The Old Wives' Tale
I.5. The Traveller
'Equisite, 1s. 11d.'
These singular signs were being painted in shiny black on an unrectangular
parallelogram of white cardboard by Constance one evening in the parlour. She
was seated, with her left side to the fire and to the fizzing gas, at the dining-table,
which was covered with a checked cloth in red and white. Her dress was of dark
crimson; she wore a cameo brooch and a gold chain round her neck; over her
shoulders was thrown a white knitted shawl, for the weather was extremely cold,
the English climate being much more serious and downright at that day than it is
now. She bent low to the task, holding her head slightly askew, putting the tip of
her tongue between her lips, and expending all the energy of her soul and body
in an intense effort to do what she was doing as well as it could be done.
"Splendid!" said Mr. Povey.
Mr. Povey was fronting her at the table; he had his elbows on the table, and
watched her carefully, with the breathless and divine anxiety of a dreamer who is
witnessing the realization of his dream. And Constance, without moving any part
of her frame except her head, looked up at him and smiled for a moment, and he
could see her delicious little nostrils at the end of her snub nose.
Those two, without knowing or guessing it, were making history-- the history of
commerce. They had no suspicion that they were the forces of the future
insidiously at work to destroy what the forces of the past had created, but such
was the case. They were conscious merely of a desire to do their duty in the
shop and to the shop; probably it had not even occurred to them that this desire,
which each stimulated in the breast of the other, had assumed the dimensions of
a passion. It was ageing Mr. Povey, and it had made of Constance a young lady
tremendously industrious and preoccupied.
Mr. Povey had recently been giving attention to the question of tickets. It is not
too much to say that Mr. Povey, to whom heaven had granted a minimum share
of imagination, had nevertheless discovered his little parcel of imagination in the
recesses of being, and brought it effectively to bear on tickets. Tickets ran in
conventional grooves. There were heavy oblong tickets for flannels, shirting, and
other stuffs in the piece; there were smaller and lighter tickets for intermediate
goods; and there were diamond-shaped tickets (containing nothing but the price)
for bonnets, gloves, and flimflams generally. The legends on the tickets gave no
sort of original invention. The words 'lasting,' 'durable,' 'unshrinkable,' 'latest,'
'cheap,' 'stylish,' 'novelty,' 'choice' (as an adjective), 'new,' and 'tasteful,'
exhausted the entire vocabulary of tickets. Now Mr. Povey attached importance
to tickets, and since he was acknowledged to be the best window-dresser in
Bursley, his views were entitled to respect. He dreamed of other tickets, in
original shapes, with original legends. In brief, he achieved, in regard to tickets,
the rare feat of ridding himself of preconceived notions, and of approaching a
subject with fresh, virginal eyes. When he indicated the nature of his wishes to
Mr. Chawner, the wholesale stationer who supplied all the Five Towns with shop-
tickets, Mr. Chawner grew uneasy and worried; Mr. Chawner was indeed
shocked. For Mr. Chawner there had always been certain well-defined genera of