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Chapter 10 Clara
WHEN he was twenty-three years old, Paul sent in a landscape to the winter exhibition at Nottingham Castle. Miss Jordan had taken a good deal of interest in him, and invited him to her house, where he met other artists. He was beginning to grow ambitious.

One morning the postman came just as he was washing in the scullery. Suddenly he heard a wild noise from his mother. Rushing into the kitchen, he found her standing on the hearthrug wildly waving a letter and crying "Hurrah!" as if she had gone mad. He was shocked and frightened.

"Why, mother!" he exclaimed.

She flew to him, flung her arms round him for a moment, then waved the letter, crying:

"Hurrah, my boy! I knew we should do it!"

He was afraid of her--the small, severe woman with graying hair suddenly bursting out in such frenzy. The postman came running back, afraid something had happened. They saw his tipped cap over the short curtains. Mrs. Morel rushed to the door.

"His picture's got first prize, Fred," she cried, "and is sold for twenty guineas."

"My word, that's something like!" said the young postman, whom they had known all his life.

"And Major Moreton has bought it!" she cried.

"It looks like meanin' something, that does, Mrs. Morel," said the postman, his blue eyes bright. He was glad to have brought such a lucky letter. Mrs. Morel went indoors and sat down, trembling. Paul was afraid lest she might have misread the letter, and might be disappointed after all. He scrutinised it once, twice. Yes, he became convinced it was true. Then he sat down, his heart beating with joy.

"Mother!" he exclaimed.

"Didn't I SAY we should do it!" she said, pretending she was not crying.

He took the kettle off the fire and mashed the tea.

"You didn't think, mother--" he began tentatively.

"No, my son--not so much--but I expected a good deal."

"But not so much," he said.

"No--no--but I knew we should do it."

And then she recovered her composure, apparently at least. He sat with his shirt turned back, showing his young throat almost like a girl's, and the towel in his hand, his hair sticking up wet.

"Twenty guineas, mother! That's just what you wanted to buy Arthur out. Now you needn't borrow any. It'll just do."

"Indeed, I shan't take it all," she said.

"But why?"

"Because I shan't."

"Well--you have twelve pounds, I'll have nine."

They cavilled about sharing the twenty guineas. She wanted to take only the five pounds she needed. He would not hear of it. So they got over the stress of emotion by quarrelling.

Morel came home at night from the pit, saying:

"They tell me Paul's got first prize for his picture, and sold it to Lord Henry Bentley for fifty pound."

"Oh, what stories people do tell!" she cried.

"Ha!" he answered. "I said I wor sure it wor a lie. But they said tha'd told Fred Hodgkisson."

"As if I would tell him such stuff!"

"Ha!" assented the miner.

But he was disappointed nevertheless.

"It's true he has got the first prize," said Mrs. Morel.

The miner sat heavily in his chair.

"Has he, beguy!" he exclaimed.

He stared across the room fixedly.

"But as for fifty pounds--such nonsense!" She was silent awhile. "Major Moreton bought it for twenty guineas, that's true."

"Twenty guineas! Tha niver says!" exclaimed Morel.

"Yes, and it was worth it."

"Ay!" he said. "I don't misdoubt it. But twenty guineas for a bit of a paintin' as he knocked off in an hour or two!"

He was silent with conceit of his son. Mrs. Morel sniffed, as if it were nothing.

"And when does he handle th' money?" asked the collier.

"That I couldn't tell you. When the picture is sent home, I suppose."

There was silence. Morel stared at the sugar-basin instead of eating his dinner. His black arm, with the hand all gnarled with work lay on the table. His wife pretended not to see him rub the back of his hand across his eyes, nor the smear in the coal-dust on his black face.

"Yes, an' that other lad 'ud 'a done as much if they hadna ha' killed 'im," he said quietly.

The thought of William went through Mrs. Morel like a cold blade. It left her feeling she was tired, and wanted rest.

Paul was invited to dinner at Mr. Jordan's. Afterwards he said:

"Mother, I want an evening suit."

"Yes, I was afraid you would," she said. She was glad. There was a moment or two of silence. "There's that one of William's," she continued, "that I know cost four pounds ten and which he'd only worn three times."

"Should you like me to wear it, mother?" he asked.

"Yes. I think it would fit you--at least the coat. The trousers would want shortening."

He went upstairs and put on the coat and vest. Coming down, he looked strange in a flannel collar and a flannel shirt-front, with an evening coat and vest. It was rather large.

"The tailor can make it right," she said, smoothing her hand over his shoulder. "It's beautiful stuff. I never could find in my heart to let your father wear the trousers, and very glad I am now."

And as she smoothed her hand over the silk collar she thought of her eldest son. But this son was living enough inside the clothes. She passed her hand down his back to feel him. He was alive and hers. The other was dead.

He went out to dinner several times in his evening suit that had been William's. Each time his mother's heart was firm with pride and joy. He was started now. The studs she and the children had bought for William were in his shirt-front; he wore one of William's dress shirts. But he had an elegant figure. His face was rough, but warm-looking and rather pleasing. He did not look particularly a gentleman, but she thought he looked quite a man.

He told her everything that took place, everything that was said. It was as if she had been there. And he was dying to introduce her to these new friends who had dinner at seven-thirty in the evening.

"Go along with you!" she said. "What do they want to know me for?"

"They do!" he cried indignantly. "If they want to know me--and they say they do--then they want to know you, because you are quite as clever as I am. "

"Go along with you, child! " she laughed.

But she began to spare her hands. They, too, were work-gnarled now. The skin was shiny with so much hot water, the knuckles rather swollen. But she began to be careful to keep them out of soda. She regretted what they had been--so small and exquisite. And when Annie insisted on her having more stylish blouses to suit her age, she submitted. She even went so far as to allow a black velvet bow to be placed on her hair. Then she sniffed in her sarcastic manner, and was sure she looked a sight. But she looked a lady, Paul declared, as much as Mrs. Major Moreton, and far, far nicer. The family was coming on. Only Morel remained unchanged, or rather, lapsed slowly.

Paul and his mother now had long discussions about life. Religion was fading into the background. He had shovelled away an the beliefs that would hamper him, had cleared the ground, and come more or less to the bedrock of belief that one should feel inside oneself for right and wrong, and should have the patience to gradually realise one's God. Now life interested him more.

"You know," he said to his mother, "I don't want to belong to the well-to-do middle class. I like my common people best. I belong to the common people."

"But if anyone else said so, my son, wouldn't you be in a tear. YOU know you consider yourself equal to any gentleman."

"In myself," he answered, "not in my class or my education or my manners. But in myself I am."

"Very well, then. Then why talk about the common people?"

"Because--the difference between people isn't in their class, but in themselves. Only from the middle classes one gets ideas, and from the common people--life itself, warmth. You feel their hates and loves."

"It's all very well, my boy. But, then, why don't you go and talk to your father's pals?"

"But they're rather different."

"Not at all. They're the common people. After all, whom do you mix with now--among the common people? Those that exchange ideas, like the middle classes. The rest don't interest you."

"But--there's the life---"

"I don't believe there's a jot more life from Miriam than you could get from any educated girl--say Miss Moreton. It is YOU who are snobbish about class."

She frankly WANTED him to climb into the middle classes, a thing not very difficult, she knew. And she wanted him in the end to marry a lady.

Now she began to combat him in his restless fretting. He still kept up his connection with Miriam, could neither break free nor go the whole length of engagement. And this indecision seemed to bleed him of his energy. Moreover, his mother suspected him of an unrecognised leaning towards Clara, and, since the latter was a married woman, she wished he would fall in love with one of the girls in a better station of life. But he was stupid, and would refuse to love or even to admire a girl much, just because she was his social superior.

"My boy," said his mother to him, "all your cleverness, your breaking away from old things, and taking life in your own hands, doesn't seem to bring you much happiness."

"What is happiness!" he cried. "It's nothing to me! How AM I to be happy?"

The plump question disturbed her.

"That's for you to judge, my lad. But if you could meet some GOOD woman who would MAKE you happy--and you began to think of settling your life--when you have the means--so that you could work without all this fretting--it would be much better for you."

He frowned. His mother caught him on the raw of his wound of Miriam. He pushed the tumbled hair off his forehead, his eyes full of pain and fire.

"You mean easy, mother," he cried. "That's a woman's whole doctrine for life--ease of soul and physical comfort. And I do despise it."

"Oh, do you!" replied his mother. "And do you call yours a divine discontent?"

"Yes. I don't care about its divinity. But damn your happiness! So long as life's full, it doesn't matter whether it's happy or not. I'm afraid your happiness would bore me."

"You never give it a chance," she said. Then suddenly all her passion of grief over him broke out. "But it does matter!" she cried. "And you OUGHT to be happy, you ought to try to be happy, to live to be happy. How could I bear to think your life wouldn't be a happy one!"

"Your own's been bad enough, mater, but it hasn't left you so much worse off than the folk who've been happier. I reckon you've done well. And I am the same. Aren't I well enough off?"

"You're not, my son. Battle--battle--and suffer. It's about all you do, as far as I can see."

"But why not, my dear? I tell you it's the best---"

"It isn't. And one OUGHT to be happy, one OUGHT."

By this time Mrs. Morel was trembling violently. Struggles of this kind often took place between her and her son, when she seemed to fight for his very life against his own will to die. He took her in his arms. She was ill and pitiful.

"Never mind, Little," he murmured. "So long as you don't feel life's paltry and a miserable business, the rest doesn't matter, happiness or unhappiness."

She pressed him to her.

"But I want you to be happy," she said pathetically.

"Eh, my dear--say rather you want me to live."

Mrs. Morel felt as if her heart would break for him. At this rate she knew he would not live. He had that poignant carelessness about himself, his own suffering, his own life, which is a form of slow suicide. It almost broke her heart. With all the passion of her strong nature she hated Miriam for having in this subtle way undermined his joy. It did not matter to her that Miriam could not help it. Miriam did it, and she hated her.

She wished so much he would fall in love with a girl equal to be his mate--educated and strong. But he would not look at anybody above him in station. He seemed to like Mrs. Dawes. At any rate that feeling was wholesome. His mother prayed and prayed for him, that he might not be wasted. That was all her prayer--not for his soul or his righteousness, but that he might not be wasted. And while he slept, for hours and hours she thought and prayed for him.

He drifted away from Miriam imperceptibly, without knowing he was going. Arthur only left the army to be married. The baby was born six months after his wedding. Mrs. Morel got him a job under the firm again, at twenty-one shillings a week. She furnished for him, with the help of Beatrice's mother, a little cottage of two rooms. He was caught now. It did not matter how he kicked and struggled, he was fast. For a time he chafed, was irritable with his young wife, who loved him; he went almost distracted when the baby, which was delicate, cried or gave trouble. He grumbled for hours to his mother. She only said: "Well, my lad, you did it yourself, now you must make the best of it." And then the grit came out in him. He buckled to work, undertook his responsibilities, acknowledged that he belonged to his wife and child, and did make a good best of it. He had never been very closely inbound into the family. Now he was gone altogether.

The months went slowly along. Paul had more or less got into connection with the Socialist, Suffragette, Unitarian people in Nottingham, owing to his acquaintance with Clara. One day a friend of his and of Clara's, in Bestwood, asked him to take a message to Mrs. Dawes. He went in the evening across Sneinton Market to Bluebell Hill. He found the house in a mean little street paved with granite cobbles and having causeways of dark blue, grooved bricks. The front door went up a step from off this rough pavement, where the feet of the passersby rasped and clattered. The brown paint on the door was so old that the naked wood showed between the rents. He stood on the street below and knocked. There came a heavy footstep; a large, stout woman of about sixty towered above him. He looked up at her from the pavement. She had a rather severe face.

She admitted him into the parlour, which opened on to the street. It was a small, stuffy, defunct room, of mahogany, and deathly enlargements of photographs of departed people done in carbon. Mrs. Radford left him. She was stately, almost martial. In a moment Clara appeared. She flushed deeply, and he was covered with confusion. It seemed as if she did not like being discovered in her home circumstances.

