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Chapter 6 Death In The Family
ARTHUR MOREL was growing up. He was a quick, careless, impulsive boy, a good deal like his father. He hated study, made a great moan if he had to work, and escaped as soon as possible to his sport again.

In appearance he remained the flower of the family, being well made, graceful, and full of life. His dark brown hair and fresh colouring, and his exquisite dark blue eyes shaded with long lashes, together with his generous manner and fiery temper, made him a favourite. But as he grew older his temper became uncertain. He flew into rages over nothing, seemed unbearably raw and irritable.

His mother, whom he loved, wearied of him sometimes. He thought only of himself. When he wanted amusement, all that stood in his way he hated, even if it were she. When he was in trouble he moaned to her ceaselessly.

"Goodness, boy!" she said, when he groaned about a master who, he said, hated him, "if you don't like it, alter it, and if you can't alter it, put up with it."

And his father, whom he had loved and who had worshipped him, he came to detest. As he grew older Morel fell into a slow ruin. His body, which had been beautiful in movement and in being, shrank, did not seem to ripen with the years, but to get mean and rather despicable. There came over him a look of meanness and of paltriness. And when the mean-looking elderly man bullied or ordered the boy about, Arthur was furious. Moreover, Morel's manners got worse and worse, his habits somewhat disgusting. When the children were growing up and in the crucial stage of adolescence, the father was like some ugly irritant to their souls. His manners in the house were the same as he used among the colliers down pit.

"Dirty nuisance!" Arthur would cry, jumping up and going straight out of the house when his father disgusted him. And Morel persisted the more because his children hated it. He seemed to take a kind of satisfaction in disgusting them, and driving them nearly mad, while they were so irritably sensitive at the age of fourteen or fifteen. So that Arthur, who was growing up when his father was degenerate and elderly, hated him worst of all.

Then, sometimes, the father would seem to feel the contemptuous hatred of his children.

"There's not a man tries harder for his family!" he would shout. "He does his best for them, and then gets treated like a dog. But I'm not going to stand it, I tell you!"

But for the threat and the fact that he did not try so hard as be imagined, they would have felt sorry. As it was, the battle now went on nearly all between father and children, he persisting in his dirty and disgusting ways, just to assert his independence. They loathed him.

Arthur was so inflamed and irritable at last, that when he won a scholarship for the Grammar School in Nottingham, his mother decided to let him live in town, with one of her sisters, and only come home at week-ends.

Annie was still a junior teacher in the Board-school, earning about four shillings a week. But soon she would have fifteen shillings, since she had passed her examination, and there would be financial peace in the house.

Mrs. Morel clung now to Paul. He was quiet and not brilliant. But still he stuck to his painting, and still he stuck to his mother. Everything he did was for her. She waited for his coming home in the evening, and then she unburdened herself of all she had pondered, or of all that had occurred to her during the day. He sat and listened with his earnestness. The two shared lives.

William was engaged now to his brunette, and had bought her an engagement ring that cost eight guineas. The children gasped at such a fabulous price.

"Eight guineas!" said Morel. "More fool him! If he'd gen me some on't, it 'ud ha' looked better on 'im."

"Given YOU some of it!" cried Mrs. Morel. "Why give YOU some of it!"

She remembered HE had bought no engagement ring at all, and she preferred William, who was not mean, if he were foolish. But now the young man talked only of the dances to which he went with his betrothed, and the different resplendent clothes she wore; or he told his mother with glee how they went to the theatre like great swells.

He wanted to bring the girl home. Mrs. Morel said she should come at the Christmas. This time William arrived with a lady, but with no presents. Mrs. Morel had prepared supper. Hearing footsteps, she rose and went to the door. William entered.

"Hello, mother!" He kissed her hastily, then stood aside to present a tall, handsome girl, who was wearing a costume of fine black-and-white check, and furs.

"Here's Gyp!"

Miss Western held out her hand and showed her teeth in a small smile.

"Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Morel!" she exclaimed.

"I am afraid you will be hungry," said Mrs. Morel.

"Oh no, we had dinner in the train. Have you got my gloves, Chubby?"

William Morel, big and raw-boned, looked at her quickly.

"How should I?" he said.

"Then I've lost them. Don't be cross with me."

A frown went over his face, but he said nothing. She glanced round the kitchen. It was small and curious to her, with its glittering kissing-bunch, its evergreens behind the pictures, its wooden chairs and little deal table. At that moment Morel came in.

"Hello, dad!"

"Hello, my son! Tha's let on me!"

The two shook hands, and William presented the lady. She gave the same smile that showed her teeth.

"How do you do, Mr. Morel?"

Morel bowed obsequiously.

"I'm very well, and I hope so are you. You must make yourself very welcome."

"Oh, thank you," she replied, rather amused.

"You will like to go upstairs," said Mrs. Morel.

"If you don't mind; but not if it is any trouble to you."

"It is no trouble. Annie will take you. Walter, carry up this box."

"And don't be an hour dressing yourself up," said William to his betrothed.

Annie took a brass candlestick, and, too shy almost to speak, preceded the young lady to the front bedroom, which Mr. and Mrs. Morel had vacated for her. It, too, was small and cold by candlelight. The colliers' wives only lit fires in bedrooms in case of extreme illness.

"Shall I unstrap the box?" asked Annie.

"Oh, thank you very much!"

Annie played the part of maid, then went downstairs for hot water.

"I think she's rather tired, mother," said William. "It's a beastly journey, and we had such a rush."

"Is there anything I can give her?" asked Mrs. Morel.

"Oh no, she'll be all right."

But there was a chill in the atmosphere. After half an hour Miss Western came down, having put on a purplish-coloured dress, very fine for the collier's kitchen.

"I told you you'd no need to change," said William to her.

"Oh, Chubby!" Then she turned with that sweetish smile to Mrs. Morel. "Don't you think he's always grumbling, Mrs. Morel?"

"Is he?" said Mrs. Morel. "That's not very nice of him."

"It isn't, really!"

"You are cold," said the mother. "Won't you come near the fire?"

Morel jumped out of his armchair.

"Come and sit you here!" he cried. "Come and sit you here!"

"No, dad, keep your own chair. Sit on the sofa, Gyp," said William.

"No, no!" cried Morel. "This cheer's warmest. Come and sit here, Miss Wesson."

"Thank you so much," said the girl, seating herself in the collier's armchair, the place of honour. She shivered, feeling the warmth of the kitchen penetrate her.

"Fetch me a hanky, Chubby dear!" she said, putting up her mouth to him, and using the same intimate tone as if they were alone; which made the rest of the family feel as if they ought not to be present. The young lady evidently did not realise them as people: they were creatures to her for the present. William winced.

In such a household, in Streatham, Miss Western would have been a lady condescending to her inferiors. These people were to her, certainly clownish--in short, the working classes. How was she to adjust herself?

"I'll go," said Annie.

Miss Western took no notice, as if a servant had spoken. But when the girl came downstairs again with the handkerchief, she said: "Oh, thank you!" in a gracious way.

She sat and talked about the dinner on the train, which had been so poor; about London, about dances. She was really very nervous, and chattered from fear. Morel sat all the time smoking his thick twist tobacco, watching her, and listening to her glib London speech, as he puffed. Mrs. Morel, dressed up in her best black silk blouse, answered quietly and rather briefly. The three children sat round in silence and admiration. Miss Western was the princess. Everything of the best was got out for her: the best cups, the best spoons, the best table cloth, the best coffee-jug. The children thought she must find it quite grand. She felt strange, not able to realise the people, not knowing how to treat them. William joked, and was slightly uncomfortable.

At about ten o'clock he said to her:

"Aren't you tired, Gyp?"

"Rather, Chubby," she answered, at once in the intimate tones and putting her head slightly on one side.

"I'll light her the candle, mother," he said.

"Very well," replied the mother.

Miss Western stood up, held out her hand to Mrs. Morel.

"Good-night, Mrs. Morel," she said.

Paul sat at the boiler, letting the water run from the tap into a stone beer-bottle. Annie swathed the bottle in an old flannel pit-singlet, and kissed her mother good-night. She was to share the room with the lady, because the house was full.

"You wait a minute," said Mrs. Morel to Annie. And Annie sat nursing the hot-water bottle. Miss Western shook hands all round, to everybody's discomfort, and took her departure, preceded by William. In five minutes he was downstairs again. His heart was rather sore; he did not know why. He talked very little till everybody had gone to bed, but himself and his mother. Then he stood with his legs apart, in his old attitude on the hearthrug, and said hesitatingly:

"Well, mother?"

"Well, my son?"

She sat in the rocking-chair, feeling somehow hurt and humiliated, for his sake.

"Do you like her?"

"Yes," came the slow answer.

"She's shy yet, mother. She's not used to it. It's different from her aunt's house, you know."

"Of course it is, my boy; and she must find it difficult."

"She does." Then he frowned swiftly. "If only she wouldn't put on her BLESSED airs!"

"It's only her first awkwardness, my boy. She'll be all right."

"That's it, mother," he replied gratefully. But his brow was gloomy. "You know, she's not like you, mother. She's not serious, and she can't think."

"She's young, my boy."

"Yes; and she's had no sort of show. Her mother died when she was a child. Since then she's lived with her aunt, whom she can't bear. And her father was a rake. She's had no love."

"No! Well, you must make up to her."

"And so--you have to forgive her a lot of things."

"WHAT do you have to forgive her, my boy?"

"I dunno. When she seems shallow, you have to remember she's never had anybody to bring her deeper side out. And she's FEARFULLY fond of me."

"Anybody can see that."

"But you know, mother--she's--she's different from us. Those sort of people, like those she lives amongst, they don't seem to have the same principles."

"You mustn't judge too hastily," said Mrs. Morel.

But he seemed uneasy within himself.

In the morning, however, he was up singing and larking round the house.

"Hello!" he called, sitting on the stairs. "Are you getting up?"

"Yes," her voice called faintly.

"Merry Christmas!" he shouted to her.

Her laugh, pretty and tinkling, was heard in the bedroom. She did not come down in half an hour.

"Was she REALLY getting up when she said she was?" he asked of Annie.

"Yes, she was," replied Annie.

He waited a while, then went to the stairs again.

"Happy New Year," he called.

"Thank you, Chubby dear!" came the laughing voice, far away.

"Buck up!" he implored.

It was nearly an hour, and still he was waiting for her. Morel, who always rose before six, looked at the clock.

"Well, it's a winder!" he exclaimed.

The family had breakfasted, all but William. He went to the foot of the stairs.

"Shall I have to send you an Easter egg up there?" he called, rather crossly. She only laughed. The family expected, after that time of preparation, something like magic. At last she came, looking very nice in a blouse and skirt.

"Have you REALLY been all this time getting ready?" he asked.

"Chubby dear! That question is not permitted, is it, Mrs. Morel?"

She played the grand lady at first. When she went with William to chapel, he in his frock-coat and silk hat, she in her furs and London-made costume, Paul and Arthur and Annie expected everybody to bow to the ground in admiration. And Morel, standing in his Sunday suit at the end of the road, watching the gallant pair go, felt he was the father of princes and princesses.

And yet she was not so grand. For a year now she had been a sort of secretary or clerk in a London office. But while she was with the Morels she queened it. She sat and let Annie or Paul wait on her as if they were her servants. She treated Mrs. Morel with a certain glibness and Morel with patronage. But after a day or so she began to change her tune.

William always wanted Paul or Annie to go along with them on their walks. It was so much more interesting. And Paul really DID admire "Gipsy" wholeheartedly; in fact, his mother scarcely forgave the boy for the adulation with which he treated the girl.

On the second day, when Lily said: "Oh, Annie, do you know where I left my muff?" William replied:

"You know it is in your bedroom. Why do you ask Annie?"

And Lily went upstairs with a cross, shut mouth. But it angered the young man that she made a servant of his sister.

On the third evening William and Lily were sitting together in the parlour by the fire in the dark. At a quarter to eleven Mrs. Morel was heard raking the fire. William came out to the kitchen, followed by his beloved.

"Is it as late as that, mother?" he said. She had been sitting alone.

"It is not LATE, my boy, but it is as late as I usually sit up."

"Won't you go to bed, then?" he asked.

"And leave you two? No, my boy, I don't believe in it."

"Can't you trust us, mother?"

"Whether I can or not, I won't do it. You can stay till eleven if you like, and I can read."

"Go to bed, Gyp," he said to his girl. "We won't keep mater waiting."

"Annie has left the candle burning, Lily," said Mrs. Morel; "I think you will see."

"Yes, thank you. Good-night, Mrs. Morel."

William kissed his sweetheart at the foot of the stairs, and she went. He returned to the kitchen.

"Can't you trust us, mother?" he repeated, rather offended.

"My boy, I tell you I don't BELIEVE in leaving two young things like you alone downstairs when everyone else is in bed."

And he was forced to take this answer. He kissed his mother good-night.

At Easter he came over alone. And then he discussed his sweetheart endlessly with his mother.

"You know, mother, when I'm away from her I don't care for her a bit. I shouldn't care if I never saw her again. But, then, when I'm with her in the evenings I am awfully fond of her."

"It's a queer sort of love to marry on," said Mrs. Morel, "if she holds you no more than that!"

"It IS funny!" he exclaimed. It worried and perplexed him. "But yet--there's so much between us now I couldn't give her up."

"You know best," said Mrs. Morel. "But if it is as you say, I wouldn't call it LOVE--at any rate, it doesn't look much like it."

"Oh, I don't know, mother. She's an orphan, and---"

They never came to any sort of conclusion. He seemed puzzled and rather fretted. She was rather reserved. All his strength and money went in keeping this girl. He could scarcely afford to take his mother to Nottingham when he came over.

