Vera

Lucy recognised the cover of one of them at once, it was Wuthering Heights.

Miss Entwhistle took it up, read its title in silence, and put it down again.

The next one was Emily Brontë’s collected poems.

Miss Entwhistle took it up, read its title in silence, and put it down again.

The third one was Thomas Hardy’s Time’s Laughing-Stocks.

Miss Entwhistle took it up, read its title in silence, and put it down again.

The other three were Baedekers.

‘Well, I don’t think there’s anything I want to read here,’ she said.

Lizzie asked if she should take them away then, and bring some more; and presently she reappeared with another armful.

These were all Baedekers.

‘Curious,’ said Miss Entwhistle.

Then Lucy remembered that she, too, beneath her distress on Saturday when she pulled out one after the other of Vera’s books in her haste to understand her, to get comfort, to get, almost she hoped, counsel, had felt surprise at the number of Baedekers. The greater proportion of the books in Vera’s shelves were guide-books and time-tables. But there had been other things,—’If you were to bring some out of a different part of the bookcase,’ she suggested to Lizzie; who thereupon removed the Baedekers, and presently reappeared with more books.

This time they were miscellaneous, and Miss Entwhistle turned them over with a kind of reverential reluctance. That poor thing; this day last year she was probably reading them herself. It seemed sacrilege for two strangers…. Merciful that one couldn’t see into the future. What would the poor creature have thought of the picture presented at that moment,—the figure in the blue dressing-gown, sitting in the middle of all the things that had been hers such a very little while before? Well, perhaps she would have been glad they weren’t hers any longer, glad that she had finished, was done with them. These books suggested such tiredness, such a—yes, such a wish for escape…. There was more Hardy,—all the poems this time in one volume. There was Pater—The Child in the House and Emerald Uthwart—Miss Entwhistle, familiar with these, shook her head: that peculiar dwelling on death in them, that queer, fascinated inability to get away from it, that beautiful but sick wistfulness no, she certainly wouldn’t read these. There was a book called In the Strange South Seas; and another about some island in the Pacific; and another about life in the desert; and one or two others, more of the flamboyant guide-book order, describing remote, glowing places….

Suddenly Miss Entwhistle felt uncomfortable. She put down the book she was holding, and folded her hands in her lap and gazed out of the window at the hills on the other side of the river. She felt as if she had been prying, and prying unpardonably. The books people read,—was there ever anything more revealing? No, she refused to examine Vera’s books further. And apart from that horrible feeling of prying upon somebody defenceless, upon somebody pitiful, she didn’t wish to allow the thought these books suggested to get any sort of hold on her mind.

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