The Old Wives' Tale, by Arnold Bennett

Chapter 7

A Defeat

i

It was during the month of June that Aunt Harriet came over from Axe to spend a few days with her little sister, Mrs. Baines. The railway between Axe and the Five Towns had not yet been opened; but even if it had been opened Aunt Harriet would probably not have used it. She had always travelled from Axe to Bursley in the same vehicle, a small waggonette which she hired from Bratt’s livery stables at Axe, driven by a coachman who thoroughly understood the importance, and the peculiarities, of Aunt Harriet.

Mrs. Baines had increased in stoutness, so that now Aunt Harriet had very little advantage over her, physically. But the moral ascendency of the elder still persisted. The two vast widows shared Mrs. Baines’s bedroom, spending much of their time there in long, hushed conversations — interviews from which Mrs. Baines emerged with the air of one who has received enlightenment and Aunt Harriet with the air of one who has rendered it. The pair went about together, in the shop, the showroom, the parlour, the kitchen, and also into the town, addressing each other as ‘Sister,’ ‘Sister.’ Everywhere it was ‘sister,’ ‘sister,’ ‘my sister,’ ‘your dear mother,’ ‘your Aunt Harriet.’ They referred to each other as oracular sources of wisdom and good taste. Respectability stalked abroad when they were afoot. The whole Square wriggled uneasily as though God’s eye were peculiarly upon it. The meals in the parlour became solemn collations, at which shone the best silver and the finest diaper, but from which gaiety and naturalness seemed to be banished. (I say ‘seemed’ because it cannot be doubted that Aunt Harriet was natural, and there were moments when she possibly considered herself to be practising gaiety — a gaiety more desolating than her severity.) The younger generation was extinguished, pressed flat and lifeless under the ponderosity of the widows.

Mr. Povey was not the man to be easily flattened by ponderosity of any kind, and his suppression was a striking proof of the prowess of the widows; who, indeed, went over Mr. Povey like traction-engines, with the sublime unconsciousness of traction-engines, leaving an inanimate object in the road behind them, and scarce aware even of the jolt. Mr. Povey hated Aunt Harriet, but, lying crushed there in the road, how could he rebel? He felt all the time that Aunt Harriet was adding him up, and reporting the result at frequent intervals to Mrs. Baines in the bedroom. He felt that she knew everything about him — even to those tears which had been in his eyes. He felt that he could hope to do nothing right for Aunt Harriet, that absolute perfection in the performance of duty would make no more impression on her than a caress on the fly-wheel of a traction-engine. Constance, the dear Constance, was also looked at askance. There was nothing in Aunt Harriet’s demeanour to her that you could take hold of, but there was emphatically something that you could not take hold of — a hint, an inkling, that insinuated to Constance, “Have a care, lest peradventure you become the second cousin of the scarlet woman.”

Sophia was petted. Sophia was liable to be playfully tapped by Aunt Harriet’s thimble when Aunt Harriet was hemming dusters (for the elderly lady could lift a duster to her own dignity). Sophia was called on two separate occasions, ‘My little butterfly.’ And Sophia was entrusted with the trimming of Aunt Harriet’s new summer bonnet. Aunt Harriet deemed that Sophia was looking pale. As the days passed, Sophia’s pallor was emphasized by Aunt Harriet until it developed into an article of faith, to which you were compelled to subscribe on pain of excommunication. Then dawned the day when Aunt Harriet said, staring at Sophia as an affectionate aunt may: “That child would do with a change.” And then there dawned another day when Aunt Harriet, staring at Sophia compassionately, as a devoted aunt may, said: “It’s a pity that child can’t have a change.” And Mrs. Baines also stared — and said: “It is.”

And on another day Aunt Harriet said: “I’ve been wondering whether my little Sophia would care to come and keep her old aunt company a while.”

There were few things for which Sophia would have cared less. The girl swore to herself angrily that she would not go, that no allurement would induce her to go. But she was in a net; she was in the meshes of family correctness. Do what she would, she could not invent a reason for not going. Certainly she could not tell her aunt that she merely did not want to go. She was capable of enormities, but not of that. And then began Aunt Harriet’s intricate preparations for going. Aunt Harriet never did anything simply. And she could not be hurried. Seventy-two hours before leaving she had to commence upon her trunk; but first the trunk had to be wiped by Maggie with a damp cloth under the eye and direction of Aunt Harriet. And the liveryman at Axe had to be written to, and the servants at Axe written to, and the weather prospects weighed and considered. And somehow, by the time these matters were accomplished, it was tacitly understood that Sophia should accompany her kind aunt into the bracing moorland air of Axe. No smoke at Axe! No stuffiness at Axe! The spacious existence of a wealthy widow in a residential town with a low death-rate and famous scenery! “Have you packed your box, Sophia?” No, she had not. “Well, I will come and help you.”

