done on top of her head, was waiting like a proud little bantam.

"Here y'are!" said Pappleworth.

"I think it is 'here you are'!" exclaimed Polly. "The girls have been here nearly half an hour waiting. Just think of the time wasted!"

"YOU think of getting your work done and not talking so much," said Mr. Pappleworth. "You could ha' been finishing off."

"You know quite well we finished everything off on Saturday!" cried Pony, flying at him, her dark eyes flashing.

"Tu-tu-tu-tu-terterter!" he mocked. "Here's your new lad. Don't ruin him as you did the last."

"As we did the last!" repeated Polly. "Yes, WE do a lot of ruining, we do. My word, a lad would TAKE some ruining after he'd been with you."

"It's time for work now, not for talk," said Mr. Pappleworth severely and coldly.

"It was time for work some time back," said Polly, marching away with her head in the air. She was an erect little body of forty.

In that room were two round spiral machines on the bench under the window. Through the inner doorway was another longer room, with six more machines. A little group of girls, nicely dressed in white aprons, stood talking together.

"Have you nothing else to do but talk?" said Mr. Pappleworth.

"Only wait for you," said one handsome girl, laughing.

"Well, get on, get on," he said. "Come on, my lad. You'll know your road down here again."

And Paul ran upstairs after his chief. He was given some checking and invoicing to do. He stood at the desk, labouring in his execrable handwriting. Presently Mr. Jordan came strutting down from the glass office and stood behind him, to the boy's great discomfort. Suddenly a red and fat finger was thrust on the form he was filling in.

"MR. J. A. Bates, Esquire!" exclaimed the cross voice just behind his ear.

Paul looked at "Mr. J. A. Bates, Esquire" in his own vile writing, and wondered what was the matter now.

"Didn't they teach you any better THAN that while they were at it? If you put 'Mr.' you don't put Esquire'-a man can't be both at once."

The boy regretted his too-much generosity in disposing of honours, hesitated, and with trembling fingers, scratched out the "Mr." Then all at once Mr. Jordan snatched away the invoice.

"Make another! Are you going to send that to a gentleman?" And he tore up the blue form irritably.

Paul, his ears red with shame, began again. Still Mr. Jordan watched.

"I don't know what they DO teach in schools. You'll have to write better than that. Lads learn nothing nowadays, but how to recite poetry and play the fiddle. Have you seen his writing?" he asked of Mr. Pappleworth.

"Yes; prime, isn't it?" replied Mr. Pappleworth indifferently.

Mr. Jordan gave a little grunt, not unamiable. Paul divined that his master's bark was worse than his bite. Indeed, the little manufacturer, although he spoke bad English, was quite gentleman enough to leave his men alone and to take no notice of trifles. But he knew he did not look like the boss and owner of the show, so he had to play his role of proprietor at first, to put things on a right footing.

"Let's see, WHAT'S your name?" asked Mr. Pappleworth of the boy.

"Paul Morel."

It is curious that children suffer so much at having to pronounce their own names.

"Paul Morel, is it? All right, you Paul-Morel through them things there, and then---"

Mr. Pappleworth subsided on to a stool, and began writing. A girl came up from out of a door just behind, put some newly-pressed elastic web appliances on the counter, and returned. Mr. Pappleworth picked up the whitey-blue knee-band, examined it, and its yellow order-paper quickly, and put it on one side. Next was a flesh-pink "leg". He went through the few things, wrote out a couple of orders, and called to Paul to accompany him. This time they went through the door whence the girl had emerged. There Paul found himself at the top of a little wooden flight of steps, and below him saw a room with windows round two sides, and at the farther end half a dozen girls sitting bending over the benches in the light from the window, sewing. They were singing together "Two Little Girls in Blue". Hearing the door opened, they all turned round, to see Mr. Pappleworth and Paul looking down on them from the far end of the room. They stopped singing.

"Can't you make a bit less row?" said Mr. Pappleworth. "Folk'll think we keep cats."

A hunchback woman on a high stool turned her long, rather heavy face towards Mr. Pappleworth, and said, in a contralto voice:

"They're all tom-cats then."

In vain Mr. Pappleworth tried to be impressive for Paul's benefit. He descended the steps into the finishing-off room, and went to the hunchback Fanny. She had such a short body on her high stool that her head, with its great bands of bright brown hair, seemed over large, as did her pale, heavy face. She wore a dress of green-black cashmere, and her wrists, coming out of the narrow cuffs, were thin and flat, as she put down her work nervously. He showed her something that was wrong with a knee-cap.

"Well," she said, "you needn't come blaming it on to me. It's not my fault." Her colour mounted to her cheek.

"I never said it WAS your fault. Will you do as I tell you?" replied Mr. Pappleworth shortly.

"You don't say it's my fault, but you'd like to make out as it was," the hunchback woman cried, almost in tears. Then she snatched the knee-cap from her "boss", saying: "Yes, I'll do it for you, but you needn't be snappy."

"Here's your new lad," said Mr. Pappleworth.

Fanny turned, smiling very gently on Paul.

"Oh!" she said.

"Yes; don't make a softy of him between you."

"It's not us as 'ud make a softy of him," she said indignantly.

"Come on then, Paul," said Mr. Pappleworth.

"Au revoy, Paul," said one of the girls.

There was a titter of laughter. Paul went out, blushing deeply, not having spoken a word.

The day was very long. All morning the work-people were coming to speak to Mr. Pappleworth. Paul was writing or learning to make up parcels, ready for the midday post. At one o'clock, or, rather, at a quarter to one, Mr. Pappleworth disappeared to catch his train: he lived in the suburbs. At one o'clock, Paul, feeling very lost, took his dinner-basket down into the stockroom in the basement, that had the long table on trestles, and ate his meal hurriedly, alone in that cellar of gloom and desolation. Then he went out of doors. The brightness and the freedom of the streets made him feel adventurous and happy. But at two o'clock he was back in the corner of the big room. Soon the work-girls went trooping past, making remarks. It was the commoner girls who worked upstairs at the heavy tasks of truss-making and the finishing of artificial limbs. He waited for Mr. Pappleworth, not knowing what to do, sitting scribbling on the yellow order-paper. Mr. Pappleworth came at twenty minutes to three. Then he sat and gossiped with Paul, treating the boy entirely as an equal, even in age.

In the afternoon there was never very much to do, unless it were near the week-end, and the accounts had to be made up. At five o'clock all the men went down into the dungeon with the table on trestles, and there they had tea, eating bread-and-butter on the bare, dirty boards, talking with the same kind of ugly haste and slovenliness with which they ate their meal. And yet upstairs the atmosphere among them was always jolly and clear. The cellar and the trestles affected them.

After tea, when all the gases were lighted, WORK went more briskly. There was the big evening post to get off. The hose came up warm and newly pressed from the workrooms. Paul had made out the invoices. Now he had the packing up and addressing to do, then he had to weigh his stock of parcels on the scales. Everywhere voices were calling weights, there was the chink of metal, the rapid snapping of string, the hurrying to old Mr. Melling for stamps. And at last the postman came with his sack, laughing and jolly. Then everything slacked off, and Paul took his dinner-basket and ran to the station to catch the eight-twenty train. The day in the factory was just twelve hours long.

His mother sat waiting for him rather anxiously. He had to walk from Keston, so was not home until about twenty past nine. And he left the house before seven in the morning. Mrs. Morel was rather anxious about his health. But she herself had had to put up with so much that she expected her children to take the same odds. They must go through with what came. And Paul stayed at Jordan's, although all the time he was there his health suffered from the darkness and lack of air and the long hours.

He came in pale and tired. His mother looked at him. She saw he was rather pleased, and her anxiety all went.

"Well, and how was it?" she asked.

"Ever so funny, mother," he replied. "You don't have to work a bit hard, and they're nice with you."

"And did you get on all right?"

"Yes: they only say my writing's bad. But Mr. Pappleworth-he's my man--said to Mr. Jordan I should be all right. I'm Spiral, mother; you must come and see. It's ever so nice."

Soon he liked Jordan's. Mr. Pappleworth, who had a certain "saloon bar" flavour about him, was always natural, and treated him as if he had been a comrade. Sometimes the "Spiral boss" was irritable, and chewed more lozenges than ever. Even then, however, he was not offensive, but one of those people who hurt themselves by their own irritability more than they hurt other people.

"Haven't you done that YET?" he would cry. "Go on, be a month of Sundays."

Again, and Paul could understand him least then, he was jocular and in high spirits.

"I'm going to bring my little Yorkshire terrier bitch tomorrow," he said jubilantly to Paul.

"What's a Yorkshire terrier?"

"DON'T know what a Yorkshire terrier is? DON'T KNOW A YORKSHIRE---" Mr. Pappleworth was aghast.

"Is it a little silky one--colours of iron and rusty silver?"

"THAT'S it, my lad. She's a gem. She's had five pounds' worth of pups already, and she's worth over seven pounds herself; and she doesn't weigh twenty ounces."

The next day the bitch came. She was a shivering, miserable morsel. Paul did not care for her; she seemed so like a wet rag that would never dry. Then a man called for her, and began to make coarse jokes. But Mr. Pappleworth nodded his head in the direction of the boy, and the talk went on sotto voce.

Mr. Jordan only made one more excursion to watch Paul, and then the only fault he found was seeing the boy lay his pen on the counter.

"Put your pen in your ear, if you're going to be a clerk. Pen in your ear!" And one day he said to the lad: "Why don't you hold your shoulders straighter? Come down here," when he took him into the glass office and fitted him with special braces for keeping the shoulders square.

But Paul liked the girls best. The men seemed common and rather dull. He liked them all, but they were uninteresting. Polly, the little brisk overseer downstairs, finding Paul eating in the cellar, asked him if she could cook him anything on her little stove. Next day his mother gave him a dish that could be heated up. He took it into the pleasant, clean room to Polly. And very soon it grew to be an established custom that he should have dinner with her. When he came in at eight in the morning he took his basket to her, and when he came down at one o'clock she had his dinner ready.

