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Chapter 12 Passion
HE was gradually making it possible to earn a livelihood by his art. Liberty's had taken several of his painted designs on various stuffs, and he could sell designs for embroideries, for altar-cloths, and similar things, in one or two places. It was not very much he made at present, but he might extend it. He had also made friends with the designer for a pottery firm, and was gaining some knowledge of his new acquaintance's art. The applied arts interested him very much. At the same time he laboured slowly at his pictures. He loved to paint large figures, full of light, but not merely made up of lights and cast shadows, like the impressionists; rather definite figures that had a certain luminous quality, like some of Michael Angelo's people. And these he fitted into a landscape, in what he thought true proportion. He worked a great deal from memory, using everybody he knew. He believed firmly in his work, that it was good and valuable. In spite of fits of depression, shrinking, everything, he believed in his work.

He was twenty-four when he said his first confident thing to his mother.

"Mother," he said, "I s'll make a painter that they'll attend to."

She sniffed in her quaint fashion. It was like a half-pleased shrug of the shoulders.

"Very well, my boy, we'll see," she said.

"You shall see, my pigeon! You see if you're not swanky one of these days!"

"I'm quite content, my boy," she smiled.

"But you'll have to alter. Look at you with Minnie!"

Minnie was the small servant, a girl of fourteen.

"And what about Minnie?" asked Mrs. Morel, with dignity.

"I heard her this morning: 'Eh, Mrs. Morel! I was going to do that,' when you went out in the rain for some coal," he said. "That looks a lot like your being able to manage servants!"

"Well, it was only the child's niceness," said Mrs. Morel.

"And you apologising to her: 'You can't do two things at once, can you?'"

"She WAS busy washing up," replied Mrs. Morel.

"And what did she say? 'It could easy have waited a bit. Now look how your feet paddle!'"

"Yes--brazen young baggage!" said Mrs. Morel, smiling.

He looked at his mother, laughing. She was quite warm and rosy again with love of him. It seemed as if all the sunshine were on her for a moment. He continued his work gladly. She seemed so well when she was happy that he forgot her grey hair.

And that year she went with him to the Isle of Wight for a holiday. It was too exciting for them both, and too beautiful. Mrs. Morel was full of joy and wonder. But he would have her walk with him more than she was able. She had a bad fainting bout. So grey her face was, so blue her mouth! It was agony to him. He felt as if someone were pushing a knife in his chest. Then she was better again, and he forgot. But the anxiety remained inside him, like a wound that did not close.

After leaving Miriam he went almost straight to Clara. On the Monday following the day of the rupture he went down to the work-room. She looked up at him and smiled. They had grown very intimate unawares. She saw a new brightness about him.

"Well, Queen of Sheba!" he said, laughing.

"But why?" she asked.

"I think it suits you. You've got a new frock on."

She flushed, asking:

"And what of it?"

"Suits you--awfully! I could design you a dress."

"How would it be?"

He stood in front of her, his eyes glittering as he expounded. He kept her eyes fixed with his. Then suddenly he took hold of her. She half-started back. He drew the stuff of her blouse tighter, smoothed it over her breast.

"More SO!" he explained.

But they were both of them flaming with blushes, and immediately he ran away. He had touched her. His whole body was quivering with the sensation.

There was already a sort of secret understanding between them. The next evening he went to the cinematograph with her for a few minutes before train-time. As they sat, he saw her hand lying near him. For some moments he dared not touch it. The pictures danced and dithered. Then he took her hand in his. It was large and firm; it filled his grasp. He held it fast. She neither moved nor made any sign. When they came out his train was due. He hesitated.

"Good-night," she said. He darted away across the road.

The next day he came again, talking to her. She was rather superior with him.

"Shall we go a walk on Monday?" he asked.

She turned her face aside.

"Shall you tell Miriam?" she replied sarcastically.

"I have broken off with her," he said.

"When?"

"Last Sunday."

"You quarrelled?"

"No! I had made up my mind. I told her quite definitely I should consider myself free."

Clara did not answer, and he returned to his work. She was so quiet and so superb!

On the Saturday evening he asked her to come and drink coffee with him in a restaurant, meeting him after work was over. She came, looking very reserved and very distant. He had three-quarters of an hour to train-time.

"We will walk a little while," he said.

She agreed, and they went past the Castle into the Park. He was afraid of her. She walked moodily at his side, with a kind of resentful, reluctant, angry walk. He was afraid to take her hand.

"Which way shall we go?" he asked as they walked in darkness.

"I don't mind."

"Then we'll go up the steps."

He suddenly turned round. They had passed the Park steps. She stood still in resentment at his suddenly abandoning her. He looked for her. She stood aloof. He caught her suddenly in his arms, held her strained for a moment, kissed her. Then he let her go.

"Come along," he said, penitent.

She followed him. He took her hand and kissed her finger-tips. They went in silence. When they came to the light, he let go her hand. Neither spoke till they reached the station. Then they looked each other in the eyes.

"Good-night," she said.

And he went for his train. His body acted mechanically. People talked to him. He heard faint echoes answering them. He was in a delirium. He felt that he would go mad if Monday did not come at once. On Monday he would see her again. All himself was pitched there, ahead. Sunday intervened. He could not bear it. He could not see her till Monday. And Sunday intervened--hour after hour of tension. He wanted to beat his head against the door of the carriage. But he sat still. He drank some whisky on the way home, but it only made it worse. His mother must not be upset, that was all. He dissembled, and got quickly to bed. There he sat, dressed, with his chin on his knees, staring out of the window at the far hill, with its few lights. He neither thought nor slept, but sat perfectly still, staring. And when at last he was so cold that he came to himself, he found his watch had stopped at half-past two. It was after three o'clock. He was exhausted, but still there was the torment of knowing it was only Sunday morning. He went to bed and slept. Then he cycled all day long, till he was fagged out. And he scarcely knew where he had been. But the day after was Monday. He slept till four o'clock. Then he lay and thought. He was coming nearer to himself--he could see himself, real, somewhere in front. She would go a walk with him in the afternoon. Afternoon! It seemed years ahead.

Slowly the hours crawled. His father got up; he heard him pottering about. Then the miner set off to the pit, his heavy boots scraping the yard. Cocks were still crowing. A cart went down the road. His mother got up. She knocked the fire. Presently she called him softly. He answered as if he were asleep. This shell of himself did well.

He was walking to the station--another mile! The train was near Nottingham. Would it stop before the tunnels? But it did not matter; it would get there before dinner-time. He was at Jordan's. She would come in half an hour. At any rate, she would be near. He had done the letters. She would be there. Perhaps she had not come. He ran downstairs. Ah! he saw her through the glass door. Her shoulders stooping a little to her work made him feel he could not go forward; he could not stand. He went in. He was pale, nervous, awkward, and quite cold. Would she misunderstand him? He could not write his real self with this shell.

"And this afternoon," he struggled to say. "You will come?"

"I think so," she replied, murmuring.

He stood before her, unable to say a word. She hid her face from him. Again came over him the feeling that he would lose consciousness. He set his teeth and went upstairs. He had done everything correctly yet, and he would do so. All the morning things seemed a long way off, as they do to a man under chloroform. He himself seemed under a tight band of constraint. Then there was his other self, in the distance, doing things, entering stuff in a ledger, and he watched that far-off him carefully to see he made no mistake.

But the ache and strain of it could not go on much longer. He worked incessantly. Still it was only twelve o'clock. As if he had nailed his clothing against the desk, he stood there and worked, forcing every stroke out of himself. It was a quarter to one; he could clear away. Then he ran downstairs.

"You will meet me at the Fountain at two o'clock," he said.

"I can't be there till half-past."

"Yes!" he said.

She saw his dark, mad eyes.

"I will try at a quarter past."

And he had to be content. He went and got some dinner. All the time he was still under chloroform, and every minute was stretched out indefinitely. He walked miles of streets. Then he thought he would be late at the meeting-place. He was at the Fountain at five past two. The torture of the next quarter of an hour was refined beyond expression. It was the anguish of combining the living self with the shell. Then he saw her. She came! And he was there.

"You are late," he said.

"Only five minutes," she answered.

"I'd never have done it to you," he laughed.

She was in a dark blue costume. He looked at her beautiful figure.

"You want some flowers," he said, going to the nearest florist's.

She followed him in silence. He bought her a bunch of scarlet, brick-red carnations. She put them in her coat, flushing.

"That's a fine colour!" he said.

"I'd rather have had something softer," she said.

He laughed.

"Do you feel like a blot of vermilion walking down the street?" he said.

She hung her head, afraid of the people they met. He looked sideways at her as they walked. There was a wonderful close down on her face near the ear that he wanted to touch. And a certain heaviness, the heaviness of a very full ear of corn that dips slightly in the wind, that there was about her, made his brain spin. He seemed to be spinning down the street, everything going round.

As they sat in the tramcar, she leaned her heavy shoulder against him, and he took her hand. He felt himself coming round from the anaesthetic, beginning to breathe. Her ear, half-hidden among her blonde hair, was near to him. The temptation to kiss it was almost too great. But there were other people on top of the car. It still remained to him to kiss it. After all, he was not himself, he was some attribute of hers, like the sunshine that fell on her.

He looked quickly away. It had been raining. The big bluff of the Castle rock was streaked with rain, as it reared above the flat of the town. They crossed the wide, black space of the Midland Railway, and passed the cattle enclosure that stood out white. Then they ran down sordid Wilford Road.

She rocked slightly to the tram's motion, and as she leaned against him, rocked upon him. He was a vigorous, slender man, with exhaustless energy. His face was rough, with rough-hewn features, like the common people's; but his eyes under the deep brows were so full of life that they fascinated her. They seemed to dance, and yet they were still trembling on the finest balance of laughter. His mouth the same was just going to spring into a laugh of triumph, yet did not. There was a sharp suspense about him. She bit her lip moodily. His hand was hard clenched over hers.

They paid their two halfpennies at the turnstile and crossed the bridge. The Trent was very full. It swept silent and insidious under the bridge, travelling in a soft body. There had been a great deal of rain. On the river levels were flat gleams of flood water. The sky was grey, with glisten of silver here and there. In Wilford churchyard the dahlias were sodden with rain--wet black-crimson balls. No one was on the path that went along the green river meadow, along the elm-tree colonnade.

There was the faintest haze over the silvery-dark water and the green meadow-bank, and the elm-trees that were spangled with gold. The river slid by in a body, utterly silent and swift, intertwining among itself like some subtle, complex creature. Clara walked moodily beside him.

"Why," she asked at length, in rather a jarring tone, "did you leave Miriam?"

He frowned.

"Because I WANTED to leave her," he said.

"Why?"

"Because I didn't want to go on with her. And I didn't want to marry."

She was silent for a moment. They picked their way down the muddy path. Drops of water fell from the elm-trees.

"You didn't want to marry Miriam, or you didn't want to marry at all?" she asked.

"Both," he answered--"both!"

They had to manoeuvre to get to the stile, because of the pools of water.

"And what did she say?" Clara asked.

"Miriam? She said I was a baby of four, and that I always HAD battled her off."

Clara pondered over this for a time.

"But you have really been going with her for some time?" she asked.

"Yes."

"And now you don't want any more of her?"

"No. I know it's no good."

She pondered again.

"Don't you think you've treated her rather badly?" she asked.

"Yes; I ought to have dropped it years back. But it would have been no good going on. Two wrongs don't make a right."

"How old ARE you?" Clara asked.

"Twenty-five."

"And I am thirty," she said.

"I know you are."

"I shall be thirty-one--or AM I thirty-one?"

"I neither know nor care. What does it matter!"

They were at the entrance to the Grove. The wet, red track, already sticky with fallen leaves, went up the steep bank between the grass. On either side stood the elm-trees like pillars along a great aisle, arching over and making high up a roof from which the dead leaves fell. All was empty and silent and wet. She stood on top of the stile, and he held both her hands. Laughing, she looked down into his eyes. Then she leaped. Her breast came against his; he held her, and covered her face with kisses.

They went on up the slippery, steep red path. Presently she released his hand and put it round her waist.

"You press the vein in my arm, holding it so tightly," she said.

They walked along. His finger-tips felt the rocking of her breast. All was silent and deserted. On the left the red wet plough-land showed through the doorways between the elm-boles and their branches. On the right, looking down, they could see the tree-tops of elms growing far beneath them, hear occasionally the gurgle of the river. Sometimes there below they caught glimpses of the full, soft-sliding Trent, and of water-meadows dotted with small cattle.

"It has scarcely altered since little Kirke White used to come," he said.

But he was watching her throat below the ear, where the flush was fusing into the honey-white, and her mouth that pouted disconsolate. She stirred against him as she walked, and his body was like a taut string.

Halfway up the big colonnade of elms, where the Grove rose highest above the river, their forward movement faltered to an end. He led her across to the grass, under the trees at the edge of the path. The cliff of red earth sloped swiftly down, through trees and bushes, to the river that glimmered and was dark between the foliage. The far-below water-meadows were very green. He and she stood leaning against one another, silent, afraid, their bodies touching all along. There came a quick gurgle from the river below.

"Why," he asked at length, "did you hate Baxter Dawes?"

She turned to him with a splendid movement. Her mouth was offered him, and her throat; her eyes were half-shut; her breast was tilted as if it asked for him. He flashed with a small laugh, shut his eyes, and met her in a long, whole kiss. Her mouth fused with his; their bodies were sealed and annealed. It was some minutes before they withdrew. They were standing beside the public path.

"Will you go down to the river?" he asked.

She looked at him, leaving herself in his hands. He went over the brim of the declivity and began to climb down.

"It is slippery," he said.

"Never mind," she replied.

The red clay went down almost sheer. He slid, went from one tuft of grass to the next, hanging on to the bushes, making for a little platform at the foot of a tree. There he waited for her, laughing with excitement. Her shoes were clogged with red earth. It was hard for her. He frowned. At last he caught her hand, and she stood beside him. The cliff rose above them and fell away below. Her colour was up, her eyes flashed. He looked at the big drop below them.

"It's risky," he said; "or messy, at any rate. Shall we go back?"

"Not for my sake," she said quickly.

"All right. You see, I can't help you; I should only hinder. Give me that little parcel and your gloves. Your poor shoes!"

They stood perched on the face of the declivity, under the trees.

"Well, I'll go again," he said.

Away he went, slipping, staggering, sliding to the next tree, into which he fell with a slam that nearly shook the breath out of him. She came after cautiously, hanging on to the twigs and grasses. So they descended, stage by stage, to the river's brink. There, to his disgust, the flood had eaten away the path, and the red decline ran straight into the water. He dug in his heels and brought himself up violently. The string of the parcel broke with a snap; the brown parcel bounded down, leaped into the water, and sailed smoothly away. He hung on to his tree.

"Well, I'll be damned!" he cried crossly. Then he laughed. She was coming perilously down.

"Mind!" he warned her. He stood with his back to the tree, waiting. "Come now," he called, opening his arms.

She let herself run. He caught her, and together they stood watching the dark water scoop at the raw edge of the bank. The parcel had sailed out of sight.

"It doesn't matter," she said.

He held her close and kissed her. There was only room for their four feet.

"It's a swindle!" he said. "But there's a rut where a man has been, so if we go on I guess we shall find the path again."

The river slid and twined its great volume. On the other bank cattle were feeding on the desolate flats. The cliff rose high above Paul and Clara on their right hand. They stood against the tree in the watery silence.

"Let us try going forward," he said; and they struggled in the red clay along the groove a man's nailed boots had made. They were hot and flushed. Their barkled shoes hung heavy on their steps. At last they found the broken path. It was littered with rubble from the water, but at any rate it was easier. They cleaned their boots with twigs. His heart was beating thick and fast.

Suddenly, coming on to the little level, he saw two figures of men standing silent at the water's edge. His heart leaped. They were fishing. He turned and put his hand up warningly to Clara. She hesitated, buttoned her coat. The two went on together.

The fishermen turned curiously to watch the two intruders on their privacy and solitude. They had had a fire, but it was nearly out. All kept perfectly still. The men turned again to their fishing, stood over the grey glinting river like statues. Clara went with bowed head, flushing; he was laughing to himself. Directly they passed out of sight behind the willows.

"Now they ought to be drowned," said Paul softly.

Clara did not answer. They toiled forward along a tiny path on the river's lip. Suddenly it vanished. The bank was sheer red solid clay in front of them, sloping straight into the river. He stood and cursed beneath his breath, setting his teeth.

"It's impossible!" said Clara.

He stood erect, looking round. Just ahead were two islets in the stream, covered with osiers. But they were unattainable. The cliff came down like a sloping wall from far above their heads. Behind, not far back, were the fishermen. Across the river the distant cattle fed silently in the desolate afternoon. He cursed again deeply under his breath. He gazed up the great steep bank. Was there no hope but to scale back to the public path?

"Stop a minute," he said, and, digging his heels sideways into the steep bank of red clay, he began nimbly to mount. He looked across at every tree-foot. At last he found what he wanted. Two beech-trees side by side on the hill held a little level on the upper face between their roots. It was littered with damp leaves, but it would do. The fishermen were perhaps sufficiently out of sight. He threw down his rainproof and waved to her to come.

She toiled to his side. Arriving there, she looked at him heavily, dumbly, and laid her head on his shoulder. He held her fast as he looked round. They were safe enough from all but the small, lonely cows over the river. He sunk his mouth on her throat, where he felt her heavy pulse beat under his lips. Everything was perfectly still. There was nothing in the afternoon but themselves.

When she arose, he, looking on the ground all the time, saw suddenly sprinkled on the black wet beech-roots many scarlet carnation petals, like splashed drops of blood; and red, small splashes fell from her bosom, streaming down her dress to her feet.

"Your flowers are smashed," he said.

She looked at him heavily as she put back her hair. Suddenly he put his finger-tips on her cheek.

"Why dost look so heavy?" he reproached her.

She smiled sadly, as if she felt alone in herself. He caressed her cheek with his fingers, and kissed her.

"Nay!" he said. "Never thee bother!"

She gripped his fingers tight, and laughed shakily. Then she dropped her hand. He put the hair back from her brows, stroking her temples, kissing them lightly.

"But tha shouldna worrit!" he said softly, pleading.

"No, I don't worry!" she laughed tenderly and resigned.

"Yea, tha does! Dunna thee worrit," he implored, caressing.

"No!" she consoled him, kissing him.

They had a stiff climb to get to the top again. It took them a quarter of an hour. When he got on to the level grass, he threw off his cap, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and sighed.

"Now we're back at the ordinary level," he said.

She sat down, panting, on the tussocky grass. Her cheeks were flushed pink. He kissed her, and she gave way to joy.

"And now I'll clean thy boots and make thee fit for respectable folk," he said.

He kneeled at her feet, worked away with a stick and tufts of grass. She put her fingers in his hair, drew his head to her, and kissed it.

"What am I supposed to be doing," he said, looking at her laughing; "cleaning shoes or dibbling with love? Answer me that!"

"Just whichever I please," she replied.

"I'm your boot-boy for the time being, and nothing else!" But they remained looking into each other's eyes and laughing. Then they kissed with little nibbling kisses.

"T-t-t-t!" he went with his tongue, like his mother. "I tell you, nothing gets done when there's a woman about."

And he returned to his boot-cleaning, singing softly. She touched his thick hair, and he kissed her fingers. He worked away at her shoes. At last they were quite presentable.

"There you are, you see!" he said. "Aren't I a great hand at restoring you to respectability? Stand up! There, you look as irreproachable as Britannia herself!"

He cleaned his own boots a little, washed his hands in a puddle, and sang. They went on into Clifton village. He was madly in love with her; every movement she made, every crease in her garments, sent a hot flash through him and seemed adorable.

