It never occurred to him that she might be more hurt at his going away than glad of his success. Indeed, as the days drew near for his departure, her heart began to close and grow dreary with despair. She loved him so much! More than that, she hoped in him so much. Almost she lived by him. She liked to do things for him: she liked to put a cup for his tea and to iron his collars, of which he was so proud. It was a joy to her to have him proud of his collars. There was no laundry. So she used to rub away at them with her little convex iron, to polish them, till they shone from the sheer pressure of her arm. Now she would not do it for him. Now he was going away. She felt almost as if he were going as well out of her heart. He did not seem to leave her inhabited with himself. That was the grief and the pain to her. He took nearly all himself away.
A few days before his departure—he was just twenty—he burned his love-letters. They had hung on a file at the top of the kitchen cupboard. From some of them he had read extracts to his mother. Some of them she had taken the trouble to read herself. But most were too trivial.
Now, on the Saturday morning he said:
“Come on, Postle, let’s go through my letters, and you can have the birds and flowers.”
Mrs. Morel had done her Saturday’s work on the Friday, because he was having a last day’s holiday. She was making him a rice cake, which he loved, to take with him. He was scarcely conscious that she was so miserable.
He took the first letter off the file. It was mauve-tinted, and had purple and green thistles. William sniffed the page.
“Nice scent! Smell.”
And he thrust the sheet under Paul’s nose.
“Um!” said Paul, breathing in. “What d’you call it? Smell, mother.”
His mother ducked her small, fine nose down to the paper.
“I don’t want to smell their rubbish,” she said, sniffing.
“This girl’s father,” said William, “is as rich as Croesus. He owns property without end. She calls me Lafayette, because I know French. ’You will see, I’ve forgiven you’—I like her forgiving me. ’I told mother about you this morning, and she will have much pleasure if you come to tea on Sunday, but she will have to get father’s consent also. I sincerely hope he will agree. I will let you know how it transpires. If, however, you—’”
“‘Let you know how it’ what?” interrupted Mrs. Morel.
“‘Transpires!’” repeated Mrs. Morel mockingly. “I thought she was so well educated!”
William felt slightly uncomfortable, and abandoned this maiden, giving Paul the corner with the thistles. He continued to read extracts from his letters, some of which amused his mother, some of which saddened her and made her anxious for him.
“My lad,” she said, “they’re very wise. They know they’ve only got to flatter your vanity, and you press up to them like a dog that has its head scratched.”