Mr Lindley was first vicar of Aldecross. The cottages of this
tiny hamlet had nestled in peace since their beginning, and the
country folk had crossed the lanes and farm-lands, two or three
miles, to the parish church at Greymeed, on the bright Sunday
But when the pits were sunk, blank rows of dwellings started up
beside the high roads, and a new population, skimmed from the
floating scum of workmen, was filled in, the cottages and the
country people almost obliterated.
To suit the convenience of these new collier-inhabitants, a
church must be built at Aldecross. There was not too much money.
And so the little building crouched like a humped stone-and-mortar
mouse, with two little turrets at the west corners for ears, in the
fields near the cottages and the apple trees, as far as possible
from the dwellings down the high road. It had an uncertain, timid
look about it. And so they planted big-leaved ivy, to hide its
shrinking newness. So that now the little church stands buried in
its greenery, stranded and sleeping among the fields, while the
brick houses elbow nearer and nearer, threatening to crush it down.
It is already obsolete.
The Reverend Ernest Lindley, aged twenty-seven, and newly
married, came from his curacy in Suffolk to take charge of his
church. He was just an ordinary young man, who had been to
Cambridge and taken orders. His wife was a self-assured young
woman, daughter of a Cambridgeshire rector. Her father had spent
the whole of his thousand a year, so that Mrs Lindley had nothing
of her own. Thus the young married people came to Aldecross to live
on a stipend of about a hundred and twenty pounds, and to keep up a
They were not very well received by the new, raw, disaffected
population of colliers. Being accustomed to farm labourers, Mr
Lindley had considered himself as belonging indisputably to the
upper or ordering classes. He had to be humble to the county
families, but still, he was of their kind, whilst the common people
were something different. He had no doubts of himself.
He found, however, that the collier population refused to accept
this arrangement. They had no use for him in their lives, and they
told him so, callously. The women merely said, “they were
throng,” or else, “Oh, it’s no good you coming
here, we’re Chapel.” The men were quite good-humoured
so long as he did not touch them too nigh, they were cheerfully
contemptuous of him, with a preconceived contempt he was powerless
At last, passing from indignation to silent resentment, even, if
he dared have acknowledged it, to conscious hatred of the majority
of his flock, and unconscious hatred of himself, he confined his
activities to a narrow round of cottages, and he had to submit. He
had no particular character, having always depended on his position
in society to give him position among men. Now he was so poor, he
had no social standing even among the common vulgar tradespeople of
the district, and he had not the nature nor the wish to make his
society agreeable to them, nor the strength to impose himself where
he would have liked to be recognized. He dragged on, pale and
miserable and neutral.
At first his wife raged with mortification. She took on airs and
used a high hand. But her income was too small, the wrestling with
tradesmen’s bills was too pitiful, she only met with general,
callous ridicule when she tried to be impressive.
Wounded to the quick of her pride, she found herself isolated in
an indifferent, callous population. She raged indoors and out. But
soon she learned that she must pay too heavily for her outdoor
rages, and then she only raged within the walls of the rectory.
There her feeling was so strong, that she frightened herself. She
saw herself hating her husband, and she knew that, unless she were
careful, she would smash her form of life and bring catastrophe
upon him and upon herself. So in very fear, she went quiet. She
hid, bitter and beaten by fear, behind the only shelter she had in
the world, her gloomy, poor parsonage.
Children were born one every year; almost mechanically, she
continued to perform her maternal duty, which was forced upon her.
Gradually, broken by the suppressing of her violent anger and
misery and disgust, she became an invalid and took to her
The children grew up healthy, but unwarmed and rather rigid.
Their father and mother educated them at home, made them very proud
and very genteel, put them definitely and cruelly in the upper
classes, apart from the vulgar around them. So they lived quite
isolated. They were good-looking, and had that curiously clean,
semi-transparent look of the genteel, isolated poor.
Gradually Mr and Mrs Lindley lost all hold on life, and spent
their hours, weeks and years merely haggling to make ends meet, and
bitterly repressing and pruning their children into gentility,
urging them to ambition, weighting them with duty. On Sunday
morning the whole family, except the mother, went down the lane to
church, the long-legged girls in skimpy frocks, the boys in black
coats and long, grey, unfitting trousers. They passed by their
father’s parishioners with mute, clear faces, childish mouths
closed in pride that was like a doom to them, and childish eyes
already unseeing. Miss Mary, the eldest, was the leader. She was a
long, slim thing with a fine profile and a proud, pure look of
submission to a high fate. Miss Louisa, the second, was short and
plump and obstinate-looking. She had more enemies than ideals. She
looked after the lesser children, Miss Mary after the elder. The
collier children watched this pale, distinguished procession of the
vicar’s family pass mutely by, and they were impressed by the
air of gentility and distance, they made mock of the trousers of
the small sons, they felt inferior in themselves, and hate stirred
In her time, Miss Mary received as governess a few little
daughters of tradesmen; Miss Louisa managed the house and went
among her father’s church-goers, giving lessons on the piano
to the colliers’ daughters at thirteen shillings for
One winter morning, when his daughter Mary was about twenty
years old, Mr Lindley, a thin, unobtrusive figure in his black
overcoat and his wideawake, went down into Aldecross with a packet
of white papers under his arm. He was delivering the parish
A rather pale, neutral man of middle age, he waited while the
train thumped over the level-crossing, going up to the pit which
rattled busily just along the line. A wooden-legged man hobbled to
open the gate, Mr Lindley passed on. Just at his left hand, below
the road and the railway, was the red roof of a cottage, showing
through the bare twigs of apple trees. Mr Lindley passed round the
low wall, and descended the worn steps that led from the highway
down to the cottage which crouched darkly and quietly away below
the rumble of passing trains and the clank of coal-carts in a quiet
little under-world of its own. Snowdrops with tight-shut buds were
hanging very still under the bare currant bushes.
The clergyman was just going to knock when he heard a clinking
noise, and turning saw through the open door of a black shed just
behind him an elderly woman in a black lace cap stooping among
reddish big cans, pouring a very bright liquid into a tundish.
There was a smell of paraffin. The woman put down her can, took the
tundish and laid it on a shelf, then rose with a tin bottle. Her
eyes met those of the clergyman.
“Oh, is it you, Mr Lin’ley!” she said, in a
complaining tone. “Go in.”
The minister entered the house. In the hot kitchen sat a big,
elderly man with a great grey beard, taking snuff. He grunted in a
deep, muttering voice, telling the minister to sit down, and then
took no more notice of him, but stared vacantly into the fire. Mr
The woman came in, the ribbons of her black lace cap, or bonnet,
hanging on her shawl. She was of medium stature, everything about
her was tidy. She went up a step out of the kitchen, carrying the
paraffin tin. Feet were heard entering the room up the step. It was
a little haberdashery shop, with parcels on the shelves of the
walls, a big, old-fashioned sewing machine with tailor’s work
lying round it, in the open space. The woman went behind the
counter, gave the child who had entered the paraffin bottle, and
took from her a jug.
“My mother says shall yer put it down,” said the
child, and she was gone. The woman wrote in a book, then came into
the kitchen with her jug. The husband, a very large man, rose and
brought more coal to the already hot fire. He moved slowly and
sluggishly. Already he was going dead; being a tailor, his large
form had become an encumbrance to him. In his youth he had been a
great dancer and boxer. Now he was taciturn, and inert. The
minister had nothing to say, so he sought for his phrases. But John
Durant took no notice, existing silent and dull.
Mrs Durant spread the cloth. Her husband poured himself beer
into a mug, and began to smoke and drink.
“Shall you have some?” he growled through his beard
at the clergyman, looking slowly from the man to the jug, capable
of this one idea.
“No, thank you,” replied Mr Lindley, though he would
have liked some beer. He must set the example in a drinking
“We need a drop to keep us going,” said Mrs
She had rather a complaining manner. The clergyman sat on
uncomfortably while she laid the table for the half-past ten lunch.
Her husband drew up to eat. She remained in her little round
arm-chair by the fire.
She was a woman who would have liked to be easy in her life, but
to whose lot had fallen a rough and turbulent family, and a
slothful husband who did not care what became of himself or
anybody. So, her rather good-looking square face was peevish, she
had that air of having been compelled all her life to serve
unwillingly, and to control where she did not want to control.
There was about her, too, that masterful aplomb of a woman who has
brought up and ruled her sons: but even them she had ruled
unwillingly. She had enjoyed managing her little haberdashery-shop,
riding in the carrier’s cart to Nottingham, going through the
big warehouses to buy her goods. But the fret of managing her sons
she did not like. Only she loved her youngest boy, because he was
her last, and she saw herself free.
This was one of the houses the clergyman visited occasionally.
Mrs Durant, as part of her regulation, had brought up all her sons
in the Church. Not that she had any religion. Only, it was what she
was used to. Mr Durant was without religion. He read the fervently
evangelical “Life of John Wesley” with a curious
pleasure, getting from it a satisfaction as from the warmth of the
fire, or a glass of brandy. But he cared no more about John Wesley,
in fact, than about John Milton, of whom he had never heard.
Mrs Durant took her chair to the table.
“I don’t feel like eating,” she sighed.
“Why—aren’t you well?” asked the
“It isn’t that,” she sighed. She sat with
shut, straight mouth. “I don’t know what’s going
to become of us.”
But the clergyman had ground himself down so long, that he could
not easily sympathize.
“Have you any trouble?” he asked.
“Ay, have I any trouble!” cried the elderly woman.
“I shall end my days in the workhouse.”
The minister waited unmoved. What could she know of poverty, in
her little house of plenty!
“I hope not,” he said.
“And the one lad as I wanted to keep by me—”
The minister listened without sympathy, quite neutral.
“And the lad as would have been a support to my old age!
What is going to become of us?” she said.
The clergyman, justly, did not believe in the cry of poverty,
but wondered what had become of the son.
“Has anything happened to Alfred?” he asked.
“We’ve got word he’s gone for a Queen’s
sailor,” she said sharply.
“He has joined the Navy!” exclaimed Mr Lindley.
“I think he could scarcely have done better—to serve
his Queen and country on the sea . . .”
“He is wanted to serve me,” she cried. “And I
wanted my lad at home.”
Alfred was her baby, her last, whom she had allowed herself the
luxury of spoiling.
“You will miss him,” said Mr Lindley, “that is
certain. But this is no regrettable step for him to have
taken—on the contrary.”
“That’s easy for you to say, Mr Lindley,” she
replied tartly. “Do you think I want my lad climbing ropes at
another man’s bidding, like a monkey—?”
“There is no dishonour, surely, in serving in the
“Dishonour this dishonour that,” cried the angry old
woman. “He goes and makes a slave of himself, and he’ll
Her angry, scornful impatience nettled the clergyman and
silenced him for some moments.
“I do not see,” he retorted at last, white at the
gills and inadequate, “that the Queen’s service is any
more to be called slavery than working in a mine.”
“At home he was at home, and his own master. I
know he’ll find a difference.”
“It may be the making of him,” said the clergyman.
“It will take him away from bad companionship and
Some of the Durants’ sons were notorious drinkers, and
Alfred was not quite steady.
“And why indeed shouldn’t he have his glass?”
cried the mother. “He picks no man’s pocket to pay for
The clergyman stiffened at what he thought was an allusion to
his own profession, and his unpaid bills.
“With all due consideration, I am glad to hear he has
joined the Navy,” he said.