He was not very tall, and pale, with thick chestnut hair, irregular features, and a wide, full mouth. She was like a small bird. He often called her a "robinet". Though naturally rather quiet, he would sit and chatter with her for hours telling her about his home. The girls all liked to hear him talk. They often gathered in a little circle while he sat on a bench, and held forth to them, laughing. Some of them regarded him as a curious little creature, so serious, yet so bright and jolly, and always so delicate in his way with them. They all liked him, and he adored them. Polly he felt he belonged to. Then Connie, with her mane of red hair, her face of apple-blossom, her murmuring voice, such a lady in her shabby black frock, appealed to his romantic side.

"When you sit winding," he said, "it looks as if you were spinning at a spinning-wheel--it looks ever so nice. You remind me of Elaine in the 'Idylls of the King'. I'd draw you if I could."

And she glanced at him blushing shyly. And later on he had a sketch he prized very much: Connie sitting on the stool before the wheel, her flowing mane of red hair on her rusty black frock, her red mouth shut and serious, running the scarlet thread off the hank on to the reel.

With Louie, handsome and brazen, who always seemed to thrust her hip at him, he usually joked.

Emma was rather plain, rather old, and condescending. But to condescend to him made her happy, and he did not mind.

"How do you put needles in?" he asked.

"Go away and don't bother."

"But I ought to know how to put needles in."

She ground at her machine all the while steadily.

"There are many things you ought to know," she replied.

"Tell me, then, how to stick needles in the machine."

"Oh, the boy, what a nuisance he is! Why, THIS is how you do it."

He watched her attentively. Suddenly a whistle piped. Then Polly appeared, and said in a clear voice:

"Mr. Pappleworth wants to know how much longer you're going to be down here playing with the girls, Paul."

Paul flew upstairs, calling "Good-bye!" and Emma drew herself up.

"It wasn't ME who wanted him to play with the machine," she said.

As a rule, when all the girls came back at two o'clock, he ran upstairs to Fanny, the hunchback, in the finishing-off room. Mr. Pappleworth did not appear till twenty to three, and he often found his boy sitting beside Fanny, talking, or drawing, or singing with the girls.

Often, after a minute's hesitation, Fanny would begin to sing. She had a fine contralto voice. Everybody joined in the chorus, and it went well. Paul was not at all embarrassed, after a while, sitting in the room with the half a dozen work-girls.

At the end of the song Fanny would say:

"I know you've been laughing at me."

"Don't be so soft, Fanny!" cried one of the girls.

Once there was mention of Connie's red hair.

"Fanny's is better, to my fancy," said Emma.

"You needn't try to make a fool of me," said Fanny, flushing deeply.

"No, but she has, Paul; she's got beautiful hair."

"It's a treat of a colour," said he. "That coldish colour like earth, and yet shiny. It's like bog-water."

"Goodness me!" exclaimed one girl, laughing.

"How I do but get criticised," said Fanny.

"But you should see it down, Paul," cried Emma earnestly. "It's simply beautiful. Put it down for him, Fanny, if he wants something to paint."

Fanny would not, and yet she wanted to.

"Then I'll take it down myself," said the lad.

"Well, you can if you like," said Fanny.

And he carefully took the pins out of the knot, and the rush of hair, of uniform dark brown, slid over the humped back.

"What a lovely lot!" he exclaimed.

The girls watched. There was silence. The youth shook the hair loose from the coil.

"It's splendid!" he said, smelling its perfume. "I'll bet it's worth pounds."

"I'll leave it you when I die, Paul," said Fanny, half joking.

"You look just like anybody else, sitting drying their hair," said one of the girls to the long-legged hunchback.

Poor Fanny was morbidly sensitive, always imagining insults. Polly was curt and businesslike. The two departments were for ever at war, and Paul was always finding Fanny in tears. Then he was made the recipient of all her woes, and he had to plead her case with Polly.

So the time went along happily enough. The factory had a homely feel. No one was rushed or driven. Paul always enjoyed it when the work got faster, towards post-time, and all the men united in labour. He liked to watch his fellow-clerks at work. The man was the work and the work was the man, one thing, for the time being. It was different with the girls. The real woman never seemed to be there at the task, but as if left out, waiting.

From the train going home at night he used to watch the lights of the town, sprinkled thick on the hills, fusing together in a blaze in the valleys. He felt rich in life and happy. Drawing farther off, there was a patch of lights at Bulwell like myriad petals shaken to the ground from the shed stars; and beyond was the red glare of the furnaces, playing like hot breath on the clouds.

He had to walk two and more miles from Keston home, up two long hills, down two short hills. He was often tired, and he counted the lamps climbing the hill above him, how many more to pass. And from the hilltop, on pitch-dark nights, he looked round on the villages five or six miles away, that shone like swarms of glittering living things, almost a heaven against his feet. Marlpool and Heanor scattered the far-off darkness with brilliance. And occasionally the black valley space between was traced, violated by a great train rushing south to London or north to Scotland. The trains roared by like projectiles level on the darkness, fuming and burning, making the valley clang with their passage. They were gone, and the lights of the towns and villages glittered in silence.

And then he came to the corner at home, which faced the other side of the night. The ash-tree seemed a friend now. His mother rose with gladness as he entered. He put his eight shillings proudly on the table.

"It'll help, mother?" he asked wistfully.

"There's precious little left," she answered, "after your ticket and dinners and such are taken off."

Then he told her the budget of the day. His life-story, like an Arabian Nights, was told night after night to his mother. It was almost as if it were her own life.

莫瑞尔天性莽撞,对危险也满不在乎。因此不断地出事故。莫瑞尔太太每当听到一辆空煤车驶向家门口,她就会跑出起居室去看。想着丈夫很有可能坐在矿车里,脸色灰白,满面灰尘,浑身无力,不是病就是伤了。如果是他,她就会跑出去帮忙。

威廉去伦敦大约一年了,保罗刚刚离开学校、还没有找到工作。有一天,莫瑞尔太太正在楼上,保罗在厨房里画画——他有这方面的天赋——忽然有人敲门。他生气地放下画笔去开门,母亲也打开窗户,往下看。

矿上一个衣着肮脏的小伙子站在门口。

他问:“这是沃尔特·莫瑞尔的家吗?”

“是啊。”莫瑞尔太太说:“什么事?”

但是她已经猜到了。

“你丈夫受伤了。”他说。

“哦,天哪!”她惊叫了一声,“他不出事那才是个奇迹呢。小伙子,这回他怎么啦?”

“我不太清楚。不过可能是腿受伤了。已经把他送到医院去了。”

“天哪!”她惊叫道,“哦,天哪,他就这副德性!从来没有安宁过五分钟,如果有,我宁愿去上吊!他的大拇指伤刚好,而现在——你见了他吗?”

“我在井下见过他。我看见他们把他放在矿车里送上去,他昏过去了。不过弗雷泽大夫在灯具室里给他检查的时候,他大喊大叫地咒骂着。他们要送他去医院时,他说他不去医院,要回家。”

小伙子结结巴巴地说完。

“他当然想回家,好让我来受拖累。谢谢你,小伙子,哦,天哪,我还没有受够吗?我受够了!”

她下了楼,保罗机械地继续着他的画。

“既然他们把他送到了医院,那么情况一定很糟糕。”她接着说,“他太粗心大意!别的人就没有这么多事故。是的,他想把担子压在我身上。哦,天哪,好不容易我们的生活才好了一点。把那些东西拿开,现在没有时间画画了,火车什么时候开?我得赶紧去凯斯顿了,我只好扔下卧室不管了。”

“我可以替你收拾。”保罗说。

“你不用。我想可以赶七点钟的车回来。哦,我的天,他要惹出来多少麻烦啊。而且丁德山口那段花岗石路——还不如叫它碎石子路——简直可以把他颠死。我真不明白他们为什么不修修这条路。这么糟糕的路,何况坐救护车的人都是急病人。为什么不在这儿开一家医院呢。如果那位老板买下了矿区,天哪,会有足够的事故发生,不用担心医院会倒闭。可是他们就不这样做,却一定把人放在一辆慢吞吞的救护车里,送到十英里外诺丁汉去。这太不像话了!咳,他还要找岔子!他一定会的。我知道谁陪他,巴克,我想就是他,可怜的家伙,他宁愿躲在任何地方,也不想住在医院里。可是我知道巴克会很好地照顾他。还不知道他要在医院住多久——他讨厌住在那里!不过,如果只是腿部受伤,那还不算太倒霉。”

说话的工夫她一直在准备着,匆匆取掉围腰,她蹲在烧水锅面前,把热水慢慢地灌进水壶里。

“我想把这个烧水锅扔在海底里!”她大声说着,一边不耐烦地拧着水龙头。真是奇怪,这么矮小的女人有一双漂亮又有劲的胳膊。

保罗收拾好东西,放上茶壶,摆好桌子。

“四点二十才有火车。”他说,“你的时间很充裕。”

“哦,不,我没多少时间了。”她大声说,一面擦脸,一面从毛巾上眨着眼睛望着他。

“不,你来得及,不管怎样你得喝杯茶。需要我陪你一起去凯斯顿吗?”

“陪我一起去?我倒想问问,为什么陪我去?现在,我还应该给他拿些什么?唉,天哪!他的干净衣服——上帝保佑,是干净的。不过最好还是烘干一些。还有袜子——他用不着袜子了——我想,还要一条毛巾吧,还有手绢,还有别的什么?”

