H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, 1913
Death of Mother
Death of Mrs. Morel/ Mother
Mrs. Morel got gradually worse. At first they used
to carry her downstairs, sometimes even into the garden. She sat
propped in her chair, smiling, and so pretty. The gold wedding-ring
shone on her white hand; her hair was carefully brushed. And she
watched the tangled sunflowers dying, the chrysanthemums coming out,
and the dahlias. Paul and she were afraid of each other. He knew,
and she knew, that she was dying. But they kept up a pretence of
cheerfulness. Every morning, when he got up, he went into her room
in his pajamas. "Did you sleep, my dear?" he asked. "Yes," she
answered. "Not very well?" "Well, yes! " Then he knew she had lain
awake. He saw her hand under the bedclothes, pressing the place on
her side where the pain was. "Has it been bad?" he asked. "No. It
hurt a bit, but nothing to mention." And she sniffed in her old
scornful way. As she lay she looked like a girl. And all the while
her blue eyes watched him. But there were the dark pain-circles
beneath that made him ache again. "It's a sunny day," he said. "It's
a beautiful day." "Do you think you'll be carried down?" "I shall
Then he went away to get her breakfast. All day long
he was conscious of nothing but her. It was a long ache that made
him feverish. Then, when he got home in the early evening, he
glanced through the kitchen window. She was not there; she had not
got up. He ran straight upstairs and kissed her. He was almost
afraid to ask: "Didn't you get up, pigeon?" "No," she said. "it was
that morphia; it made me tired." "I think he gives you too much," he
said. "I think he does," she answered. He sat down by the bed,
miserably. She had a way of curling and lying on her side, like a
child. The grey and brown hair was loose over her ear. "Doesn't it
tickle you?" he said, gently putting it back. "It does," she
replied. His face was near hers. Her blue eyes smiled straight into
his, like a girl's–warm, laughing with tender love. It made him
pant with terror, agony, and love. "You want your hair doing in a
plait," he said. "Lie still." And going behind her, he carefully
loosened her hair, brushed it out. It was like fine long silk of
brown and grey. Her head was snuggled between her shoulders. As he
lightly brushed and plaited her hair, he bit his lip and felt dazed.
It all seemed unreal, he could not understand it. At night he often
worked in her room, looking up from time to time. And so often he
found her blue eyes fixed on him. And when their eyes met, she
smiled. He worked away again mechanically, producing good stuff
without knowing what he was doing.
Sometimes he came in, very pale and still, with
watchful, sudden eyes, like a man who is drunk almost to death. They
were both afraid of the veils that were ripping between them. Then
she pretended to be better, chattered to him gaily, made a great
fuss over some scraps of news. For they had both come to the
condition when they had to make much of the trifles, lest they
should give in to the big thing, and their human independence would
go smash. They were afraid, so they made light of things and were
gay. Sometimes as she lay he knew she was thinking of the past. Her
mouth gradually shut hard in a line. She was holding herself rigid,
so that she might die without ever uttering the great cry that was
tearing from her. He never forgot that hard, utterly lonely and
stubborn clenching of her mouth, which persisted for weeks.
Sometimes, when it was lighter, she talked about her husband. Now
she hated him. She did not forgive him. She could not bear him to be
in the room. And a few things, the things that had been most bitter
to her, came up again so strongly that they broke from her, and she
told her son. He felt as if his life were being destroyed, piece by
piece, within him. Often the tears came suddenly. He ran to the
station, the tear-drops falling on the pavement. Often he could not
go on with his work. The pen stopped writing. He sat staring, quite
unconscious. And when he came round again he felt sick, and trembled
in his limbs. He never questioned what it was. His mind did not try
to analyse or understand. He merely submitted, and kept his eyes
shut; let the thing go over him. His mother did the same. She
thought of the pain, of the morphia, of the next day; hardly ever of
the death. That was coming, she knew. She had to submit to it. But
she would never entreat it or make friends with it. Blind, with her
face shut hard and blind, she was pushed towards the door. The days
passed, the weeks, the months. Sometimes, in the sunny afternoons,
she seemed almost happy.