Paul's wages had been raised at Christmas to ten shillings, to his great joy. He was quite happy at Jordan's, but his health suffered from the long hours and the confinement. His mother, to whom he became more and more significant, thought how to help.

His half-day holiday was on Monday afternoon. On a Monday morning in May, as the two sat alone at breakfast, she said:

"I think it will be a fine day."

He looked up in surprise. This meant something.

"You know Mr. Leivers has gone to live on a new farm. Well, he asked me last week if I wouldn't go and see Mrs. Leivers, and I promised to bring you on Monday if it's fine. Shall we go?"

"I say, little woman, how lovely!" he cried. "And we'll go this afternoon?"

Paul hurried off to the station jubilant. Down Derby Road was a cherry-tree that glistened. The old brick wall by the Statutes ground burned scarlet, spring was a very flame of green. And the steep swoop of highroad lay, in its cool morning dust, splendid with patterns of sunshine and shadow, perfectly still. The trees sloped their great green shoulders proudly; and inside the warehouse all the morning, the boy had a vision of spring outside.

When he came home at dinner-time his mother was rather excited.

"Are we going?" he asked.

"When I'm ready," she replied.

Presently he got up.

"Go and get dressed while I wash up," he said.

She did so. He washed the pots, straightened, and then took her boots. They were quite clean. 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.

Suddenly she appeared in the inner doorway rather shyly. She had got a new cotton blouse on. Paul jumped up and went forward.

"Oh, my stars!" he exclaimed. "What a bobby-dazzler!"

She sniffed in a little haughty way, and put her head up.

"It's not a bobby-dazzler at all!" she replied. "It's very quiet."

She walked forward, whilst he hovered round her.

"Well," she asked, quite shy, but pretending to be high and mighty, "do you like it?"

"Awfully! You ARE a fine little woman to go jaunting out with!"

He went and surveyed her from the back.

"Well," he said, "if I was walking down the street behind you, I should say: 'Doesn't THAT little person fancy herself!"'

"Well, she doesn't," replied Mrs. Morel. "She's not sure it suits her."

"Oh no! she wants to be in dirty black, looking as if she was wrapped in burnt paper. It DOES suit you, and I say you look nice."

She sniffed in her little way, pleased, but pretending to know better.

"Well," she said, "it's cost me just three shillings. You couldn't have got it ready-made for that price, could you?"

"I should think you couldn't," he replied.

"And, you know, it's good stuff."

"Awfully pretty," he said.

The blouse was white, with a little sprig of heliotrope and black.

"Too young for me, though, I'm afraid," she said.

"Too young for you!" he exclaimed in disgust. "Why don't you buy some false white hair and stick it on your head."

"I s'll soon have no need," she replied. "I'm going white fast enough."

"Well, you've no business to," he said. "What do I want with a white-haired mother?"

"I'm afraid you'll have to put up with one, my lad," she said rather strangely.

They set off in great style, she carrying the umbrella William had given her, because of the sun. Paul was considerably taller than she, though he was not big. He fancied himself.

On the fallow land the young wheat shone silkily. Minton pit waved its plumes of white steam, coughed, and rattled hoarsely.

"Now look at that!" said Mrs. Morel. Mother and son stood on the road to watch. Along the ridge of the great pit-hill crawled a little group in silhouette against the sky, a horse, a small truck, and a man. They climbed the incline against the heavens. At the end the man tipped the wagon. There was an undue rattle as the waste fell down the sheer slope of the enormous bank.

"You sit a minute, mother," he said, and she took a seat on a bank, whilst he sketched rapidly. She was silent whilst he worked, looking round at the afternoon, the red cottages shining among their greenness.

"The world is a wonderful place," she said, "and wonderfully beautiful."

"And so's the pit," he said. "Look how it heaps together, like something alive almost--a big creature that you don't know."

"Yes," she said. "Perhaps!"

"And all the trucks standing waiting, like a string of beasts to be fed," he said.

"And very thankful I am they ARE standing," she said, "for that means they'll turn middling time this week."

"But I like the feel of MEN on things, while they're alive. There's a feel of men about trucks, because they've been handled with men's hands, all of them."

"Yes," said Mrs. Morel.

They went along under the trees of the highroad. He was constantly informing her, but she was interested. They passed the end of Nethermere, that was tossing its sunshine like petals lightly in its lap. Then they turned on a private road, and in some trepidation approached a big farm. A dog barked furiously. A woman came out to see.

"Is this the way to Willey Farm?" Mrs. Morel asked.

Paul hung behind in terror of being sent back. But the woman was amiable, and directed them. The mother and son went through the wheat and oats, over a little bridge into a wild meadow. Peewits, with their white breasts glistening, wheeled and screamed about them. The lake was still and blue. High overhead a heron floated. Opposite, the wood heaped on the hill, green and still.

"It's a wild road, mother," said Paul. "Just like Canada."

"Isn't it beautiful!" said Mrs. Morel, looking round.

"See that heron--see--see her legs?"

He directed his mother, what she must see and what not. And she was quite content.

"But now," she said, "which way? He told me through the wood."

The wood, fenced and dark, lay on their left.

"I can feel a bit of a path this road," said Paul. "You've got town feet, somehow or other, you have."

They found a little gate, and soon were in a broad green alley of the wood, with a new thicket of fir and pine on one hand, an old oak glade dipping down on the other. And among the oaks the bluebells stood in pools of azure, under the new green hazels, upon a pale fawn floor of oak-leaves. He found flowers for her.

"Here's a bit of new-mown hay," he said; then, again, he brought her forget-me-nots. And, again, his heart hurt with love, seeing her hand, used with work, holding the little bunch of flowers he gave her. She was perfectly happy.

But at the end of the riding was a fence to climb. Paul was over in a second.

"Come," he said, "let me help you."

"No, go away. I will do it in my own way."

He stood below with his hands up ready to help her. She climbed cautiously.

"What a way to climb!" he exclaimed scornfully, when she was safely to earth again.

"Hateful stiles!" she cried.

"Duffer of a little woman," he replied, "who can't get over 'em."

In front, along the edge of the wood, was a cluster of low red farm buildings. The two hastened forward. Flush with the wood was the apple orchard, where blossom was falling on the grindstone. The pond was deep under a hedge and overhanging oak trees. Some cows stood in the shade. The farm and buildings, three sides of a quadrangle, embraced the sunshine towards the wood. It was very still.

Mother and son went into the small railed garden, where was a scent of red gillivers. By the open door were some floury loaves, put out to cool. A hen was just coming to peck them. Then, in the doorway suddenly appeared a girl in a dirty apron. She was about fourteen years old, had a rosy dark face, a bunch of short black curls, very fine and free, and dark eyes; shy, questioning, a little resentful of the strangers, she disappeared. In a minute another figure appeared, a small, frail woman, rosy, with great dark brown eyes.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, smiling with a little glow, "you've come, then. I AM glad to see you." Her voice was intimate and rather sad.

The two women shook hands.

"Now are you sure we're not a bother to you?" said Mrs. Morel. "I know what a farming life is."

"Oh no! We're only too thankful to see a new face, it's so lost up here."

"I suppose so," said Mrs. Morel.

They were taken through into the parlour--a long, low room, with a great bunch of guelder-roses in the fireplace. There the women talked, whilst Paul went out to survey the land. He was in the garden smelling the gillivers and looking at the plants, when the girl came out quickly to the heap of coal which stood by the fence.

"I suppose these are cabbage-roses?" he said to her, pointing to the bushes along the fence.

She looked at him with startled, big brown eyes.

"I suppose they are cabbage-roses when they come out?" he said.

"I don't know," she faltered. "They're white with pink middles."

"Then they're maiden-blush."

Miriam flushed. She had a beautiful warm colouring.

"I don't know," she said.

"You don't have MUCH in your garden," he said.

"This is our first year here," she answered, in a distant, rather superior way, drawing back and going indoors. He did not notice, but went his round of exploration. Presently his mother came out, and they went through the buildings. Paul was hugely delighted.

"And I suppose you have the fowls and calves and pigs to look after?" said Mrs. Morel to Mrs. Leivers.

"No," replied the little woman. "I can't find time to look after cattle, and I'm not used to it. It's as much as I can do to keep going in the house."

"Well, I suppose it is," said Mrs. Morel.

Presently the girl came out.

"Tea is ready, mother," she said in a musical, quiet voice.

"Oh, thank you, Miriam, then we'll come," replied her mother, almost ingratiatingly. "Would you CARE to have tea now, Mrs. Morel?"

"Of course," said Mrs. Morel. "Whenever it's ready."

Paul and his mother and Mrs. Leivers had tea together. Then they went out into the wood that was flooded with bluebells, while fumy forget-me-nots were in the paths. The mother and son were in ecstasy together.

When they got back to the house, Mr. Leivers and Edgar, the eldest son, were in the kitchen. Edgar was about eighteen. Then Geoffrey and Maurice, big lads of twelve and thirteen, were in from school. Mr. Leivers was a good-looking man in the prime of life, with a golden-brown moustache, and blue eyes screwed up against the weather.

The boys were condescending, but Paul scarcely observed it. They went round for eggs, scrambling into all sorts of places. As they were feeding the fowls Miriam came out. The boys took no notice of her. One hen, with her yellow chickens, was in a coop. Maurice took his hand full of corn and let the hen peck from it.

"Durst you do it?" he asked of Paul.

"Let's see," said Paul.

He had a small hand, warm, and rather capable-looking. Miriam watched. He held the corn to the hen. The bird eyed it with her hard, bright eye, and suddenly made a peck into his hand. He started, and laughed. "Rap, rap, rap!" went the bird's beak in his palm. He laughed again, and the other boys joined.

"She knocks you, and nips you, but she never hurts," said Paul, when the last corn had gone. " Now, Miriam," said Maurice, "you come an 'ave a go."

"No," she cried, shrinking back.

"Ha! baby. The mardy-kid!" said her brothers.

"It doesn't hurt a bit," said Paul. "It only just nips rather nicely."

"No," she still cried, shaking her black curls and shrinking.

"She dursn't," said Geoffrey. "She niver durst do anything except recite poitry."

"Dursn't jump off a gate, dursn't tweedle, dursn't go on a slide, dursn't stop a girl hittin' her. She can do nowt but go about thinkin' herself somebody. 'The Lady of the Lake.' Yah!" cried Maurice.

Miriam was crimson with shame and misery.

"I dare do more than you," she cried. "You're never anything but cowards and bullies."

"Oh, cowards and bullies!" they repeated mincingly, mocking her speech.


"Not such a clown shall anger me,

A boor is answered silently,"

he quoted against her, shouting with laughter.

She went indoors. Paul went with the boys into the orchard, where they had rigged up a parallel bar. They did feats of strength. He was more agile than strong, but it served. He fingered a piece of apple-blossom that hung low on a swinging bough.

"I wouldn't get the apple-blossom," said Edgar, the eldest brother. "There'll be no apples next year."

"I wasn't going to get it," replied Paul, going away.

The boys felt hostile to him; they were more interested in their own pursuits. He wandered back to the house to look for his mother. As he went round the back, he saw Miriam kneeling in front of the hen-coop, some maize in her hand, biting her lip, and crouching in an intense attitude. The hen was eyeing her wickedly. Very gingerly she put forward her hand. The hen bobbed for her. She drew back quickly with a cry, half of fear, half of chagrin.

"It won't hurt you," said Paul.

She flushed crimson and started up.

"I only wanted to try," she said in a low voice.

"See, it doesn't hurt," he said, and, putting only two corns in his palm, he let the hen peck, peck, peck at his bare hand. "It only makes you laugh," he said.

She put her hand forward and dragged it away, tried again, and started back with a cry. He frowned.

"Why, I'd let her take corn from my face," said Paul, "only she bumps a bit. She's ever so neat. If she wasn't, look how much ground she'd peck up every day."

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.

"There, you see," said the boy. "It doesn't hurt, does it?"

She looked at him with dilated dark eyes.

"No," she laughed, trembling.

Then she rose and went indoors. She seemed to be in some way resentful of the boy.

"He thinks I'm only a common girl," she thought, and she wanted to prove she was a grand person like the "Lady of the Lake".

Paul found his mother ready to go home. She smiled on her son. He took the great bunch of flowers. Mr. and Mrs. Leivers walked down the fields with them. The hills were golden with evening; deep in the woods showed the darkening purple of bluebells. It was everywhere perfectly stiff, save for the rustling of leaves and birds.

"But it is a beautiful place," said Mrs. Morel.

"Yes," answered Mr. Leivers; "it's a nice little place, if only it weren't for the rabbits. The pasture's bitten down to nothing. I dunno if ever I s'll get the rent off it."

He clapped his hands, and the field broke into motion near the woods, brown rabbits hopping everywhere.

"Would you believe it!" exclaimed Mrs. Morel.

She and Paul went on alone together.

"Wasn't it lovely, mother?" he said quietly.

A thin moon was coming out. His heart was full of happiness till it hurt. His mother had to chatter, because she, too, wanted to cry with happiness.

"Now WOULDN'T I help that man!" she said. "WOULDN'T I see to the fowls and the young stock! And I'D learn to milk, and I'D talk with him, and I'D plan with him. My word, if I were his wife, the farm would be run, I know! But there, she hasn't the strength--she simply hasn't the strength. She ought never to have been burdened like it, you know. I'm sorry for her, and I'm sorry for him too. My word, if I'D had him, I shouldn't have thought him a bad husband! Not that she does either; and she's very lovable."