“梳子、刀、叉和勺子。”保罗说。父亲以前住过院。

“天知道他的腿怎么样,”莫瑞尔太太接着说,一面梳着她那棕色的,细软如丝的头发,不过掺杂着几缕白发。“他特别注意洗上半身,下半身他就觉得没必要洗,不过,这样的人在医院里也是见多不怪了。”

保罗已经摆好了桌子,他给母亲切了两片薄薄的黄油面包。

“给你。”他说道,在她面前放了一杯茶。

“再别烦我!”她烦躁地喊道。

“可是,你必须吃点,东西都摆好了。”他坚持说。

于是她坐下来,轻轻抿着茶,默默地吃了点面包,显得心事重重的样子。

几分钟后,她离开了,要步行两英里半才到凯斯顿车站。她把带给丈夫的东西全放在一个鼓鼓的网兜里。保罗看着她行走在树篱间的大路上——一个身材矮小、步履匆匆的背影,想到她又陷入痛苦、烦恼的深渊,他又为她而感到痛心。她内心焦急,疾步如飞,感到身后儿子的心紧紧地跟随着她,感到他在尽力为她分担重负,甚至支撑着她。她在医院时,她想到:“如果告诉孩子情况是多么的糟糕,他会很担心的。我最好还是谨慎点。”然而当她步履艰难的往家走时,她却感觉他会来分担她的重担的。

“情况糟糕么?”她一进门,保罗就问。

“不能再坏了。”她回答。

“什么?”

她叹着气坐了下来,解开帽带,儿子望着她仰起的脸,和那双辛勤劳作的小手在颌下解着那个结。

“不过,”她回答道,“并不是很危险,可是护士说,是粉碎性骨折。你看,一大块石头砸在他腿上——这儿——是有创骨折,有些折骨把肉都戳穿了。”

“啊——太可怕了!”孩子们惊呼道。

“而且,”她继续说,“他自然嚷嚷着他快死了——他要不叫才怪呢。‘我不行了,亲爱的!’他看着我说:‘别傻了!’我说,‘不管砸得多厉害,你也不会因为一条断腿要命的。’‘我不会活着出院的,除非进了棺材。’他嘟囔着。‘得了’我说,‘等你好点,你让他们把你放在棺材里抬到花园里开开心,我想他们也会的!’‘只要我们觉得那对他有好处。’护士长说。她是一个很好的护士长,就是相当严格。”

莫瑞尔太太摘掉帽子,孩子们在静静地等着她说下去。

“他的情况糟糕,”她继续说:“一时好不了,这一下砸得很重,失了好多血,当然,这次也很危险。根本说不准能不能完全复原。而且,还会发烧和引起坏疽病——如果情况坏下去,他会很快不行的。但是,他体质不错,皮肉也极容易长好。所以我觉得不会一直这么坏下去。当然,有一块伤——”

她脸色苍白,情绪激动,三个孩子意识到父亲的情况是多么糟糕,屋子里一片沉默、焦虑。

“他总会好的。”过一会儿保罗说:

“我也是这么给他说的。”母亲说。

每个人都沉默不作声做自己的事。

“他看上去也真像不得了的样子。”她说,“但护士长说那是因为伤痛。”

安妮拿走了母亲的外衣和帽子。

“我走的时候他看着我!我说:‘我得回去了,沃尔特,因为火车——还有孩子们。’他一直看着我。这让人难受。”

保罗又拿起画笔开始画画。亚瑟走出去拿煤。安妮凄然地坐在那儿,莫瑞尔太太坐在她怀第一个孩子时她丈夫为她做的摇椅上,一动不动,想着心事。她很伤心,为这个重伤的男人感到难过。但是,在她心灵最深处,在应该燃起爱情火焰的地方,却仍旧是一片空白。此刻,她那种女人的怜悯心完全被激起了,不顾一切地照顾他,挽救他,她宁愿自己承受这些痛苦(如果能够的话)。然而,在她心灵深处,她对他和他的痛苦仍然是漠不关心。令她感伤的是,即使在他激起她强烈的爱欲的时候,她仍然不会爱他。她沉思了一会儿。

“而且,”她突然说,“当我走到凯斯顿半路时,才发现自己穿着干活时穿的鞋——你们看。”原来是保罗的一双棕色旧鞋,鞋尖已经磨破了,露出脚趾。“我窘迫地真不知道怎么办才好。”她又加了一句。

第二天早晨,安妮和亚瑟上学去了,莫瑞尔太太又跟帮她做家务的儿子聊了起来。

“我在医院里碰到了巴克,他精神很不好,可怜的家伙。‘喂!’我对他说,‘你这一路陪看他,怎么样啊?’‘别问了,太太。’他说。‘唉,’我说,‘我知道他会怎么样!’‘不过,他的情况是很糟糕,莫瑞尔太太,是的。’他说:‘我知道。’我说。‘车子颠一下,我的心就像会从嘴里冲出来似的,’他说:‘而且他常常大喊大叫,太太,即使给我一大笔钱让我再干一次,我也不干了。’‘我可以理解,’我说:‘这是一个让人恶心的工作,’他说:‘但是,要等路修好,还有很长一段时间呢?’我说:‘我觉得可能是。’我喜欢巴克先生——我确实喜欢他。他有一种男子汉气概。”

保罗沉默地继续画画。

“当然。”莫瑞尔太太继续说,“像你爸爸这样的人,住在医院里可真困难。他不懂制度和惯例,而且不到他不能忍受的时候,他是不会让任何人碰他的。这次砸伤了大腿,一天换四次药,除了我和他妈妈,他会让别人换吗?他不会的。所以,和护士们在一起,他就得受折腾。我也不想离开他,我很清楚。当我吻了他一下回来时,我自己都觉得不够意思。”

就这样,她跟儿子聊着,几乎想把所有的心事都倾诉给他,而他也全神贯注地听着,尽他所能地分担减轻她的困难。最后,她不知不觉跟他谈了所有的心曲。

莫瑞尔的情况这段时间一直不妙。整个星期,他处在危急状态中。后来开始好转。知道他开始好转,全家才松了一口气,又开始了快乐的生活。

莫瑞尔住院的时候,他们的生活例并不是非常困难。矿上每星期给他们十四先令,疾病协会给十先令,残疾人基金会给五先令,还有莫瑞尔的朋友们每星期也给莫瑞尔太太一些钱——从五到七先令不等——因此她就相当宽裕了。莫瑞尔在医院里渐渐恢复,家里也格外愉快、平和。每个星期三、六,莫瑞尔太太都要去诺丁汉看望丈夫。她往往会带点小东西回来:给保罗带一小管颜料,或几张画纸;给安妮带几张明信片,全家人就高兴地看上好几天,然后才让她把明信片寄给别人;给亚瑟买把钢丝锯,或买一块漂亮的木板。她兴奋地告诉孩子们自己在大商店的种种奇遇。画店里的人认识她了,也知道了保罗。书店里的姑娘对她也很有兴趣。莫瑞尔太太从诺丁汉回来,总有很多新闻。三个孩子围着她坐成一圈听她讲,一边插嘴,一边争论,一直闹到该上床的时候,最后,通常是保罗去通炉灰。

他常常自豪地对母亲说:“现在我是家里的男主人了。”他们明白了家庭可以是多么的平和安宁。因此他们都有些遗憾——虽然没有人承认自己是这么无情无义——他们的父亲就要回来了。

保罗现在十四岁,正在找工作,他是位个子矮小而秀气的男孩,长着深棕色的头发和淡蓝色的眼睛。脸型已不是小时候的那种圆型,而是变得有点像威廉——线条粗犷,甚至有点粗鲁——而且表情极其丰富多变。他看起来仿佛总是若有所思,显得生气盎然,充满活力。他突如其来的笑很可爱,很像他母亲。而且,当他那迅速变化着的思路中出现障碍时,他的表情就变得呆滞、丑陋。他是那种一旦不被别人理解,或感到被人瞧不起,他就变成一个愁眉苦脸的男孩子。然而一旦接触到温暖,他立刻又变得可爱了。

无论他接触什么事物,刚开始,他总觉得很别扭。他七岁就开始上学这件事,对他简直是一种刑罚。不过,后来他就喜欢这种生活了。如今自己得步入社会,他又觉得羞怯,自信也消失得无踪无影。对于一个他这个年龄的孩子来说,可以说他是一个天赋很高的画家了,而且他从海顿先生那里学了一些法语、德语还有数学,但这些都没有商业价值。他母亲说过,干重体力活吧,他的身体又不够强壮,他不喜欢做手工,却喜欢东颠西跑,或是到乡下旅行,或读书、画画。

“你想干什么呢?”母亲问道。

“什么都行。”

“这不算一个答案。”莫瑞尔太太说。

不过,他确实只能做出这样的答复。他的雄心壮志就是在离家不远的地方,与世无争地一星期挣三十或三十五先令。等父亲死后,就和妈妈住同一所小屋子。愿意画画就画画,愿意外出就外出,从此就快快乐乐地生活。到现在来说,这就是他的打算。不过他内心傲视一切,拿人家同自己比较一下,无情地估计将他们分等。他想,投稿他可能会成为一个画家,一个真正的画家。但是他把这个想法丢到了一边。

母亲说:“你得看看报纸上的广告。”

他看着她。这对他来说,翻看广告使他承受屈辱和痛苦的折磨。但他什么也没说。第二天早晨起来时,整个身心都思虑这么个念头:

“我不得不去看广告找工作了。”

这天早晨,他就一直想着这件事,这个念头扼杀了他的全部快乐,甚至生活,他的心乱成一团。

后来,到十点钟,他出了门。他被认为是一个古怪而安静的孩子。走在小镇洒满阳光的小街上,觉得仿佛他遇见的所有人都悄悄地议论:他要去合作社阅览室看报纸找工作了,他找不到工作的,我想他是靠母亲活着。于是,他轻手轻脚地踏上合作社布店后面的石阶,往阅览室看了看。通常,里面只有一、两个人,不是老人,就是无用的家伙,要不就是靠“互助会”生活的矿工。他进去了,当他们抬起头来看他时,他立刻一副畏畏缩缩、受委屈的样子。他坐在桌前,假装浏览新闻,他知道他们会这样想:一个十三岁的孩子在阅览室里会干什么?他心里很别扭。

他沉思着朝窗外望去,对面伸出花园的旧红墙,墙头满是大朵大朵的葵花,花儿欢快地俯视着拿着东西匆匆赶回家去做饭的女人们;山谷里长满谷物,在阳光下闪闪发光,田野里有两座煤矿,白色水蒸汽慢慢往空中升起。远处的小山上,是安娜利森林,幽暗而神秘。他的心往下沉,要被派去当苦力了。他心爱的家乡的自由生活就要结束,他已经成为工业社会的囚犯。

