Tales of the Five Towns Part 20

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'Yes, that was pretty easy.'

'And did your mother know?'

He turned and looked at her.

'Yes, mother knew. It finished her. Oh, Ted!' she burst out, 'if you'd only telegraphed to him the next morning that the shares weren't sold, things might have been quite different.'

'You mean I killed your father--and your mother.'

'No, I don't,' she cried pa.s.sionately. 'I tell you I don't. You didn't know. But I think of it all, sometimes. And that's why--that's why----'

She sat down again.

'By G.o.d, May,' he swore, 'I'm frightfully sorry!'

'I never meant to tell you,' she said, composing herself. 'But, there!

things slip out. Good-night.'

She was gone, but in pa.s.sing him she had timidly caressed his shoulder.

'It's all up,' he said to himself. 'This will always be between us. No one could expect her to forget it.'

V

Gradually her characteristic habits deserted her; she seemed to lose energy and a part of her interest in those things which had occupied her most. She changed her dress less frequently, ignoring dressmakers, and she showed no longer the ravis.h.i.+ng elegance of the bride. She often lay in bed till noon, she who had always entered the dining-room at nine o'clock precisely to dispense his coffee and listen to his remarks on the contents of the newspaper. She said 'As you please' to the cook, and the meals began to lose their piquancy. She paid no calls, but some of her women friends continued, nevertheless, to visit her. Lastly, she took to sewing. The little dark doctor, who had become an acquaintance, smiled at her and told her to do no more than she felt disposed to do.

She reclined on sofas in shaded rooms, and appeared to meditate. She was not depressed, but thoughtful. It was as though she had much to settle in her own mind. At intervals the faint sound of the Hungarian Rhapsody mingled with her reveries.

As for Edward, his behaviour was immaculate. During the day he made money furiously. In the evening he sat with his wife. They did not talk much, and he never questioned her. She developed a certain curious whimsicality now and then; but for him she could do no wrong.

The past was not mentioned. They both looked apprehensively towards the future, towards a crisis which they knew was inexorably approaching.

They were afraid, while pretending to have no fear.

And one afternoon, precipitately, surprisingly, the crisis came.

'You are the father of a son--a very noisy son,' said the doctor, coming into the drawing-room where Edward had sat in torture for three hours.

'And May?'

'Oh, never fear: she's doing excellently.'

'Can I go and see her?' he asked, like a humble pet.i.tioner.

'Well--yes,' said the doctor, 'for one minute; not more.'

So he went into the bedroom as into a church, feeling a fool. The nurse, miraculously white and starched, stood like a sentinel at the foot of the bed of mystery.

'All serene, May?' he questioned. If he had attempted to say another word he would have cried.

The pale mother nodded with a fatigued smile, and by a scarcely perceptible gesture drew his attention to a bundle. From the next flat came a faint, familiar sound, insolently joyous.

'Yes,' he thought, 'but if they had both been lying dead here that tune would have been the same.'

Two months later he left the office early, telling his secretary that he had a headache. It was a mere fibbing excuse. He suffered from sudden fits of anxiety about his wife and child. When he reached the flat, he found no one at home but the cook.

'Where's your mistress?' he demanded.

'She's out in the park with baby and nurse, sir.'

'But it's going to rain,' he cried angrily. 'It is raining. They'll get wet through.'

He rushed into the corridor, and met the procession--May, the perambulator, and the nursemaid.

'Only fancy, Ted!' May exclaimed, 'the perambulator will go into the lift, after all. Aren't you glad?'

'Yes,' he said. 'But you're wet, surely?'

'Not a drop. We just got in in time.'

'Sure?'

'Quite.'

The tableau of May, elegant as ever, but her eyes brighter and her body more leniently curved, of the hooded perambulator, and of the fluffy-white nursemaid behind--it was too much for him. Touching clumsily the ap.r.o.n of the perambulator, the stockbroker turned into his doorway. Just then the girl from the next flat came out into the corridor, dressed for social rites of the afternoon. The perambulator was her excuse for stopping.

'What a pretty boy!' she exclaimed in ecstasy, trying to squeeze her picture hat under the hood of the perambulator.

'Do you really think so?' said the mother, enchanted.

'Of course! The darling! How I envy you!'

May wanted to reciprocate this politeness.

'I can't tell you,' she said, 'how I envy you your piano-playing.

There's one piece----'

'Envy me! Why! It's only a pianola we've got!'

'Isn't he the picture of his granddad?' said May to Edward when they bent over the cot that night before retiring.

And as she said it there was such candour in her voice, such content in her smiling and courageous eyes, that Edward could not fail to comprehend her message to him. Down in some very secret part of his soul he felt for the first time the real force of the great explanatory truth that one generation succeeds another.

Tales of the Five Towns Part 20

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Tales of the Five Towns Part 20 summary

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