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NEWS OF THE ENGAGEMENT

After Arnold Bennett


My mother never came to meet me at Bursiey station when I arrived in the Five
Towns from London. She always had other things to do; she was "preparing" for me. So I had
little ourney from !nype to Bursiey" and then the wal# up Trafalgar $oad" all %y myself. &nd
there was enough time to consider how I should %rea# to my mother the tremendous news I
had for her. I had %een considering that 'uestion since I got into the train at (uston" where I
had said good)%ye to &gnes; %ut in the atmosphere of the Five Towns it seemed more
difficult; though" of course" it wasn*t difficult" really.
+ou see" I wrote to my mother regularly every" wee#" telling her" most of my doings.
She #new all my friends %y name; I am sure she formed in her mind notions of what sort of
people they were. Thus I had often mentioned &gnes and her family in my letters. But you
can*t write even to your mother and say, "I thin# I am %eginning to fall in love with &gnes"" "I
thin# &gnes li#es me"" "I love her"" "I feel certain she loves me too"" "I shall propose to her
some day." +ou can*t do that. &t least I couldn*t. Therefore it had happened that on the -.th of
/ecem%er I had proposed to &gnes and she agreed to marry me" and my mother had no
suspicion that my happiness was so near. &nd on the --nd of /ecem%er I came to spend
0hristmas with my mother.
I was the only son of a widow; I was all that my mother had. &nd I had gone and
engaged myself to a girl she had never seen" and I had not told her anything a%out it. She
would certainly %e very much surprised" and she might %e a little hurt 1 ust at first. &nyhow"
the situation was very delicate.
I wal#ed up the white front steps of my mother*s little house" ust opposite where the
electric cars stop" %ut %efore I could put my hand on the %ell" my little mother" in her %lac#
sil# and her gold %rooch opened to me" having dou%tless watched me down the road from the
window" as usual" and she said" as usual" #issing me,
"2ell" 3hilip4 5ow are you6"
&nd I said,
"7h4 I*m all right" mother. 5ow are you6"
I noticed at once that she was more e8cited than my arrival usually made her. There
were tears in her smiling eyes" and she was as nervous" as a young girl. &nd indeed she
loo#ed remar#a%ly young for a woman of forty)five" with twenty)five years of widowhood
and a short %ut stormy married life %ehind her.
The thought flashed across my mind, "By some means or other she has some
information a%out my engagement. But how6"
But I said nothing. I" too" was rather nervous.
"I*ll tell her at supper"" I decided and went upstairs.
&t that moment there was a ring at the door. She ran to the door" instead of letting the
servant go. It was a porter with my %ag.
9ust as I was coming downstairs again there was another ring at the door. &nd my
mother appeared out of the #itchen %ut I was %efore her and with a laugh I insisted on opening
the front door myself this time. & young woman stood on the step.
"3lease Mrs. /awson wants to #now if Mrs. /urance can #indly lend her half)a)do:en
#nives and for#s6"
"(h" with pleasure"" said my mother" %ehind me. "9ust wait a minute" Lucy. 0ome
inside."
I followed my mother into the drawing)room" where she too# some silver out of the
ca%inet" wrapped it in tissue paper" and then went out and gave it" to the servant" saying,
"There4** &nd the compliments of the season to your mistress" Lucy."
&fter that my mother disappeared into the #itchen. &nd I wandered a%out" feeling
happily e8cited" e8amining the drawing)room" in which nothing was changed e8cept the
;
picture postcards on the mantelpiece. Then I wandered into the dining)room" a small room at
the %ac# of the house" and here a great surprise awaited me.
Supper was set for three4
"2ell"" I said. "5ere*s a nice state of affairs4 Supper for three" and she hasn*t said a
word4"
My mother was so clever in social matters" and especially in the planning of delicious
surprises" that I %elieved her capa%le even of miracles. In some way or other she must have
discovered the state of my desires toward &gnes. She and &gnes had %een plotting together"
%y letters" or may %e %y telegraph to surprise me. Though &gnes had told me that she could
not possi%ly come to Bursiey for 0hristmas" she was pro%a%ly here" and my mother had
concealed her somewhere in the house" or was e8pecting her any minute. That e8plained the
nervousness and the rushes of my mother to the door.
I went out of the dining)room" determined not to let my mother #now" that I had
secretly e8amined the supper)ta%le. &nd as I was crossing the corridor to the drawing)room
there was a third ring at the door" and a third time my mother rushed out of the #itchen.
I "Suppose it*s &gnes. 2hat a scene4"
&nd trem%ling with e8pectation I opened the door.
It was Mr. <i8on.
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