She answered him two days after the party.
“’Our intimacy would have been all-beautiful but for one little mistake,’” she quoted. “Was the mistake mine?”
Almost immediately he replied to her from Nottingham, sending her at the same time a little “Omar Khayyam.”
“I am glad you answered; you are so calm and natural you put me to shame. What a ranter I am! We are often out of sympathy. But in fundamentals we may always be together I think.
“I must thank you for your sympathy with my painting and drawing. Many a sketch is dedicated to you. I do look forward to your criticisms, which, to my shame and glory, are always grand appreciations. It is a lovely joke, that. Au revoir.”
This was the end of the first phase of Paul’s love affair. He was now about twenty-three years old, and, though still virgin, the sex instinct that Miriam had over-refined for so long now grew particularly strong. Often, as he talked to Clara Dawes, came that thickening and quickening of his blood, that peculiar concentration in the breast, as if something were alive there, a new self or a new centre of consciousness, warning him that sooner or later he would have to ask one woman or another. But he belonged to Miriam. Of that she was so fixedly sure that he allowed her right.
When he was twenty-three years old, Paul sent in a landscape to the winter exhibition at Nottingham Castle. Miss Jordan had taken a good deal of interest in him, and invited him to her house, where he met other artists. He was beginning to grow ambitious.
One morning the postman came just as he was washing in the scullery. Suddenly he heard a wild noise from his mother. Rushing into the kitchen, he found her standing on the hearthrug wildly waving a letter and crying “Hurrah!” as if she had gone mad. He was shocked and frightened.
“Why, mother!” he exclaimed.
She flew to him, flung her arms round him for a moment, then waved the letter, crying:
“Hurrah, my boy! I knew we should do it!”
He was afraid of her—the small, severe woman with graying hair suddenly bursting out in such frenzy. The postman came running back, afraid something had happened. They saw his tipped cap over the short curtains. Mrs. Morel rushed to the door.
“His picture’s got first prize, Fred,” she cried, “and is sold for twenty guineas.”
“My word, that’s something like!” said the young postman, whom they had known all his life.
“And Major Moreton has bought it!” she cried.
“It looks like meanin’ something, that does, Mrs. Morel,” said the postman, his blue eyes bright. He was glad to have brought such a lucky letter. Mrs. Morel went indoors and sat down, trembling. Paul was afraid lest she might have misread the letter, and might be disappointed after all. He scrutinised it once, twice. Yes, he became convinced it was true. Then he sat down, his heart beating with joy.