“Me with my old age coming on, and his father working very
little! I’d thank you to be glad about something else besides
that, Mr Lindley.”
The woman began to cry. Her husband, quite impassive, finished
his lunch of meat-pie, and drank some beer. Then he turned to the
fire, as if there were no one in the room but himself.
“I shall respect all men who serve God and their country
on the sea, Mrs Durant,” said the clergyman stubbornly.
“That is very well, when they’re not your sons who
are doing the dirty work.—It makes a difference,” she
“I should be proud if one of my sons were to enter the
“Ay—well—we’re not all of us made
The minister rose. He put down a large folded paper.
“I’ve brought the almanac,” he said.
Mrs Durant unfolded it.
“I do like a bit of colour in things,” she said,
The clergyman did not reply.
“There’s that envelope for the organist’s
fund—” said the old woman, and rising, she took the
thing from the mantelpiece, went into the shop, and returned
sealing it up.
“Which is all I can afford,” she said.
Mr Lindley took his departure, in his pocket the envelope
containing Mrs Durant’s offering for Miss Louisa’s
services. He went from door to door delivering the almanacs, in
dull routine. Jaded with the monotony of the business, and with the
repeated effort of greeting half-known people, he felt barren and
rather irritable. At last he returned home.
In the dining-room was a small fire. Mrs Lindley, growing very
stout, lay on her couch. The vicar carved the cold mutton; Miss
Louisa, short and plump and rather flushed, came in from the
kitchen; Miss Mary, dark, with a beautiful white brow and grey
eyes, served the vegetables; the children chattered a little, but
not exuberantly. The very air seemed starved.
“I went to the Durants,” said the vicar, as he
served out small portions of mutton; “it appears Alfred has
run away to join the Navy.”
“Do him good,” came the rough voice of the
Miss Louisa, attending to the youngest child, looked up in
“Why has he done that?” asked Mary’s low,
“He wanted some excitement, I suppose,” said the
vicar. “Shall we say grace?”
The children were arranged, all bent their heads, grace was
pronounced, at the last word every face was being raised to go on
with the interesting subject.
“He’s just done the right thing, for once,”
came the rather deep voice of the mother; “save him from
becoming a drunken sot, like the rest of them.”
“They’re not all drunken, mama,” said Miss
“It’s no fault of their upbringing if they’re
not. Walter Durant is a standing disgrace.”
“As I told Mrs Durant,” said the vicar, eating
hungrily, “it is the best thing he could have done. It will
take him away from temptation during the most dangerous years of
his life—how old is he—nineteen?”
“Twenty,” said Miss Louisa.
“Twenty!” repeated the vicar. “It will give
him wholesome discipline and set before him some sort of standard
of duty and honour—nothing could have been better for him.
“We shall miss him from the choir,” said Miss
Louisa, as if taking opposite sides to her parents.
“That is as it may be,” said the vicar. “I
prefer to know he is safe in the Navy, than running the risk of
getting into bad ways here.”
“Was he getting into bad ways?” asked the stubborn
“You know, Louisa, he wasn’t quite what he used to
be,” said Miss Mary gently and steadily. Miss Louisa shut her
rather heavy jaw sulkily. She wanted to deny it, but she knew it
For her he had been a laughing, warm lad, with something kindly
and something rich about him. He had made her feel warm. It seemed
the days would be colder since he had gone.
“Quite the best thing he could do,” said the mother
“I think so,” said the vicar. “But his mother
was almost abusive because I suggested it.”
He spoke in an injured tone.
“What does she care for her children’s
welfare?” said the invalid. “Their wages is all her
“I suppose she wanted him at home with her,” said
“Yes, she did—at the expense of his learning to be a
drunkard like the rest of them,” retorted her mother.
“George Durant doesn’t drink,” defended her
“Because he got burned so badly when he was
nineteen—in the pit— and that frightened him. The Navy
is a better remedy than that, at least.”
“Certainly,” said the vicar.
And to this Miss Louisa agreed. Yet she could not but feel angry
that he had gone away for so many years. She herself was only
It happened when Miss Mary was twenty-three years old, that Mr
Lindley was very ill. The family was exceedingly poor at the time,
such a lot of money was needed, so little was forthcoming. Neither
Miss Mary nor Miss Louisa had suitors. What chance had they? They
met no eligible young men in Aldecross. And what they earned was a
mere drop in a void. The girls’ hearts were chilled and
hardened with fear of this perpetual, cold penury, this narrow
struggle, this horrible nothingness of their lives.
A clergyman had to be found for the church work. It so happened
the son of an old friend of Mr Lindley’s was waiting three
months before taking up his duties. He would come and officiate,
for nothing. The young clergyman was keenly expected. He was not
more than twenty-seven, a Master of Arts of Oxford, had written his
thesis on Roman Law. He came of an old Cambridgeshire family, had
some private means, was going to take a church in Northamptonshire
with a good stipend, and was not married. Mrs Lindley incurred new
debts, and scarcely regretted her husband’s illness.
But when Mr Massy came, there was a shock of disappointment in
the house. They had expected a young man with a pipe and a deep
voice, but with better manners than Sidney, the eldest of the
Lindleys. There arrived instead a small, chétif man, scarcely
larger than a boy of twelve, spectacled, timid in the extreme,
without a word to utter at first; yet with a certain inhuman
“What a little abortion!” was Mrs Lindley’s
exclamation to herself on first seeing him, in his buttoned-up
clerical coat. And for the first time for many days, she was
profoundly thankful to God that all her children were decent
He had not normal powers of perception. They soon saw that he
lacked the full range of human feelings, but had rather a strong,
philosophical mind, from which he lived. His body was almost
unthinkable, in intellect he was something definite. The
conversation at once took a balanced, abstract tone when he
participated. There was no spontaneous exclamation, no violent
assertion or expression of personal conviction, but all cold,
reasonable assertion. This was very hard on Mrs Lindley. The little
man would look at her, after one of her pronouncements, and then
give, in his thin voice, his own calculated version, so that she
felt as if she were tumbling into thin air through a hole in the
flimsy floor on which their conversation stood. It was she who felt
a fool. Soon she was reduced to a hardy silence.
Still, at the back of her mind, she remembered that he was an
unattached gentleman, who would shortly have an income altogether
of six or seven hundred a year. What did the man matter, if there
were pecuniary ease! The man was a trifle thrown in. After
twenty-two years her sentimentality was ground away, and only the
millstone of poverty mattered to her. So she supported the little
man as a representative of a decent income.
His most irritating habit was that of a sneering little giggle,
all on his own, which came when he perceived or related some
illogical absurdity on the part of another person. It was the only
form of humour he had. Stupidity in thinking seemed to him
exquisitely funny. But any novel was unintelligibly meaningless and
dull, and to an Irish sort of humour he listened curiously,
examining it like mathematics, or else simply not hearing. In
normal human relationship he was not there. Quite unable to take
part in simple everyday talk, he padded silently round the house,
or sat in the dining-room looking nervously from side to side,
always apart in a cold, rarefied little world of his own. Sometimes
he made an ironic remark, that did not seem humanly relevant, or he
gave his little laugh, like a sneer. He had to defend himself and
his own insufficiency. And he answered questions grudgingly, with a
yes or no, because he did not see their import and was nervous. It
seemed to Miss Louisa he scarcely distinguished one person from
another, but that he liked to be near her, or to Miss Mary, for
some sort of contact which stimulated him unknown.
Apart from all this, he was the most admirable workman. He was
unremittingly shy, but perfect in his sense of duty: as far as he
could conceive Christianity, he was a perfect Christian. Nothing
that he realized he could do for anyone did he leave undone,
although he was so incapable of coming into contact with another
being, that he could not proffer help. Now he attended assiduously
to the sick man, investigated all the affairs of the parish or the
church which Mr Lindley had in control, straightened out accounts,
made lists of the sick and needy, padded round with help and to see
what he could do. He heard of Mrs Lindley’s anxiety about her
sons, and began to investigate means of sending them to Cambridge.
His kindness almost frightened Miss Mary. She honoured it so, and
yet she shrank from it. For, in it all Mr Massy seemed to have no
sense of any person, any human being whom he was helping: he only
realized a kind of mathematical working out, solving of given
situations, a calculated well-doing. And it was as if he had
accepted the Christian tenets as axioms. His religion consisted in
what his scrupulous, abstract mind approved of.
Seeing his acts, Miss Mary must respect and honour him. In
consequence she must serve him. To this she had to force herself,
shuddering and yet desirous, but he did not perceive it. She
accompanied him on his visiting in the parish, and whilst she was
cold with admiration for him, often she was touched with pity for
the little padding figure with bent shoulders, buttoned up to the
chin in his overcoat. She was a handsome, calm girl, tall, with a
beautiful repose. Her clothes were poor, and she wore a black silk
scarf, having no furs. But she was a lady. As the people saw her
walking down Aldecross beside Mr Massy, they said:
“My word, Miss Mary’s got a catch. Did ever you see
such a sickly little shrimp!”
She knew they were talking so, and it made her heart grow hot
against them, and she drew herself as it were protectively towards
the little man beside her. At any rate, she could see and give
honour to his genuine goodness.
He could not walk fast, or far.
“You have not been well?” she asked, in her
“I have an internal trouble.”
He was not aware of her slight shudder. There was silence,
whilst she bowed to recover her composure, to resume her gentle
manner towards him.
He was fond of Miss Mary. She had made it a rule of hospitality
that he should always be escorted by herself or by her sister on
his visits in the parish, which were not many. But some mornings
she was engaged. Then Miss Louisa took her place. It was no good
Miss Louisa’s trying to adopt to Mr Massy an attitude of
queenly service. She was unable to regard him save with aversion.
When she saw him from behind, thin and bent-shouldered, looking
like a sickly lad of thirteen, she disliked him exceedingly, and
felt a desire to put him out of existence. And yet a deeper justice
in Mary made Louisa humble before her sister.
They were going to see Mr Durant, who was paralysed and not
expected to live. Miss Louisa was crudely ashamed at being admitted
to the cottage in company with the little clergyman.
Mrs Durant was, however, much quieter in the face of her real
“How is Mr Durant?” asked Louisa.
“He is no different—and we don’t expect him to
be,” was the reply. The little clergyman stood looking
They went upstairs. The three stood for some time looking at the
bed, at the grey head of the old man on the pillow, the grey beard
over the sheet. Miss Louisa was shocked and afraid.
“It is so dreadful,” she said, with a shudder.
“It is how I always thought it would be,” replied
Then Miss Louisa was afraid of her. The two women were uneasy,
waiting for Mr Massy to say something. He stood, small and bent,
too nervous to speak.
“Has he any understanding?” he asked at length.
“Maybe,” said Mrs Durant. “Can you hear,
John?” she asked loudly. The dull blue eye of the inert man
looked at her feebly.
“Yes, he understands,” said Mrs Durant to Mr Massy.
Except for the dull look in his eyes, the sick man lay as if dead.
The three stood in silence. Miss Louisa was obstinate but
heavy-hearted under the load of unlivingness. It was Mr Massy who
kept her there in discipline. His non-human will dominated them
Then they heard a sound below, a man’s footsteps, and a
man’s voice called subduedly:
“Are you upstairs, mother?”
Mrs Durant started and moved to the door. But already a quick,
firm step was running up the stairs.
“I’m a bit early, mother,” a troubled voice
said, and on the landing they saw the form of the sailor. His
mother came and clung to him. She was suddenly aware that she
needed something to hold on to. He put his arms round her, and bent
over her, kissing her.