William came home again with his sweetheart at the Whitsuntide. He had one week of his holidays then. It was beautiful weather. As a rule, William and Lily and Paul went out in the morning together for a walk. William did not talk to his beloved much, except to tell her things from his boyhood. Paul talked endlessly to both of them. They lay down, all three, in a meadow by Minton Church. On one side, by the Castle Farm, was a beautiful quivering screen of poplars. Hawthorn was dropping from the hedges; penny daisies and ragged robin were in the field, like laughter. William, a big fellow of twenty-three, thinner now and even a bit gaunt, lay back in the sunshine and dreamed, while she fingered with his hair. Paul went gathering the big daisies. She had taken off her hat; her hair was black as a horse's mane. Paul came back and threaded daisies in her jet-black hair--big spangles of white and yellow, and just a pink touch of ragged robin.

"Now you look like a young witch-woman," the boy said to her. "Doesn't she, William?"

Lily laughed. 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.

He looked at her. Her beauty seemed to hurt him. He glanced at her flower-decked head and frowned.

"You look nice enough, if that's what you want to know," he said.

And she walked without her hat. In a little while William recovered, and was rather tender to her. Coming to a bridge, he carved her initials and his in a heart.


L. L. W.

W. M.

She watched his strong, nervous hand, with its glistening hairs and freckles, as he carved, and she seemed fascinated by it.

All the time there was a feeling of sadness and warmth, and a certain tenderness in the house, whilst William and Lily were at home. But often he got irritable. She had brought, for an eight-days' stay, five dresses and six blouses.

"Oh, would you mind," she said to Annie, "washing me these two blouses, and these things?"

And Annie stood washing when William and Lily went out the next morning. Mrs. Morel was furious. And sometimes the young man, catching a glimpse of his sweetheart's attitude towards his sister, hated her.

On Sunday morning she looked very beautiful in a dress of foulard, silky and sweeping, and blue as a jay-bird's feather, and in a large cream hat covered with many roses, mostly crimson. Nobody could admire her enough. But in the evening, when she was going out, she asked again:

"Chubby, have you got my gloves?"

"Which?" asked William.

"My new black SUEDE."

"No."

There was a hunt. She had lost them.

"Look here, mother," said William, "that's the fourth pair she's lost since Christmas--at five shillings a pair!"

"You only gave me TWO of them," she remonstrated.

And in the evening, after supper, he stood on the hearthrug whilst she sat on the sofa, and he seemed to hate her. In the afternoon he had left her whilst he went to see some old friend. She had sat looking at a book. After supper William wanted to write a letter.

"Here is your book, Lily," said Mrs. Morel. "Would you care to go on with it for a few minutes?"

"No, thank you," said the girl. "I will sit still."

"But it is so dull."

William scribbled irritably at a great rate. As he sealed the envelope he said:

"Read a book! Why, she's never read a book in her life."

"Oh, go along!" said Mrs. Morel, cross with the exaggeration,

"It's true, mother--she hasn't," he cried, jumping up and taking his old position on the hearthrug. "She's never read a book in her life."

"'Er's like me," chimed in Morel. "'Er canna see what there is i' books, ter sit borin' your nose in 'em for, nor more can I."

"But you shouldn't say these things," said Mrs. Morel to her son.

"But it's true, mother--she CAN'T read. What did you give her?"

"Well, I gave her a little thing of Annie Swan's. Nobody wants to read dry stuff on Sunday afternoon."

"Well, I'll bet she didn't read ten lines of it."

"You are mistaken," said his mother.

All the time Lily sat miserably on the sofa. He turned to her swiftly.

"DID you ready any?" he asked.

"Yes, I did," she replied.

"How much?"

"l don't know how many pages."

"Tell me ONE THING you read."

She could not.

She never got beyond the second page. He read a great deal, and had a quick, active intelligence. She could understand nothing but love-making and chatter. He was accustomed to having all his thoughts sifted through his mother's mind; so, when he wanted companionship, and was asked in reply to be the billing and twittering lover, he hated his betrothed.

"You know, mother," he said, when he was alone with her at night, "she's no idea of money, she's so wessel-brained. When she's paid, she'll suddenly buy such rot as marrons glaces, and then I have to buy her season ticket, and her extras, even her underclothing. And she wants to get married, and I think myself we might as well get married next year. But at this rate---"

"A fine mess of a marriage it would be," replied his mother. "I should consider it again, my boy."

"Oh, well, I've gone too far to break off now," he said, "and so I shall get married as soon as I can."

"Very well, my boy. If you will, you will, and there's no stopping you; but I tell you, I can't sleep when I think about it."

"Oh, she'll be all right, mother. We shall manage."

"And she lets you buy her underclothing?" asked the mother.

"Well," he began apologetically, "she didn't ask me; but one morning--and it WAS cold--I found her on the station shivering, not able to keep still; so I asked her if she was well wrapped up. She said: 'I think so.' So I said: 'Have you got warm underthings on?' And she said: 'No, they were cotton.' I asked her why on earth she hadn't got something thicker on in weather like that, and she said because she HAD nothing. And there she is--a bronchial subject! I HAD to take her and get some warm things. Well, mother, I shouldn't mind the money if we had any. And, you know, she OUGHT to keep enough to pay for her season-ticket; but no, she comes to me about that, and I have to find the money."

"It's a poor lookout," said Mrs. Morel bitterly.

He was pale, and his rugged face, that used to be so perfectly careless and laughing, was stamped with conflict and despair.

"But I can't give her up now; it's gone too far," he said. "And, besides, for SOME things I couldn't do without her."

"My boy, remember you're taking your life in your hands," said Mrs. Morel. "NOTHING is as bad as a marriage that's a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough, God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk."

He leaned with his back against the side of the chimney-piece, his hands in his pockets. He was a big, raw-boned man, who looked as if he would go to the world's end if he wanted to. But she saw the despair on his face.

"I couldn't give her up now," he said.

"Well," she said, "remember there are worse wrongs than breaking off an engagement."

"I can't give her up NOW," he said.

The clock ticked on; mother and son remained in silence, a conflict between them; but he would say no more. At last she said:

"Well, go to bed, my son. You'll feel better in the morning, and perhaps you'll know better."

He kissed her, and went. She raked the fire. Her heart was heavy now as it had never been. Before, with her husband, things had seemed to be breaking down in her, but they did not destroy her power to live. Now her soul felt lamed in itself. It was her hope that was struck.

And so often William manifested the same hatred towards his betrothed. On the last evening at home he was railing against her.

"Well," he said, "if you don't believe me, what she's like, would you believe she has been confirmed three times?"

"Nonsense!" laughed Mrs. Morel.

"Nonsense or not, she HAS! That's what confirmation means for her--a bit of a theatrical show where she can cut a figure."

"I haven't, Mrs. Morel!" cried the girl--"I haven't! it is not true!"

"What!" he cried, flashing round on her. "Once in Bromley, once in Beckenham, and once somewhere else."

"Nowhere else!" she said, in tears--"nowhere else!"

"It WAS! And if it wasn't why were you confirmed TWICE?"

"Once I was only fourteen, Mrs. Morel," she pleaded, tears in her eyes.

"Yes," said Mrs. Morel; "I can quite understand it, child. Take no notice of him. You ought to be ashamed, William, saying such things."

"But it's true. She's religious--she had blue velvet Prayer-Books--and she's not as much religion, or anything else, in her than that table-leg. Gets confirmed three times for show, to show herself off, and that's how she is in EVERYTHING-EVERYTHING!"

The girl sat on the sofa, crying. She was not strong.

"As for LOVE!" he cried, "you might as well ask a fly to love you! It'll love settling on you---"

"Now, say no more," commanded Mrs. Morel. "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.

William was silent, and later he repented, kissed and comforted the girl. Yet it was true, what he had said. He hated her.

When they were going away, Mrs. Morel accompanied them as far as Nottingham. It was a long way to Keston station.

"You know, mother," he said to her, "Gyp's shallow. Nothing goes deep with her."

"William, I WISH you wouldn't say these things," said Mrs. Morel, very uncomfortable for the girl who walked beside her.

"But it doesn't, mother. She's very much in love with me now, but if I died she'd have forgotten me in three months."

Mrs. Morel was afraid. Her heart beat furiously, hearing the quiet bitterness of her son's last speech.

"How do you know?" she replied. "You DON'T know, and therefore you've no right to say such a thing."

"He's always saying these things!" cried the girl.

"In three months after I was buried you'd have somebody else, and I should be forgotten," he said. "And that's your love!"

Mrs. Morel saw them into the train in Nottingham, then she returned home.

"There's one comfort," she said to Paul--"he'll never have any money to marry on, that I AM sure of. And so she'll save him that way."

So she took cheer. Matters were not yet very desperate. She firmly believed William would never marry his Gipsy. She waited, and she kept Paul near to her.

All summer long William's letters had a feverish tone; he seemed unnatural and intense. Sometimes he was exaggeratedly jolly, usually he was flat and bitter in his letter.

"Ah," his mother said, "I'm afraid he's ruining himself against that creature, who isn't worthy of his love--no, no more than a rag doll."

He wanted to come home. The midsummer holiday was gone; it was a long while to Christmas. He wrote in wild excitement, saying he could come for Saturday and Sunday at Goose Fair, the first week in October.

"You are not well, my boy," said his mother, when she saw him. She was almost in tears at having him to herself again.

"No, I've not been well," he said. "I've seemed to have a dragging cold all the last month, but it's going, I think."

It was sunny October weather. He seemed wild with joy, like a schoolboy escaped; then again he was silent and reserved. He was more gaunt than ever, and there was a haggard look in his eyes.

"You are doing too much," said his mother to him.

He was doing extra work, trying to make some money to marry on, he said. He only talked to his mother once on the Saturday night; then he was sad and tender about his beloved.

"And yet, you know, mother, for all that, if I died she'd be broken-hearted for two months, and then she'd start to forget me. You'd see, she'd never come home here to look at my grave, not even once."

"Why, William," said his mother, "you're not going to die, so why talk about it?"

"But whether or not---" he replied.

"And she can't help it. She is like that, and if you choose her--well, you can't grumble," said his mother.

On the Sunday morning, as he was putting his collar on:

"Look," he said to his mother, holding up his chin, "what a rash my collar's made under my chin!"

Just at the junction of chin and throat was a big red inflammation.

"It ought not to do that," said his mother. "Here, put a bit of this soothing ointment on. You should wear different collars."

He went away on Sunday midnight, seeming better and more solid for his two days at home.

On Tuesday morning came a telegram from London that he was ill. Mrs. Morel got off her knees from washing the floor, read the telegram, called a neighbour, went to her landlady and borrowed a sovereign, put on her things, and set off. She hurried to Keston, caught an express for London in Nottingham. She had to wait in Nottingham nearly an hour. A small figure in her black bonnet, she was anxiously asking the porters if they knew how to get to Elmers End. The journey was three hours. She sat in her corner in a kind of stupor, never moving. At King's Cross still no one could tell her how to get to Elmers End. Carrying her string bag, that contained her nightdress, a comb and brush, she went from person to person. At last they sent her underground to Cannon Street.

It was six o'clock when she arrived at William's lodging. The blinds were not down.

"How is he?" she asked.

"No better," said the landlady.

She followed the woman upstairs. William lay on the bed, with bloodshot eyes, his face rather discoloured. The clothes were tossed about, there was no fire in the room, a glass of milk stood on the stand at his bedside. No one had been with him.

"Why, my son!" said the mother bravely.

He did not answer. He looked at her, but did not see her. Then he began to say, in a dull voice, as if repeating a letter from dictation: "Owing to a leakage in the hold of this vessel, the sugar had set, and become converted into rock. It needed hacking---"

He was quite unconscious. It had been his business to examine some such cargo of sugar in the Port of London.

"How long has he been like this?" the mother asked the landlady.

"He got home at six o'clock on Monday morning, and he seemed to sleep all day; then in the night we heard him talking, and this morning he asked for you. So I wired, and we fetched the doctor."

"Will you have a fire made?"

Mrs. Morel tried to soothe her son, to keep him still.

The doctor came. It was pneumonia, and, he said, a peculiar erysipelas, which had started under the chin where the collar chafed, and was spreading over the face. He hoped it would not get to the brain.

Mrs. Morel settled down to nurse. She prayed for William, prayed that he would recognise her. But the young man's face grew more discoloured. In the night she struggled with him. He raved, and raved, and would not come to consciousness. At two o'clock, in a dreadful paroxysm, he died.

Mrs. Morel sat perfectly still for an hour in the lodging bedroom; then she roused the household.

At six o'clock, with the aid of the charwoman, she laid him out; then she went round the dreary London village to the registrar and the doctor.

At nine o'clock to the cottage on Scargill Street came another wire:

"William died last night. Let father come, bring money."

Annie, Paul, and Arthur were at home; Mr. Morel was gone to work. The three children said not a word. Annie began to whimper with fear; Paul set off for his father.

It was a beautiful day. At Brinsley pit the white steam melted slowly in the sunshine of a soft blue sky; the wheels of the headstocks twinkled high up; the screen, shuffling its coal into the trucks, made a busy noise.

"I want my father; he's got to go to London," said the boy to the first man he met on the bank.

"Tha wants Walter Morel? Go in theer an' tell Joe Ward."

Paul went into the little top office.

"I want my father; he's got to go to London."

"Thy feyther? Is he down? What's his name?"

"Mr. Morel."

"What, Walter? Is owt amiss?"

"He's got to go to London."

The man went to the telephone and rang up the bottom office.

"Walter Morel's wanted, number 42, Hard. Summat's amiss; there's his lad here."

Then he turned round to Paul.

"He'll be up in a few minutes," he said.

Paul wandered out to the pit-top. He watched the chair come up, with its wagon of coal. The great iron cage sank back on its rest, a full carfle was hauled off, an empty tram run on to the chair, a bell ting'ed somewhere, the chair heaved, then dropped like a stone.