The old lady at whose house they had tea was roused into gaiety by them.

"I could wish you'd had something of a better day," she said, hovering round.

"Nay!" he laughed. "We've been saying how nice it is."

The old lady looked at him curiously. There was a peculiar glow and charm about him. His eyes were dark and laughing. He rubbed his moustache with a glad movement.

"Have you been saying SO!" she exclaimed, a light rousing in her old eyes.

"Truly!" he laughed.

"Then I'm sure the day's good enough," said the old lady.

She fussed about, and did not want to leave them.

"I don't know whether you'd like some radishes as well," she said to Clara; "but I've got some in the garden--AND a cucumber."

Clara flushed. She looked very handsome.

"I should like some radishes," she answered.

And the old lady pottered off gleefully.

"If she knew!" said Clara quietly to him.

"Well, she doesn't know; and it shows we're nice in ourselves, at any rate. You look quite enough to satisfy an archangel, and I'm sure I feel harmless--so--if it makes you look nice, and makes folk happy when they have us, and makes us happy--why, we're not cheating them out of much!"

They went on with the meal. When they were going away, the old lady came timidly with three tiny dahlias in full blow, neat as bees, and speckled scarlet and white. She stood before Clara, pleased with herself, saying:

"I don't know whether---" and holding the flowers forward in her old hand.

"Oh, how pretty!" cried Clara, accepting the flowers.

"Shall she have them all?" asked Paul reproachfully of the old woman.

"Yes, she shall have them all," she replied, beaming with joy. "You have got enough for your share."

"Ah, but I shall ask her to give me one!" he teased.

"Then she does as she pleases," said the old lady, smiling. And she bobbed a little curtsey of delight.

Clara was rather quiet and uncomfortable. As they walked along, he said:

"You don't feel criminal, do you?"

She looked at him with startled grey eyes.

"Criminal!" she said. "No."

"But you seem to feel you have done a wrong?"

"No," she said. "I only think, 'If they knew!'"

"If they knew, they'd cease to understand. As it is, they do understand, and they like it. What do they matter? Here, with only the trees and me, you don't feel not the least bit wrong, do you?"

He took her by the arm, held her facing him, holding her eyes with his. Something fretted him.

"Not sinners, are we?" he said, with an uneasy little frown.

"No," she replied.

He kissed her, laughing.

"You like your little bit of guiltiness, I believe," he said. "I believe Eve enjoyed it, when she went cowering out of Paradise."

But there was a certain glow and quietness about her that made him glad. When he was alone in the railway-carriage, he found himself tumultuously happy, and the people exceedingly nice, and the night lovely, and everything good.

Mrs. Morel was sitting reading when he got home. Her health was not good now, and there had come that ivory pallor into her face which he never noticed, and which afterwards he never forgot. She did not mention her own ill-health to him. After all, she thought, it was not much.

"You are late!" she said, looking at him.

His eyes were shining; his face seemed to glow. He smiled to her.

"Yes; I've been down Clifton Grove with Clara."

His mother looked at him again.

"But won't people talk?" she said.

"Why? They know she's a suffragette, and so on. And what if they do talk!"

"Of course, there may be nothing wrong in it," said his mother. "But you know what folks are, and if once she gets talked about---"

"Well, I can't help it. Their jaw isn't so almighty important, after all."

"I think you ought to consider HER."

"So I DO! What can people say?--that we take a walk together. I believe you're jealous."

"You know I should be GLAD if she weren't a married woman."

"Well, my dear, she lives separate from her husband, and talks on platforms; so she's already singled out from the sheep, and, as far as I can see, hasn't much to lose. No; her life's nothing to her, so what's the worth of nothing? She goes with me--it becomes something. Then she must pay--we both must pay! Folk are so frightened of paying; they'd rather starve and die."

"Very well, my son. We'll see how it will end."

"Very well, my mother. I'll abide by the end."

"We'll see!"

"And she's--she's AWFULLY nice, mother; she is really! You don't know!"

"That's not the same as marrying her."

"It's perhaps better."

There was silence for a while. He wanted to ask his mother something, but was afraid.

"Should you like to know her?" He hesitated.

"Yes," said Mrs. Morel coolly. "I should like to know what she's like."

"But she's nice, mother, she is! And not a bit common!"

"I never suggested she was."

"But you seem to think she's--not as good as--- She's better than ninety-nine folk out of a hundred, I tell you! She's BETTER, she is! She's fair, she's honest, she's straight! There isn't anything underhand or superior about her. Don't be mean about her!"

Mrs. Morel flushed.

"I am sure I am not mean about her. She may be quite as you say, but---"

"You don't approve," he finished.

"And do you expect me to?" she answered coldly.

"Yes!--yes!--if you'd anything about you, you'd be glad! Do you WANT to see her?"

"I said I did."

"Then I'll bring her--shall I bring her here?"

"You please yourself."

"Then I WILL bring her here--one Sunday--to tea. If you think a horrid thing about her, I shan't forgive you."

His mother laughed.

"As if it would make any difference!" she said. He knew he had won.

"Oh, but it feels so fine, when she's there! She's such a queen in her way."

Occasionally he still walked a little way from chapel with Miriam and Edgar. He did not go up to the farm. She, however, was very much the same with him, and he did not feel embarrassed in her presence. One evening she was alone when he accompanied her. They began by talking books: it was their unfailing topic. Mrs. Morel had said that his and Miriam's affair was like a fire fed on books--if there were no more volumes it would die out. Miriam, for her part, boasted that she could read him like a book, could place her finger any minute on the chapter and the line. He, easily taken in, believed that Miriam knew more about him than anyone else. So it pleased him to talk to her about himself, like the simplest egoist. Very soon the conversation drifted to his own doings. It flattered him immensely that he was of such supreme interest.

"And what have you been doing lately?"

"I--oh, not much! I made a sketch of Bestwood from the garden, that is nearly right at last. It's the hundredth try."

So they went on. Then she said:

"You've not been out, then, lately?"

"Yes; I went up Clifton Grove on Monday afternoon with Clara."

"It was not very nice weather," said Miriam, "was it?"

"But I wanted to go out, and it was all right. The Trent IS full."

"And did you go to Barton?" she asked.

"No; we had tea in Clifton."

"DID you! That would be nice."

"It was! The jolliest old woman! She gave us several pompom dahlias, as pretty as you like."

Miriam bowed her head and brooded. He was quite unconscious of concealing anything from her.

"What made her give them you?" she asked.

He laughed.

"Because she liked us--because we were jolly, I should think."

Miriam put her finger in her mouth.

"Were you late home?" she asked.

At last he resented her tone.

"I caught the seven-thirty."

"Ha!"

They walked on in silence, and he was angry.

"And how IS Clara?" asked Miriam.

"Quite all right, I think."

"That's good!" she said, with a tinge of irony. "By the way, what of her husband? One never hears anything of him."

"He's got some other woman, and is also quite all right," he replied. "At least, so I think."

"I see--you don't know for certain. Don't you think a position like that is hard on a woman?"

"Rottenly hard!"

"It's so unjust!" said Miriam. "The man does as he likes---"

"Then let the woman also," he said.

"How can she? And if she does, look at her position!"

"What of it?"

"Why, it's impossible! You don't understand what a woman forfeits---"

"No, I don't. But if a woman's got nothing but her fair fame to feed on, why, it's thin tack, and a donkey would die of it!"

So she understood his moral attitude, at least, and she knew he would act accordingly.

She never asked him anything direct, but she got to know enough.

Another day, when he saw Miriam, the conversation turned to marriage, then to Clara's marriage with Dawes.

"You see," he said, "she never knew the fearful importance of marriage. She thought it was all in the day's march--it would have to come--and Dawes--well, a good many women would have given their souls to get him; so why not him? Then she developed into the femme incomprise, and treated him badly, I'll bet my boots."

"And she left him because he didn't understand her?"

"I suppose so. I suppose she had to. It isn't altogether a question of understanding; it's a question of living. With him, she was only half-alive; the rest was dormant, deadened. And the dormant woman was the femme incomprise, and she HAD to be awakened."

"And what about him."

"I don't know. I rather think he loves her as much as he can, but he's a fool."

"It was something like your mother and father," said Miriam.

"Yes; but my mother, I believe, got real joy and satisfaction out of my father at first. I believe she had a passion for him; that's why she stayed with him. After all, they were bound to each other."

"Yes," said Miriam.

"That's what one MUST HAVE, I think," he continued--"the real, real flame of feeling through another person--once, only once, if it only lasts three months. See, my mother looks as if she'd HAD everything that was necessary for her living and developing. There's not a tiny bit of feeling of sterility about her."

"No," said Miriam.

"And with my father, at first, I'm sure she had the real thing. She knows; she has been there. You can feet it about her, and about him, and about hundreds of people you meet every day; and, once it has happened to you, you can go on with anything and ripen."

"What happened, exactly?" asked Miriam.

"It's so hard to say, but the something big and intense that changes you when you really come together with somebody else. It almost seems to fertilise your soul and make it that you can go on and mature."

"And you think your mother had it with your father?"

"Yes; and at the bottom she feels grateful to him for giving it her, even now, though they are miles apart."

"And you think Clara never had it?"

"I'm sure."

Miriam pondered this. She saw what he was seeking--a sort of baptism of fire in passion, it seemed to her. She realised that he would never be satisfied till he had it. Perhaps it was essential to him, as to some men, to sow wild oats; and afterwards, when he was satisfied, he would not rage with restlessness any more, but could settle down and give her his life into her hands. Well, then, if he must go, let him go and have his fill--something big and intense, he called it. At any rate, when he had got it, he would not want it--that he said himself; he would want the other thing that she could give him. He would want to be owned, so that he could work. It seemed to her a bitter thing that he must go, but she could let him go into an inn for a glass of whisky, so she could let him go to Clara, so long as it was something that would satisfy a need in him, and leave him free for herself to possess.

"Have you told your mother about Clara?" she asked.

She knew this would be a test of the seriousness of his feeling for the other woman: she knew he was going to Clara for something vital, not as a man goes for pleasure to a prostitute, if he told his mother.

"Yes," he said, "and she is coming to tea on Sunday."

"To your house?"

"Yes; I want mater to see her."

"Ah!"

There was a silence. Things had gone quicker than she thought. She felt a sudden bitterness that he could leave her so soon and so entirely. And was Clara to be accepted by his people, who had been so hostile to herself?

"I may call in as I go to chapel," she said. "It is a long time since I saw Clara."

"Very well," he said, astonished, and unconsciously angry.

On the Sunday afternoon he went to Keston to meet Clara at the station. As he stood on the platform he was trying to examine in himself if he had a premonition.

"Do I FEEL as if she'd come?" he said to himself, and he tried to find out. His heart felt queer and contracted. That seemed like foreboding. Then he HAD a foreboding she would not come! Then she would not come, and instead of taking her over the fields home, as he had imagined, he would have to go alone. The train was late; the afternoon would be wasted, and the evening. He hated her for not coming. Why had she promised, then, if she could not keep her promise? Perhaps she had missed her train--he himself was always missing trains--but that was no reason why she should miss this particular one. He was angry with her; he was furious.

Suddenly he saw the train crawling, sneaking round the corner. Here, then, was the train, but of course she had not come. The green engine hissed along the platform, the row of brown carriages drew up, several doors opened. No; she had not come! No! Yes; ah, there she was! She had a big black hat on! He was at her side in a moment.

"I thought you weren't coming," he said.

She was laughing rather breathlessly as she put out her hand to him; their eyes met. He took her quickly along the platform, talking at a great rate to hide his feeling. She looked beautiful. In her hat were large silk roses, coloured like tarnished gold. Her costume of dark cloth fitted so beautifully over her breast and shoulders. His pride went up as he walked with her. He felt the station people, who knew him, eyed her with awe and admiration.

"I was sure you weren't coming," he laughed shakily.

She laughed in answer, almost with a little cry.

"And I wondered, when I was in the train, WHATEVER I should do if you weren't there!" she said.

He caught her hand impulsively, and they went along the narrow twitchel. They took the road into Nuttall and over the Reckoning House Farm. It was a blue, mild day. Everywhere the brown leaves lay scattered; many scarlet hips stood upon the hedge beside the wood. He gathered a few for her to wear.

"Though, really," he said, as he fitted them into the breast of her coat, "you ought to object to my getting them, because of the birds. But they don't care much for rose-hips in this part, where they can get plenty of stuff. You often find the berries going rotten in the springtime."

So he chattered, scarcely aware of what he said, only knowing he was putting berries in the bosom of her coat, while she stood patiently for him. And she watched his quick hands, so full of life, and it seemed to her she had never SEEN anything before. Till now, everything had been indistinct.

They came near to the colliery. It stood quite still and black among the corn-fields, its immense heap of slag seen rising almost from the oats.

"What a pity there is a coal-pit here where it is so pretty!" said Clara.

"Do you think so?" he answered. "You see, I am so used to it I should miss it. No; and I like the pits here and there. I like the rows of trucks, and the headstocks, and the steam in the daytime, and the lights at night. When I was a boy, I always thought a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night was a pit, with its steam, and its lights, and the burning bank,--and I thought the Lord was always at the pit-top."

As they drew near home she walked in silence, and seemed to hang back. He pressed her fingers in his own. She flushed, but gave no response.

"Don't you want to come home?" he asked.

"Yes, I want to come," she replied.

It did not occur to him that her position in his home would be rather a peculiar and difficult one. To him it seemed just as if one of his men friends were going to be introduced to his mother, only nicer.

The Morels lived in a house in an ugly street that ran down a steep hill. The street itself was hideous. The house was rather superior to most. It was old, grimy, with a big bay window, and it was semi-detached; but it looked gloomy. Then Paul opened the door to the garden, and all was different. The sunny afternoon was there, like another land. By the path grew tansy and little trees. In front of the window was a plot of sunny grass, with old lilacs round it. And away went the garden, with heaps of dishevelled chrysanthemums in the sunshine, down to the sycamore-tree, and the field, and beyond one looked over a few red-roofed cottages to the hills with all the glow of the autumn afternoon.

Mrs. Morel sat in her rocking-chair, wearing her black silk blouse. Her grey-brown hair was taken smooth back from her brow and her high temples; her face was rather pale. Clara, suffering, followed Paul into the kitchen. Mrs. Morel rose. Clara thought her a lady, even rather stiff. The young woman was very nervous. She had almost a wistful look, almost resigned.

"Mother--Clara," said Paul.

Mrs. Morel held out her hand and smiled.

"He has told me a good deal about you," she said.

The blood flamed in Clara's cheek.

"I hope you don't mind my coming," she faltered.

"I was pleased when he said he would bring you," replied Mrs. Morel.

Paul, watching, felt his heart contract with pain. His mother looked so small, and sallow, and done-for beside the luxuriant Clara.

"It's such a pretty day, mother!" he said. "And we saw a jay."

His mother looked at him; he had turned to her. She thought what a man he seemed, in his dark, well-made clothes. He was pale and detached-looking; it would be hard for any woman to keep him. Her heart glowed; then she was sorry for Clara.

"Perhaps you'll leave your things in the parlour," said Mrs. Morel nicely to the young woman.

"Oh, thank you," she replied.

"Come on," said Paul, and he led the way into the little front room, with its old piano, its mahogany furniture, its yellowing marble mantelpiece. A fire was burning; the place was littered with books and drawing-boards. "I leave my things lying about," he said. "It's so much easier."

She loved his artist's paraphernalia, and the books, and the photos of people. Soon he was telling her: this was William, this was William's young lady in the evening dress, this was Annie and her husband, this was Arthur and his wife and the baby. She felt as if she were being taken into the family. He showed her photos, books, sketches, and they talked a little while. Then they returned to the kitchen. Mrs. Morel put aside her book. Clara wore a blouse of fine silk chiffon, with narrow black-and-white stripes; her hair was done simply, coiled on top of her head. She looked rather stately and reserved.

"You have gone to live down Sneinton Boulevard?" said Mrs. Morel. "When I was a girl--girl, I say!--when I was a young woman WE lived in Minerva Terrace."

"Oh, did you!" said Clara. "I have a friend in number 6."

And the conversation had started. They talked Nottingham and Nottingham people; it interested them both. Clara was still rather nervous; Mrs. Morel was still somewhat on her dignity. She clipped her language very clear and precise. But they were going to get on well together, Paul saw.

Mrs. Morel measured herself against the younger woman, and found herself easily stronger. Clara was deferential. She knew Paul's surprising regard for his mother, and she had dreaded the meeting, expecting someone rather hard and cold. She was surprised to find this little interested woman chatting with such readiness; and then she felt, as she felt with Paul, that she would not care to stand in Mrs. Morel's way. There was something so hard and certain in his mother, as if she never had a misgiving in her life.

Presently Morel came down, ruffled and yawning, from his afternoon sleep. He scratched his grizzled head, he plodded in his stocking feet, his waistcoat hung open over his shirt. He seemed incongruous.

"This is Mrs. Dawes, father," said Paul.

Then Morel pulled himself together. Clara saw Paul's manner of bowing and shaking hands.

"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed Morel. "I am very glad to see you--I am, I assure you. But don't disturb yourself. No, no make yourself quite comfortable, and be very welcome."

Clara was astonished at this flood of hospitality from the old collier. He was so courteous, so gallant! She thought him most delightful.

"And may you have come far?" he asked.

"Only from Nottingham," she said.

"From Nottingham! Then you have had a beautiful day for your journey."

Then he strayed into the scullery to wash his hands and face, and from force of habit came on to the hearth with the towel to dry himself.

At tea Clara felt the refinement and sang-froid of the household. Mrs. Morel was perfectly at her ease. The pouring out the tea and attending to the people went on unconsciously, without interrupting her in her talk. There was a lot of room at the oval table; the china of dark blue willow-pattern looked pretty on the glossy cloth. There was a little bowl of small, yellow chrysanthemums. Clara felt she completed the circle, and it was a pleasure to her. But she was rather afraid of the self-possession of the Morels, father and all. She took their tone; there was a feeling of balance. It was a cool, clear atmosphere, where everyone was himself, and in harmony. Clara enjoyed it, but there was a fear deep at the bottom of her.

Paul cleared the table whilst his mother and Clara talked. Clara was conscious of his quick, vigorous body as it came and went, seeming blown quickly by a wind at its work. It was almost like the hither and thither of a leaf that comes unexpected. Most of herself went with him. By the way she leaned forward, as if listening, Mrs. Morel could see she was possessed elsewhere as she talked, and again the elder woman was sorry for her.

Having finished, he strolled down the garden, leaving the two women to talk. It was a hazy, sunny afternoon, mild and soft. Clara glanced through the window after him as he loitered among the chrysanthemums. She felt as if something almost tangible fastened her to him; yet he seemed so easy in his graceful, indolent movement, so detached as he tied up the too-heavy flower branches to their stakes, that she wanted to shriek in her helplessness.

Mrs. Morel rose.

"You will let me help you wash up," said Clara.

"Eh, there are so few, it will only take a minute," said the other.

Clara, however, dried the tea-things, and was glad to be on such good terms with his mother; but it was torture not to be able to follow him down the garden. At last she allowed herself to go; she felt as if a rope were taken off her ankle.

The afternoon was golden over the hills of Derbyshire. He stood across in the other garden, beside a bush of pale Michaelmas daisies, watching the last bees crawl into the hive. Hearing her coming, he turned to her with an easy motion, saying:

"It's the end of the run with these chaps."

Clara stood near him. Over the low red wall in front was the country and the far-off hills, all golden dim.