“He’s not gone, mother?” he asked anxiously,
struggling to control his voice.
Miss Louisa looked away from the mother and son who stood
together in the gloom on the landing. She could not bear it that
she and Mr Massy should be there. The latter stood nervously, as if
ill at ease before the emotion that was running. He was a witness,
nervous, unwilling, but dispassionate. To Miss Louisa’s hot
heart it seemed all, all wrong that they should be there.
Mrs Durant entered the bedroom, her face wet.
“There’s Miss Louisa and the vicar,” she said,
out of voice and quavering.
Her son, red-faced and slender, drew himself up to salute. But
Miss Louisa held out her hand. Then she saw his hazel eyes
recognize her for a moment, and his small white teeth showed in a
glimpse of the greeting she used to love. She was covered with
confusion. He went round to the bed; his boots clicked on the
plaster floor, he bowed his head with dignity.
“How are you, dad?” he said, laying his hand on the
sheet, faltering. But the old man stared fixedly and unseeing. The
son stood perfectly still for a few minutes, then slowly recoiled.
Miss Louisa saw the fine outline of his breast, under the
sailor’s blue blouse, as his chest began to heave.
“He doesn’t know me,” he said, turning to his
mother. He gradually went white.
“No, my boy!” cried the mother, pitiful, lifting her
face. And suddenly she put her face against his shoulder, he was
stooping down to her, holding her against him, and she cried aloud
for a moment or two. Miss Louisa saw his sides heaving, and heard
the sharp hiss of his breath. She turned away, tears streaming down
her face. The father lay inert upon the white bed, Mr Massy looked
queer and obliterated, so little now that the sailor with his
sunburned skin was in the room. He stood waiting. Miss Louisa
wanted to die, she wanted to have done. She dared not turn round
again to look.
“Shall I offer a prayer?” came the frail voice of
the clergyman, and all kneeled down.
Miss Louisa was frightened of the inert man upon the bed. Then
she felt a flash of fear of Mr Massy, hearing his thin, detached
voice. And then, calmed, she looked up. On the far side of the bed
were the heads of the mother and son, the one in the black lace
cap, with the small white nape of the neck beneath, the other, with
brown, sun-scorched hair too close and wiry to allow of a parting,
and neck tanned firm, bowed as if unwillingly. The great grey beard
of the old man did not move, the prayer continued. Mr Massy prayed
with a pure lucidity, that they all might conform to the higher
Will. He was like something that dominated the bowed heads,
something dispassionate that governed them inexorably. Miss Louisa
was afraid of him. And she was bound, during the course of the
prayer, to have a little reverence for him. It was like a foretaste
of inexorable, cold death, a taste of pure justice.
That evening she talked to Mary of the visit. Her heart, her
veins were possessed by the thought of Alfred Durant as he held his
mother in his arms; then the break in his voice, as she remembered
it again and again, was like a flame through her; and she wanted to
see his face more distinctly in her mind, ruddy with the sun, and
his golden-brown eyes, kind and careless, strained now with a
natural fear, the fine nose tanned hard by the sun, the mouth that
could not help smiling at her. And it went through her with pride,
to think of his figure, a straight, fine jet of life.
“He is a handsome lad,” said she to Miss Mary, as if
he had not been a year older than herself. Underneath was the
deeper dread, almost hatred, of the inhuman being of Mr Massy. She
felt she must protect herself and Alfred from him.
“When I felt Mr Massy there,” she said, “I
almost hated him. What right had he to be there!”
“Surely he has all right,” said Miss Mary after a
pause. “He is really a Christian.”
“He seems to me nearly an imbecile,” said Miss
Miss Mary, quiet and beautiful, was silent for a moment:
“Oh, no,” she said. “Not
“Well then—he reminds me of a six months’
child—or a five months’ child—as if he
didn’t have time to get developed enough before he was
“Yes,” said Miss Mary, slowly. “There is
something lacking. But there is something wonderful in him: and he
is really good—”
“Yes,” said Miss Louisa, “it doesn’t
seem right that he should be. What right has that to be called
“But it is goodness,” persisted Mary. Then she
added, with a laugh: “And come, you wouldn’t deny that
There was a doggedness in her voice. She went about very
quietly. In her soul, she knew what was going to happen. She knew
that Mr Massy was stronger than she, and that she must submit to
what he was. Her physical self was prouder, stronger than he, her
physical self disliked and despised him. But she was in the grip of
his moral, mental being. And she felt the days allotted out to her.
And her family watched.
A few days after, old Mr Durant died. Miss Louisa saw Alfred
once more, but he was stiff before her now, treating her not like a
person, but as if she were some sort of will in command and he a
separate, distinct will waiting in front of her. She had never felt
such utter steel-plate separation from anyone. It puzzled her and
frightened her. What had become of him? And she hated the military
discipline—she was antagonistic to it. Now he was not
himself. He was the will which obeys set over against the will
which commands. She hesitated over accepting this. He had put
himself out of her range. He had ranked himself inferior,
subordinate to her. And that was how he would get away from her,
that was how he would avoid all connection with her: by fronting
her impersonally from the opposite camp, by taking up the abstract
position of an inferior.
She went brooding steadily and sullenly over this, brooding and
brooding. Her fierce, obstinate heart could not give way. It clung
to its own rights. Sometimes she dismissed him. Why should he,
inferior, trouble her?
Then she relapsed to him, and almost hated him. It was his way
of getting out of it. She felt the cowardice of it, his calmly
placing her in a superior class, and placing himself inaccessibly
apart, in an inferior, as if she, the sensient woman who was fond
of him, did not count. But she was not going to submit. Dogged in
her heart she held on to him.
In six months’ time Miss Mary had married Mr Massy. There
had been no love-making, nobody had made any remark. But everybody
was tense and callous with expectation. When one day Mr Massy asked
for Mary’s hand, Mr Lindley started and trembled from the
thin, abstract voice of the little man. Mr Massy was very nervous,
but so curiously absolute.
“I shall be very glad,” said the vicar, “but
of course the decision lies with Mary herself.” And his still
feeble hand shook as he moved a Bible on his desk.
The small man, keeping fixedly to his idea, padded out of the
room to find Miss Mary. He sat a long time by her, while she made
some conversation, before he had readiness to speak. She was afraid
of what was coming, and sat stiff in apprehension. She felt as if
her body would rise and fling him aside. But her spirit quivered
and waited. Almost in expectation she waited, almost wanting him.
And then she knew he would speak.
“I have already asked Mr Lindley,” said the
clergyman, while suddenly she looked with aversion at his little
knees, “if he would consent to my proposal.” He was
aware of his own disadvantage, but his will was set.
She went cold as she sat, and impervious, almost as if she had
become stone. He waited a moment nervously. He would not persuade
her. He himself never even heard persuasion, but pursued his own
course. He looked at her, sure of himself, unsure of her, and
“Will you become my wife, Mary?”
Still her heart was hard and cold. She sat proudly.
“I should like to speak to mama first,” she
“Very well,” replied Mr Massy. And in a moment he
Mary went to her mother. She was cold and reserved.
“Mr Massy has asked me to marry him, mama,” she
said. Mrs Lindley went on staring at her book. She was cramped in
“Well, and what did you say?”
They were both keeping calm and cold.
“I said I would speak to you before answering
This was equivalent to a question. Mrs Lindley did not want to
reply to it. She shifted her heavy form irritably on the couch.
Miss Mary sat calm and straight, with closed mouth.
“Your father thinks it would not be a bad match,”
said the mother, as if casually.
Nothing more was said. Everybody remained cold and shut-off.
Miss Mary did not speak to Miss Louisa, the Reverend Ernest Lindley
kept out of sight.
At evening Miss Mary accepted Mr Massy.
“Yes, I will marry you,” she said, with even a
little movement of tenderness towards him. He was embarrassed, but
satisfied. She could see him making some movement towards her,
could feel the male in him, something cold and triumphant,
asserting itself. She sat rigid, and waited.
When Miss Louisa knew, she was silent with bitter anger against
everybody, even against Mary. She felt her faith wounded. Did the
real things to her not matter after all? She wanted to get away.
She thought of Mr Massy. He had some curious power, some
unanswerable right. He was a will that they could not
controvert.— Suddenly a flush started in her. If he had come
to her she would have flipped him out of the room. He was never
going to touch her. And she was glad. She was glad that her blood
would rise and exterminate the little man, if he came too near to
her, no matter how her judgment was paralysed by him, no matter how
he moved in abstract goodness. She thought she was perverse to be
glad, but glad she was. “I would just flip him out of the
room,” she said, and she derived great satisfaction from the
open statement. Nevertheless, perhaps she ought still to feel that
Mary, on her plane, was a higher being than herself. But then Mary
was Mary, and she was Louisa, and that also was inalterable.
Mary, in marrying him, tried to become a pure reason such as he
was, without feeling or impulse. She shut herself up, she shut
herself rigid against the agonies of shame and the terror of
violation which came at first. She would not feel, and she would
not feel. She was a pure will acquiescing to him. She elected a
certain kind of fate. She would be good and purely just, she would
live in a higher freedom than she had ever known, she would be free
of mundane care, she was a pure will towards right. She had sold
herself, but she had a new freedom. She had got rid of her body.
She had sold a lower thing, her body, for a higher thing, her
freedom from material things. She considered that she paid for all
she got from her husband. So, in a kind of independence, she moved
proud and free. She had paid with her body: that was henceforward
out of consideration. She was glad to be rid of it. She had bought
her position in the world—that henceforth was taken for
granted. There remained only the direction of her activity towards
charity and high-minded living.
She could scarcely bear other people to be present with her and
her husband. Her private life was her shame. But then, she could
keep it hidden. She lived almost isolated in the rectory of the
tiny village miles from the railway. She suffered as if it were an
insult to her own flesh, seeing the repulsion which some people
felt for her husband, or the special manner they had of treating
him, as if he were a “case”. But most people were
uneasy before him, which restored her pride.
If she had let herself, she would have hated him, hated his
padding round the house, his thin voice devoid of human
understanding, his bent little shoulders and rather incomplete face
that reminded her of an abortion. But rigorously she kept to her
position. She took care of him and was just to him. There was also
a deep craven fear of him, something slave-like.
There was not much fault to be found with his behaviour. He was
scrupulously just and kind according to his lights. But the male in
him was cold and self-complete, and utterly domineering. Weak,
insufficient little thing as he was, she had not expected this of
him. It was something in the bargain she had not understood. It
made her hold her head, to keep still. She knew, vaguely, that she
was murdering herself. After all, her body was not quite so easy to
get rid of. And this manner of disposing of it—ah, sometimes
she felt she must rise and bring about death, lift her hand for
utter denial of everything, by a general destruction.
He was almost unaware of the conditions about him. He did not
fuss in the domestic way, she did as she liked in the house.
Indeed, she was a great deal free of him. He would sit obliterated
for hours. He was kind, and almost anxiously considerate. But when
he considered he was right, his will was just blindly male, like a
cold machine. And on most points he was logically right, or he had
with him the right of the creed they both accepted. It was so.
There was nothing for her to go against.
