BLTC Press Titles

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Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Mrs. Craddock

by William Somerset Maugham


She asked herself how she could wait till the evening;

how on earth was she to endure the slow passing of the hours? And she must sit opposite her aunt and pretend to read, or talk on this subject and on that. It was insufferable. Then, inconsequently, she asked herself if Edward knew that she loved him; he could not dream how intense was her desire.

"I'm sorry I'm late for tea," she said, on entering the drawing-room.

"My dear," said Miss Leji, "the buttered toast is probably horrid, but I don't see why you should not eat cake."

"I don't want anything to eat," cried Bertha, flinging herself on a chair.

"But you're dying with thirst," added Miss Ley, looking at her niece with sharp eyes. "Wouldn't you like your tea out of a breakfast cup?"

Miss Ley had come to the conclusion that the restlessness and the long absence could only be due to some masculine cause. Mentally she shrugged her shoulders, hardly wondering who the creature was.

"Of course," she thought, "it's certain to be some one quite ineligible. I hope they won't have a long engagement."

Miss Ley could not have supported for several months the presence of a bashful and love-sick swain. She found lovers invariably ridiculous. She watched Bertha drink six cups of tea: of course those shining eyes, the flushed cheeks and the breathlessness, indicated some amorous excitement; it amused her, but she thought it charitable and wise to pretend that she noticed nothing.

"After all it's no business of mine," she thought; "and if Bertha is going to get married at all, it would be much more convenient for her to do it before next quarter-day, whei the Browns give up my flat."

Miss Ley sat on the sofa by the fireside, a woman of middle-size, very slight, with a thin and much wrinkled face. Of her features the mouth was the most noticeable, not large, with lips that were a little too thin; it was always so tightly compressed as to give her an air of great determination, but there was about the corners an expressive mobility, contradicting in rather an unusual manner the inferences which might be drawn from the rest jof her person. She had a habit of fixing her cold eyes on people with a steadiness that was not a little embarrassing. They said Miss Ley looked as if she thought them great fools, and as a matter of fact that usually was her precise opinion. Her thin gray hair was very plainly done; and the extreme simplicity of her costume gave a certain primness, so that her favourite method of saying rather absurd things in the gravest and most decorous manner often disconcerted the casual stranger. She was a woman who, one felt, had never been handsome, but now, in middle-age, was distinctly prepossessing.

Young men thought her somewhat terrifying till they discovered that they were to her a constant source of amusement; while elderly ladies asserted that she was a little queer.

"You know, Aunt Polly," said Bertha, finishing her tea and getting up, " I think you should have been christened Martha or Matilda. I don't think Polly suits you."

"My dear, you need not remind me so pointedly that I'm forty-five—and you need not smile in that fashion because you know that I'm really forty-seven. I say forty-five merely as a round number; in another y€jjar I shall call myself fifty. A woman never acknowledges such a nondescript age as forty-eight unless she is going to marry a widower with seventeen children."

"I wonder why you never married, Aunt Polly ?" said Bertha, looking away.

Miss Ley smiled almost imperceptibly, finding Bertha's remark highly significant. "My dear," she said, "why should I? I had five hundred a year of my own. . . . Ah yes, I know it's not what might have been expected; Tm sorry for your sake that I had no hopeless amour. The only excuse for an old maid is, that she has pined thirty years for a lover who is buried under the snowdrops, or has married another."

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