At that moment Miriam was entering through the garden-door. She saw Clara go up to him, saw him turn, and saw them come to rest together. Something in their perfect isolation together made her know that it was accomplished between them, that they were, as she put it, married. She walked very slowly down the cinder-track of the long garden.

Clara had pulled a button from a hollyhock spire, and was breaking it to get the seeds. Above her bowed head the pink flowers stared, as if defending her. The last bees were falling down to the hive.

"Count your money," laughed Paul, as she broke the flat seeds one by one from the roll of coin. She looked at him.

"I'm well off," she said, smiling.

"How much? Pf!" He snapped his fingers. "Can I turn them into gold?"

"I'm afraid not," she laughed.

They looked into each other's eyes, laughing. At that moment they became aware of Miriam. There was a click, and everything had altered.

"Hello, Miriam!" he exclaimed. "You said you'd come!"

"Yes. Had you forgotten?"

She shook hands with Clara, saying:

"It seems strange to see you here."

"Yes," replied the other; "it seems strange to be here."

There was a hesitation.

"This is pretty, isn't it?" said Miriam.

"I like it very much," replied Clara.

Then Miriam realised that Clara was accepted as she had never been.

"Have you come down alone?" asked Paul.

"Yes; I went to Agatha's to tea. We are going to chapel. I only called in for a moment to see Clara."

"You should have come in here to tea," he said.

Miriam laughed shortly, and Clara turned impatiently aside.

"Do you like the chrysanthemums?" he asked.

"Yes; they are very fine," replied Miriam.

"Which sort do you like best?" he asked.

"I don't know. The bronze, I think."

"I don't think you've seen all the sorts. Come and look. Come and see which are YOUR favourites, Clara."

He led the two women back to his own garden, where the towsled bushes of flowers of all colours stood raggedly along the path down to the field. The situation did not embarrass him, to his knowledge.

"Look, Miriam; these are the white ones that came from your garden. They aren't so fine here, are they?"

"No," said Miriam.

"But they're hardier. You're so sheltered; things grow big and tender, and then die. These little yellow ones I like. Will you have some?"

While they were out there the bells began to ring in the church, sounding loud across the town and the field. Miriam looked at the tower, proud among the clustering roofs, and remembered the sketches he had brought her. It had been different then, but he had not left her even yet. She asked him for a book to read. He ran indoors.

"What! is that Miriam?" asked his mother coldly.

"Yes; she said she'd call and see Clara."

"You told her, then?" came the sarcastic answer.

"Yes; why shouldn't I?"

"There's certainly no reason why you shouldn't," said Mrs. Morel, and she returned to her book. He winced from his mother's irony, frowned irritably, thinking: "Why can't I do as I like?"

"You've not seen Mrs. Morel before?" Miriam was saying to Clara.

"No; but she's so nice!"

"Yes," said Miriam, dropping her head; "in some ways she's very fine."

"I should think so."

"Had Paul told you much about her?"

"He had talked a good deal."

"Ha!"

There was silence until he returned with the book.

"When will you want it back?" Miriam asked.

"When you like," he answered.

Clara turned to go indoors, whilst he accompanied Miriam to the gate.

"When will you come up to Willey Farm?" the latter asked.

"I couldn't say," replied Clara.

"Mother asked me to say she'd be pleased to see you any time, if you cared to come."

"Thank you; I should like to, but I can't say when."

"Oh, very well!" exclaimed Miriam rather bitterly, turning away.

She went down the path with her mouth to the flowers he had given her.

"You're sure you won't come in?" he said.

"No, thanks."

"We are going to chapel."

"Ah, I shall see you, then!" Miriam was very bitter.

"Yes."

They parted. He felt guilty towards her. She was bitter, and she scorned him. He still belonged to herself, she believed; yet he could have Clara, take her home, sit with her next his mother in chapel, give her the same hymn-book he had given herself years before. She heard him running quickly indoors.

But he did not go straight in. Halting on the plot of grass, he heard his mother's voice, then Clara's answer:

"What I hate is the bloodhound quality in Miriam."

"Yes," said his mother quickly, "yes; DOESN'T it make you hate her, now!"

His heart went hot, and he was angry with them for talking about the girl. What right had they to say that? Something in the speech itself stung him into a flame of hate against Miriam. Then his own heart rebelled furiously at Clara's taking the liberty of speaking so about Miriam. After all, the girl was the better woman of the two, he thought, if it came to goodness. He went indoors. His mother looked excited. She was beating with her hand rhythmically on the sofa-arm, as women do who are wearing out. He could never bear to see the movement. There was a silence; then he began to talk.

In chapel Miriam saw him find the place in the hymn-book for Clara, in exactly the same way as he used for herself. And during the sermon he could see the girl across the chapel, her hat throwing a dark shadow over her face. What did she think, seeing Clara with him? He did not stop to consider. He felt himself cruel towards Miriam.

After chapel he went over Pentrich with Clara. It was a dark autumn night. They had said good-bye to Miriam, and his heart had smitten him as he left the girl alone. "But it serves her right," he said inside himself, and it almost gave him pleasure to go off under her eyes with this other handsome woman.

There was a scent of damp leaves in the darkness. Clara's hand lay warm and inert in his own as they walked. He was full of conflict. The battle that raged inside him made him feel desperate.

Up Pentrich Hill Clara leaned against him as he went. He slid his arm round her waist. Feeling the strong motion of her body under his arm as she walked, the tightness in his chest because of Miriam relaxed, and the hot blood bathed him. He held her closer and closer.

Then: "You still keep on with Miriam," she said quietly.

"Only talk. There never WAS a great deal more than talk between us," he said bitterly.

"Your mother doesn't care for her," said Clara.

"No, or I might have married her. But it's all up really!"

Suddenly his voice went passionate with hate.

"If I was with her now, we should be jawing about the 'Christian Mystery', or some such tack. Thank God, I'm not!"

They walked on in silence for some time.

"But you can't really give her up," said Clara.

"I don't give her up, because there's nothing to give," he said.

"There is for her."

"I don't know why she and I shouldn't be friends as long as we live," he said. "But it'll only be friends."

Clara drew away from him, leaning away from contact with him.

"What are you drawing away for?" he asked.

She did not answer, but drew farther from him.

"Why do you want to walk alone?" he asked.

Still there was no answer. She walked resentfully, hanging her head.

"Because I said I would be friends with Miriam!" he exclaimed.

She would not answer him anything.

"I tell you it's only words that go between us," he persisted, trying to take her again.

She resisted. Suddenly he strode across in front of her, barring her way.

"Damn it!" he said. "What do you want now?"

"You'd better run after Miriam," mocked Clara.

The blood flamed up in him. He stood showing his teeth. She drooped sulkily. The lane was dark, quite lonely. He suddenly caught her in his arms, stretched forward, and put his mouth on her face in a kiss of rage. She turned frantically to avoid him. He held her fast. Hard and relentless his mouth came for her. Her breasts hurt against the wall of his chest. Helpless, she went loose in his arms, and he kissed her, and kissed her.

He heard people coming down the hill.

"Stand up! stand up!" he said thickly, gripping her arm till it hurt. If he had let go, she would have sunk to the ground.

She sighed and walked dizzily beside him. They went on in silence.

"We will go over the fields," he said; and then she woke up.

But she let herself be helped over the stile, and she walked in silence with him over the first dark field. It was the way to Nottingham and to the station, she knew. He seemed to be looking about. They came out on a bare hilltop where stood the dark figure of the ruined windmill. There he halted. They stood together high up in the darkness, looking at the lights scattered on the night before them, handfuls of glittering points, villages lying high and low on the dark, here and there.

"Like treading among the stars," he said, with a quaky laugh.

Then he took her in his arms, and held her fast. She moved aside her mouth to ask, dogged and low:

"What time is it?"

"It doesn't matter," he pleaded thickly.

"Yes it does--yes! I must go!"

"It's early yet," he said.

"What time is it?" she insisted.

All round lay the black night, speckled and spangled with lights.

"I don't know."

She put her hand on his chest, feeling for his watch. He felt the joints fuse into fire. She groped in his waistcoat pocket, while he stood panting. In the darkness she could see the round, pale face of the watch, but not the figures. She stooped over it. He was panting till he could take her in his arms again.

"I can't see," she said.

"Then don't bother."

"Yes; I'm going!" she said, turning away.

"Wait! I'll look!" But he could not see. "I'll strike a match."

He secretly hoped it was too late to catch the train. She saw the glowing lantern of his hands as he cradled the light: then his face lit up, his eyes fixed on the watch. Instantly all was dark again. All was black before her eyes; only a glowing match was red near her feet. Where was he?

"What is it?" she asked, afraid.

"You can't do it," his voice answered out of the darkness.

There was a pause. She felt in his power. She had heard the ring in his voice. It frightened her.

"What time is it?" she asked, quiet, definite, hopeless.

"Two minutes to nine," he replied, telling the truth with a struggle.

"And can I get from here to the station in fourteen minutes?"

"No. At any rate---"

She could distinguish his dark form again a yard or so away. She wanted to escape.

"But can't I do it?" she pleaded.

"If you hurry," he said brusquely. "But you could easily walk it, Clara; it's only seven miles to the tram. I'll come with you."

"No; I want to catch the train."

"But why?"

"I do--I want to catch the train."

Suddenly his voice altered.

"Very well," he said, dry and hard. "Come along, then."

And he plunged ahead into the darkness. She ran after him, wanting to cry. Now he was hard and cruel to her. She ran over the rough, dark fields behind him, out of breath, ready to drop. But the double row of lights at the station drew nearer. Suddenly:

"There she is!" he cried, breaking into a run.

There was a faint rattling noise. Away to the right the train, like a luminous caterpillar, was threading across the night. The rattling ceased.

"She's over the viaduct. You'll just do it."

Clara ran, quite out of breath, and fell at last into the train. The whistle blew. He was gone. Gone!--and she was in a carriage full of people. She felt the cruelty of it.

He turned round and plunged home. Before he knew where he was he was in the kitchen at home. He was very pale. His eyes were dark and dangerous-looking, as if he were drunk. His mother looked at him.

"Well, I must say your boots are in a nice state!" she said.

He looked at his feet. Then he took off his overcoat. His mother wondered if he were drunk.

"She caught the train then?" she said.

"Yes."

"I hope HER feet weren't so filthy. Where on earth you dragged her I don't know!"

He was silent and motionless for some time.

"Did you like her?" he asked grudgingly at last.

"Yes, I liked her. But you'll tire of her, my son; you know you will."

He did not answer. She noticed how he laboured in his breathing.

"Have you been running?" she asked.

"We had to run for the train."

"You'll go and knock yourself up. You'd better drink hot milk."

It was as good a stimulant as he could have, but he refused and went to bed. There he lay face down on the counterpane, and shed tears of rage and pain. There was a physical pain that made him bite his lips till they bled, and the chaos inside him left him unable to think, almost to feel.

"This is how she serves me, is it?" he said in his heart, over and over, pressing his face in the quilt. And he hated her. Again he went over the scene, and again he hated her.

The next day there was a new aloofness about him. Clara was very gentle, almost loving. But he treated her distantly, with a touch of contempt. She sighed, continuing to be gentle. He came round.

One evening of that week Sarah Bernhardt was at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, giving "La Dame aux Camelias". Paul wanted to see this old and famous actress, and he asked Clara to accompany him. He told his mother to leave the key in the window for him.

"Shall I book seats?" he asked of Clara.

"Yes. And put on an evening suit, will you? I've never seen you in it."

"But, good Lord, Clara! Think of ME in evening suit at the theatre!" he remonstrated.

"Would you rather not?" she asked.

"I will if you WANT me to; but I s'll feel a fool."

She laughed at him.

"Then feel a fool for my sake, once, won't you?"

The request made his blood flush up.

"I suppose I s'll have to."

"What are you taking a suitcase for?" his mother asked.

He blushed furiously.

"Clara asked me," he said.

"And what seats are you going in?"

"Circle--three-and-six each!"

"Well, I'm sure!" exclaimed his mother sarcastically.

"It's only once in the bluest of blue moons," he said.

He dressed at Jordan's, put on an overcoat and a cap, and met Clara in a cafe. She was with one of her suffragette friends. She wore an old long coat, which did not suit her, and had a little wrap over her head, which he hated. The three went to the theatre together.

Clara took off her coat on the stairs, and he discovered she was in a sort of semi-evening dress, that left her arms and neck and part of her breast bare. Her hair was done fashionably. The dress, a simple thing of green crape, suited her. She looked quite grand, he thought. He could see her figure inside the frock, as if that were wrapped closely round her. The firmness and the softness of her upright body could almost be felt as he looked at her. He clenched his fists.

And he was to sit all the evening beside her beautiful naked arm, watching the strong throat rise from the strong chest, watching the breasts under the green stuff, the curve of her limbs in the tight dress. Something in him hated her again for submitting him to this torture of nearness. And he loved her as she balanced her head and stared straight in front of her, pouting, wistful, immobile, as if she yielded herself to her fate because it was too strong for her. She could not help herself; she was in the grip of something bigger than herself. A kind of eternal look about her, as if she were a wistful sphinx, made it necessary for him to kiss her. He dropped his programme, and crouched down on the floor to get it, so that he could kiss her hand and wrist. Her beauty was a torture to him. She sat immobile. Only, when the lights went down, she sank a little against him, and he caressed her hand and arm with his fingers. He could smell her faint perfume. All the time his blood kept sweeping up in great white-hot waves that killed his consciousness momentarily.

The drama continued. He saw it all in the distance, going on somewhere; he did not know where, but it seemed far away inside him. He was Clara's white heavy arms, her throat, her moving bosom. That seemed to be himself. Then away somewhere the play went on, and he was identified with that also. There was no himself. The grey and black eyes of Clara, her bosom coming down on him, her arm that he held gripped between his hands, were all that existed. Then he felt himself small and helpless, her towering in her force above him.

Only the intervals, when the lights came up, hurt him expressibly. He wanted to run anywhere, so long as it would be dark again. In a maze, he wandered out for a drink. Then the lights were out, and the strange, insane reality of Clara and the drama took hold of him again.

The play went on. But he was obsessed by the desire to kiss the tiny blue vein that nestled in the bend of her arm. He could feel it. His whole face seemed suspended till he had put his lips there. It must be done. And the other people! At last he bent quickly forward and touched it with his lips. His moustache brushed the sensitive flesh. Clara shivered, drew away her arm.

When all was over, the lights up, the people clapping, he came to himself and looked at his watch. His train was gone.

"I s'll have to walk home!" he said.

Clara looked at him.

"It is too late?" she asked.

He nodded. Then he helped her on with her coat.

"I love you! You look beautiful in that dress," he murmured over her shoulder, among the throng of bustling people.

She remained quiet. Together they went out of the theatre. He saw the cabs waiting, the people passing. It seemed he met a pair of brown eyes which hated him. But he did not know. He and Clara turned away, mechanically taking the direction to the station.

The train had gone. He would have to walk the ten miles home.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "I shall enjoy it."

"Won't you," she said, flushing, "come home for the night? I can sleep with mother."

He looked at her. Their eyes met.

"What will your mother say?" he asked.

"She won't mind."

"You're sure?"

"Quite! "

"SHALL I come?"

"If you will."

"Very well."

And they turned away. At the first stopping-place they took the car. The wind blew fresh in their faces. The town was dark; the tram tipped in its haste. He sat with her hand fast in his.

"Will your mother be gone to bed?" he asked.

"She may be. I hope not."

They hurried along the silent, dark little street, the only people out of doors. Clara quickly entered the house. He hesitated.

He leaped up the step and was in the room. Her mother appeared in the inner doorway, large and hostile.

"Who have you got there?" she asked.

"It's Mr. Morel; he has missed his train. I thought we might put him up for the night, and save him a ten-mile walk."

"H'm," exclaimed Mrs. Radford. "That's your lookout! If you've invited him, he's very welcome as far as I'm concerned. YOU keep the house!"

"If you don't like me, I'll go away again," he said.

"Nay, nay, you needn't! Come along in! I dunno what you'll think of the supper I'd got her."

It was a little dish of chip potatoes and a piece of bacon. The table was roughly laid for one.

"You can have some more bacon," continued Mrs. Radford. "More chips you can't have."

"It's a shame to bother you," he said.

"Oh, don't you be apologetic! It doesn't DO wi' me! You treated her to the theatre, didn't you?" There was a sarcasm in the last question.

"Well?" laughed Paul uncomfortably.

"Well, and what's an inch of bacon! Take your coat off."

The big, straight-standing woman was trying to estimate the situation. She moved about the cupboard. Clara took his coat. The room was very warm and cosy in the lamplight.

"My sirs!" exclaimed Mrs. Radford; "but you two's a pair of bright beauties, I must say! What's all that get-up for?"

"I believe we don't know," he said, feeling a victim.

"There isn't room in THIS house for two such bobby-dazzlers, if you fly your kites THAT high!" she rallied them. It was a nasty thrust.

He in his dinner jacket, and Clara in her green dress and bare arms, were confused. They felt they must shelter each other in that little kitchen.

"And look at THAT blossom! " continued Mrs. Radford, pointing to Clara. "What does she reckon she did it for?"

Paul looked at Clara. She was rosy; her neck was warm with blushes. There was a moment of silence.

"You like to see it, don't you?" he asked.

The mother had them in her power. All the time his heart was beating hard, and he was tight with anxiety. But he would fight her.

"Me like to see it!" exclaimed the old woman. "What should I like to see her make a fool of herself for?"

"I've seen people look bigger fools," he said. Clara was under his protection now.

"Oh, ay! and when was that?" came the sarcastic rejoinder.

"When they made frights of themselves," he answered.

Mrs. Radford, large and threatening, stood suspended on the hearthrug, holding her fork.

"They're fools either road," she answered at length, turning to the Dutch oven.

"No," he said, fighting stoutly. "Folk ought to look as well as they can."

"And do you call THAT looking nice!" cried the mother, pointing a scornful fork at Clara. "That--that looks as if it wasn't properly dressed!"

"I believe you're jealous that you can't swank as well," he said laughing.

"Me! I could have worn evening dress with anybody, if I'd wanted to!" came the scornful answer.

"And why didn't you want to?" he asked pertinently. "Or DID you wear it?"

There was a long pause. Mrs. Radford readjusted the bacon in the Dutch oven. His heart beat fast, for fear he had offended her.

"Me!" she exclaimed at last. "No, I didn't! And when I was in service, I knew as soon as one of the maids came out in bare shoulders what sort SHE was, going to her sixpenny hop!"

"Were you too good to go to a sixpenny hop?" he said.

Clara sat with bowed head. His eyes were dark and glittering. Mrs. Radford took the Dutch oven from the fire, and stood near him, putting bits of bacon on his plate.

"THERE'S a nice crozzly bit!" she said.

"Don't give me the best!" he said.

"SHE'S got what SHE wants," was the answer.

There was a sort of scornful forbearance in the woman's tone that made Paul know she was mollified.

"But DO have some!" he said to Clara.

She looked up at him with her grey eyes, humiliated and lonely.

"No thanks!" she said.

"Why won't you?" he answered carelessly.

The blood was beating up like fire in his veins. Mrs. Radford sat down again, large and impressive and aloof. He left Clara altogether to attend to the mother.

"They say Sarah Bernhardt's fifty," he said.

"Fifty! She's turned sixty!" came the scornful answer.

"Well," he said, "you'd never think it! She made me want to howl even now."

"I should like to see myself howling at THAT bad old baggage!" said Mrs. Radford. "It's time she began to think herself a grandmother, not a shrieking catamaran---"

He laughed.

"A catamaran is a boat the Malays use," he said.

