Herbert Ernest Bates was born in 1905. He began his working life as a journalist, but he made his reputation as a writer with his stories about English country life. The Darling Buds of May, the first of the Larkin family novels, has been a popular television series. He also drew on his wartime experiences in the Royal Air Force for much of his earlier writing, which includes the novels Fair Stood the Wind for France and The Jacaranda Tree. He was one of the greatest exponents of the short-story form, with an exceptional talent for portraying character sensitively and economically. Some well-known collections of his short stories are The Flying Goat, How Sleep the Brave, The Wedding Party, and The Wild Cherry Tree. He died in 1974.
'The earth is a beehive; we all enter by the same door but live in different cells,' says an African proverb. That may be true, but being alone is not the same as being lonely. Some people seem content to live alone in their cell; others need the companionship of families or friends, and see their cell as a prison or a cage. And old age or poverty can make a cell even lonelier.
Miss Treadwell lives alone, in a room which is very like a real cell. She is nearing sixty, and her daily life is a series of small battles against the enemy poverty. For though Miss Treadwell is very poor indeed, it is terribly important that the rest of the world should never know it ...
Same Time, Same Place
One had to keep up appearances, Miss Treadwell always told herself. Whatever else happened one simply had to keep up appearances. After all one had one's pride.
The sepia musquash coat she always wore throughout the winter had not only the advantage of keeping her warm and making her look almost of upper middle class but of also concealing the fact that underneath it she wore a man's woollen cardigan and a brown imitation leather waistcoat picked up for a shilling at a rummage sale*. Underneath these garments her corsets had so far fallen to pieces that every now and then she padded them with folds of newspaper. If these failed to give her buxom but not too ample figure the distinguished and elegant line she saw so often in advertisements they at least were warm too and cheap and comforting. Above all they helped to keep up appearances.
Miss Treadwell, who was in her late fifties, was apt to refer to her minute bed-sitter, a mere dog kennel seven feet by ten*, as 'my little domain', though if occasion demanded she might enlarge a little on that, calling it 'my apartment'. A divan bed, a chair, a table and a sink left no room whatever for a cooker, though this hardly mattered, since she never cooked except to make toast over a gas-ring. Her diet consisted mostly, except on Sundays, of bread, margarine and tea, though even this, for various reasons, she only had occasionally at home.
Every morning, at about eleven o'clock, she went out and sat on one of the seats in the public gardens. One didn't have to wait long there before someone dropped a newspaper into a litter basket, so that one got the news of the day for nothing besides a new padding for the corsets when necessary. After reading for another half hour Miss Treadwell then went into a small café round the corner and had her lunch. This too consisted of a bread roll, margarine and a pot of tea.
It was most important always to order a pot of tea, since in this way one got a small basin of cube sugar, most of which was easily slipped into a handbag. It was also important to select a table where someone else had recently been eating. In this way one quite often found two or three pennies or even sixpence left under a plate and uncollected by a busy waitress.
After lunch she always went back to the gardens to visit the Public Ladies*. It was quite extraordinary what one sometimes found in the Public Ladies. Frequently someone had forgotten a lipstick, a powder compact, a comb, a box of eye-shadow. Once Miss Treadwell had actually found a small handbag containing, among other things, a bottle of peroxide. With the use of this she suddenly went sensationally and almost youthfully blonde, thus keeping up appearances dramatically.
She had learnt other tricks by experience: for example that late on Saturday afternoons one could buy, for a few pence, bags of unsold cakes that wouldn't keep in the shops until Monday, or bags of broken biscuits which made a delicious Sunday treat if you put them in a basin and poured a layer of thin hot chocolate over them. There were also flowers: sometimes as you walked through the street market you came across a whole box of them, daffodils or roses or carnations or gladioli, that had dropped from a lorry and nobody had ever bothered to pick up. A few swiftly snatched up stalks turned the kennel-like bed-sitter into a little paradise.
Soon after the incident of the peroxide, that had turned her a light youthful blonde and helped to keep up her appearances so dramatically, she was sitting in the public gardens on an April morning. The day was suddenly and unusually hot; tulips that had been mere half-green buds the day before were now becoming, every moment, more and more like shimmering open wine glasses of pink and scarlet and yellow; an occasional white or yellow butterfly skimmed through the many wide yellow trumpets of daffodils under trembling pink canopies of cherry blossom. All the many seats in the gardens were crowded. It was very much a morning when appearances mattered.