"I thought it couldn't be your voice," she said.

But she might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. She invited him out of the mausoleum of a parlour into the kitchen.

That was a little, darkish room too, but it was smothered in white lace. The mother had seated herself again by the cupboard, and was drawing thread from a vast web of lace. A clump of fluff and ravelled cotton was at her right hand, a heap of three-quarter-inch lace lay on her left, whilst in front of her was the mountain of lace web, piling the hearthrug. Threads of curly cotton, pulled out from between the lengths of lace, strewed over the fender and the fireplace. Paul dared not go forward, for fear of treading on piles of white stuff.

On the table was a jenny for carding the lace. There was a pack of brown cardboard squares, a pack of cards of lace, a little box of pins, and on the sofa lay a heap of drawn lace.

The room was all lace, and it was so dark and warm that the white, snowy stuff seemed the more distinct.

"If you're coming in you won't have to mind the work," said Mrs. Radford. "I know we're about blocked up. But sit you down."

Clara, much embarrassed, gave him a chair against the wall opposite the white heaps. Then she herself took her place on the sofa, shamedly.

"Will you drink a bottle of stout?" Mrs. Radford asked. "Clara, get him a bottle of stout."

He protested, but Mrs. Radford insisted.

"You look as if you could do with it," she said. "Haven't you never any more colour than that?"

"It's only a thick skin I've got that doesn't show the blood through," he answered.

Clara, ashamed and chagrined, brought him a bottle of stout and a glass. He poured out some of the black stuff.

"Well," he said, lifting the glass, "here's health!"

"And thank you," said Mrs. Radford.

He took a drink of stout.

"And light yourself a cigarette, so long as you don't set the house on fire," said Mrs. Radford.

"Thank you," he replied.

"Nay, you needn't thank me," she answered. "I s'll be glad to smell a bit of smoke in th' 'ouse again. A house o' women is as dead as a house wi' no fire, to my thinkin'. I'm not a spider as likes a corner to myself. I like a man about, if he's only something to snap at."

Clara began to work. Her jenny spun with a subdued buzz; the white lace hopped from between her fingers on to the card. It was filled; she snipped off the length, and pinned the end down to the banded lace. Then she put a new card in her jenny. Paul watched her. She sat square and magnificent. Her throat and arms were bare. The blood still mantled below her ears; she bent her head in shame of her humility. Her face was set on her work. Her arms were creamy and full of life beside the white lace; her large, well-kept hands worked with a balanced movement, as if nothing would hurry them. He, not knowing, watched her all the time. He saw the arch of her neck from the shoulder, as she bent her head; he saw the coil of dun hair; he watched her moving, gleaming arms.

"I've heard a bit about you from Clara," continued the mother. "You're in Jordan's, aren't you?" She drew her lace unceasing.

"Yes."

"Ay, well, and I can remember when Thomas Jordan used to ask ME for one of my toffies."

"Did he?" laughed Paul. "And did he get it?"

"Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't--which was latterly. For he's the sort that takes all and gives naught, he is--or used to be."

"I think he's very decent," said Paul.

"Yes; well, I'm glad to hear it."

Mrs. Radford looked across at him steadily. There was something determined about her that he liked. Her face was falling loose, but her eyes were calm, and there was something strong in her that made it seem she was not old; merely her wrinkles and loose cheeks were an anachronism. She had the strength and sang-froid of a woman in the prime of life. She continued drawing the lace with slow, dignified movements. The big web came up inevitably over her apron; the length of lace fell away at her side. Her arms were finely shapen, but glossy and yellow as old ivory. They had not the peculiar dull gleam that made Clara's so fascinating to him.

"And you've been going with Miriam Leivers?" the mother asked him.

"Well--" he answered.

"Yes, she's a nice girl," she continued. "She's very nice, but she's a bit too much above this world to suit my fancy."

"She is a bit like that," he agreed.

"She'll never be satisfied till she's got wings and can fly over everybody's head, she won't," she said.

Clara broke in, and he told her his message. She spoke humbly to him. He had surprised her in her drudgery. To have her humble made him feel as if he were lifting his head in expectation.

"Do you like jennying?" he asked.

"What can a woman do!" she replied bitterly.

"Is it sweated?"

"More or less. Isn't ALL woman's work? That's another trick the men have played, since we force ourselves into the labour market."

"Now then, you shut up about the men," said her mother. "If the women wasn't fools, the men wouldn't be bad uns, that's what I say. No man was ever that bad wi' me but what he got it back again. Not but what they're a lousy lot, there's no denying it."

"But they're all right really, aren't they?" he asked.

"Well, they're a bit different from women," she answered.

"Would you care to be back at Jordan's?" he asked Clara.

"I don't think so," she replied.

"Yes, she would!" cried her mother; "thank her stars if she could get back. Don't you listen to her. She's for ever on that 'igh horse of hers, an' it's back's that thin an' starved it'll cut her in two one of these days."

Clara suffered badly from her mother. Paul felt as if his eyes were coming very wide open. Wasn't he to take Clara's fulminations so seriously, after all? She spun steadily at her work. He experienced a thrill of joy, thinking she might need his help. She seemed denied and deprived of so much. And her arm moved mechanically, that should never have been subdued to a mechanism, and her head was bowed to the lace, that never should have been bowed. She seemed to be stranded there among the refuse that life has thrown away, doing her jennying. It was a bitter thing to her to be put aside by life, as if it had no use for her. No wonder she protested.

She came with him to the door. He stood below in the mean street, looking up at her. So fine she was in her stature and her bearing, she reminded him of Juno dethroned. As she stood in the doorway, she winced from the street, from her surroundings.

"And you will go with Mrs. Hodgkisson to Hucknall?"

He was talking quite meaninglessly, only watching her. Her grey eyes at last met his. They looked dumb with humiliation, pleading with a kind of captive misery. He was shaken and at a loss. He had thought her high and mighty.

When he left her, he wanted to run. He went to the station in a sort of dream, and was at home without realising he had moved out of her street.

He had an idea that Susan, the overseer of the Spiral girls, was about to be married. He asked her the next day.

"I say, Susan, I heard a whisper of your getting married. What about it?"

Susan flushed red.

"Who's been talking to you?" she replied.

"Nobody. I merely heard a whisper that you WERE thinking---"

"Well, I am, though you needn't tell anybody. What's more, I wish I wasn't!"

"Nay, Susan, you won't make me believe that."

"Shan't I? You CAN believe it, though. I'd rather stop here a thousand times."

Paul was perturbed.

"Why, Susan?"

The girl's colour was high, and her eyes flashed.

"That's why!"

"And must you?"

For answer, she looked at him. There was about him a candour and gentleness which made the women trust him. He understood.

"Ah, I'm sorry," he said.

Tears came to her eyes.

"But you'll see it'll turn out all right. You'll make the best of it," he continued rather wistfully.

"There's nothing else for it."

"Yea, there's making the worst of it. Try and make it all right."

He soon made occasion to call again on Clara.

"Would you," he said, "care to come back to Jordan's?"

She put down her work, laid her beautiful arms on the table, and looked at him for some moments without answering. Gradually the flush mounted her cheek.

"Why?" she asked.

Paul felt rather awkward.

"Well, because Susan is thinking of leaving," he said.

Clara went on with her jennying. The white lace leaped in little jumps and bounds on to the card. He waited for her. Without raising her head, she said at last, in a peculiar low voice:

"Have you said anything about it?"

"Except to you, not a word."

There was again a long silence.

"I will apply when the advertisement is out," she said.

"You will apply before that. I will let you know exactly when."

She went on spinning her little machine, and did not contradict him.

Clara came to Jordan's. Some of the older hands, Fanny among them, remembered her earlier rule, and cordially disliked the memory. Clara had always been "ikey", reserved, and superior. She had never mixed with the girls as one of themselves. If she had occasion to find fault, she did it coolly and with perfect politeness, which the defaulter felt to be a bigger insult than crassness. Towards Fanny, the poor, overstrung hunchback, Clara was unfailingly compassionate and gentle, as a result of which Fanny shed more bitter tears than ever the rough tongues of the other overseers had caused her.

There was something in Clara that Paul disliked, and much that piqued him. If she were about, he always watched her strong throat or her neck, upon which the blonde hair grew low and fluffy. There was a fine down, almost invisible, upon the skin of her face and arms, and when once he had perceived it, he saw it always.

When he was at his work, painting in the afternoon, she would come and stand near to him, perfectly motionless. Then he felt her, though she neither spoke nor touched him. Although she stood a yard away he felt as if he were in contact with her. Then he could paint no more. He flung down the brushes, and turned to talk to her.

Sometimes she praised his work; sometimes she was critical and cold.

"You are affected in that piece," she would say; and, as there was an element of truth in her condemnation, his blood boiled with anger.

Again: "What of this?" he would ask enthusiastically.

"H'm!" She made a small doubtful sound. "It doesn't interest me much."

"Because you don't understand it," he retorted.

"Then why ask me about it?"

"Because I thought you would understand."

She would shrug her shoulders in scorn of his work. She maddened him. He was furious. Then he abused her, and went into passionate exposition of his stuff. This amused and stimulated her. But she never owned that she had been wrong.

During the ten years that she had belonged to the women's movement she had acquired a fair amount of education, and, having had some of Miriam's passion to be instructed, had taught herself French, and could read in that language with a struggle. She considered herself as a woman apart, and particularly apart, from her class. The girls in the Spiral department were all of good homes. It was a small, special industry, and had a certain distinction. There was an air of refinement in both rooms. But Clara was aloof also from her fellow-workers.

None of these things, however, did she reveal to Paul. She was not the one to give herself away. There was a sense of mystery about her. She was so reserved, he felt she had much to reserve. Her history was open on the surface, but its inner meaning was hidden from everybody. It was exciting. And then sometimes he caught her looking at him from under her brows with an almost furtive, sullen scrutiny, which made him move quickly. Often she met his eyes. But then her own were, as it were, covered over, revealing nothing. She gave him a little, lenient smile. She was to him extraordinarily provocative, because of the knowledge she seemed to possess, and gathered fruit of experience he could not attain.

One day he picked up a copy of Lettres de mon Moulin from her work-bench.

"You read French, do you?" he cried.

Clara glanced round negligently. She was making an elastic stocking of heliotrope silk, turning the Spiral machine with slow, balanced regularity, occasionally bending down to see her work or to adjust the needles; then her magnificent neck, with its down and fine pencils of hair, shone white against the lavender, lustrous silk. She tumed a few more rounds, and stopped.

"What did you say?" she asked, smiling sweetly.

Paul's eyes glittered at her insolent indifference to him.

"I did not know you read French," he said, very polite.

"Did you not?" she replied, with a faint, sarcastic smile.

"Rotten swank!" he said, but scarcely loud enough to be heard.

He shut his mouth angrily as he watched her. She seemed to scorn the work she mechanically produced; yet the hose she made were as nearly perfect as possible.

"You don't like Spiral work," he said.

"Oh, well, all work is work," she answered, as if she knew all about it.

He marvelled at her coldness. He had to do everything hotly. She must be something special.

"What would you prefer to do?" he asked.

She laughed at him indulgently, as she said:

"There is so little likelihood of my ever being given a choice, that I haven't wasted time considering."

"Pah!" he said, contemptuous on his side now. "You only say that because you're too proud to own up what you want and can't get."

"You know me very well," she replied coldly.

"I know you think you're terrific great shakes, and that you live under the eternal insult of working in a factory."

He was very angry and very rude. She merely tumed away from him in disdain. He walked whistling down the room, flirted and laughed with Hilda.

Later on he said to himself:

"What was I so impudent to Clara for?" He was rather annoyed with himself, at the same time glad. "Serve her right; she stinks with silent pride," he said to himself angrily.

In the afternoon he came down. There was a certain weight on his heart which he wanted to remove. He thought to do it by offering her chocolates.

"Have one?" he said. "I bought a handful to sweeten me up."