"And it's a word as I use," she retorted.

"My mother does sometimes, and it's no good my telling her," he said.

"I s'd think she boxes your ears," said Mrs. Radford, good-humouredly.

"She'd like to, and she says she will, so I give her a little stool to stand on."

"That's the worst of my mother," said Clara. "She never wants a stool for anything."

"But she often can't touch THAT lady with a long prop," retorted Mrs. Radford to Paul.

"I s'd think she doesn't want touching with a prop," he laughed. "I shouldn't."

"It might do the pair of you good to give you a crack on the head with one," said the mother, laughing suddenly.

"Why are you so vindictive towards me?" he said. "I've not stolen anything from you."

"No; I'll watch that," laughed the older woman.

Soon the supper was finished. Mrs. Radford sat guard in her chair. Paul lit a cigarette. Clara went upstairs, returning with a sleeping-suit, which she spread on the fender to air.

"Why, I'd forgot all about THEM!" said Mrs. Radford. "Where have they sprung from?"

"Out of my drawer."

"H'm! You bought 'em for Baxter, an' he wouldn't wear 'em, would he?"--laughing. "Said he reckoned to do wi'out trousers i' bed." She turned confidentially to Paul, saying: "He couldn't BEAR 'em, them pyjama things."

The young man sat making rings of smoke.

"Well, it's everyone to his taste," he laughed.

Then followed a little discussion of the merits of pyjamas.

"My mother loves me in them," he said. "She says I'm a pierrot."

"I can imagine they'd suit you," said Mrs. Radford.

After a while he glanced at the little clock that was ticking on the mantelpiece. It was half-past twelve.

"It is funny," he said, "but it takes hours to settle down to sleep after the theatre."

"It's about time you did," said Mrs. Radford, clearing the table.

"Are YOU tired?" he asked of Clara.

"Not the least bit," she answered, avoiding his eyes.

"Shall we have a game at cribbage?" he said.

"I've forgotten it."

"Well, I'll teach you again. May we play crib, Mrs. Radford?" he asked.

"You'll please yourselves," she said; "but it's pretty late."

"A game or so will make us sleepy," he answered.

Clara brought the cards, and sat spinning her wedding-ring whilst he shuffled them. Mrs. Radford was washing up in the scullery. As it grew later Paul felt the situation getting more and more tense.

"Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, and two's eight---!"

The clock struck one. Still the game continued. Mrs. Radford had done all the little jobs preparatory to going to bed, had locked the door and filled the kettle. Still Paul went on dealing and counting. He was obsessed by Clara's arms and throat. He believed he could see where the division was just beginning for her breasts. He could not leave her. She watched his hands, and felt her joints melt as they moved quickly. She was so near; it was almost as if he touched her, and yet not quite. His mettle was roused. He hated Mrs. Radford. She sat on, nearly dropping asleep, but determined and obstinate in her chair. Paul glanced at her, then at Clara. She met his eyes, that were angry, mocking, and hard as steel. Her own answered him in shame. He knew SHE, at any rate, was of his mind. He played on.

At last Mrs. Radford roused herself stiffly, and said:

"Isn't it nigh on time you two was thinking o' bed?"

Paul played on without answering. He hated her sufficiently to murder her.

"Half a minute," he said.

The elder woman rose and sailed stubbornly into the scullery, returning with his candle, which she put on the mantelpiece. Then she sat down again. The hatred of her went so hot down his veins, he dropped his cards.

"We'll stop, then," he said, but his voice was still a challenge.

Clara saw his mouth shut hard. Again he glanced at her. It seemed like an agreement. She bent over the cards, coughing, to clear her throat.

"Well, I'm glad you've finished," said Mrs. Radford. "Here, take your things"--she thrust the warm suit in his hand--"and this is your candle. Your room's over this; there's only two, so you can't go far wrong. Well, good-night. I hope you'll rest well."

"I'm sure I shall; I always do," he said.

"Yes; and so you ought at your age," she replied.

He bade good-night to Clara, and went. The twisting stairs of white, scrubbed wood creaked and clanged at every step. He went doggedly. The two doors faced each other. He went in his room, pushed the door to, without fastening the latch.

It was a small room with a large bed. Some of Clara's hair-pins were on the dressing-table--her hair-brush. Her clothes and some skirts hung under a cloth in a corner. There was actually a pair of stockings over a chair. He explored the room. Two books of his own were there on the shelf. He undressed, folded his suit, and sat on the bed, listening. Then he blew out the candle, lay down, and in two minutes was almost asleep. Then click!--he was wide awake and writhing in torment. It was as if, when he had nearly got to sleep, something had bitten him suddenly and sent him mad. He sat up and looked at the room in the darkness, his feet doubled under him, perfectly motionless, listening. He heard a cat somewhere away outside; then the heavy, poised tread of the mother; then Clara's distinct voice:

"Will you unfasten my dress?"

There was silence for some time. At last the mother said:

"Now then! aren't you coming up?"

"No, not yet," replied the daughter calmly.

"Oh, very well then! If it's not late enough, stop a bit longer. Only you needn't come waking me up when I've got to sleep."

"I shan't be long," said Clara.

Immediately afterwards Paul heard the mother slowly mounting the stairs. The candlelight flashed through the cracks in his door. Her dress brushed the door, and his heart jumped. Then it was dark, and he heard the clatter of her latch. She was very leisurely indeed in her preparations for sleep. After a long time it was quite still. He sat strung up on the bed, shivering slightly. His door was an inch open. As Clara came upstairs, he would intercept her. He waited. All was dead silence. The clock struck two. Then he heard a slight scrape of the fender downstairs. Now he could not help himself. His shivering was uncontrollable. He felt he must go or die.

He stepped off the bed, and stood a moment, shuddering. Then he went straight to the door. He tried to step lightly. The first stair cracked like a shot. He listened. The old woman stirred in her bed. The staircase was dark. There was a slit of light under the stair-foot door, which opened into the kitchen. He stood a moment. Then he went on, mechanically. Every step creaked, and his back was creeping, lest the old woman's door should open behind him up above. He fumbled with the door at the bottom. The latch opened with a loud clack. He went through into the kitchen, and shut the door noisily behind him. The old woman daren't come now.

Then he stood, arrested. Clara was kneeling on a pile of white underclothing on the hearthrug, her back towards him, warming herself. She did not look round, but sat crouching on her heels, and her rounded beautiful back was towards him, and her face was hidden. She was warming her body at the fire for consolation. The glow was rosy on one side, the shadow was dark and warm on the other. Her arms hung slack.

He shuddered violently, clenching his teeth and fists hard to keep control. Then he went forward to her. He put one hand on her shoulder, the fingers of the other hand under her chin to raise her face. A convulsed shiver ran through her, once, twice, at his touch. She kept her head bent.

"Sorry!" he murmured, realising that his hands were very cold.

Then she looked up at him, frightened, like a thing that is afraid of death.

"My hands are so cold," he murmured.

"I like it," she whispered, closing her eyes.

The breath of her words were on his mouth. Her arms clasped his knees. The cord of his sleeping-suit dangled against her and made her shiver. As the warmth went into him, his shuddering became less.

At length, unable to stand so any more, he raised her, and she buried her head on his shoulder. His hands went over her slowly with an infinite tenderness of caress. She clung close to him, trying to hide herself against him. He clasped her very fast. Then at last she looked at him, mute, imploring, looking to see if she must be ashamed.

His eyes were dark, very deep, and very quiet. It was as if her beauty and his taking it hurt him, made him sorrowful. He looked at her with a little pain, and was afraid. He was so humble before her. She kissed him fervently on the eyes, first one, then the other, and she folded herself to him. She gave herself. He held her fast. It was a moment intense almost to agony.

She stood letting him adore her and tremble with joy of her. It healed her hurt pride. It healed her; it made her glad. It made her feel erect and proud again. Her pride had been wounded inside her. She had been cheapened. Now she radiated with joy and pride again. It was her restoration and her recognition.

Then he looked at her, his face radiant. They laughed to each other, and he strained her to his chest. The seconds ticked off, the minutes passed, and still the two stood clasped rigid together, mouth to mouth, like a statue in one block.

But again his fingers went seeking over her, restless, wandering, dissatisfied. The hot blood came up wave upon wave. She laid her head on his shoulder.

"Come you to my room," he murmured.

She looked at him and shook her head, her mouth pouting disconsolately, her eyes heavy with passion. He watched her fixedly.

"Yes!" he said.

Again she shook her head.

"Why not?" he asked.

She looked at him still heavily, sorrowfully, and again she shook her head. His eyes hardened, and he gave way.

When, later on, he was back in bed, he wondered why she had refused to come to him openly, so that her mother would know. At any rate, then things would have been definite. And she could have stayed with him the night, without having to go, as she was, to her mother's bed. It was strange, and he could not understand it. And then almost immediately he fell asleep.

He awoke in the morning with someone speaking to him. Opening his eyes, he saw Mrs. Radford, big and stately, looking down on him. She held a cup of tea in her hand.

"Do you think you're going to sleep till Doomsday?" she said.

He laughed at once.

"It ought only to be about five o'clock," he said.

"Well," she answered, "it's half-past seven, whether or not. Here, I've brought you a cup of tea."

He rubbed his face, pushed the tumbled hair off his forehead, and roused himself.

"What's it so late for!" he grumbled.

He resented being wakened. It amused her. She saw his neck in the flannel sleeping-jacket, as white and round as a girl's. He rubbed his hair crossly.

"It's no good your scratching your head," she said. "It won't make it no earlier. Here, an' how long d'you think I'm going to stand waiting wi' this here cup?"

"Oh, dash the cup!" he said.

"You should go to bed earlier," said the woman.

He looked up at her, laughing with impudence.

"I went to bed before YOU did," he said.

"Yes, my Guyney, you did!" she exclaimed.

"Fancy," he said, stirring his tea, "having tea brought to bed to me! My mother'll think I'm ruined for life."

"Don't she never do it?" asked Mrs. Radford.

"She'd as leave think of flying."

"Ah, I always spoilt my lot! That's why they've turned out such bad uns," said the elderly woman.

"You'd only Clara," he said. "And Mr. Radford's in heaven. So I suppose there's only you left to be the bad un."

"I'm not bad; I'm only soft," she said, as she went out of the bedroom. "I'm only a fool, I am!"

Clara was very quiet at breakfast, but she had a sort of air of proprietorship over him that pleased him infinitely. Mrs. Radford was evidently fond of him. He began to talk of his painting.

"What's the good," exclaimed the mother, "of your whittling and worrying and twistin' and too-in' at that painting of yours? What GOOD does it do you, I should like to know? You'd better be enjoyin' yourself."

"Oh, but," exclaimed Paul, "I made over thirty guineas last year."

"Did you! Well, that's a consideration, but it's nothing to the time you put in."

"And I've got four pounds owing. A man said he'd give me five pounds if I'd paint him and his missis and the dog and the cottage. And I went and put the fowls in instead of the dog, and he was waxy, so I had to knock a quid off. I was sick of it, and I didn't like the dog. I made a picture of it. What shall I do when he pays me the four pounds?"

"Nay! you know your own uses for your money," said Mrs. Radford.

"But I'm going to bust this four pounds. Should we go to the seaside for a day or two?"

"Who?"

"You and Clara and me."

"What, on your money!" she exclaimed, half-wrathful.

"Why not?"

"YOU wouldn't be long in breaking your neck at a hurdle race!" she said.

"So long as I get a good run for my money! Will you?"

"Nay; you may settle that atween you."

"And you're willing?" he asked, amazed and rejoicing.

"You'll do as you like," said Mrs. Radford, "whether I'm willing or not."

他逐渐可以靠他的绘画来养家糊口了。自由商行已经接受了他在各种材料上设计的几张图样,他还可V在一两个地方卖掉他“的绣花图样和圣坛布的图样之类的东西。目前这一阶段他挣的钱倒没有多少,但将来很有可能发展。他还和一个陶器商店的图案设计员交上了朋友,他从那里学到了花样设计方面的知识。他对实用美术很感兴趣,与此同时,他还坚持不懈地慢条斯理地继续画画。他比较喜欢画那种大幅的人像,画面很明亮,但不是象印象派画家那样,只用光亮和投影组成画面,他画的人物轮廓清晰,色调明快,跟米开朗淇罗的某些人像画一样有一种明快感。他按自认为真实的比例给这些人物加上背景。他凭记忆画了一批画,凡是他认识的人他都画了。他坚信自己的艺术作品有相当的价值。尽管他有时候情绪低沉,畏缩不前,但他还是相信自己的绘画。

他二十四岁那年,第一次对母亲说出了自己的一个雄心。

“妈妈,”他说:“我会成为一个人人注目的画家的。”

她用她奇怪的方式吸吸鼻子,就象有几分高兴时耸耸肩膀一样。

“很好,孩子,让我们拭目以待吧。”她说。

“你会看到的,亲爱的妈妈!总有一天你会明白你自己是不是在小看人!”

“我现在已经很满意了,孩子!”她笑着回答道。

“不过你得改变一下。瞧你跟米妮吧!”

米妮是个小女仆,一个只有十四岁的女孩。

“米妮怎么啦?”莫瑞尔太太严肃地问道。

“今天早晨当你冒着雨要出去买煤时,我听见她说‘呃,莫瑞尔太太!那事我会去干的。’”他说,“看来你倒是挺会差遣下人的啊!”

“哪里,这只不过是那个孩子的厚道罢了。”莫瑞尔太太说。

“你还道歉似的对她说:‘你可不能同时做两件事,对吧?’”

“她当时正忙着洗碗碟吧。”莫瑞尔太太说。

“她说了些什么?‘洗碗待会再洗又有什么,瞧你那双脚,走起来摇摇晃晃的。’”

“是的——那个大胆的小丫头!”莫瑞尔太太说着笑了。

他看着母亲,也大笑起来。因为爱他,母亲又重新变得热情和乐观了。这一刻仿佛所有的阳光都洒落在她身上。他兴高采烈地继续画着他的画。她心情愉悦时看上去精神焕发,几乎让他忘记了她头上的白发。

这一年,她和他一起去了怀特岛度假。对于他俩来说,能够一起去度假真是太让人兴奋了,这是一件使人心旷神恰的事。莫瑞尔太太心里充满了喜悦和新奇。不过他祈愿她能够多陪他走走,但她不能。甚至有一次她几乎昏倒了,当时她的脸色是那么的苍白,嘴唇是那么的乌青。看着这一切,他内心痛苦极了,就像胸口给人剜了一刀似的。后来,她恢复了,他也就忘了痛苦,不过他内心总是隐隐担忧,就好象一块没有愈合的伤口。

跟米丽亚姆分手之后,他差不多立刻倒向克莱拉。他和米丽亚姆分手之后的第二天是星期一,他来到了下面工作间,她抬起头来笑着看着他。不知不觉的,他们之间变得亲密无间了。她从他身上看到一种新的欢悦。

“好啊,希巴女王!”他笑着说。

“为什么这么叫我?”她问。

“我觉得这么适合你,你穿了一件新上衣。”

她脸红了,问道:

“那又怎么样呢?”

“很合身——非常合身!我可以给你设计一件衣服。”

“什么样的?”

他就站在她跟前,他的眼睛随着他说话而闪着光。他直直地盯着她的眼睛,冷不丁地一下子抱住了她。她半推半就着,他把她的衬衫拉了拉紧,一面抚平了她的衬衫。

“要比这样更紧身点。”他给她解释着。

不过,他俩都羞得脸儿通红,他马上逃走了。他刚才抚摸了她,他的整个身体都由于那种奇妙的感觉而颤抖。

他们之间已经有一种默契了。第二天傍晚,在火车到来之前,他先和她去看了一会儿电影。坐下后,保罗发现克莱拉的手就放在他身边,好一阵子他不敢碰它。银幕上的画面跳动着闪动着。他握住了她的手。这只手又大又结实,刚好能让他一把握住。他紧紧地握着它,她既没有动也没有做出任何表示。当他们走出电影院时,保罗要乘的那趟火车来了,他不禁犹豫起来。

“晚安!”克莱拉说。保罗冲过了马路。

第二天他又来跟她聊天的时候,她却变得相当傲慢。

“我们星期一去散散步好吗?”

她把脸转到了一边。

“你要不要告诉米丽亚姆一声啊?”她挖苦地回答他。

“我已经跟她分手了。”他说。

“什么时候?”

“上个星期天。”

“你们吵架了?”

“没有!我已经下定决心了,我斩钉截铁地跟她说,我认为我已经没有自己的自由。”

克莱拉没有答腔,于是他回去工作了。她是如此镇静,如此傲慢!

星期六晚上,他请她下班后一起去饭馆喝咖啡。她来了,但神情冷淡而且有些拒人于门外的样子。他要乘的那列火车要过三刻钟才到。

一我们散会儿步吧。”他说。

她同意了。于是他们走过城堡,进了公园。他有些怕她。她郁郁寡欢地走在他身边,仿佛不情愿,有一肚子怨气似的。他不敢握她的手。

他们在阴暗处走着,他问她:“我们走哪条路?”

“随便。”

“那么我们就往石阶上走吧。”

他突然转过身子走了。他们已经走过了公园的石阶。她见他突然撇下她,感到一阵怨恨,就站在那里一动不动。他回头看她,见她孤零零地站在那里。突然把她搂在怀里,紧紧地拥抱了一会儿,吻了她,然后才松手。

“快来啊。”他有些赔罪似的对她说。

她跟着他。他握住她的手吻了吻她的指尖。他们默默地走着。当他们走到亮光处时,他松开了她的手。他们俩谁也不说话,一直默默地走到车站。要分手了,他们只是默默地凝视着对方的眼睛。

“晚安。”她说。

他上了火车。他的身体机械地行动着,别人跟他说话时,他仿佛听到一种隐约的回声在回答他们。他精神有些恍惚。他觉得如果星期一不马上来临的话,自己就会发疯的。到了星期一,他就可以再看见她了。他的整个生命都放在了这一点上,可这又被星期天隔着。他简直无法忍受这一点。他要等到星期一才能见她,可星期天却偏偏挡在中间——要焦躁地过一个小时再一个小时呢。他想用脑袋去撞车厢门。不过他还是静静地坐在那里。一路上,他喝了几杯威士忌,谁知喝了酒之后,事情更糟。不过最要紧的是不能让母亲难过。他吱吱唔唔说了几句,就急急地上了床。他和衣坐在那里,下巴颏儿支在膝头上,凝视着窗外远处分散着几盏灯火的小山坡。他既没有想什么,也不想睡觉,只是纹丝不动地坐着,凝视着远处。直到最后他突然被寒冷惊醒时,他发现表停在两点半上。其实已经过了三点了,他精疲力尽,但由于现在还是星期天的清晨,他又陷入了痛苦之中。他终于上床躺下。星期天,他整天骑着自行车,直到实在没劲了才作罢。却不知道自己去了什么地方,只知道过了这一天就是星期一。他睡到四点钟,醒来后就躺着胡思乱想。他渐渐清醒——他仿佛能看见自己——真正的自己,在前面的某处。下午,她会跟他一起去散步。下午!真是度日如年啊。

时间象是在慢吞吞地爬。他父亲起床了,他可以听见他在走动,后来就去了矿井,那双大皮靴咚咚地走过院子。公鸡还是喔喔地报晓,一辆马车顺着大路驶过。他母亲也起床了,她捅开了炉火。过了一会儿,她轻声地叫了他几声。他应着,装做刚醒来的样子。居然装得很像。

他朝车站走去——还有一英里!火车快到诺丁汉姆了。火车会在隧道前面停么?不过这也没什么,它在午饭前总会开到的。他到了乔丹厂。半小时后她才会来的。不管怎么说,她快来了。他办完来往的信件。她应该到了。也许她就没来。他奔下楼梯。啊!透过玻璃门他看到了她。她做俯着身子在干活,这让他觉得他不能贸然上前去打扰她,可他又忍不住不去。终于,他进去了,他的脸色苍白,神情紧张局促,但他却装得十分镇静的样子。她不会误解他吧?他在表面上不能露出本来面目啊!

