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News of the engagement by Arnold Bennett

My mother never came to meet me at Bursley station when I arrived in the Five Towns 1 from London; much less did she come as far as Knype station, which is the great traffic centre of the district, the point at which one changes from the express into the local train. She had always other things to do; she was preparing for me. So I had the little journey from Knype to Bursley, and then the walk up Trafalgar Road all by myself. And there was leisure to consider anew how I should break to my mother the tremendous news I had for her. I had been considering that question ever since getting into the train at Euston2, where I had said good-bye to Agnes; but in the atmosphere of the Five Towns it seemed just slightly more difficult.

You see, I wrote to my mother regularly every week, telling her most of my doings. She knew all my friends by name. Thus I had frequently mentioned Agnes and her family in my letters. But you can't write even to your mother and say in cold blood3: T think I am beginning to fall in love with Agnes', T feel certain she likes me', T shall propose to her on such a day'. Hence it had come about that on the 20th of December I had proposed to Agnes and been accepted by Agnes, and my mother had no suspicion that my happiness was so near. And on the 22nd, by a previous and unalterable arrangement, I had come to spend Christmas with my mother.

I was the only son of a widow; I was all my mother had. And lo! I had gone and engaged myself to a girl she had never seen, and I had kept her in the dark! She would certainly be extremely surprised, and she might be a little bit hurt - just at first. Anyhow, the situation was the least in the world delicate.

I walked up the whitened front steps of my mother's little house, just opposite where the electric cars stop, but before I could put my hand on the bell my little plump mother, in her black silk and her gold brooch and her auburn hair, opened to me, having doubtless watched me down the road from the bay-window, as usual.

I perceived instantly that she was more excited than my arrival ordinarily made her. There were tears in her smiling eyes, and she was as nervous as a young girl. She did indeed look remarkably young for a woman of forty-five, with twenty-five years of widowhood and a brief but too tempestuous married life behind her.

The thought flashed across my mind: 'By some means or other she has got wind of my engagement. But how?

But I said nothing. I, too, was naturally rather nervous. Mothers are kittle cattle4.

Ill tell her at supper,' I decided.

And she hovered round me, like a sea-gull round a steamer, as I went upstairs.

There was a ring at the door. She flew, instead of letting the servant go. It was a porter with my bag.

After that my mother disappeared into the kitchen to worry an entirely capable servant. And I roamed about, feeling happily excited, examining the drawing-room, in which nothing was changed. Then I wandered into the dining-room, a small room at the back of the house, and here an immense surprise awaited me. Supper was set for three!

'Well,' I reflected. Heres a nice state of affairs! Supper for three, and she hasnt breathed a word!'

My mother was so clever in social matters, and especially in the planning of delicious surprises, that I believed her capable even of miracles. In some way or other she must have discovered the state of my desires towards Agnes. She had written, or something. She and Agnes had been plotting together by letter to startle me, and perhaps telegraphing. Agnes had fibbed in telling me that she could not possibly come to Bursley for Christmas; she had delightfully fibbed. And my mother had got her concealed somewhere in the house, or was momentarily expecting her. That explained the tears, the nervousness, the rushes to the door.

I crept out of the dining-room, determined not to let my mother know that I had secretly viewed the supper-table. And as I was crossing the lobby to the drawing-room there was another ring at the door, and my mother rushed out of the kitchen.

By Jove!' I thought. Suppose it's Agnes. What a scene!' And trembling with expectation I opened the door. It was Mr Nixon.

Now, Mr Nixon was an old friend of the family's, a man of forty-nine or fifty, with a reputation for shrewdness and increasing wealth. He owned a hundred and seventy-five cottages in the town, having bought them gradually in half-dozens; he collected the rents himself, and attended to the repairs himself, and was celebrated as a good landlord. He was my mothers trustee, and had morally aided her in the troublous times before my fathers early death.

'Well, young man,' cried he. So you're back in owd Bosley!! It amused him to speak the dialect a little occasionally. And he brought his burly, powerful form into the lobby.

I greeted him as jovially as I could, and then he shook hands with my mother, neither of them speaking. 'Mr. Nixon is come for supper, Philip,' said my mother.

I, liked Mr. Nixon, but I was not too well pleased by this information, for I wanted to talk confidentially to my mother. I had a task before me with my mother, and here Mr. Nixon was plunging into the supper. I could not break it gently to my mother that I was engaged to a strange young woman in the presence of Mr Nixon. Mr. Nixon had been in to supper several times during previous visits of mine, but never on the first night.