"I try to think of the nice times–when we went to Mablethorpe, and Robin Hood's Bay, and Shanklin," she said. "After
all, not everybody has seen those beautiful places. And wasn't it
I try to think of that, not of the other things."
Then, again, for a whole evening she spoke not a
word; neither did he. They were together, rigid, stubborn, silent.
He went into his room at last to go to bed, and leaned against the
doorway as if paralysed, unable to go any farther. His consciousness
went. A furious storm, he knew not what, seemed to ravage inside
him. He stood leaning there, submitting, never questioning. In the
morning they were both normal again, though her face was grey with
the morphia, and her body felt like ash. But they were bright again,
nevertheless. Often, especially if Annie or Arthur were at home, he
neglected her. He did not see much of Clara. Usually he was with
men. He was quick and active and lively; but when his friends saw
him go white to the gills, his eyes dark and glittering, they had a
certain mistrust of him. Sometimes he went to Clara, but she was
almost cold to him. "Take me!" he said simply. Occasionally she
would. But she was afraid. When he had her then, there was something
in it that made her shrink away from him–something unnatural. She
grew to dread him. He was so quiet, yet so strange. She was afraid
of the man who was not there with her, whom she could feel behind
this make-belief lover; somebody sinister, that filled her with
horror. She began to have a kind of horror of him. It was almost as
if he were a criminal. He wanted her–he had her–and it made her
feel as if death itself had her in its grip. She lay in horror.
There was no man there loving her. She almost hated him. Then came
little bouts of tenderness. But she dared not pity him. Dawes had
come to Colonel Seely's Home near Nottingham. There Paul visited him
sometimes, Clara very occasionally. Between the two men the
friendship developed peculiarly. Dawes, who mended very slowly and
seemed very feeble, seemed to leave himself in the hands of Morel.
In the beginning of November Clara reminded Paul
that it was her birthday. "I'd nearly forgotten," he said.
"I'd thought quite," she replied.
"No. Shall we go to the seaside for the week-end?"
They went. It was cold and rather dismal. She waited for him to be
warm and tender with her, instead of which he seemed hardly aware of
her. He sat in the railway-carriage, looking out, and was startled
when she spoke to him. He was not definitely thinking. Things seemed
as if they did not exist. She went across to him. "What is it dear?"
she asked. "Nothing!" he said. "Don't those windmill sails look
monotonous?" He sat holding her hand. He could not talk nor think.
It was a comfort, however, to sit holding her hand. She was
dissatisfied and miserable. He was not with her; she was nothing.
And in the evening they sat among the sandhills, looking at the
black, heavy sea. "She will never give in," he said quietly. Clara's
heart sank. "No," she replied. "There are different ways of dying.
My father's people are frightened, and have to be hauled out of life
into death like cattle into a slaughter-house, pulled by the neck;
but my mother's people are pushed from behind, inch by inch. They
are stubborn people, and won't die." "Yes," said Clara.
"And she won't die. She can't. Mr. Renshaw, the
parson, was in the other day. 'Think!' he said to her; 'you will
have your mother and father, and your sisters, and your son, in the
And she said: 'I have done without them for a long
time, and CAN do without them now. It is the living I want, not the
dead.' She wants to live even now." "Oh, how horrible!" said Clara,
too frightened to speak. "And she looks at me, and she wants to stay
with me," he went on monotonously. "She's got such a will, it seems
as if she would never go–never!" "Don't think of it!" cried Clara.
"And she was religious–she is religious now–but it is no good. She
simply won't give in. And do you know, I said to her on Thursday:
'Mother, if I had to die, I'd die. I'd WILL to die.' And she said to
me, sharp: 'Do you think I haven't? Do you think you can die when
you like?'" His voice ceased. He did not cry, only went on speaking
mo-notonously. Clara wanted to run. She looked round. There was the
black, re-echoing shore, the dark sky down on her. She got up
terrified. She wanted to be where there was light, where there were
other people. She wanted to be away from him. He sat with his head
dropped, not moving a muscle. "And I don't want her to eat," he
said, "and she knows it. When I ask her: 'Shall you have anything'
she's almost afraid to say 'Yes.' 'I'll have a cup of Benger's,' she
says. 'It'll only keep your strength up,' I said to her. 'Yes'–and
she almost cried–'but there's such a gnawing when I eat nothing, I
can't bear it.' So I went and made her the food. It's the cancer
that gnaws like that at her. I wish she'd die!" "Come!" said Clara
roughly. "I'm going."