To his great relief, she accepted. He sat on the work-bench beside her machine, twisting a piece of silk round his finger. She loved him for his quick, unexpected movements, like a young animal. His feet swung as he pondered. The sweets lay strewn on the bench. She bent over her machine, grinding rhythmically, then stooping to see the stocking that hung beneath, pulled down by the weight. He watched the handsome crouching of her back, and the apron-strings curling on the floor.

"There is always about you," he said, "a sort of waiting. Whatever I see you doing, you're not really there: you are waiting--like Penelope when she did her weaving." He could not help a spurt of wickedness. "I'll call you Penelope," he said.

"Would it make any difference?" she said, carefully removing one of her needles.

"That doesn't matter, so long as it pleases me. Here, I say, you seem to forget I'm your boss. It just occurs to me."

"And what does that mean?" she asked coolly.

"It means I've got a right to boss you."

"Is there anything you want to complain about?"

"Oh, I say, you needn't be nasty," he said angrily.

"I don't know what you want," she said, continuing her task.

"I want you to treat me nicely and respectfully."

"Call you 'sir', perhaps?" she asked quietly.

"Yes, call me 'sir'. I should love it."

"Then I wish you would go upstairs, sir."

His mouth closed, and a frown came on his face. He jumped suddenly down.

"You're too blessed superior for anything," he said.

And he went away to the other girls. He felt he was being angrier than he had any need to be. In fact, he doubted slightly that he was showing off. But if he were, then he would. Clara heard him laughing, in a way she hated, with the girls down the next room.

When at evening he went through the department after the girls had gone, he saw his chocolates lying untouched in front of Clara's machine. He left them. In the morning they were still there, and Clara was at work. Later on Minnie, a little brunette they called Pussy, called to him:

"Hey, haven't you got a chocolate for anybody?"

"Sorry, Pussy," he replied. "I meant to have offered them; then I went and forgot 'em."

"I think you did," she answered.

"I'll bring you some this afternoon. You don't want them after they've been lying about, do you?"

"Oh, I'm not particular," smiled Pussy.

"Oh no," he said. "They'll be dusty."

He went up to Clara's bench.

"Sorry I left these things littering about," he said.

She flushed scarlet. He gathered them together in his fist.

"They'll be dirty now," he said. "You should have taken them. I wonder why you didn't. I meant to have told you I wanted you to."

He flung them out of the window into the yard below. He just glanced at her. She winced from his eyes.

In the afternoon he brought another packet.

"Will you take some?" he said, offering them first to Clara. "These are fresh."

She accepted one, and put it on to the bench.

"Oh, take several--for luck," he said.

She took a couple more, and put them on the bench also. Then she turned in confusion to her work. He went on up the room.

"Here you are, Pussy," he said. "Don't be greedy!"

"Are they all for her?" cried the others, rushing up.

"Of course they're not," he said.

The girls clamoured round. Pussy drew back from her mates.

"Come out!" she cried. "I can have first pick, can't I, Paul?"

"Be nice with 'em," he said, and went away.

"You ARE a dear," the girls cried.

"Tenpence," he answered.

He went past Clara without speaking. She felt the three chocolate creams would burn her if she touched them. It needed all her courage to slip them into the pocket of her apron.

The girls loved him and were afraid of him. He was so nice while he was nice, but if he were offended, so distant, treating them as if they scarcely existed, or not more than the bobbins of thread. And then, if they were impudent, he said quietly: "Do you mind going on with your work," and stood and watched.

When he celebrated his twenty-third birthday, the house was in trouble. Arthur was just going to be married. His mother was not well. His father, getting an old man, and lame from his accidents, was given a paltry, poor job. Miriam was an eternal reproach. He felt he owed himself to her, yet could not give himself. The house, moreover, needed his support. He was pulled in all directions. He was not glad it was his birthday. It made him bitter.

He got to work at eight o'clock. Most of the clerks had not turned up. The girls were not due till 8.30. As he was changing his coat, he heard a voice behind him say:

"Paul, Paul, I want you."

It was Fanny, the hunchback, standing at the top of her stairs, her face radiant with a secret. Paul looked at her in astonishment.

"I want you," she said.

He stood, at a loss.

"Come on," she coaxed. "Come before you begin on the letters."

He went down the half-dozen steps into her dry, narrow, "finishing-off" room. Fanny walked before him: her black bodice was short--the waist was under her armpits--and her green-black cashmere skirt seemed very long, as she strode with big strides before the young man, himself so graceful. She went to her seat at the narrow end of the room, where the window opened on to chimney-pots. Paul watched her thin hands and her flat red wrists as she excitedly twitched her white apron, which was spread on the bench in front of her. She hesitated.

"You didn't think we'd forgot you?" she asked, reproachful.

"Why?" he asked. He had forgotten his birthday himself.

"'Why,' he says! 'Why!' Why, look here!" She pointed to the calendar, and he saw, surrounding the big black number "21", hundreds of little crosses in black-lead.

"Oh, kisses for my birthday," he laughed. "How did you know?"

"Yes, you want to know, don't you?" Fanny mocked, hugely delighted. "There's one from everybody--except Lady Clara--and two from some. But I shan't tell you how many I put."

"Oh, I know, you're spooney," he said.

"There you ARE mistaken!" she cried, indignant. "I could never be so soft." Her voice was strong and contralto.

"You always pretend to be such a hard-hearted hussy," he laughed. "And you know you're as sentimental---"

"I'd rather be called sentimental than frozen meat," Fanny blurted. Paul knew she referred to Clara, and he smiled.

"Do you say such nasty things about me?" he laughed.

"No, my duck," the hunchback woman answered, lavishly tender. She was thirty-nine. "No, my duck, because you don't think yourself a fine figure in marble and us nothing but dirt. I'm as good as you, aren't I, Paul?" and the question delighted her.

"Why, we're not better than one another, are we?" he replied.

"But I'm as good as you, aren't I, Paul?" she persisted daringly.

"Of course you are. If it comes to goodness, you're better."

She was rather afraid of the situation. She might get hysterical.

"I thought I'd get here before the others--won't they say I'm deep! Now shut your eyes---" she said.

"And open your mouth, and see what God sends you," he continued, suiting action to words, and expecting a piece of chocolate. He heard the rustle of the apron, and a faint clink of metal. "I'm going to look," he said.

He opened his eyes. Fanny, her long cheeks flushed, her blue eyes shining, was gazing at him. There was a little bundle of paint-tubes on the bench before him. He turned pale.

"No, Fanny," he said quickly.

"From us all," she answered hastily.

"No, but---"

"Are they the right sort?" she asked, rocking herself with delight.

"Jove! they're the best in the catalogue."

"But they're the right sorts?" she cried.

"They're off the little list I'd made to get when my ship came in." He bit his lip.

Fanny was overcome with emotion. She must turn the conversation.

"They was all on thorns to do it; they all paid their shares, all except the Queen of Sheba."

The Queen of Sheba was Clara.

"And wouldn't she join?" Paul asked.

"She didn't get the chance; we never told her; we wasn't going to have HER bossing THIS show. We didn't WANT her to join."

Paul laughed at the woman. He was much moved. At last he must go. She was very close to him. Suddenly she flung her arms round his neck and kissed him vehemently.

"I can give you a kiss to-day," she said apologetically. "You've looked so white, it's made my heart ache."

Paul kissed her, and left her. Her arms were so pitifully thin that his heart ached also.

That day he met Clara as he ran downstairs to wash his hands at dinner-time.

"You have stayed to dinner!" he exclaimed. It was unusual for her.

"Yes; and I seem to have dined on old surgical-appliance stock. I MUST go out now, or I shall feel stale india-rubber right through."

She lingered. He instantly caught at her wish.

"You are going anywhere?" he asked.

They went together up to the Castle. Outdoors she dressed very plainly, down to ugliness; indoors she always looked nice. She walked with hesitating steps alongside Paul, bowing and turning away from him. Dowdy in dress, and drooping, she showed to great disadvantage. He could scarcely recognise her strong form, that seemed to slumber with power. She appeared almost insignificant, drowning her stature in her stoop, as she shrank from the public gaze.

The Castle grounds were very green and fresh. Climbing the precipitous ascent, he laughed and chattered, but she was silent, seeming to brood over something. There was scarcely time to go inside the squat, square building that crowns the bluff of rock. They leaned upon the wall where the cliff runs sheer down to the Park. Below them, in their holes in the sandstone, pigeons preened themselves and cooed softly. Away down upon the boulevard at the foot of the rock, tiny trees stood in their own pools of shadow, and tiny people went scurrying about in almost ludicrous importance.

"You feel as if you could scoop up the folk like tadpoles, and have a handful of them," he said.

She laughed, answering:

"Yes; it is not necessary to get far off in order to see us proportionately. The trees are much more significant."

"Bulk only," he said.

She laughed cynically.

Away beyond the boulevard the thin stripes of the metals showed upon the railway-track, whose margin was crowded with little stacks of timber, beside which smoking toy engines fussed. Then the silver string of the canal lay at random among the black heaps. Beyond, the dwellings, very dense on the river flat, looked like black, poisonous herbage, in thick rows and crowded beds, stretching right away, broken now and then by taller plants, right to where the river glistened in a hieroglyph across the country. The steep scarp cliffs across the river looked puny. Great stretches of country darkened with trees and faintly brightened with corn-land, spread towards the haze, where the hills rose blue beyond grey.

"It is comforting," said Mrs. Dawes, "to think the town goes no farther. It is only a LITTLE sore upon the country yet."

"A little scab," Paul said.

She shivered. She loathed the town. Looking drearily across at the country which was forbidden her, her impassive face, pale and hostile, she reminded Paul of one of the bitter, remorseful angels.

"But the town's all right," he said; "it's only temporary. This is the crude, clumsy make-shift we've practised on, till we find out what the idea is. The town will come all right."

The pigeons in the pockets of rock, among the perched bushes, cooed comfortably. To the left the large church of St. Mary rose into space, to keep close company with the Castle, above the heaped rubble of the town. Mrs. Dawes smiled brightly as she looked across the country.

"I feel better," she said.

"Thank you," he replied. "Great compliment!"

"Oh, my brother!" she laughed.

"H'm! that's snatching back with the left hand what you gave with the right, and no mistake," he said.

She laughed in amusement at him.

"But what was the matter with you?" he asked. "I know you were brooding something special. I can see the stamp of it on your face yet."

"I think I will not tell you," she said.

"All right, hug it," he answered.

She flushed and bit her lip.

"No," she said, "it was the girls."

"What about 'em?" Paul asked.

"They have been plotting something for a week now, and to-day they seem particularly full of it. All alike; they insult me with their secrecy."

"Do they?" he asked in concern.

"I should not mind," she went on, in the metallic, angry tone, "if they did not thrust it into my face--the fact that they have a secret."

"Just like women," said he.

"It is hateful, their mean gloating," she said intensely.

Paul was silent. He knew what the girls gloated over. He was sorry to be the cause of this new dissension.

"They can have all the secrets in the world," she went on, brooding bitterly; "but they might refrain from glorying in them, and making me feel more out of it than ever. It is--it is almost unbearable."

Paul thought for a few minutes. He was much perturbed.

"I will tell you what it's all about," he said, pale and nervous. "It's my birthday, and they've bought me a fine lot of paints, all the girls. They're jealous of you"--he felt her stiffen coldly at the word 'jealous'--"merely because I sometimes bring you a book," he added slowly. "But, you see, it's only a trifle. Don't bother about it, will you--because"--he laughed quickly--"well, what would they say if they saw us here now, in spite of their victory?"

She was angry with him for his clumsy reference to their present intimacy. It was almost insolent of him. Yet he was so quiet, she forgave him, although it cost her an effort.