Paul did not realise William was dead; it was impossible, with such a bustle going on. The puller-off swung the small truck on to the turn-table, another man ran with it along the bank down the curving lines.

"And William is dead, and my mother's in London, and what will she be doing?" the boy asked himself, as if it were a conundrum.

He watched chair after chair come up, and still no father. At last, standing beside a wagon, a man's form! the chair sank on its rests, Morel stepped off. He was slightly lame from an accident.

"Is it thee, Paul? Is 'e worse?"

"You've got to go to London."

The two walked off the pit-bank, where men were watching curiously. As they came out and went along the railway, with the sunny autumn field on one side and a wall of trucks on the other, Morel said in a frightened voice:

"'E's niver gone, child?"

"Yes."

"When wor't?"

"Last night. We had a telegram from my mother."

Morel walked on a few strides, then leaned up against a truck-side, his hand over his eyes. He was not crying. Paul stood looking round, waiting. On the weighing machine a truck trundled slowly. Paul saw everything, except his father leaning against the truck as if he were tired.

Morel had only once before been to London. He set off, scared and peaked, to help his wife. That was on Tuesday. The children were left alone in the house. Paul went to work, Arthur went to school, and Annie had in a friend to be with her.

On Saturday night, as Paul was turning the corner, coming home from Keston, he saw his mother and father, who had come to Sethley Bridge Station. They were walking in silence in the dark, tired, straggling apart. The boy waited.

"Mother!" he said, in the darkness.

Mrs. Morel's small figure seemed not to observe. He spoke again.

"Paul!" she said, uninterestedly.

She let him kiss her, but she seemed unaware of him.

In the house she was the same--small, white, and mute. She noticed nothing, she said nothing, only:

"The coffin will be here to-night, Walter. You'd better see about some help." Then, turning to the children: "We're bringing him home."

Then she relapsed into the same mute looking into space, her hands folded on her lap. Paul, looking at her, felt he could not breathe. The house was dead silent.

"I went to work, mother," he said plaintively.

"Did you?" she answered, dully.

After half an hour Morel, troubled and bewildered, came in again.

"Wheer s'll we ha'e him when he DOEScome?" he asked his wife.

"In the front-room."

"Then I'd better shift th' table?"

"Yes."

"An' ha'e him across th' chairs?"

"You know there---Yes, I suppose so."

Morel and Paul went, with a candle, into the parlour. There was no gas there. The father unscrewed the top of the big mahogany oval table, and cleared the middle of the room; then he arranged six chairs opposite each other, so that the coffin could stand on their beds.

"You niver seed such a length as he is!" said the miner, and watching anxiously as he worked.

Paul went to the bay window and looked out. The ash-tree stood monstrous and black in front of the wide darkness. It was a faintly luminous night. Paul went back to his mother.

At ten o'clock Morel called:

"He's here!"

Everyone started. There was a noise of unbarring and unlocking the front door, which opened straight from the night into the room.

"Bring another candle," called Morel.

Annie and Arthur went. Paul followed with his mother. He stood with his arm round her waist in the inner doorway. Down the middle of the cleared room waited six chairs, face to face. In the window, against the lace curtains, Arthur held up one candle, and by the open door, against the night, Annie stood leaning forward, her brass candlestick glittering.

There was the noise of wheels. Outside in the darkness of the street below Paul could see horses and a black vehicle, one lamp, and a few pale faces; then some men, miners, all in their shirt-sleeves, seemed to struggle in the obscurity. Presently two men appeared, bowed beneath a great weight. It was Morel and his neighbour.

"Steady!" called Morel, out of breath.

He and his fellow mounted the steep garden step, heaved into the candlelight with their gleaming coffin-end. Limbs of other men were seen struggling behind. Morel and Burns, in front, staggered; the great dark weight swayed.

"Steady, steady!" cried Morel, as if in pain.

All the six bearers were up in the small garden, holding the great coffin aloft. There were three more steps to the door. The yellow lamp of the carriage shone alone down the black road.

"Now then!" said Morel.

The coffin swayed, the men began to mount the three steps with their load. Annie's candle flickered, and she whimpered as the first men appeared, and the limbs and bowed heads of six men struggled to climb into the room, bearing the coffin that rode like sorrow on their living flesh.

"Oh, my son--my son!" Mrs. Morel sang softly, and each time the coffin swung to the unequal climbing of the men: "Oh, my son--my son--my son!"

"Mother!" Paul whimpered, his hand round her waist.

She did not hear.

"Oh, my son--my son!" she repeated.

Paul saw drops of sweat fall from his father's brow. Six men were in the room--six coatless men, with yielding, struggling limbs, filling the room and knocking against the furniture. The coffin veered, and was gently lowered on to the chairs. The sweat fell from Morel's face on its boards.

"My word, he's a weight!" said a man, and the five miners sighed, bowed, and, trembling with the struggle, descended the steps again, closing the door behind them.

The family was alone in the parlour with the great polished box. William, when laid out, was six feet four inches long. Like a monument lay the bright brown, ponderous coffin. Paul thought it would never be got out of the room again. His mother was stroking the polished wood.

They buried him on the Monday in the little cemetery on the hillside that looks over the fields at the big church and the houses. It was sunny, and the white chrysanthemums frilled themselves in the warmth.

Mrs. Morel could not be persuaded, after this, to talk and take her old bright interest in life. She remained shut off. All the way home in the train she had said to herself : "If only it could have been me! "

When Paul came home at night he found his mother sitting, her day's work done, with hands folded in her lap upon her coarse apron. She always used to have changed her dress and put on a black apron, before. Now Annie set his supper, and his mother sat looking blankly in front of her, her mouth shut tight. Then he beat his brains for news to tell her.

"Mother, Miss Jordan was down to-day, and she said my sketch of a colliery at work was beautiful."

But Mrs. Morel took no notice. Night after night he forced himself to tell her things, although she did not listen. It drove him almost insane to have her thus. At last:

"What's a-matter, mother?" he asked.

She did not hear.

"What's a-matter?" he persisted. "Mother, what's a-matter?"

"You know what's the matter," she said irritably, turning away.

The lad--he was sixteen years old--went to bed drearily. He was cut off and wretched through October, November and December. His mother tried, but she could not rouse herself. She could only brood on her dead son; he had been let to die so cruelly.

At last, on December 23, with his five shillings Christmas-box in his pocket, Paul wandered blindly home. His mother looked at him, and her heart stood still.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"I'm badly, mother!" he replied. "Mr. Jordan gave me five shillings for a Christmas-box!"

He handed it to her with trembling hands. She put it on the table.

"You aren't glad!" he reproached her; but he trembled violently.

"Where hurts you?" she said, unbuttoning his overcoat.

It was the old question.

"I feel badly, mother."

She undressed him and put him to bed. He had pneumonia dangerously, the doctor said.

"Might he never have had it if I'd kept him at home, not let him go to Nottingham?" was one of the first things she asked.

"He might not have been so bad," said the doctor.

Mrs. Morel stood condemned on her own ground.

"I should have watched the living, not the dead," she told herself.

Paul was very ill. His mother lay in bed at nights with him; they could not afford a nurse. He grew worse, and the crisis approached. One night he tossed into consciousness in the ghastly, sickly feeling of dissolution, when all the cells in the body seem in intense irritability to be breaking down, and consciousness makes a last flare of struggle, like madness.

"I s'll die, mother!" be cried, heaving for breath on the pillow.

She lifted him up, crying in a small voice:

"Oh, my son--my son!"

That brought him to. He realised her. His whole will rose up and arrested him. He put his head on her breast, and took ease of her for love.

"For some things," said his aunt, "it was a good thing Paul was ill that Christmas. I believe it saved his mother."

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.

William had been a prophet. Mrs. Morel had a little present and a letter from Lily at Christmas. Mrs. Morel's sister had a letter at the New Year.

"I was at a ball last night. Some delightful people were there, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly," said the letter. "I had every dance--did not sit out one."

Mrs. Morel never heard any more of her.

Morel and his wife were gentle with each other for some time after the death of their son. He would go into a kind of daze, staring wide-eyed and blank across the room. Then he got up suddenly and hurried out to the Three Spots, returning in his normal state. But never in his life would he go for a walk up Shepstone, past the office where his son had worked, and he always avoided the cemetery.

亚瑟·莫瑞尔逐渐长大了。他是一个粗心大意、性情急躁、容易冲动的男孩,极像他的父亲。他讨厌学问,如果他不得不去干活,他就嘟囔半天,而且一有机会,他就溜出去玩。

论外表,他是家中的精华,身材匀称,风度优雅、充满活力,深棕色的头发、红润的脸色,敏锐的深蓝色的眼睛映衬着长长的睫毛,再加上慷慨大方的举止,暴躁的脾气,使他在家中倍受欢迎。但是,当他长大一点之后,他的脾气变的令人捉摸不定了。他无缘无故的大发脾气,粗暴无理,几乎让人不能忍受。

有时候,他深爱着的母亲对他很反感,他只想自己。他想娱乐的时候,他痛恨所有妨碍他的东西,甚至包括母亲。而当他碰到麻烦事时,却哼哼卿卿地对她无休止地哭诉个没完。

有一次,当他抱怨说老师恨他时,母亲说:“天哪!孩子,如果你不想被别人恨,就改了吧;要是不能改变,你就忍着吧。”

他过去爱父亲,父亲也疼爱过他。但现在他开始厌恶父亲了。在他渐渐地长大时,莫瑞尔也开始慢慢地衰弱了。他的身体,过去一举一动都那么优美,如今却萎缩了,似乎不是随着日月而成熟稳重,而是日趋卑鄙和无赖了。每当这个面目可憎的老头对亚瑟呼来喝去时,亚瑟就忍不住要发作。而且,莫瑞尔的举止变的越来越无所顾忌,他的一举一动也让人看不顺眼。孩子们长大了,正处在关键的青春期,父亲对他们的心灵来说是一种丑恶的刺激。他在家里的举止和他在井下和矿工们在一起时一个样,丝毫不变。

“肮脏讨厌的东西!”亚瑟被父亲惹怒的时候,他就会这么大喊着,冲出屋子。而莫瑞尔因为孩子们讨厌他,他就越赌气胡来。惹得孩子们发狂的厌恶和愤怒,莫瑞尔似乎从中得到了一种满足。孩子们在十四、五岁时都特别容易冲动,而亚瑟就是在父亲堕落衰弱的过程中明白事理的,因此最恨他。

有时候,父亲似乎也能感觉到孩子们的那种轻蔑和憎恶。

“再没有人还能像我一样辛辛苦苦地养活你们。”他会大声吼叫。“我为你们费尽心血,为你们操劳,可你们像对待一条狗一样的对待我,告诉你们吧,我再也受不了啦!”

实际上,他们对他并没有那么坏,而他也不是像他说的那么勤奋地工作。如果真是那样,他们倒会同情他的。现在,这几乎成了父亲和孩子们之间的争执,他坚持着自己不良的习惯和令人厌恶的生活方式,以此来表明他是独立不羁的,不受旁人支配的。因而,孩子们更加痛恨他。

最后,亚瑟变的极不耐烦,也极为暴躁。因此,他获得诺丁汉文法中学奖学金后。母亲就决定让他住在城里他的一个妹妹家里。只有周末回家。

安妮仍旧是一所公立学校的低年级教师,每星期挣四先令。不过,她马上就可以每周挣十五先令了,因为她已经通过考试。这样的话,家里的经济将不成问题了。

现在,莫瑞尔太太一心一意扑在保罗身上。他尽管不十分颖悟,却是个非常恬静的孩子。他坚持画他的画,仍然深爱着母亲。他所做的一切事都是为了她。她每天晚上等着他回家,然后把她白天的所思所想一古脑地全告诉给他。他认真地坐在那里听着,两人相依为命,心心相映。

威廉已经和那个皮肤微黑的姑娘订婚了。还花了八几尼给他买了一枚订婚戒指。孩子们对这么大的价钱都咋舌不已。

“八芬尼。”莫瑞尔喊道。

“他真傻!还不如多给我点儿钱倒好。”

“多给你点儿钱!”莫瑞尔太太说道,“为什么要多给你点儿钱。”

她记得他从来没给她买过什么订婚戒指。她倒是更赞同可能有些傻气但不小气的威廉了。但现在这小伙子在信上频频谈起他如何跟未婚妻参加舞会,她穿着多么漂亮有服装,或者兴冲冲谈起他们去戏院时如何打扮得像个头面人物。

他想把姑娘带回家来。莫瑞尔太太认为应该让她在圣诞时来。这一次,威廉没带礼物,只带着这么一位小姐回来的。莫瑞尔太太已经准备好晚饭。听到脚步声,她站起身向门口走去。威廉进来了。

“嗨,妈妈。”他匆匆地吻了她一下,就站到一边,介绍这个高挑的漂亮女孩,她穿着一套质地优良的黑白格于女装,披着毛皮领圈。

“这是吉普赛女郎!”

韦丝特伸出手来,浅浅地笑了一下,微微露出洁白牙齿。

“哦,你好,莫瑞尔太太!”她客气地打招呼。

“恐怕你们都饿了吧?”莫瑞尔太太问。

“没有,我们在火车上吃过饭了。你看到我的手套了吗?宝贝?”

身材高大、骨骼健壮的威廉·莫瑞尔飞快地看了她一眼。

“我怎么会看到呢?”她说。

“那我就丢了,你不要这么粗鲁地对待我。”

他皱了皱眉,但什么也没说。她打量着厨房四周,觉得这间房又小又怪,相片后面装饰着闪光的邀吻树枝和冬青树。摆着几把木椅和小松木桌子。就在这时,莫瑞尔进来了。

“你好,爸爸!”