He followed her down the darkness of the sands. He
did not come to her. He seemed scarcely aware of her existence. And
she was afraid of him, and disliked him. In the same acute daze they
went back to Nottingham. He was always busy, always doing something,
always going from one to the other of his friends. On the Monday he
went to see Baxter Dawes. Listless and pale, the man rose to greet
the other, clinging to his chair as he held out his hand. "You
shouldn't get up," said Paul. Dawes sat down heavily, eyeing Morel
with a sort of suspicion. "Don't you waste your time on me," he
said, "if you've owt better to do." "I wanted to come," said Paul.
"Here! I brought you some sweets." The invalid put them aside. "It's
not been much of a week-end," said Morel. "How's your mother?" asked
the other. "Hardly any different." "I thought she was perhaps worse,
being as you didn't come on Sunday." "I was at Skegness," said Paul.
"I wanted a change." The other looked at him with dark eyes. He
seemed to be waiting, not quite daring to ask, trusting to be told.
"I went with Clara," said Paul. "I knew as much," said Dawes
quietly. "It was an old promise," said Paul.
"You have it your own way," said Dawes. This was the
first time Clara had been definitely mentioned between them. "Nay,"
said Morel slowly; "she's tired of me." Again Dawes looked at him.
"Since August she's been getting tired of me," Morel repeated. The
two men were very quiet together. Paul suggested a game of draughts.
They played in silence. "I s'll go abroad when my mother's dead,"
said Paul. "Abroad!" repeated Dawes. "Yes; I don't care what I do."
They continued the game. Dawes was winning. "I s'll have to begin a
new start of some sort," said Paul; "and you as well, I suppose." He
took one of Dawes's pieces. "I dunno where," said the other. "Things
have to happen," Morel said. "It's no good doing anything–at
least–no, I don't know. Give me some toffee." The two men ate
sweets, and began another game of draughts. "What made that scar on
your mouth?" asked Dawes. Paul put his hand hastily to his lips, and
looked over the garden. "I had a bicycle accident," he said. Dawes's
hand trembled as he moved the piece.
"You shouldn't ha' laughed at me," he said, very
low. "When?" "That night on Woodborough Road, when you and her
passed me–you with your hand on her shoulder." "I never laughed at
you," said Paul. Dawes kept his fingers on the draught-piece.
"I never knew you were there till the very second
when you passed," said Morel. "It was that as did me," Dawes said,
very low. Paul took another sweet. "I never laughed," he said,
"except as I'm always laughing." They finished the game. That night
Morel walked home from Nottingham, in order to have something to do.
The furnaces flared in a red blotch over Bulwell; the black clouds
were like a low ceiling. As he went along the ten miles of highroad,
he felt as if he were walking out of life, between the black levels
of the sky and the earth. But at the end was only the sick-room. If
he walked and walked for ever, there was only that place to come to.
He was not tired when he got near home, or He did not know it.
Across the field he could see the red firelight leaping in her
bedroom window. "When she's dead," he said to himself, "that fire
will go out." He took off his boots quietly and crept upstairs. His
mothers door was wide open, because she slept alone still. The red
firelight dashed its glow on the landing. Soft as a shadow, he
peeped in her doorway.
"Paul!" she murmured. His heart seemed to break
again. He went in and sat by the bed. "How late you are!" she
murmured. "Not very," he said. "Why, what time is it?" The murmur
came plaintive and helpless. "It's only just gone eleven." That was
not true; it was nearly one o'clock. "Oh!" she said; "I thought it
was later." And he knew the unutterable misery of her nights that
would not go. "Can't you sleep, my pigeon?" he said. "No, I can't,"
she wailed. "Never mind, Little!" He said crooning. "Never mind, my
love. I'll stop with you half an hour, my pigeon; then perhaps it
will be better." And he sat by the bedside, slowly, rhythmically
stroking her brows with his finger-tips, stroking her eyes shut,
soothing her, holding her fingers in his free hand. They could hear
the sleepers' breathing in the other rooms. "Now go to bed," she
murmured, lying quite still under his fingers and his love. "Will
you sleep?" he asked. "Yes, I think so." "You feel better, my
Little, don't you?"