酿酒商的货车从凯斯顿驶过来了,车上装着巨大的酒桶,一边四个,就像绽开的豆荚上的豆子。赶车人高高地坐在车上,沉重地坐在座里摇摇晃晃。这活在保罗眼里一点也不敢轻视。他那又圆又小弹壳般的脑袋上的头发,在太阳下面晒得几乎发白,那粗壮的红胳膊懒懒地耷拉在麻布围裙上摇来摆去,白色的汗毛闪闪发光,红红的睑发着光,在阳光下睡眼惺松。几匹棕色的漂亮的马,自觉地跑着,倒更像这个场面的主人了。

保罗希望自己是个傻瓜。“我希望,”他心里暗自思量,“我倒不如像他一样肥胖,做一只太阳下的狗;我希望我是一头猪,或是一个给酿酒商赶车的车夫。”

最后,阅览室终于空了。他匆匆在一片小纸上抄下了一条广告,又抄了一条。然后溜了出来,松了一口气。母亲还得看看他抄写来的东西。

“是的,”她说,“你应该试试。”

威廉曾经用规范的商业用语写了一封求职信,保罗把信略加修改,抄了一遍。这个孩子的书法很糟糕,所以样样在行的威廉看到他的字,不由得烦燥起来。

这个当哥哥的变得爱炫耀自己了。他发现在伦敦自己可以结交比贝斯伍德的朋友地位高得多的人,办公室里的某些办事员已经学过法律,或多或少地当过一段时间的见习生。威廉性格开朗,不论去哪都广交朋友。不久,他就拜访出入一些人家,而这些要人是在贝斯伍德,对那些无法高攀的银行经理都有些看不起,对教区长也不过冷淡地拜访一下而已。因此他开始幻想他已经成为一个大人物了,实际上,他对于自己如此轻易就成为一个绅士阶层的人,也相当意外。

他似乎十分满足,母亲也很高兴。只是他在沃尔刹斯托的生活太枯燥乏味了。现在这个年轻人的信中似乎涌动着一种兴奋的激情,这种生活变化,弄得他心神不定,好象完全失去了自己,随着这种新生活的潮流,轻浮地来回旋转。母亲为他而焦虑。她也已感到他已经迷失了自己,他去跳舞,去戏院,在小河上划船,跟朋友们一起外出,不过她也知道他在玩乐完后,会坐在冰冷的卧室里,刻苦地学习拉丁文,因为他想在办公室出人头地,还想在法律界尽所能地闯出一番天地。现在,他不再寄钱给母亲了。自己所有的钱全作为生活用度。而她,也不想要钱,除非偶尔,她手头确实很紧,十先令也能帮她大忙时,她仍然梦到威廉,梦到他在为她帮忙做主。但她从来不肯承认因为他,她的心会多么焦急,多么沉重。

他也谈了很多关于他在舞会上认识的一个女孩,年轻漂亮,肤色浅黑,有一大批追求者的。

“我想知道是否你会去追她,我的孩子。”他的母亲给他回信说,“你不要这样干,除非看见别人在追求她,你和很多人在一起的时候,你很安全,也很得意。但是,要小心谨慎,如果你独自一个人情场胜利时,感觉一下是什么样的。”

威廉不在意这些话,继续追求。他带姑娘去河边划船。“如果你看到她,妈妈,你就会明白我的感情了。她身材高大,文雅端庄,皮肤是纯净的透明的橄榄色,头发乌黑发亮,还有那一双灰色的眼睛——明亮、一副嘲弄的神情,有如黑夜中映在水面的星星灯火。直到你见到她,你才不会见笑你儿子了。她的衣服也比得过伦敦的任何一个女人。我告诉你,如果她陪着你儿子走在皮卡迪利街上,他不会不昂首挺胸的。”

莫瑞尔太太思前想后,也许与儿子在皮卡迪利散步的,只是身材窈窕,衣着漂亮的女人,而不是一个和他十分亲密的女人。不过,她用她模棱两可的方式向他祝贺。有时,当她俯身站在洗衣盆边时,又想起儿子的事来,仿佛看见儿子娶了一个挥霍无度优雅漂亮的妻于,挣那几个钱,在郊区一间小屋子里苦苦地过着日子。“唉,”她对自己说,“我就像一个傻子——自寻烦恼。”尽管这样,她心底的那块忧虑始终伴随着她,害怕威廉自作主张干错了事。

不久,保罗被托马斯·乔丹这个住在诺丁汉,斯帕尼尔街21号的外科医疗器械厂老板约见。莫瑞尔太太高兴极了。

“嘿,你看!”她喊道,眼里发着光,“你只写了四封信,而第三封信就得到回音。你很幸运,孩子,我以前常说你很幸运。”

保罗看着画在乔丹信纸上的图案:一条木头做的腿套着弹力袜子以及一些别的机械。他觉得手足无措。他从来不知道有这种弹力袜子,他似乎感受到了这个商业社会价值准则,不讲人情,他害怕这些。更可怕的是,木头腿的买卖。

星期二那天,母子俩很早就出发了。这时是八月份,天气火一般地热。保罗走着,心里仿佛有什么东西拧着。他宁愿体力上多受点苦,也不愿受这莫名其妙的折腾,当着陌生人的面、让别入决定是否录用你。不过,他还是和母亲随口聊着。他从没对她坦白地说过他碰到这样苦闷的事。她只能猜到一些。这天,她快乐极了,简直像热恋中的情人。她站在贝斯伍德售票处的窗户准备买票,保罗看着她从钱包里掏钱,当他看到那双戴着黑色羊皮旧手套的手从破钱包里掏出银币时,保罗因对母亲的爱恋而产生强烈的痛楚。

她又激动又快活。看着她当着其他旅客的面高声说话,他感到十分难堪。

“看那些愚蠢的母牛,”她说,“正跑着圈子,好象她以为自己在马戏团里。”

“很可能有一只牛虹叮了。”他低低地说。

“一个什么?”她轻快地问,一点不觉得难为情。

两人沉思了一阵,坐在她对面总使他非常敏感,突然,他们的目光相遇了,她对他微笑了一下——一个难得的、亲切的笑容,充满明快和爱意。然后他们俩都朝窗外望去。

十六英里的铁路旅程慢慢地过去了。母子俩走到车站街上,有一种情人们一起冒险的激动。到了卡林顿大街上,他们停下来扶着栏杆,看着下面运河里的驳船。

“真像威尼斯。”他说,看着工厂高墙之下水面上的阳光。

“也许像吧。”她微笑着回答。

他们非常兴奋地去逛那些商店。

“喂,看那件衬衣,”她说,“安妮穿着正合适,对吗?而且只卖一镑十一先令三便士,便宜吧?”

“还是刺绣的呢。”他说。

“是啊。”

他们时间充裕,因此一点不急。他们觉得这个镇十分新奇陌生。但是这个男孩忧心忡忡。他一想到跟托马斯·乔丹见面就害怕。

圣彼得教堂的大钟快十一点时,他们来到一条通向城堡的狭窄的街上。这条街阴暗破旧,两旁是低矮的店铺和几扇饰有黄铜门环的深绿色大门,还有伸向人行道的黄赭石台阶。接着,又是一家商店,那个小窗口看起来像一只狡猾的半睁着的眼睛。母子俩小心翼翼地走着、寻找着“乔丹父子”的挂牌。这真像在某地野外狩猎一样,兴奋激动极了。

突然,他们发现一座高大黑暗的牌楼,挂着好几家商店招牌,托马斯·乔丹的就在其中。

“在这儿!”莫瑞尔太太说,“但到底在哪边呢?”

他们四周望着,一边是一家古怪、阴暗的硬纸板,另一边是一家商业旅馆。

“在门洞里面。”保罗说。

他们探险似的进了牌楼,仿佛闯入龙潭。他们走进一个宽大的院子,院子像一口井,四周都是高大的建筑,地上乱七八糟地堆着稻草、纸盒和纸板。阳光照在一只大板条箱上,里面的黄色的稻草撒得到处都是。院内其他地方和矿井一样阴暗。里面有几扇门,两个楼梯。正对着他们的楼梯最上面有一扇肮脏的玻璃门,上面模模糊糊有几个丧气的宇:“托马斯·乔丹父子外科医疗器械厂。”莫瑞尔太太走在前面,儿子跟着。当保罗跟在母亲后面登上了肮脏的台阶,走向那扇肮脏的门时,他的心情比查理一世上断头台时还要沉重而紧张。

她推开了门,新奇而欣喜地站在那儿。在她面前是一个大仓库,到处是奶油色的纸包,那些卷着袖子的职员们自由自在地走来走去,这里光线柔和,那些光滑的奶油色纸包似乎闪闪发光,还有一个深棕色的木柜台。所有这些都那么安静,富有家庭气氛。莫瑞尔太太向前走了两步,停下等着。保罗站在她身后。她戴着最好的帽子,披着黑面纱。他套着男孩子的那种白色大硬领,一套诺福克西服。

一个办事员抬起头来,他瘦高瘦高,脸又窄又长,看起来很机灵。然后他又朝屋子那头,一间用玻璃隔开的办公室看了一眼,才走了过来。他没有说话,只是带着和气的询问的神情俯身向着莫瑞尔太太。

“我可以见见乔丹先生吗?”她问。

“我去找他。”小伙子回答。

他向那间玻璃隔开的办公室走去。一个红脸、白胡子的老头抬起头来,这人让保罗想起了一只长毛尖嘴的小狗。接着,小老头儿走到外面屋子里来了。他两条腿很短,又矮又胖,穿着一件羊驼毛上衣,他像是竖了一只耳朵似的歪着头,带着询问的神情稳健地走了过来。

“早上好!”他说,在莫瑞尔太太面前有些犹豫,不知道她是不是个顾客。

“早上好,我是陪我儿子保罗;莫瑞尔来的,你约他今天早上来见你。”