“你好,儿子,我已经知道你们的事了。”

两人握握手,威廉介绍这位小姐,她同样微露玉齿笑了一下。

“你好,莫瑞尔先生!”

莫瑞尔奉承似地鞠了一躬。

“我很好,我也希望你很好,你千万不要客气。”

“哦,谢谢你。”她回答,心里觉得很有趣。

“如果你不介意我就上楼去,如果太麻烦就算了。”

“不麻烦,安妮带你去。沃尔特,来搬这个箱子。”

“不要打扮太长时间。”威廉对他的未婚妻说。

安妮拿起铜烛台,窘迫的不敢开口,引着这位小姐向莫瑞尔夫妇为她腾出来的前面卧室走去。这间屋子,在烛光下也显的窄小而阴冷。矿工的妻子们只有在得重病的时候才在卧室里生火。“需要我打开箱子吗?”安妮问道。

“哦,太谢谢你了!”

安妮扮演了仆女的角色,接着下楼去端热水。

“我想她一定很累,妈妈。”威廉说:“我们来得很匆忙,一路上也非常辛苦。”

“她需要点什么吗?”莫瑞尔太太问。

“哦!不用,她马上就会好的。”

屋子里的气氛有点叫人寒心。半小时后,韦丝特小姐下楼了,穿着一件紫色的衣服,在矿工的厨房里显得过分的豪华。

“我告诉过你,你不用换衣服。”威廉对他说。

“噢,宝贝!”她说完转过那张甜蜜蜜的笑脸对莫瑞尔太太说:“你不觉得他总是埋怨我吗?莫瑞尔太太?”

“是吗?”莫瑞尔太太说:“那就是他的不对了。”“是的,真是这样!”

“你很冷吧,”母亲说:“要不要靠近火炉坐着?”

莫瑞尔从扶手椅上跳起来。

“来坐这儿。”他说:“来坐这儿。”

“不,爸爸,你自己坐吧。坐在沙发上,吉普。”威廉说。

“不,不,”莫瑞尔大声说,“这把椅子最暖和了,来坐这儿,韦丝特小姐。”

“多谢了。”姑娘说着,坐在矿工的象征着荣誉的扶手椅上,她哆嗦着,感觉到了厨房的温暖渐渐浸入她体内。

“给我拿个手绢来,亲爱的宝贝。”她对他说。嘴巴翘着,那亲呢的样子仿佛只有他们俩人在场,这让家里人觉得他们不应该呆在这里。很显然,这位小姐就没有意识到他们是人。对她来说,现在他们只不过是牲口罢了,威廉局促不安,不知如何是好。

对于斯特里萨姆这样一个家庭来说,韦丝特小姐的光临已经是“屈尊”了。对她来说,这些人确实是下里巴人——简单地说,是工人阶级。她何必约束自己呢?

“我去拿,”安妮说。

韦丝特小姐没有理会,仿佛刚才是一个仆人在说话。不过,当姑娘拿着手帕又下楼来时,她和善地说了句:“哦,谢谢!”

她坐在那里,谈论着火车上吃的那顿饭是那么寒酸,谈论着伦敦,也谈了跳舞。她确实有些紧张,所以不停地说呀说。莫瑞尔一直坐在那里抽那种很烈的手捻的烟卷,一面看着他,听着她那流利的伦敦话,一面不停地吐着烟圈。穿着她最漂亮的黑绸衬衫的莫瑞尔太太,平静而简短地回答着她的话。三个孩子羡慕地坐在一起,什么也不说。韦丝特小姐像是位公主,所有最好的东西都为她拿了出来,最好的杯子,最好的匙子,最好的台布,最好的咖啡壶。孩子们觉得他一定会认为这个场面很气派,而她却觉得很不习惯,不了解这些人,也不知道如何对待他们。威廉开着玩笑,也多少感到有些别扭。

大约10点了,他对她说:“累了吗?吉普?”

“很累,宝贝。”她马上用那种亲热的口气回答道,头稍微偏了一下。

“我去给她点蜡烛,妈妈。”他说。

“很好。”母亲回答道。

韦丝特小姐站了起来,对莫瑞尔太太伸出了手。

“晚安,莫瑞尔太太。”她说。

保罗坐在烧水锅前面,正往一只啤酒瓶里灌热水,安妮把瓶子用下井穿的旧绒布衬衫包好,吻了母亲一下,道了晚安。家里已经没有别的空房了,所以她得跟这位小姐同住一间屋子。

“等一会。”莫瑞尔太太对安妮说。安妮正坐在那儿弄着那只热水瓶。韦丝特小姐与大家—一握手,这让大家很不自在。威廉在前引路,她跟在后边走了。五分钟后,他又下楼。他心里有点恼火,自己也不知道为什么。他没说几句话。直到别人都上了床。只剩下他和妈妈,他才像以前一样,两腿叉开站在炉边地毯上,有些犹犹豫豫地说:“怎么样,妈妈?”

“怎么样,孩子?”

她坐在摇椅上,多少有些为他而伤心和丢脸。

“你喜欢她吗?”

“是的。”她迟迟地回答道。

“她还有些害羞,妈妈。她还不习惯这儿。你知道。这里和她姑妈家里不同。”

“当然了,孩子,她一定觉得很难习惯这儿吧。”

“是的,”他顿时皱眉头,“可她不该摆她的架子!”

“她是初来乍到,有点别扭罢了,孩子,她会好的。”

“是这样的,妈妈。”他感激地回答。不过他还是愁眉不展。“你知道,她不像你,妈妈,她从来严肃不起来,而且她也不肯用脑子。”

“她还年轻,孩子。”

“是的,不过她缺乏家教,很小的时候,她妈妈就去世了,从那以后,她就跟她姑妈住在一起,她姑妈真让她无法容忍。她父亲又是一个败家子。因此,她从没有得到过爱。”

“哦,那么,你应补偿她。”

“因此,你应该在很多方面谅解她。”

“孩子,怎么样谅解她?”

“我不知道。当她显得举止浅薄的时候,你就想想从来没有人教会她深沉的感情。再说,她确实深爱着我。”

“这一点大家都看得出来。”

“但是你知道,妈妈——她和我们不一样,那些人,就是和她生活在一起的那种人,他们好象和我们有不一样的原则。”

“你不必过早地下结论。”莫瑞尔太太说。

看起来,他的内心还是不能轻松。

然而,第三天早晨他起来后,就又开始在屋里唱歌逗乐了。

“喂,”他坐在楼梯上喊:“你起来了吗?”

“起来了。”她轻声应道。

“圣诞快乐!”他大声对她喊着。

卧室里传来她清脆悦耳的笑声,但过去半个小时了,她还在楼上。

“刚才她说起来了,是真的吗?”他问安妮。“是起来了。”安妮回答。

他等了一会儿,又走到楼梯口去。

“新年快乐!”他喊着祝福。

“谢谢,亲爱的!”远处又传来了笑声。

“快点!”他恳求地说。

快一个小时过去了,他还在等她。总是在六点以前就起床的莫瑞尔,看了看钟。

“哦,真奇怪。”他大声说。

除了威廉,全家人都吃过早饭了,他又走到楼梯口。

“在那儿等着我去给你送复活节的彩蛋吗?”他生气地喊道。

她只是哈哈笑着。全家人都想着,经过了这么长时间的准备,一定会有什么奇迹发生。终于,她下来了,穿着一件衬衫,套了一条裙子,漂亮迷人,仪态大方。

“这么长时间,你真的在梳洗打扮吗?”他问。

“亲爱的!这个问题不允许问,对吗?莫瑞尔太太?”

她一开始就扮起贵族小姐的派头。当她和威廉去教堂的时候,威廉穿着大礼服,戴着大礼帽;她穿着伦敦做的服装,披着毛皮领圈。保罗、亚瑟和安妮以为人人见了他们都会羡慕地鞠个躬。而莫瑞尔,穿着他最好的衣服站在路头上,看着这对衣着华贵的人走过去,心里觉得他仿佛是王子的父亲了。

实际上,她并没有那么了不起。她只不过在伦敦一家公司当秘书或办事员,干了有一年。但是,当她和莫瑞尔一家在一起时,她就摆出一副女王的架式。她坐在那里让保罗或安妮服侍她,仿佛他们是她的仆人。她对待莫瑞尔太太也是油腔滑调、随随便便,对莫瑞尔却摆出一副恩赐的架式。不过,过了一两天后,她就改变了她的态度。

威廉总是要保罗或安妮陪他们一起散步,这样更显得兴趣盎然。保罗确实一心一意地崇拜着“吉普赛女郎”,但实际上,母亲几乎不能原谅他对待姑娘的那股谄媚奉承劲儿。

第二天,莉莉说:“哦,安妮,你知不知道我把皮手筒放在哪儿了?”威廉回答:“你明知道皮手筒放在你的卧室里,为什么还要问安妮?”

莉莉却生气的一声不响地上楼去了。她把妹妹当仆人使唤,这让小伙子气愤不已。

第三天的晚上,威廉和莉莉坐在黑暗的起居室炉火旁。十一点差一刻的时候,他们听见莫瑞尔太太在捅炉子,威廉走进厨房,后面跟着他的莉莉。

“已经很晚了,妈妈?”他说,她刚才一直独自坐在那儿。

“不晚,孩子,我平常都坐到这个时候。”

“你要去睡觉吗?”他问。

“留下你们俩?不,孩子,我不放心你们俩。”

“你不相信我们,妈妈?”

“不论我相信不相信,我都不会那么做的。你们高兴的话可以呆到十一点,我可以看会儿书。”

“睡觉去,吉普,”他对姑娘说:“我们不能让妈妈这样等着。”

“安妮还给你留着蜡烛呢,莉莉。”莫瑞尔太太说,“我想你看得见的。”

“是的,谢谢,晚安,莫瑞尔太太。”

威廉在楼梯口吻了他的宝贝,然后,她走了,他呢,又回到厨房。

“你不相信我们,妈妈?”他又说了遍,有点不快。

“孩子,告诉你吧,当大家都睡觉的时候,我不信任你们两个年轻人单独留在楼上。

他只好接受了这个回答,吻了吻母亲,道了晚安。

复活节时,他独自一人回到家,和母亲没完没了地谈论他那个宝贝。

“你知道吗,妈妈,当我离开她的时候,我一点也不在乎她,即便再也见不到她,我也不会在乎。但是,当晚上我和她在一起的时候,我又非常喜欢她了。”

“如果她吸引你的不过是这些的话,”莫瑞尔太太说:“那么,促使你们结婚的那种爱可太不可思议了。”

“这是不可思议!”他大声说,这婚姻使他烦恼不安左右为难。“但是,就我们目前的情况来说,我不能放弃她。”

“你最清楚,”莫瑞尔太太说:“不过要是像所说的这样,我不会把这种感情看作爱情的——总之,这绝不是爱情。”

“哦,我不知道,妈妈,她是个孤儿,而且……”

他们从来争论不出任何结果,他似乎很为难,而且相当恼火。她显得克制而沉默。他全部的精力薪水都花在这个姑娘身上了,回家后,他几乎没钱带母亲去一次诺丁汉。

保罗的工资在圣诞期间升到十先令,这令他喜出望外。他在乔丹工厂干得十分愉快。但他的身体却因为长时间的工作和终日不见阳光而受到影响。他在母亲的生活中占有越来越重要的位置,因此,她千方百计地想为他调剂一下生活。

他的半天休息日在星期一下午。在五月一个星期一的上午,只有他们俩在吃早饭。她说:“我想今天会是一个好天。”

他吃惊地抬头看了看她,寻思话里有什么含义。

“你知道雷渥斯先生搬到了一个新农场去了,嗯,他上上星期还问我愿不愿去看看雷渥斯太太,我答应他如果天气好,就带你星期—一起去,怎么样?”

“哦,好极了,好妈妈。”他欢呼起来,“我们今天下午去。”

保罗兴冲冲地向车站走去。达贝路旁的一棵樱桃树在阳光下闪闪发光,群雕旁的旧砖墙被映成一片深红,春天给大地带来满眼翠绿,在公路拐弯的地方,覆盖着早晨凉爽的尘土,阳光和阴影交织而成美丽的图案,四周沉浸在一片宁静中,景色壮观迷人。树木骄傲地弯下它们宽宽的肩膀,整个早晨,保罗待在仓库里想象着外面的一派春光。

午饭时他回来了,母亲显得很激动。

“我们走吗?”他问。

“我准备好就走。”她回答。

一会儿,他站起身。

“你去收拾打扮,我去洗碗。”他说。

她去了。他洗了锅碗,收拾好后,拿起她的靴子。靴子很干净,莫瑞尔太太是一个生来就极讲究清洁的人,即使在泥浆时走路都不会弄脏鞋子的。但是保罗还是替她擦了一下靴子,这是一双八先令买来的小羊皮靴子,可是在他看来这是世界上最精致的靴子。他擦得小心翼翼的,仿佛它们不是靴,而是娇美的花。

突然,她神色羞怯地出现在里屋门口,身穿一件新衬衫。保罗跳起来迎向前来。

“噢,天哪!”他惊叹起来,“真叫人眼花缘乱!”

她矜持地从鼻子里哼了一声,昂起了头。

“哪里是眼花缭乱!”她回答,“这挺素净的。”

她往前走了几步,他围着她身边转了几圈。

“哎,”她问他,有点不好意思,但又装着矜持的样子,“你喜欢这件衬衫吗?”

“喜欢极了!你真是位外出游玩的好女伴!”

他在她身后上下打量着。

“咳,”他说:“在街上,如果我走在你后面,我会说那个女人在卖弄风骚呢!”

