My mother never came to meet me at Bursley station when I arrived in the Five Towns from London. She always had other things to do; she was getting ready for me. So I always walked alone up Trafalgar Road, between the factories and past the football field. And so tonight, I had time to think. I had some very important news for my mother, and I didn't know how to tell her.
I wrote to my mother every week, to tell her what I was doing. She knew the names of all my friends. I often wrote about Agnes and her family. But it's difficult to write in a letter: 'I think Agnes likes me,' 'I'm in love with her,' 'I'm sure she likes me,' 'I think she loves me,' 'I'm going to ask her to marry me.' You can't do that. Well, I couldn't do it. And on the 20th December I asked Agnes to marry me, and Agnes said yes. But my mother didn't know anything about it. And now, on the 22nd December, I was coming to spend Christmas with my mother.
My mother was a widow. I was her only son — and now I was engaged and she didn't know. I was afraid she was going to be a little unhappy, and I was ready for a difficult evening.
I walked up to the front door, but before I put my hand up to ring, the door opened and there was my mother. She put her arms around me.
Well, Philip! How are you?'
And I said, 'Oh! I'm all right, mother. How are you?'
She smiled at me. She looked excited and younger than her forty-five years. There was something strange in her smile. I thought: 'She knows I'm going to get married. How does she know?'
But I said nothing. You have to be careful with mothers.
I'll tell her at supper,' I decided.
I went upstairs to my bedroom. When I came down, my mother was busy in the kitchen. I went into the dining room, and here I had a surprise. There were three chairs around the table, and three plates and three glasses.
So Agnes was coming! I didn't know how my mother knew, but she did know. She and my wonderful Agnes were planning a surprise for me. Agnes was coming to Bursley for Christmas!
There was a ring at the door. 'It's Agnes!' I thought, and running to the door, I opened it.
It was Mr Nixon.
Mr Nixon was an old friend of the family. He was a large, strong man of about forty-nine or fifty. He was very helpful to my mother after my father's death.
Good evening, young man,' he said. 'It's good to see you back in Bursley.'
Mr Nixon has come for supper, Philip,' said my mother.
Mr Nixon often came to supper during my visits to Bursley, but never on the first night. I liked him, but I wasn't very happy to see him tonight because I wanted to talk to my mother. I couldn't talk to her about Agnes with Mr Nixon sitting at the table.
We started our supper. We talked about this and that, but nobody ate very much. I was thinking about what to say to my mother when Mr Nixon went home. At the end of the meal I told my mother that I must go to the post office. I had an important letter to post.
Can't it wait until tomorrow, my pet?' my mother asked.
It can't,' I said.
My letter, of course, was to Agnes. A letter to Agnes could not wait until tomorrow! I walked over to the dining room door.
A letter to a lady?' asked Mr Nixon, laughing.
Yes,' I replied.
I walked to the post office and posted my letter. When I got back home, I was sorry to see that Mr Nixon was still there. He was alone in the sitting-room, smoking.
Where's mother?' I asked.
She's just gone out of the room,' he said. 'Come and sit down. Have a cigarette. I'd like to talk to you, Philip.'
I took a cigarette and sat down. I hoped the talk was not going to be a long one.
Well, my boy,' he said. 'Would you like me as a stepfather?'
For a second I could not move or speak.
What?' I said. 'You mean... you and my mother...?'
Yes, my boy, I do. I asked her yesterday, and she said yes. I've wanted to ask her for a long time — I think she knew that. Did she tell you in her letters? No? It's difficult to write in a letter, of course. She couldn't really write, "My dear Philip, an old friend, Mr Nixon, is falling in love with me and I think I'm falling in love with him. I think he'll ask me to marry him soon." I don't think your mother could write that, could she?'
Shake hands,' I said. 'This is wonderful news.'
After a moment my mother came in, a little red in the face.
The boy's very happy, Sarah,' said Mr Nixon.
I said nothing about my own plans that evening. It was something new to me that my mother could fall in love, and that a man could fall in love with her. It was something new to me that she was lonely in our old house and that perhaps she wanted a new life. Perhaps, like all sons, I thought only about myself and my life. So I decided to say nothing about my news, and that evening my mother came first for me. I could tell her about Agnes tomorrow. We live and learn.