(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

At six o’clock one afternoon, Jenny Blanchard, a milliner’s assistant, returned on the tram from her place of work in London’s West End to her home in Kennington Park, a suburb south of the Thames River. As the tram passed over the dark Thames, she felt a sense of great unhappiness and frustration; but the mysterious quality of her reflection in the tram window gave her momentary satisfaction.

The Blanchard house was one of a row of identical houses in Kennington Park. There Jenny and her sister Emmy took care of their semi-invalid father, who lived on a pension and on money that Jenny earned at the milliner’s shop. Emmy was older than Jenny and served as the housekeeper; she stayed at home to prepare meals and to look after Pa Blanchard. The sisters were quite different in personality, character, and appearance. Jenny was thin, tall, rather beautiful, and of an independent nature. Emmy was plain, domestic, and dependent. The sisters, however, shared a frustration brought on by commonplace routine and dull existence.

Jenny began a quarrel when she expressed her intense dislike for their supper of stew and bread pudding; she felt, somehow, that she was entitled to better fare, but she was sure that the colorless Emmy enjoyed stew and pudding. Jealousy and frustration gave rise to bitter words between the two sisters. Emmy was also upset because Jenny kept company with Alf Rylett, whom she herself wanted. Jenny disdainfully offered Emmy her share of Alf and said that she kept company with him only for diversion.

After supper, as Jenny was preparing to remake a hat, Alf entered and told her that he had two tickets to the local theater. Jenny tricked Alf into asking Emmy to go with him. While Emmy was changing, Jenny parried Alf’s protestations of love. Emmy, appearing actually lovely after her change, swallowed her pride and went with Alf, whom she idolized. It was eight o’clock.

Jenny put Pa to bed and resumed work on her hat. She...

(The entire section is 815 words.)