Impossible to bear up against the momentum of a massive body like Aunt Harriet’s! It was irresistible.

The day of departure came, throwing the entire household into a commotion. Dinner was put a quarter of an hour earlier than usual so that Aunt Harriet might achieve Axe at her accustomed hour of tea. After dinner Maggie was the recipient of three amazing muslin aprons, given with a regal gesture. And the trunk and the box were brought down, and there was a slight odour of black kid gloves in the parlour. The waggonette was due and the waggonette appeared (“I can always rely upon Bladen!” said Aunt Harriet), and the door was opened, and Bladen, stiff on his legs, descended from the box and touched his hat to Aunt Harriet as she filled up the doorway.

“Have you baited, Bladen?” asked she.

“Yes’m,” said he, assuringly.

Bladen and Mr. Povey carried out the trunk and the box, and Constance charged herself with parcels which she bestowed in the corners of the vehicle according to her aunt’s prescription; it was like stowing the cargo of a vessel.

“Now, Sophia, my chuck!” Mrs. Baines called up the stairs. And Sophia came slowly downstairs. Mrs. Baines offered her mouth. Sophia glanced at her.

“You needn’t think I don’t see why you’re sending me away!” exclaimed Sophia in a hard, furious voice, with glistening eyes. “I’m not so blind as all that!” She kissed her mother — nothing but a contemptuous peck. Then, as she turned away she added: “But you let Constance do just as she likes!”

This was her sole bitter comment on the episode, but into it she put all the profound bitterness accumulated during many mutinous nights.

Mrs. Baines concealed a sigh. The explosion certainly disturbed her. She had hoped that the smooth surface of things would not be ruffled.

Sophia bounced out. And the assembly, including several urchins, watched with held breath while Aunt Harriet, after having bid majestic good-byes, got on to the step and introduced herself through the doorway of the waggonette into the interior of the vehicle; it was an operation like threading a needle with cotton too thick. Once within, her hoops distended in sudden release, filling the waggonette. Sophia followed, agilely.

As, with due formalities, the equipage drove off, Mrs. Baines gave another sigh, one of relief. The sisters had won. She could now await the imminent next advent of Mr. Gerald Scales with tranquillity.

ii

Those singular words of Sophia’s, ‘But you let Constance do just as she likes,’ had disturbed Mrs. Baines more than was at first apparent. They worried her like a late fly in autumn. For she had said nothing to any one about Constance’s case, Mrs. Maddack of course excepted. She had instinctively felt that she could not show the slightest leniency towards the romantic impulses of her elder daughter without seeming unjust to the younger, and she had acted accordingly. On the memorable morn of Mr. Povey’s acute jealousy, she had, temporarily at any rate, slaked the fire, banked it down, and hidden it; and since then no word had passed as to the state of Constance’s heart. In the great peril to be feared from Mr. Scales, Constance’s heart had been put aside as a thing that could wait; so one puts aside the mending of linen when earthquake shocks are about. Mrs. Baines was sure that Constance had not chattered to Sophia concerning Mr. Povey. Constance, who understood her mother, had too much commonsense and too nice a sense of propriety to do that — and yet here was Sophia exclaiming, ‘But you let Constance do just as she likes.’ Were the relations between Constance and Mr. Povey, then, common property? Did the young lady assistants discuss them?

As a fact, the young lady assistants did discuss them; not in the shop — for either one of the principal parties, or Mrs. Baines herself, was always in the shop, but elsewhere. They discussed little else, when they were free; how she had looked at him today, and how he had blushed, and so forth interminably. Yet Mrs. Baines really thought that she alone knew. Such is the power of the ineradicable delusion that one’s own affairs, and especially one’s own children, are mysteriously different from those of others.