Their two hands lay on the rough stone parapet of the Castle wall. He had inherited from his mother a fineness of mould, so that his hands were small and vigorous. Hers were large, to match her large limbs, but white and powerful looking. As Paul looked at them he knew her. "She is wanting somebody to take her hands--for all she is so contemptuous of us," he said to himself. And she saw nothing but his two hands, so warm and alive, which seemed to live for her. He was brooding now, staring out over the country from under sullen brows. The little, interesting diversity of shapes had vanished from the scene; all that remained was a vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy, the same in all the houses and the river-flats and the people and the birds; they were only shapen differently. And now that the forms seemed to have melted away, there remained the mass from which all the landscape was composed, a dark mass of struggle and pain. The factory, the girls, his mother, the large, uplifted church, the thicket of the town, merged into one atmosphere--dark, brooding, and sorrowful, every bit.

"Is that two o'clock striking?" Mrs. Dawes said in surprise.

Paul started, and everything sprang into form, regained its individuality, its forgetfulness, and its cheerfulness.

They hurried back to work.

When he was in the rush of preparing for the night's post, examining the work up from Fanny's room, which smelt of ironing, the evening postman came in.

"'Mr. Paul Morel,'" he said, smiling, handing Paul a package. "A lady's handwriting! Don't let the girls see it."

The postman, himself a favourite, was pleased to make fun of the girls' affection for Paul.

It was a volume of verse with a brief note: "You will allow me to send you this, and so spare me my isolation. I also sympathise and wish you well.--C.D." Paul flushed hot.

"Good Lord! Mrs. Dawes. She can't afford it. Good Lord, who ever'd have thought it!"

He was suddenly intensely moved. He was filled with the warmth of her. In the glow he could almost feel her as if she were present--her arms, her shoulders, her bosom, see them, feel them, almost contain them.

This move on the part of Clara brought them into closer intimacy. The other girls noticed that when Paul met Mrs. Dawes his eyes lifted and gave that peculiar bright greeting which they could interpret. Knowing he was unaware, Clara made no sign, save that occasionally she turned aside her face from him when he came upon her.

They walked out together very often at dinner-time; it was quite open, quite frank. Everybody seemed to feel that he was quite unaware of the state of his own feeling, and that nothing was wrong. He talked to her now with some of the old fervour with which he had talked to Miriam, but he cared less about the talk; he did not bother about his conclusions.

One day in October they went out to Lambley for tea. Suddenly they came to a halt on top of the hill. He climbed and sat on a gate, she sat on the stile. The afternoon was perfectly still, with a dim haze, and yellow sheaves glowing through. They were quiet.

"How old were you when you married?" he asked quietly.

"Twenty-two."

Her voice was subdued, almost submissive. She would tell him now.

"It is eight years ago?"

"Yes."

"And when did you leave him?"

"Three years ago."

"Five years! Did you love him when you married him?"

She was silent for some time; then she said slowly:

"I thought I did--more or less. I didn't think much about it. And he wanted me. I was very prudish then."

"And you sort of walked into it without thinking?"

"Yes. I seemed to have been asleep nearly all my life."

"Somnambule? But--when did you wake up?"

"I don't know that I ever did, or ever have--since I was a child."

"You went to sleep as you grew to be a woman? How queer! And he didn't wake you?"

"No; he never got there," she replied, in a monotone.

The brown birds dashed over the hedges where the rose-hips stood naked and scarlet.

"Got where?" he asked.

"At me. He never really mattered to me."

The afternoon was so gently warm and dim. Red roofs of the cottages burned among the blue haze. He loved the day. He could feel, but he could not understand, what Clara was saying.

"But why did you leave him? Was he horrid to you?"

She shuddered lightly.

"He--he sort of degraded me. He wanted to bully me because he hadn't got me. And then I felt as if I wanted to run, as if I was fastened and bound up. And he seemed dirty."

"I see."

He did not at all see.

"And was he always dirty?" he asked.

"A bit," she replied slowly. "And then he seemed as if he couldn't get AT me, really. And then he got brutal--he WAS brutal!"

"And why did you leave him finally?"

"Because--because he was unfaithful to me---"

They were both silent for some time. Her hand lay on the gate-post as she balanced. He put his own over it. His heart beat quickly.

"But did you--were you ever--did you ever give him a chance?"

"Chance? How?"

"To come near to you."

"I married him--and I was willing---"

They both strove to keep their voices steady.

"I believe he loves you," he said.

"It looks like it," she replied.

He wanted to take his hand away, and could not. She saved him by removing her own. After a silence, he began again:

"Did you leave him out of count all along?"

"He left me," she said.

"And I suppose he couldn't MAKE himself mean everything to you?"

"He tried to bully me into it."

But the conversation had got them both out of their depth. Suddenly Paul jumped down.

"Come on," he said. "Let's go and get some tea."

They found a cottage, where they sat in the cold parlour. She poured out his tea. She was very quiet. He felt she had withdrawn again from him. After tea, she stared broodingly into her tea-cup, twisting her wedding ring all the time. In her abstraction she took the ring off her finger, stood it up, and spun it upon the table. The gold became a diaphanous, glittering globe. It fell, and the ring was quivering upon the table. She spun it again and again. Paul watched, fascinated.

But she was a married woman, and he believed in simple friendship. And he considered that he was perfectly honourable with regard to her. It was only a friendship between man and woman, such as any civilised persons might have.

He was like so many young men of his own age. Sex had become so complicated in him that he would have denied that he ever could want Clara or Miriam or any woman whom he knew. Sex desire was a sort of detached thing, that did not belong to a woman. He loved Miriam with his soul. He grew warm at the thought of Clara, he battled with her, he knew the curves of her breast and shoulders as if they had been moulded inside him; and yet he did not positively desire her. He would have denied it for ever. He believed himself really bound to Miriam. If ever he should marry, some time in the far future, it would be his duty to marry Miriam. That he gave Clara to understand, and she said nothing, but left him to his courses. He came to her, Mrs. Dawes, whenever he could. Then he wrote frequently to Miriam, and visited the girl occasionally. So he went on through the winter; but he seemed not so fretted. His mother was easier about him. She thought he was getting away from Miriam.

Miriam knew now how strong was the attraction of Clara for him; but still she was certain that the best in him would triumph. His feeling for Mrs. Dawes--who, moreover, was a married woman-was shallow and temporal, compared with his love for herself. He would come back to her, she was sure; with some of his young freshness gone, perhaps, but cured of his desire for the lesser things which other women than herself could give him. She could bear all if he were inwardly true to her and must come back.

He saw none of the anomaly of his position. Miriam was his old friend, lover, and she belonged to Bestwood and home and his youth. Clara was a newer friend, and she belonged to Nottingham, to life, to the world. It seemed to him quite plain.

Mrs. Dawes and he had many periods of coolness, when they saw little of each other; but they always came together again.

"Were you horrid with Baxter Dawes?" he asked her. It was a thing that seemed to trouble him.

"In what way?"

"Oh, I don't know. But weren't you horrid with him? Didn't you do something that knocked him to pieces?"

"What, pray?"

"Making him feel as if he were nothing--I know," Paul declared.

"You are so clever, my friend," she said coolly.

The conversation broke off there. But it made her cool with him for some time.

She very rarely saw Miriam now. The friendship between the two women was not broken off, but considerably weakened.

"Will you come in to the concert on Sunday afternoon?" Clara asked him just after Christmas.

"I promised to go up to Willey Farm," he replied.

"Oh, very well."

"You don't mind, do you?" he asked.

"Why should I?" she answered.

Which almost annoyed him.

"You know," he said, "Miriam and I have been a lot to each other ever since I was sixteen--that's seven years now."

"It's a long time," Clara replied.

"Yes; but somehow she--it doesn't go right---"

"How?" asked Clara.

"She seems to draw me and draw me, and she wouldn't leave a single hair of me free to fall out and blow away--she'd keep it."

"But you like to be kept."

"No," he said, "I don't. I wish it could be normal, give and take-like me and you. I want a woman to keep me, but not in her pocket."

"But if you love her, it couldn't be normal, like me and you."

"Yes; I should love her better then. She sort of wants me so much that I can't give myself."

"Wants you how?"

"Wants the soul out of my body. I can't help shrinking back from her."

"And yet you love her!"

"No, I don't love her. I never even kiss her."

"Why not?" Clara asked.

"I don't know."

"I suppose you're afraid," she said.

"I'm not. Something in me shrinks from her like hell--she's so good, when I'm not good."

"How do you know what she is?"

"I do! I know she wants a sort of soul union."

"But how do you know what she wants?"

"I've been with her for seven years."

"And you haven't found out the very first thing about her."

"What's that?"

"That she doesn't want any of your soul communion. That's your own imagination. She wants you."

He pondered over this. Perhaps he was wrong.

"But she seems---" he began.

"You've never tried," she answered.

保罗二十三岁时,送了一幅风景画参加诺丁汉姆堡的冬季画展,乔丹小姐对他很感兴趣,邀请他去她家做客。他在那儿认识了其他一些画家,使他开始变得野心勃勃。

一天早晨,他正在洗碗间洗漱,邮递员来了,突然,他听到母亲一声狂叫,他赶紧冲进厨房,只见她站在炉前的地毯上,拼命地挥舞着一封信,嘴里大喊“好啊!”就像发了疯。他吃了一惊。吓得要死。

“怎么了,妈妈!”他惊呼道。

她飞奔向他,伸出双臂抱了他片刻,然后挥舞着信,大叫道:

“好啊,我的孩子!我就知道咱们会成功的!”

他有点怕她——这个身材矮小、神态严肃、头发斑白的女人怎么会突然变得这样疯狂。邮递员生怕出什么事,又跑了回来。母子俩看见他歪戴着的帽子出现在半截门帘上方,莫瑞尔太太便冲到门边。

“他的画得了一等奖,弗雷德,”她大叫着说,“还卖了二十个金币。”

“天哪,真了不起!”他们熟识的年轻的邮递员说。

“莫尔顿少校买下了那幅画!”她大叫着说。

“看来确实了不起,真的,莫瑞尔太太,”邮递员说着,蓝眼睛闪闪发亮,为自己送来了一个喜讯而高兴。莫瑞尔太太走进里屋,坐下来,颤抖着。保罗担心她看错了信,落得空欢喜一场,于是他仔仔细细地把信看了一遍又一遍。不错,他这才相信竟是真的,他坐下来。颗心乐得怦怦直跳

“妈妈!”他次呼似的喊。

“我不是说过咱们总会成功吗?”她说着竭力不让他看到自己在哭。

他从火炉上取下水壶,冲上茶。

“你当时没想到过,妈妈——”他试探着说。

“没有,我的孩子——没有想到这样大的成功——不过我对你期望很高。”

“没那么高吧?”他说。

“不——不——可我知道咱们总会成功。”

随后,她恢复了镇静,至少表面上这样。他敞开衬衣坐着,露出几乎象女孩子一样细嫩的脖子,手里拿着毛巾,头发湿淋淋地竖着。

“二十个金币,妈妈!正好够你给亚瑟赎身的钱。现在你不必再借钱了,正好够用。”

“可是,我不能都拿去。”她说。

“这为什么?”

“因为我不愿意。”

“好吧——你有二十英镑,我添九英镑。”

两人反复地商量怎么分这二十个金币。她只想拿她需要的五英镑,他却不依,于是两人吵了一场,以此平息了心中的兴奋。晚上莫瑞尔从矿井回到家里就说:

“他们告诉我保罗的画得了一等奖,并且五十镑卖给了亨利·本特利公爵。”

“噢,瞧人们编的故事多动听!”她大叫着。

“嘿!”他答道,“我说过这准是瞎说,但是他们说是你告诉弗雷德·霍基森的。”

“好像我真会告诉他这番话似的!”

“嘿!”莫瑞尔附和着说。

但是他还是觉得很扫兴。

“他真的得了一等奖。”莫瑞尔太太说。

莫瑞尔一屁股重重地坐在椅子上。

“真的,我的天呐!”他惊呼道。

他呆呆地盯着房间对面的墙。

“至于五十镑——纯属胡说!”她沉默了一会儿。“莫尔顿少校花了二十个金币买了那幅画,这倒是真的。”

“二十个金币!没有的事吧!”莫瑞尔大叫道。

“没错,而且也值这么多。”

“哎!”他说,“我不是不信,但是用二十个金币买一幅他一两个小时就可以画出来的东西!”