Then she found herself with child, and felt for the first time
horror, afraid before God and man. This also she had to go
through—it was the right. When the child arrived, it was a
bonny, healthy lad. Her heart hurt in her body, as she took the
baby between her hands. The flesh that was trampled and silent in
her must speak again in the boy. After all, she had to
live—it was not so simple after all. Nothing was finished
completely. She looked and looked at the baby, and almost hated it,
and suffered an anguish of love for it. She hated it because it
made her live again in the flesh, when she could not live in the
flesh, she could not. She wanted to trample her flesh down, down,
extinct, to live in the mind. And now there was this child. It was
too cruel, too racking. For she must love the child. Her purpose
was broken in two again. She had to become amorphous, purposeless,
without real being. As a mother, she was a fragmentary, ignoble
Mr Massy, blind to everything else in the way of human feeling,
became obsessed by the idea of his child. When it arrived, suddenly
it filled the whole world of feeling for him. It was his obsession,
his terror was for its safety and well-being. It was something new,
as if he himself had been born a naked infant, conscious of his own
exposure, and full of apprehension. He who had never been aware of
anyone else, all his life, now was aware of nothing but the child.
Not that he ever played with it, or kissed it, or tended it. He did
nothing for it. But it dominated him, it filled, and at the same
time emptied his mind. The world was all baby for him.
This his wife must also bear, his question: “What is the
reason that he cries?”—his reminder, at the first
sound: “Mary, that is the child,”—his
restlessness if the feeding-time were five minutes past. She had
bargained for this—now she must stand by her bargain.
Miss Louisa, at home in the dingy vicarage, had suffered a great
deal over her sister’s wedding. Having once begun to cry out
against it, during the engagement, she had been silenced by
Mary’s quiet: “I don’t agree with you about him,
Louisa, I want to marry him.” Then Miss Louisa had been angry
deep in her heart, and therefore silent. This dangerous state
started the change in her. Her own revulsion made her recoil from
the hitherto undoubted Mary.
“I’d beg the streets barefoot first,” said
Miss Louisa, thinking of Mr Massy.
But evidently Mary could perform a different heroism. So she,
Louisa the practical, suddenly felt that Mary, her ideal, was
questionable after all. How could she be pure—one cannot be
dirty in act and spiritual in being. Louisa distrusted Mary’s
high spirituality. It was no longer genuine for her. And if Mary
were spiritual and misguided, why did not her father protect her?
Because of the money. He disliked the whole affair, but he backed
away, because of the money. And the mother frankly did not care:
her daughters could do as they liked. Her mother’s
“Whatever happens to him, Mary is safe for
life,”—so evidently and shallowly a calculation,
“I’d rather be safe in the workhouse,” she
“Your father will see to that,” replied her mother
brutally. This speech, in its indirectness, so injured Miss Louisa
that she hated her mother deep, deep in her heart, and almost hated
herself. It was a long time resolving itself out, this hate. But it
worked and worked, and at last the young woman said:
“They are wrong—they are all wrong. They have ground
out their souls for what isn’t worth anything, and there
isn’t a grain of love in them anywhere. And I will have love.
They want us to deny it. They’ve never found it, so they want
to say it doesn’t exist. But I will have it. I will
love—it is my birthright. I will love the man I
marry—that is all I care about.”
So Miss Louisa stood isolated from everybody. She and Mary had
parted over Mr Massy. In Louisa’s eyes, Mary was degraded,
married to Mr Massy. She could not bear to think of her lofty,
spiritual sister degraded in the body like this. Mary was wrong,
wrong, wrong: she was not superior, she was flawed, incomplete. The
two sisters stood apart. They still loved each other, they would
love each other as long as they lived. But they had parted ways. A
new solitariness came over the obstinate Louisa, and her heavy jaw
set stubbornly. She was going on her own way. But which way? She
was quite alone, with a blank world before her. How could she be
said to have any way? Yet she had her fixed will to love, to have
the man she loved.
When her boy was three years old, Mary had another baby, a girl.
The three years had gone by monotonously. They might have been an
eternity, they might have been brief as a sleep. She did not know.
Only, there was always a weight on top of her, something that
pressed down her life. The only thing that had happened was that Mr
Massy had had an operation. He was always exceedingly fragile. His
wife had soon learned to attend to him mechanically, as part of her
But this third year, after the baby girl had been born, Mary
felt oppressed and depressed. Christmas drew near: the gloomy,
unleavened Christmas of the rectory, where all the days were of the
same dark fabric. And Mary was afraid. It was as if the darkness
were coming upon her.
“Edward, I should like to go home for Christmas,”
she said, and a certain terror filled her as she spoke.
“But you can’t leave baby,” said her husband,
“We can all go.”
He thought, and stared in his collective fashion.
“Why do you wish to go?” he asked.
“Because I need a change. A change would do me good, and
it would be good for the milk.”
He heard the will in his wife’s voice, and was at a loss.
Her language was unintelligible to him. And while she was breeding,
either about to have a child, or nursing, he regarded her as a
special sort of being.
“Wouldn’t it hurt baby to take her by the
train?” he said.
“No,” replied the mother, “why should
They went. When they were in the train, it began to snow. From
the window of his first-class carriage the little clergyman watched
the big flakes sweep by, like a blind drawn across the country. He
was obsessed by thought of the baby, and afraid of the draughts of
“Sit right in the corner,” he said to his wife,
“and hold baby close back.”
She moved at his bidding, and stared out of the window. His
eternal presence was like an iron weight on her brain. But she was
going partially to escape for a few days.
“Sit on the other side, Jack,” said the father.
“It is less draughty. Come to this window.”
He watched the boy in anxiety. But his children were the only
beings in the world who took not the slightest notice of him.
“Look, mother, look!” cried the boy. “They fly
right in my face”— he meant the snowflakes.
“Come into this corner,” repeated his father, out of
“He’s jumped on this one’s back, mother,
an’ they’re riding to the bottom!” cried the boy,
jumping with glee.
“Tell him to come on this side,” the little man bade
“Jack, kneel on this cushion,” said the mother,
putting her white hand on the place.
The boy slid over in silence to the place she indicated, waited
still for a moment, then almost deliberately, stridently cried:
“Look at all those in the corner, mother, making a
heap,” and he pointed to the cluster of snowflakes with
finger pressed dramatically on the pane, and he turned to his
mother a bit ostentatiously.
“All in a heap!” she said.
He had seen her face, and had her response, and he was somewhat
assured. Vaguely uneasy, he was reassured if he could win her
They arrived at the vicarage at half-past two, not having had
“How are you, Edward?” said Mr Lindley, trying on
his side to be fatherly. But he was always in a false position with
his son-inlaw, frustrated before him, therefore, as much as
possible, he shut his eyes and ears to him. The vicar was looking
thin and pale and ill-nourished. He had gone quite grey. He was,
however, still haughty; but, since the growing-up of his children,
it was a brittle haughtiness, that might break at any moment and
leave the vicar only an impoverished, pitiable figure. Mrs Lindley
took all the notice of her daughter, and of the children. She
ignored her son-inlaw. Miss Louisa was clucking and laughing and
rejoicing over the baby. Mr Massy stood aside, a bent, persistent
“Oh a pretty!—a little pretty! oh a cold little
pretty come in a railway-train!” Miss Louisa was cooing to
the infant, crouching on the hearthrug opening the white woollen
wraps and exposing the child to the fireglow.
“Mary,” said the little clergyman, “I think it
would be better to give baby a warm bath; she may take a
“I think it is not necessary,” said the mother,
coming and closing her hand judiciously over the rosy feet and
hands of the mite. “She is not chilly.”
“Not a bit,” cried Miss Louisa. “She’s
not caught cold.”
“I’ll go and bring her flannels,” said Mr
Massy, with one idea.
“I can bath her in the kitchen then,” said Mary, in
an altered, cold tone.
“You can’t, the girl is scrubbing there,” said
Miss Louisa. “Besides, she doesn’t want a bath at this
time of day.”
“She’d better have one,” said Mary, quietly,
out of submission. Miss Louisa’s gorge rose, and she was
silent. When the little man padded down with the flannels on his
arm, Mrs Lindley asked:
“Hadn’t you better take a hot bath,
But the sarcasm was lost on the little clergyman. He was
absorbed in the preparations round the baby.
The room was dull and threadbare, and the snow outside seemed
fairy-like by comparison, so white on the lawn and tufted on the
bushes. Indoors the heavy pictures hung obscurely on the walls,
everything was dingy with gloom.
Except in the fireglow, where they had laid the bath on the
hearth. Mrs Massy, her black hair always smoothly coiled and
queenly, kneeled by the bath, wearing a rubber apron, and holding
the kicking child. Her husband stood holding the towels and the
flannels to warm. Louisa, too cross to share in the joy of the
baby’s bath, was laying the table. The boy was hanging on the
door-knob, wrestling with it to get out. His father looked
“Come away from the door, Jack,” he said,
ineffectually. Jack tugged harder at the knob as if he did not
hear. Mr Massy blinked at him.
“He must come away from the door, Mary,” he said.
“There will be a draught if it is opened.”
“Jack, come away from the door, dear,” said the
mother, dexterously turning the shiny wet baby on to her towelled
knee, then glancing round: “Go and tell Auntie Louisa about
Louisa, also afraid to open the door, was watching the scene on
the hearth. Mr Massy stood holding the baby’s flannel, as if
assisting at some ceremonial. If everybody had not been subduedly
angry, it would have been ridiculous.
“I want to see out of the window,” Jack said. His
father turned hastily.
“Do you mind lifting him on to a chair, Louisa,”
said Mary hastily. The father was too delicate.
When the baby was flannelled, Mr Massy went upstairs and
returned with four pillows, which he set in the fender to warm.
Then he stood watching the mother feed her child, obsessed by the
idea of his infant.
Louisa went on with her preparations for the meal. She could not
have told why she was so sullenly angry. Mrs Lindley, as usual, lay
Mary carried her child upstairs, followed by her husband with
the pillows. After a while he came down again.
“What is Mary doing? Why doesn’t she come down to
eat?” asked Mrs Lindley.
“She is staying with baby. The room is rather cold. I will
ask the girl to put in a fire.” He was going absorbedly to
“But Mary has had nothing to eat. It is she who will catch
cold,” said the mother, exasperated.
Mr Massy seemed as if he did not hear. Yet he looked at his
mother-inlaw, and answered:
“I will take her something.”
He went out. Mrs Lindley shifted on her couch with anger. Miss
Louisa glowered. But no one said anything, because of the money
that came to the vicarage from Mr Massy.
Louisa went upstairs. Her sister was sitting by the bed, reading
a scrap of paper.
“Won’t you come down and eat?” the younger
“In a moment or two,” Mary replied, in a quiet,
reserved voice, that forbade anyone to approach her.
It was this that made Miss Louisa most furious. She went
downstairs, and announced to her mother:
“I am going out. I may not be home to tea.”
No one remarked on her exit. She put on her fur hat, that the
village people knew so well, and the old Norfolk jacket. Louisa was
short and plump and plain. She had her mother’s heavy jaw,
her father’s proud brow, and her own grey, brooding eyes that
were very beautiful when she smiled. It was true, as the people
said, that she looked sulky. Her chief attraction was her
glistening, heavy, deep-blond hair, which shone and gleamed with a
richness that was not entirely foreign to her.
“Where am I going?” she said to herself, when she
got outside in the snow. She did not hesitate, however, but by
mechanical walking found herself descending the hill towards Old
Aldecross. In the valley that was black with trees, the colliery
breathed in stertorous pants, sending out high conical columns of
steam that remained upright, whiter than the snow on the hills, yet
shadowy, in the dead air. Louisa would not acknowledge to herself
whither she was making her way, till she came to the railway
crossing. Then the bunches of snow in the twigs of the apple tree
that leaned towards the fence told her she must go and see Mrs
Durant. The tree was in Mrs Durant’s garden.