“到这边来。”乔丹先生说,语气干脆,一副生意人的模样。

他们跟着这位工厂老板走进一间乱七八糟的屋子,屋里摆着美洲黑皮面家具,被顾客们摸得明光闪亮,桌子上有一堆与黄色羊皮箍带缠在一起的疵气带,看上去崭新崭新,给人一种新鲜的感觉。保罗闻到一股新鲜的小羊皮味,但他不知道是什么东西。到这时,他已感到晕晕乎乎,只注意视线以内的东西了。

“坐下,”乔丹先生有些不太耐烦地指着一张马鬃椅让莫瑞尔太太。她极不太自然地坐在那儿。接着,这个小老头掏出来一张纸。

“是你写的这封信吗?”他大声问道,顺手拿起那张纸递到保罗面前,保罗认出了这是他的信。

“是的。”他回答。

这时,他内心交织两种不同的感觉。首先,因为说了慌而感到内疚,因为那是威廉写的信稿。其次,他的信捏在那个人胖胖的红润的手里,显得非常生疏,和在家里放在桌子上完全不一样了。仿佛这封信就是他的一部分不听使唤了似的,他讨厌这人拿着信的样子。

“你从哪学会写字的?”这个老头粗鲁地问。

保罗只是不好意思地看着他,没有回答。

“他写得不好。”莫瑞尔太太抱歉般地插了一句。接着,她撩起了面纱。保罗恨她没有在这个普普通通的小老头面前显得高傲一些。不过,他喜欢她摘掉了面纱的脸。

“你还说你懂法语?”这个小老头问道,还是很尖刻。

“是的。”保罗说。

“你上的什么学校?”

“公立小学。”

“你是在哪里学的法语?”

“不……我……”孩子脸涨得通红,没再说下去。

“他的教父教的。”莫瑞尔太太说,有点解围的意味,但语气已相当冷淡了。

乔丹先生犹豫了一会儿。然后,急躁地——他的手似乎随时都急着要干什么似的——他从口袋里掏出另一张纸,哗啦哗啦地展开它,递给了保罗。

“念一下这个。”他说。

这是一张法文便条,细小而又龙飞凤舞的外文字迹弄得孩子无法辨认,他茫然地盯着这张纸。

“‘先生’,”他开始读了,但然后他又为难地看着乔丹先生,“这是……这是……”

他想说“笔迹”,可是他失去了往日的机灵,他怎么也说不出来这个词。他觉得自己像一个大傻瓜,他恨乔丹先生,可他只有绝望地再看看那张纸。

“‘先生’——请给我寄——嗯——嗯——我不认识这个——嗯——‘两双’——‘grisfilbas’——灰色长统麻纱袜——嗯——嗯——‘sans’——没有——嗯——我不认识这个字——嗯——doigts——手指——嗯——我不认识这个——”

他想说“笔迹”,但还是说不出来。看见他卡壳了,乔丹先生从他手里夺过那张纸。

“请寄两双无趾灰色长麻纱袜来。”

“噢,”保罗恍然大悟“‘doigts’是‘手指’的意思——也可以指,……不过一般指……”

这个小老头看着他。他不知道“doigts”是否有“手指”的意思。但从他的意图来说,是“脚趾”的意思。

“手指和长袜子能联系起来!”他大声嚷道。

“可这的确是手指的意思呀。”男孩坚持说。

他痛恨这个小老头,让他出了这样一个五。乔丹先生看着这个脸色苍白、傻乎乎的倔犟的孩子,又看了看一声不响坐着的母亲,一副不得不依靠别人生活的穷人才有的听天由命的样子。

“他什么时候可以来?”他问。

“哦,”莫瑞尔太太说:“由你决定,他现在已经毕业了。”

“他还要住在贝斯伍德吗?”

“是的,但是他能在8点差一刻到火车站。”

“嗯!”

结果保罗被录用为蜷线车间的办事员,每月八先令。这孩子坚持说“doigts”是“手指”的意思之后,再没说过一句语,他跟着母亲下了楼。她用那双明亮的蓝眼睛充满了疼爱和快乐注视着他。

“我想你会喜欢这份工作的。”她说。

“‘doigts’是‘手指’的意思,妈妈,而且那个笔迹,我不会认那个笔迹。”

“没关系,我肯定他以后会对你好的,而且你也不会常见到他。刚开始那个年轻人就相当不错,我肯定你会喜欢他的。”

“但是,妈妈,乔丹是不是一个很俗气的人?难道他拥有这整个厂?”

“我想他过去是个工人,后来发了,”她说:“你一定不能和别人太计较,他们不是不喜欢你——只是他们待人接物的方式不同罢了。你总认为别人对你过不去,其实不是。”

阳光明媚。市场的人已经散了,那片开阔地的上空,蓝天显的格外耀眼,地上铺路的圆石子熠熠发亮。大街两旁的店铺都遮掩在朦胧阴暗之中,阴影处也显出色彩斑烂的窗户,就在有轨马车穿过市场向前开去的地方,有一排水果摊,水果在太阳下闪着光——苹果、一堆堆的桔子、青梅、香蕉。母子俩路过时,那股浓浓的水果香扑面而来。保罗被羞辱气愤的情绪终于慢慢消失了。

“我们去哪儿吃饭?”母亲问。

这让人感觉有点挥霍无度。保罗长这么大,只去过馆子一两次,而且只要一杯茶和一个小圆面包。大多数贝斯伍德的人认为他们在诺丁汉的馆子里,最多吃得起茶和黄油面包,或是罐炯牛肉之类的东西,吃真正大厨师做的东西,被认为是奢侈。因此,保罗觉得很不是滋味。

他们找了一个看起来非常普通的餐馆,但是当莫瑞尔太太溜了一眼菜单时,她的心情就格外的沉重起来,东西太贵了。于是她点了腰子馅饼和土豆,这是最便宜的菜。

“我们不应该来这儿,妈妈。”保罗说。

“没什么,”她说:“我们不会再来的!”

她坚持给他要了一个葡萄干小馅饼,因为他爱吃甜点。

“我不想吃,妈妈。”他恳求似地说。

“要的。”她坚持说,“你应该吃。”

她四下找着女招待,女招待正忙着,莫瑞尔太太也不愿这个时候去打扰她。因此,当女招待在男人们中打情骂俏时,母子俩就等着适合的呼叫机会。

“不要脸的贱人!”莫瑞尔太太对保罗说,“看,她在给那个男人端布了呢,他比咱们来得晚得多。”

“没什么,妈妈。”保罗说。

莫瑞尔太太愤慨不已,可是她太穷了,要的东西又太不起眼,因此她当时还没有足够的勇气维护自己的权利。他们只好等啊等。

“我们该走了吧,妈妈?”他说。

这个女侍走过来,莫瑞尔太太站起身来。

“你能拿一个葡萄干馅饼吗?”莫瑞尔太太清清楚楚地说。

这个女恃无礼地往四周张望。

“马上就来。”她说。

“我们已经等得够长的了。”莫瑞尔太太说。

一会儿,姑娘就端来馅饼。莫瑞尔太太冷冷地让她结帐。保罗真想钻到地下去,他很佩服母亲的那份勇气。他知道她和他一样胆怯,只是长年的风风雨雨才教会了她维护自己这么点权利。

“这是我最后一次来这儿吃东西!”当他们惟恐避之不及地走出那个餐馆,她就大声发誓。

“我们去,”她说。“去看看凯普和波特商店,或其他地方,好吗?”

他们一路讨论着绘画,莫瑞尔太太想给他买一支他向往以久的貂毛画笔,但他拒绝了这份美意。他站在女帽店、布店前,百无聊赖,但她兴趣盎然,他也就心满意足了。他们继续逛着。

“噢,看那些黑葡萄!”她说,“简直让人流口水。好多年来我想买一些,但我还得等段时间才能买。”

然后她又兴高彩烈地来到花店前,站在门口,闻着扑鼻的香味。

“噢,噢,太香了,太可爱了!”

保罗看见了,在花店的阴影中,有一个穿黑衣服的漂亮小姐正在好奇地往柜台看着。

“人家正看着你呢。”他说着想把母亲拉走。

“那又是什么香味?”她不愿走,又大声问道。

“紫罗兰!”他一面回答,一面匆匆闻了一下:“那儿有满满一桶呢。”

“噢,在那儿——有红色的有白色的。说真的,我从不知道紫罗兰是这种香味!”她走出花店门口,他才如释重负。她又站在了橱窗前。

“保罗!”她大声叫他。而他却正想法躲开那个穿黑衣服的漂亮小姐——女店员的目光。“保罗,看这儿!”

他极不情愿地走了回来。

“哎,看那株吊金钟!”她指着花,大叫着。

“哦。”他惊奇而赞赏地说道:“时刻都觉得这些又大又沉的花朵会掉下来。”

“而且开得很密。”她大声说。

“看那些枝节都朝下长!”

“是啊,”她惊呼,“多可爱!”

“我不知道谁会买这种花。”他说。

“我不知道。”她回答说:“我们可不会买的。”

“它在咱们家的客厅里会枯死的。”

“是啊,那个地洞真冷,看不到太阳,种什么都不行,可是放在厨房里又会烤坏。”

他们买了一些东西,然后往车站走去,从楼房建筑之间的暗暗通道抬眼望去,看见运河上游那座城堡矗立在布满绿色灌木的褐色悬崖顶上,在柔和的阳光里,宛若仙境。

“以后午饭时出来走走会很不错的。”保罗说:“我可以在这儿到处逛逛,看看这一切,我会爱上这地儿的。”

“你会的,”母亲随声应道。

他和母亲一起度过了一个美好的下午。黄昏时分,他们才到家。脸色通红,心情愉悦,但也困顿不堪。

早晨,他填好季票表,拿着它去了车站。回来时,母亲刚开始擦地板。他蜷坐在沙发上。

“他们说星期六把季票送来。”他说。

“要多少钱?”

