“It looks a great deal like it,” she said, half putting aside her despair.
“No, mother—I really don’t love her. I talk to her, but I want to come home to you.”
He had taken off his collar and tie, and rose, bare-throated, to go to bed. As he stooped to kiss his mother, she threw her arms round his neck, hid her face on his shoulder, and cried, in a whimpering voice, so unlike her own that he writhed in agony:
“I can’t bear it. I could let another woman—but not her. She’d leave me no room, not a bit of room—”
And immediately he hated Miriam bitterly.
“And I’ve never—you know, Paul—I’ve never had a husband—not really—”
He stroked his mother’s hair, and his mouth was on her throat.
“And she exults so in taking you from me—she’s not like ordinary girls.”
“Well, I don’t love her, mother,” he murmured, bowing his head and hiding his eyes on her shoulder in misery. His mother kissed him a long, fervent kiss.
“My boy!” she said, in a voice trembling with passionate love.
Without knowing, he gently stroked her face.
“There,” said his mother, “now go to bed. You’ll be so tired in the morning.” As she was speaking she heard her husband coming. “There’s your father—now go.” Suddenly she looked at him almost as if in fear. “Perhaps I’m selfish. If you want her, take her, my boy.”
His mother looked so strange, Paul kissed her, trembling.
“Ha—mother!” he said softly.
Morel came in, walking unevenly. His hat was over one corner of his eye. He balanced in the doorway.
“At your mischief again?” he said venomously.
Mrs. Morel’s emotion turned into sudden hate of the drunkard who had come in thus upon her.
“At any rate, it is sober,” she said.
“H’m—h’m! h’m—h’m!” he sneered. He went into the passage, hung up his hat and coat. Then they heard him go down three steps to the pantry. He returned with a piece of pork-pie in his fist. It was what Mrs. Morel had bought for her son.
“Nor was that bought for you. If you can give me no more than twenty-five shillings, I’m sure I’m not going to buy you pork-pie to stuff, after you’ve swilled a bellyful of beer.”
“Wha-at—wha-at!” snarled Morel, toppling in his balance. “Wha-at—not for me?” He looked at the piece of meat and crust, and suddenly, in a vicious spurt of temper, flung it into the fire.
Paul started to his feet.
“Waste your own stuff!” he cried.
“What—what!” suddenly shouted Morel, jumping up and clenching his fist. “I’ll show yer, yer young jockey!”
“All right!” said Paul viciously, putting his head on one side. “Show me!”
He would at that moment dearly have loved to have a smack at something. Morel was half crouching, fists up, ready to spring. The young man stood, smiling with his lips.