7. The Need Of Knowing
When Stephen announced her intention of going with her father to the Petty Sessions
Court, there was consternation amongst the female population of Normanstand and
Norwood. Such a thing had not been heard of in the experiences of any of them. Courts
of Justice were places for men; and the lower courts dealt with a class of cases . . . It was
quite impossible to imagine where any young lady could get such an idea . . .
Miss Laetitia Rowly recognised that she had a difficult task before her, for she was by
now accustomed to Stephen's quiet method of having her own way.
She made a careful toilet before driving over to Normanstand. Her wearing her best
bonnet was a circumstance not unattended with dread for some one. Behold her then,
sailing into the great drawing-room at Normanstand with her mind so firmly fixed on the
task before her as to be oblivious of minor considerations. She was so fond of Stephen,
and admired so truly her many beauties and fine qualities, that she was secure and
without flaw in her purpose. Stephen was in danger, and though she doubted if she would
be able to effect any change, she was determined that at least she should not go into
danger with her eyes unopened.
Stephen entered hastily and ran to her. She loved her great-aunt; really and truly loved
her. And indeed it would have been strange if she had not, for from the earliest hour
which she could recollect she had received from her nothing but the truest, fondest
affection. Moreover she deeply respected the old lady, her truth, her resolution, her
kindliness, her genuine common-sense ability. Stephen always felt safe with her aunt. In
the presence of others she might now and again have a qualm or a doubt; but not with
her. There was an abiding calm in her love, answering love realised and respected. Her
long and intimate knowledge of Laetitia made her aware of her moods. She could read
the signs of them. She knew well the meaning of the bonnet which actually seemed to
quiver as though it had a sentience of its own. She knew well the cause of her aunt's
perturbation; the pain which must be caused to her was perhaps the point of most
resistance in herself--she having made up her mind to her new experience. All she could
do would be to try to reconcile her by the assurance of good intention; by reason, and by
sweetness of manner. When she had kissed her and sat beside her, holding her hand after
her pretty way, she, seeing the elder woman somewhat at a loss, opened the subject
'You look troubled, auntie! I hope it is nothing serious?'
'It is, my dear! Very serious! Everything is serious to me which touches you.'
'Me, Auntie!' Hypocrisy is a fine art.
'Yes! yes, Stephen. Oh! my dear child, what is this I hear about your going to Petty
Sessions with your father?'