“不过她可没有这样。”莫瑞尔太太回答,“她还不清楚这衣服是不是适合她呢。”

“哦,不!难道她还想穿着那种肮脏的黑颜色,看起来好像裹着一层烧焦的纸。这件衣服太适合你了,而且我认为你看起来漂亮极了。”

她又从鼻子里哼了一下,满心的高兴,但仍装出不以为然的样子。

“但是,”她说:“它只花了我三先令。你不可能买一件价值这么低的成衣,对吧?”

“我的确不行。”他回答。

“而且,你看,这材料。”

“漂亮极了。”他说。

这件衬衣是白色的,上面印有紫红色和黑色的小树枝样的图案。

“不过,恐怕这件衣服对我来说太显年轻了。”她说。

“显的太年轻了!”他生气地喊道,“那你为什么不买些假白发套在头上?”

“不需要,我马上就会有的,”她回答说:“我的头发已经白得多了。”

“得了,你才不会呢,”他说:“为什么我要个白头发的妈妈?”

“恐怕你得委屈一下,孩子。”她神情古怪地说。

他们气气派派地出发了,为了遮阳,她带上威廉送给她的那把伞,保罗个子虽然不高,可比她要高许多,所以他自觉得象男主人似的了不起。

休耕地上那些青青的麦苗柔和地发着光。一缕缕白色的蒸汽飘在敏顿矿井上空,矿井里传来沙哑的“咳咳”声。

“看那边,”莫瑞尔太太说。母子俩站在路上望着,沿着大矿山的山脊,天边有几个影子在慢吞吞地挪动着,是一匹马,一辆小货车和一个男人。他们正往斜坡上爬,头似乎都挨着了天。最后,那个男人把货车倒立,垃圾从大矿坑的陡坡上滚了下去,发出一阵响声。

“你坐一会吧,妈妈。”他说。她在堤上坐了下来,他则迅速地画起素描来。她默默地欣赏周围的午后景色,看着那在绿色树林掩隐着的红色农舍,在太阳光下闪烁。

“世界真奇妙,”她赞道,“太美了。”

“矿井也一样,”他说,“看,它们高高耸起,简直像活的什么东西——叫不上名字的庞然大物。”

“是的,”她说。“可能有些像。”

“还有那么多卡车停在那等着,就像一群等着喂食的牲口。”他说。

“感谢上帝,它们停在那儿,”她说,“这就意味着这个星期还能挣点钱。”

“不过,我喜欢从东西的运动中去体味人的感觉。从卡车上就可以体味到人的感觉,因为人的手操纵过它们。”

“是的,”莫瑞尔太太说。

他们沿着道旁的树荫行进着。他滔滔不绝地对她说着,她津津有味的听着。他们走到尼瑟梅尔河尽头,阳光像花瓣一样轻轻撒在山坳里。然后,他们又转向一条僻静的路,一只狗气势汹汹地吠叫着。一个女人张望着迎了出来。

“这是不是去威利农场的路?”莫瑞尔太太问。

保罗害怕别人冷遇他们,躲在母亲后面。但这个女人十分和蔼,给他们指了方向。母子俩穿过小麦地和燕麦地,跨越一座小桥,来到一片荒野地里。那些白色胸脯的发着光的红嘴鸥,尖叫着绕着他们盘旋,蓝蓝的湖水一泓宁静,高空中一只苍鹭飞过,对面树林覆盖的小山,也是一片寂静。

“这是一条荒路,妈妈。”保罗说:“就像在加拿大。”

“这很美,不是吗?”莫瑞尔太太说着,了望着四周。

“看那只苍鹭——看——看见它的腿了吗?”

他指点着母亲什么应该看一看,什么用不着看。她十分乐意让儿子指指点点。

“但是现在,我们应该走哪条路呢?”她问:“他告诉我应该穿过一片树林。”

这片树林就在他们左边。用篱笆圈着,显得黑沉沉的。

“我觉得这儿可能会有条小路,”保罗说:“不管怎么说,你好像只习惯走城里的路。”

他们找到一扇小门,进去不久就踏上了一条宽宽的翠绿的林间小路。路的一旁是新生的杉树和松树。另一旁是长着老橡树的很陡的林间空地,橡树间,一片绿色蓝色池水般的风珍草,长在落满了橡树叶的浅黄褐色的土地上,长在长满了新枝的榛树下。他为她采了几朵勿忘我。看见她那双辛勤劳作的手举着他给她的那一小束花,他又一次心里充满了怜爱,而她也欣喜得不能自己。

在这条路的尽头,需要爬过一道栅栏。保罗毫不费力的一下子跳过去了。

“快来,”他说,“我帮你。”

“不用,走开,我自己行。”

他站在下边,伸出双臂准备帮她,她小心翼翼地翻了过来。

“看你翻的那副样子!”当她安然着地后,他大声笑着。

“讨厌的台阶!”她骂了一句。

“没用的小女人,”他回答道,“连这都翻不过来。”

前面,就在这片树林边上,有一片红色的低矮的农场建筑。俩人赶紧向前走去。旁边就是苹果园,苹果花纷纷扬扬地落到磨石上。树篱下有个很深的池塘。被几棵棕树掩隐起来,树荫下有几头母牛。农场的房屋有三面都冲着阳光,宁静极了。

母子俩走进了这个有篱笆栏杆的小院子,院里飘散着一股红紫罗兰的幽香。几只面包放在敞开的门口旁边凉着,一只母鸡飞过来啄面包,一个围着脏围裙的女孩子突然出现在门口,她大约十四岁,脸蛋黑里透红,短短的黑卷发自然地飘落着,美极了。一双黑眼睛对着进来的陌生人害羞、疑惑,还略带惊奇地望着,她又躲进去了。不一会,又出来一个瘦弱的矮个女人,红润的脸庞,有一对深棕色的大眼睛。

“噢!”她微笑着惊呼起来,“你们来了,哦,我很高兴看见你们。”她的声音很亲热,却略带感伤。

两个女人握了握手。

“我们真的不会打扰你吗?”莫瑞尔太太说,“我知道农场生活非常忙。”

“哦,哪里话,能看到一张新面孔我们就感激不尽了,我们这里几乎没有人来。”

“我也这么想。”莫瑞尔太太说。

他们被带到会客室——一间又长又低的屋子,壁炉边上插着一大束绣球花。保罗趁她们两个聊天的时候,到外面看了看田园景色。他站在院子里闻着花香,看着那些农作物,那个女孩子又匆匆出来,往篱笆边上的煤堆走去。

他指着栅栏边的灌木丛对她说,“我觉得这是重瓣蔷薇吧?”

她用那双受惊的棕色大眼睛望着他。

“我想这花开了该是重瓣蔷薇吧?”他说。

“我不知道,”她支支吾吾地说,“它们是白色的,中间是粉红色的。”

“那就是女儿红了。”

米丽亚姆脸色通红,是那种美丽动人的颜色。

“我不知道。”她说。

“你家的院子里也不太多。”他说。

“我们今年才住到这儿的。”她回答道,有些疏远和高傲。说着,她退了几步进屋去了。他也没在意,继续四处逛着。一会儿,他母亲出来了,他们一起参观着这里的建筑,这让保罗乐不可支。

“我想,你们还养着家禽、小牛或猪啊什么的吧?”莫瑞尔大大问着雷渥斯太太。

“没有,”那个小个子女人说,“我没时间喂养牛,而且我也不习惯干这活,我所能干的就是管家。”

“哦,我想也是。”莫瑞尔太太说。

一会儿,那个女孩子又跑了出来。

“茶准备好了,妈妈。”她地声音平静,像音乐一般动听。

“哦,谢谢你,米丽亚姆,我们马上就来。”她妈妈回答,几乎有点讨好的意味。“现在我们去喝茶行吗,莫瑞尔太太?”

“当然可以,”莫瑞尔太太说,“什么时候都行。”

保罗、妈妈,还有雷渥斯太太一起喝了茶。之后他们来到了树林,那里满山遍野风信子。小路上密密麻麻的全是毋忘我,母子俩都深深地被吸引住了。

当他们回到屋子里的时候,雷渥斯先生和大儿子埃德加已经在厨房里了。埃德加大约十八岁。接着杰弗里和莫里斯,一个十二岁,一个十三岁,从学校回来了。雷渥斯先生是位英俊的中年男子,留着金褐色的小胡子,一双蓝眼睛总是像在提防什么似的眯着。

男孩子们一副屈尊俯就的态度,不过,保罗倒没有注意到。他们到处寻找鸡蛋,四处乱钻乱爬。此刻他们正在喂鸡,米丽亚姆出来了。男孩子们也不理她,一只母鸡和几只淡黄色的小鸡关在一个笼里,莫里斯抓了一把谷子,让鸡在他手里啄食着。

“你敢这样吗?”他问保罗。

“让我试试。”保罗说。

他有一双温暖的小手,看起来就很灵巧。米丽亚姆也看着。他拿着谷子伸到母鸡面前,母鸡用它那敏锐发亮的眼睛看了一下谷子,突然在他手上啄了一下,他吃了一惊,随即笑了起来。“笃、笃、笃!”鸡在他手掌上接连啄了几下,他又笑了,那些男孩子们也笑了起来。

谷子喂完后,保罗说:“鸡碰你、啄你,但决不会伤你的。”

“好,米丽亚姆,”莫里斯说,“你来试试。”

“不。”她叫起来,往后退了几步。

“哈,小娃娃,娇气鬼!”她的兄弟们讥笑着说。

“它根本不会伤你的,”保罗说:“它只是很舒服地啄啄你。”

“不!”她仍然尖声叫着,摇着她黑色的卷发往后退。

“她不敢,”杰弗里说,“除了朗诵诗,她什么都不敢干。”

“不敢从栅栏往下跳,不敢学鸟叫,不敢上滑梯,不敢阻止别的女孩子打她,除了走来走去自以为是个人物外,她什么都不敢。‘湖上夫人’,嗨呀!”莫里斯大声说。

米丽亚姆又羞又怒,脸上涨得通红。

“我敢做的事比你们多。”她叫道,“你们只不过是一些胆小鬼和恶棍!”

“哦,胆小鬼和恶棍!”他们装模作样地学了一遍,取笑她的话。

“笨蛋想惹我生气,

不吭一声气死你!”

他们引用了她的诗攻击她,笑着喊着。

她进屋去了。保罗和男孩子们去了果园,他们在那儿胡乱支了个双杠,几个人玩着锻炼了一阵。保罗的身体虽不很结实,却十分灵活,正好在这儿显一手。这时他摸了摸在树上摇晃不停的一朵苹果花。

“不许摘苹果花,”大哥埃德加说,“要不明年就不结果了。”

“我不会摘的。”保罗回答着,走开了。

男孩子们对他非常不友好,他们喜欢自己玩。于是他就散步回去找母亲。当他绕到屋子后面时,发现米丽亚姆正跪在鸡笼前面,手里捧了点五米,咬着嘴唇,紧张地弯着身子,母鸡似乎不太友好地看着她。她战战兢兢地伸出了手,母鸡向她伸过头来,她尖叫了一声,迅速收回了手,又害怕又懊恼。

“不会伤你的。”保罗说。

她满脸通红,站了起来。

“我只是想试试。”她低声说。

“看,一点都不疼。”他说着,又在手掌上放了两颗玉米,让母鸡啄去,接着母鸡在他空空的手掌上啄啊啄,“这会啄得你直想笑。”他说。

她伸出手来,又缩了回去,又伸出手来,但又惊叫着缩了回来。他皱了下眉头。

“其实,我可以让鸡在我脸上啄玉米。”保罗说,“它只不过轻轻碰你一下罢了。鸡特别干净,如果不干净的话,它也不会每天啄干净地上的许多东西。”

他耐心而又固执地等着,注视着她。最后,米丽亚姆终于让鸡在她手上啄谷子了,她轻轻地叫了一声——害怕,又因为害怕而觉得疼痛——一副十分可怜的样子。不过她总算做到了,接着她又试了一下。

“怎么样,你看,一点也不疼吧?”保罗说。

她睁着黑黑的眼睛望着他。

“不疼。”她笑着说,身子有点发抖。

接着,她站起身进了屋,她似乎有点厌恶保罗。

“他觉得我只不过是个普普通通的女孩。”她心里想着,她想证明自己实际上像“湖上夫人”一样了不起。

保罗看到母亲已经准备回家了,她对儿子微微笑了笑,他拿起了那一大束花。雷渥斯夫妇陪着他们走过田地,小山在暮色中变成了金黄色,树林深处露出暗紫色的野风信子。到处一片寂静,只有树林沙沙声和小鸟婉转和鸣。

“这地方太美了。”莫瑞尔太太说。

“没错。”雷渥斯先生说,“如果不是野兔捣乱的话,这里是片挺好的小草地,牧草都被野兔啃得光光的。我都不知道我能不能付得起租钱。”

他拍了拍手,靠近树林的田地里应声跳出许多褐色的兔子,四处逃窜着。

“真让人难以相信!”莫瑞尔太太惊呼。

然后,母子俩独自向前走去。

“这是一个很可爱的地方,对吧,妈妈?”他平静地问。

一弯新月冉冉地升了起来。他的心里几乎容纳不下这么多欢乐了。母亲也高兴得几乎想哭,只好不停地说着。

“我真希望我能帮帮那个男人!”她说,“我真希望我能够常常看到那些家禽和家畜!我也想学着挤牛奶,跟他聊天,帮他出谋划策。哎呀,如果我是他的妻子,这农场一定会发达起来,我知道!但是,她没有这份精力——她根本没有这份精力。你知道,她也决不应该承担这一切,我为她难过,我也为他难过。哎呀,如果我有这样一个丈夫,我决不会认为他是一个坏蛋。当然,她也没这么认为,而且她也很可爱。”

降灵节期间,威廉又带着他的意中人回来了。他有一个星期的假期。那些日子,天气也不错。像往常一样,清晨,威廉、莉莉和保罗一起出去散步。威廉除了给莉莉讲点自己小时候的事以外,就不大跟她说话。保罗却不停地对他俩说着。他们三人躺在敏顿教堂的一片草地上,紧靠着城堡农场那边是一排摇曳多姿美丽的白杨树;山楂从树篱上垂了下来,铜钱一样大的雏菊和仙翁花开满田地,朵朵花像绽开的笑脸。威廉,这位已经23岁的大小伙子,这阵子消瘦了许多,甚至有些。瞧淬,躺在那里梦想着什么,莉莉正在抚摸着他的头发。保罗跑去采那些朵朵雏菊了。她摘下帽子,露出马鬃似的黑发。保罗回来后把雏菊插到她的黑发上——大朵大朵亮闪闪的白色和黄色的菊花,还有几朵粉色的仙翁花。

“现在你看上去像一个年轻的女巫了。”男孩对她说:“对不对,威廉?”

