The Old Wives' Tale
"Well," said Mr. Povey, rising from the rocking-chair that in a previous age had
been John Baines's, "I've got to make a start some time, so I may as well begin
And he went from the parlour into the shop. Constance's eye followed him as far
as the door, where their glances met for an instant in the transient gaze which
expresses the tenderness of people who feel more than they kiss.
It was on the morning of this day that Mrs. Baines, relinquishing the sovereignty
of St. Luke's Square, had gone to live as a younger sister in the house of Harriet
Maddack at Axe. Constance guessed little of the secret anguish of that
departure. She only knew that it was just like her mother, having perfectly
arranged the entire house for the arrival of the honeymoon couple from Buxton,
to flit early away so as to spare the natural blushing diffidence of the said couple.
It was like her mother's commonsense and her mother's sympathetic
comprehension. Further, Constance did not pursue her mother's feelings, being
far too busy with her own. She sat there full of new knowledge and new
importance, brimming with experience and strange, unexpected aspirations,
purposes, yes--and cunnings! And yet, though the very curves of her cheeks
seemed to be mysteriously altering, the old Constance still lingered in that frame,
an innocent soul hesitating to spread its wings and quit for ever the body which
had been its home; you could see the timid thing peeping wistfully out of the eyes
of the married woman.
Constance rang the bell for Maggie to clear the table; and as she did so she had
the illusion that she was not really a married woman and a house-mistress, but
only a kind of counterfeit. She did most fervently hope that all would go right in
the house--at any rate until she had grown more accustomed to her situation.
The hope was to be disappointed. Maggie's rather silly, obsequious smile
concealed but for a moment the ineffable tragedy that had lain in wait for
"If you please, Mrs. Povey," said Maggie, as she crushed cups together on the tin
tray with her great, red hands, which always looked like something out of a
butcher's shop; then a pause, "Will you please accept of this?"
Now, before the wedding Maggie had already, with tears of affection, given
Constance a pair of blue glass vases (in order to purchase which she had been
obliged to ask for special permission to go out), and Constance wondered what
was coming now from Maggie's pocket. A small piece of folded paper came from
Maggie's pocket. Constance accepted of it, and read: "I begs to give one month's
notice to leave. Signed Maggie. June 10, 1867."
"Maggie!" exclaimed the old Constance, terrified by this incredible occurrence,
ere the married woman could strangle her.
"I never give notice before, Mrs. Povey," said Maggie, "so I don't know as I know
how it ought for be done--not rightly. But I hope as you'll accept of it, Mrs.
"Oh! of course," said Mrs. Povey, primly, just as if Maggie was not the central
supporting pillar of the house, just as if Maggie had not assisted at her birth, just