“今天下午,”他艰难地说:“你会来吗?”

“我想会的。”她喃喃答道。

他站在她面前,竟然一句话也说不出来,她把脸从他面前扭开。那种没有知觉的感觉仿佛又笼罩了他,他紧咬着牙上了楼。他把每件事都干得很完善,他还要这么干下去。整个上午他好像被打了一剂麻醉药似的,看什么都象隔得老远,恍恍惚惚的,他自己仿佛被一个紧身箍紧紧地憋得喘不过气来。他的另一个自我则在远处干活,在分类帐上记着帐,他全神贯注地监视着远处的自我,生怕他弄出什么差错来。

可他不能老是这样痛苦而又紧张。他一直不停地干着,可表还是才指在十二点钟。他的衣服仿佛都被钉在桌子上,他就那样站在那儿不停地干着,强迫自己写着每一笔。好不容易到了十二点三刻,他可以结束了。于是他奔下了楼。

“两点钟在喷泉那儿跟我见面。”他说。

“我得要两点半才能到那儿呢。”

“好吧!”他说。

她看了他一眼,看到了那双有些痴狂的黑眼睛。

“我尽量在两点一刻到。”

他只得同意。然后他去吃了午饭。这一段时间他仿佛被打了麻醉药,每一分钟都无限地延长了。他在街上不停地走着,不知走了多少英里。后来,想起自己可能不能按时赶到约会地点了。两点过五分,他赶到了喷泉。接下来的那一刻钟对他来说简直是一种无法忍受的酷刑,这是一种强压住自己本性使它不至于忘形的痛苦。他终于看见她了。她来了!他早已在等她了。

“你迟到了。”他说。

“只晚了五分钟。”她答道。

“我对你可从来没有迟到过。”他笑着说。

她穿着一身深蓝色的衣服,他看着她那窈窕的身段。

“你需要几朵花。”说着,他就朝最近的花店走去。

她在后面默默地跟着他,他给她买了一束石竹花,有鲜红的,有朱红的。她脸色通红,把花别在衣服上。

“这颜色很漂亮!”他说。

“我倒宁愿要那种色彩柔和些的。”她说。

他笑了。

“你是否觉得你在街上走着就像一团火?”他说。

她低着头,生怕碰上别人。他们并肩走着,他侧过脸来看着她,她颊边那缕可爱的头发遮住了耳朵,他真想去摸一下。她有一种丰腴的韵味,就象风中那微微低垂的饱满的稻穗一样,这让他感到一阵目眩。他在路上晕晕乎乎地走着,仿佛在飞转,周围一切都在身边旋转。

乘电车时,她那浑圆的肩膀斜靠在他身上,他握住了她的手。他感觉自己仿佛从麻醉中苏醒过来,开始呼吸了。她那半掩在金发中的耳朵离他很近。他真想吻吻它,可是车上还有别人。她的耳朵会留着让他去吻的。尤其是,他仿佛不是他自己,而是她的什么附属品,就好象照耀在她身上的阳光。

他赶紧移开了眼光。外面一直在下着雨,城堡下巨大的峭岩高耸在小镇的平地上,雨水从上面直泻下来,留下一道水迹。电车穿过中部火车站那片宽广的黑沉沉的广场,经过了白色的牛场,然后沿着肮脏的威福路开去。

她的身子随着电车的行驶轻轻晃动着,由于她紧靠着他,他的身体也随之晃动。他是一个精力充沛、身材修长的男人,浑身好象有着使不完的精力。他的脸长得粗糙,五官粗犷,貌不出众,但浓眉下的那对眼睛却生气勃勃,不由得叫她着了迷。这双眼睛似乎在闪烁,然而实际却十分平静,目光与笑声保持着一定的协调。他的嘴巴也是如此,正要绽出得意的笑容却又戛然而止。他身上有一种显而易见的疑虑。她沉思般地咬着自己的嘴唇,他紧紧地握着她的手。

他们在旋转式栅门前付了两枚半便士,然后走上了桥。特伦特河水已经涨得很高,河水在桥下悄悄急速地流过。不久前的这场雨可不小,河面上是一大片粼光闪闪的洪水。天空也是灰蒙蒙的,到处闪耀着银光。威福教堂里的大丽菊由于浸透了雨水,成了一团湿漉漉的黑红色花球。河边草地和榆树廊边上的小道上看不到一个人影。

黑黑的河面上泛着银光,一股淡淡的薄雾弥漫在绿荫覆盖的堤岸和斑斑点点的榆树上空。河水浑然成一体,象怪物似的互相缠绕着,悄悄地以极快的速度飞奔而去。克莱拉一声不响地在他身边走着。

“为什么,”她慢慢地用一种相当刺耳的语调问他:“为什么你与米丽亚姆分手?”

他皱了皱眉。

“因为我想离开她。”他说。

“为什么?”

“因为我不愿意再和她继续下去,而且我也不想结婚。”

她沉默了片刻。他们沿着泥泞小道小心翼翼地走着,雨滴不停地从榆树上往下掉。

“你是不想跟米丽亚姆结婚呢还是你根本不愿结婚?”

“两者兼而有之。”他答道:“兼而有之。”

因为路上积了一滩滩的水,他们只好跨上了阶梯。

“那么她怎么说呢?”克莱拉问。

“米丽亚姆吗?她说我只是一个四岁的小孩子,说我老是挣扎着想把她推开。”

克莱拉听后沉思了一会儿。“不过你和她交朋友的时间不算短了吧?”

“是的。”

“你现在不想再要她了?”

“是的,我知道这样下去没什么好处。”

她又陷入了深思。

“你不觉得你这样对她有点太狠心了吗?”她问。

“是有点。我应该早几年就和她分手,但再继续下去是一点好处也没有的,错上加错并不能得出正确的结论。”

“你多大了?”克莱拉问。

“二十五了。”

“我已经三十了。”她说道。

“我知道你三十了。”

“我就要三十一了,——也许我已经三十一了吧?”

“我不知道,也不在乎这个。这有什么关系!”

他们走进了园林的入口处,潮湿的红土路上沾满了落叶,穿过草丛一直通向陡峭的堤岸。两侧的榆树就像一条长廊两旁的柱子一般竖立在那儿,枝桠互相交叉,形成了一个高高的拱顶,枯叶就是从那上面落下来。周围的一切都是那么空旷、寂静和潮湿。她站在最上面一层的台阶上,他握着她的双手,她则笑着望着他的双眼,然后跳了下来。她的胸脯紧贴在他的胸前。他搂住了她,在她脸上吻着。

他们一路沿着这条滑溜溜的陡峭的红土路走着。此时,她松开了他的手,让他搂住她的腰。

“你搂的这么紧,我胳膊上的血脉都不通了。”她说。

他们就这么走着。他的指尖可以感觉到她的乳房的晃动。四周静悄悄的,一个人也没有。左边,透过榆树干和枝桠间的缝隙可以看到湿漉漉的红色耕地。右边,往下看,可以看见远处下面的榆树树顶,还可以听见汩汩的流水声。间或还可以瞥见下面涨满了河水的特伦特河在静静地流淌着,以及点缀在浅滩上的那几头小牛。

“自从柯克·怀特小时候来这过儿以后,这儿几乎没有什么变化。”他说。

虽然他说着话,但他却一直盯着她不满地撅着的嘴巴以及耳朵下的脖子,脸上的红晕在脖子这儿与皮肤的蜜乳色交融在一起。她走路时,挨着他的身子微微晃动着,而他则挺得象很绷紧的弦。

走到榆树林的一半,就到了河边这片园林的最高处。他们踟蹰不前,停了下来。他带她穿过路旁树下的草地。红色的悬崖陡峭地斜向河流。河水掩映在一片树木和灌木丛下,闪着银光。下面远处的浅滩绿油油的绵延成一大片。他和她互相依偎着站在那儿,默默无言,心中惶惶不安。他们的身体一直紧紧地依偎着。河水在下面汩汩地流着。

“你为什么恨巴克斯特·道伍斯?”他终于问道。

她优雅地向他转过身来,向他仰起脖子,翘起嘴巴,双目微闭,她的胸向前倾俯,她像在邀请他来吻。他轻声笑了,随即闭上了眼,同她长长地热吻着。她的嘴和他的仿佛融为一体,两人紧紧地拥抱着,就这样过了许久才分开。他们一直站在这条暴露在众人眼里的小路边上。

“你想不想到下面河边上去?”他问。

她看了看他,任凭他扶着。他走到斜坡边上,开始往下爬。

“真滑。”他说。

“没关系。”她应道。

红土坡比较陡峭,他打着滑,从一簇野草丛滑到另外一簇,抓住灌木丛,向树根下的一小块平地冲去。他在树下等着她,兴奋地笑着。她的鞋上沾满了红土,这使她走起来非常困难。他皱起了眉头。最后他终于抓住了她的手,她就站在他身边了。他们头顶悬崖,脚踏峭壁。她的脸颊鲜红,双眼熠熠闪光。他看了看脚下的那一段陡坡。

“这太冒险了,”他说,“而且不管怎么说,也太脏了些,我们往回走吧!”

“可别是因为我的缘故啊。”她赶紧说。

“好吧,你瞧,我帮不了你,只会碍事。把你的小包和手套给我。瞧你这双可怜的鞋子!”

他们站在树下,在斜坡面上休息了一会儿。

“好了,我们又该出发了。”他说。

他离开了,连摔带滚地滑到了下一棵树旁,他的身体猛然撞到树上,吓得他半天喘不过气来。她在后面小心翼翼地跟着,紧紧拽着树枝和野草。就这样他们一步步地走到了河边。倒霉的是河水已经将小道给淹没了,红土斜坡直接伸到了河里。保罗脚跟深深隐入泥土,身子拼命往上爬。突然小包的绳子“啪”的一声断了,棕色的小包掉了下来,滚进了河里,顺水漂走了。他紧紧地抓着一棵树。

“哎呀,我真该死!”他怒气冲冲地大叫着。接着,又开始哈哈大笑起来,她正冒险往下走。

“小心!”他提醒着。他背靠着树站在那儿等着她。“来吧。”他张开双臂喊道。

她放心地往下跑,他抓住她,两人一起站在那儿看着黑黝黝的河水拍打着河岸,那个包早已漂得不见影子了。

“没关系。”她说。

他紧紧地搂住她吻着。这块地方刚刚能容纳得下四只脚。

“这是一个圈套!”他说:“不过那边有条野径,上面有人走过,所以如果咱们顺着沟往下走的话,我想我们一定能重新找到这条路。”

河水打着旋飞快地流着。河对岸,荒芜的浅滩上有牛在吃草。悬崖就矗立在保罗和克莱拉的右边。他们背靠村干,站在死水一般的寂静中。

“我们往前试着走走。”他说。于是他们在红土中沿着沟里某个人钉靴踩出来的脚印,挣扎着往前走去。他们走得浑身发热,满脸通红。他们的鞋上粘着厚厚的泥,沉重而艰难地走着。终于,他们找到了那条中断了的小道。路上布满了河边冲来的碎石头,不管怎样,在上面行走可比在泥泞中跋涉好多了。他们用树枝把靴子上的泥剔干净。他的心急促地狂跳着。

他们来到平地上。保罗突然看到水边静静地站着两个人影,他不禁心里一惊。原来是两个人在钓鱼。他转过身去冲克莱拉举手示意,克莱拉犹豫了一下,把外套扣子扣好,两人一起继续向前走去。

钓鱼人好奇地看了看这两个扰乱了他们的清静的不速之客。他们生的那堆火,现在已经快熄灭了。大家都寂默无声。两个钓鱼人又回过头去继续钓他们的鱼,就像两尊雕像站在这闪光的铅色河边。克莱拉红着脸低头走着,保罗心里暗自好笑。俩人向前继续走着,消失在杨柳树林里。

“哼,他们真该被淹死。”保罗低声说。

克莱拉没有回答,两人费劲地沿着河边这条泥泞小道走着。突然,小道消失了,眼前是结实的红土形成的河堤,笔直地通向河面。他停住了,恶狠狠地低声诅咒着。

“过不去了。”克莱拉说。

他直直地站在那儿,环顾着四周。前方是河流中的两个小沙洲,上面长满了柳树,但这只是可望而不可及的。悬崖高耸在他们的头顶,像一堵峭壁。后面不远处就是那两个钓鱼人。午后,对面岸上冷冷清清的,有几头牛在远处默默地吃着草。他又暗自低声咒骂起来,接着抬眼盯着巨大而又陡峭的河岸。难道除了回头就再没有别的路可走了吗。

“等一会儿。”说着他就努力在旁边陡峭的红土河堤上站稳,敏捷地往上爬去。他看着每棵树的根部,终于找到了要找的地方。山上并排长着的两棵毛榉树下有一小块空地。平地上铺满了湿湿的落叶,不过能踏过去。这地方也许正好在那两个钓鱼人视线外,他扔下雨披,招手冲她示意,让她过来。

克莱拉拖着脚走到他身边。到了平地上,她目光沉滞地看着他,把头枕在他肩上。他四处看了看,然后紧紧地拥抱着她。除了对岸上那只小小的牛外,谁也看不见,他们很放心。他深深地吻着她的脖子,感觉到她的脉搏在怦怦地跳动。此时万籁俱寂。寂静的午后,除了他俩外,再无他人。

当她抬起头来时,一直盯着地下的保罗,突然发现湿漉漉的山毛榉的黑根上撒下不少鲜红的石竹花瓣,仿佛点点滴滴的血渍,这些细小的红色斑点从她胸前一直流淌到她的脚下。

“你的花都碎了。”他说。

她一边捋着头发,一边神情郁郁地看着他。突然,他指尖抚摸着她的脸颊。

“为什么你看起来心事重重的?”他责怪她。

她忧郁地笑了笑,仿佛感到了内心深处的孤独。他抚摸着她的脸颊,深深地吻着她。

“别这样!”他说,“别烦恼了!”

她紧紧地握着他的手指,笑得浑身直哆嗦。然后,她松开手。他把她的头发从额前撩开,抚摸着她的额头,温柔地吻着她。

“千万别发愁!”他柔声地恳求她说。

“不,我没发愁!”她温柔地笑着,显出十分听话的样子。

“哦,真的么,你可别发愁啊。”他一面抚摸着她,一面恳求道。

“不发愁?”她吻吻他,安慰他说。

他们又艰难地爬回了崖顶,用了一刻钟的时间。他一踏上平地,就扔掉了帽子,擦去了额上的汗,吁着气。

“我们可算回到平地上来了。”他说。

她喘着粗气坐在草丛中,脸色涨得鲜红。他吻了她一下,她忍不住笑了。

“来,现在我帮你把靴子擦干净,免得让体面人笑话你。”他说。

他跪在她的脚边,用树枝和草擦着靴子上的泥巴。她把手指插进了他的头发,扳过他的头亲吻着。

“我现在应该干什么呢?”他说着,看着她笑了起来,“是擦靴子呢,还是谈情说爱呢,回答我!”

“我爱让你怎么样你就怎么样。”她答道。

“我暂时先做你的擦鞋伙计,先不管别的。”哪知两人都直直地互相望着,不停地笑着,接着他们又啧啧连声地吻了起来。

“啧,啧,啧!”他像他母亲一样发出咂舌头的声音,“有个女人在身边,什么也干不成。”

他温柔地唱着歌,又开始擦着靴子。她摸着他那浓密的头发,他吻了吻她的手指。他一直用劲地擦着她的靴子,好不容易才把它们弄得像个样了。

“好了,你瞧!”他说,“我是不是一个妙手回春的巧匠?站起来!咳,你看上去就象英国女王一样无懈可击!”

他把自己的靴子稍微擦了两下,然后又在水里洗了洗手,唱着歌。他们一直走到了克利夫顿村。他发狂地爱着她,她的一举手一投足,衣服的每道皱痕,都让他感到一股热流,她处处都让人喜爱。

他俩来到一个老太太家里喝茶,她为他俩的到来而感到高兴。

“你们怎么也不选一个天气好点的日子来啊!”老太太说着,忙忙乎乎地走来走去。

“不,”他笑着说,“我们一直认为今天是个好天气呢。”

老太太好奇地看着他。他容光焕发,脸色神情都与往日不同,乌黑的眼睛炯炯有神,笑意盈盈。他高兴地持着小胡子。

“你们真的这么认为吗?”老太太大声说,那双老眼闪出一丝光芒。

“没错!”他笑着说。

“那么我相信今天是个好日子。”老太太说。

她忙手忙脚地张罗着,不想离开他们。

“我不知道你们是不是也喜欢小萝卜,”她对克莱拉说,“我在菜园里种了一些——还有一些黄瓜。”

克莱拉脸色通红,看起来十分漂亮。

“我想吃些小萝卜。”她说。

听了这话,老太太乐颠颠地去了。

“要是她知道就糟了!”克莱拉悄悄地对他说。

“哦,她可不会知道的,我们的神态是这样的自然。你那样子真能把一个天使长也哄骗过去。我觉得这样也没什么不好——这样装得自然一点——如果别人留我们作客,让别人心里高兴,我们自己也高兴——那么,我们就不算是在欺骗了!”

他们继续吃着饭。当他俩正要离开的时候,老太太胆怯地走过来,手里拿着三朵娇小的盛开着的大丽花,如蜜蜂般整洁,花瓣上斑斑点点,红白相间。她站在克莱拉的面前,高兴地说:

“我不晓得是否……”说着用她那苍老的手把花递了过来。

“啊,真是太漂亮了!”克莱拉激动地大叫着接过了花朵。

“难道都给她吗?”保罗嗔怪地问。

“是的,都应该给她。”她满面春风,十分欢喜地回答,“你得到的已经够多的了。”

“噢,可是我想要她给我一朵。”他笑着说。

“她要是愿意的话,会给你的,”老太太微笑着说。随即高兴地行了个屈膝礼。

克莱拉相当沉默,心里有些不安。当他们一路走去时,保罗问:

“你不感到有罪吗?”

她用一双惊慌失措的灰眼睛看了看他。

“有罪?”她说,“没有。”

“可是你好像是感到自己做错了什么似的,是吗?”

“不,”她说,“我只是在想要是他们知道了会怎样。”

“如果他们知道了,他们就会感到不可理解。眼下,他们可以理解,而且他们还会高兴这样。关他们什么事?看,这儿只有树和我,你难道就不觉得多少有点不对吗?”

他抓住她的胳膊,把她搂到自己面前,让她盯着自己的眼睛。有些事情使他感到烦恼。

“我们不是罪人,对吗?”他说着,不安地微微皱起了眉头。

“不是。”她答道。

他吻了吻她,笑了。

“我想你喜欢自己多少有点犯罪感,”他说,“我相信夏娃畏缩着走出伊甸园时,心里是乐滋滋的。”

克莱拉神采飞扬、平和宁静,这倒也使他高兴。当他一个人坐在车厢里的时候,他感到自己异常的幸福,只感到周围的人那么可亲、可爱,夜色是那么美丽,一切都那么美好。

保罗到家时,莫瑞尔太太正坐着看书。眼下身体不太好,面色煞白。当时他并没注意到,后来想来却令他终身难忘,她没对他提及自己的病,因为她觉得这毕竟不是什么大病。

“你回来晚了!”她看着他说。

他双眼炯炯有神,满面红光,对她微笑着。

“是的,我和克莱拉去了克利夫顿园林。”

母亲又看了他一眼。

“可别人不说闲话吗?”她说。

“为什么?他们知道她是个女权主义者之类的人物,再说,如果他们说闲话又能怎样!”