“大约一英镑十一先令。”他回答。

她一声不吭地继续擦地板。

“花得太多了吗?”他回。

“没有我想象的多。”她回答。

“我每星期挣八先令。”他说。

她没有回答,继续干着活儿,最后她说:

“威廉答应我,他去了伦敦后,每月给我一英镑。他给过我一两次,每次十先令。现在,我知道,如果我问他要钱,他连一个子儿也拿不出来。我并不想问他要钱,只是你希望他能帮你买季票。我从来没想依赖他。”

“他挣的钱很多,”他说。

“他能挣一百三十镑。年轻人都一个样,答应给你些钱,等给你时却少得可怜。”

“他自己每星期要花50多先令呢。”保罗说。

“而我维持全家花费还用不了三十先令。”她回答说:“而且还得想法攒点钱应付额外开支。年轻人一旦长大了,他们就不再想着帮你了,他宁愿把钱花在那个浓妆艳抹的东西身上。”

“她那么自以为了不起,就应该有自己的钱。”保罗说。

“她应该有,但她确实不名一文,我问过他了,而且我知道他不会不花钱白白给她拣一个金镯子的。谁会给我买个金镯子呢。”

威廉和那个他称为“吉普赛人”的姑娘发展的很顺利。他问那个名叫路易丝·莉莉·戴恩斯·韦丝特的姑娘要了一张像片寄给母亲。像片寄到了——一个漂亮的肤色微微发黑的女孩子的侧面像,面带微笑可能是张裸体照,因为照片看不到一丝衣服,只有袒露着的胸部。

“是的。”信里莫瑞尔太太给儿子写道:“路易丝的像片十分动人,而且我也相信她一定非常吸引人。可是,孩子,你想过没有,一个女孩子第一次给她男朋友一张这样的像片寄给他母亲,品位会高吗?当然,像你说的一样,她的肩膀很美丽,但我根本没料到第一眼就看到露出这么多。”

莫瑞尔在客厅的五斗柜上看到这张照片。他用粗壮的拇指和食指夹着照片走到外面。

“这是谁的姑娘?”他问妻子。

“和我们的威廉谈恋爱的女孩。”莫瑞尔太太回答。

“哦,看样子挺漂亮的,不过对他没有什么好处,她叫啥?”

“叫路易丝·莉莉·戴恩斯·韦丝特。”

“不会明天就来吧!”这个矿工惊奇地说:“她是个演员吗?”

“不是,据说是位小姐。”

“我敢打赌,”他大叫着,仍然盯着照片,“一位小姐,她是吗?她有多少钱来维持她这种排场啊?”

“什么都没有。她和一个她痛恨的姨妈住在一起,都是别人给她多少钱,她就拿多少。”

“哼!”莫瑞尔说着,放下照片:“跟这样的人来往,他真是一个傻瓜。”

“亲爱的妈妈,”威廉回信说:“我很遗憾你不喜欢这张像片。我寄照片的时候根本没有想到你会认为它不成体统。我告诉吉普赛人那张相片不很符合你们的正统观念,她打算再给您另寄一张,希望能合你的意。她常常拍照,事实上,有些摄影师免费求着给她照相呢。”

不久以后,新照片到了,还附有那姑娘写的一张傻乎乎的便条。这次,这位淑女穿了一件黑缎子紧身晚礼服,方领口,小灯笼袖,胳膊上披着黑色的花边。

“我不知道她除了晚礼服之外还穿不穿别的衣服。”莫瑞尔太太讽刺地说。“我确信自己该满意了。”

“你老和别人不一致,妈妈。”保罗说,“我觉得第一张露肩膀的那张挺可爱的。”

“是吗?”他母亲回答,“可是,我不觉得。”

星期一的早晨,保罗六点起床就去上班。他把曾使自己不安的季票放进背心口袋里。他喜欢票上的那两条黄杠杠。母亲把他的饭放在一只小小的盖得严严的篮子里,随后他七点差一刻出发,去赶七点一刻的火车,莫瑞尔太太送他到门口。

那天早晨天气棒极了,白蜡树上结满了一些又细又长的果子,孩子们叫它“鸽子”。微风吹来,可爱的闪光的果子掉在屋前的庭院。山谷笼罩着黑色的雾,透过雾气可以看到成熟的谷子微微闪光。敏顿矿井升起的水蒸汽也转瞬消失了。轻风吹来,保罗的目光越过阿尔德斯利的高高的树林,远眺在阳光下闪闪发光的田野。家从来没有像此刻这样对他有如此大的吸引力。

“早晨好,妈妈。”他微笑着说,实际上内心闷闷不乐。

“早晨好。”她愉快而温柔地回答。

她围着白围裙站在大路上,目送他穿过田野。他身材矮小,但很结实,看上去充满活力。她看着他步履沉重地走在田野上,觉得只要他决心去哪儿,他就一定会到哪儿。她想起威廉,他准会跳过篱笆墙,决不会绕弯路走台阶。他去了伦敦,干得还不错,保罗也就要在诺丁汉开始工作了。现在,她有两个儿子步入社会,她就有两个地方要思念了,两个大工业中心,她觉得自己给两个大工业中心各添了一个男子汉,感到这两个男子汉会干出她所希望的事业。这两人是她血肉灵魂的一部分,是从她身躯中分离出去,所以他们的事业也是她的事业了。整个早上她就一直想着保罗。

八点钟,他爬上了乔丹外科医疗器械厂的那座阴暗的楼梯,无助地站在第一排大货架前,等着有什么人来招呼他,这个地方似乎都在沉睡,柜台上盖着很大的遮尘布。两个男人刚刚到,正在一个角落里边聊天,边脱下外衣,卷起衬衣袖子。已是八点十分了,很明显,不用按时上班。保罗听着这两个职员在谈话,随后又听见有人咳嗽,看见屋子尽头的办公室有一个慢吞吞的老职员,戴着顶绣着红绿花纹的黑丝绒吸烟帽,正在拆信。保罗等啊等,一个年轻的办事员走过去兴冲冲地大声跟这个老头打了个招呼。显然,这个年老的“头儿”是个聋子。接着,那个年轻的小伙子又神气活现地大踏步回到自己的柜台。他看到了保罗。

“嗨!”他打招呼,“你是新来的吧?”

“是的。”保罗说。

“嗨,你叫什么”?

“保罗·莫瑞尔。”

“保罗·莫瑞尔?好,你到这儿来。”

保罗跟着他绕过柜台拐角。这间屋子在二楼,房间中央的地板上有一个大洞,周围环绕着柜台,吊车就从这个竖井中穿过,楼下的照明也靠这个竖井。屋顶上也有一个对应的长方形的大洞。可以看到上面,楼上的栅栏旁边有许多机器,再往上就是玻璃天棚了。这三层楼房的光线全靠从天棚上照进来,越到下面越暗。因此,最底层老是像晚上一样,二楼也相当阴暗。工厂设在三楼,货栈在二楼,底层是仓库。这地方由于天长日久很不卫生。保罗被带到一个非常阴暗的角落。

“这是蜷线车间的角落,”这个办事员说:你就是蜷线车间的,和帕普沃斯在一起,他是你的上司,但他现在还没来。他不到八点半就不会到这儿的,所以如果你愿意,你可以从麦林先生那儿把信取来。”

这个年轻人指着办公室里的那个老办事员。

“好的。”保罗说。

“这儿有个木钉,你可以挂帽子。这是你的收发簿,帕普沃斯先生一会儿就来。”

接着这个瘦长小伙子匆匆地迈着大步走开了,木质地板传来空洞的回音。

一两分钟后,保罗下楼站在那个玻璃办公室门口。戴着吸烟帽的老办事员越过他的眼镜上边看着他。

“早上好,”他和蔼可亲地说,“你是来给蜷线车间拿信的吧,托马斯?”

保罗讨厌叫他“托马斯”,但他还是拿着信回到了他自己那黑暗的地方,那儿柜台围成一个角,正巧在一个大货架的末端,角落里还有三扇门。保罗坐在一只高凳上念起信来——这些笔迹还不是太难辨认。它们的意思是:请立即寄一双无跟的罗纹长统女袜,就是我去年向贵厂购买的那种长袜。长度从膝盖到大腿都行。或是“张伯伦少校希望再定购一条无伸缩性的丝绸吊袜带,请速办理。”

信件很多,有用法文写的,也有用挪威文写的,让这孩子深感为难。他坐在凳子上紧张地等待他的“上司”的到来。八点半,成群的工厂女工上楼路过他身边时,他害羞得像是在受刑。

八点四十左右。别的人都已经工作了,帕普沃斯先生到了,嘴里嚼着哥罗颠口香糖,他面黄肌瘦,长着红鼻子,说话又快又急,穿着时髦但不太自然。他大约三十六岁。这个花花公子给人的印象是:为人装腔作势,精明能干,既热情友好,又卑鄙无耻。

“你是我的新来的助手?”他问。

保罗站起来说是的。

“取信了吗?”

帕普沃斯先生又嚼了一阵口香糖。

“是的”。

“抄好了吗?”

“没有。”

“那好,我们赶紧来抄吧,你换过衣服了吗?”

“没有。”

“你要带一件旧衣服来,放在这儿。”说到最后几个字时,他把口香糖咬在侧面的上下齿之间,走到那排大货架后面看不见的阴暗处,再出来时已经脱掉了上衣,时髦的条子衬衫袖子卷得高高的,露出了毛绒绒的胳膊,接着他又匆匆穿上上衣。保罗看到他瘦极了,裤子后面都是宽松的褶痕。他拉过了一只凳子在男孩身边坐了下来。

“坐下。”他说。

保罗坐了下来。

帕普沃斯先生紧挨着他,他抓起信件,又从面前架子上抽出一本长长的收发簿,打开,抓起一支笔,说:

“看,你把信件抄在这儿。”他抽了两下鼻子,又嚼着口香糖,全神贯注地看着一封信,然后,用漂亮的花体字很快地抄在收发薄上。他飞快地瞟了一眼保罗。

“看到了吗?”

“看到了。”

“你觉得自己还行吗?”

“是的。”

“那好,让我看看。”

他离开椅子,保罗拿了一支笔,帕普沃斯先生不知去了哪儿,保罗非常乐意抄这些信件,但他写得又慢又费力,写得很难看。当帕普沃斯先生再一次出现时,他正在抄第四封信,感觉很忙,也很愉快。

“好,干得怎么样了,完成了吗?”

