They buried him on the Monday in the little cemetery on the hillside that looks over the fields at the big church and the houses. It was sunny, and the white chrysanthemums frilled themselves in the warmth.
Mrs. Morel could not be persuaded, after this, to talk and take her old bright interest in life. She remained shut off. All the way home in the train she had said to herself : “If only it could have been me!”
When Paul came home at night he found his mother sitting, her day’s work done, with hands folded in her lap upon her coarse apron. She always used to have changed her dress and put on a black apron, before. Now Annie set his supper, and his mother sat looking blankly in front of her, her mouth shut tight. Then he beat his brains for news to tell her.
“Mother, Miss Jordan was down to-day, and she said my sketch of a colliery at work was beautiful.”
But Mrs. Morel took no notice. Night after night he forced himself to tell her things, although she did not listen. It drove him almost insane to have her thus. At last:
“What’s a-matter, mother?” he asked.
She did not hear.
“What’s a-matter?” he persisted. “Mother, what’s a-matter?”
“You know what’s the matter,” she said irritably, turning away.
The lad—he was sixteen years old—went to bed drearily. He was cut off and wretched through October, November and December. His mother tried, but she could not rouse herself. She could only brood on her dead son; he had been let to die so cruelly.
At last, on December 23, with his five shillings Christmas-box in his pocket, Paul wandered blindly home. His mother looked at him, and her heart stood still.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“I’m badly, mother!” he replied. “Mr. Jordan gave me five shillings for a Christmas-box!”
He handed it to her with trembling hands. She put it on the table.
“You aren’t glad!” he reproached her; but he trembled violently.
“Where hurts you?” she said, unbuttoning his overcoat.
It was the old question.
“I feel badly, mother.”
She undressed him and put him to bed. He had pneumonia dangerously, the doctor said.
“Might he never have had it if I’d kept him at home, not let him go to Nottingham?” was one of the first things she asked.
“He might not have been so bad,” said the doctor.
Mrs. Morel stood condemned on her own ground.
“I should have watched the living, not the dead,” she told herself.
Paul was very ill. His mother lay in bed at nights with him; they could not afford a nurse. He grew worse, and the crisis approached. One night he tossed into consciousness in the ghastly, sickly feeling of dissolution, when all the cells in the body seem in intense irritability to be breaking down, and consciousness makes a last flare of struggle, like madness.