“当然,这件事并没有什么错,”母亲说道,“不过你也知道人言可畏的,刀一有人议论她如何……”

“噢,这我管不着。毕竟,这些闲言碎语并没有什么了不起的。”

“我想,你应该为她考虑考虑。”

“我当然替她考虑的,人们能说什么?—一说我们一起散步罢了!我想你是妒嫉了。”

“你知道,要是她不是一个已婚妇女的话,我是很高兴的。”

“行了,亲爱的妈妈。她和丈夫分居了,而且还上台讲演,她早已是离开了羊群的孤羊。据我看来,可失去的东西,的确没有,她的一生对她已无所谓了,那么什么还有价值呢?她跟着我——生活这才有了点意义,那就必须为此付出代价——我们都必须付出代价!人们都非常害怕付出代价,他们宁可饿死。”

“好吧,我的儿子,我们等着瞧到底会怎么样。”

“那好,妈妈,我要坚持到底的。”

“我们等着瞧吧!”

“她——她这人好极了,妈妈,真的她很好!你不了解她!”

“可这和娶她不是一回事。”

“或许事情会好些。”

沉默了好一会儿。有些事他想问问母亲,但又不敢问。

“你想了解她吗?”他迟疑地问。

“是的,”莫瑞尔太太冷冷地说,“我很想知道她是怎样的一个人。”

“她人很好,妈妈,很好!一点儿也不俗气!”

“我从未说过她俗气。”

“可是你好象认为她——比不上……她是百里挑一的,我保证她比任何人都好,真的!她漂亮,诚实,正直,她为人不卑不亢,请别对她吹毛求疵!”

莫瑞尔太太的脸被气红了。

“我绝对没有对她挑三拣回,她也许真像你说的那样好,但是——”

“你不同意。”他接着替她说完下文。

“你希望我赞成吗?”她冷冷地问道。

“是的——是的!——要是你有眼力的话,你会高兴的!你想要见见她吗?”

“我说过我要见她。”

“那么我就带她来——我可以把她带到这儿来吗?”

“随你便。”

“那么我带她来——一个星期天——来喝茶,如果你讨厌她的话,我决不会原谅你。”

母亲大笑起来。

“好象是真的一样。”她说道。他知道自己已经赢了。

“啊,她要在这儿真是太好了!她某些方面真有点象女王呢。”

从教堂出来后,他有时仍旧与米丽亚姆和艾德加一起散散步。他已经不再去农场了。然而她对他依然如故,她在场也不会使他尴尬。有一天晚上只有她一个人,他陪着她。他们谈起书,这是他们永恒的话题。莫瑞尔太太曾经说过,他和米丽亚姆的恋爱就象用书本燃起来的一把火——如果书烧光了,火也就熄灭了。米丽亚姆也曾自夸她能象一本书一样了解他,甚至还可以随时找到她所想读的章节、段落。轻信的他真的相信米丽亚姆比其他人更了解他。所以他很乐意同她谈他自己的事,就象一个天真的自我主义者。很快话题就扯到他自己的日常行为上了,他还真感到无上的荣幸,因为他还能引起她这么大的兴致。

“你最近一直在做些什么?”

“我——哟,没有什么!我在花园画了一幅贝斯伍德的速写,快画好了。这是第一百次尝试了。”

他们就这样谈开了。接着她说:

“那你最近没有出去?”

“出去了,星期一下午和克莱拉去了克利夫顿园。”

“天气很不好,是吗?”米丽亚姆说。

“可是我想出去,这就行了。特伦特河涨水了。”

“你去巴顿了吗?”她问。

“没有,我们在克利夫顿喝的茶。”

“真的!那真是太好了。”

“对,很好!那儿有个乐呵呵的老太太,她给了我们几朵大丽花,要多漂亮有多漂亮。”

米丽亚姆低下了头,沉思着。他对她毫不隐瞒,无话不说。

“她怎么会送花给你们呢?”她问。

他哈哈大笑。

“我想这是因为她喜欢我们——因为我们都很快活。”

米丽亚姆把手指放在嘴里。

“你回家晚了吧?”她问。

他终于被她说话的腔调激怒了。

“我赶上了七点的火车。”

“嘿!”

他们默默地走着,他真的生气了。

“克莱拉怎么样了?”米丽亚姆问。

“我看很好。”

“那就好!”她带着点讥讽的口吻说,“顺便问一下,她丈夫怎样啦?没有听说过他的消息。”

“他找到了别的女人,日子过得相当好,”他回答道,“至少我想是这样。”

“我明白了——你也并不了解。你不觉得这种处境让一个女人很为难吗?”

“实在难堪!”

“真是太不公平了!”米丽亚姆说,“男人可以为所欲为……”

“那就让女人也如此。”他说。

“她能怎样?如果她这样做的话,你就看她的处境好了。”

“又怎么样?”

“怎么样,不可能的事!你不了解一个女人会因此失去什么……”

“是的,我不了解。但是如果一个女人仅靠自己的好名声生活,那就太可怜了,好名声只不过是块不毛之地,光靠它驴也会饿死的。”

她终于了解了他的道德观,而且知道他会据此行事。

她从来没有直接问过他什么事,但是她对他了如指掌。

几天后,他又见到米丽亚姆时,话题转到了婚姻上,接着又谈到了克莱拉和道伍斯的婚姻。

“你知道,”他说,“她从未意识到婚姻问题的极端重要性。她以为婚姻是日常生活的一部分——人总得过这一关——而道伍斯——唉,多少女人都情愿把灵魂给他来得到他,那他为什么不及时行乐呢?于是她渐渐变成了一个不被人理解的女人。我敢打保票,她对待他态度一定很不好。”

“那她离开他是因为他不理解她?”

“我想是这样,我觉得她只能这样,这根本不是个可以理解的问题,这是生活问题,跟他生活,她只有一半是活着的,其余部分是在冬眠,完全死寂的。冬眠的女人是个难以让人理解的女人,她必须觉醒了。”

“那他呢?”

“我不知道。我倒相信他是尽其所能去爱她,但他是一个傻瓜。”

“这倒是有点象你的父母亲。”米丽亚姆说。

“是的,可是我相信我的母亲起初真从我父亲那儿得到了幸福和满足。我相信她狂热地爱过他,这是她依然与他生活在一起的原因。他们毕竟已经结合在一起。”

“是的。”米丽亚姆说。

“我想,”他继续说,“人必须对另一个人有一种火一般的激情,真正的、真正的激情——一次,只要有一次就行,哪怕它只有三个月。你瞧,我母亲看上去似乎拥有了她的生活及生活所需的一切,她一丁点儿也不感到缺憾。”

“不一定吧。”米丽亚姆说。

“开始的时候,我肯定她和我父亲有过真感情,她知道,她经历过的,你能够在她身上感觉到。在她身上,在每天你所见的千百个人身上感觉到的。一旦你经历过这种事,你就能应付任何事,就会成熟起来。”

“确切讲是什么事情呢?”米丽亚姆问。

“这很难说。但是当你真正与其他某个人结合为一体时一种巨大、强烈的体验就可以改变你整个人。这种体验好像能滋润你的灵魂,使你能够继续生活,去应付一切,并且使你变得成熟起来。”

“你认为你的母亲跟你父亲有过这种体验吗?”

“不错,她在心底里十分感激他给她的这种体验。尽管现在,两人已经十分隔膜了。”

“你认为克莱拉从来没有过这种体验吗?”

“我敢肯定从来没有过。”

米丽亚姆思考着这个问题。她明白他所追求的是什么了——情欲之火的洗礼。她觉得他似乎在这么做,她明白他追求不到是不会满足的。或许他和一些男人一样,都认为年轻时纵欲是件最基本的事情。在他如愿以偿后,他就不会再欲火难熬,坐卧不宁了,这样他就可以平静安定下来,把自己的一生都交托到她的手中了。好,那么好吧,如果他坚持下去,让他满足他的要求——让他去得到他所要的巨大而强烈的体验吧。至少等他得到这种东西时,他就不想要了——这是他亲口说的。到那时他就会想要她所能给他带来的东西了。他就会希望有个归宿,这样他就会好好地工作。他一定要走,这对米丽亚姆来说固然是件痛心的事,可是她既然能允许他去酒馆喝杯威士忌,当然也让他去找克莱拉,只要这能够满足他的需求,而将来他就必须归自己所有。

“你有没有跟你妈妈谈过克莱拉?”她问。

他知道这是验证他对另外那个女人感情认真与否的一次考验,她知道如果他告诉他的母亲,那么他去找克莱拉就不是简单的事情了,决不是一般男人找个妓女寻欢作乐而已。

“是的,”他说道,“她星期天来喝茶。”

“去你家?”

“不错,我想让妈妈见见她。”

“噢!”

两人都沉默了,事情的进展超过了她的预料,她突然感到一阵悲楚,他竟然这么快就离开她,彻底抛弃她了。难道克莱拉能被他家人接受吗?他家人向来对自己怀有很深的敌意。

“我去做礼拜时可能会顺便来拜访,”她说,“我好久没见到克莱拉了。”

“好吧。”他惊讶地说道,无名之火陡然而生。

星期天下午,他去凯斯敦车站接克莱拉。当他站在月台上,他极力想搞清楚自己是否真的有预感。

“我感觉她会来吗?”他暗自思索着,他竭力想找出答案。他的心七上八下地十分矛盾。这也许是个预兆。他有种预兆她不会来了!她不会来了,他不能像自己想像的那样带她穿过田野回家去,他只好自己独自回家了。火车晚点了,这个下午的时间将会白费了,晚上看来也是如此。他恨她失约不来。如果她不能守信用,那么她为什么要答应呢?或许她没有赶上——他自己也经常误车——但是这不是原因啊,为什么她偏偏错过这趟车呢?他很生她的气。他愤怒了。

忽然他看见火车蜿蜒地绕过街角慢慢爬了过来。火车来了,真的来了。可她肯定没有来。绿色的机车嘶嘶地叫着驶进月台,一长列棕色的车厢靠近了。八扇门打开了。没有,她没有来!没来!没错!哎,她来了!她戴了顶黑色的大帽子!他立刻赶到她的身边。

“我还以为你不会来了呢。”他说。

克莱拉笑得上气不接下气。两人的目光相遇了。他带着她沿着月台匆匆地走着,把手伸给她,一面飞快地讲着话,以此来掩饰他激动的心情。她看上去很漂亮,帽子上插着几大朵丝制的玫瑰花,颜色是暗金色的。她的一身黑色的衣服很合身地裹着她的胸脯和双肩。他和她走着,感到很自豪。他感觉到车站上认识他的人都敬慕地看着她。

“我以为你肯定不会来了。”他颤声笑着。

她轻喊着笑着答道。

“我坐在火车里,心里一直在想,如果你要不来,我该怎么办呢?”她说。

他激动地抓住她的手,两人沿着狭窄的羊肠小道向前走。他们选择了通往纳塔尔和雷肯亨庄农场的路。这天天气很好,风和日丽的,到处可见金黄色的落叶,挨着树林的树篱上长着好多鲜红的野蔷蔽果,他采了一把给她戴上。

保罗把野蔷蔽果戴在她胸前的衣襟上,一边说:“真的,即使因为小鸟要吃它们,你反对我摘这些蔷薇果。可是这一带的小鸟能吃的东西可太多啦。根本不在乎这几颗果子。春天一到,你就经常能看到烂掉的浆果。”

他唠唠叨叨地一直说着,连他也不知道自己到底在说些什么。他只知道她很有耐心地听着,让他把果子戴在她胸前的衣襟上。她望着他这双灵巧的手,生气勃勃的,感觉自己好象什么还没有见到过似的。直到现在,所有的一切都是朦朦胧胧的。

他们渐渐走进煤矿。矿山乌漆麻黑地静静地屹立在稻田之间,一大堆一大堆的矿渣仿佛正在麦田里升起。

“真可惜,这么美的景色,怎么偏偏有个矿井?”克莱拉说。

“你这样想吗?”他回答,“你知道我已经习惯了。如果看不见矿井的话,我还会想念呢!是的,各处的矿井我都喜欢。我喜欢一排排的货车及吊车,喜欢看白天的蒸汽,晚上的灯火。小时候,我总以为白天看到的云柱和晚上看到的火柱就是一个矿井,蒸汽腾腾,灯光闪闪和火光熊熊的,我想上帝就在矿井的上方。”

当他们快走到他家时,她很沉默地走着,似乎有点畏畏缩缩的,不敢再往前走。他使劲儿捏了捏她的手指,她满脸通红,但没有什么表示。

“难道你不想进家吗?”他问。

“不,我很想进的。”她回答。

他从来没有想到过她在他家的处境会多么的特殊和困难。在他看来,就像介绍一个男朋友给母亲一样,只不过这一个更可爱些。

莫瑞尔家的房子坐落在一条简陋破旧的巷子里,巷子从一座陡峭的小山上直通下来。可屋子却显得比其它的更象样得多。这是一个很脏很旧、装有一个大凸窗的独立的建筑。可是屋内的光线仍显得很阴暗。保罗打开了通往庭院的门,屋里呈现出一片与外界不同的景象。室外,午后的阳光格外明媚,像是另一番天地。小路上长满了文菊和小树。窗前的草地洒满阳光,草地周围种着紫丁香花。从庭园内放眼看去,一丛丛散乱的菊花,沐浴着阳光一直伸到埃及榕树旁。再远处是一大片田野,极目望去是一带小山,靠近小山的是几栋红顶的农舍,沐浴着秋天午后金灿灿的日光。

身着黑绸衣衫的莫瑞尔太太坐在摇椅里,她灰褐色的头发梳得溜光光的,从前额的高高的鬓角顺势向后梳着,脸色有些苍白。克莱拉窘迫地跟在保罗后面走进了厨房。莫瑞尔太太站了起来。克莱拉觉得她像个贵夫人,态度甚至有些生硬。这个年轻女子感到异常紧张。她显现出愁闷的表情,似乎一切都听天由命了。

“妈妈——克莱拉。”保罗介绍道。

莫瑞尔大大微笑着伸出了手。

“他告诉了我许多关于你的事。”她说道。

克莱拉脸上泛起了红潮。

“我但愿你不介意我的来访。”她支吾着说。

“听说他要带你来,我心里十分高兴。”莫瑞尔太太回答。

望着她们,保罗心中感到一阵刺痛,在丰满、华贵的克莱拉身旁,他的母亲显得那么矮小、惟淬、灰黄。

“妈妈,今天天气真好!”他说,“刚才我们看了一只(木坚)鸟。”

母亲看着他,此时他已转向她。她觉得穿着这一身黑色的做工考究的衣服的他看起来真是一位男子汉了。他面色苍白,神态超凡脱俗,任何女人都很难留得住他。她心里暖烘烘的,继而她又为克莱拉感到难过起来。

“你要不要把你的东西放在客厅里?”莫瑞尔太太亲热地对这个年轻女子说。

“哦,谢谢你。”她回答。

“跟我来,”保罗说完把她带到了一间小客厅。屋里有架老式的钢琴,一套红木家具,还有发黄的大理石面壁炉架。壁炉里生着火,屋里散乱地放着些书籍、画板。“我到处乱扔东西,”他说,“这样很容易找么。”

她爱他的美术用具,他的书籍和家人的照片。他马上向他介绍:这是威廉,这个穿夜礼服的年轻女士是威廉的未婚妻,这是安妮和她的丈夫,这是亚瑟夫妇和他们的小宝宝。她感到自己好像也成了他们家中的一员。他给她看了照片、书、素描,他们又接着谈了一会儿。随后他们又回到厨房。莫瑞尔太太把书放在一边。克莱拉身穿一件细条子黑白相间的雪纺绸衫衣。她发式很简单,只是在头顶上盘个髻,模样相当地端庄矜持。

“你们搬到斯奈顿林荫路上,”莫瑞尔太太说,“当我还是个姑娘时——姑娘,我说?——当我还是个年轻女人时我们住在米涅佛巷。”

“噢,真的!”克莱拉说,“我有一个朋友住在6号。”

话题就这样扯开了。她们谈论诺丁汉姆城堡和城堡里的人,两人都对此十分感兴趣。克莱拉仍旧相当紧张,莫瑞尔太太仍然带着几分尊严,她语言简练,用词精确。可是保罗看得出她们谈得越来越投机,越来越和谐。

莫瑞尔太太把自己同这个年轻的女人比较了一下,发现自己显然紧张一些。克莱拉态度十分恭敬。她知道保罗对母亲极其尊重,她本来很害怕这场聚会,本来以为会遇到一位相当严峻冷酷的妇人。出乎意料之外,她发现这个矮小、兴致正浓的女人居然谈笑自如。于是她觉得,就跟保罗在一起时的感觉一样,她决不会扫莫瑞尔太太的兴。他的母亲身上有一股执着劲,充满自信,好像她一生中从没有遇到可担忧的事似的。

不一会儿,莫瑞尔下楼来了。他刚刚睡醒午觉,衣衫不整,呵欠连天的。他搔着斑白的头发,穿着长袜在地上啪哒啪哒地走着,他的坎肩露在衬衫外,敞着怀。似乎他与家中的气氛显得格格不入。

“爸爸,这位是道伍斯太太。”保罗说。

莫瑞尔打起精神,保罗看见他和克莱拉彬彬有礼地点头握手。

“噢,真的!”莫瑞尔大叫,“很高兴见到你——我很高兴,我向你保证。你不要拘束。请随便点,像在自己家里一样。你很受欢迎。”

克莱拉惊讶于这个老矿工如此的热情好客,如此的彬彬有礼,又如此殷勤!她认为他很讨人喜欢。

“那你是不是远道而来?”他问。

“只是从诺丁汉姆城堡来的。”她说。

“从诺丁汉姆来?那你可真碰上了个好天气。”

说完,他蹒跚走进洗碗间去洗脸洗手,然后习惯性地拿着毛巾走到壁炉边上来擦干。

喝茶时,克莱拉感觉到这一家人十分高雅沉静。莫瑞尔太太神态从容悠闲,一边喝茶,一边招呼着客人,一切在不知不觉中进行着,并没有打断她的话。椭圆形的桌子非常宽大,印有柳条花纹的深蓝色盘杯映衬着光滑的桌布显得十分漂亮。桌上还放着一小盆小白菊花。克莱拉觉得她的到来把这小圈子衬得更圆满了,她心里十分高兴。可是她总是有些害怕莫瑞尔一家子的这种沉静的气氛。她学习他们谈话时的语气,一种不温不火的口气。氛围虽然冷淡一些,可是十分明朗,大家显得都很自然,十分和谐。克莱拉喜欢这种气氛,可是不知何故心里总有种恐惧感。

母亲和克莱拉聊天时,保罗在收拾桌子。克莱拉发觉他轻快、生气勃勃的身体走来走去,像被一阵风推动着,也正如风尘中的一片树叶,飘忽无定。她几乎被他迷住了。莫瑞尔太太看到她身子虽然向前倾着,似乎在倾听,却心不在焉,这个老女人不禁又替她感到遗憾。

等到收拾完桌子,保罗来到花园里,留下了两个女人在屋里谈话。这是一个阳光温暖、烟雾蒙蒙的下午,舒适恰人。克莱拉的目光透过窗子,跟随着他在菊花丛中游逛着,她感到好像有种不可知的东西把她与他拴在一起,他那看起来是那么洒脱自在,倦情闲散的动作显得格外轻松自如。他把沉甸甸的花枝绑在桩子上时,动作是那么飘逸,她感到如此幸福以至于想高声喊叫。

莫瑞尔太太站起身来。

“我帮你洗碗碟吧。!,克莱拉说。

“嗳,没有几件,我一会儿就洗完了。”另一个说。

然而,克莱拉还是擦干了茶具,而且心里十分高兴能和他母亲相处得这么融洽,可是受折磨的是不能跟着他去花园。最后她找到了脱身的时机,她感觉好像是脱去了腕上的绳索似的。

下午的阳光照得德比郡的群山一片金色。保罗走进对面一个花园里,站在一丛淡色的紫苑旁边,观察最后一群蜜蜂爬进蜂窝里。听到她来了,他悠闲地转过身来说:

“这些小东西劳碌了一天,该休息啦。”

克莱拉站在他身旁。眼前的红色矮墙以外是村庄和一带远山,在金色的阳光中若隐若现。

这时米丽亚姆正好走进园门。她看见克莱拉走近他,看见他转过身去,又看见他们一起休息。他们之间这种默契地形影不离使她认识到他们算是圆满如愿了。在她看来,他们好象是结了婚。她沿着狭长的花园里的那条煤渣路慢慢走过来。

克莱拉已经从一棵蜀蔡梢头上采下了一节花穗,正在把穗子掰碎了取里面的种子,粉红色的花朵在她低垂的脑袋上凝视,好象在保护她似的。最后一批蜜蜂全进入了蜂房。“好好数数你的钱,”保罗笑着说,她正把一粒粒扁扁的种子从钱串子似的花德上掰下来。

“我很富有呢!”她微笑着说。

“有多少钱?嗳!”他用手指啪地打了个榧子。“我能把这些钱变成金子吗?”