他暗暗为儿子感到自豪。莫瑞尔太太若无其事地哼了一声。

“这钱他几时到手?”莫瑞尔问。

“那我可说不上,我想总得等画送到他家以后吧。”

大家都沉默了。莫瑞尔只是盯着糖罐,却不吃饭。他那黝黑的胳膊搁在桌子上。手由于干活磨得粗糙不堪。他用手背擦着眼睛,把煤屑抹得一张黑脸上全是,妻子假装没有看见。

“是啊,要是另外那个孩子,没被整死的话,也会这么有出息。”他悄悄地说。

想起威廉,莫瑞尔太太感到心里像是被冰冷的刀子扎了一下。这时她才感到自己非常疲倦,要休息了。

乔丹先生邀请保罗去吃饭。回来后他说:

“妈妈,我想要套夜礼服。”

“是啊,我想你该有一套。”她说着心里感到高兴。两人沉默了一会儿。“家里有威廉的那一套,”她继续说,“我知道他花了四镑十先令,而他只穿了三次。”

“你愿意让我穿这一套吗,妈妈?”他问。

“是的,我想你穿着合身——至少上衣准合身。裤子要改短些。”

他上楼去,穿好上衣和背心。下来时,只见他的夜礼服上衣和背心里露出一截绒布领子和衬衣前襟,怪模怪样,而且衣服相当肥大。

“裁缝改一下就好了。”她说着,用手抚摸着他的肩膀。“料子很漂亮,我从来舍不得让你爸爸穿这条裤子,现在我非常高兴让你穿。”当她手刚摸到领结,就想起了大儿子。不过眼前穿这套衣服的是个活生生的儿子。她的手顺势往下摸到他的脊背,他活着,是属于她的儿子,而另一个已不在人世了。

他穿着威廉生前的夜礼服出去参加了几次宴会。每次母亲都是既骄傲又欣喜,心里很踏实。他现在开始出头露面了。她和孩子们给威廉买的饰针都钉在了他的衬衣前襟上,他还穿着威廉的一件衬衣。但是他的体态优雅,相貌虽然粗扩,却是春风满面,很讨人喜欢。他看上去虽不特别像一位绅士,可是她觉得他的确富有男子气。

他把所见所闻统统都告诉她,她听了像亲自在场一样。而他呢,急于想把她介绍给当晚七点半一起用餐的这些新朋友。

“自己去吧,”她说,“他们认识我干嘛?”

“他们想认识你!”他愤愤不平地大叫,“如果他们想认识我——他们说他们真的想认识我——那么他们也想认识你,因为你和我一样聪明。”

“去你的吧,孩子!”她大笑道。

可是,她开始爱惜自己的双手。如今这双手由于干活磨得非常粗糙,在热水中泡了这么长时间,皮肤都透亮了,而且指关节也肿了。不过,她开始小心不碰苏打水,她惋惜当初自己的一双手——长得又纤小又细腻。安妮坚持要她添几件适合她这个年龄的时髦外衣,她也顺从了。她甚至还允许在发际上别一个黑丝绒蝴蝶结,然后,她就嘲讽似的对自己嗤之以鼻,确认自己看上去一定怪模怪样。但是,保罗却宣称她看上去像一位贵夫人,跟莫尔顿上校夫人不相上下,甚至有过之而无不及。家境日渐好转,只有莫瑞尔依然如此,倒不如说是慢慢垮下去了。

如今保罗和母亲经常就人生进行长时间的讨论。宗教意识在他心灵中渐渐消退。他已经铲除了所有妨碍他的信念,扫清了道路,不同程度地树立了这样的信仰,即人应该凭自己的内心来辨别是非,而且应该有耐心去逐渐认识自己心中的上帝。如今生活使他兴趣盎然。

“你知道,”他对母亲说,“我不想路身富裕的中产阶级,我愿意作普通的平民百姓,我属于平民百姓中的一员。”

“可要是别人这样说,你听了难道不会难受吗?你要知道你自认为可以与任何绅士媲美。”

“从我内心来说是如此。”他回答,“可是从我的出身,我的教育或我的举止看并非如此,而从我本身来说,我的确可以与他们并驾齐驱。”

“很好,那你干嘛又谈论什么平民百姓呢?”

“因为——人与人之间的差别不在于他们所处的阶级,而在于他们本身。一个人从中产阶级那里能获得思想,而从平民百姓中——能获得生活的热情,你能感到他们的爱与恨。”

“很不错,我的孩子。可是你为什么不去和你爸爸的伙伴谈谈呢?”

“可他们截然不同。”

“一点也不。他们是平民百姓。你现在到底和谁混在一起呢?是那些改变了思想,变得像中产阶级的人,而其他在平民百姓中的人引不起你的兴趣的。”

“可是——他们那儿有生活——”

“我不相信你从米丽亚姆那儿得到的就一定超过从任何一个有教养的姑娘那儿得到的——一比如说莫尔顿小姐—一是你自己对出身抱有偏见。”

她真诚地希望他能脐身于中产阶级,她知道这并不难。最终她要他娶个名门淑女。

她开始跟一直在六神不安、满心烦恼的他进行斗争。他依然跟米丽亚姆有来往,既不能彻底摆脱,又不能下决心订婚。这种优柔寡断似乎把他搞得精疲力竭。更糟的是母亲还疑心他对克莱拉也在暗中倾心,何况克莱拉是个有夫之妇。母亲希望他能与一个生活条件比较优越的姑娘相爱。但是,他就是傻,仅仅因为姑娘社会地位高就不愿意去爱她,甚至连表示爱慕之意都不情愿。

“我的孩子,”母亲对他说,“你聪明,敢于与旧事物决裂,能掌握自己的命运,可这些似乎都没给你带来任何幸福。”

“什么是幸福,”他大叫道。“我才不在乎呢!我会幸福吗?”

这鲁莽的话使她心烦意乱。

“这就要你去判断了,我的孩子。但如果你遇到一位能使你幸福的好女人——你就会开始考虑成家——当你有了养家糊口的途径时——你就可以安心工作,不必日夜烦恼——这样你的日子就好过多了。”

他皱皱眉。母亲正好触到了他与米丽亚姆关系的痛处。他撩开额前乱糟糟的头发,两眼冒火,痛苦万分。

“你图的是安乐,妈妈,”他大叫道,“那是女人的全部的生活信条——心灵和肉体的安逸舒适。可我瞧不起这些。”

“哦,是吗!”母亲答道。“那你的生活信条就是超凡入圣的不满足?”

“是的,我不管是不是超凡入圣。那是你要的幸福!只要生活充实,幸福与否根本不重要,恐怕你所谓的幸福会使我厌烦。”

“你从不肯找个机会试试!”她说。接着她把对他的忧虑全部发泄出来。“可是这的确有关系!”她大叫道:“你应该争取幸福,生活得幸福。我怎能忍心看你生活得不幸福!”

“你自己的生活已经够糟的了,可是这也没有使你比那些比较幸福的亲戚处境更糟。我认为你尽力了,我也如此,我不是过得很好吗?”

“你过得不好,我的儿子。搏斗——搏斗——还有受苦,这就是你所做的,这也是我所知道所看到的一切。”

“可为什么不呢,亲爱的?我告诉你这是最好的……”

“不是,每个人应当幸福。每人应该的。”

说到这儿,莫瑞尔太太不由得浑身发抖。她好像在竭力保全他的性命,且试图打消他自甘灭亡的念头似的,母子之间经常发生这样的争执。保罗用双臂搂住母亲,她既虚弱又可怜。

“不要紧,妈妈,”他咕哝着说,“只要你不觉得生活的艰辛与做人的悲惨,余生幸福与否根本无关紧要。”

她紧紧搂住他。

“可是我想让你幸福。”她可怜巴巴地说。

“呃,亲爱的——不如说你要我活下去。”

莫瑞尔太太觉得自己的心为他操碎了。眼下这种情形,她知道他是活不下去的。他对自己,对自己所受的苦,对自己的生活抱有一种满不在乎的态度,这简直是一种慢性自杀。她的心几乎都要碎了。莫瑞尔太太生性激烈,她极其痛恨米丽亚姆阴险地破坏了他的欢乐。尽管米丽亚姆并没有什么过错,可她不管这些,米丽亚姆破坏了他的欢乐幸福,她就痛恨米丽亚姆。

她多么希望他会爱上一个相配的姑娘作伴侣——既有教养,身体又强壮。可是他对身份地位比他高的姑娘连看都不看。他好像喜欢道伍斯太太,无论如何,这种感情还是健康的。母亲日夜为他祈祷,希望他不要虚度青春。她所祈祷的——既不是为他的灵魂,也不是为他的正直,而是求神保佑他不要虚度年华。当他睡觉的时候,她时时刻刻都在为他思虑,为他祈祷。

他不知不觉跟米丽亚姆疏远了。亚瑟为了结婚而离开军队,婚后六个月就生下孩子。莫瑞尔太太又替他在公司里找到了一份工作,周薪二十一先令。靠比特利斯母亲的帮助,她给他布置好一套两间房的小屋。现在亚瑟被绊住手脚了。不管他怎么挣扎,怎么折腾,终于给拴住了。有一阵子他对深爱着他的年轻妻子发火,使性子。每当娇嫩的小宝宝哭闹时,他就被搅得心烦意乱。他向母亲诉了半天苦。她只是说:“好啦,我的孩子,你自作自受。现在你必须好好过日子。”于是,他拿出勇气,认真地干活,负担起自己的责任,承认自己属于妻子和孩子,真的好好过起日子来。以前他就跟父母的家不太亲热,如今就更少来往了。

几个月的时间慢慢地过去了。保罗由于认识了克莱拉,多少与诺丁汉姆城的社会主义者、女权主义者和唯一神教派的教徒有了来往。一天,他和克莱拉都认识的在贝斯伍德的一个朋友请他给道伍斯夫人捎个口信。他当晚就穿过斯拿顿市场到蓝铃山去了。在一条铺着鹅卵石,两旁的人行道砌着瓦楞青砖的简陋的小街上,他找到了那栋房子。行人的脚步踩在这条崎岖的人行道上发出嘎嚓嘎嚓、吧嗒吧嗒的响声,紧靠人行道,跨上一级台阶就是屋子的大门,门上的棕色油漆已经剥落,裂缝间裸露木头。他站在街上敲门,一会儿里面传出一阵沉重的脚步声。一个六十多岁的胖女人赫然屹立在他的面前,他站在人行道上抬眼望着她,她脸孔相当严峻。

她把他领进临时的客厅。客厅很小,死气沉沉的令人发室,里面摆着红木家具,墙上挂着祖先的放大碳墨画像,阴森森的。雷德福德太太撇下他离开了。她威风凛凛的,神情庄重。一会儿克莱拉出来了,脸涨得通红。他心里感到一片迷惑,她似乎不太愿意在自己家里看到别人。

“我还以为不是你的声音呢!”她说。

她一不做,二不休,索性把他从阴森森的客厅请进了厨房。

那也是一间又小又黑的屋子,不过屋里全被白花网覆盖,她母亲已经重新坐到碗柜边从一大块花边网上抽着线,她的右手放着一团毛茸茸、松散的棉线,左边放着很多四分三英寸宽的花边,面前那块炉边的地毯上堆着一大堆花边网。从花边网上抽出来的棉纱线就撒在壁炉边和围栏上。保罗生怕踩在棉纱堆上,不敢走上前。

梳理花边的纺纱机放在桌上,还有一叠棕色的纸板,一捆绕花边的纸板,一小盒针,沙发上还放着一堆抽过线的花边。

屋子里全是花边,光线又暗、气温又热,把雪白的花边衬托得格外醒目。

“既然你进屋了,就不必管这些活了。”雷德福德太太说,“我知道我们几乎堵死了道。不过,请坐。”

克莱拉感到格外窘迫,她让他坐在一张正对着白花边靠墙的椅子上,自己则十分羞涩地坐在沙发上。

“你想喝点黑啤酒吗?”雷德福德太太问,“克莱拉,给他拿瓶黑啤酒。”

他推辞着,可是雷德福德太太硬劝他喝。

“你看上去还对付得了这酒,”她说,“难道你从来没因喝酒而红脸吗?”