"Yes," she said, like a fretful, half-soothed child.
Still the days and the weeks went by. He hardly ever went to see
Clara now. But he wandered restlessly from one person to another for
some help, and there was none anywhere. Miriam had written to him
tenderly. He went to see her. Her heart was very sore when she saw
him, white, gaunt, with his eyes dark and bewildered. Her pity came
up, hurting her till she could not bear it. "How is she?" she asked.
"The same–the same!" he said. "The doctor says she can't last, but
I know she will. She'll be here at Christmas." Miriam shuddered. She
drew him to her; she pressed him to her bosom; she kissed him and
kissed him. He submitted, but it was torture. She could not kiss his
agony. That remained alone and apart. She kissed his face, and
roused his blood, while his soul was apart writhing with the agony
of death. And she kissed him and fingered his body, till at last,
feeling he would go mad, he got away from her. It was not what he
wanted just then–not that. And she thought she had soothed him and
done him good. December came, and some snow. He stayed at home all
the while now. They could not afford a nurse. Annie came to look
after her mother; the parish nurse, whom they loved, came in morning
and evening. Paul shared the nursing with Annie. Often, in the
evenings, when friends were in the kitchen with them, they all
laughed together and shook with laughter. It was reaction. Paul was
so comical, Annie was so quaint. The whole party laughed till they
cried, trying to subdue the sound. And Mrs. Morel, lying alone in
the darkness heard them, and among her bitterness was a feeling of
relief. Then Paul would go upstairs gingerly, guiltily, to see if
she had heard. "Shall I give you some milk?" he asked. "A little,"
she replied plaintively.
And he would put some water with it, so that it
should not nourish her. Yet he loved her more than his own life. She
had morphia every night, and her heart got fitful. Annie slept
beside her. Paul would go in in the early morning, when his sister
got up. His mother was wasted and almost ashen in the morning with
the morphia. Darker and darker grew her eyes, all pupil, with the
torture. In the mornings the weariness and ache were too much to
bear. Yet she could not–would not–weep, or even complain much.
"You slept a bit later this morning, little one," he would say to
her. "Did I?" she answered, with fretful weariness. "Yes; it's
nearly eight o'clock." He stood looking out of the window. The whole
country was bleak and pallid under the snow. Then he felt her pulse.
There was a strong stroke and a weak one, like a sound and its echo.
That was supposed to betoken the end. She let him feel her wrist,
knowing what he wanted. Sometimes they looked in each other's eyes.
Then they almost seemed to make an agreement. It was almost as if he
were agreeing to die also. But she did not consent to die; she would
not. Her body was wasted to a fragment of ash. Her eyes were dark
and full of torture. "Can't you give her something to put an end to
it?" he asked the doctor at last. But the doctor shook his head.
"She can't last many days now, Mr. Morel," he said. Paul went
indoors. "I can't bear it much longer; we shall all go mad," said
Annie. The two sat down to breakfast.
"Go and sit with her while we have breakfast,
Minnie," said Annie. But the girl was frightened. Paul went through
the country, through the woods, over the snow. He saw the marks of
rabbits and birds in the white snow. He wandered miles and miles. A
smoky red sunset came on slowly, painfully, lingering. He thought
she would die that day. There was a donkey that came up to him over
the snow by the wood's edge, and put its head against him, and
walked with him alongside. He put his arms round the donkey's neck,
and stroked his cheeks against his ears. His mother, silent, was
still alive, with her hard mouth gripped grimly, her eyes of dark
torture only living. It was nearing Christmas; there was more snow.
Annie and he felt as if they could go on no more. Still her dark
eyes were alive. Morel, silent and frightened, obliterated himself.