After Sophia’s departure Mrs. Baines surveyed her daughter and her manager at supper-time with a curious and a diffident eye. They worked, talked, and ate just as though Mrs. Baines had never caught them weeping together in the cutting-out room. They had the most matter-of-fact air. They might never have heard whispered the name of love. And there could be no deceit beneath that decorum; for Constance would not deceive. Still, Mrs. Baines’s conscience was unruly. Order reigned, but nevertheless she knew that she ought to do something, find out something, decide something; she ought, if she did her duty, to take Constance aside and say: “Now, Constance, my mind is freer now. Tell me frankly what has been going on between you and Mr. Povey. I have never understood the meaning of that scene in the cutting-out room. Tell me.” She ought to have talked in this strain. But she could not. That energetic woman had not sufficient energy left. She wanted rest, rest — even though it were a coward’s rest, an ostrich’s tranquillity — after the turmoil of apprehensions caused by Sophia. Her soul cried out for peace. She was not, however, to have peace.

On the very first Sunday after Sophia’s departure, Mr. Povey did not go to chapel in the morning, and he offered no reason for his unusual conduct. He ate his breakfast with appetite, but there was something peculiar in his glance that made Mrs. Baines a little uneasy; this something she could not seize upon and define. When she and Constance returned from chapel Mr. Povey was playing “Rock of Ages” on the harmonium — again unusual! The serious part of the dinner comprised roast beef and Yorkshire pudding — the pudding being served as a sweet course before the meat. Mrs. Baines ate freely of these things, for she loved them, and she was always hungry after a sermon. She also did well with the Cheshire cheese. Her intention was to sleep in the drawing-room after the repast. On Sunday afternoons she invariably tried to sleep in the drawing-room, and she did not often fail. As a rule the girls accompanied her thither from the table, and either ‘settled down’ likewise or crept out of the room when they perceived the gradual sinking of the majestic form into the deep hollows of the easy-chair. Mrs. Baines was anticipating with pleasure her somnolent Sunday afternoon.

Constance said grace after meat, and the formula on this particular occasion ran thus —

“Thank God for our good dinner, Amen. — Mother, I must just run upstairs to my room.” (‘MY room’-Sophia being far away.)

And off she ran, strangely girlish.

“Well, child, you needn’t be in such a hurry,” said Mrs. Baines, ringing the bell and rising.

She hoped that Constance would remember the conditions precedent to sleep.

“I should like to have a word with you, if it’s all the same to you, Mrs. Baines,” said Mr. Povey suddenly, with obvious nervousness. And his tone struck a rude unexpected blow at Mrs. Baines’s peace of mind. It was a portentous tone.

“What about?” asked she, with an inflection subtly to remind Mr. Povey what day it was.

“About Constance,” said the astonishing man.

“Constance!” exclaimed Mrs. Baines with a histrionic air of bewilderment.

Maggie entered the room, solely in response to the bell, yet a thought jumped up in Mrs. Baines’s brain, “How prying servants are, to be sure!” For quite five seconds she had a grievance against Maggie. She was compelled to sit down again and wait while Maggie cleared the table. Mr. Povey put both his hands in his pockets, got up, went to the window, whistled, and generally behaved in a manner which foretold the worst.

At last Maggie vanished, shutting the door.

“What is it, Mr. Povey?”

“Oh!” said Mr. Povey, facing her with absurd nervous brusqueness, as though pretending: “Ah, yes! We have something to say — I was forgetting!” Then he began: “It’s about Constance and me.”

Yes, they had evidently plotted this interview. Constance had evidently taken herself off on purpose to leave Mr. Povey unhampered. They were in league. The inevitable had come. No sleep! No repose! Nothing but worry once more!

“I’m not at all satisfied with the present situation,” said Mr. Povey, in a tone that corresponded to his words.

“I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Povey,” said Mrs. Baines stiffly. This was a simple lie.

“Well, really, Mrs. Baines!” Mr. Povey protested, “I suppose you won’t deny that you know there is something between me and Constance? I suppose you won’t deny that?”

“What is there between you and Constance? I can assure you I—”

“That depends on you,” Mr. Povey interrupted her. When he was nervous his manners deteriorated into a behaviour that resembled rudeness. “That depends on you!” he repeated grimly.

“But —”

“Are we to be engaged or are we not?” pursued Mr. Povey, as though Mrs. Baines had been guilty of some grave lapse and he was determined not to spare her. “That’s what I think ought to be settled, one way or the other. I wish to be perfectly open and aboveboard — in the future, as I have been in the past.”

“But you have said nothing to me at all!” Mrs. Baines remonstrated, lifting her eyebrows. The way in which the man had sprung this matter upon her was truly too audacious.

Mr. Povey approached her as she sat at the table, shaking her ringlets and looking at her hands.

