He left her at the lane-end. As she went home, solitary, in her new frock, having her people to face at the other end, he stood still with shame and pain in the highroad, thinking of the suffering he caused her.
In the reaction towards restoring his self-esteem, he went into the Willow Tree for a drink. There were four girls who had been out for the day, drinking a modest glass of port. They had some chocolates on the table. Paul sat near with his whisky. He noticed the girls whispering and nudging. Presently one, a bonny dark hussy, leaned to him and said:
“Have a chocolate?”
The others laughed loudly at her impudence.
“All right,” said Paul. “Give me a hard one—nut. I don’t like creams.”
“Here you are, then,” said the girl; “here’s an almond for you.”
She held the sweet between her fingers. He opened his mouth. She popped it in, and blushed.
“You are nice!” he said.
“Well,” she answered, “we thought you looked overcast, and they dared me offer you a chocolate.”
“I don’t mind if I have another—another sort,” he said.
And presently they were all laughing together.
It was nine o’clock when he got home, falling dark. He entered the house in silence. His mother, who had been waiting, rose anxiously.
“I told her,” he said.
“I’m glad,” replied the mother, with great relief.
He hung up his cap wearily.
“I said we’d have done altogether,” he said.
“That’s right, my son,” said the mother. “It’s hard for her now, but best in the long run. I know. You weren’t suited for her.”
He laughed shakily as he sat down.
“I’ve had such a lark with some girls in a pub,” he said.
His mother looked at him. He had forgotten Miriam now. He told her about the girls in the Willow Tree. Mrs. Morel looked at him. It seemed unreal, his gaiety. At the back of it was too much horror and misery.
“Now have some supper,” she said very gently.
Afterwards he said wistfully:
“She never thought she’d have me, mother, not from the first, and so she’s not disappointed.”
“I’m afraid,” said his mother, “she doesn’t give up hopes of you yet.”
“No,” he said, “perhaps not.”
“You’ll find it’s better to have done,” she said.
“I don’t know,” he said desperately.
“Well, leave her alone,” replied his mother. So he left her, and she was alone. Very few people cared for her, and she for very few people. She remained alone with herself, waiting.