Sometimes he would go into the sick-room and look at her. Then he
backed out, bewildered. She kept her hold on life still. The miners
had been out on strike, and returned a fortnight or so before
Christmas. Minnie went upstairs with the feeding-cup. It was two
days after the men had been in. "Have the men been saying their
hands are sore, Minnie?" she asked, in the faint, querulous voice
that would not give in. Minnie stood surprised. "Not as I know of,
Mrs. Morel," she answered. "But I'll bet they are sore," said the
dying woman, as she moved her head with a sigh of weariness. "But,
at any rate, there'll be something to buy in with this week." Not a
thing did she let slip. "Your father's pit things will want well
airing, Annie," she said, when the men were going back to work.
"Don't you bother about that, my dear," said Annie.
One night Annie and Paul were alone. Nurse was upstairs. "She'll
live over Christmas," said Annie. They were both full of horror.
"She won't," he replied grimly. "I s'll give her morphia." "Which?"
said Annie. "All that came from Sheffield," said Paul. "Ay–do!"
said Annie. The next day he was painting in the bedroom. She seemed
to be asleep. He stepped softly backwards and forwards at his
painting. Suddenly her small voice wailed: "Don't walk about, Paul."
He looked round. Her eyes, like dark bubbles in her face, were
looking at him. "No, my dear," he said gently. Another fibre seemed
to snap in his heart. That evening he got all the morphia pills
there were, and took them downstairs. Carefully he crushed them to
powder. "What are you doing?" said Annie. "I s'll put 'em in her
night milk." Then they both laughed together like two conspiring
children. On top of all their horror flicked this little sanity.
Nurse did not come that night to settle Mrs. Morel down. Paul went
up with the hot milk in a feeding-cup. It was nine o'clock.
She was reared up in bed, and he put the feeding-cup
between her lips that he would have died to save from any hurt. She
took a sip, then put the spout of the cup away and looked at him
with her dark, wondering eyes. He looked at her. "Oh, it IS bitter,
Paul!" she said, making a little grimace. "It's a new sleeping
draught the doctor gave me for you," he said. "He thought it would
leave you in such a state in the morning." "And I hope it won't,"
she said, like a child. She drank some more of the milk. "But it IS
horrid!" she said. He saw her frail fingers over the cup, her lips
making a little move. "I know–I tasted it," he said. "But I'll give
you some clean milk afterwards." "I think so," she said, and she
went on with the draught. She was obedient to him like a child. He
wondered if she knew. He saw her poor wasted throat moving as she
drank with difficulty. Then he ran downstairs for more milk. There
were no grains in the bottom of the cup. "Has she had it?" whispered
Annie. "Yes–and she said it was bitter." "Oh!" laughed Annie,
putting her under lip between her teeth. "And I told her it was a
new draught. Where's that milk?" They both went upstairs. "I wonder
why nurse didn't come to settle me down?" complained the mother,
like a child, wistfully.
"She said she was going to a concert, my love,"
replied Annie. "Did she?" They were silent a minute. Mrs. Morel
gulped the little clean milk. "Annie, that draught WAS horrid!" she
said plaintively. "Was it, my love? Well, never mind." The mother
sighed again with weariness. Her pulse was very irregular. "Let US
settle you down," said Annie. "Perhaps nurse will be so late." "Ay,"
said the mother–"try." They turned the clothes back. Paul saw his
mother Like a girl curled up in her flannel nightdress. Quickly they
made one half of the bed, moved her, made the other, straightened
her nightgown over her small feet, and covered her up. "There," said
Paul, stroking her softly. "There!–now you'll sleep." "Yes," she
said. "I didn't think you could do the bed so nicely," she added,
almost gaily. Then she curled up, with her cheek on her hand, her
head snuggled between her shoulders. Paul put the long thin plait of
grey hair over her shoulder and kissed her. "You'll sleep, my love,"
he said. "Yes," she answered trustfully. "Good-night." They put out
the light, and it was still. Morel was in bed. Nurse did not come.
Annie and Paul came to look at her at about eleven. She seemed to be
sleeping as usual after her draught. Her mouth had come a bit open.