“You know there’s something between us!” he insisted.

“How should I know there is something between you? Constance has never said a word to me. And have you?”

“Well,” said he. “We’ve hidden nothing.”

“What is there between you and Constance? If I may ask!”

“That depends on you,” said he again.

“Have you asked her to be your wife?”

“No. I haven’t exactly asked her to be my wife.” He hesitated. “You see —”

Mrs. Baines collected her forces. “Have you kissed her?” This in a cold voice.

Mr. Povey now blushed. “I haven’t exactly kissed her,” he stammered, apparently shocked by the inquisition. “No, I should not say that I had kissed her.”

It might have been that before committing himself he felt a desire for Mrs. Baines’s definition of a kiss.

“You are very extraordinary,” she said loftily. It was no less than the truth.

“All I want to know is — have you got anything against me?” he demanded roughly. “Because if so —”

“Anything against you, Mr. Povey? Why should I have anything against you?”

“Then why can’t we be engaged?”

She considered that he was bullying her. “That’s another question,” said she.

“Why can’t we be engaged? Ain’t I good enough?”

The fact was that he was not regarded as good enough. Mrs. Maddack had certainly deemed that he was not good enough. He was a solid mass of excellent qualities; but he lacked brilliance, importance, dignity. He could not impose himself. Such had been the verdict.

And now, while Mrs. Baines was secretly reproaching Mr. Povey for his inability to impose himself, he was most patently imposing himself on her — and the phenomenon escaped her! She felt that he was bullying her, but somehow she could not perceive his power. Yet the man who could bully Mrs. Baines was surely no common soul!

“You know my very high opinion of you,” she said.

Mr. Povey pursued in a mollified tone. “Assuming that Constance is willing to be engaged, do I understand you consent?”

“But Constance is too young.”

“Constance is twenty. She is more than twenty.”

“In any case you won’t expect me to give you an answer now.”

“Why not? You know my position.”

She did. From a practical point of view the match would be ideal: no fault could be found with it on that side. But Mrs. Baines could not extinguish the idea that it would be a ‘come-down’ for her daughter. Who, after all, was Mr. Povey? Mr. Povey was nobody.

“I must think things over,” she said firmly, putting her lips together. “I can’t reply like this. It is a serious matter.”

“When can I have your answer? To-morrow?”

“No — really —”

“In a week, then?”

“I cannot bind myself to a date,” said Mrs. Baines, haughtily. She felt that she was gaining ground.

“Because I can’t stay on here indefinitely as things are,” Mr. Povey burst out, and there was a touch of hysteria in his tone.

“Now, Mr. Povey, please do be reasonable.”

“That’s all very well,” he went on. “That’s all very well. But what I say is that employers have no right to have male assistants in their houses unless they are prepared to let their daughters marry! That’s what I say! No RIGHT!”

Mrs. Baines did not know what to answer.

The aspirant wound up: “I must leave if that’s the case.”

“If what’s the case?” she asked herself. “What has come over him?” And aloud: “You know you would place me in a very awkward position by leaving, and I hope you don’t want to mix up two quite different things. I hope you aren’t trying to threaten me.”

“Threaten you!” he cried. “Do you suppose I should leave here for fun? If I leave it will be because I can’t stand it. That’s all. I can’t stand it. I want Constance, and if I can’t have her, then I can’t stand it. What do you think I’m made of?”

“I’m sure —” she began.

“That’s all very well!” he almost shouted.

“But please let me speak,’ she said quietly.

“All I say is I can’t stand it. That’s all. . . . Employers have no right. . . . We have our feelings like other men.”

He was deeply moved. He might have appeared somewhat grotesque to the strictly impartial observer of human nature. Nevertheless he was deeply and genuinely moved, and possibly human nature could have shown nothing more human than Mr. Povey at the moment when, unable any longer to restrain the paroxysm which had so surprisingly overtaken him, he fled from the parlour, passionately, to the retreat of his bedroom.

“That’s the worst of those quiet calm ones,” said Mrs. Baines to herself. “You never know if they won’t give way. And when they do, it’s awful — awful. . . . What did I do, what did I say, to bring it on? Nothing! Nothing!”

