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   Chapter 10 No.10

Tales of the Five Towns By Arnold Bennett Characters: 6395

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


That evening May Deane returned home at half-past nine. She had been with her two brothers to a lawn-tennis party at Hillport, and she told her father, who was reading the Staffordshire Signal in his accustomed solitude, that the boys were staying later for cards, but that she had declined to stay because she felt tired. She kissed the old widower good-night, and said that she should go to bed at once. But before retiring she visited the housekeeper in the kitchen in order to discuss certain household matters: Jim's early breakfast, the proper method of washing Herbert's new flannels (Herbert would be very angry if they were shrunk), and the dog-biscuits for Carlo. These questions settled, she went to her room, drew the blind, lighted some candles, and sat down near the window.

She was twenty-two, and she had about her that strange and charming nunlike mystery which often comes to a woman who lives alone and unguessed-at among male relatives. Her room was her bower. No one, save the servants and herself, ever entered it. Mr. Deane and Jim and Bertie might glance carelessly through the open door in passing along the corridor, but had they chanced in idle curiosity to enter, the room would have struck them as unfamiliar, and they might perhaps have exclaimed with momentary interest, 'So this is May's room!' And some hint that May was more than a daughter and sister-a woman, withdrawn, secret, disturbing, living her own inner life side by side with the household life-might have penetrated their obtuse paternal and fraternal masculinity. Her beautiful face (the nose and mouth were perfect, and at either extremity of the upper lip grew a soft down), her dark hair, her quiet voice and her gentle acquiescence (diversified by occasional outbursts of sarcasm), appealed to them and won them; but they accepted her as something of course, as something which went without saying. They adored her, and did not know that they adored her.

May took off her hat, stuck the pins into it again, and threw it on the bed, whose white and green counterpane hung down nearly to the floor on either side. Then she lay back in the chair, and, pulling away the blind, glanced through the window; the moon, rather dim behind the furnace lights of Red Cow Ironworks, was rising over Moorthorne. May dropped the blind with a wearied gesture, and turned within the room, examining its contents as if she had not seen them before: the wardrobe, the chest of drawers, which was also a dressing-table, the washstand, the dwarf book-case with its store of Edna Lyalls, Elizabeth Gaskells, Thackerays, Charlotte Yonges, Charlotte Bront?s, a Thomas Hardy or so, and some old school-books. She looked at the pictures, including a sampler worked by a deceased aunt, at the loud-ticking Swiss clock on the mantelpiece, at the higgledy-piggledy photographs there, at the new Axminster carpet, the piece of linoleum in front of the washstand, and the bad joining of the wallpaper to the left of the door. She missed none of the details which she knew so well, with such long monotonous intimacy, and sighed.

Then she got up from the chair, and, opening a small drawer in the chest of drawers, put he

r hand familiarly to the back and drew forth a photograph. She carried the photograph to the light of the candles on the mantelpiece, and gazed at it attentively, puckering her brows. It was a portrait of Lionel Woolley. Heaven knows by what subterfuge or lucky accident she had obtained it, for Lionel certainly had not given it to her. She loved Lionel. She had loved him for five years, with a love silent, blind, intense, irrational, and too elemental to be concealed. Everyone knew of May's passion. Many women admired her taste; a few were shocked and puzzled by it. All the men of her acquaintance either pitied or despised her for it. Her father said nothing. Her brothers were less cautious, and summed up their opinion of Lionel in the curt, scornful assertion that he showed a tendency to cheat at tennis. But May would never hear ill of him; he was a god to her, and she could not hide her worship. For more than a year, until lately, she had been almost sure of him, and then came a faint vague rumour concerning Lionel and May Lawton, a rumour which she had refused to take seriously. The encounter of that afternoon, and Miss Lawton's triumphant remark, had dazed her. For seven hours she had existed in a kind of semi-conscious delirium, in which she could perceive nothing but the fatal fact, emerging more clearly every moment from the welter of her thoughts, that she had lost Lionel. Lionel had proposed to May Lawton, and been accepted, just before she surprised them together; and Lionel, with a man's excusable cowardice, had left his betrothed to announce the engagement.

She tore up the photograph, put the fragments in the grate, and set a light to them.

Her father's step sounded on the stairs; he hesitated, and knocked sharply at her door.

'What's burning, May?'

'It's all right, father,' she answered calmly, 'I'm only burning some papers in the fire-grate.'

'Well, see you don't burn the house down.'

He passed on.

Then she found a sheet of notepaper, and wrote on it in pencil, using the mantelpiece for a desk: 'Dear home. Good-night, good-bye.' She cogitated, and wrote further: 'Forgive me.-MAY.'

She put the message in an envelope, and wrote on the envelope 'Jim,' and placed it prominently in front of the clock. But after she had looked at it for a minute, she wrote 'Father' above Jim, and then 'Herbert' below.

There were noises in the hall; the boys had returned earlier than she expected. As they went along the corridor and caught a glimpse of her light under the door, Jim cried gaily: 'Now then, out with that light! A little thing like you ought to be asleep hours since.'

She listened for the bang of their door, and then, very hurriedly, she removed her pink frock and put on an old black one, which was rather tight in the waist. And she donned her hat, securing it carefully with both pins, extinguished the candles, and crept quietly downstairs, and so by the back-door into the garden. Carlo, the retriever, came halfway out of his kennel and greeted her in the moonlight with a yawn. She patted his head and ran stealthily up the garden, through the gate, and up the waste green land towards the crown of the hill.

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