(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Mary fell in love with the baker’s boy. When he deserted her, she went home, with country-bred fortitude, to bear her child. After Minnie was born, Mary received a proposal from Bert Gooderich, a stolid machinist. Bert offered nothing in the way of romance, but Mary accepted him thankfully. They settled in suburban London. In time Bert Junior was born, and later Hannibal.

Young Bert early showed a talent for fighting. He was big and strong and led the graders against the boarder pupils and the parochial boys. Noting his carefully planned skirmishes, the school inspector, an old army man, resolved to keep the boy in mind. His resolution was strengthened when Bert blurted out in school that he hoped to be a soldier. A few years later, the inspector encouraged the boy to enlist. Young Bert’s career in the army, however, was short. He was killed at Pretoria.

Minnie was difficult. She was thin and reserved, and her mother, feeling powerless to mold her, finally let her go her own way. Minnie became engaged to a coal clerk but broke the engagement publicly when her fiance asked her if she smoked.

Minnie worked at a shop where she retouched photographs. One day an American firm took over the place and introduced machines. Let out for a time, she refused to go back on the usual terms. Mary begged her to take back the coal clerk, but Minnie was adamant.

Next to the Gooderich family lived an American woman, Mrs. Gaynor, and her small son Hiram. Mrs. Gaynor wrote an odd letter of reference for Minnie, which stated that the girl was proud, stubborn, and conceited. She sent the girl with the letter to Mrs. Wilfley, who was having a party when Minnie arrived at the door. Despite her assurance, the girl was afraid to go in, but middle-aged Anthony Gilfillan helped her to overcome her shyness. Minnie attended the party, listened to Spanish music, and ate cucumber sandwiches. She kept close to Anthony.

After the company had left, Mrs. Wilfley engaged Minnie as her secretary. When Bert Gooderich fell off a bridge one night and was drowned, Mrs. Wilfley promptly arranged a benefit for the family, a musicale which grossed seventy-four pounds. Mrs. Wilfley’s fee was sixty-seven pounds; the bereaved family got only seven, and Minnie was bitter on the subject.

One day Anthony Gilfillan sent a telegram to Minnie and asked her to meet him at his office. He offered her a way to escape from the life she hated. They went away to the Continent.

Five years later Minnie,...

(The entire section is 1034 words.)