“我想你恐怕也不行。”她大笑。”

他们都盯着对方的眼睛,哈哈大笑。就在这时,他们才发现米丽亚姆来了。转瞬之间,一切都变了。

“你好,米丽亚姆!”他大叫着,“你说过你要来的!”

“是的,你忘记了吗?”

她和克莱拉握了握手,并说:

“真出乎意料能在这儿见到你。”

“是的,”另一位回答,“我也有些奇怪我到这儿来。”

一阵迟疑。

“这里很美,是吗?”米丽亚姆说。

“我很喜欢这里。”克莱拉回答。

随即米丽亚姆就意识到克莱拉被接受了,而她从未被这里的人接受过。

“你是自己一个人过来的吗?”保罗问。

“是的,我去阿加莎家里吃了茶。我们正要去做礼拜,我只是过来看一下克莱拉,就一会儿工夫。”

“你应该到这儿来吃茶。”他说。

米丽亚姆爆发出简短的大笑,克莱拉不耐烦地转过身去。

“你喜欢菊花吗?”他问。

“是的,菊花很好看。”米丽亚姆回答。

“你最喜欢哪种?”他问。

“我也不知道,青铜色的那一种吧,我想是的。”

“我想你可能没见到过菊花的全部品种。来看看,来看看哪些是你们最喜欢的,克莱拉。”

他领着两个女人回到他家的花园,花园里种着五颜六色的花,只是花丛长短不齐地沿着花径一直通到田野。他知道这种情形而没有使他尴尬。

“看,米丽亚姆,这些白色的花是从你们家的花园里移种过来的。它们在这儿长得不是特别好,是吗?”

“不错。”米丽亚姆说。

“但是它们比其它的耐寒。你们种的太娇宠了。花儿长得又长又嫩,可是很快就凋谢了。这些小黄花我很喜欢。你想要些吗?”

当他们出来的时候,教堂的钟声开始响了起来。钟声响彻整个城镇,飘过田野。米丽亚姆看着钟楼,钟楼傲然挺立于此起彼伏的屋顶之上,她想起了他给她带来的素描。那时情形虽然不同,可是他毕竟还没完全离开她呀!她问他借了本书读,他跑进了屋里。

“什么!那是米丽亚姆吗?”母亲冷冷地问。

“是的,她说她顺便来看看克莱拉。”

“那么你告诉过她,对吗?”母亲带着讽刺的语气问。

“是的,我为什么不能告诉她呢?”

“当然啦,你没有任何理由不告诉她。”莫瑞尔太太说着又回到了她的书本上去了。他对母亲的讽刺挖苦有些发怵,生气地皱着眉头想:“为什么我不能按我的意愿去做事?”

“你以前从未见过莫瑞尔太太?”米丽亚姆正和克莱拉说着话。

“没有,可是她人可好啦!”

“是的,”米丽亚姆说着低下了头,“在某些方面她是非常好。”

“我也这样认为。”

“保罗告诉过你很多她的事吗?”

“他谈了很多。”

“哦!”

两个女人一直沉默着,直到保罗拿着书回来。

“你要我什么时候还书?”米丽亚姆问。

“只要你喜欢,什么时候都可以。”他回答。

克莱拉转身走进屋里,保罗陪着米丽亚姆走到了大门口。

“你什么时候想来威利农场?”后者问道。

“我可说不准,”保罗回答。

“妈妈让我告诉你,只要你愿意来,无论何时她都很高兴见到你。”

“谢谢你,我很愿意去,只是我说不准时间。”

“噢,好吧!”米丽亚姆苦涩地大叫,转身离开了。

她走下小径,嘴唇一直都凑在保罗给她的鲜花上。

“你真的不想进屋吗?”他说。

“不,谢谢。”

“我们要去做礼拜。”

“噢,我会再见到你的!”米丽亚姆心里痛楚万状。

“是的。”

他们分开了,保罗对她有种犯罪感。米丽亚姆则心如刀绞,她蔑视他,但内心认为他依旧属于她自己,她相信是这样的,然而他却跟克莱拉要好,把她带回家去,还和她一起坐在他母亲身边做礼拜,给她一本赞美诗,几年前他也曾经给过她自己的。她听到他很快地跑进了屋里。但是,他没有直接进去,站在草地上,突然听到母亲的声音,接着传来克莱拉的回答:

“我讨厌米丽亚姆那种猎狗似的警觉性。”

“不错,”母亲很快说,“对,现在你也讨厌她这一点了吧!”

他顿时怒火中烧,对她们背地里谈论这个姑娘他感到愤怒。她们有什么权利说那些话?这些话倒真挑起了他对米丽亚姆仇恨的火焰,与此同时,心里又强烈地反感克莱拉毫无顾忌地如此谈论米丽亚姆。他认为在品行上,这两个女人中米丽亚姆毕竟好一些。他走进屋里,母亲看起来很激动,她的手很有节奏地敲着沙发扶手,正如女人们疲惫不堪时一样。他忍受不了看见这种动作。屋子里好一阵沉默,之后他才开始说话。在教堂,米丽亚姆看见他为克莱拉翻着赞美诗,想当年他也曾为她这样翻过。布道时,他能通过礼拜堂看见这个坐在教堂另一头的姑娘,她的帽子在脸上投下阴影。看到他和克莱拉在一起,她会怎么想?他从没功夫仔细揣度,只感觉到自己对米丽亚姆太狠心了。

做完礼拜后,他对米丽亚姆说声“再见”就和克莱拉一起去潘特里克山。这是个黑乎乎的秋天的夜晚。当他留下姑娘一个时,心里极不忍心,“可是这是她活该。”他在心里对自己说。能让她亲眼看见他和另外一个漂亮女人在一起,这让他感到很欣慰和喜悦。

黑暗中能闻到湿树叶的香味。当他们一路走时,克莱拉的手懒懒地、暖暖地放在他的手中。他心里充满了矛盾,内心激烈的争斗使他感到非常绝望。

到了潘特里克山顶时,克莱拉依偎在他的身边走着。他伸出胳膊搂住她的腰。他能感觉到她的身子在行走时在他胳膊底下剧烈地运动,刚才由米丽亚姆引起的郁闷心情轻松多了。他浑身热血沸腾,搂得越来越紧。

接着,“你依旧和米丽亚姆旧情不断。”她轻轻地说。

“只是说说话罢了。除此我们之间没有别的来往。”他苦涩地说。

“你的母亲不喜欢她。”克莱拉说。

“不错,否则我早和她结婚了。但是,现在真的都结束了!”

突然,他的声音里满含怨气。

“如果我现在和她在一起的话,我们就要谈些基督教的奥秘啊,或者诸如此类的话题。感谢上帝,幸好我没有和她在一起!”

他们沉默地走了好一段时间。

“但是你不可能完全抛弃她。”克莱拉说。

“我没有抛弃她,因为没有什么可抛弃的。”他说。

“可她有东西要抛弃。”

“我不知道为什么我和她不能成为生活中的朋友,”他说,“但是我们仅仅是朋友而已。”

克莱拉挣脱他的拥抱,不再跟他相依相亲。

“你为什么要挪开?”他问。

她没有回答,相反却离他更远了。

“你为什么想自己一人走?”他问。

依旧没有回答,她气愤愤地走着,低垂着头。

“因为我说过我要和米丽亚姆作朋友!”他大喊。

她一句话也不回答他。

“我告诉你我们之间仅仅是谈谈话而已。”他坚持着,而试着重新搂抱她。

她反抗着。突然,他大步跨到她的面前,挡住了她的去路。“活见鬼!”他说,“你现在到底想干什么?

“你最好追求米丽亚姆去。”克莱拉嘲笑着说。

他感到血往上涌,威胁似的站在那里。他温怒地低着头。巷子里阴暗冷清,突然他双臂抓住了她,身子向前探去,疯狂地用嘴在她脸上吻着,她转过头去尽量避开他,但他抱着她不放。那张刚毅而无情的嘴伸向她,她的乳房被他像墙一般坚硬的胸膛压得生痛,只得无助地在他的臂膀里松弛下来,不再挣扎。他又一遍遍地吻着她。

他听到有人从山上下来。

“站住!站起来!”他哑着嗓子说,抓着她的胳膊抓得她好疼。如果他一松手的话,她将会躺倒在地上。

她叹着气,眩晕地走在他身边,两人都沉默地向前走去。

“我们从田野里走过去吧。”他说,这时她才清醒过来。

可是她还是听任自己由他帮着跨过台阶,她和他一直沉默着走过一块黑黑的田野。她知道这是通往诺丁汉的路,也通往车站。他好象在四处张望。他们走上光秃秃的小山顶,山顶上有一架旧风车的黑影。他停住了脚步。他们一起高高地站在黑暗的山巅,看着眼前夜间星星点点的灯火,到处是亮光闪闪,那是黑暗中高低不平的散落的村落。

“就像在群星中散步。”他颤声笑着说。

说完他双臂搂着她,紧紧地搂着。她把嘴移到一边,倔强地小声问:

“现在几点了?”

“没关系。”他哑着嗓子哀求着。

“不,有关系——有嘛!我必须走了!”

“还早着呢,”他说。

“几点了?”她坚持着。

四周围是一片被星星点点的灯光点缀着的夜色。

“我不知道。”

她把手伸到他的胸前,找他的怀表。他感到浑身火烧火燎。她在他背心的口袋里掏着,而他站着直喘粗气。黑暗之中,她只能看到圆圆的灰白的表面,却看不见数字。她弯下身子凑上表面。他喘着气直到他能重新把她搂在怀里才平息了内心的骚动。

“我看不见。”她说。

“那就别费劲儿了。”

“好吧,我走了!”她说着转身就走。

“等等,我来看!”但是他看不见,“我来划根火柴。”

他暗中希望时间晚一些,她赶不上火车就好了。她看见他用手拢成灯笼形,当他划亮火柴时,他的脸被火光照亮了,他双眼盯着表。很快黑暗又袭来了。她眼前漆黑一片,只有脚边扔着一根亮着的火柴杆。他在哪儿?

“怎么啦?”她害怕地问。

“你赶不上了。”他的回答从黑暗中传来。

沉默了一会儿,她感到了他的力量,听出他的话里的口气,不禁感到害怕。

“几点了?”她平静而明确地问,心里飘过一丝无助的感觉。

“差两分九点,”他回答,极勉强地以实相告。

“那么我能在十四分钟内从这儿赶到车站吗?”

“不能,只能……”

她又能辨清在一码以外的他的黑影了,她想逃开。

“可是我能行吗?”她央求道。

“如果你赶快的话还来得及,”他粗声粗气地说,“不过,你可以从从容容地步行这段路。克莱拉,离电车站只有七英里的路程,我可以陪你一起去。”

“不,我想赶火车。”

“可是为什么?”

“我——我想赶上这趟火车。”

他的口气忽然变了。

“很好,”他又生硬又冷淡地说,“那么走吧。”

他一头冲向黑暗。她跑在他身后,直想哭,此刻他对她又苛刻又狠心。她在他身后跌跌撞撞地跨着高低不平的黑黑的田野,上气不接下气随时要摔倒的样子。但是车站两旁的灯光越来越近了。突然,他大叫着撒腿跑了起来。

“火车来了!”

隐隐约约听见一阵咣当咣当地行进声,在右边远处,火车像一条发光的长虫正穿越黑暗冲过来。接着吮当声停了。

“火车在天桥上。你正好赶上。”

克莱拉上气不接下气地跑着,最后终于赶上了火车。汽笛响了。他走了,走了!——而她正坐在载满旅客的车厢里。她感到自己过于绝情。

他转过身就往家里跑,不知不觉已回到了自己家的厨房。他面色十分苍白。双眼忧郁,神情癫狂,好像是喝醉了酒一般。母亲看着他。

“哟,你的靴子倒是真干净啊!”她说。

他看着自己的双脚,随后脱下大衣。母亲正揣度他是否喝醉了。

“那么,她赶上火车了?”她问。

“是的。”

“我希望她的双脚可别这么脏。我不知道你究竟把她拉到哪里去了!”

他站着一动不动,沉默了好一会儿。

“你喜欢她吗?”最后他勉勉强强地问。“是的,我喜欢她。但你会厌烦她的,我的孩子,你知道你会的。”

他没有回答。母亲注意到他一直在喘着粗气。

“你刚刚跑过吗?”她问。

“我们不得不跑着去赶火车。”

“你们会搞得精疲力尽的。你最好喝点热牛奶。”

这是他能得到的最好的兴奋剂了,可是他不愿意喝,上床睡觉去了。他脸朝下趴在床罩上,愤怒而痛苦的泪水像泉似的涌了出来。肉体的痛苦使他咬紧嘴唇,直到咬出了血。而他内心的一片混乱使得他无法思考,甚至失去知觉。

“她就是这样对待我的,是吗?”他心里说,重复了一遍又一遍。他把脸深埋在被子里。此刻他恨她。他每回想一遍刚才的情景,对她的恨意就滚过一次。

第二天,他的一举一动间出现了一种新的冷淡。克莱拉却非常温顺,简直有点多情。但是他对她很疏远,甚至有点轻蔑的味道。

她叹着气,依然显得很温顺,这样一来,他又回心转意了。

那个星期的一个晚上,荷拉·伯恩哈特在诺丁汉姆的皇家剧院演出《茶花女》。保罗想去看看这位著名的老演员,于是,他请克莱拉陪他一起去。他告诉母亲把钥匙给他留在窗台上。

“我用订座吗?”他问克莱拉。

“是的,再穿上件晚礼服,好吗?我从未见你穿过晚礼服。”

“可是,上帝,克莱拉!想想吧,在剧院里我身穿着晚礼服!”他争辨着。

“你不愿意穿吗?”她问。

“如果你想让我穿,我就穿。不过,我会感到自己像个傻瓜似的。”

她取笑他。

“那么,就为我做一次傻瓜,好吗?”

这个要求使他血液沸腾。

“我想我是非穿不可了。”

“你带只箱子干什么用啊?”母亲问。

他的脸涨得通红。

“克莱拉要我带的。”他说。

“你们订的是什么位子呀?”

“楼厅——每张票三先令六便士!”

“天哪!我肯定要这么贵啊!”母亲讽刺似的大叫。

“这种机会很难得,仅仅一次嘛!”他说。

他在乔丹厂打扮起来,穿上件大衣,戴上顶帽子。然后在一家小咖啡厅里和克莱拉碰头,她和一个搞妇女运动的朋友在一起,她穿了件旧的长大衣,一点也不合身,大衣上有个小风兜罩着头,他讨厌这件衣服。三个人一起去了剧院。

克莱拉在楼上脱大衣。这时他才发现她穿着一件类似晚礼服似的裙装。胳膊、脖子和一部分胸脯裸露着。她的头发做得很时髦。礼服是朴素的绿绸纱似的料子做成的。很合身,他觉得她显得格外典雅高贵。他可以看得见衣服下的身体,仿佛衣服紧紧裹着她的身子似的。他看着她,似乎能感觉到她笔直的身体的曲线,他不由得攥紧了拳头。

整个晚上,保罗坐在那裸露的美丽胳膊旁。眼巴巴地望着她那结实的脖颈,健壮的胸脯和她那绿绸纱礼服下的乳房以及紧身衣里面的曲线。他心里不由得又对她恨起来,让他活受罪,遭受这种可望而不可及的煎熬。可是当她正襟危坐,似乎若有所思凝视前方时,他又爱上了她。好像她把自己的一切都交于了命运的淫威,只能听天由命似的。她无能为力,好像被比自己更强大的力量控制着。她脸上显示出一种永恒的神情,似乎她就是深思的斯芬克斯像,这让他情不自禁地想吻她。他故意把节目单掉在地上,然后弯下身子去捡。趁机吻了吻她的手腕。她的美对他来说是一种折磨。她坐在那里一动不动。仅仅在灯光熄灭时,她才把身子陷下去一点靠着,于是他用手指抚摸着她的手和胳膊。他能闻到她身上发出的淡淡的香味。他浑身热血沸腾着,甚至不断卷起一阵阵白热化浪潮,使他失去了知觉。

演出在继续,他茫然地盯着台上却不知道剧情发展到什么地方,似乎那一切离他太遥远,已化为克莱拉丰满白皙的胳膊,她的脖颈和她那起伏的胸脯。这些东西似乎就是他自己,而戏在很远的某个地方继续演着,他也进入了角色。他自己已不存在了。唯一存在的是克莱拉灰黑色的双眼,朝他靠过来的胸脯和他双手紧紧捏住的胳膊。他感到自己又渺小又无助。她不可抗拒的力量在驾驭着他。

幕间休息时,灯全都亮了,保罗痛苦异常。他很想跑到某个地方,只要灯光又暗下来就行。在恍惚中他逛出去想喝点什么。随即灯熄灭了,于是,克莱拉的奇怪又虚幻的现实情形及戏中的情节又紧紧抓住了他。

演出继续着。但是,他心里满塞着一种欲望,冲动地只想吻她臂弯处那蓝色细脉。他能摸到那细脉。如果不把嘴唇放到那上面,他的面部就会僵化。他必须吻它,可是周围还有其他人!最后他迅速地弯下身子,用嘴唇碰了它一下。胡子擦过她敏感的肌肤,克莱拉哆嗦了一下,缩回了她的胳膊。

戏终于散了,灯亮了,观众们掌声四起,他这才回过神儿来,看看手表。他错过了要赶的那班火车。

“我只好走回家了!”他说。

克莱拉望着他。

“很晚了吗?”她问。

他点点头,随后他帮她穿上她的大衣。

“我爱你!你穿这件礼服真美!”他在她的肩头喃喃地说道。

她仍然保持沉默。他们一起走出剧院。他看到出租汽车在等着顾客,在熙熙攘攘的人群中,他感觉好像遇到了一双仇视他的棕色的眼睛,但是他不知道是谁。他和克莱拉转身离开,两人机械地朝火车站走去。

火车已经开走了,他得步行十英里回家。

“没关系。”他说,“我非常喜欢走路。”“你要不愿意,”她脸涨得通红说,“我可以和母亲睡。”

他看了看她。他们的目光相遇了。

“你的母亲会说什么?”他问。

“她不会介意的。”

“你肯定吗?”