The only place she could find to sit down was next to a gentleman who, because of the sudden April heat, had taken off his black homburg hat and laid it on the seat beside him. As Miss Treadwell approached he removed the hat and balanced it on his knee. His hair was a smooth iron grey. This alone would not have confirmed him as a gentleman but the homburg hat most certainly did. Men who wore homburg hats were always gentlemen.
After studying his newspaper in concentrated silence for another five minutes he folded it up and laid that too on the seat beside him. Unwilling to appear too eager Miss Treadwell waited some further minutes before saying:
'I hope you won't think me rude but I wonder - could I take a tiny glance at your newspaper? I couldn't get one this morning.'
'Oh! By all means. By all means. Take it, please. I've finished with it anyway.'
'Oh! I didn't mean to take it altogether.'
'Oh! Do. I've finished the cross-word. And once I've finished that I'm not interested. Do you do the cross-word?'
No, Miss Treadwell had to confess, she never did the cross-word. She supposed she wasn't clever enough for that.
'Nor was I, this morning. There was a devil of a clue and the only word that fitted was poitivene. Had me stuck for an hour. Do you know what a poitivene is?'
Miss Treadwell suddenly felt flattered and very pleased with herself. Yes, she said, as a matter of fact she did.
'And what on earth is it?'
'It's a sort of chrysanthemum.'
'Is it by Jove*? How ever did you know?'
Miss Treadwell said she had seen them on the market flower stalls, named. There was another one called rayonante. She always thought they were such pretty names, she said, and the gentleman in the homburg hat gave her a long friendly blue-eyed stare of admiration.
Silence came between them for some few minutes after this, until finally the gentleman in the homburg hat said:
'What a beautiful morning.'
'Lovely. Spring at last.'
'Spring at last.'
Miss Treadwell now opened the paper and pretended to read it without actually seeing a single word. At the same time the gentleman in the homburg hat extended a hand and laid it on the paper and said:
'The cartoon's rather good today. Page five. Allow me.'
As the gentleman in the homburg hat turned the pages of the paper over Miss Treadwell suddenly noticed an extraordinary thing. On the third finger of his left hand he was wearing a rather large ring. It was in the shape of a turquoise butterfly set in a clear white stone.
With considerable diffidence Miss Treadwell said:
'What a most unusual ring, if you forgive me for saying so.'
'It is rather unusual.'
The gentleman in the homburg hat held out the ring for her to look at more closely. She gazed at it for some seconds and then said:
'It looks sort of Chinese.'
'Indian, I'm told.'
'Is it 1 sort of charm, a good luck thing or something?'
'Sort of. The butterfly is supposed to represent summer and the white stone winter and ice and all that. I suppose it's a sort of symbol of the resurgence of spring over winter. Well, so I've been told.'
Miss Treadwell could only listen in fervent, silent admiration. The stone flashed in the sun. And was it sort of lucky? she said.
'Supposed to be. But I'm afraid this thing has produced more than its fair share of trouble.'
'Oh! how could that be?'
'It belonged to my eldest sister. She left it to me. Consequently my other sister - I live with her - has never forgiven her. She gives me hell about it.'
Miss Treadwell fell into a depressive silence, not knowing what to say. The silence lasted several minutes until at last he said:
'Still, I suppose I ought to be thankful she looks after me. Do you live near by?'
'My apartment is just round the corner.'
'You live alone?'
'In a way 1 envy you. At least you've no one to quarrel with. Every day I'm glad when breakfast is over. Then I can be off on my own.'
In silence Miss Treadwell again gazed at the butterfly imprisoned in its ice.
'Do you find it difficult to fill in the day?' the man in the homburg hat said.
'Oh! no, no, no. It's terribly, terribly full. By the time I've done my cooking and cleared up the apartment and so on the time simply flies. I do a lot of flower arrangement.'
'I find it hangs like hell.'
