Tales of the Five Towns Part 15

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The man obeyed, astonished at the entire friendliness of this daughter, whom, though he had frequently seen her, he had never spoken to for more than ten years. Her manner, at once filial and quite natural, perfectly ignored the long breach, and disclosed no trace of animosity.

Father and daughter examined the unconscious child. Pale, pulseless, cold, he lay on the sofa like a corpse except for the short, faint breaths which he drew through his blue lips.

'I doubt I've killed him,' said Eli.

'Nay, nay, father!' And her face actually smiled. This supremacy of the soul against years of continued misfortune lifted her high above him, and he suddenly felt himself an inferior creature.

'I'll go for th' doctor,' he said.

'Nay! I shall need ye.' And she put her head out of the window. 'Mrs.

Walley, will ye let your Lucy run quick for th' club doctor? my Tommy's hurt.'

The whole street awoke instantly from its nap, and in a few moments every door was occupied. Miriam closed her own door softly, as though she might wake the boy, and spoke in whispers to people through the window, finally telling them to go away. When the doctor came, half an hour afterwards, she had done all that she knew for Tommy, without the slightest apparent result.

'What is it?' asked the doctor curtly, as he lifted the child's thin and lifeless hand.

Eli Machin explained that he had boxed the boy's ear.

'Tommy was impudent to his grandfather,' Miriam added hastily.

'Which ear?' the doctor inquired. It was the left. He gazed into it, and then raised the boy's right leg and arm. 'There is no paralysis,' he said. Then he felt the heart, and then took out his stethoscope and applied it, listening intently.

'Canst hear owt?' the old man said.

'I cannot,' he answered.

'Don't say that, doctor--don't say that! said Miriam, with an accent of appeal.

'In these cases it is almost impossible to tell whether the patient is alive or dead. We must wait. Mrs. Baddeley, make a mustard plaster for his feet, and we will put another over the heart.' And so they waited one hour, while the clock ticked and the mustard plasters gradually cooled. Then Tommy's lips parted.

After another half-hour the doctor said:

'I must go now; I will come again at six. Do nothing but apply fresh plasters. Be sure to keep his neck free. He is breathing, but I may as well be plain with you--there is a great risk of your child dying in this condition.'

Neighbours were again at the window, and Miriam drew the blind, waving them away. At six o'clock the doctor reappeared. 'There is no change,'

he remarked. 'I will call in before I go to bed.'

When he lifted the latch for the third time, at ten o'clock, Eli Machin and Miriam still sat by the sofa, and Tommy still lay thereon, moveless, a terrible enigma. But the gla.s.s lamp was lighted on the mantelpiece, and Miriam's sewing, by which she earned a livelihood, had been hidden out of sight.

'There is no change,' said the doctor. 'You can do nothing except hope.'

'And pray,' the calm mother added.

Eli neither stirred nor spoke. For nine hours he had absolutely forgotten his engine. He knew the boy would die.

The clock struck eleven, twelve, one, two, three, each time fretting the nerves of the old man like a rasp. It was the hour of summer dawn. A cold gray light fell unkindly across the small figure on the sofa.

'Open th' door a bit, father,' said Miriam. 'This parlour's gettin'

close; th' lad canna breathe.'

'Nay, la.s.s,' Eli sighed, as he stumbled obediently to the door. 'The lad'll breathe no more. I've killed him i' my anger.' He frowned heavily, as though someone was annoying him.

'Hist!' she exclaimed, when, after extinguis.h.i.+ng the lamp, she returned to her boy's side. 'He's reddened--he's reddened! Look thee at his cheeks, father!' She seized the child's inert hands and rubbed them between her own. The blood was now plain in Tommy's face. His legs faintly twitched. His breathing was slower. Miriam moved the coverlet and put her head upon his heart. 'It's beating loud, father,' she cried.

'Bless G.o.d!'

Eli stared at the child with the fixity of a statue. Then Tommy opened his eyes for an instant. The old man groaned. Tommy looked vacantly round, closed his eyes again, and was unmistakably asleep. He slept for one minute, and then waked. Eli involuntarily put a hand on the sofa.