"Shall we sit up?" said Paul. "I s'll lie with her
as I always do," said Annie. "She might wake up." "All right. And
call me if you see any difference." "Yes." They lingered before the
bedroom fire, feeling the night big and black and snowy outside,
their two selves alone in the world. At last he went into the next
room and went to bed. He slept almost immediately, but kept waking
every now and again. Then he went sound asleep. He started awake at
Annie's whispered, "Paul, Paul!" He saw his sister in her white
nightdress, with her long plait of hair down her back, standing in
the darkness. "Yes?" he whispered, sitting up. "Come and look at
her." He slipped out of bed. A bud of gas was burning in the sick
chamber. His mother lay with her cheek on her hand, curled up as she
had gone to sleep. But her mouth had fallen open, and she breathed
with great, hoarse breaths, like snoring, and there were long
intervals between. "She's going!" he whispered. "Yes," said Annie.
"How long has she been like it?" "I only just woke up." Annie
huddled into the dressing-gown, Paul wrapped himself in a brown
blanket. It was three o'clock. He mended the fire. Then the two sat
waiting. The great, snoring breath was taken–held awhile–then
given back. There was a space–a long space. Then they started. The
great, snoring breath was taken again. He bent close down and looked
"Isn't it awful!" whispered Annie. He nodded. They
sat down again helplessly. Again came the great, snoring breath.
Again they hung suspended. Again it was given back, long and harsh.
The sound, so irregular, at such wide intervals, sounded through the
house. Morel, in his room, slept on. Paul and Annie sat crouched,
huddled, motionless. The great snoring sound began again–there was
a painful pause while the breath was held–back came the rasping
breath. Minute after minute passed. Paul looked at her again,
bending low over her. "She may last like this," he said. They were
both silent. He looked out of the window, and could faintly discern
the snow on the garden. "You go to my bed," he said to Annie. "I'll
sit up." "No," she said, "I'll stop with you." "I'd rather you
didn't," he said. At last Annie crept out of the room, and he was
alone. He hugged himself in his brown blanket, crouched in front of
his mother, watching. She looked dreadful, with the bottom jaw
fallen back. He watched. Sometimes he thought the great breath would
never begin again. He could not bear it–the waiting. Then suddenly,
startling him, came the great harsh sound. He mended the fire again,
noiselessly. She must not be disturbed. The minutes went by. The
night was going, breath by breath. Each time the sound came he felt
it wring him, till at last he could not feel so much. His father got
up. Paul heard the miner drawing his stockings on, yawning. Then
Morel, in shirt and stockings, entered. "Hush!" said Paul. Morel
stood watching. Then he looked at his son, helplessly, and in
"Had I better stop a-whoam?" he whispered. "No. Go
to work. She'll last through to-morrow." "I don't think so." "Yes.
Go to work." The miner looked at her again, in fear, and went
obediently out of the room. Paul saw the tape of his garters
swinging against his legs. After another half-hour Paul went
downstairs and drank a cup of tea, then returned. Morel, dressed for
the pit, came upstairs again. "Am I to go?" he said. "Yes." And in a
few minutes Paul heard his father's heavy steps go thudding over the
deadening snow. Miners called in the streets as they tramped in
gangs to work. The terrible, long-drawn breaths
continued–heave–heave–heave; then a long pause–then–ah-h-h-h-h!
as it came back. Far away over the snow sounded the hooters of the
ironworks. One after another they crowed and boomed, some small and
far away, some near, the blowers of the collieries and the other
works. Then there was silence. He mended the fire. The great breaths
broke the silence–she looked just the same. He put back the blind
and peered out. Still it was dark. Perhaps there was a lighter
tinge. Perhaps the snow was bluer. He drew up the blind and got
dressed. Then, shuddering, he drank brandy from the bottle on the
wash-stand. The snow WAS growing blue. He heard a cart clanking down
the street. Yes, it was seven o'clock, and it was coming a little
bit light. He heard some people calling. The world was waking. A
grey, deathly dawn crept over the snow. Yes, he could see the
houses. He put out the gas. It seemed very dark. The breathing came
still, but he was almost used to it. He could see her. She was just
the same. He wondered if he piled heavy clothes on top of her it
would stop. He looked at her. That was not her–not her a bit. If he
piled the blanket and heavy coats on her–-
Suddenly the door opened, and Annie entered. She
looked at him questioningly. "Just the same," he said calmly. They
whispered together a minute, then he went downstairs to get
breakfast. It was twenty to eight. Soon Annie came down. "Isn't it
awful! Doesn't she look awful!" she whispered, dazed with horror. He
nodded. "If she looks like that!" said Annie. "Drink some tea," he
said. They went upstairs again. Soon the neighbours came with their
frightened question: "How is she?" It went on just the same. She lay
with her cheek in her hand, her mouth fallen open, and the great,
ghastly snores came and went. At ten o'clock nurse came. She looked
strange and woebegone. "Nurse," cried Paul, "she'll last like this
for days?" "She can't, Mr. Morel," said nurse. "She can't." There
was a silence. "Isn't it dreadful!" wailed the nurse. "Who would
have thought she could stand it? Go down now, Mr. Morel, go down."
