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Why The Clock Stopped
by [?]


Mr Morfe and Mary Morfe, his sister, were sitting on either side of their drawing-room fire, on a Friday evening in November, when they heard a ring at the front door. They both started, and showed symptoms of nervous disturbance. They both said aloud that no doubt it was a parcel or something of the kind that had rung at the front door. And they both bent their eyes again on the respective books which they were reading. Then they heard voices in the lobby–the servant’s voice and another voice–and a movement of steps over the encaustic tiles towards the door of the drawing-room. And Miss Morfe ejaculated:


As though she was unwilling to believe that somebody on the other side of that drawing-room door contemplated committing a social outrage, she nevertheless began to fear the possibility.

In the ordinary course it is not considered outrageous to enter a drawing-room–even at nine o’clock at night–with the permission and encouragement of the servant in charge of portals. But the case of the Morfes was peculiar. Mr Morfe was a bachelor aged forty-two, and looked older. Mary Morfe was a spinster aged thirty-eight, and looked thirty-seven. Brother and sister had kept house together for twenty years. They were passionately and profoundly attached to each other–and did not know it. They grumbled at each other freely, and practised no more conversation, when they were alone, than the necessities of existence demanded (even at meals they generally read), but still their mutual affection was tremendous. Moreover, they were very firmly fixed in their habits. Now one of these habits was never to entertain company on Friday night. Friday night was their night of solemn privacy. The explanation of this habit offers a proof of the sentimental relations between them.

Mr Morfe was an accountant. Indeed, he was the accountant in Bursley, and perhaps he knew more secrets of the ledgers of the principal earthenware manufacturers than some of the manufacturers did themselves. But he did not live for accountancy. At five o’clock every evening he was capable of absolutely forgetting it. He lived for music. He was organist of Saint Luke’s Church (with an industrious understudy–for he did not always rise for breakfast on Sundays) and, more important, he was conductor of the Bursley Orpheus Glee and Madrigal Club. And herein lay the origin of those Friday nights. A glee and madrigal club naturally comprises women as well as men; and the women are apt to be youngish, prettyish, and somewhat fond of music. Further, the conductorship of a choir involves many and various social encounters. Now Mary Morfe was jealous. Though Richard Morfe ruled his choir with whips, though his satiric tongue was a scorpion to the choir, though he never looked twice at any woman, though she was always saying that she wished he would marry, Mary Morfe was jealous. It was Mary Morfe who had created the institution of the Friday night, and she had created it in order to prove, symbolically and spectacularly, to herself, to him, and to the world, that he and she lived for each other alone. All their friends, every member of the choir, in fact the whole of the respectable part of barsley, knew quite well that in the Morfes’ house Friday was sacredly Friday.

And yet a caller!

“It’s a woman,” murmured Mary. Until her ear had assured her of this fact she had seemed to be more disturbed than startled by the stir in the lobby.

And it was a woman. It was Miss Eva Harracles, one of the principal contraltos in the glee and madrigal club. She entered richly blushing, and excusably a little nervous and awkward. She was a tall, agreeable creature of fewer than thirty years, dark, almost handsome, with fine lips and eyes, and an effective large hat and a good muff. In every physical way a marked contrast to the thin, prim, desiccated brother and sister.