他俯身在孩子肩头上,嘴里还在嚼着,可以闻见哥罗颠口香糖的药味儿。

“天啦,伙计,你可真是个漂亮的书法家。”他挖苦地大声说:“没关系,你抄了几封了?才三封!我都可以一口气吞了它们。伙计,接着干,把信编上号,看,这儿!接着干!”

当保罗低下头写信时,帕普沃斯先生忙着干其他活儿。突然,耳边刺耳的哨声把孩子吓得打了个哆嗦。帕普沃斯先生走过来,从一根管子上拔下插头,用一种让人诧异的粗鲁霸道的声音说着话。

“喂?”

保罗听见像是女人一样微弱的声音,从话筒传出来,他好奇地看着,因为他以前从来没有见过通话筒。

“好吧。”帕普沃斯先生说,有点不耐烦。“你们最好先把你们欠下的活完成。”

他又听到了女人细细的嗓音,非常动听,但满含着愤怒。

“我没时间站在这儿听你说话。”帕普沃斯先生说着,把插头插到通话管里。

“快,我的伙计。”他带着恳求对保罗说:“波莉喊着要她们的订单,你能不能快点?来,过来。”

他抓过本子,开始自己抄写,保罗觉得十分委屈。他抄得又快又好,写完之后,他又抓起几条大约三英寸宽的黄纸条,给女士写起了订单。

“你最好看着我怎么做。”他说,一面手脚不停地忙碌着。保罗看着那些奇形怪状的草图,上面画着腿、大腿、脚踝、编着号码,打着叉叉,还有他的上司在上面写的一两句简短的指示。帕普沃斯先生写完之后,立刻跳了起来。

“跟我来,”他说,黄纸条在他手里飞舞着。他冲出门,走下一段楼梯,来到了点着煤气灯的地下室。然后他们穿过阴冷潮湿的仓库,又走过一间长条形冷冷清清的房子,房子不高,它是主楼的附属建筑物,有个矮个女人在屋里,她穿了件红哔衬衫,黑头发盘在脑袋上,像一只骄傲的矮脚鸡等在那儿。

“你在这儿!”帕普沃斯说。

“我觉得你应该说‘给你’吧!”波莉大叫。“姑娘们等了将近半个小时,想想浪费多少时间吧!”

“你还是想想怎样完成你们的工作,别说这么多。”帕普沃斯先生说:“你们应该干些收尾活儿。”

“你很清楚我们在星期六就干完了所有活。”波莉喊着,冲着他张牙舞爪,黑眼睛里闪着光。

“啧—啧—啧—啧啧啧。”他嘲弄着她:“这是你们新来的伙计,不要像上回一样把别人勾引坏了。”

“像我们上次一样!”波莉重复着。“是的,我们老在引坏别人,我们确实是这样的,我的天,一个小伙子跟你在一起倒更容易被引坏。”

“现在是工作的时候,没时间说废话。”帕普沃斯先生严厉而冷淡地说。

“早就是工作的时间了。”波莉说着,昂首阔步地走了。她四十岁左右,身材矮小平直。

这间屋子靠窗的工作台上,放着两台蜷线机。穿过里面的门,还有一间较为狭长的屋子,里面放有六台机器。一群带着漂亮的白围裙的姑娘站在一起聊天。

“你们除了聊天就没别的事干了吗?”帕普沃斯先生说。

“只是在等你呀。”一个漂亮的女孩哈哈笑着。

“得了,接着干,接着干。”他说:“走吧,伙计,带你认认路。”

保罗跟着他的头儿跑上楼,上司又给他一些查帐和开票的活儿。他站在书桌前,费劲地用他那笨拙的笔迹写着。一会儿,乔丹先生从玻璃办公室里踱着步子过来,站在他身后,让这个男孩感到极不舒服,一根红润肥胖的指头伸到他正在填写的表格上。

“密斯特丁·A·贝茨先生!”那粗鲁的嚷嚷声就在他耳边响起。

保罗看着自己写的很难看的“密斯特丁·A·贝茨先生”,有点不知所措。

“难道他们就是这样教你的吗?如果你前面用了‘先生’,后面就别再用‘先生’,一个人不能同时用两个称呼。”

男孩有些后悔自己滥用尊称,犹豫了一下,哆嗦着手把“密斯特”划掉了。然而,乔丹先生立刻把这张发票夺了过去。

“重写一张!你打算把这样一张发票寄给一位绅士吗?”说罢不耐烦地扯碎了那张蓝色的单子。

保罗重新又开始写了,他羞得面红耳赤,然而乔丹先生还在身后监视他。

“我不知道他们在学校教了些什么,你应该写得更好一点。现在的孩子除了背诗、拉小提琴,什么也没学会,你看见他写的字了吗?”他问帕普沃斯先生。

“是的,不错吧?”帕普沃斯先生毫不介意地说。

乔丹先生在喉咙里咕噜了一声,但并没有生气。保罗猜测他的老板只是刀子嘴,豆腐心。实际上,这位手工工场矮个老板虽然英语说得不地道,却能十分和美地让手下人独自工作,不太计较一些细枝末节的事,很有绅士派头。不过他也知道自己形像不像一位老板或工场主,因此,他不得不做出老板的样子,装腔作势,来个下马威。

“让我想想,你叫什么名字来着?”帕普沃斯先生问他。

“保罗·莫瑞尔。”

令人奇怪的是,孩子们在报上自己的姓名时总是感到屈辱。

“保罗·莫瑞尔,是吗?好,你——保罗·莫瑞尔要用心把这些事干好,然后……”

帕普沃斯先生慢腾腾地坐在凳子上,开始写起来。一个姑娘从后面的一扇门里走了进来,把一些刚刚熨好的弹性织品放在柜台上后,转身走了。帕普沃斯先生拿起那只浅蓝色的护膝,检查了一遍,又匆匆核对了一下黄色订货单,把它放在一边。下一个是一个肉色的假腿。他处理完这些事后,又写了两三张定单,叫保罗跟他一起去。这次他们从刚才那姑娘出现的那扇门里走了出去。保罗发现他们已经走到一段木梯顶部2下面有一间两面都有窗户的房子,再过去点儿,屋子尽头有六个姑娘弯腰坐在工作台旁就着窗户的光做着针线活。她们正唱着《两个穿蓝衣的小姑娘》。听见门开了,她们都转过身,看到帕普沃斯先生和保罗正从房间那头看她们,就停止了唱歌。

“你们不能声音小点吗?”帕普沃斯先生说,别人还认为我们这儿养猫呢。”

坐在一张高凳子上的驼背女人,转过她那张又长又胖的脸,用一种低沉的嗓音对帕普沃斯先生说:

“那么,他们都是雄猫啦。”

帕普沃斯先生想在保罗面前,做出一种令人肃然起敬的样子,他下了楼梯来到成品间,走向驼背芬妮旁边,她坐在一张高凳上,上身显得很短,她那梳成几大股的浅棕色头发的脑袋和那张苍白肥胖的脸相比之下显得太大了一些。她穿着件绿黑相间的开斯米毛衣,那双从狭窄的袖口里露出来的手又瘦又干。她紧张地放下手里的活,帕普沃斯先生给她看了看一只有毛病的护膝。

“得了,”她说:“这不是我的错,你用不着怪我。”她的脸颊泛红。

“我没说它是你的过错。你按我告诉你的干,好吗?”帕普沃斯直截了当地问道。

“你是没说它是我的错,但你那副样子让别人错认为是我的错。”这个驼背女人叫道,几乎哭了。接着她从老板手里夺过那只护膝,说:“好,我给你改,你用不着发那么大的脾气。”

“这是你们的新伙计。”帕普沃斯先生说。

芬妮转过身,温柔地对保罗笑了笑。

“哦!”她说。

“但是,你们可不要把他宠坏了。”

“把他变坏的可不是我们。”她像受侮辱似的顶了一句。

“走吧,保罗。”帕普沃斯先生说。

“再见,保罗。”其中一个女孩说。

响起了一片嗤笑声,保罗出去了,脸涨得通红,一句话也没说。

这天太长了,整个上午,工人不断地来跟帕普沃斯先生说着什么。保罗不是写,就是学着打包裹,为中午的邮寄做准备。一点钟,更精确点,一点差一刻时,帕普沃斯先生就溜出去赶火车了。他住在郊区。一点钟,保罗不知该干什么好,就拿着饭篮走到地下室,在那间放着一个长桌的阴暗房间独自一人匆匆地吃了午饭。饭后,他出门了,街上阳光明亮,自由自在,让他感到惊喜。但是到了两点钟,他又回到了那间大屋子的角落。不一会儿,女工们就成群结队地走过,还指指点点着什么,这些是在楼上做血气带重活的女工,她们还要完成假肢的最后一道工序。他等着帕普沃斯先生,不知道该干些什么,就坐下在黄色的订单上乱写一气。帕普沃斯先生在三点差二十回来了,他就坐下来和保罗聊起来,他这时没有摆任何架子,就像同龄人一样。

下午,这里从来都没多少活要干,除非是快到周末了,要结帐时才比较忙。五点钟,所有的男人都下到地下室,在板架旁喝茶,吃着抹了黄油的面包,边吃边谈。他们喝茶时也像吃午饭那样匆匆忙忙,那么让人讨厌!只不过在上面,他们之间倒是很愉悦的,而此刻因为地窖和搁板影响了他们,缺少那样的气氛。

吃完茶点,所有的焊气灯都亮了,工作节奏快了,因为要赶夜间邮班发货。工场里送来的长袜刚熨好,还是带着暖暖的余温呢。保罗已经开好了发票。现在,他还得捆绑和写地址,然后还得将装袜子的邮包放到秤上秤一下。到处都是报重量的声音,还有脆脆的金属声,绳子扯断的声音,匆匆地向麦林先生要邮票的声音。终于,邮递员拿着他的邮袋,兴冲冲地来了。这时,紧张的节奏才松懈下来,保罗拿起饭篮跑向车站赶八点二十的火车。这一天在工厂里待了十二个小时。

母亲坐在那里十分焦急地等着他。他得从凯斯顿步行回家,所以直到九点二十左右才到。早晨七点前他就得从家离开。莫瑞尔太太最担心他的健康问题。她本人已历尽磨难,因此她想到孩子们也会那样去经受艰难坎坷,他们必须忍受世道的艰难和人生的痛苦。保罗就一直在乔丹厂里工作,那里阴暗潮湿,空气污浊,工作时间长,这些严重地影响了他的健康。

他脸色苍白地走了进来,神气疲倦。母亲端详着他,看到他很欢天喜地的样子,她的焦虑烟消云散了。

“哦,怎么样?”她问。

“从没这么有趣过,妈妈,”他回答道,“用不着那么辛苦地工作,他们对人很好。”

“你干得还好么?”