Alfred was now at home again, living with his mother in the
cottage below the road. From the highway hedge, by the railway
crossing, the snowy garden sheered down steeply, like the side of a
hole, then dropped straight in a wall. In this depth the house was
snug, its chimney just level with the road. Miss Louisa descended
the stone stairs, and stood below in the little backyard, in the
dimness and the semi-secrecy. A big tree leaned overhead, above the
paraffin hut. Louisa felt secure from all the world down there. She
knocked at the open door, then looked round. The tongue of garden
narrowing in from the quarry bed was white with snow: she thought
of the thick fringes of snowdrops it would show beneath the currant
bushes in a month’s time. The ragged fringe of pinks hanging
over the garden brim behind her was whitened now with snow-flakes,
that in summer held white blossom to Louisa’s face. It was
pleasant, she thought, to gather flowers that stooped to
one’s face from above.
She knocked again. Peeping in, she saw the scarlet glow of the
kitchen, red firelight falling on the brick floor and on the bright
chintz cushions. It was alive and bright as a peep-show. She
crossed the scullery, where still an almanac hung. There was no one
about. “Mrs Durant,” called Louisa softly, “Mrs
She went up the brick step into the front room, that still had
its little shop counter and its bundles of goods, and she called
from the stair-foot. Then she knew Mrs Durant was out.
She went into the yard to follow the old woman’s footsteps
up the garden path.
She emerged from the bushes and raspberry canes. There was the
whole quarry bed, a wide garden white and dimmed, brindled with
dark bushes, lying half submerged. On the left, overhead, the
little colliery train rumbled by. Right away at the back was a mass
Louisa followed the open path, looking from right to left, and
then she gave a cry of concern. The old woman was sitting rocking
slightly among the ragged snowy cabbages. Louisa ran to her, found
her whimpering with little, involuntary cries.
“Whatever have you done?” cried Louisa, kneeling in
“I’ve—I’ve—I was pulling a
brussel-sprout stalk—and—oh-h!— something tore
inside me. I’ve had a pain,” the old woman wept from
shock and suffering, gasping between her
whimpers,—“I’ve had a pain there—a long
time—and now—oh—oh!” She panted, pressed
her hand on her side, leaned as if she would faint, looking yellow
against the snow. Louisa supported her.
“Do you think you could walk now?” she asked.
“Yes,” gasped the old woman.
Louisa helped her to her feet.
“Get the cabbage—I want it for Alfred’s
dinner,” panted Mrs Durant. Louisa picked up the stalk of
brussel-sprouts, and with difficulty got the old woman indoors. She
gave her brandy, laid her on the couch, saying:
“I’m going to send for a doctor—wait just a
The young woman ran up the steps to the public-house a few yards
away. The landlady was astonished to see Miss Louisa.
“Will you send for a doctor at once to Mrs Durant,”
she said, with some of her father in her commanding tone.
“Is something the matter?” fluttered the landlady in
Louisa, glancing out up the road, saw the grocer’s cart
driving to Eastwood. She ran and stopped the man, and told him.
Mrs Durant lay on the sofa, her face turned away, when the young
woman came back.
“Let me put you to bed,” Louisa said. Mrs Durant did
Louisa knew the ways of the working people. In the bottom drawer
of the dresser she found dusters and flannels. With the old
pit-flannel she snatched out the oven shelves, wrapped them up, and
put them in the bed. From the son’s bed she took a blanket,
and, running down, set it before the fire. Having undressed the
little old woman, Louisa carried her upstairs.
“You’ll drop me, you’ll drop me!” cried
Louisa did not answer, but bore her burden quickly. She could
not light a fire, because there was no fire-place in the bedroom.
And the floor was plaster. So she fetched the lamp, and stood it
lighted in one corner.
“It will air the room,” she said.
“Yes,” moaned the old woman.
Louisa ran with more hot flannels, replacing those from the oven
shelves. Then she made a bran-bag and laid it on the woman’s
side. There was a big lump on the side of the abdomen.
“I’ve felt it coming a long time,” moaned the
old lady, when the pain was easier, “but I’ve not said
anything; I didn’t want to upset our Alfred.”
Louisa did not see why “our Alfred” should be
“What time is it?” came the plaintive voice.
“A quarter to four.”
“Oh!” wailed the old lady, “he’ll be
here in half an hour, and no dinner ready for him.”
“Let me do it?” said Louisa, gently.
“There’s that cabbage—and you’ll find
the meat in the pantry—and there’s an apple pie you can
hot up. But don’t you do it—!”
“Who will, then?” asked Louisa.
“I don’t know,” moaned the sick woman, unable
Louisa did it. The doctor came and gave serious examination. He
looked very grave.
“What is it, doctor?” asked the old lady, looking up
at him with old, pathetic eyes in which already hope was dead.
“I think you’ve torn the skin in which a tumour
hangs,” he replied.
“Ay!” she murmured, and she turned away.
“You see, she may die any minute—and it may be
swaled away,” said the old doctor to Louisa.
The young woman went upstairs again.
“He says the lump may be swaled away, and you may get
quite well again,” she said.
“Ay!” murmured the old lady. It did not deceive her.
Presently she asked:
“Is there a good fire?”
“I think so,” answered Louisa.
“He’ll want a good fire,” the mother said.
Louisa attended to it.
Since the death of Durant, the widow had come to church
occasionally, and Louisa had been friendly to her. In the
girl’s heart the purpose was fixed. No man had affected her
as Alfred Durant had done, and to that she kept. In her heart, she
adhered to him. A natural sympathy existed between her and his
rather hard, materialistic mother.
Alfred was the most lovable of the old woman’s sons. He
had grown up like the rest, however, headstrong and blind to
everything but his own will. Like the other boys, he had insisted
on going into the pit as soon as he left school, because that was
the only way speedily to become a man, level with all the other
men. This was a great chagrin to his mother, who would have liked
to have this last of her sons a gentleman.
But still he remained constant to her. His feeling for her was
deep and unexpressed. He noticed when she was tired, or when she
had a new cap. And he bought little things for her occasionally.
She was not wise enough to see how much he lived by her.
At the bottom he did not satisfy her, he did not seem manly
enough. He liked to read books occasionally, and better still he
liked to play the piccolo. It amused her to see his head nod over
the instrument as he made an effort to get the right note. It made
her fond of him, with tenderness, almost pity, but not with
respect. She wanted a man to be fixed, going his own way without
knowledge of women. Whereas she knew Alfred depended on her. He
sang in the choir because he liked singing. In the summer he worked
in the garden, attended to the fowls and pigs. He kept pigeons. He
played on Saturday in the cricket or football team. But to her he
did not seem the man, the independent man her other boys had been.
He was her baby—and whilst she loved him for it, she was a
little bit contemptuous of him.
There grew up a little hostility between them. Then he began to
drink, as the others had done; but not in their blind, oblivious
way. He was a little self-conscious over it. She saw this, and she
pitied it in him. She loved him most, but she was not satisfied
with him because he was not free of her. He could not quite go his
Then at twenty he ran away and served his time in the Navy. This
made a man of him. He had hated it bitterly, the service, the
subordination. For years he fought with himself under the military
discipline, for his own self-respect, struggling through blind
anger and shame and a cramping sense of inferiority. Out of
humiliation and self-hatred, he rose into a sort of inner freedom.
And his love for his mother, whom he idealised, remained the fact
of hope and of belief.
He came home again, nearly thirty years old, but naïve and
inexperienced as a boy, only with a silence about him that was new:
a sort of dumb humility before life, a fear of living. He was
almost quite chaste. A strong sensitiveness had kept him from
women. Sexual talk was all very well among men, but somehow it had
no application to living women. There were two things for him, the
idea of women, with which he sometimes debauched himself, and real
women, before whom he felt a deep uneasiness, and a need to draw
away. He shrank and defended himself from the approach of any
woman. And then he felt ashamed. In his innermost soul he felt he
was not a man, he was less than the normal man. In Genoa he went
with an under officer to a drinking house where the cheaper sort of
girl came in to look for lovers. He sat there with his glass, the
girls looked at him, but they never came to him. He knew that if
they did come he could only pay for food and drink for them,
because he felt a pity for them, and was anxious lest they lacked
good necessities. He could not have gone with one of them: he knew
it, and was ashamed, looking with curious envy at the swaggering,
easy-passionate Italian whose body went to a woman by instinctive
impersonal attraction. They were men, he was not a man. He sat
feeling short, feeling like a leper. And he went away imagining
sexual scenes between himself and a woman, walking wrapt in this
indulgence. But when the ready woman presented herself, the very
fact that she was a palpable woman made it impossible for him to
touch her. And this incapacity was like a core of rottenness in
So several times he went, drunk, with his companions, to the
licensed prostitute houses abroad. But the sordid insignificance of
the experience appalled him. It had not been anything really: it
meant nothing. He felt as if he were, not physically, but
spiritually impotent: not actually impotent, but intrinsically
He came home with this secret, never changing burden of his
unknown, unbestowed self torturing him. His navy training left him
in perfect physical condition. He was sensible of, and proud of his
body. He bathed and used dumb-bells, and kept himself fit. He
played cricket and football. He read books and began to hold fixed
ideas which he got from the Fabians. He played his piccolo, and was
considered an expert. But at the bottom of his soul was always this
canker of shame and incompleteness: he was miserable beneath all
his healthy cheerfulness, he was uneasy and felt despicable among
all his confidence and superiority of ideas. He would have changed
with any mere brute, just to be free of himself, to be free of this
shame of self-consciousness. He saw some collier lurching straight
forward without misgiving, pursuing his own satisfactions, and he
envied him. Anything, he would have given anything for this
spontaneity and this blind stupidity which went to its own
He was not unhappy in the pit. He was admired by the men, and
well enough liked. It was only he himself who felt the difference
between himself and the others. He seemed to hide his own stigma.
But he was never sure that the others did not really despise him
for a ninny, as being less a man than they were. Only he pretended
to be more manly, and was surprised by the ease with which they
were deceived. And, being naturally cheerful, he was happy at his
work. He was sure of himself there. Naked to the waist, hot and
grimy with labour, they squatted on their heels for a few minutes
and talked, seeing each other dimly by the light of the safety
lamps, while the black coal rose jutting round them, and the props
of wood stood like little pillars in the low, black, very dark
temple. Then the pony came and the gang-lad with a message from
Number 7, or with a bottle of water from the horse-trough or some
news of the world above. The day passed pleasantly enough. There
was an ease, a go-as-you-please about the day underground, a
delightful camaraderie of men shut off alone from the rest of the
world, in a dangerous place, and a variety of labour, holing,
loading, timbering, and a glamour of mystery and adventure in the
atmosphere, that made the pit not unattractive to him when he had
again got over his anguish of desire for the open air and the
This day there was much to do and Durant was not in humour to
talk. He went on working in silence through the afternoon.
“Loose-all” came, and they tramped to the bottom.
The whitewashed underground office shone brightly. Men were putting
out their lamps. They sat in dozens round the bottom of the shaft,
down which black, heavy drops of water fell continuously into the
sump. The electric lights shone away down the main underground
“Is it raining?” asked Durant.
“Snowing,” said an old man, and the younger was
pleased. He liked to go up when it was snowing.
“It’ll just come right for Christmas,” said
the old man.
