The Book Lover

Hilda Lessways by Arnold Bennett

Hilda Lessways by Arnold Bennett.jpg

CHAPTER I
AN EVENT IN MR. SKELLORN’S LIFE

I

The Lessways household, consisting of Hilda and her widowed mother, was temporarily without a servant. Hilda hated domestic work, and because she hated it she often did it passionately and thoroughly. That afternoon, as she emerged from the kitchen, her dark, defiant face was full of grim satisfaction in the fact that she had left a kitchen polished and irreproachable, a kitchen without the slightest indication that it ever had been or ever would be used for preparing human nature’s daily food; a show kitchen. Even the apron which she had worn was hung in concealment behind the scullery door. The lobby clock, which stood over six feet high and had to be wound up every night by hauling on a rope, was noisily getting ready to strike two. But for Mrs. Lessways’ disorderly and undesired assistance, Hilda’s task might have been finished a quarter of an hour earlier. She passed quietly up the stairs. When she was near the top, her mother’s voice, at once querulous and amiable, came from the sitting-room:

“Where are you going to?”

There was a pause, dramatic for both of them, and in that minute pause the very life of the house seemed for an instant to be suspended, and then the waves of the hostile love that united these two women resumed their beating, and Hilda’s lips hardened.

“Upstairs,” she answered callously.

No reply from the sitting-room!

At two o’clock on the last Wednesday of every month, old Mr. Skellorn, employed by Mrs. Lessways to collect her cottage-rents, called with a statement of account, and cash in a linen bag. He was now due. During his previous visit Hilda had sought to instil some common sense into her mother on the subject of repairs, and there had ensued an altercation which had never been settled.

“If I stayed down, she wouldn’t like it,” Hilda complained fiercely within herself, “and if I keep away she doesn’t like that either! That’s mother all over!”

She went to her bedroom. And into the soft, controlled shutting of the door she put more exasperated vehemence than would have sufficed to bang it off its hinges.

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