And where was her afternoon sleep? What was going to happen to her daughter? What could she say to Constance? How next could she meet Mr. Povey? Ah! It needed a brave, indomitable woman not to cry out brokenly: “I’ve suffered too much. Do anything you like; only let me die in peace!” And so saying, to let everything indifferently slide!

iii

Neither Mr. Povey nor Constance introduced the delicate subject to her again, and she was determined not to be the first to speak of it. She considered that Mr. Povey had taken advantage of his position, and that he had also been infantile and impolite. And somehow she privately blamed Constance for his behaviour. So the matter hung, as it were, suspended in the ether between the opposing forces of pride and passion.

Shortly afterwards events occurred compared to which the vicissitudes of Mr. Povey’s heart were of no more account than a shower of rain in April. And fate gave no warning of them; it rather indicated a complete absence of events. When the customary advice circular arrived from Birkinshaws, the name of ‘our Mr. Gerald Scales’ was replaced on it by another and an unfamiliar name. Mrs. Baines, seeing the circular by accident, experienced a sense of relief, mingled with the professional disappointment of a diplomatist who has elaborately provided for contingencies which have failed to happen. She had sent Sophia away for nothing; and no doubt her maternal affection had exaggerated a molehill into a mountain. Really, when she reflected on the past, she could not recall a single fact that would justify her theory of an attachment secretly budding between Sophia and the young man Scales! Not a single little fact! All she could bring forward was that Sophia had twice encountered Scales in the street.

She felt a curious interest in the fate of Scales, for whom in her own mind she had long prophesied evil, and when Birkinshaws’ representative came she took care to be in the shop; her intention was to converse with him, and ascertain as much as was ascertainable, after Mr. Povey had transacted business. For this purpose, at a suitable moment, she traversed the shop to Mr. Povey’s side, and in so doing she had a fleeting view of King Street, and in King Street of a familiar vehicle. She stopped, and seemed to catch the distant sound of knocking. Abandoning the traveller, she hurried towards the parlour, in the passage she assuredly did hear knocking, angry and impatient knocking, the knocking of someone who thinks he has knocked too long.

“Of course Maggie is at the top of the house!” she muttered sarcastically.

She unchained, unbolted, and unlocked the side-door.

“At last!” It was Aunt Harriet’s voice, exacerbated. “What! You, sister? You’re soon up. What a blessing!”

The two majestic and imposing creatures met on the mat, craning forward so that their lips might meet above their terrific bosoms.

“What’s the matter?” Mrs. Baines asked, fearfully.

“Well, I do declare!” said Mrs. Maddack. “And I’ve driven specially over to ask you!”

“Where’s Sophia?” demanded Mrs. Baines.

“You don’t mean to say she’s not come, sister?” Mrs. Maddack sank down on to the sofa.

“Come?” Mrs. Baines repeated. “Of course she’s not come! What do you mean, sister?”

“The very moment she got Constance’s letter yesterday, saying you were ill in bed and she’d better come over to help in the shop, she started. I got Bratt’s dog-cart for her.”

Mrs. Baines in her turn also sank down on to the sofa.

“I’ve not been ill,” she said. “And Constance hasn’t written for a week! Only yesterday I was telling her —”

“Sister — it can’t be! Sophia had letters from Constance every morning. At least she said they were from Constance. I told her to be sure and write me how you were last night, and she promised faithfully she would. And it was because I got nothing by this morning’s post that I decided to come over myself, to see if it was anything serious.”

“Serious it is!” murmured Mrs. Baines.

“What —”

“Sophia’s run off. That’s the plain English of it!” said Mrs. Baines with frigid calm.

“Nay! That I’ll never believe. I’ve looked after Sophia night and day as if she was my own, and —”

“If she hasn’t run off, where is she?”

Mrs. Maddack opened the door with a tragic gesture.

“Bladen,” she called in a loud voice to the driver of the waggonette, who was standing on the pavement.

“Yes’m.”

“It was Pember drove Miss Sophia yesterday, wasn’t it?”

“Yes’m.”

She hesitated. A clumsy question might enlighten a member of the class which ought never to be enlightened about one’s private affairs.

“He didn’t come all the way here?”

“No’m. He happened to say last night when he got back as Miss Sophia had told him to set her down at Knype Station.”

“I thought so!” said Mrs. Maddack, courageously.

“Yes’m.”

“Sister!” she moaned, after carefully shutting the door.

They clung to each other.