“Ay,” replied Durant.
“A green Christmas, a fat churchyard,” said the
Durant laughed, showing his small, rather pointed teeth.
The cage came down, a dozen men lined on. Durant noticed tufts
of snow on the perforated, arched roof of the chain, and he was
He wondered how it liked its excursion underground. But already
it was getting soppy with black water.
He liked things about him. There was a little smile on his face.
But underlying it was the curious consciousness he felt in
The upper world came almost with a flash, because of the glimmer
of snow. Hurrying along the bank, giving up his lamp at the office,
he smiled to feel the open about him again, all glimmering round
him with snow. The hills on either side were pale blue in the dusk,
and the hedges looked savage and dark. The snow was trampled
between the railway lines. But far ahead, beyond the black figures
of miners moving home, it became smooth again, spreading right up
to the dark wall of the coppice.
To the west there was a pinkness, and a big star hovered half
revealed. Below, the lights of the pit came out crisp and yellow
among the darkness of the buildings, and the lights of Old
Aldecross twinkled in rows down the bluish twilight.
Durant walked glad with life among the miners, who were all
talking animatedly because of the snow. He liked their company, he
liked the white dusky world. It gave him a little thrill to stop at
the garden gate and see the light of home down below, shining on
the silent blue snow.
By the big gate of the railway, in the fence, was a little gate,
that he kept locked. As he unfastened it, he watched the kitchen
light that shone on to the bushes and the snow outside. It was a
candle burning till night set in, he thought to himself. He slid
down the steep path to the level below. He liked making the first
marks in the smooth snow. Then he came through the bushes to the
house. The two women heard his heavy boots ring outside on the
scraper, and his voice as he opened the door:
“How much worth of oil do you reckon to save by that
candle, mother?” He liked a good light from the lamp.
He had just put down his bottle and snap-bag and was hanging his
coat behind the scullery door, when Miss Louisa came upon him. He
was startled, but he smiled.
His eyes began to laugh—then his face went suddenly
straight, and he was afraid.
“Your mother’s had an accident,” she said.
“How?” he exclaimed.
“In the garden,” she answered. He hesitated with his
coat in his hands. Then he hung it up and turned to the
“Is she in bed?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Miss Louisa, who found it hard to
deceive him. He was silent. He went into the kitchen, sat down
heavily in his father’s old chair, and began to pull off his
boots. His head was small, rather finely shapen. His brown hair,
close and crisp, would look jolly whatever happened. He wore heavy
moleskin trousers that gave off the stale, exhausted scent of the
pit. Having put on his slippers, he carried his boots into the
“What is it?” he asked, afraid.
“Something internal,” she replied.
He went upstairs. His mother kept herself calm for his coming.
Louisa felt his tread shake the plaster floor of the bedroom
“What have you done?” he asked.
“It’s nothing, my lad,” said the old woman,
rather hard. “It’s nothing. You needn’t fret, my
boy, it’s nothing more the matter with me than I had
yesterday, or last week. The doctor said I’d done nothing
“What were you doing?” asked her son.
“I was pulling up a cabbage, and I suppose I pulled too
hard; for, oh—there was such a pain—”
Her son looked at her quickly. She hardened herself.
“But who doesn’t have a sudden pain sometimes, my
boy. We all do.”
“And what’s it done?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but I
don’t suppose it’s anything.”
The big lamp in the corner was screened with a dark green, so
that he could scarcely see her face. He was strung tight with
apprehension and many emotions. Then his brow knitted.
“What did you go pulling your inside out at cabbages
for,” he asked, “and the ground frozen? You’d go
on dragging and dragging, if you killed yourself.”
“Somebody’s got to get them,” she said.
“You needn’t do yourself harm.”
But they had reached futility.
Miss Louisa could hear plainly downstairs. Her heart sank. It
seemed so hopeless between them.
“Are you sure it’s nothing much, mother?” he
asked, appealing, after a little silence.
“Ay, it’s nothing,” said the old woman, rather
“I don’t want you to—to—to be
“Go an’ get your dinner,” she said. She knew
she was going to die: moreover, the pain was torture just then.
“They’re only cosseting me up a bit because I’m
an old woman. Miss Louisa’s very good—and she’ll
have got your dinner ready, so you’d better go and eat
He felt stupid and ashamed. His mother put him off. He had to
turn away. The pain burned in his bowels. He went downstairs. The
mother was glad he was gone, so that she could moan with pain.
He had resumed the old habit of eating before he washed himself.
Miss Louisa served his dinner. It was strange and exciting to her.
She was strung up tense, trying to understand him and his mother.
She watched him as he sat. He was turned away from his food,
looking in the fire. Her soul watched him, trying to see what he
was. His black face and arms were uncouth, he was foreign. His face
was masked black with coal-dust. She could not see him, she could
not even know him. The brown eyebrows, the steady eyes, the coarse,
small moustache above the closed mouth—these were the only
familiar indications. What was he, as he sat there in his pit-dirt?
She could not see him, and it hurt her.
She ran upstairs, presently coming down with the flannels and
the bran-bag, to heat them, because the pain was on again.
He was half-way through his dinner. He put down the fork,
“They will soothe the wrench,” she said. He watched,
useless and left out.
“Is she bad?” he asked.
“I think she is,” she answered.
It was useless for him to stir or comment. Louisa was busy. She
went upstairs. The poor old woman was in a white, cold sweat of
pain. Louisa’s face was sullen with suffering as she went
about to relieve her. Then she sat and waited. The pain passed
gradually, the old woman sank into a state of coma. Louisa still
sat silent by the bed. She heard the sound of water downstairs.
Then came the voice of the old mother, faint but unrelaxing:
“Alfred’s washing himself—he’ll want his
Louisa listened anxiously, wondering what the sick woman
“He can’t bear if his back isn’t
washed—” the old woman persisted, in a cruel attention
to his needs. Louisa rose and wiped the sweat from the yellowish
“I will go down,” she said soothingly.
“If you would,” murmured the sick woman.
Louisa waited a moment. Mrs Durant closed her eyes, having
discharged her duty. The young woman went downstairs. Herself, or
the man, what did they matter? Only the suffering woman must be
Alfred was kneeling on the hearthrug, stripped to the waist,
washing himself in a large panchion of earthenware. He did so every
evening, when he had eaten his dinner; his brothers had done so
before him. But Miss Louisa was strange in the house.
He was mechanically rubbing the white lather on his head, with a
repeated, unconscious movement, his hand every now and then passing
over his neck. Louisa watched. She had to brace herself to this
also. He bent his head into the water, washed it free of soap, and
pressed the water out of his eyes.
“Your mother said you would want your back washing,”
Curious how it hurt her to take part in their fixed routine of
life! Louisa felt the almost repulsive intimacy being forced upon
her. It was all so common, so like herding. She lost her own
He ducked his face round, looking up at her in what was a very
comical way. She had to harden herself.
“How funny he looks with his face upside down,” she
thought. After all, there was a difference between her and the
common people. The water in which his arms were plunged was quite
black, the soap-froth was darkish. She could scarcely conceive him
as human. Mechanically, under the influence of habit, he groped in
the black water, fished out soap and flannel, and handed them
backward to Louisa. Then he remained rigid and submissive, his two
arms thrust straight in the panchion, supporting the weight of his
shoulders. His skin was beautifully white and unblemished, of an
opaque, solid whiteness. Gradually Louisa saw it: this also was
what he was. It fascinated her. Her feeling of separateness passed
away: she ceased to draw back from contact with him and his mother.
There was this living centre. Her heart ran hot. She had reached
some goal in this beautiful, clear, male body. She loved him in a
white, impersonal heat. But the sun-burnt, reddish neck and ears:
they were more personal, more curious. A tenderness rose in her,
she loved even his queer ears. A person—an intimate being he
was to her. She put down the towel and went upstairs again,
troubled in her heart. She had only seen one human being in her
life—and that was Mary. All the rest were strangers. Now her
soul was going to open, she was going to see another. She felt
strange and pregnant.
“He’ll be more comfortable,” murmured the sick
woman abstractedly, as Louisa entered the room. The latter did not
answer. Her own heart was heavy with its own responsibility. Mrs
Durant lay silent awhile, then she murmured plaintively:
“You mustn’t mind, Miss Louisa.”
“Why should I?” replied Louisa, deeply moved.
“It’s what we’re used to,” said the old
And Louisa felt herself excluded again from their life. She sat
in pain, with the tears of disappointment distilling her heart. Was
Alfred came upstairs. He was clean, and in his shirt-sleeves. He
looked a workman now. Louisa felt that she and he were foreigners,
moving in different lives. It dulled her again. Oh, if she could
only find some fixed relations, something sure and abiding.
“How do you feel?” he said to his mother.
“It’s a bit better,” she replied wearily,
impersonally. This strange putting herself aside, this abstracting
herself and answering him only what she thought good for him to
hear, made the relations between mother and son poignant and
cramping to Miss Louisa. It made the man so ineffectual, so
nothing. Louisa groped as if she had lost him. The mother was real
and positive—he was not very actual. It puzzled and chilled
the young woman.
“I’d better fetch Mrs Harrison?” he said,
waiting for his mother to decide.
“I suppose we shall have to have somebody,” she
Miss Louisa stood by, afraid to interfere in their business.
They did not include her in their lives, they felt she had nothing
to do with them, except as a help from outside. She was quite
external to them. She felt hurt and powerless against this
unconscious difference. But something patient and unyielding in her
made her say:
“I will stay and do the nursing: you can’t be
The other two were shy, and at a loss for an answer.
“Wes’ll manage to get somebody,” said the old
woman wearily. She did not care very much what happened, now.
“I will stay until tomorrow, in any case,” said
Louisa. “Then we can see.”
“I’m sure you’ve no right to trouble
yourself,” moaned the old woman. But she must leave herself
in any hands.
Miss Louisa felt glad that she was admitted, even in an official
capacity. She wanted to share their lives. At home they would need
her, now Mary had come. But they must manage without her.
“I must write a note to the vicarage,” she said.
Alfred Durant looked at her inquiringly, for her service. He had
always that intelligent readiness to serve, since he had been in
the Navy. But there was a simple independence in his willingness,
which she loved. She felt nevertheless it was hard to get at him.
He was so deferential, quick to take the slightest suggestion of an
order from her, implicitly, that she could not get at the man in
He looked at her very keenly. She noticed his eyes were golden
brown, with a very small pupil, the kind of eyes that can see a
long way off. He stood alert, at military attention. His face was
still rather weather-reddened.
“Do you want pen and paper?” he asked, with
deferential suggestion to a superior, which was more difficult for
her than reserve.
“Yes, please,” she said.
He turned and went downstairs. He seemed to her so
self-contained, so utterly sure in his movement. How was she to
approach him? For he would take not one step towards her. He would
only put himself entirely and impersonally at her service, glad to
serve her, but keeping himself quite removed from her. She could
see he felt real joy in doing anything for her, but any recognition
would confuse him and hurt him. Strange it was to her, to have a
man going about the house in his shirt-sleeves, his waistcoat
unbuttoned, his throat bare, waiting on her. He moved well, as if
he had plenty of life to spare. She was attracted by his
completeness. And yet, when all was ready, and there was nothing
more for him to do, she quivered, meeting his questioning look.