They sat for some time longer in the sun, without speaking. Then the man in the homburg hat looked at his pocket watch and said:
'Well, I fear I must be going: we always have lunch at dead on twelve. If I'm not there she starts creating like fury*.'
'I must be going too,' Miss Treadwell said. 'I've my own lunch to get. And then I'm making new curtains for the sitting-room.'
'Ah! you're clever at that sort of thing?'
'Oh! I don't know about clever. As a matter of fact I don't think I am. I sort of mis-measured the windows and now I need yards and yards more material.'
‘I suppose that's the trouble with large windows.'
'Yes. Yes. However, we shall get over it. I know they have plenty more at the shop.'
The man in the homburg hat got up, put on his hat and then took it off again in a courteous gesture.
'Well, goodbye. It's been so nice to meet you. Oh! by the way my name is Thornhill.'
The butterfly imprisoned in its ice flashed in the sun.
'And you, Mr Thornhill.'
After that they began to meet at more or less the same spot, at more or less the same time, on most weekdays. The weather continued warm, sometimes even hot, and Miss Treadwell discarded the musquash coat and some of the newspaper under it, wearing instead a pale pink jersey dress and a pair of brown imitation crocodile shoes she had picked up for a shilling or two at a rummage sale.
'I'm feeling rather affluent today,' was the first remark with which Mr Thornhill greeted Miss Treadwell one morning. They had been meeting for nearly a month now.
'Oh? Why is that?'
'I've started to draw my pension*.' He laughed, rather against himself, pleasantly, I think it's rather funny. Do you have the pension yet?'
Oh! no, no, dear me no, Miss Treadwell said. She laughed too. Did he mind? She hadn't quite got as far as that yet. All in good time.
'Earlier in life one tends to rather despise the thought. And when the time comes it's rather nice. Well, I expect you won't be too proud to take it when it arrives?'
'Well, of course luckily I have private means.' It was a lie, but one had to keep up appearances. Miss Treadwell's means consisted of a small Post Office Savings Account from which she extracted a minute sum every Monday morning. T simply couldn't manage the apartment without.'
'Those curtains must have cost you a bit.'
'Oh! the earth. The absolute earth.'
'On the subject of affluence,' he suddenly said, T feel in honour bound to buy you a drink this morning. Would you?'
'But it's only half past eleven –'
'By the time we've walked to The Lansdowne Arms* it'll be twelve o'clock.'
'The Lansdowne Arms –'
Miss Treadwell, who couldn't afford to drink anyway, suddenly found herself confronted with impossible visions of grandeur and felt slightly frightened. Walking across the public gardens she kept her hands tightly folded in front of her, in case one or more of the newspapers should slip and fall down.
In the bar of The Lansdowne Arms all was wrapped in a red, subdued light. Like scarlet torches a great vase of gladioli flamed on the bar.
'Now name it,' Mr Thornhill said. 'Anything you like. After all it isn't every day a man becomes of age. Sherry, port, gin, whisky, beer? - what shall it be?'
Miss Treadwell hesitatingly confessed that she felt ever so slightly tempted towards a small sherry.
'Splendid. I'll have a sherry too. But a dry one. And make them,' he said to the waiting barman, 'large ones.'
Sherry in hand, Miss Treadwell sat bathed in dreams of grandeur that, for all their emergence into reality, were now more impossible than ever. The sherry warmed her throat, crawled snakily through her empty stomach and moistened her eyes. Mr Thornhill said 'cheers' several times and then suddenly burst out laughing.
'God, I wish my sister could see me now.'
He positively swigged at his sherry while Miss Treadwell gently sipped at hers.
'Hell. Why do the children of the same parents so often hate each other?'
To this question, almost barked out, Miss Treadwell had no answer and simply went on sipping her sherry.
'Some days the atmosphere in that house is poisonous. We hiss at each other like two snakes. One day –'
Miss Treadwell started to think up what seemed at first a presumptuous remark but another sip or two of sherry finally fortified her to make it.
'Perhaps if you gave her the ring it might help things –'
'Good God, what? Can't you just hear her? – "Oh! far be it from me to take the ring from you. If Alice had wished me to have the ring she would have left it to me. But the fact is she didn't, did she? Oh! no it's your ring. Not all the wild dogs in China" – that's one of her favourite maddening expressions, "all the wild dogs in China" –'
Mr Thornhill savagely drained his sherry glass.