However, I had to make the best of it. And we sat down and began on the ham, the sausages, the eggs, the crumpets, the toast, the jams, the mince-tarts, the Stilton, and the celery. But we none of us ate very much, despite my little plump mother's protestations.

My suspicion was that perhaps something had gone slightly wrong with my mother's affairs, and that Mr. Nixon was taking the first opportunity to explain things to me. But such a possibility did not interest me, for I could easily afford to keep my mother and a wife too. I was still preoccupied in my engagement and I began to compose the words in which, immediately on the departure of Mr Nixon after supper, I would tackle my mother on the subject.

When we had reached the Stilton and celery, I intimated that I must walk down to the post-office, as I had to dispatch a letter.

'Won't it do tomorrow, my pet?' asked my mother.

'It will not,' I said.

Imagine leaving Agnes two days without news of my safe arrival and without assurances of my love! I had started writing the letter in the train and I finished it in the drawing-room.

I went forth, bought a picture postcard showing St Luke's Square, Bursley, most untruthfully picturesque, and posted the card and the letter to my darling Agnes. I hoped that Mr. Nixon would have departed ere my return; he had made no reference at all during supper to my mother's affairs. But he had not departed. I found him solitary in the drawing-room, smoking a very fine cigar.

'Where's the mater?' I demanded.

'She's just gone out of the room,' he said. Come and sit down. Have a weed. I want a bit of a chat with you, Philip.' I obeyed, taking one of the very fine cigars.

'Well, Uncle Nixon,' I encouraged him, wishing to get the chat over because my mind was full of Agnes. I sometimes called him uncle for fun.

'Well, my boy,' he began. It's no use me beating about the bush. What do you think of me as a stepfather?' I was struck, as they say down there, all of a heap.

'What?' I stammered. You don't mean to say - you and mother - ?'

He nodded.

'Yes, I do, lad. Yesterday she promised as she'd marry my unworthy self. It's been coming along for some time. But I don't expect she's given you any hint in her letters. In fact, I know she hasn't. It would have been rather difficult, wouldn't it? She couldn't well have written, "My dear Philip, an old friend, Mr Nixon, is falling in love with me and I believe I'm falling in love with him. One of these days he'll be proposing to me." She couldn't have written like that, could she?'

I laughed. I could not help it.

'Shake hands,' I said warmly. 'I'm delighted.' And soon afterwards my mother sidled in, shyly.

'The lad's delighted, Sarah,' said Mr Nixon shortly.

I said nothing about my own engagement that night. I had never thought of my mother as a woman with a future. I had never realized that she was desirable, and that a man might desire her, and that her lonely existence in that house was not all that she had the right to demand from life. And I was ashamed of my characteristic filial selfish egoism. So I decided that I would not intrude my joy on hers until the next morning. We live and learn.

 

6.2 , (Unexpected twist)

(unexpected twist / defeated expectancy) , . , .

, Wait in the night . . , , , ໅ .

Wait in the nightby William Young Elliott

In the dingy second-floor office of Byars and Throckmorton, wholesale grocers, two men were sitting. An ancient gas chandelier flooded the room with a yellow flickering light which poured out through the doorway and partly down the narrow wooden stairs.

The night was warm. One of the occupants, a stout young man with a worried look, was continuously mopping his face with a wilted handkerchief. Suddenly he turned to his grey, angular companion.

At twelve, you say?

For the tenth time - yes. Byars will appear at twelve. Its as certain as ... death.

Couldnt you have misunderstood him?

No, his voice was strong, even when he was dying.

Well, just what did he say? As you know, I was off, at school at the time.

Ill repeat it once more, said the thin man wearily. He had them prop his great red head with a second pillow. Then he looked straight at me and said, Throckmorton, remember that after my death I will continue to be a senior partner and direct the firm just as I have in life. And the first time you depart from one of my established policies, youll have me to deal 'with... that very night at twelve, in the office. And if you know whats good for you, youll be there! well, this morning I violated one of those policies.

Why?

My wife had been making fun of me for being afraid of a dead man. For the first time in my life I came to the office angry instead of afraid. And Im still defiant - enough to bring on a showdown. But Im afraid to. Thats why I told you as much as I did this morning and asked you to be here. But I might add that Im sorry I did - you seem to be more worried than I am.

Its for another reason.

The thin man eyed him narrowly.

And I think I know what it is.

The young man did not reply, but in his turn studied the other closely.

So you really think hell be here?