莉莉大笑起来。威廉睁开眼睛看着她,他的目光里掺杂着痛苦和一种极为欣赏的神情。

“他把我打扮得怪模怪样了吗?”她笑着低头问她的情人。

“是的。”威廉微笑着说。

他看着她,她的美丽似乎伤害了他。他瞥了一眼她插满鲜花的脑袋,皱起了眉头。

“你真漂亮,这就是你想要我说的话。”他说。

她没有戴帽子,向前走去。过了一会,威廉清醒过来,又对她温柔起来。走过一座桥时,他把她和她的名字缩写成了心的形状。

分手的时候,她看着他那双长满亮闪闪的汗毛和斑点的刚劲有力的手,似乎被这双手迷住了。

威廉和莉莉呆在家的这段日子里,家里总是有一种凄凉感伤,但又温暖柔情的气氛。不过,他常常会发火。因为在这只住短短的八天,莉莉竟带了五条裙子,六件衬衫。

“哦,你能不能,”她问安妮,“帮我洗一下这两件衬衣和这些东西?”

第二天早晨,威廉和莉莉又要出去时,安妮却站在那儿洗衣服。莫瑞尔太太大为恼火。有时,这个年轻人看到自己心爱的人竟用这种态度对待自己的妹妹,也忿恨不已。

星期天早晨,她穿了一件丝一般的印花薄软绸拖地长裙,长裙像樱鸟的羽毛一样蓝,戴着一顶奶油色的大帽子,上面插了好几朵深红色的玫瑰花,美丽极了,大家都对她赞赏不已。但是到了晚上,临出门前,她又问:

“亲爱的,你拿了我的手套了吗?”

“哪一双?”威廉问。

“我新买的小山羊皮黑手套。”

“没拿。”

到处搜寻了一番,连手套的影子都没有找到,她把手套丢了。

“瞧,妈妈,”威廉说,“自从圣诞节后,她已经丢了四双手套了——一双要五先令呢!”

“可只有两双是你给我买的。”她不服气地说。

晚上吃过饭后,他站在炉边地毯那儿,她坐在沙发上。他似乎有点讨厌她。下午他就没理她,自己去看一些老朋友,她就一直坐在那儿看书。晚饭后,威廉想写封信。

“这是你的书,莉莉,”莫瑞尔太太说,“你可能还想再看一会儿吧?”

“不了,谢谢你。”姑娘说,“我就这么坐会儿。”

“这样太无聊了。”

威廉急躁地以极快的速度写着信。在他封信时说道:

“还看书呢!哼,她一辈子从来没看过一本书。”

“哦,走开!”莫瑞尔太太听到他夸张的言词有些不满。

“这是真的,——她没看过。”他大声说着,跳起来又站在他的老地方——炉边地毯上。“她一辈子都没有看过一本书。”

“她和我一样。”莫瑞尔赞同地说,“坐在那儿看半天,她也不明白书上到底讲了些什么,我也一样。”

“但你不应该这么说。”莫瑞尔太太对儿子说。

“这是真的,妈妈——她看不懂书。你给她是什么书?”

“哦,我给她一本安妮·斯旺写的小说。没人愿意在星期天下午看枯燥的东西。”

“好,我打赌她念了不到十行。”

“你弄错了。”他妈妈说。

这段时间,莉莉可怜兮兮地坐在沙发上,他突然转过身来。

“你看了那本书吗?”他问。

“是的,我看了。”她回答。

“看了多少?”

“我也不知道有多少页。”

“把你看过的说点给我听听。”

她说不出来。

她连第二页都没念到。威廉却看过很多书,有一个聪明机灵的头脑。她除了谈情说爱,聊天,什么也不懂。他习惯于和母亲交流自己的想法。他需要的是志同道合的伴侣,而他的未婚妻却要他做一个能付帐单和喊喊喳喳说笑的情夫,因此他不禁对未婚妻产生了深深的厌恶。

“你知道吗,妈妈,”晚上他和母亲单独在一起地,他说,“她连一点省钱的意思都没有,头脑简单,胡乱花钱。她拿到工资时,她就立刻买那些不是必需的蜜饯栗子吃,结果我不得不给她买季票,买必需的零零碎碎的东西,甚至连内衣裤也得我买。而且她想结婚,我自己也认为我们还是最好明年办事情。但现在这个样子……”

“这个样子就急着结婚,简直太糟糕了。”母亲回答。“我还得再考虑一下,孩子。”

“哦,算了,现在跟她断绝关系是不可能的。”他说,“所以我要尽快结婚。”

“好吧,孩子,如果你愿意,那就行、没人会阻拦你。不过我告诉你,一想起这桩婚事,我就彻夜难眠。”

“哦,她会好起来的,妈妈,我们将设法克服。”

“她让你给她买内衣裤的吗?”母亲问。

“嗯,”他有点歉意地说,“她没问我要,但是有天早晨——是个很冷的早晨——我发现她站在车站时直发抖,冻得站不住了。于是,我问她,她穿的衣服够不够,她说:‘我觉得够了。’我说,‘你穿没穿暖和的内衣内裤?’她说,‘没有,内衣内裤是棉布的。’我问到底为什么在这种天气里不穿厚点的内衣内裤,她说是因为她没钱。她就这样熬着,得了支气管炎!我不得不带她去买厚一点的内衣内裤。妈妈,如果我们有钱,我也不会在乎的。但是你知道,她至少应该把买季票的钱留下来。但是没有,她来问我要钱买。我只好想办法去找钱。”

“你们的前景可是不太妙啊。”莫瑞尔太太有些悲观地说。

他脸色苍白,那张粗犷的脸以前总是什么都不在乎,永远笑嘻嘻的,现在却是满脸的惆怅和失望。

“但是现在我不能放弃她,我陷得太深了。”他说,“而且,有些事情我离不了她。”

“孩子,记住你可要自己把握自己的生活。”莫瑞尔太太说,“没有什么事再比一个没有前途的婚姻更糟糕了。我的婚姻已经够糟糕了,天知道我应该给你一些教训,可也说不准,也许你的婚姻要比我的还要糟糕许多倍。”

他斜倚着壁炉架,双手插在口袋里,他是一个身材高大,骨瘦如柴的人,看上去似乎如果他愿意,踏遍天涯海角,在所不辞。可是此刻她从他脸上看出了悲观失望的神情。

“我现在不能放弃她。”他说。

“可是,”她说:“记住还有别的事比解除婚姻更糟呢。”

“现在,我不能放弃她。”

闹钟嘀嘀嗒嗒地走着。母子俩沉默不语,他们之间有冲突,不过他不再说话了。最后,她说:

“好了,去睡吧,孩子,明天早晨你就会感觉好点,也许会更清醒些。”

他吻了她一下,走了。她捅了捅炉子,心情似乎从来没有这么沉重过。过去,和丈夫在一起的岁月,她只觉得内心的希望化为泡影,可是还没有丧失生活的勇气。而现在,她感到心力焦淬,她的希望又受到沉重的打击。

此后,威廉常常表现出对未婚妻的深恶痛绝。在家的最后一个晚上,他又在抱怨她。

“好吧,”他说,“如果你不相信她是什么样的人,那你信不信她受过三次宗教坚信礼?”

“胡说!”莫瑞尔太太大笑起来。

“不管是不是胡说,她确实是这样。坚信礼对她来说——是她大出风头的戏场。”

“我没有,莫瑞尔太太,”女孩子叫了起来——“我没有,这不是真的。”

“什么!”他大喊着,猛地向她转过身来,“一次在布隆利,一次在肯肯罕,还有一次在别的什么地方。”

“再没有什么别的地方!”她说着,哭了,“再没有别的什么地方!”

“有的!就算没有,那你为什么行两次坚信礼?”

“有一次我才十四岁,莫瑞尔太太。”她含着眼泪辩解着。

“噢,”莫瑞尔太太说,“我完全理解,孩子,别理他。威廉,说出这样的话你应该感到羞愧!”

“但这是真的。她信仰宗教——她过去有本蓝天鹅绒面的祈祷书——但是,她内心的宗教信仰都不比这条桌子腿强多少,她行了三次坚信礼,那只是为了表现,为了显示自己。这就是她对一切的态度——一切!”

姑娘坐在沙发上,哭了,她生性软弱。

“至于爱情!”他叫道,“你最好还是叫只苍蝇去爱你吧,它会喜欢叮在你身上的……!”

“好了,别再说了,”莫瑞尔太太下命令了,“如果你要说的话就找个别的地方说去吧。威廉,我都为你感到羞愧!为什么不表现出男子汉的气概?干别的什么都不行,专找姑娘的岔,还说是同她订了婚!”

莫瑞尔太太气极败坏地坐下来。

威廉不吭声了,后来,他似乎后悔了,吻着姑娘,安慰她。不过他说的是真话。他厌恶她。

他们就要离家的时候,莫瑞尔太太陪他们到了诺丁汉。还有很长一段路才能到凯斯顿车站。

“你知道,妈妈,”他对她说,“吉普是个肤浅的人,心里不会思考你任何事。”

“威廉,我希望你别说这些事。”莫瑞尔太太说,她真为走在她旁边的姑娘感到难过。

“这又怎么了,妈妈,现在她非常爱我。但如果我死了,要不了三个月她就会把我忘到九霄云外去。”

莫瑞尔太太感到可怕极了,听到儿子最后那句痛快的话,她的心狂跳起来,久久不能平静。

“你怎么知道?”她说,“你不知道,就没有权利说这种话。”

“他常常说这样的话。”姑娘大声嚷嚷。

“我死后,下葬不到三个月,你准会另有新欢,把我忘了,”他说,“这就是你的爱情。”

在诺丁汉,莫瑞尔太太看着他们上了火车,才往家走。

“有一点可让人放心,”她对保罗说,“他永远不会有钱来结婚,这点我肯定,这样的话,她反而救了他。”

于是,她开始感到宽慰。事情还没有发展到不可挽救的地步。她坚信威廉不会娶吉普的。她等待着,并把保罗拴在身边。

整个夏天,威廉的来信都流露出一种发狂的情绪。他好象和往常截然不同,像换了个人似的。有时候,他会高兴得有些夸张,而有时,他的信的语调平淡而感伤。

“唉,”母亲说,“恐怕他会为这个女人而毁了自己,她根本不值得他爱——不值,她只不过是个洋娃娃罢了。”

他想回家,可是暑假已经过了,而离圣诞还有很长一段时间。他写信激动地说,他要在十月份的第一个星期,鹅市时回家来度周末。

“你身体不太好,孩子。”母亲一看到他时就这么说。

她又回到了母亲身边,这使她感动得几乎要流泪了。

“是的,我这一段时间一直不太好。”他说,“上个月我感冒了,一直拖到现在还好不了。不过,我想快好了。”

十月的天气阳光灿烂,他似乎欣喜若狂,像个逃学的学生。但,随后他就更加变得沉默了。他比以前更清瘦了,眼里流露一种燃淬的神情。

“你工作太辛苦了。”母亲对他说。

说是为了挣钱结婚,他加班加点地工作。他只在星期六晚上跟母亲谈到过一次未婚妻,言谈之中充满伤感和怜惜。

“但是,你知道吗,妈妈,虽然我们现在这样,可是如果我死了,她最多只会伤心两个月,之后,她就会忘了我的。你会看到,她决不会回家来看看我的坟墓,连一次都不会。”

“哦,威廉,”母亲说,“你又不会死去,为什么要说这个?”

“但不管怎样……”他回答。

“她也没有办法,她就是那种人,既然你选择了她——那么,你就不能抱怨。”母亲说。

星期天早晨,他要戴上硬领时:

“看,”他对他妈妈说,翘着下巴,“我的领子把下巴磨成什么样子了!”

就在下巴和喉咙之间有一大块红肿块。

“不应该这样啊,”母亲说,“来,擦上点止痛膏吧。你应该换别的领子了。”

他在星期天的半夜走了,在家呆了两天,他看上去好了些,也好象坚强了些。

星期二早晨,一封从伦敦来的电报说他病了。当时莫瑞尔太太正跪在那儿擦地板,读完电报后,她跟邻居打了个招呼,找房东太太借了一个金镑,穿戴好后就走了。她急匆匆地赶到凯顿车站,在诺丁汉等了近一个小时,搭了一辆特快列车去了伦敦。她戴着她黑色的帽子,矮矮的身材焦急地走来走去,问搬运工怎样到艾尔默斯区。这次旅程的三个小时,她神色迷茫地坐在车厢角落里,一动不动。到了皇家岔口,还是没人知道怎么去艾尔默斯区。她提着装着她的睡衣、梳子、刷子的网兜,逢人便打听,终于,有人告诉她乘地铁到坎农街。

当她赶到威廉的住处时已经六点了,百叶窗还没拉下来。

“他怎么样了?”她问道。

“不太好。”房东太太说。

她跟着那个女人上了楼。威廉躺在床上,眼里充满血丝,面无血色,衣服扔得满地都是,屋里也没生火。一杯牛奶放在床边,没有一个人陪他。

“啊,我的孩子!”母亲鼓起勇气说。

他没有回答,只是望着她,可是好象并没有看到她一样。过了一会儿,他开始说话了,声音模糊不清,好象是在口授一封信:“由于该船货舱漏报,糖因受潮结块,急需凿碎……”

他已经没有知觉了。在伦敦港检验船上装的糖是属于他份内的工作。

“他这样已多久了?”母亲问房东太太。

“星期一早晨他是六点钟回来的,他好象睡了一整天。然后到了晚上我们听到他说胡话了。今天早晨他要找你来,因此我拍了电报,我们还请了一个医生。”

“能帮忙生个火吗?”