'Have you ever known what it is to want to murder somebody?'
Oh! dear me no, Miss Treadwell said, her voice barely audible. Oh! dear me –
‘It's not funny.' Mr Thornhill said, it's not funny. Still, drink up. Second round. This is the day.'
Miss Treadwell started meekly to protest that really one was enough for her, but Mr Thornhill was already waving an expansive arm in the direction of the bar.
'Well, if you insist,' Miss Treadwell said, 'but only a very small one this time –'
Of course he insisted, Mr Thornhill said and snapped out the words 'Same again, barman,' only to retract them a second later.
'No, make mine whisky. A double Black-and-White.'
His sister didn't drink either, he went on to say. That made her sub-human for a start. A good drink now and then did a lot to make a person human, didn't Miss Treadwell agree?
The barman having brought the new drinks Mr Thornhill drank gaspily at his whisky, confessing that sherry really wasn't his tipple. With whisky a man had something. It – what did they say nowadays? – it sent you.
'We must do this more often. Make it an every morning thing.'
Mr Thornhill, having drunk half his whisky neat, now poured a little water into the rest of it, complaining at the same time that you didn't get much of a measure nowadays. In no time you were ready for another.
'By the way, did you finish your curtains?'
No, Miss Treadwell had to confess, she hadn't yet.
'Well, promise me something. When you do, invite me up to see them. Fair enough? I envy you that apartment of yours. 1 really envy you. God, it would be nice to live on one's own – Well, promise me?'
Well, it would be some time yet, Miss Treadwell found herself saying. Inwardly she trembled with cold apprehension. There had been some hitch about the material. The stock of the original yellow had run out and she hadn't been able to match it up.
'Well, all in good time. All in good time. But promise me?'
After a third large whisky Mr Thornhill gave the distinct impression of talking through a muslin bag. The folds of his neck were perceptibly reddened. From time to time he locked and unlocked the fingers of his two hands and finally, in one of these unsteady gestures, he took off the butterfly ring. To her infinite and tortured astonishment Miss Treadwell suddenly heard the words:
'You said something about giving the ring back to Beryl. Well, blast Beryl. I want to give it to you. Get what I mean?' He held out the bright imprisoned butterfly. 'Go on. Take it. Slip it on.'
'Mr Thornhill, I don't quite understand –'
'Go on. Third finger, left hand.'
The butterfly imprisoned in its ice sparkled. Miss Treadwell proceeded to lift her glass of sherry, only to find herself trembling so much that she had to set it down again. Mr Thornhill smacked the palms of his hands together and his voice was over-loud.
'You get what I'm asking you, don't you? It isn't always easy to say these things.'
Half-terrified, Miss Treadwell made yet another attempt to lift her glass of sherry. This time she managed to get it to her lips, spilling much of it down her chin. As she mopped at it with her handkerchief it appeared to Mr Thornhill that she might have been about to cry. She did in fact feel like crying and sat for some moments biting her lips hard, locked in impotent nervous distress.
'Well,' Mr Thornhill said. 'What say you? Do you know, I don't even know your Christian name.'
Mr Thornhill laughed tipsily.
'Doris, I'm asking you - yes I know - I expect you're going to say "this is all so sudden" –'
Well, it was, sort of, Miss Treadwell said. A vision of her bed-sitter, the dog-kennel, suddenly rose up to mock her. The loud plop of the gas-ring as she lit it echoed through her mind, extinguishing for a moment every thought. Again the imprisoned butterfly sparkled. A moment later, unsteadily grabbing at his glass, Mr Thornhill dropped the ring on the floor.
Picking it up, he was visibly trembling too.
'I thought perhaps we could both manage in your apartment with my pension and your – unless perhaps you'd prefer to be independent –'
Desperately, as never before in her life, Miss Treadwell sought to keep up appearances by taking her powder compact from her bag, looking into its mirror and slowly powdering her nose. The face she saw in the glass, pallid and stiff, seemed not to belong to her and hastily she shut the compact down.
'Well, what do you say?'