“还好,只是他们嫌我写的字难看。但是帕普沃斯先生——他是我的上司——对乔丹先生说我会写好的。我在蜷线车间工作,妈妈,你应该去看看,那地方真不错。”

他很快就喜欢上了乔丹先生的公司,帕普沃斯先生有那么一种“酒肉朋友”的风韵,待人豪爽自然。他对保罗就好象是朋友一般。有时候,这个“蜷线车间的老板”心情不顺,这时就大口大口地咀嚼着口香糖,然而即使这时,他也不令人讨厌。但有一点,这种脾气暴躁的人对自己身体的伤害比对别人的伤害更厉害。

“你干完那个活没有?”他会大喊着问:“加油干吧,别磨磨蹭蹭。”

这人一高兴起来就忘乎所以,喜欢开开玩笑,弄得保罗不明就里。

“明天我打算把我的约克郡狼狗带来。”他兴奋地对保罗说。

“约克郡狼狗是什么?”

“不知道什么是约克郡狼狗?不知道什么是约克郡……”帕普沃斯先生非常吃惊。

“是不是那种毛很光滑——铁灰和银灰色的?”

“是的,伙计。这是个稀罕物。它生的狗崽子可以卖五镑了,它本身也值七镑多,可它还没二十盎斯重呢。”

第二天,这只母狗果真被带来了,是只浑身发抖,可怜兮兮的小东西。保罗对它不感兴趣,活像一块从来没干过的湿抹布。一会儿,一个男人来看这只狗,并开起粗俗的玩笑。但帕普沃斯先生冲保罗这个方向点了点头,玩笑声就小了一些。

乔丹先生又来看过保罗一回,这次他发现的唯一的错就是看见保罗把钢笔放在柜台上。

“如果你打算作一个办事员的话,就把你的笔夹在耳朵上!”

一天他又对这孩子说:“为什么不把你的背挺直点?到这儿来。”他把孩子带进了玻璃办公室,给他穿上特别的背带,以保持肩膀端正。

保罗最喜欢的还是女工们。男人们似乎庸俗无聊,他喜欢他们每个人,但他们提不起他的兴趣。楼下一个矮小敏捷的监工波莉,看见保罗在地下室吃饭,就问他,是否需要她帮忙在她的小炉子上热热饭。第二天,母亲就给他带了一盘可以热着吃的菜。他把菜拿到了那个舒适干净的房间里给了波莉,于是很快就形成了一条彼此默契的习惯:他们在一起吃饭。每天早晨11点来的时候,他把饭篮给她,一点钟他下去时,她已经把他的午饭准备好了。

她不太高,脸色苍白,浓密的栗色头发,不合比例的长相,还有一张大嘴巴。她就像一只小鸟,他常称她“知更鸟”。虽然他天性就安静,可在她身边他会侃侃而谈,一聊就好几个小时,跟她聊自己的家。女孩子们都喜欢听他说话,她们常常在他坐的板凳旁转成一个小圈,滔滔不绝地谈笑着。有些姑娘认为他是个古怪的家伙,既认真严肃,又开朗愉快,而且总是用他那温柔的方式对待她们。她们都喜欢他,而他也喜欢她们。他觉得他是属于波莉的。康妮一头红色的秀发,像一朵苹果花似的脸蛋,喁喁细语的声调,这一切激发了他那浪漫主义的情调。虽然她是这样一位气质不俗的女士却穿着破旧的黑色外套。

“你坐着绕线时,”他说“好象在纺车上纺纱——美极了。你让我想起,在《国王歌集》里的伊莱恩,如果我能,我真想把你画下来。”

她羞答答地瞥了他一眼,脸涨得通红。后来,他画了一副自己极为满意的素描:康妮坐在纺车边的凳子上,浓密的红头发飘散在破旧的黑色外套上,紧闭着嘴,神情庄重,正把一缕缕红线往线轴上绕着。

至于路易,她虽然漂亮,但有点厚颜无耻,似乎总喜欢把屁股向他身上撞,他常常和她开玩笑。

艾玛则是一个长相普普通通,年纪较大,对别人总是一副屈尊俯就的神情,但她十分乐意去照顾保罗,他也对此毫不在乎。

“你是怎么样穿针的?”他问。

“走开,别烦人。”

“但我应该知道怎样穿针的啊。”

说话的时候,她一直稳稳地摇着机器。

“你应该知道的事多着呢。”她回答。

“告诉我,怎样把针播在机器上?”

“唉,你这家伙,多令人讨厌啊!看,就是这么插。”

他聚精会神地看着她。突然,一声口哨声,波莉出现了,她一板一眼地说:

“保罗,帕普沃斯先生想知道你还要在下面和姑娘们厮混多久?”

保罗喊了一声“再见”,飞奔着上了楼,艾玛也站起身。

“我可没让他摆弄机器。”她说。

像一条惯例,当所有的姑娘们在两点钟回来后,他总是跑上楼去找成品车间的那个驼背芬妮。帕普沃斯先生不到两点四十是不露面的。他常常发现他的伙计坐在芬妮旁边,要么闲聊,要么画画,要么跟姑娘们一直唱歌。

通常,芬妮一般忸忸怩怩一会之后,才开始放声唱歌。她有一副音色动听的女低音嗓子。每个人都参加这个合唱,越唱越好听。保罗和六七位女工们坐在一间屋子里,没多久,不再感到窘迫了。

唱完了歌,芬妮会说:

“我知道你们一直在笑话我。”

“别那么多心,芬妮!”一个姑娘大叫道。

有一次,有人提到康妮的红头发。

“还是芬妮的头发好看些,是我最喜欢的。”艾玛说。

“你用不着哄我。”芬妮说,脸颊鲜红。

“才不是,她是有一头秀发,保罗,她的头发很美。”

“这是一种让人看着舒服的颜色。”他说,“这种冷色有点像泥土,但却发光,像沼泽地的水一样。”

“天哪!”一个姑娘惊呼着哈哈大笑起来。

“不管我怎么样都会招致攻击的。”芬妮说。

“保罗,你应该看看把头发放下来是什么样的。”艾玛诚恳地说:“真是太美了,芬妮,如果他想画画,就把头发放下来吧。”

芬妮不好意思当众这么做,不过她心里倒挺乐意的。

“那我就自己放了。”这孩子说。

“好吧,如果你愿意,你就放吧。”芬妮说。

于是,他就细心地从发髻上取下发卡,那一大片深褐色的头发一下子就散落在驼背上。

“多可爱啊!”他惊叹。

姑娘们都看着,屋里静悄悄的谁也不说话,小伙子又捋了捋头发,把卷发抖开。

“太棒了!”他说着闻闻发香:“我敢打赌这头发值不少钱。”

“等我死了,我会把头发留给你的,保罗。”芬妮开玩笑地说。

“你坐在那里晾头发时,看上去和别人一模一样。”一个姑娘对这个长腿驼背说。

可怜的芬妮生性敏感,总觉得别人在羞辱她。波莉说话办事像个生意人,干脆而有条理。这两个小姐总是充满火药味,保罗常常发现芬妮泪流满面。后来,他明白了她所有的委屈,还为了她与波莉争辩过。

日子就这样很快活地过去了,工厂让人有一种家的感觉,没有人催你赶你。每逢邮差快到来时,保罗特别喜欢看大家越干越快的劲头。男人们齐心协力的工作。在这种时候男人和工作仿佛溶为一体了,但姑娘们就不一样了,真正的女人似乎从来不沉迷于工作中,而是心不在焉,等待着什么。

在晚上回家的路上,他总是从火车的车窗里注视着城市的灯光,它们密密麻麻地散落在山坡上,汇成一片光海,照亮了山谷,他觉得自己的生活充满了快乐。火车再往前开,可以看见布尔威尔的灯光像星垦在撒下数不清的花瓣,最远处是高炉的红红火光,袅袅上升,与云霞相映。

他还得步行两英里多的路程从凯斯顿往家走,还得翻越两座小山。他常常疲倦不堪,因此他爬山时就数着山上的盏盏灯光,计算着还得走过多少盏灯才能到家。在黑漆漆的夜里,爬上小山顶,他喜欢远眺周围五、六英里以外的村庄,灯光簇簇有如萤火虫一样闪光蠕动,仿佛天堂再现人间。马尔普尔和希诺两镇灯火通明,把黑暗抛向远方。偶尔,一长列火车开来,进入这黑暗的山谷中,火车朝南开往伦敦,朝北开往苏格兰,在黑暗中高速咆哮而过,冒着浓烟,炉火熊熊,震得整个山谷也似乎随着火车的经过而轰鸣。火车过去了,城镇山庄的点点灯火又在寂静中闪闪发光。

终于,他到了家,家门面对黑夜另一面。此刻,白蜡树也似乎成了他的朋友。当他进屋时,母亲高兴地站了起来,他则骄傲地把他挣的八先令放在桌上。

“总能接济一下吧,妈妈?”他热切地问。

“除去你的车票和午饭的花费,剩不了多少。”她回答道。

接着,他就把一天的历程告诉了她。他的生活故事,就像《天方夜谭》一样,天天晚上讲给母亲听,她几乎如同自己经历的生活一样。



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