“Shan’t you be late?” she murmured.
“I’m going,” he said, very low.
Still he sat a few minutes, stroking the brown and grey hair from her temples.
“And you won’t be any worse, mother?”
“No, my son.”
“You promise me?”
“Yes; I won’t be any worse.”
He kissed her, held her in his arms for a moment, and was gone. In the early sunny morning he ran to the station, crying all the way; he did not know what for. And her blue eyes were wide and staring as she thought of him.
In the afternoon he went a walk with Clara. They sat in the little wood where bluebells were standing. He took her hand.
“You’ll see,” he said to Clara, “she’ll never be better.”
“Oh, you don’t know!” replied the other.
“I do,” he said.
She caught him impulsively to her breast.
“Try and forget it, dear,” she said; “try and forget it.”
“I will,” he answered.
Her breast was there, warm for him; her hands were in his hair. It was comforting, and he held his arms round her. But he did not forget. He only talked to Clara of something else. And it was always so. When she felt it coming, the agony, she cried to him:
“Don’t think of it, Paul! Don’t think of it, my darling!”
And she pressed him to her breast, rocked him, soothed him like a child. So he put the trouble aside for her sake, to take it up again immediately he was alone. All the time, as he went about, he cried mechanically. His mind and hands were busy. He cried, he did not know why. It was his blood weeping. He was just as much alone whether he was with Clara or with the men in the White Horse. Just himself and this pressure inside him, that was all that existed. He read sometimes. He had to keep his mind occupied. And Clara was a way of occupying his mind.
On the Saturday Walter Morel went to Sheffield. He was a forlorn figure, looking rather as if nobody owned him. Paul ran upstairs.
“My father’s come,” he said, kissing his mother.
“Has he?” she answered wearily.
The old collier came rather frightened into the bedroom.
“How dun I find thee, lass?” he said, going forward and kissing her in a hasty, timid fashion.
“Well, I’m middlin’,” she replied.
“I see tha art,” he said. He stood looking down on her. Then he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. Helpless, and as if nobody owned him, he looked.
“Have you gone on all right?” asked the wife, rather wearily, as if it were an effort to talk to him.
“Yis,” he answered. “’Er’s a bit behint-hand now and again, as yer might expect.”
“Does she have your dinner ready?” asked Mrs. Morel.
“Well, I’ve ’ad to shout at ’er once or twice,” he said.
“And you must shout at her if she’s not ready. She will leave things to the last minute.”