At last, at about eleven o'clock, he went downstairs and sat in the
neighbour's house. Annie was downstairs also. Nurse and Arthur were
upstairs. Paul sat with his head in his hand. Suddenly Annie came
flying across the yard crying, half mad:
"Paul–Paul–she's gone!" In a second he was back in
his own house and upstairs. She lay curled up and still, with her
face on her hand, and nurse was wiping her mouth. They all stood
back. He kneeled down, and put his face to hers and his arms round
her: "My love–my love–oh, my love!" he whispered again and again.
"My love–oh, my love!" Then he heard the nurse behind him, crying,
saying: "She's better, Mr. Morel, she's better." When he took his
face up from his warm, dead mother he went straight downstairs and
began blacking his boots. There was a good deal to do, letters to
write, and so on. The doctor came and glanced at her, and sighed.
"Ay–poor thing!" he said, then turned away. "Well, call at the
surgery about six for the certificate." The father came home from
work at about four o'clock. He dragged silently into the house and
sat down. Minnie bustled to give him his dinner. Tired, he laid his
black arms on the table. There were swede turnips for his dinner,
which he liked. Paul wondered if he knew. It was some time, and
nobody had spoken. At last the son said: "You noticed the blinds
were down?" Morel looked up. "No," he said. "Why–has she gone?"
"Yes." "When wor that?"
"About twelve this morning." "H'm!" The miner sat
still for a moment, then began his dinner. It was as if nothing had
happened. He ate his turnips in silence. Afterwards he washed and
went upstairs to dress. The door of her room was shut. "Have you
seen her?" Annie asked of him when he came down. "No," he said. In a
little while he went out. Annie went away, and Paul called on the
undertaker, the clergyman, the doctor, the registrar. It was a long
business. He got back at nearly eight o'clock. The undertaker was
coming soon to measure for the coffin. The house was empty except
for her. He took a candle and went upstairs. The room was cold, that
had been warm for so long. Flowers, bottles, plates, all sick-room
litter was taken away; everything was harsh and austere. She lay
raised on the bed, the sweep of the sheet from the raised feet was
like a clean curve of snow, so silent. She lay like a maiden asleep.
With his candle in his hand, he bent over her. She lay like a girl
asleep and dreaming of her love. The mouth was a little open as if
wondering from the suffering, but her face was young, her brow clear
and white as if life had never touched it. He looked again at the
eyebrows, at the small, winsome nose a bit on one side. She was
young again. Only the hair as it arched so beautifully from her
temples was mixed with silver, and the two simple plaits that lay on
her shoulders were filigree of silver and brown. She would wake up.
She would lift her eyelids. She was with him still. He bent and
kissed her passionately. But there was coldness against his mouth.
He bit his lips with horror. Looking at her, he felt he could never,
never let her go. No! He stroked the hair from her temples. That,
too, was cold. He saw the mouth so dumb and wondering at the hurt.
Then he crouched on the floor, whispering to her: "Mother, mother!"
He was still with her when the undertakers came,
young men who had been to school with him. They touched her
reverently, and in a quiet, businesslike fashion. They did not look
at her. He watched jealously. He and Annie guarded her fiercely.
They would not let anybody come to see her, and the neighbours were
offended. After a while Paul went out of the house, and played cards
at a friend's. It was midnight when he got back. His father rose
from the couch as he entered, saying in a plaintive way: "I thought
tha wor niver comin', lad." "I didn't think you'd sit up," said
Paul. His father looked so forlorn. Morel had been a man without
fear–simply nothing frightened him. Paul realised with a start that
he had been afraid to go to bed, alone in the house with his dead.