“幸好我脸皮厚,看不出血色来。”他回答道。

克莱拉又羞又恼,给他拿来一瓶黑啤酒和一个杯子。他倒了一杯黑啤酒喝。

“好,”他举起杯说,“祝你健康!”

“谢谢你。”雷德福德太太说。

他把黑啤酒一饮而尽。

“自己点上支烟吧,只要你不把房子烧着了就行。”雷德福德太太说道。

“谢谢你。”他回答道。

“别,你不必谢我,”她答道,“我很高兴在这房子里又能闻到点烟味。我以为屋子里要全是妇人就跟没生火的屋子一样死气沉沉。我可不是一只喜欢守着墙角的蜘蛛,我喜欢有个男人陪伴,只要他多少能让人骂几句就行了。”

克莱拉开始干活了。她的纺车呜噜呜噜地转动着,白色花边从她指缝间跳到纸板上,一张纸板绕满了,她就把线铰断,把一头别在绕好的花边下面。然后,在纺纱机上安一张新纸板。保罗注视着她,她一本正经地坐着,脖子和双臂都裸露在外面,两耳还羞得通红,她惭愧的低着头,满睑专注的干活神态。她的双臂衬着白色花边,更显得肤如凝脂,充满了活力。两只保养得很细嫩的手灵活地干着活,她从容地干着。他不知不觉地一直这样望着她。她低头的时候,他看见她脖子和肩头相连处的曲线,看到她暗褐色的花髻,看着移动的闪亮的双臂。

“我听克莱拉提及过你,”她母亲继续说,“你在乔丹的厂里工作,是吗?”她不停地抽着花边。

“是的。”

“嗳,说起来,我还记得托马斯·乔丹曾经向我要太妃糖吃呢。”

“是呀!”保罗笑道,“他吃到了吗?”

“有时候能,有时吃不到——这是后来的事了。因为他就是那种人,光拿人家的而从不舍得给人家,他是——至少过去是这样的。”

“我觉得他很正派。”保罗说。

“是的。我很高兴听你这么说。”

雷德福德太太坦然地盯着他看。他身上有某种她喜欢的果断神情。她的脸上的皮肉虽然松弛了,可是依然神色镇定,身上有种坚强的气质,所以她看上去不见老,只有皱纹和松弛的面颊显示出岁月的过失。她具有正值青春的少妇的力量和沉着。她继续慢慢地、优雅地抽着花边,巨大的花边网很自然地堆在她的裙上;一段花边落在她的身边一她双臂形态优美,只是如象牙般发黄且泛着油光,当然,没有克莱拉双臂那种深深迷住他的柔和光泽。

“你一直都跟米丽亚姆·莱渥斯相好?”她母亲问他。

“嗯……。”他答道。

“哦,她是个好姑娘。”她继续说。“她非常好,不过她有点太高做了,我不喜欢。”

“她是有点儿这样。”他表示赞同。

“她要不长上翅膀从众人头上飞过才不会甘心呢,决不甘心。”她说。

克莱拉打断了话头,于是他告诉她捎来的口信。她低声下气地跟他说话。他在她做苦工时拜访了她,她丝毫没有料到。但能使她如此低声下气,他不由得感到情绪高昂,仿佛看到了希望似的。

“你喜欢纺线吗?”他问。

“女人家还能干什么!”她苦涩地答道。

“这活儿很苦吧?”

“多少有点吧,还不全是女人干的活儿。这就是逼迫把我们女人投入劳动力市场后,男人玩的另一个花招。”

“好了,闭嘴别再谈男人啦。”她母亲说。“我说呀,要不是女人傻,男人不会变坏的。就没有哪个男人敢对我使坏,除非他想惹麻烦。当然啦,男人都是些讨厌的家伙,这自然不必说了。”

“可是他们的确都还不错,对吗?”他问。

“说起来,男人和女人就是有点儿不同。”她答道。

“你还想回乔丹厂去吗?”他问克莱拉。

“不,不想。”她答道。

“想,她想的!”她母亲叫道,“如果她能回去就谢天谢地啦。她总是那么趾高气扬像骑在马背上,而她的马又饿又瘦,总有一天那马背会把她切成两半。”

克莱拉忍受着母亲带来的痛苦。保罗感到自己好像眼睛越睁越大。他是否该把克莱拉平时那些愤愤不平的话当真呢?她正埋头纺线,他想她也许需要他帮助,不由得喜上心头。看来她口头上摒弃,实际上被剥夺而得不到的东西还真不少呢!她的胳膊机械地运动着,可是那双胳膊决不该变成机械零件啊!她的头伏到花边上去了,可是那头决不该伏到花边上去的啊。她不停地纺纱,仿佛被生活抛弃在人间的废墟上,对她来说,被人抛弃的滋味该是多么辛酸,就仿佛世间不再需要她了,难怪她要大声疾呼呢!

她陪他走到大门口。他站在台阶下寒伧的小街上,抬头看着她。她的身材举止都那么文雅,不由得使他想起了被废黜的朱诺。她站在大门口,对那条街,对周围的一切显出畏缩不前的神色。

“你要和霍基森太太去赫克纳尔吗?”

他不着边际地和她说着话,两眼定定地望着她。她那对灰眼睛终于和他的目光相遇了。她双眼带着羞赧地望着保罗,仿佛不幸落在别人手中而在苦苦哀求。他感到心绪纷乱,不知所措。他原以为她是非常高傲和非常坚强的女人。

他一离开她就想逃,他梦魔似的走到了车站,回到家里,还没意识到自己是怎样离开她住的那条街的。

他忽然想起蜷线车间的头苏姗要结婚了。第二天就去问她:

“喂,苏姗,听说你就要结婚了,是吗?”

苏姗涨红了脸。

“谁告诉你的?”她答道。

“没有谁,我只不过听说你想要……”

“算啦,我是想结婚,你用不着告诉别人,而且,我但愿不结算啦!”

“嗳,苏姗,这话可不能让我相信。”

“是吗?不过尽管相信好啦,我倒宁愿在这儿呆下去。”

保罗慌了。

“为什么?苏姗?”

姑娘满脸通红,眼睛发亮。

“不为什么!”

“你一定要结婚吗?”

她看了看他算是回答。他为人坦率诚实,叫女人不由得信赖他,他心里明白。

她眼里噙着泪水。

“不过你等着瞧吧,一切都会好起来的,你好自为之吧。”他若有所思地继续说。

“只能这样了。”

“是啊,做最坏的打算,向最好处努力。”

不久,他又找到机会去拜访克莱拉。

“你愿意再回乔丹的工厂吗?”他说。

她停下手里的活儿,没有回答。脸颊逐渐泛起红潮。

“怎么啦?”她问。

保罗感到相当尴尬。

“哦,因为苏姗想走了。”他说。

克莱拉继续纺线,花边一跳一蹦地绕到了纸板上。

他等着她回答。最后她头也不抬,用古怪的嗓门低低地说,

“这事你对别人说起过没有?”

“除了对你,对别人我一个字也没有说过。”

两人又陷入了长时间的沉默之中。

“等招工广告出来我就去应征吧。”

“你还是先去应征的好。我会告诉你准确时间。”

她继续在那台小机器上纺线,没再跟他抬杠。

克莱拉来到了乔丹的工厂。有些老资格的工人,其中包括芬妮,还记着她先前那一种怪脾气,凭良心说大家对此都耿耿于怀。克莱拉一向板着面孔,沉默寡言,自恃高人一等,从来不跟女工们打成一片。她要是有机会找岔子。就冷冷地找到人家,彬彬有礼地指出错误所在,让入家感到比挨骂还丢脸。对芬妮,这个贫穷可怜、神经紧张的驼背姑娘倒体贴同情,结果惹得芬妮多洒了些辛酸泪,其他监工对她出言不逊,她倒没哭得这么伤心。

克莱拉本身有些地方保罗并不喜欢,甚至很惹他生气。如果她在身边,他总是看着她的健壮的脖颈,还有脖子上蓬蓬松松的金发,那发脚很低。她的脸上和双臂上长着细细的绒毛,几乎看不清。可是他一旦看见一回,总是想看。

他下午画画时,她就走过来,站在他跟前,一动也不动。尽管她不说话也不碰他,他总感到她在身边;尽管她站在一码以外,他总感到她挨着他的身体。于是他再也画不成了。他扔下画笔,干脆回过头去跟她说话。

有时她夸奖他的画,有时却吹毛求疵、冷酷无情。

“那张画得不大自然。”她会说。正因为她的指责中包含着几分真实就更惹得他人冒三丈。

有时他会热情地问:“这张怎么样?”

“呣!”她小声含糊地说,“我觉得没多大意思。”

“因为你不理解它。”他反驳道。

“那你干吗问我?”

“因为我原以为你能理解。”

她耸耸肩对他的画表示不屑。这下可把他气疯了,他暴跳如雷,然后痛骂她一顿,又情绪高昂地把自己的画解释一番。这才吸引了她,引起她的兴致,可是她从来不认错。

在她投入妇女运动的十年中,她接受了一定的教育。而且也感染了几分米丽亚姆的那种热心的求知欲,自学法语,勉强可以阅读。她自以为是个不同一般的人,特别是不同于本阶级的其他女人。蜷线车间的女工全出身于良好家庭。这是规模不大的特殊行业,有一定的声誉。两间工房里都有种高尚优雅的气氛。个过克莱拉就是在她的同事中也显得落落寡合。

可是,这些事她向来都不透露给保罗。她向来不吐露自己的心事。她身上有种神秘感。她沉默寡言,很少开口。他感到她内心私藏着很多事。表面上她过去的真情人人尽知,但是内在的奥秘众人都不知道,这真激动人心。而且有时保罗碰巧发现她绷着脸,偷偷摸摸地用眼角瞅他,他总是赶紧避开。她也常常碰到他的眼光。不过她的眼光好像很快被掩饰过去,毫无真情流露。只给他一个温厚的微笑。对他来说,克莱拉具有特别强烈的刺激性,因为她掌握了一些他无法获得的知识和经验。

有一天,他从她的工作台上拿起一本书。

“你读法文书,是吗?”他惊叫道。

克莱拉漫不经心地瞥了他一眼。她正在做一只淡紫色的弹力丝袜,慢条斯理、有条不紊地转动着蜷线织机,偶尔低头看看手里的活儿,或调整一下织针。这样她的动人的脖颈露了出来,上面长着汗毛和纤细的发丝,衬托着光艳夺目的淡紫色丝绒,越发显得洁白。她又转了几圈才住手。

“你说什么?”她甜甜地一笑,问道。

保罗遭到她如此冷淡无礼的对待,不由得双眼冒火。

“我不知道你懂法文,”他彬彬有礼地说。

“真不知道吗?”她带着一丝嘲笑答道。

“摆臭架子!”他说,不过声音轻得简直听不太清楚。

他望着她生气地缄口不语。她似乎瞧不起自己一针针织的袜子,可是她织的袜子一点毛病也挑不出来。

“你不喜欢蜷线车间的工作?”他说。

“哦,哪里,干什么都是工作。”她回答,仿佛她心里全知道。

他对她的冷淡很吃惊。他无论干什么事都有十分的热情。她一定是个不同寻常的人。

“你愿意干什么?”他问。

她宽厚地对他笑笑,说道:

“我向来没有多少机会挑三拣回的。所以我从不浪费时间考虑这个问题。”

“呸!”他说,现在轮到他表示不屑了。“你这样说只不过出于你太高傲,不愿老实承认自己想得到而偏偏得不到的东西罢了。”

“你倒非常了解。”她冷冷地回答。

“我知道你自以为很了不起,而在厂里干活,你始终蒙受奇耻大辱。”

他怒气冲冲,蛮横鲁莽。她只是不屑一顾地转身离去。他吹着口哨走回车间,去跟希尔达打情骂俏。

事后,他们心自问?

