Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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D. 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 see."

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 beautiful!

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 Other Land.'

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 at her.

"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 horror.

"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. For 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.



Adrienne Nater, 2008

©© 2008 Adrienne Nater. All rights reserved.