Mrs. Thompson. A Novel - W.B. Maxwell - ebook

Mrs. Thompson. A Novel ebook

W.B. Maxwell

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British novelist William B. Maxwell (1866-1938), the son of novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon, wrote both plays and novels. He is well known for his drama „The Last Man In” (1910) and the satire „The Naked Truth” (1910). Maxwell wrote almost 40 novels which include „Tudor Green” (1935), „The Ragged Messenger” (1904) and „The Devil’s Garden” (1913). He also enlisted as a lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers at the age of 50, with the outbreak of World War I. Written in 1911, „Mrs. Thompson. A Novel” novel is a well crafted story about a woman struggling to support her loved ones in the face of adversity. We follow her through the years, and share her sorrows and joys set in a small town, with good supporting characters, and a strong and impressive heroine. If you enjoy the works of W. B. Maxwell then we highly recommend this publication for your book collection.

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Liczba stron: 509

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Contents

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

VII

VIII

IX

X

XI

XII

XIII

XIV

XV

XVI

XVII

XVIII

XIX

XX

XXI

XXII

XXIII

XXIV

XXV

XXVI

XXVII

XXVIII

XXIX

XXX

XXXI

XXXII

XXXIII

I

It was early-closing day in the town of Mallingbridge; and the Thompson’s, “established 1813,” had begun to hide its wares from the sunlight of High Street. Outside its windows the iron shutters were rolling down; inside its doors male and female assistants, eager for the weekly half-holiday, were despatching the last dilatory customers, packing their shelves, spreading their dust-sheets, and generally tidying up with anxious speed.

Mrs. Thompson, the sole proprietress, emerging from internal offices and passing through her prosperous realm, cast an attentive eye hither and thither; and, wherever she glanced, saw all things right, and nothing wrong. System, method, practised control visible in each department. Carpets, Bedding, Curtains, House Furnishings, all as they should be–no disturbing note, no hint of a dangerous element in the well-ordered working scheme of Thompson’s.

Managerial Mr. Mears, a big elderly man, took his hands from beneath the skirts of his frock-coat; smiled and bowed; and spoke to the proprietress confidentially on one or two important matters.

“By the way,” said Mr. Mears. “About Household Crockery–is it to be a promotion, or do you still think of getting someone in? Of course there’s a lot of talk–must be while the appointment remains open. But you haven’t made up your mind yet, have you?”

“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Thompson, arranging her reticule, and not looking at Mr. Mears. “I shall appoint Mr. Marsden.”

“Young Marsden? Never!”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Thompson firmly.

“You surprise me. I admit it.”

“You don’t think,” said Mrs. Thompson, “that he is old enough for the responsibility. But, Mr. Mears, he has brains and he likes work. Tell the others that the appointment is made.”

And big Mr. Mears did then what everyone in Thompson’s always did–that is to say, he immediately obeyed orders; and before the last shutter was down, the news had flashed all through the restricted space of the old-fashioned shop.

“Dicky Marsden! Oh, drop me off a roof... Marsden up again! Well, I’m bust!” Thompson’s young gentlemen murmuring their comments, expressed astonishment, and a certain amount of envy. “Marsden over all our heads! This is a rum go, if you like.”

“Fancy! What next! Would you believe it?” Thompson’s young ladies, after being breathless, became shrill. “Why, on’y six months ago he was Number Three in the Carpets.”

“He’ll be prouder than ever.”

“I shan’t dare so much as speak to him.”

“He always treated one as dirt under his feet,” said a dark-haired, anæmic young lady. “And now!”

“With the increased screw,” said a pert, blond young lady, “he’ll be able to buy more smart clothes, and he’ll look more fetching than ever. Yes, and you’ll all be more in love with him than you are a’ready.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Well, say I’m as bad as you. We’re all a lot of fools together.”

Of course there must be talk. The Napoleonic rise of this fortunate shopman had been sufficiently rapid to stir the whole of his little shop-world. Starting thus, to what heights might he not attain in Thompson’s? There would be talk and more talk.

But not within the hearing of Mr. Mears.

“Jabber, jabber,” said Mr. Mears with unusual severity. “Less of it. You’re like so many cackling hens in some back yard–instead of ladies who know how to behave themselves in a high-class emporium.”

Evidently Mr. Mears was not pleased with the appointment. He stamped off; and the girls observed the characteristic swish of the coat tails, the manner in which he puffed out his chest, and the faint flush upon his bearded face.

Meanwhile Mrs. Thompson had passed onward and upward, through many departments, to the door of communication on the first floor that led from her public shop to her private house.

Outwardly it was quite an old-fashioned shop, still encased with the red-brick fabric of Georgian days; but inwardly its structure had been almost entirely modernised. The bird-cage art of steel-girdering had swept away division-walls, opened out the department to the widest possible extent and given an unimpeded run of floor area where once the goods used to be stored in rooms the size of pigeon-holes. The best shop-architects had gutted the place, and, so far as they were permitted, had “brought it up to date”; but in all recent improvements the style of substantial, respectable grandeur was preserved. The new mahogany staircases were of a Georgian pattern; there were no fantastic white panellings, no coloured mosaics, no etagères of artificial flowers. Really the vast looking-glasses were the only decoration that one could condemn as altogether belonging to the vulgar new school. The mirrors were perhaps overdone.

