Miriam appeared in the doorway. She was nearly sixteen, very beautiful, with her warm colouring, her gravity, her eyes dilating suddenly like an ecstasy.
`I say,' said Paul, turning shyly aside, `your daffodils are nearly out. Isn't it early? But don't they look cold?'
`Cold!' said Miriam, in her musical, caressing voice.
`The green on their buds--' and he faltered into silence timidly.
`Let me take the rug,' said Miriam over-gently.
`I can carry it,' he answered, rather injured. But he yielded it to her.
Then Mrs Leivers appeared.
`I'm sure you're tired and cold,' she said. `Let me take your coat. It is heavy. You mustn't walk far in it.'
She helped him off with his coat. He was quite unused to such attention. She was almost smothered under its weight.
`Why, mother,' laughed the farmer as he passed through the kitchen, swinging the great milk-churns, `you've got almost more than you can manage there.'
She beat up the sofa cushions for the youth.
The kitchen was very small and irregular. The farm had been originally a labourer's cottage. And the furniture was old and battered. But Paul loved it--loved the sack-bag that formed the hearthrug, and the funny little corner under the stairs, and the small window deep in the corner, through which, bending a little, he could see the plum-trees in the back-garden and the lovely round hills beyond.
`Won't you lie down?' said Mrs Leivers.
`Oh no; I'm not tired,' he said. `Isn't it lovely coming out, don't you think? I saw a sloe-bush in blossom and a lot of celandines. I'm glad it's sunny.'
`Can I give you anything to eat or to drink?'
`No, thank you.'
`How's your mother?'
`I think she's tired now. I think she's had too much to do. Perhaps in a little while she'll go to Skegness with me. Then she'll be able to rest. I s'll be glad if she can.'
`Yes,' replied Mrs Leivers. `It's a wonder she isn't ill herself.'
Miriam was moving about preparing dinner. Paul watched everything that happened. His face was pale and thin, but his eyes were quick and bright with life as ever. He watched the strange, almost rhapsodic way in which the girl moved about, carrying a great stew-jar to the oven, or looking in the saucepan. The atmosphere was different from that of his own home, where everything seemed so ordinary. When Mr Leivers called loudly outside to the horse, that was reaching over to feed on the rose-bushes in the garden, the girl started, looked round with dark eyes, as if something had come breaking in on her world. There was a sense of silence inside the house and out. Miriam seemed as in some dreamy tale, a maiden in bondage, her spirit dreaming in a land far away and magical. And her discoloured, old blue frock and her broken boots seemed only like the romantic rags of King Cophetua's beggar-maid.
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