As she sat writing, he placed another candle near her. The
rather dense light fell in two places on the overfoldings of her
hair till it glistened heavy and bright, like a dense golden
plumage folded up. Then the nape of her neck was very white, with
fine down and pointed wisps of gold. He watched it as it were a
vision, losing himself. She was all that was beyond him, of
revelation and exquisiteness. All that was ideal and beyond him,
she was that— and he was lost to himself in looking at her.
She had no connection with him. He did not approach her. She was
there like a wonderful distance. But it was a treat, having her in
the house. Even with this anguish for his mother tightening about
him, he was sensible of the wonder of living this evening. The
candles glistened on her hair, and seemed to fascinate him. He felt
a little awe of her, and a sense of uplifting, that he and she and
his mother should be together for a time, in the strange, unknown
atmosphere. And, when he got out of the house, he was afraid. He
saw the stars above ringing with fine brightness, the snow beneath
just visible, and a new night was gathering round him. He was
afraid almost with obliteration. What was this new night ringing
about him, and what was he? He could not recognize himself nor any
of his surroundings. He was afraid to think of his mother. And yet
his chest was conscious of her, and of what was happening to her.
He could not escape from her, she carried him with her into an
unformed, unknown chaos.
He went up the road in an agony, not knowing what it was all
about, but feeling as if a red-hot iron were gripped round his
chest. Without thinking, he shook two or three tears on to the
snow. Yet in his mind he did not believe his mother would die. He
was in the grip of some greater consciousness. As he sat in the
hall of the vicarage, waiting whilst Mary put things for Louisa
into a bag, he wondered why he had been so upset. He felt abashed
and humbled by the big house, he felt again as if he were one of
the rank and file. When Miss Mary spoke to him, he almost
“An honest man,” thought Mary. And the patronage was
applied as salve to her own sickness. She had station, so she could
patronize: it was almost all that was left to her. But she could
not have lived without having a certain position. She could never
have trusted herself outside a definite place, nor respected
herself except as a woman of superior class.
As Alfred came to the latch-gate, he felt the grief at his heart
again, and saw the new heavens. He stood a moment looking northward
to the Plough climbing up the night, and at the far glimmer of snow
in distant fields. Then his grief came on like physical pain. He
held tight to the gate, biting his mouth, whispering
“Mother!” It was a fierce, cutting, physical pain of
grief, that came on in bouts, as his mother’s pain came on in
bouts, and was so acute he could scarcely keep erect. He did not
know where it came from, the pain, nor why. It had nothing to do
with his thoughts. Almost it had nothing to do with him. Only it
gripped him and he must submit. The whole tide of his soul,
gathering in its unknown towards this expansion into death, carried
him with it helplessly, all the fritter of his thought and
consciousness caught up as nothing, the heave passing on towards
its breaking, taking him further than he had ever been. When the
young man had regained himself, he went indoors, and there he was
almost gay. It seemed to excite him. He felt in high spirits: he
made whimsical fun of things. He sat on one side of his
mother’s bed, Louisa on the other, and a certain gaiety
seized them all. But the night and the dread was coming on.
Alfred kissed his mother and went to bed. When he was half
undressed the knowledge of his mother came upon him, and the
suffering seized him in its grip like two hands, in agony. He lay
on the bed screwed up tight. It lasted so long, and exhausted him
so much, that he fell asleep, without having the energy to get up
and finish undressing. He awoke after midnight to find himself
stone cold. He undressed and got into bed, and was soon asleep
At a quarter to six he woke, and instantly remembered. Having
pulled on his trousers and lighted a candle, he went into his
mother’s room. He put his hand before the candle flame so
that no light fell on the bed.
“Mother!” he whispered.
“Yes,” was the reply.
There was a hesitation.
“Should I go to work?”
He waited, his heart was beating heavily.
“I think I’d go, my lad.”
His heart went down in a kind of despair.
“You want me to?”
He let his hand down from the candle flame. The light fell on
the bed. There he saw Louisa lying looking up at him. Her eyes were
upon him. She quickly shut her eyes and half buried her face in the
pillow, her back turned to him. He saw the rough hair like bright
vapour about her round head, and the two plaits flung coiled among
the bedclothes. It gave him a shock. He stood almost himself,
determined. Louisa cowered down. He looked, and met his
mother’s eyes. Then he gave way again, and ceased to be sure,
ceased to be himself.
“Yes, go to work, my boy,” said the mother.
“All right,” replied he, kissing her. His heart was
down at despair, and bitter. He went away.
“Alfred!” cried his mother faintly.
He came back with beating heart.
“You’ll always do what’s right, Alfred?”
the mother asked, beside herself in terror now he was leaving her.
He was too terrified and bewildered to know what she meant.
“Yes,” he said.
She turned her cheek to him. He kissed her, then went away, in
bitter despair. He went to work.
By midday his mother was dead. The word met him at the
pit-mouth. As he had known, inwardly, it was not a shock to him,
and yet he trembled. He went home quite calmly, feeling only heavy
in his breathing.
Miss Louisa was still at the house. She had seen to everything
possible. Very succinctly, she informed him of what he needed to
know. But there was one point of anxiety for her.
“You did half expect it—it’s not come as a
blow to you?” she asked, looking up at him. Her eyes were
dark and calm and searching. She too felt lost. He was so dark and
“I suppose—yes,” he said stupidly. He looked
aside, unable to endure her eyes on him.
“I could not bear to think you might not have
guessed,” she said.
He did not answer.
He felt it a great strain to have her near him at this time. He
wanted to be alone. As soon as the relatives began to arrive,
Louisa departed and came no more. While everything was arranging,
and a crowd was in the house, whilst he had business to settle, he
went well enough, with only those uncontrollable paroxysms of
grief. For the rest, he was superficial. By himself, he endured the
fierce, almost insane bursts of grief which passed again and left
him calm, almost clear, just wondering. He had not known before
that everything could break down, that he himself could break down,
and all be a great chaos, very vast and wonderful. It seemed as if
life in him had burst its bounds, and he was lost in a great,
bewildering flood, immense and unpeopled. He himself was broken and
spilled out amid it all. He could only breathe panting in silence.
Then the anguish came on again.
When all the people had gone from the Quarry Cottage, leaving
the young man alone with an elderly housekeeper, then the long
trial began. The snow had thawed and frozen, a fresh fall had
whitened the grey, this then began to thaw. The world was a place
of loose grey slosh. Alfred had nothing to do in the evenings. He
was a man whose life had been filled up with small activities.
Without knowing it, he had been centralized, polarized in his
mother. It was she who had kept him. Even now, when the old
housekeeper had left him, he might still have gone on in his old
way. But the force and balance of his life was lacking. He sat
pretending to read, all the time holding his fists clenched, and
holding himself in, enduring he did not know what. He walked the
black and sodden miles of field-paths, till he was tired out: but
all this was only running away from whence he must return. At work
he was all right. If it had been summer he might have escaped by
working in the garden till bedtime. But now, there was no escape,
no relief, no help. He, perhaps, was made for action rather than
for understanding; for doing than for being. He was shocked out of
his activities, like a swimmer who forgets to swim.
For a week, he had the force to endure this suffocation and
struggle, then he began to get exhausted, and knew it must come
out. The instinct of self-preservation became strongest. But there
was the question: Where was he to go? The public-house really meant
nothing to him, it was no good going there. He began to think of
emigration. In another country he would be all right. He wrote to
the emigration offices.
On the Sunday after the funeral, when all the Durant people had
attended church, Alfred had seen Miss Louisa, impassive and
reserved, sitting with Miss Mary, who was proud and very distant,
and with the other Lindleys, who were people removed. Alfred saw
them as people remote. He did not think about it. They had nothing
to do with his life. After service Louisa had come to him and
“My sister would like you to come to supper one evening,
if you would be so good.”
He looked at Miss Mary, who bowed. Out of kindness, Mary had
proposed this to Louisa, disapproving of herself even as she did
so. But she did not examine herself closely.
“Yes,” said Durant awkwardly, “I’ll come
if you want me.” But he vaguely felt that it was
“You’ll come tomorrow evening, then, about half-past
He went. Miss Louisa was very kind to him. There could be no
music, because of the babies. He sat with his fists clenched on his
thighs, very quiet and unmoved, lapsing, among all those people,
into a kind of muse or daze. There was nothing between him and
them. They knew it as well as he. But he remained very steady in
himself, and the evening passed slowly. Mrs Lindley called him
“Will you sit here, young man?”
He sat there. One name was as good as another. What had they to
do with him?
Mr Lindley kept a special tone for him, kind, indulgent, but
patronizing. Durant took it all without criticism or offence, just
submitting. But he did not want to eat—that troubled him, to
have to eat in their presence. He knew he was out of place. But it
was his duty to stay yet awhile. He answered precisely, in
When he left he winced with confusion. He was glad it was
finished. He got away as quickly as possible. And he wanted still
more intensely to go right away, to Canada.
Miss Louisa suffered in her soul, indignant with all of them,
with him too, but quite unable to say why she was indignant.
Two evenings after, Louisa tapped at the door of the Quarry
Cottage, at half-past six. He had finished dinner, the woman had
washed up and gone away, but still he sat in his pit dirt. He was
going later to the New Inn. He had begun to go there because he
must go somewhere. The mere contact with other men was necessary to
him, the noise, the warmth, the forgetful flight of the hours. But
still he did not move. He sat alone in the empty house till it
began to grow on him like something unnatural.
He was in his pit dirt when he opened the door.
“I have been wanting to call—I thought I
would,” she said, and she went to the sofa. He wondered why
she wouldn’t use his mother’s round armchair. Yet
something stirred in him, like anger, when the housekeeper placed
herself in it.
“I ought to have been washed by now,” he said,
glancing at the clock, which was adorned with butterflies and
cherries, and the name of “T. Brooks, Mansfield.” He
laid his black hands along his mottled dirty arms. Louisa looked at
him. There was the reserve, and the simple neutrality towards her,
which she dreaded in him. It made it impossible for her to approach
“I am afraid,” she said, “that I wasn’t
kind in asking you to supper.”
“I’m not used to it,” he said, smiling with
his mouth, showing the interspaced white teeth. His eyes, however,
were steady and unseeing.
“It’s not that,” she said hastily. Her repose
was exquisite and her dark grey eyes rich with understanding. He
felt afraid of her as she sat there, as he began to grow conscious
“How do you get on alone?” she asked.
He glanced away to the fire.
“Oh—” he answered, shifting uneasily, not
finishing his answer.
Her face settled heavily.
“How close it is in this room. You have such immense
fires. I will take off my coat,” she said.
He watched her take off her hat and coat. She wore a cream
cashmir blouse embroidered with gold silk. It seemed to him a very
fine garment, fitting her throat and wrists close. It gave him a
feeling of pleasure and cleanness and relief from himself.
“What were you thinking about, that you didn’t get
washed?” she asked, half intimately. He laughed, turning
aside his head. The whites of his eyes showed very distinct in his
“Oh,” he said, “I couldn’t tell
There was a pause.
“Are you going to keep this house on?” she
He stirred in his chair, under the question.
“I hardly know,” he said. “I’m very
likely going to Canada.”
Her spirit became very quiet and attentive.
“What for?” she asked.
Again he shifted restlessly on his seat.
“Well”—he said slowly—“to try the
“But which life?”
“There’s various things—farming or lumbering
or mining. I don’t mind much what it is.”
“And is that what you want?”
He did not think in these times, so he could not answer.
“I don’t know,” he said, “till
She saw him drawing away from her for ever.
“Aren’t you sorry to leave this house and
garden?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered reluctantly.