Tommy gazed at him, and, with the most heavenly innocent smile of recognition, lightly touched his grandfather's hand. Then he turned over on his right side. In the anguish of sudden joy Eli gave a deep, piteous sob. That smile burnt into him like a coal of fire.

'Now for the beef-tea,' said Miriam, crying.

'Beef-tea?' the boy repeated after her, mildly questioning.

'Yes, my poppet,' she answered; and then aside, 'Father, he can hear i'

his left ear. Did ye notice it?'

'It's a miracle--a miracle of G.o.d!' said Eli.

In a few hours Tommy was as well as ever--indeed, better; not only was his hearing fully restored, but he had ceased to stammer, and the thin, almost imperceptible cloud upon his intellect was dissipated. The doctor expressed but little surprise at these phenomena, and, in fact, stated that similar things had occurred often before, and were duly written down in the books of medicine. But Eli Machin's firm, instinctive faith that Providence had intervened will never be shaken.

Miriam and Tommy now live in the villa-cottage with the old people.


William Froyle, ostler at the Queen's Arms at Moorthorne, took the letter, and, with a curt nod which stifled the loquacity of the village postman, went at once from the yard into the coach-house. He had recognised the hand-writing on the envelope, and the recognition of it gave form and quick life to all the vague suspicions that had troubled him some months before, and again during the last few days. He felt suddenly the near approach of a frightful calamity which had long been stealing towards him.

A wire-sheathed lantern, set on a rough oaken table, cast a wavering light round the coach-house, and dimly showed the inner stable. Within the latter could just be distinguished the mottled-gray flanks of a fat cob which dragged its chain occasionally, making the large slow movements of a horse comfortably lodged in its stall. The pleasant odour of animals and hay filled the wide s.p.a.ces of the shed, and through the half-open door came a fresh thin mist rising from the rain-soaked yard in the November evening.

Froyle sat down on the oaken table, his legs dangling, and looked again at the envelope before opening it. He was a man about thirty years of age, with a serious and thoughtful, rather heavy countenance. He had a long light moustache, and his skin was a fresh, rosy salmon colour; his straw-tinted hair was cut very short, except over the forehead, where it grew full and bushy. Dressed in his rough stable corduroys, his forearms bare and white, he had all the appearance of the st.u.r.dy Englishman, the sort of Englishman that crosses the world in order to find vent for his taciturn energy on virgin soils. From the whole village he commanded and received respect. He was known for a scholar, and it was his scholars.h.i.+p which had obtained for him the proud position of secretary to the provident society styled the Queen's Arms Slate Club. His respectability and his learning combined had enabled him to win with dignity the hand of Susie Trimmer, the grocer's daughter, to whom he had been engaged about a year. The village could not make up its mind concerning that match; without doubt it was a social victory for Froyle, but everyone wondered that so sedate and sagacious a man should have seen in Susie a suitable mate.

He tore open the envelope with his huge forefinger, and, bending down towards the lantern, began to read the letter. It ran:




'I asked father to tell you, but he would not. He said I must write. Dear Will, I hope you will never see me again. As you will see by the above address, I am now at Aunt Penrose's at Bursley.

She is awful angry, but I was obliged to leave the village because of my shame. I have been a wicked girl. It was in July. You know the man, because you asked me about him one Sunday night. He is no good. He is a villain. Please forget all about me. I want to go to London. So many people know me here, and what with people coming in from the village, too. Please forgive me.


After reading the letter a second time, Froyle folded it up and put it in his pocket. Beyond a slight unaccustomed pallor of the red cheeks, he showed no sign of emotion. Before the arrival of the postman he had been cleaning his master's bicycle, which stood against the table. To this he returned. Kneeling down in some fresh straw, he used his dusters slowly and patiently--rubbing, then stopping to examine the result, and then rubbing again. When the machine was polished to his satisfaction, he wheeled it carefully into the stable, where it occupied a stall next to that of the cob. As he pa.s.sed back again, the animal leisurely turned its head and gazed at Froyle with its large liquid eyes. He slapped the immense flank. Content, the animal returned to its feed, and the weighted chain ran down with a rattle.

Tales of the Five Towns Part 15

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Tales of the Five Towns Part 15 summary

You're reading Tales of the Five Towns Part 15. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Arnold Bennett already has 312 views.

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