He was sorry. "I forgot you'd be alone, father," he said. "Dost want
owt to eat?" asked Morel. "No." "Sithee–I made thee a drop o' hot
milk. Get it down thee; it's cold enough for owt." Paul drank it.
After a while Morel went to bed. He hurried past the closed door,
and left his own door open. Soon the son came upstairs also. He went
in to kiss her good-night, as usual. It was cold and dark. He wished
they had kept her fire burning. Still she dreamed her young dream.
But she would be cold. "My dear!" he whispered. "My dear!"
And he did not kiss her, for fear she should be cold
and strange to him. It eased him she slept so beautifully.
He shut her door softly, not to wake her, and went
to bed. In the morning Morel summoned his courage, hearing Annie
downstairs and Paul coughing in the room across the landing. He
opened her door, and went into the darkened room. He saw the white
uplifted form in the twilight, but her he dared not see. Bewildered,
too frightened to possess any of his faculties, he got out of the
room again and left her. He never looked at her again. He had not
seen her for months, because he had not dared to look. And she
looked like his young wife again. "Have you seen her?" Annie asked
of him sharply after breakfast. "Yes," he said. "And don't you think
she looks nice?" "Yes." He went out of the house soon after. And all
the time He seemed to be creeping aside to avoid it. Paul went about
from place to place, doing the business of the death. He met Clara
in Nottingham, and they had tea together in a cafe, when they were
quite jolly again. She was infinitely relieved to find he did not
take it tragically. Later, when the relatives began to come for the
funeral, the affair became public, and the children became social
beings. They put themselves aside. They buried her in a furious
storm of rain and wind. The wet clay glistened, all the white
flowers were soaked. Annie gripped his arm and leaned forward. Down
below she saw a dark corner of William's coffin. The oak box sank
steadily. She was gone. The rain poured in the grave. The procession
of black, with its umbrellas glistening, turned away. The cemetery
was deserted under the drenching cold rain.
Paul went home and busied himself supplying the
guests with drinks. His father sat in the kitchen with Mrs. Morel's
relatives, "superior" people, and wept, and said what a good lass
she'd been, and how he'd tried to do everything he could for
her–everything. He had striven all his life to do what he could for
her, and he'd nothing to reproach himself with. She was gone, but
he'd done his best for her.
He wiped his eyes with his white handkerchief.
He'd nothing to reproach himself for, he repeated.
All his life he'd done his best for her. And that was how he tried
to dismiss her. He never thought of her personally. Everything deep
in him he denied. Paul hated his father for sitting sentimentalising
over her. He knew he would do it in the public-houses.
the real tragedy went on in Morel in spite of himself. Sometimes,
later, he came down from his afternoon sleep, white and cowering. "I
HAVE been dreaming of thy mother," he said in a small voice. "Have
you, father? When I dream of her it's always just as she was when
she was well. I dream of her often, but it seems quite nice and
natural, as if nothing had altered." But Morel crouched in front of
the fire in terror. The weeks passed half-real, not much pain, not
much of anything, perhaps a little relief, mostly a nuit blanche.
Paul went restless from place to place. For some months, since his
mother had been worse, he had not made love to Clara. She was, as it
were, dumb to him, rather distant. Dawes saw her very occasionally,
but the two could not get an inch across the great distance between
them. The three of them were drifting forward. Dawes mended very
slowly. He was in the convalescent home at Skegness at Christmas,
nearly well again. Paul went to the seaside for a few days. His
father was with Annie in Sheffield. Dawes came to Paul's lodgings.
His time in the home was up. The two men, between whom was such a
big reserve, seemed faithful to each other. Dawes depended on Morel
now. He knew Paul and Clara had practically separated.
Two days after Christmas Paul was to go back to Nottingham. The
evening before he sat with Dawes smoking before the fire. "You know
Clara's coming down for the day to-morrow?" he said. The other man
glanced at him. "Yes, you told me," he replied. Paul drank the
remainder of his glass of whisky.