莫瑞尔太大努力地安慰儿子,想让他平静下来。

医生来了,他说这是肺炎,而且还中了很特殊的丹毒,丹毒从硬领磨烂的下巴开始,已经扩散到脸部,他希望不要扩大到脑子里。

莫瑞尔太太住下来照顾他。她为威廉祈祷,祈祷他能再认出她来。但是这个年轻人的脸色越来越苍白。晚上,她和他一起同病魔斗争着。他颠三倒四地乱说一气,始终没有恢复知觉。到半夜两点时,病情突然恶化了,他死了。

莫瑞尔太太在这间租来的房子里像石头一样静静地坐了将近一小时,然后,她唤醒左右邻居。

清早六点,在打杂女工的帮助下,她安置好威廉的尸体。然后,她穿行在阴郁的伦敦村去找户籍官和医生。

九点钟,斯卡吉尔街的这间小屋里又接到了一封电报。

“威廉夜亡,父带钱来。”

安妮、保罗、亚瑟都在家,莫瑞尔上班去了。三个孩子一句话也没说,安妮害怕地呜咽起来,保罗去找父亲。

那一天,天气晴朗明媚,布林斯利矿井的白色蒸汽在柔和的蓝天阳光下慢慢地融化了,吊车的轮子在高处闪光,筛子正往货车上送着煤,弄出一片嘈杂声。

“我找我爸爸,他得去伦敦。”孩子在井口碰见第一个人后就说。

“你找沃尔斯特·莫瑞尔吧?去那边告诉乔·沃德。”

保罗走到顶部那间小小的办公室。

“我找我爸爸,他得去伦敦。”

“你爸爸?他在井下吗?他叫什么?”

“莫瑞尔先生。”

“什么,莫瑞尔,出什么事啦?”

“他得去伦敦。”

那人走到电话旁,摇通了井底办公室。

“找沃尔斯特·莫瑞尔,42号,哈特坑道。家里出什么事了,他的孩子在这儿。”

然后他转身对着保罗。

“他马上就上来。”他说。

保罗漫步走到井口顶上,看着罐座托着运煤车升了上来。那只巨大的罐笼停稳后,满满一车煤被拖了出来,另一节空煤车被推上罐座,不知什么地方响起了铃声,罐座猛地动了一下,像石头一样飞速跌落下去。

保罗无法接受威廉已经死了,这是不可能的,这儿不是依然热热闹闹的吗?装卸工把小货车搬到了转台上,另外一个工人推着货车沿着弯弯曲曲的井口铁轨向前跑去。

“威廉死了,妈妈去了伦敦,她在那儿干什么呢?”孩子问着自己,仿佛这是一个猜不透的谜。

他看着一只接一只的罐笼升了起来,可就是没有父亲。终于,在运煤车旁,他看到一个男人的身影。罐笼停稳后,莫瑞尔走来了。由于上次事故,他的腿稍微有点瘸。

“是你,保罗?他更严重了吗?”

“你得去趟伦敦。”

两人离开矿井,好多人好奇地看着他们。他们走出矿区,沿着铁路向前走去。一边是沐浴秋天阳光的田野,一边是像墙一样的长列货车。莫瑞尔有些惊恐地问:

“他没死吧,孩子?”

“死了。”

“什么时候死的?”

“昨天晚上,我们接到妈妈的电报。”

莫瑞尔走了几步,斜靠在一辆卡车旁,双手蒙着眼睛,他没有哭。保罗站在那里,张望着四周等他。一架过磅机上,一辆货车慢慢开过。保罗望着周围的一切,就是回避不看似乎累了斜靠在煤车上的父亲。

莫瑞尔以前去过一次伦敦。他动身去帮妻子,心里害怕,神情憔悴。那一天是星期二,孩子们留在家里。保罗去上班,亚瑟去上学,安妮有一位朋友陪着她。

星期六晚上,保罗从休斯顿回家,刚拐过弯,他就看到从塞斯利桥车站回来的父母。他们在黑暗中无言地走着,精疲力尽,两人拉开一大截距离,保罗等着。

“妈妈!”他在黑暗中喊了一声。

莫瑞尔太太瘦小的身躯似乎没有反应。他又叫一声。

“保罗!”她应道,仍是十分漠然的样子。

她让他吻了一下,但她似乎对他没有感觉。

回到家里,她依旧是那副神情——愈发矮小,面色苍白,一声不响。她对什么都不在意,对什么都不过问,只是说:

“棺材今天晚上就运到这儿了,沃尔特,你最好找人帮帮忙。”然后,转过身来对孩子说,“我们把他运回来了。”

说完她又恢复了那种一言不发的状态,两眼茫然地看着屋里的空间,两手交叠放在大腿上。保罗看着她,觉得自己气都喘不过来了,屋里死一般的寂静。

“我上班了,妈妈。”他痛楚地说。

“是吗?”她回答,神情阴郁。

半小时后,莫瑞尔烦恼不安,手足无措地又进来了。

“他来了,我们应该把他放在哪儿?”他问妻子。

“放在前屋里。”

“那我还得搬掉桌子吧?”

“嗯”

“把他放在椅子上?”

“你知道放在那儿——对,我也这样想。”

莫瑞尔和保罗拿了支蜡烛,走进了客厅,里面没有煤气灯。父亲把那张桃花木的大圆桌的桌面拧了下来,空出屋子中间,又找来六把椅子面对面地排着,准备放棺材。

“从来没见过他这么高的人!”这个矿工说,边干活边焦急地张望着。

保罗走到凸窗前,向外望着,夜色朦胧,那株白蜡树怪模怪样地站在黑暗之中。保罗回到母亲身边。

十点钟,莫瑞尔喊道:

“他来了!”

大家都吃了一惊。前门传来一阵开锁取门闩的声音。门开处,夜色涌进屋内。

“再拿一支蜡烛来。”莫瑞尔喊道。

安妮和亚瑟去了。保罗陪着母亲,一手扶着母亲的腰站在里屋门口。在这间干干净净的屋子里,六张椅子面对面的已经摆好了。窗边,亚瑟靠着花边窗帘,举着一支蜡烛。在敞开的门口,安妮背对着黑夜,向前探身。站在那里,手里的铜烛台发着光。

一阵车轮声。保罗看见外面黑漆漆的街上几匹马拉着一辆黑色的灵车,上面是一盏灯,两侧是几张惨白的脸。接着,几个男人,都是只穿着衬衫的矿工,好象在拼命用力。一会儿,两个男人出现了,他们抬着沉重的棺材,腰都压弯了。这是莫瑞尔和一个邻居。

“抬稳了!”莫瑞尔上气不接下气地说。

他和同伴们踏上园子里很陡的台阶,微微发光的棺材头在烛光下起起伏伏。其他人的胳膊在后面使着劲。前面的莫瑞尔和本茨踉跄了一下,这个黑色的庞然大物就晃动起来。

“稳住!稳住!”莫瑞尔喊道,声音中似乎饱含着痛楚。

六个人抬棺材的人高高地抬着棺材,走进了小园子。再有三步台阶就到门口了。灵车上那盏黄色的灯孤零零地在黑沉沉的马路上闪烁着。

“小心!”莫瑞尔说。

棺材晃动着。人们爬上这三级台阶。第一个人刚出现,安妮手里的蜡烛就忽闪了一下,她禁不住呜咽起来。六个男人垂着脑袋挣扎着进了屋,棺材压着六个人,仿佛压在每个人的心上似的沉重而悲哀。

“噢,我的儿子——我的儿子!”这些人因为上台阶步伐不一致而引起棺材晃动,每晃一次,莫瑞尔太太就低声地哭号一阵。

“噢,我的儿子——……——……——………,”

“妈妈!”保罗一手扶着她的腰,呜咽地喊道。

她没听见。

“哦,我的儿子——我的儿子!”她一遍一遍地念叨着。

保罗看见汗珠从父亲额头上滚落下来。六个男人都进了屋里——六个都没穿外套,弯着胳膊,使着劲,磕碰着家具,把屋里挤得满满的。棺材掉了个头,轻轻地放在了椅子上,汗从莫瑞尔脸上滴落在棺木上。

“哎呀,他可真沉!”一个男人说,其它五个矿工叹着气,躬着腰,哆哆嗦嗦地挣扎着走下台阶,随手关上了身后的门。

现在客厅里只剩下全家人和这个巨大的上了漆的木匣子。威廉入殓时,身长有六英尺四英寸,像一块纪念碑似的躺在那个浅棕色笨重的棺材里。保罗觉得棺材将永远留在房间里了。母亲在抚摸着那上了漆的棺木。

星期一,在山坡上的小公墓地他们葬了他。在这片小公墓里可以俯瞰田野上的大教堂和房屋。那天天气晴朗,白色的菊花在阳光下皱起花瓣。

葬礼后,莫瑞尔太太不再像过去一样谈论生活,对生活充满希望,谁劝她也没用,她不和任何人交谈。在回家的火车上,她就自言自语:“如果死的是我就好了!”

保罗晚上回家时,母亲总是坐在那儿,双手叉着放在膝上那条粗围裙上。所有的家务事都干完了。过去她总是换掉衣服,带上一条黑围裙。现在是安妮给她端饭菜,而妈妈则茫然地看着前方,紧紧地闭着嘴。这时他就绞尽脑汁想起点事来说给她听。

“妈妈,乔丹小姐今天来了,她说我那张素描《忙碌的矿山》画得很棒。”

但是莫瑞尔太太漠然对之。虽然她不听,可他还是每天强迫自己给她讲些什么。她这副麻木的神情几乎要让他发疯了。终于,

“你怎么了,妈妈?”他问。

她没有听到。

“怎么了?”他坚持问,“妈妈,你怎么了?”

“你知道我怎么了。”她烦躁地说着,转过身去。

这个孩子——16岁的孩子——郁郁不乐地上床去了。他就这样愁苦地度过了十月、十一月和十二月,整整三个月。母亲也试着改变一下,可她怎么也振奋不起来。她只是默默思念着死去的儿子,他死得可真惨。

后来,十二月二十三日那天,保罗口袋里装着五先令的圣诞赏钱,晕晕乎乎地走进了屋,母亲看着他,愣了一下。

“你怎么了?”她问。

“我难受得很,妈妈。”他回答,“乔丹先生给了我五先令圣诞赏钱。”

他颤抖着把钱递给她,她把钱放在桌上,

“你不高兴?”他有些责怪她,身体颤抖得更厉害了。

“你哪儿不舒服吗?”她说着解开他大衣的钮扣。

她常这么问。

“我觉得很难受,妈妈。”

她给他脱了衣服,扶他上了床。医生说,他得了很严重的肺炎。

“如果我让他呆在家里,不去诺丁汉,也许他不会得这种病吧?”她首先问道。

“可能不会这么严重。”医生说。

莫瑞尔太太不禁责备自己。

“我应该照顾活人,而不该一心想着死去的。”她对自己说。

保罗病得很厉害,可他们雇不起护士,每天晚上母亲就躺在床上陪他。病情开始恶化,发展到病危期。一天晚上,他被一种就要死的那种阴森恐怖的感觉折磨着,全身的细胞好象都处在就要崩溃的过敏状态,知觉疯狂地正在做最后的挣扎。

“我要死了,妈妈!”他喊着,在枕头上不停地喘着粗气。

她扶起他,低低地哭着:

“哦,我的儿子——我的儿子!”

母亲的哀泣使他清楚过来,认出了她,他的全部意志由此产生并振奋起来。他把头靠在母亲胸前,沉浸在母亲的慰籍之中。

“从某种意义上来说,”他姨妈说,“保罗在圣诞前生病倒是一件好事,我相信这倒救了他妈妈。”

保罗在床上躺了七个星期,再起来时,脸色苍白,浑身虚弱不堪。父亲给他买了一盆深红和金黄色的郁金香。当他坐在沙发上跟母亲聊天时,花儿就放在窗台上,在三月的阳光下闪耀着。现在,母子俩相依为命,莫瑞尔太太把保罗当成了命根子。

威廉是个预言家。圣诞节时,莫瑞尔太太收到了莉莉寄来的一份小礼物和一封信。新年时,莫瑞尔太太的姐姐也收到了莉莉的一封信。“昨天晚上我参加了一个舞会,舞会上碰到一些讨人喜欢的人,我玩得很痛快。”信上这么写着,“我每支舞都跳,没空错过一支舞曲。”

从那以后,莫瑞尔太太再没有她的消息。

儿子死后的一段时间里,莫瑞尔夫妇相敬如宾。他常常陷入一阵恍惚之中,眼睛瞪得大大的,茫然地看着房间的另一头。之后,他突然站起身,急匆匆地到“三点”酒家,回来后就又正常了。不过他再也没有路过莎普斯通,因为那儿有儿子工作过的办公室,而且也总回避着那座公墓。



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