The horror of what had occurred did not instantly take full possession of them, because the power of credence, of imaginatively realizing a supreme event, whether of great grief or of great happiness, is ridiculously finite. But every minute the horror grew more clear, more intense, more tragically dominant over them. There were many things that they could not say to each other — from pride, from shame, from the inadequacy of words. Neither could utter the name of Gerald Scales. And Aunt Harriet could not stoop to defend herself from a possible charge of neglect; nor could Mrs. Baines stoop to assure her sister that she was incapable of preferring such a charge. And the sheer, immense criminal folly of Sophia could not even be referred to: it was unspeakable. So the interview proceeded, lamely, clumsily, inconsequently, leading to naught.

Sophia was gone. She was gone with Gerald Scales.

That beautiful child, that incalculable, untamable, impossible creature, had committed the final folly; without pretext or excuse, and with what elaborate deceit! Yes, without excuse! She had not been treated harshly; she had had a degree of liberty which would have astounded and shocked her grandmothers; she had been petted, humoured, spoilt. And her answer was to disgrace the family by an act as irrevocable as it was utterly vicious. If among her desires was the desire to humiliate those majesties, her mother and Aunt Harriet, she would have been content could she have seen them on the sofa there, humbled, shamed, mortally wounded! Ah, the monstrous Chinese cruelty of youth!

What was to be done? Tell dear Constance? No, this was not, at the moment, an affair for the younger generation. It was too new and raw for the younger generation. Moreover, capable, proud, and experienced as they were, they felt the need of a man’s voice, and a man’s hard, callous ideas. It was a case for Mr. Critchlow. Maggie was sent to fetch him, with a particular request that he should come to the side-door. He came expectant, with the pleasurable anticipation of disaster, and he was not disappointed. He passed with the sisters the happiest hour that had fallen to him for years. Quickly he arranged the alternatives for them. Would they tell the police, or would they take the risks of waiting? They shied away, but with fierce brutality he brought them again and again to the immediate point of decision. . . . Well, they could not tell the police! They simply could not. Then they must face another danger. . . . He had no mercy for them. And while he was torturing them there arrived a telegram, despatched from Charing Cross, “I am all right, Sophia.” That proved, at any rate, that the child was not heartless, not merely careless.

Only yesterday, it seemed to Mrs. Baines, she had borne Sophia; only yesterday she was a baby, a schoolgirl to be smacked. The years rolled up in a few hours. And now she was sending telegrams from a place called Charing Cross! How unlike was the hand of the telegram to Sophia’s hand! How mysteriously curt and inhuman was that official hand, as Mrs. Baines stared at it through red, wet eyes!

Mr. Critchlow said some one should go to Manchester, to ascertain about Scales. He went himself, that afternoon, and returned with the news that an aunt of Scales had recently died, leaving him twelve thousand pounds, and that he had, after quarrelling with his uncle Boldero, abandoned Birkinshaws at an hour’s notice and vanished with his inheritance.

“It’s as plain as a pikestaff,” said Mr. Critchlow. “I could ha’ warned ye o’ all this years ago, even since she killed her father!”

Mr. Critchlow left nothing unsaid.

During the night Mrs. Baines lived through all Sophia’s life, lived through it more intensely than ever Sophia had done.

The next day people began to know. A whisper almost inaudible went across the Square, and into the town: and in the stillness every one heard it. “Sophia Baines run off with a commercial!”

In another fortnight a note came, also dated from London.

“Dear Mother, I am married to Gerald Scales. Please don’t worry about me. We are going abroad. Your affectionate Sophia. Love to Constance.” No tear-stains on that pale blue sheet! No sign of agitation!

And Mrs. Baines said: “My life is over.” It was, though she was scarcely fifty. She felt old, old and beaten. She had fought and been vanquished. The everlasting purpose had been too much for her. Virtue had gone out of her — the virtue to hold up her head and look the Square in the face. She, the wife of John Baines! She, a Syme of Axe!

Old houses, in the course of their history, see sad sights, and never forget them! And ever since, in the solemn physiognomy of the triple house of John Baines at the corner of St. Luke’s Square and King Street, have remained the traces of the sight it saw on the morning of the afternoon when Mr. and Mrs. Povey returned from their honeymoon — the sight of Mrs. Baines getting into the waggonette for Axe; Mrs. Baines, encumbered with trunks and parcels, leaving the scene of her struggles and her defeat, whither she had once come as slim as a wand, to return stout and heavy, and heavy-hearted, to her childhood; content to live with her grandiose sister until such time as she should be ready for burial! The grimy and impassive old house perhaps heard her heart saying: “Only yesterday they were little girls, ever so tiny, and now —” The driving-off of a waggonette can be a dreadful thing.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31