“当然肯定。”

“我可以去吗?”

“如果你愿意的话。”

“那好。”

他们转身折回,在第一个车站上了电车。清新的风扑打着他的脸,路上漆黑一片。电车在急驶中向前倾斜。他坐在那儿紧紧地握着她的手。

“你母亲会不会已经睡下了?”他问。

“也许吧。我希望她没睡。”

在这条僻静、幽暗的小街上,他们是唯一两个出门的人。克莱拉很快地进了屋子。他迟疑着,“进来吧!”她招呼着。

他跃上台阶,进了屋子,她的母亲站在里屋门口,高高大大的而且充满了敌意。

“你带谁来了?”她问。

“是莫瑞尔先生,他错过了火车。我想我们可以留他过夜。省得让他走十英里的路。”

“嗯,”雷渥斯太太大声说道,“那是你自己的事,如果你邀请了他,我当然非常欢迎。我不介意,是你管这个家嘛!”

“如果你不喜欢我留在这儿,我就离开。”保罗说。

“别,别,你用不着,进来吧!我很想知道你对我给她准备的晚餐有何意见。”

晚饭是一小碟土豆片和一块腌肉。桌上将就地摆着一个人的餐具。

“你可多吃些腌肉,”雷渥斯太太继续说,“可上豆片没有了。”

“真不好意思,给你添麻烦。”他说。

“噢,你千万不要客气!我可不喜欢听这个。你请她去看戏了吧?”最后一个问题里有一种讽刺的意味。

“怎么啦?”保罗很不自在地笑了笑。

“哎,就这么一点儿腌肉!把你的大衣脱下来吧。”

这个腰板挺得笔直的妇人正努力揣摩情况。她在碗橱那儿忙碌着。克莱拉接过了他的大衣。屋子里点着油灯,显得非常温暖舒适。

“天哪!”雷渥斯夫人大叫道,“我说你们两人打扮得可真光彩照人呀!打扮得这么漂亮干什么?”

“我想,我们自己也不知道。”他说道,感觉自己受了愚弄。

“如果你们想出风头的话,在这个房子里可没有你们这样两个打扮花枝招展的人的地盘。”她挖苦着,这是相当尖刻的讽刺。

穿着晚礼服的保罗和穿着绿礼服裸着胳膊的克莱拉都迷们了。他们感到在这间厨房里他们必须互相保护。

“瞧那朵花!”雷渥斯太太指着克莱拉说,“她戴那花究竟想干什么?”

保罗看了看克莱拉。她红着脸,脖子也涨得通红。屋子里出现了一阵沉默。

“你也喜欢她这样,对吗?”他问。

她母亲震慑住了他俩。他的心怦怦跳得厉害,他忧虑重重。但是他必须跟她周旋。

“我看着很喜欢!”老女人大叫,“我为什么喜欢她拿自己出丑?”

“我看见过好多人打扮得更傻。”他说,现在克莱拉已经在他的保护之下了。

“哼!什么时候?”她挖苦似地反驳。

“当他们把自己打扮得奇形怪状时。”他回答。

身材高大的雷渥斯太太站在壁炉前的地毯上一动不动,手里拿着她的叉子。

“他们都是傻瓜。”最后她回答道,然后转身朝向了煎锅。

“不,”他赌气似的争辨道,“人应该尽可能把自己打扮得更漂亮。”

“你管那叫漂亮啊!”母亲大叫,一面用叉子轻蔑地指着克莱拉,“这——这看上去好象不是正经人的打扮。”

“我相信你是妒嫉,因为你不能这样出风头。”他大笑着说。

“我!如果我高兴的话,我可以穿着夜礼服跟任何人出去。”母亲讥讽地回答。

“可为什么你不愿意呢?”他坚持着问,“或者你已经穿过了?”

长时间的沉默。雷渥斯太太在煎锅前翻弄着腌肉,他的心剧烈地跳着,生怕自己触犯了她。

“我!”最后她尖叫道,“不我没有穿过!我做女佣时,只要哪个姑娘袒着肩膀一走出来,我就知道她是什么货色。”

“你是不是太正派,所以才不去参加这种六便士的舞会。”

克莱拉低垂着头坐着,她的双眼又黑又亮。雷渥斯太太从火上端下煎锅,然后站在他身边,把一片片腌肉放在他的盘子里。

“这块不错!”她说。

“别把最好的都给我!”他说。

“她已经得到了她想要的。”母亲答道。

老太太的语调里有种挖苦似的轻浮意味,保罗明白她已息怒了。

“你吃一点吧!”他对克莱拉说。

她抬起灰色的眼睛看着他,带着一副耻辱、孤寂的神情。

“不了,谢谢!”她说。

“你为什么不吃呢?”他不经意地问。

他浑身热血沸腾像火烧似的。雷渥斯太太巨大的身体重又坐下,神态冷淡。他只好撇下克莱拉,专心对付她的母亲来。

“他们说莎拉·伯恩哈特都五十岁了。”他说。

“五十!她都快六十岁了!”她不屑地回答。

“不管怎样,”他说,“你从未想到过!她演得极出色,我到现在还想喝彩呢!”

“我倒愿意看看那个老不死的女人让我喝彩的情形!”雷渥斯太太说,“她现在到了该想想自己是不是老的时候了,不再是一个喊叫的卡塔马兰了……”

他哈哈大笑起来。

“卡塔马兰是马来亚使用的一种船。”他说。

“这是我的口头禅。”她反驳道。

“我母亲有时也这样,跟她讲多少次也没用。”

“我想她常扇你耳光吧。”雷渥斯太太心情愉悦地说。

“她的确想扇,她说她要扇的,所以我给她一个小板凳好让她站在上面。”

“这是你母亲最糟糕的地方。”克莱拉说,“我母亲不论干什么从来都用不着小板凳之类的东西。”

“但是她往往用长家什也够不着那位小姐。”雷渥斯太太冲着保罗反驳道。

“我想她是不愿意让人用长家什去碰的。”他大笑,“我想肯定是这样的。”

“我想把你们两个的头打裂,对你们也许倒有好处。”她母亲突然大笑起来。

“你为什么总跟我过不去呢?”他说,“我又没有偷你的任何东西。”

“不错,不过我会留神看着你。”这个老女人大笑道。

晚餐很快结束了。雷渥斯太太静静地坐在椅子上,保罗点上了支香烟,克莱拉上楼去寻了一套睡衣,把它放在火炉的围栏上烤着。

“哎呀,我都已经忘记它们了!”雷渥斯太太说,“它们是从哪里钻出来的?”

“从我的抽屉里。”

“嗯!你给巴克斯特买的,可他不愿意穿,对吗?”——她哈哈大笑。

“说他宁可不穿裤子睡觉。”她转身对保罗亲呢地说,“他不愿意穿睡衣这类东西。”

年轻人坐在那儿吐着烟圈。

“各人习惯不同嘛!”他笑着说。

随后大家随便谈论了一会儿睡衣的好处。

“我母亲就喜欢我穿着睡衣,”他说,“她说我穿了睡衣像个江湖小丑。”

“我想这套睡衣你穿了准合身。”雷渥斯太太说。

过了一会儿,他偷偷瞥了一眼嘀嘀嗒嗒作响的小闹钟,时间已经十二点了。

“真有趣,”他说,“看完戏后总要过好几个小时才能睡。”

“该到睡觉时间了。”雷渥斯太太一边收拾着桌子一边说。

“你累吗?”他问克莱拉。

“一点儿也不累。”她回答着,避开了他的目光。

“我们来玩一盘克里贝奈牌游戏好吗?”他说。

“我早忘记了怎么玩。”

“好吧,我再来教你。我们玩会儿克里贝奈牌好吗?雷渥斯太太?”他问。

“随你们便,”她说,“不过时间真的很晚了。”

“玩两盘游戏我们就会困了。”他回答。

克莱拉拿出纸牌,当他洗牌时,她坐在那儿转动着她的结婚戒指。雷渥斯太太在洗碗间清洗着碗碟。随着时间的推移,保罗感到屋里的气氛越来越紧张。

“十五个二,十五个四,十五个六,两个八……”

钟敲了一点。游戏继续玩着。雷渥斯太太做好了睡觉前的一切准备工作。她锁上了门,灌满了水壶。保罗依旧在发牌记分。克莱拉的双臂和脖子使他着迷。他觉得他能看出她的乳沟。他舍不得离开她。她望着他的双手。感觉到随着这双手灵巧的运动,她的骨头都酥了。她离他这么近,他几乎能触摸到她似的。可是又差那么一点儿。他鼓起了勇气。他恨雷渥斯太太。她一直坐在那里,迷迷糊糊地几乎睡着了。但是她坚决固执地坐在椅子上。保罗瞅了一眼她,又瞥了瞥克莱拉,她遇到了他瞥来的目光,那两眼充满愤怒、嘲讽,还有无情的冷淡。她羞愧难当的目光给了他一个答复。不论怎样,保罗明白了,她和他是同一个想法。他继续打着牌。

最后雷渥斯太太僵硬地站起身来,说道:“已经这么晚了,你们俩还不想上床睡觉吗?”

保罗继续玩着牌没有回答。他恨透了她,几乎想杀了她。

“再玩一会儿。”他说。

那老女人站起身来,倔强地走进洗碗间,拿回了给他点的蜡烛,她把蜡烛放在壁炉架上,然后重新坐下。他对她恨之入骨,于是他扔下了纸牌。

“不玩了。”他说,不过声音里依旧是愤愤的。

克莱拉看到他的紧闭着的嘴,又瞅了她一眼。像是一种约定似的。她俯在纸牌上,咳嗽着想清清嗓子。

“我很高兴你们终于打完了。”雷渥斯太太说,“拿上你的东西。”——她把烤的暖暖和和的睡衣塞到他的手里——“这是你的蜡烛。你的房间就在这一间上面,上面只有两间房,因此你不会找错的。好吧,晚安,希望你睡个好觉。”

“我准能睡个好觉,向来睡觉很好。”他说。

“是啊,像你这种年纪的人应当睡得很好。”她答道。

他向克莱拉道了声晚安就上楼去了。他每走一步,擦洗干净的白木楼梯就发出嘎吱嘎吱的响声。他气呼呼地走了。两扇门正对着。他走进房间掩上门,但没有落闩。

小屋里放着一张大床。克莱拉的几个发夹和发刷放在梳妆台上。她的衣服和裙子挂在墙角的一块布下。一张椅子上赫然放着一双长丝袜。他仔细观察了一下屋子。书架上放着他借给她的两本书。他脱下衣服叠好,坐在床上静静地听着,然后,他吹灭了蜡烛,躺下,还不到两分钟,几乎就要睡着了,突然,传来咔嚓一声——他被惊醒了,难受地翻来覆去,就好像什么东西突然咬了他一下,把他气疯了。他坐了起来,望着黑乎乎的屋子。他盘起双腿坐在那儿,一动也不动,静静地听着,他听见在外面很远的地方有一只猫,接着听见她母亲的沉重又稳健的脚步声,还听见克莱拉清脆的嗓音。

“帮我解一下衣服好吗?”

那边沉默了好一会儿,最后那母亲说:“喂!你还不睡吗?”

“不,现在还不呢。”她镇静地回答。

“噢,那好吧!如果你嫌时间还不够晚,就再待会儿吧。不过,我快睡着了的时候,可别吵醒我。”

“我一会儿就睡。”克莱拉说。

保罗随即听到她母亲慢吞吞地爬上楼梯。烛光透过他的门缝闪亮着,她的衣服擦过房门,他的心不停地跳着。随后,四周又陷入黑暗。他听见她的门闩喀喀响了一下,接着她不慌不忙地准备上床。过了许久,一切还是静悄悄的。他紧张地坐在床上,微微颤抖着。他的门开了一条缝。等克莱拉一上楼,他就拦住她。他等待着,周围一片死寂,钟敲了两个,接着他听到一阵轻轻的刮壁炉围栏的声音。此时,他控制不住自己了。他浑身不停地发抖。他感到他非下楼去不可,否则他会没命的。

他跳下床,站了一会儿,浑身抖个不停。然后径直向门奔去。他尽可能轻轻地走着。第一级楼梯发出开枪似的声音。他侧耳倾听,老妇人在床上翻了翻身,楼梯上一片漆黑。通向厨房的楼梯角门下透出一线光亮,他站了一会儿,接着又机械地朝下走去。每走一步,楼梯就发出一声嘎吱声。他的背部起满了鸡皮疙瘩,他生怕楼上的老女人忽然打开房门出现在他的后面。他在底下摸到了门,随着咔嗒一声巨响门闩被打开了。他走进厨房,砰地一声关上了身后的屋门,老妇人现在不敢来了。

保罗呆呆地站在那儿:克莱拉跪在壁炉前地毯上的一堆白色的内衣上,背对着他取暖。她没有回头,只是蜷缩着身子坐在自己的脚跟上。那丰腴、美丽的背正对着他。她的脸掩藏着。她靠着火想自己暖和起来,壁炉一边是舒适的红色火光,另一侧是温暖的阴影。她的双臂有气无力地垂着。

他哆嗦得厉害,牙关紧咬着,紧握着双拳,勉强使自己镇定下来。于是,他朝她走去,手搭在她的肩头。另一只手放在她的颏下,托起她的脸来。他的触摸使她全身不由地痉挛似的颤抖起来,一下,两下。她依然低着头。

“对不起!”他喃喃说道,意识到自己的双手非常凉。

随即她抬起头看着他,像个胆小的怕死鬼。

“我的手太凉了。”他咕哝着。

“我喜欢。”她闭上眼睛悄声说。

她说话时的热气喷在他的嘴上。她用双臂抱着他的膝盖。他睡衣上的丝带贴着她摇来晃去,使她不禁一阵阵地战栗。他的身体渐渐地暖和起来,慢慢不再抖了。

最后,他再也无法这样站下去了。他扶起了她,她把头埋进他的肩膀。他的双手无限温情地慢慢抚摸着她。她紧紧地依偎着他,尽力想把自己掩藏起来。他紧紧地搂着她。最后,她终于抬起头来,一语不发,如怨如泣,似乎想要弄明白自己是否应该感到羞愧。

他双眼乌黑,异常深遽平静。好像她的美和他对这种美的迷恋伤害了他的情感,使他感到无限的悲痛。他眼内含着一丝痛楚,悲凄地望着她,心里十分害怕。在她面前,他是那么谦卑。她热烈地吻着他的双眼,接着把他搂向自己。她把自己献了出来。他紧紧地搂抱着她。片刻之间两人的热情就如火如茶地燃起来。

她站着,任凭他疼爱她,全身伴随着她的快乐而颤抖着。她本来受到损伤的自尊心得到了医治。她的心病也治愈了。她感到非常快乐,她又感到扬眉吐气,她的自尊心曾受过挫伤,她也一直备受鄙视,可现在她又恢复了快乐和自豪。

她恢复了青春,唤发起诱人的魅力。

他满面春风地望着她,两人相视而笑了,他把她默默地抱在胸前。时间一分一秒地过去了,两个人还是直直地站立着紧紧地拥抱,亲吻,浑然一体,像一尊雕像。

他的手指又去抚摸她。心思恍惚,神情不定,感到不满足。热浪又一阵阵地涌上心头,她把头枕在他的肩上。

“你到我屋里来吧。”他咕哝着。

她望着他,摇摇头,闷闷不乐地噘着嘴巴眼睛里却热情洋溢。他定睛凝视着她。

“来吧!”他说。

她又摇了摇头。

“为什么不来呢?”他问。

她依旧心事重重、悲悲切切地看着他,又摇摇头。他的眼神又变得冷酷起来,终于让步了。

他回屋上床后,心里一直纳闷,为什么她拒绝坦然地与他投怀送抱,并让她母亲知道。

如果是这样,那么他们的关系可以确定了,而且她可以和他一起过夜,不必像现在那样,非得回到她母亲的床上去。

这真不可思议,他实在不能理解。他很快沉沉睡去。

早上一醒来,他就听见有人在跟他说话,睁眼一看,只见高大的雷渥斯太太,低着头严肃地看着他,手里端着一杯茶。

“你想一直睡到世界末日吗?”她说。他顿时放声大笑。

“现在应该是五点钟吧。”他说。

“啧,”她回答,“已经快七点半了。我给你端来一杯茶。”

他摸摸脸,把额前一绺乱发撩开,坐起身来。

“怎么会睡到这么晚呢!”他喃喃地说。

他因被别人叫醒而愤愤不已。她倒觉得这很有趣。她看见他露在绒布睡衣外的脖子白净圆润,像个姑娘的一样。他恼怒地抓着头发。

“你抓头皮也没有用处,”她说,“抓头皮也不能抓早啊。咳,你要让我端着杯子一直站着等你多长时间?”

“哎哟,把杯子砸了!”他说。

“你应该早点起床。”老妇人说。

他抬眼望着她,赖兮兮地放声大笑起来。

“可我比你先上床。”他说。

“是的,我的天哪,你是比我先上床!”她大叫道。

“你看,”他说着搅着杯里的茶,“你竟然把茶端到我的床边,我母亲准会认为这定能把我这一辈子给宠坏了。”

“难道她从来不端茶给你吗?”雷渥斯太太说。

“如果让她做的话,那就像是树叶也要飞上天去了。”

“哎哟,看来我一直把家里人宠爱惯了!所以他们才会变得那么坏。”老太太说。

“你只有克莱拉这么一个亲人了,”他说,“雷渥斯老先生早就去世了。所以我觉得家里坏的人只有你一个。”

“我并不坏,只是我心肠很软而已。”她走出卧室时说,“我只是糊涂罢了,千真万确!”

克莱拉默默地吃着早饭,不过,那神气仿佛他已是她的人了。这使得他欣喜万状。很显然雷渥斯太太非常喜欢他,他干脆就谈起他的画来。

“你这么辛苦劳碌地忙你的那些画,究竟有什么好处啊?”她母亲大声说,“我很想问个清楚,究竟有什么好处?你最好还是尽兴地玩乐吧!”

“哎,”保罗大叫道,“我去年靠我的画挣了三十个金币呢。”

“真的吗?这样看来,这件事倒真值得考虑考虑。可是跟你花在画画上的时间比一比,那可真算不了什么。”

“而且有人还借了我四英镑,那人说愿意付给我五个英镑,让我画他夫妇俩带着狗还有他们的乡下别墅。我给他们画了,画了些鸡、鸭,可没有画狗。他很恼火,因此我只能少收一英镑。我真烦腻画这些,我也不喜欢狗。画了这么一幅画,等他把那四英镑给我之后,我该怎么花呢?”

“噢!你知道自己怎么用这笔钱。”雷渥斯太太说。

“可是我想把这四英镑全部花光。咱们可以去海滨玩一两天,怎么样?”

“都有谁?”

“你,克莱拉和我。”

“什么,花你的钱!”她有些生气地大叫。

“为什么不花?”

“你这样费力不讨好地过日子,早晚会因此吃苦头的!”

“只要我花得高兴就行了。你难道不愿赏光?”

“不是,由你们俩自己决定吧。”

“你愿意去了?”他惊奇地问道。

“你甭管我愿不愿意去,你爱怎么办就怎么办吧。”雷渥斯太太说。



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