“I suppose our Fred would come in-that’s what
“You don’t want to settle down?” she
He was leaning forward on the arms of his chair. He turned to
her. Her face was pale and set. It looked heavy and impassive, her
hair shone richer as she grew white. She was to him something
steady and immovable and eternal presented to him. His heart was
hot in an anguish of suspense. Sharp twitches of fear and pain were
in his limbs. He turned his whole body away from her. The silence
was unendurable. He could not bear her to sit there any more. It
made his heart go hot and stifled in his breast.
“Were you going out to-night?” she asked.
“Only to the New Inn,” he said.
Again there was silence.
She reached for her hat. Nothing else was suggested to her. She
had to go. He sat waiting for her to be gone, for relief. And she
knew that if she went out of that house as she was, she went out a
failure. Yet she continued to pin on her hat; in a moment she would
have to go. Something was carrying her.
Then suddenly a sharp pang, like lightning, seared her from head
to foot, and she was beyond herself.
“Do you want me to go?” she asked, controlled, yet
speaking out of a fiery anguish, as if the words were spoken from
her without her intervention.
He went white under his dirt.
“Why?” he asked, turning to her in fear,
“Do you want me to go?” she repeated.
“Why?” he asked again.
“Because I wanted to stay with you,” she said,
suffocated, with her lungs full of fire.
His face worked, he hung forward a little, suspended, staring
straight into her eyes, in torment, in an agony of chaos, unable to
collect himself. And as if turned to stone, she looked back into
his eyes. Their souls were exposed bare for a few moments. It was
agony. They could not bear it. He dropped his head, whilst his body
jerked with little sharp twitchings.
She turned away for her coat. Her soul had gone dead in her. Her
hands trembled, but she could not feel any more. She drew on her
coat. There was a cruel suspense in the room. The moment had come
for her to go. He lifted his head. His eyes were like agate,
expressionless, save for the black points of torture. They held
her, she had no will, no life any more. She felt broken.
“Don’t you want me?” she said helplessly.
A spasm of torture crossed his eyes, which held her fixed.
“I—I—” he began, but he could not speak.
Something drew him from his chair to her. She stood motionless,
spellbound, like a creature given up as prey. He put his hand
tentatively, uncertainly, on her arm. The expression of his face
was strange and inhuman. She stood utterly motionless. Then
clumsily he put his arms round her, and took her, cruelly, blindly,
straining her till she nearly lost consciousness, till he himself
had almost fallen.
Then, gradually, as he held her gripped, and his brain reeled
round, and he felt himself falling, falling from himself, and
whilst she, yielded up, swooned to a kind of death of herself, a
moment of utter darkness came over him, and they began to wake up
again as if from a long sleep. He was himself.
After a while his arms slackened, she loosened herself a little,
and put her arms round him, as he held her. So they held each other
close, and hid each against the other for assurance, helpless in
speech. And it was ever her hands that trembled more closely upon
him, drawing him nearer into her, with love.
And at last she drew back her face and looked up at him, her
eyes wet, and shining with light. His heart, which saw, was silent
with fear. He was with her. She saw his face all sombre and
inscrutable, and he seemed eternal to her. And all the echo of pain
came back into the rarity of bliss, and all her tears came up.
“I love you,” she said, her lips drawn and sobbing.
He put down his head against her, unable to hear her, unable to
bear the sudden coming of the peace and passion that almost broke
his heart. They stood together in silence whilst the thing moved
away a little.
At last she wanted to see him. She looked up. His eyes were
strange and glowing, with a tiny black pupil. Strange, they were,
and powerful over her. And his mouth came to hers, and slowly her
eyelids closed, as his mouth sought hers closer and closer, and
took possession of her.
They were silent for a long time, too much mixed up with passion
and grief and death to do anything but hold each other in pain and
kiss with long, hurting kisses wherein fear was transfused into
desire. At last she disengaged herself. He felt as if his heart
were hurt, but glad, and he scarcely dared look at her.
“I’m glad,” she said also.
He held her hands in passionate gratitude and desire. He had not
yet the presence of mind to say anything. He was dazed with
“I ought to go,” she said.
He looked at her. He could not grasp the thought of her going,
he knew he could never be separated from her any more. Yet he dared
not assert himself. He held her hands tight.
“Your face is black,” she said.
“Yours is a bit smudged,” he said.
They were afraid of each other, afraid to talk. He could only
keep her near to him. After a while she wanted to wash her face. He
brought her some warm water, standing by and watching her. There
was something he wanted to say, that he dared not. He watched her
wiping her face, and making tidy her hair.
“They’ll see your blouse is dirty,” he
She looked at her sleeves and laughed for joy.
He was sharp with pride.
“What shall you do?” he asked.
“How?” she said.
He was awkward at a reply.
“About me,” he said.
“What do you want me to do?” she laughed.
He put his hand out slowly to her. What did it matter!
“But make yourself clean,” she said.
As they went up the hill, the night seemed dense with the
unknown. They kept close together, feeling as if the darkness were
alive and full of knowledge, all around them. In silence they
walked up the hill. At first the street lamps went their way.
Several people passed them. He was more shy than she, and would
have let her go had she loosened in the least. But she held
Then they came into the true darkness, between the fields. They
did not want to speak, feeling closer together in silence. So they
arrived at the Vicarage gate. They stood under the naked
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” he said.
She laughed a quick little laugh.
“Come tomorrow,” she said, in a low tone, “and
She felt his hand close on hers.
She gave the same sorrowful little laugh of sympathy. Then she
kissed him, sending him home.
At home, the old grief came on in another paroxysm, obliterating
Louisa, obliterating even his mother for whom the stress was raging
like a burst of fever in a wound. But something was sound in his
The next evening he dressed to go to the vicarage, feeling it
was to be done, not imagining what it would be like. He would not
take this seriously. He was sure of Louisa, and this marriage was
like fate to him. It filled him also with a blessed feeling of
fatality. He was not responsible, neither had her people anything
really to do with it.
They ushered him into the little study, which was fireless. By
and by the vicar came in. His voice was cold and hostile as he
“What can I do for you, young man?”
He knew already, without asking.
Durant looked up at him, again like a sailor before a superior.
He had the subordinate manner. Yet his spirit was clear.
“I wanted, Mr Lindley—” he began respectfully,
then all the colour suddenly left his face. It seemed now a
violation to say what he had to say. What was he doing there? But
he stood on, because it had to be done. He held firmly to his own
independence and self-respect. He must not be indecisive. He must
put himself aside: the matter was bigger than just his personal
self. He must not feel. This was his highest duty.
“You wanted—” said the vicar.
Durant’s mouth was dry, but he answered with
“Miss Louisa—Louisa—promised to marry
“You asked Miss Louisa if she would marry
you—yes—” corrected the vicar. Durant reflected
he had not asked her this:
“If she would marry me, sir. I hope you—don’t
He smiled. He was a good-looking man, and the vicar could not
help seeing it.
“And my daughter was willing to marry you?” said Mr
“Yes,” said Durant seriously. It was pain to him,
nevertheless. He felt the natural hostility between himself and the
“Will you come this way?” said the vicar. He led
into the dining-room, where were Mary, Louisa, and Mrs Lindley. Mr
Massy sat in a corner with a lamp.
“This young man has come on your account, Louisa?”
said Mr Lindley.
“Yes,” said Louisa, her eyes on Durant, who stood
erect, in discipline. He dared not look at her, but he was aware of
“You don’t want to marry a collier, you little
fool,” cried Mrs Lindley harshly. She lay obese and helpless
upon the couch, swathed in a loose, dove-grey gown.
“Oh, hush, mother,” cried Mary, with quiet intensity
“What means have you to support a wife?” demanded
the vicar’s wife roughly.
“I!” Durant replied, starting. “I think I can
“Well, and how much?” came the rough voice.
“Seven and six a day,” replied the young man.
“And will it get to be any more?”
“I hope so.”
“And are you going to live in that poky little
“I think so,” said Durant, “if it’s all
He took small offence, only was upset, because they would not
think him good enough. He knew that, in their sense, he was
“Then she’s a fool, I tell you, if she marries
you,” cried the mother roughly, casting her decision.
“After all, mama, it is Louisa’s affair,” said
Mary distinctly, “and we must remember—”
“As she makes her bed, she must lie—but she’ll
repent it,” interrupted Mrs Lindley.
“And after all,” said Mr Lindley, “Louisa
cannot quite hold herself free to act entirely without
consideration for her family.”
“What do you want, papa?” asked Louisa sharply.
“I mean that if you marry this man, it will make my
position very difficult for me, particularly if you stay in this
parish. If you were moving quite away, it would be simpler. But
living here in a collier’s cottage, under my nose, as it
were—it would be almost unseemly. I have my position to
maintain, and a position which may not be taken lightly.”
“Come over here, young man,” cried the mother, in
her rough voice, “and let us look at you.”
Durant, flushing, went over and stood—not quite at
attention, so that he did not know what to do with his hands. Miss
Louisa was angry to see him standing there, obedient and
acquiescent. He ought to show himself a man.
“Can’t you take her away and live out of
sight?” said the mother. “You’d both of you be
“Yes, we can go away,” he said.
“Do you want to?” asked Miss Mary clearly.
He faced round. Mary looked very stately and impressive. He
“I do if it’s going to be a trouble to
anybody,” he said.
“For yourself, you would rather stay?” said
“It’s my home,” he said, “and
that’s the house I was born in.”
“Then”—Mary turned clearly to her parents,
“I really don’t see how you can make the conditions,
papa. He has his own rights, and if Louisa wants to marry
“Louisa, Louisa!” cried the father impatiently.
“I cannot understand why Louisa should not behave in the
normal way. I cannot see why she should only think of herself, and
leave her family out of count. The thing is enough in itself, and
she ought to try to ameliorate it as much as possible. And
“But I love the man, papa,” said Louisa.
“And I hope you love your parents, and I hope you want to
spare them as much of the—the loss of prestige, as
“We can go away to live,” said Louisa, her face
breaking to tears. At last she was really hurt.
“Oh, yes, easily,” Durant replied hastily, pale,
There was dead silence in the room.
“I think it would really be better,” murmured the
“Very likely it would,” said the rough-voiced
“Though I think we ought to apologize for asking such a
thing,” said Mary haughtily.
“No,” said Durant. “It will be best all
round.” He was glad there was no more bother.
“And shall we put up the banns here or go to the
registrar?” he asked clearly, like a challenge.
“We will go to the registrar,” replied Louisa
Again there was a dead silence in the room.
“Well, if you will have your own way, you must go your own
way,” said the mother emphatically.
All the time Mr Massy had sat obscure and unnoticed in a corner
of the room. At this juncture he got up, saying:
“There is baby, Mary.”
Mary rose and went out of the room, stately; her little husband
padded after her. Durant watched the fragile, small man go,
“And where,” asked the vicar, almost genial,
“do you think you will go when you are married?”
“I was thinking of emigrating,” he said.
“To Canada? or where?”
“I think to Canada.”
“Yes, that would be very good.”
Again there was a pause.
“We shan’t see much of you then, as a
son-in-law,” said the mother, roughly but amicably.
“Not much,” he said.
Then he took his leave. Louisa went with him to the gate. She
stood before him in distress.
“You won’t mind them, will you?” she said
“I don’t mind them, if they don’t mind
me!” he said. Then he stooped and kissed her.
“Let us be married soon,” she murmured, in
“All right,” he said. “I’ll go tomorrow