“我干吗对克莱拉这样无礼?”他对自己感到恼火,同时,心里又有几分高兴。“她活该,谁叫她摆臭架子。”他气乎乎地自言自语。

下午他又下楼去了,心里像压了块石头,想请克莱拉吃巧克力,以此减轻心头的重负。

“来一块?”他说,“我买了好些,给自己解馋。”

她真接受了,这使他如释重负。他坐在她的机器旁的工作台上,手指上缠着一络丝。她喜欢他,因为他动作敏捷,简直像一只幼兽。他一边心里琢磨,一边晃动着两腿,巧克力放在工作台上。她身子伏在机器上,有节奏地摇着织机,然后弯下腰看看吊下的袜子,袜子下面附着砣子。他望着她优美的拱身背影和拖在地上的围裙带。

“你好像总是,”他说,“在等待什么,无论我看你做什么,你都不是真正在做,你在等待——就像珀涅罗珀织布时那样。”他情不自禁地开了句玩笑,“我就叫你珀涅罗珀吧。”他说。

“那有什么区别吗?”她说着,仔细挑开一针。

“只要我高兴,无论什么都没关系。嗨,我说,你好像忘了我是你的上司,我刚刚想起来。”

“这话什么意思?”她冷冷地问。

“就是我有权来管你。”

“你对我有什么可挑剔的吗?”

“嗨,我说,你不要这样讨厌好不好?”他生气地说。

“我不知道怎样才不会使你讨厌。”她说着继续干她的活。

“我想要你对我客气些、尊重些。”

“也许要称你‘先生’吧?”她平静地问道。

“对,要称我‘先生’,我十分愿意听。”

“那我希望你上楼去,先生。”

他闭上嘴,皱着眉头。忽然他一下子跳下工作台。

“你对任何人都趾高气扬的。”他说。

说着他走到其他女工那儿去了。他觉得自己火气太大了。实际上,他隐隐地怀疑自己是在卖弄。如果他是在卖弄,那就要卖弄一番。克莱拉听到他在隔壁房间里与女工们说笑,她恨他这么笑。

傍晚,他等女工们都走了,就在车间里转了一圈。他看见巧克力原封不动地搁在克莱拉的机器前。他也照原样留着它不动。第二天早上,巧克力还在,克莱拉在干活。后来,外号叫小猫咪的黑里俏姑娘名妮,高声叫他:

“嗨,你没给大家带巧克力吗?”

“对不起,小猫咪,”他答道,“我本想请客,可我忘带了。”

“我想也是。”她回答。

“下午我给你们带些。乱扔着的巧克力你总不见得想要吧?”

“噢,我倒不大挑剔。”小猫咪微笑着。

“哦,不行,”他说,“那些糖上全是灰尘。”

他往克莱拉的工作台走去。

“对不起,我把这些糖到处乱扔。”他说。

她涨红了脸。他把巧克力一古脑抓在手里。

“现在都脏了,”他说,“你早该吃了,我不知道你干吗不吃。我本想让你吃了的。”

他把巧克力从窗口扔到院子里,然后瞟了她一眼。她不由得避开了他的眼神。

下午,他另带了一盒。

“你想吃点吗?”他说,他先把糖递给克莱拉,“这是新买的。”

她拿了一块,搁在工作台上。

“哦,多拿几块——讨个吉利。”他说。

她又拿了两块,还是放在工作台上。于是她手忙脚乱地干起活来。他一直走到车间那头。

“给你,小猫咪。”他说。“别贪吃啊!”

“全是给她的?”其他女工一哄而上,大叫道。

“当然,不是。”他说。

女工们吵吵嚷嚷地围成一圈,小猫咪从人堆里脱身出来。

“快过来!”她大叫,“我可以先抓,对吗?保罗。”

“最好和她们一块儿。”他说着就走了。

“你真好。”姑娘们叫道。

“不就十便士吗。”他答道。

他一声不哼地走过克莱拉身边。她觉得如果碰碰这三块奶油巧克力,准会烫她的手,需要她鼓足勇气把巧克力装进口袋里。

姑娘们都既爱他,又怕他。他高兴的时候非常和气,可是如果发起火来,十分冷酷,简直不把她们放在眼里,至多当她们是绕丝的简管似的。要是她们再敢涎着脸,他就沉静地说:“请接着干各自的活去,”说完就站在一边监督。

他二十三岁生日那天,家里乱糟糟的。亚瑟正准备结婚。母亲身体也不好,他父亲上了年纪,因为事故跛着腿,只能干些零碎的苦差使。米丽亚姆是他心中永远的创伤。他觉得自己欠她很多,但是又不能把自己给她。另外,他还要养家糊口。他左右为难,过生日并不使他感到高兴,反而倍感难受。

他八点钟就去上班,大多数工人还没到。女工们要等八点半才到。他正换衣服时,听到背后有人说,“保罗,保罗,我要找你。”

原来是驼背的芬妮,正站在楼梯最高一阶上。神色神秘莫测。保罗吃惊地看着她。

“我要找你。”她说

他站着发愣。“来,”她哄着说,“在你还没开始整理信件之前来一下。”

他走下六七级楼梯到了她那间干燥、狭窄的成品间。芬妮走在前头,她的黑色紧身胸衣很短——腋下就是腰身——黑绿两色的开司米裙子看上去挺长的。她迈着大步走在这个年轻人前面,相比之下,就更显得他体形优美。她走到窄窄的车间尽头自己的座位边,那儿的窗户正对着烟囱管。保罗看着她瘦瘦的手和又干瘪又通红的手腕,她不断地用手激动地揉着铺在工作台上的白围裙。她犹豫了。

“你以为我们忘记你了?”她责怪地问。

“怎么啦?”他问,自己把自己的生日倒给忘了。

“‘怎么啦?’她说,“‘怎么啦?’你瞧这个!”她指了指日历,他看到二十一日的黑体字周围有许多个黑铅笔划的小十字。

“噢,给我庆贺生日的亲吻啊。”他大笑道,“你怎么知道的?”

“是啊,你想知道,对吗?”芬妮喜不自胜地取笑道,“大伙儿每人送你一个小十字——除了克莱拉女士——也有送你两个的,可是我不告诉你我划了多少个。”

“噢,我知道,你很多情。”他说。

“那你就错了!”她十分气愤地大叫道,“我从来不会这么温柔。”她以有力的女低音反驳道。

“你总是装做铁石心肠的轻佻女子,”他大笑道,“可你知道,你很多的——。”

“我倒愿意被说成多情,也不愿意被叫做冻肉。”芬妮脱口而出。保罗知道她指的是克莱拉,不觉笑了。

“你谈到我也这么粗鲁吗?”他大笑。

“不,我的宝贝儿,”这位三十九岁驼背女人极其温柔地回答,“没有,我的宝贝儿,因为你并没有自视为大理石雕像而把我们视为粪土。我和你一样的好,是吗?保罗?”这个问题使她非常愉快。

“唉,咱们谁也不比谁强呀,不是吗?”他回答。

“但是,我和你一样好。对吗,保罗?”她大胆地纠缠着问。

“当然啦,要论心肠好坏,你可比我好。”

她有些害怕保罗的好言软语会使她乐得歇斯底里发作。

“我原想我该比大家早到这儿——大家可别说我心眼多!现在闭上眼睛——”她说。

“张开嘴巴,看看上帝赐给你什么。”他接口说,真的张开了嘴,还以为人家会给他一块巧克力呢。他听到围裙窸窸窣窣地响,还听见金属轻轻磕碰的声音。“我可要看啦。”他说。

他睁开眼睛,芬妮长脸涨得通红,蓝眼睛,奕奕发光,正凝视着他。原来他前面的工作台上正放着一小捆颜料管。他脸色发白了。

“不行,芬妮。”他立即说。

“这是大伙儿送的。”她赶紧说。

“不行,可是……”

“颜料是不是买得不合用啊?”她问道,喜滋滋地颤着身子。

“天啊!这是最好的货色。”

“可是不是买得合用啊?”她大叫。

“我就是发财时,也不敢把它们列入短短的采购单上。”他咬咬嘴唇。

芬妮激动得不能自制。她一定得岔开这个话题。

“她们为这事挖空心思,除了希巴女王之外,大家都凑了份子。”

希巴女王指的是克莱拉。

“她不肯凑份子?”保罗问道。

“她没得到这个机会,我们根本没告诉她,我们不想让她打扰这出戏。我们不要她加入。”

保罗朝这女人大笑,心里感动极了。最后,他要走了。她离他非常近,突然,她张开双臂搂住他的脖子,热烈的亲吻他。

“今天我可以给你个吻,”她赔着小心说,“你脸色这么白,真让我心疼。”

保罗吻了她就离开了。她的双臂瘦得可怜,他也觉得心疼。

那天午饭时,他跑下楼去洗手,遇到了克莱拉。

“你竟在这儿吃饭。”他大声说,她可是非同寻常。

“是啊,我好像用一个旧外科手术器械托盘吃的饭,现在我必须出去走走,要不然就会感到满口是印度橡胶般的臭味。”

她说着却不动身。他立即领会到她的意思。

“你要去哪儿?”他问。

他们一起去了城堡,她出门穿得很朴素,几乎近于难看。在屋里她总是十分漂亮。她犹豫不决地跟保罗并肩走着,一会儿低着头,一会儿把脸转过去。由于衣着邋遢,神情不振,她逊色多了。他几乎认不出她那隐藏着无限精力的健壮形体了。她怕抛头露面,故意弯腰弓背,缩着身子,显得过于卑微。

城堡的庭院苍翠欲滴。爬上陡峭的斜坡,他笑声琅琅,口若悬河。可是她却闭口不言,好象在深思着什么。若要爬到高踞在悬崖顶上的方堡里去,时间已经来不及了,他们就倚着峭壁边的矮墙,俯视悬崖下的公园。在他们脚下,沙岩的鸽巢里,鸽子在梳理羽毛,轻声啼叫着。悬崖脚下的林荫道尽头,幼小的树苗端立在树荫中,还有小小的行人煞有介事似的行色匆匆,简直令人发笑。

“看上去好像可以把这些人当作小蝌蚪一样舀起一把似的。”他说。

她大笑着回答:

“是啊,没有必要隔得老远来看清自己的力量,树木可高大得多了。”

“只不过是自命不凡罢了。”他说。

她挖苦地笑笑。

林荫道外边,两条细长的铁轨伸展而去。铁轨边上密密麻麻地堆满了一小堆一小堆的木材,冒烟的玩具般大小的火车在奔跑。运河象条银带似的任意贯穿在黑土堆问。远处,河岸平地上密密的全是人家,看上去像黑乎乎的毒草,鳞次栉比,密密层层,一直延伸下去,直到曲折贯流旷野的那条波光粼粼的大河为止,不时地被更高一些的树木阻断。河对面的陡岸峭壁也相对地显得矮小多了。大片旷野给树木覆盖得郁郁葱葱,麦田隐隐发亮,旷野无边无际,一直延至青山耸立的虚无缥缈的天际。

“想起城镇发展得还不快,真令人高兴。”道伍斯太太说,“现在还只是田野上的一小块癫疮疤。”

“一小块癞疮疤。”保罗说。

她打了个寒噤。她讨厌这个小镇,温怒地望着对面那一大片与她无缘的旷野,那张冷漠的脸,带着敌意,使保罗不由得想起一个怨气满腹、抱憾终身的天使。

“可是这个镇不错吗!”他说,“不过是临时的。这是我们走上确实可行的道路之前粗略的权宜之计,等将来我们有了好主意再说。这镇会好起来的。”

岩洞里,灌木丛里的鸽子安逸地咕咕叫着。左面,圣玛丽亚大教堂高耸入云,同城堡比邻,屹立在那些破砖烂瓦之上——道伍斯太太眺望这旷野景色时,不由得愉快地笑了。

“我感觉好些了。”她说。

“谢谢你,”他答道,“不胜荣幸!”