Why not? Byars always did what he said hed do.

But this is different. Hes in another place now: the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.

Who said that?

Hamlet.

Hamlet didnt know Byars. After all, why shouldnt it be possible for a person of vigorous personality to override the limitations of death?

What is death?

For a moment the thin man groped for an answer.

Death is a change in perspective. -But this is all so strange!

So was Byars. Man, I tell you there was no else like him in all the world. These 1890 fixtures, for instance, in this day and time. And the bookkeepers still sit on tall stools! And the man himself - great red beard, flowing red hair, piercing black eyes, booming voice - but why should I be telling you all this when you know him as well as I do, since he was your uncle.

Young Byars looked at him pityingly.

Throckmorton, maybe I shouldnt be so candid about my uncle, but our family always saw Uncle John in an entirely different light from the way you do. To us he was a big ham-actor, a blustering bully who would terrorize anybody who would be terrorized, but an empty windbag to anyone who stood his ground - something you never did.

Your bread and butter wasnt dependent on him.

Uncle John, continued the young man, was a paranoiac who did all your thinking for you. Unconsciously you regarded him as a father, and now that youve been a bad boy, you expect him to return and punish you.

You and your psychology! Thats what comes from running with that college professor, Pennington.

Whats more, young Byars went on, you have definite paranoiac leanings yourself. You think everybody is out to get you. And on the other hand - and I might as well be frank about it - you are trying to dominate me just as my uncle did you, a sort of revenge. Well, it wont work. When I took over my uncles holdings, I became a partner in fact as well as in name.

The thin man sat glowering and speechless. Then the young man said apologetically, Im sorry, Throckmorton, my nerves are strained too. Believe me, I have your best interests at heart.

Yes, I know, answered the older man. I guess thats why you visited your psychologist friend this afternoon. I had the office boy trail you.

You do have a persecution complex! .

Lets keep the subject on you. You and your psychologist are conniving to destroy my sanity so you can run things. Furthermore, youve rigged up some dirty trick for tonight.

Youre mistaken.

Mistaken nothing! I saw you remove that snapshot of Byars from under the glass on the desk he used. (

The one of him standing on the box at the businessmens outing, bellowing like a bull? Yes, I did. I was afraid it was affecting your mind, you kept looking at it so much.

Very nice of you! And you brought something up here this evening in a black box and hid it somewhere. Do you dare show me what it is?

There isnt time.

And what was in the note Dr. Penningtons son brought you just before quitting time?

There isnt time to tell you.

The thin man came to with a start. What is the time?

Five minutes of twelve.

You know, said the thin man thoughtfully, what you said about my seeing Byars as a father may be right. My father was just such a man. Your facts are right although your motives are wrong. And somehow the truth is giving me courage.

Good, said the young man, and since Im not supposed to be in the picture, Ill hide in the background.

All right. And Ill sit here facing the door, revolver in hand.

Revolver?

Yes, I know its useless but it somehow helps me.

Young Byars arose and closed the door. Ive always wanted to see a ghost come through a door, he explained humorously. He also snapped off the lights.

Why did you do that?

Youll see, said the young man, making his way to the rear.

From somewhere came the sound of a clock striking the hour. The thin man jumped to his feet and leveled the gun at the door.

Come on, Byars, he called. Come on. Im ready for you this time. You thought you had me, mind, body, and soul. Well, you were never more..

Suddenly he stopped talking and stared:in amazement at the luminous figure before him, then burst into a peal of laughter.

The young m an sprang forward and snapped on the lights. When he turned he found himself covered by the revolver.

Some people would kill you, the thin riian gasped; but really I cant. Youve saved my sanity - you and your silly post-card projector! From your angle, though, its a pity you made that silly mistake. Mistake? I made no mistake.

Look, said the thin man, snapping off the lights, hes standing on his head - the funniest thing I ever saw!

Thats no mistake. Thats the way I meant it, explained the young man. I wanted you to see Byars in a funny way for once in your life - just as our family always saw him.

I dont believe it!

Still suspicious, even of your friends! Well, heres the note you asked to see abut a moment ago. Read it aloud.

Good luck with the stunt, read the thin man. It might help. And remember not to invert the photograph, since you want him standing on his head.

The older man put out his hand.

Forgive me, my friend, he said. Thank you for what youve done for me. You were anxious for fear your little stunt would misfire. Well, it didnt. Whenever I think of Byars now, it will be with him standing on his head, his big mouth open, and big feet high in the air!

 


: 2015-04-12; : 28 |

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