So, as Mrs. Thompson ascended the short flight of stairs out of Bedding, Etc., a pleasant, middle-aged woman in stately black with pendent chatelaine, climbed opposing steps to meet her face to face on the landing. As she moved on she was moving in many glasses, so that nearly all the assistants could see her or her reflected image: a procession of Mrs. Thompsons advancing from Woollens and Yarns, another converging column of Mrs. Thompsons from Cretonnes and Chintzes, reinforcements coming forward in the big glass opposite the entrance of Household Linen; while the young men behind the Blankets counter raised their eyes to watch the real Mrs. Thompson march by with a company of false Mrs. Thompsons stretching in perfect line from the right–innumerable Mrs. Thompsons shown by the glasses; some looking bigger, some looking slighter; but all the glasses showing a large-bosomed, broad-hipped woman of forty-five, with florid colouring and robust deportment; a valiant solid creature seeming, as indeed she was, well able to carry the burden of the whole shop on her firm shoulders.

Then the glasses were empty again: Mrs. Thompson had disappeared through the door of communication.

On this side of the door lay all her working life, the struggle, the fight, the courageous plans, and the unflagging labours; on the other side of the door lay the object for which she had toiled, the end and aim of every brave endeavour.

“Enid, my darling, are you there?... Yates, is Miss Enid in?”

“Yes, ma’am, Miss Enid has lunched, and is upstairs–dressing for the drive.”

Yates, the old servant, maid, housekeeper, and faithful friend, came bustling and smiling to the welcome sounds of her employer’s kind voice.

Mrs. Thompson sat for a few minutes in the vacated dining-room, talking to Yates and hearing the domestic news.

The headache of Miss Enid, Yates reported, was much better; but she had not been out this morning. She seemed to be rather languid, and, as Yates guessed, perhaps felt a little dull and moped after the gaieties and excitements of the country-house visit from which she had just returned.

“Ah, well,” said Mrs. Thompson cheerfully, “our drive will do her good. And now that the summer is coming on, she shall not want for occupation and amusement.”

All through the snug little box of a house, filched out of the block of shop premises, there was evidence of the occupations and amusements of Miss Enid. Bookcases with choicely bound volumes of romance and poetry, elegant writing-desks, various musical instruments, materials for painting in oil or water colour, new inventions for the practice of miniature sculpture, the most costly photographic cameras, tennis rackets, hockey sticks, and other implements of sport and pastime–on this floor as on the upper floors, in dining-room, drawing-room, boudoir, as well as bedroom and dressing-room, were things that should provide a young lady with occupation and amusement.

The rooms were comfortably furnished and brightly ornamented, and all had a homelike soothing aspect to their busy owner. To other people they might seem lacking in the studious taste by which the rich and idle can make of each apartment a harmonious picture. Here money had been spent profusely but hurriedly, at odd times and not all together: whatever at the moment had appeared to be desirable or necessary had been at once procured. So that comfort and luxury rather jostled each other; the Sheraton cabinets which were so charming to look at were apt to get hidden by the leather armchairs which were so soothing to have a nap in; and the Chelsea china in the glass-fronted corner cupboard completely lost itself behind the Japanese screen that guarded against draughts from the old sashed window.

“Enid, may I come in?” Mrs. Thompson tapped softly at the door of her daughter’s dressing-room.

“Mother dear, is that you?” The door was opened, and the two women embraced affectionately.

Miss Thompson, in her fawn-coloured coat and skirt, feathered hat and spotted veil, was a tall, slim, graceful figure, ready now to adorn the hired landau from Mr. Young’s livery stables. Her hair was dark and her complexion naturally pallid; with a long straight nose in a narrow face, she resembled her dead father, but what was sheep-like and stupid in him was rather pretty in the girl;–altogether, a decent-looking, fairly attractive young woman of twenty-two, but not likely to obtain from the world at large the gaze of admiring satisfaction with which an adoring mother regarded her.

“The carriage isn’t there yet,” said Mrs. Thompson, “and I promise not to keep you waiting. I’ll change my dress in a flash of lightning.”

“What did you think of wearing this afternoon?”

Mrs. Thompson proposed to put on her new mauve gown and the hat with the lilac blossoms; but her daughter made alternative suggestions.

In the shop Mrs. Thompson carried a perpetual black; outside the shop she was perhaps unduly fond of vivid tints, and it was Enid’s custom to check this rainbow tendency.

“Very well,” said Mrs. Thompson, “it shall be the brown again;” and she laughed good-humouredly. “I bow to your judgment, my dear, if I don’t endorse its correctness.”

“You look sweet in the brown, mother.”

“Do I?... But remember what Miss Macdonald says. With my high complexion, I need colour.”

Yates soon braced and laced her mistress into the sober brown cloth and velvet that Enid considered suitable for the occasion; a parlourmaid with light rugs went forward to the carriage; and mother and daughter came down the steep and narrow flight of stairs to their outer door.

There was no ground floor to the dwelling-house–or rather the ground floor formed an integral part of the shop. The street door stood in St. Saviour’s Court–the paved footway that leads from High Street to the churchyard,–sandwiched with its staircase between the two side windows that contained basket chairs and garden requisites. The court was sufficiently wide and sufficiently pleasant: a quiet, dignified passage of entry, with the peaceful calm of the old church walls at one end, and the stir and bustle of the brilliant High Street at the other end.

Enid and her mamma, following the neat and mincing parlourmaid, made a stately procession to the main thoroughfare, where the really handsome equipage provided by Mr. Young was awaiting their pleasure.

The liveried coachman touched his hat, idle loungers touched their caps, prosperous citizens uncovered and bowed.

“There goes Mrs. Thompson.” People ran to upper windows to see Mrs. Thompson start for her Thursday drive.

“There she goes.”

“Who?”

“Mrs. Thompson.”

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