Set in a rural coal-mining village, this dynamic portrayal of family life among laborers revolves around an able young housewife, Elizabeth Bates. A strong, handsome woman, she has been disappointed in her husband’s recent inclination to go drinking regularly, depleting her meager household finances. The time frame of the story is from late afternoon, when the miners are walking home from their shift, until just before midnight.
Elizabeth and her husband, Walter, are both natives of the region; the story opens with a visit by Elizabeth’s father, a widower who operates one of the locomotives that carry coal from the Brinsley Colliery. He announces to Elizabeth that he intends to marry again, and she questions whether it has been long enough since her mother’s death. The subject of marriage is a sore point for Elizabeth because of her own experience: She is a woman who has been disillusioned, and she is bitter over Walter’s behavior. However, she prepares bread and butter for her father, in addition to the cup of tea he requests, and after he leaves, she prepares supper, listening for Walter’s footsteps among the miners passing on the lane outside the kitchen on their way home from work.
When Walter does not come, she assumes that he has sneaked past to the local pub, and she fears that his usual Saturday night drinking spree is to become a twice-a-week routine. As she feeds the children, John and Annie, the deep emotional bonds between mother and children are presented in the rich simplicity of a typical domestic scene. This simplicity is complicated by their mutual concern for the father’s absence. However, Elizabeth refuses to allow the children to become upset; she banters with them over lighting the lamp and over a sprig of chrysanthemums, which Annie discovers Elizabeth had placed in her apron strings earlier in the afternoon. The children are delighted that their mother has decorated herself with the flowers, and they remark on their beautiful smell. Elizabeth declares, however, that the chrysanthemums do not smell beautiful to her: She says, with a short laugh, that these were the flowers of her wedding, the flowers of the children’s births,...
(The entire section is 894 words.)