The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

I.3. A Battle
The day sanctioned by custom in the Five Towns for the making of pastry is
Saturday. But Mrs. Baines made her pastry on Friday, because Saturday
afternoon was, of course, a busy time in the shop. It is true that Mrs. Baines
made her pastry in the morning, and that Saturday morning in the shop was
scarcely different from any other morning. Nevertheless, Mrs. Baines made her
pastry on Friday morning instead of Saturday morning because Saturday
afternoon was a busy time in the shop. She was thus free to do her marketing
without breath-taking flurry on Saturday morning.
On the morning after Sophia's first essay in dentistry, therefore, Mrs. Baines was
making her pastry in the underground kitchen. This kitchen, Maggie's cavern-
home, had the mystery of a church, and on dark days it had the mystery of a
crypt. The stone steps leading down to it from the level of earth were quite
unlighted. You felt for them with the feet of faith, and when you arrived in the
kitchen, the kitchen, by contrast, seemed luminous and gay; the architect may
have considered and intended this effect of the staircase. The kitchen saw day
through a wide, shallow window whose top touched the ceiling and whose bottom
had been out of the girls' reach until long after they had begun to go to school. Its
panes were small, and about half of them were of the "knot" kind, through which
no object could be distinguished; the other half were of a later date, and stood for
the march of civilization. The view from the window consisted of the vast plate-
glass windows of the newly built Sun vaults, and of passing legs and skirts. A
strong wire grating prevented any excess of illumination, and also protected the
glass from the caprices of wayfarers in King Street. Boys had a habit of stopping
to kick with their full strength at the grating.
Forget-me-nots on a brown field ornamented the walls of the kitchen. Its ceiling
was irregular and grimy, and a beam ran across it; in this beam were two hooks;
from these hooks had once depended the ropes of a swing, much used by
Constance and Sophia in the old days before they were grown up. A large range
stood out from the wall between the stairs and the window. The rest of the
furniture comprised a table--against the wall opposite the range-- a cupboard,
and two Windsor chairs. Opposite the foot of the steps was a doorway, without a
door, leading to two larders, dimmer even than the kitchen, vague retreats made
visible by whitewash, where bowls of milk, dishes of cold bones, and remainders
of fruit-pies, reposed on stillages; in the corner nearest the kitchen was a great
steen in which the bread was kept. Another doorway on the other side of the
kitchen led to the first coal-cellar, where was also the slopstone and tap, and
thence a tunnel took you to the second coal-cellar, where coke and ashes were
stored; the tunnel proceeded to a distant, infinitesimal yard, and from the yard, by
ways behind Mr. Critchlow's shop, you could finally emerge, astonished, upon
Brougham Street. The sense of the vast-obscure of those regions which began at
the top of the kitchen steps and ended in black corners of larders or abruptly in
the common dailiness of Brougham Street, a sense which Constance and Sophia
had acquired in infancy, remained with them almost unimpaired as they grew old.