“噢,我的小弟弟!”她大笑。

“嗯,这就是你把右手给人的东西,用左手抢了回去,绝对没错。”他说。

她满有兴致地对他笑。

“可是你刚才怎么啦?”他问,“我知道你正在想些特别的事情。我能从你脸上看出来。”

“我想我不会告诉你。”她说。

“好吧,那就别说了。”他回答。

她红着脸,咬了咬嘴唇。

“不是,”她说,“是那些女工。”

“她们怎么啦?”保罗问道。

“她们有件事已经筹划了一星期了。今天她们似乎特别来劲儿。个个都一样,故意保守秘密来奚落我。”

“真的?”他关心地问。

“我本不在乎,”她用气愤激昂的语气继续说,“如果她们不是拿这个——她们的秘密故意在我当面卖弄的话。”

“真是妇人之见。”他说。

“那种得意洋洋的神气真可恨。”她激愤地说。

保罗一声不吭。他知道女工们为什么得意,他很抱歉自己成了新纠纷的祸根。

“她们尽管保守秘密好了,”她深思了一会儿苦涩地继续说,“可是她们不该这么炫耀,让我始终蒙在鼓里。这事——这简直让人受不了。”

保罗想了一会儿,深感不安。

“我来告诉你是怎么一回事,”他说。他面色苍白神色慌张,“今天是我的生日,她们全体给我买了好多颜料,她们嫉妒你——”保罗觉得她一听到“嫉妒”这个词神色顿时变得冷冰冰的——“仅仅是因为我有时带本书给你。”他慢吞吞地加了一句,“但是,你要明白,这仅仅是件小事,你千万别介意——因为——”他很快地笑笑——“嗯,尽管她们一时得意,现在她们要是看见咱们在一块,会说什么?”

克莱拉很生气,因为他冒失地提到了他们眼下的亲密关系,这话简直是侮辱。然而,看到他如此平心静气,她也只好竭力克制着自己,原谅了他。

他俩的手都放在城堡墙粗糙的石栏上。他从母亲那儿继承了一种纤巧的气质,所以他的手长得小巧而又充满活力。她四肢发达,双手相应地又显得很大,不过看上去又白又有力。保罗一瞧见这双手,就明白她的心思,就了解她:“她想让人握住她的手。——尽管她对我们是如此高傲。”他默默自语,暗自思量。而她也在注视他温暖又活泼的双手,好像是专为她而生。这时他正双眼忧郁,凝视着旷野,陷入深思,千姿百态的万物都从他眼前消失了,剩下一片黑暗,其中包含着多少忧伤和悲剧,所有的房屋、河滩、人类、飞禽都无一例外引人忧伤和悲悯。只是外形上不同而已。此刻,万物形状仿佛都模糊一片,只剩下那一大堆黑乎乎的土堆,充满了挣扎与痛苦的物质。这一切构成了眼前的景色。工厂、女工、乡亲、高耸的教堂、镇上的密集的房舍,全都淹没在幽暗、深思和忧愁的氛围中。

“两点钟敲过了吗?”道伍斯太太惊奇地问。

保罗从深思中惊醒,万物都恢复了原形,重新获得了各自被忽略的个性和欢乐。

他俩匆匆赶回去上班。

他匆忙准备着晚上的邮件,检查芬妮车间送来的活儿,这些成品还散发出一股熨烫的味儿。正在这时晚班邮递员进来了。

“保罗·莫瑞尔先生,”他边说边笑着递给保罗一个邮包,“是一位女士的笔迹!别让姑娘们看见。”

邮递员本人就极受人喜爱,他很喜欢拿姑娘们对保罗的感情开玩笑。

这是一卷诗集,还夹着一张便条:“请允许我献上这份心意,请勿见外。衷心祝福你顺心如意。——克·道。”保罗顿时满脸通红了。

“天呀!道伍斯太太。她太破费了。上帝,谁会想到呢!”

他忽然大受感动,心里充满了来自她的温情,沉浸在这温情中,他似乎感觉到她就在跟前——她的双臂、她的肩膀、她的胸脯。他不仅能看到,而且可以摸到,甚至觉得与它们融为一体了。

克莱拉的这一举动使他们的关系更亲密了。其他女工也注意到保罗一碰到道伍斯太太就抬起闪光的双眼瞟着她,特别亲切地向她致意。人人都能看出其中的奥秘。克莱拉知道他本人尚未意识到,她也就不动声色,要是有时看见他迎面走来,她就故意转过头去。

午饭时间,他们经常出去走走,这事完全光明正大、心地坦诚,人人都觉得保罗还没有完全意识到自己的感情状况,所以也见怪不惊。他现在与她谈话多少有些像以前同米丽亚姆谈话时的热情,但是对话题不大在意,也不费心推敲自己的结论。

十月的一天,他们去兰伯利喝茶。他们在山顶上停了下来,保罗爬上去坐在一扇门上,她坐在踏阶上。下午,天空弥漫着一层薄雾,麦捆在雾里透出昏黄的光束。他们都沉默不语。

“你结婚时多大了?”他平静地问。

“二十二岁。”

她的噪门压得很低,有点低声下气的。她现在愿意告诉他一切。

“八年以前?”

“是的”

“你什么时候离开他的?”

“三年前。”

“五年!结婚时你爱他吗?”

她沉默了许久,然后慢悠悠地说:

“我想当时是爱他的——多少是爱他的。这事我没多想过。他需要我,当时我太拘谨。”

“你没多想就糊里糊涂地走入婚姻圈吗?”

“是啊。我好像睡了一生似的。”

“梦游症吗?可是——你何时醒来的?”

“我不知道我什么时候醒来,是否醒来——从我很小的时候。”

“当你长成一个女人后你还在睡吗?多奇怪!难道他没有叫醒你吗?”

“没有,他没能做到。”她单调地回答。

褐色的小鸟掠过树篱,那里野蔷薇开得红艳艳的。

“他做到过什么?”他问。

“打动过我。他对我从来是无足轻重的。”

下午天气温暖,日色朦胧。农舍的红屋顶在蓝色的雾雹中红得耀眼。他喜欢这样的天气。他能感觉到,但却无法明白克莱拉在说些什么。

“但是,你为什么要离开他呢?他对你态度很恶劣吗?”

她微微打了个寒噤。

“他——在糟践我。他想吓唬我,因为他没能完全得到我。后来我感觉自己想逃走,好像自己被绑住似的。他好像很卑鄙。”

“我明白了。”

其实他根本不明白。

“他老是很卑鄙吗?”他问。

“有一点。”她慢慢地回答,“后来他看出确实得不到我的真心,他就耍起横来——他很野蛮!”

“那你最后为何离开他?”

“因为——因为他对我不忠实。”

俩人沉默了片刻。她的手搁在门柱上,以保持身体平衡,他把手盖在她的手上,一颗心怦怦地急跳起来。

“可是你就——根本——根本不给他机会?”

“机会,怎么给?”

“让他亲近你。”

“我嫁给他——我本来是心甘情愿的——”

他们俩都尽力保持嗓音的平静。

“我认为他爱你。”他说。

“看起来是。”她回答。

他想把手挪开,可是不能。她自己挪开了,解了他的围。沉默了一会儿,他又开始问:

“你就这样把他甩了吗?”

“是他离开了我。”她说。

“我猜想,他没能使自己成为你的一切。”

“他本想威胁我就范。”

不过这番话使两人都有点茫然。保罗突然跳下来。

“来,”他说,“咱们喝茶去。”

他们找到一家小茶馆,坐在凉爽的馆舍内。她替他倒好茶。她显得很沉静。他感到她又回避自己。喝完茶,她深思似的望着茶杯,手里不停转动着自己的婚戒,深思中,她竟退下戒指,把它竖在桌上转了起来。金戒指变成一个玲珑剔透、闪闪发亮的圆球。圆球倒了,戒指在桌面上颠了几下停住。她转了又转,保罗看得出了神。

可是她是个结过婚的女人,而且他只信奉纯朴的友谊。他认为自己对她的情感是光明正大的。他们之间只不过是普普通通的文明男女之间的友谊罢了。

他与许多同龄的青年一样,性的问题在他心中显得很复杂,以至于他拒绝承认自己曾想过要克莱拉或米丽亚姆,或任何一个相识的女人。性欲是一种超然的东西,它并不属于一个女人。他精神上爱着米丽亚姆,而一想到克莱拉他就感到温暖。在心里穹她争斗,他对她的乳房及肩膀的线条非常熟悉,就好像这些线条塑造在他脑海中,可他并不是非要她不可,他也许可以一辈子不要她。他认为自己被米丽亚姆束缚住了。假如有一天他要结婚的话,他应有责任娶米丽亚姆为妻。他向克莱拉说明了这一点,她什么也没说,由他自己去决定。一有机会,他就去找她——道伍斯太太。同时,他经常给米丽亚姆写信,有时还去探望她。整个冬天就这么度过,似乎他并不大烦恼。母亲对他也比较放心,她以为他和米丽亚姆逐渐疏远了。

米丽亚姆也知道此时克莱拉对他的吸引力有多大,可是她依然相信他的良知一定会胜利。他对道伍斯太太的感情,比起她的爱来要浅薄得多,而且非常短暂,何况,道伍斯太太是结过婚的女人,她肯定他一定会回到她身边的,说不定还会退去几分稚气,医治他对低下事物的欲望,这种欲望只有其他女人可以满足他,她可不行。只要他的心对她是忠实的,并且回到她身边来,她一切都可以忍受。

他丝毫也未觉察到自己的处境有什么变化。米丽亚姆是他的故友、情人,她属于贝斯伍德,属于家庭和他的青年时代。相比而言,克莱拉是个新朋友,她属于诺丁汉姆,属于生活、属于人间。对他来说,一切很明了。

道伍斯太太同他有时很冷淡,两人下常见面,最后总是又凑到一块儿。

“你对巴克斯特·道伍斯态度很坏是吧?”他问她,这事老使他不安。

“哪方面?”

“噢,我不知道,你难道没有对他态度很坏过吗?你难道没有做什么事几乎气死他吗?”

“你指什么?”

“使他感到他可有可无——我知道。”保罗宣称。

“你很聪明,我的朋友。”她冷冷地说。

两人谈话到此为止,这以后倒让她冷落了他好一阵子。

最近她很少看到米丽亚姆。两个女人的友谊虽没有完全中断,但已十分淡薄了。

“星期六下午你来参加音乐会吗?”圣诞节刚过,克莱拉就问他。

“我答应要去威利农场。”他回答。

“噢,好吧。”

“你不介意,对吧?”他问。

“为什么要介意?”她答。

这回答差点惹火了他。

“你知道,”他说,“我和米丽亚姆从我十六岁时就好上了——到现在已经七年了。”

“时间真不短。”克莱拉回答。

“是的,不过不知为何,她——事情总不顺——”

“怎么啦?”克莱拉问。

“她好像把我据为己有,她甚至不肯让我的一根头发随便落下或吹走——她抓住一切不放。”

“可是,你不是乐意人家霸占你吗?”

“不,”他说,“我不愿意。我希望一切正常些,彼此取舍——像你我一样。我要个女人守住我,但不是把我放在她的口袋里。”

“可是如果你爱她,就不可能正常如你我一样。”

“是啊,不然我会更爱她些。她要求我的太多了,我不能把自己给她。”

“她要你怎样?”

“她要我把灵魂托附给她。我忍不住要逃离她。”

“可你依然爱她!”

“不,我不爱她,我甚至还没吻过她。”

“为什么不吻她?”克莱拉问。

“我不知道。”

“我想你是害怕。”她说。

“我不怕。我一看见她心里就不知怎么搞的,就想逃离她——她是那么好,而我却不好。”

“你怎么知道她是什么样的人呢?”

“我知道!我知道她想追求一种精神的结合。”

“不过,你怎么知道她想要呢?”

“我和她好了七年了。”

“可你却没看出她最重要的一点。”

“什么?”

“她想要的并不是什么精神结合,那是你自己的想象,她要的是你。”

他反复思量着她的话,也许他错了。

“但是,她好象——”他开口说。

“你从未试过。”她答。



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