'I don't know what – well, anyway not today, Mr Thornhill. Please, not today.'
'Not Mister Thornhill. Harry. Tomorrow then? Same time, same place, tomorrow. Here.'
'I think I ought to go now, Mr Thornhill.'
'Harry, Harry please. Go, my foot. I'm going to have another whisky.' Mr ThornhilPs command of 'Same again' was so sharp and loud that a wire-haired terrier belonging to a tweeded gentleman at the far end of the bar yapped out a series of loud and agitated barks. In its feverish agitation it might well have been the echo of the voice of Miss Treadwell pleading for some sort of escape or mercy.
'Goodbye,' she said. 'I really must go.' Her voice was in fact barely audible. 'Goodbye – I really must go now –'
'Don't forget.' Mr Thornhill staggered unsteadily to his feet, eyes watering weakly, the imprisoned butterfly flashing again as he sought to shake her hand. 'Same time, same place –'
After that Miss Treadwell never sat in the public gardens again. She now goes, instead, to a park half a mile away. In the park is a small lake. In the centre of the lake is an island covered with low shrubbery and a number of wooden coops where ornamental water-birds, bright mallards, unusual geese and even moorhens can shelter.
Every morning Miss Treadwell, struggling always, with pride, to keep up appearances, takes with her a small bag of stale cakes or broken biscuits and throws them to the birds and then persuades herself it is sort of fun to watch which ones, greedy and squabbling, grab the biggest pieces first.
'Tomorrow,' she always tells herself. 'Same time, same place.'
She also reads the newspaper.
(United States) a jumble sale, a sale of old unwanted goods (often secondhand clothes) to raise money for charity
seven feet by ten
about two metres by three metres
ladies' public toilets
(dated informal) an exclamation to express surprise (Jove was an ancient Roman god)
creating like fury
(informal) getting very angry, making a terrible fuss
a sum of money paid regularly by the State to certain people; here, the pension would be the old age pension paid to men at the age of 65, and women at the age of 60
The Lansdowne Arms
the name of a local pub (public house)
1 Describe the ways in which Miss Treadwell keeps up appearances. Why do you think she feels it is important to do this?
2 Miss Treadwell and Mr Thornhill are both shown as rather pathetic figures. Do you think either of them is lonely? Who do you feel more sympathy for? Why?
3 Why do you think Miss Treadwell does not accept Mr ThornhilPs proposal? Is it because of shame, pride, fear, dislike or some other reason? Do you think she would have accepted him if he had known her true circumstances? Or indeed, if he had known them, would he have proposed marriage in the first place?
1 Words and word combinations to be memorized:
to keep up appearances to fall to pieces buxom ample apt domain
homburg hat turquoise diffidence
resurgence a courteous gesture affluent
to swig to sip
2 Make an outline of the text and give a close reproduction.
3 Ask 15 questions of different kind on the chapter.
4 Reproduce the episodes in which the following words or phrases are used:
a mere dog kennel Public Ladies
by all means a sort of charm
to have lunch at dead on twelve to draw my pension
to hiss at each other same time, same place
5 Find in the text words and phrases describing:
a) Miss Treadwell’s appearance,
b) Miss Treadwell’s apartment,
c) Miss Treadwell’s habits,
d) Mr Thornhill
6 Be ready to discuss the language of the text, the subject and the ideas expressed.
7 What words and expressions does Miss Treadwell use to give the impression to Mr Thornhill that she is quite well-off? Make a list of them. How many of these are direct untruths, and how many are open to misinterpretation, and so become untruthful only because of the way Mr Thornhill interprets them?
8 Mr Thornhill's ring is mentioned several times during the story - 'the butterfly imprisoned in ice'. Mr Thornhill explains it is a 'symbol of the resurgence of spring over winter'. What else in the story do you think it could symbolize?
1 Imagine that Miss Treadwell and Mr Thornhill meet by chance a year after the story. What do they say to each other? Write their dialogue.
2 Suppose Miss Treadwell had accepted Mr Thornhill's proposal. Write a new ending for the story. What does Mr Thornhill's sister do? Do Mr Thornhill and Miss Treadwell live happily ever after, or does the story have a tragic ending?