“Ussha!” hissed the father, swiping round with a great stroke just past his son’s face. He dared not, even though so close, really touch the young man, but swerved an inch away.
“Right!” said Paul, his eyes upon the side of his father’s mouth, where in another instant his fist would have hit. He ached for that stroke. But he heard a faint moan from behind. His mother was deadly pale and dark at the mouth. Morel was dancing up to deliver another blow.
“Father!” said Paul, so that the word rang.
Morel started, and stood at attention.
“Mother!” moaned the boy. “Mother!”
She began to struggle with herself. Her open eyes watched him, although she could not move. Gradually she was coming to herself. He laid her down on the sofa, and ran upstairs for a little whisky, which at last she could sip. The tears were hopping down his face. As he kneeled in front of her he did not cry, but the tears ran down his face quickly. Morel, on the opposite side of the room, sat with his elbows on his knees glaring across.
“What’s a-matter with ’er?” he asked.
“Faint!” replied Paul.
The elderly man began to unlace his boots. He stumbled off to bed. His last fight was fought in that home.
Paul kneeled there, stroking his mother’s hand.
“Don’t be poorly, mother—don’t be poorly!” he said time after time.
“It’s nothing, my boy,” she murmured.
At last he rose, fetched in a large piece of coal, and raked the fire. Then he cleared the room, put everything straight, laid the things for breakfast, and brought his mother’s candle.
“Can you go to bed, mother?”
“Yes, I’ll come.”
“Sleep with Annie, mother, not with him.”
“No. I’ll sleep in my own bed.”
“Don’t sleep with him, mother.”
“I’ll sleep in my own bed.”
She rose, and he turned out the gas, then followed her closely upstairs, carrying her candle. On the landing he kissed her close.
“Good-night!” she said.
He pressed his face upon the pillow in a fury of misery. And yet, somewhere in his soul, he was at peace because he still loved his mother best. It was the bitter peace of resignation.
The efforts of his father to conciliate him next day were a great humiliation to him.
Everybody tried to forget the scene.
DEFEAT OF MIRIAM
Paul was dissatisfied with himself and with everything. The deepest of his love belonged to his mother. When he felt he had hurt her, or wounded his love for her, he could not bear it. Now it was spring, and there was battle between him and Miriam. This year he had a good deal against her. She was vaguely aware of it. The old feeling that she was to be a sacrifice to this love, which she