The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

IV.3. Towards Hotel Life
SOPHIA wore list slippers in the morning. It was a habit which she had formed in
the Rue Lord Byron--by accident rather than with an intention to utilize list
slippers for the effective supervision of servants. These list slippers were the
immediate cause of important happenings in St. Luke's Square. Sophia had been
with Constance one calendar month--it was, of course, astonishing how quickly
the time had passed!--and she had become familiar with the house. Restraint
had gradually ceased to mark the relations of the sisters. Constance, in
particular, hid nothing from Sophia, who was made aware of the minor and major
defects of Amy and all the other creakings of the household machine. Meals
were eaten off the ordinary tablecloths, and on the days for 'turning out' the
parlour, Constance assumed, with a little laugh, that Sophia would excuse Amy's
apron, which she had not had time to change. In brief, Sophia was no longer a
stranger, and nobody felt bound to pretend that things were not exactly what they
were. In spite of the foulness and the provinciality of Bursley, Sophia enjoyed the
intimacy with Constance. As for Constance, she was enchanted. The inflections
of their voices, when they were talking to each other very privately, were often
tender, and these sudden surprising tendernesses secretly thrilled both of them.
On the fourth Sunday morning Sophia put on her dressing-gown and those list
slippers very early, and paid a visit to Constance's bedroom. She was somewhat
concerned about Constance, and her concern was pleasurable to her. She made
the most of it. Amy, with her lifelong carelessness about doors, had criminally
failed to latch the street-door of the parlour on the previous morning, and
Constance had only perceived the omission by the phenomenon of frigidity in her
legs at breakfast. She always sat with her back to the door, in her mother's fluted
rocking-chair; and Sophia on the spot, but not in the chair, occupied by John
Baines in the forties, and in the seventies and later by Samuel Povey. Constance
had been alarmed by that frigidity. "I shall have a return of my sciatica!" she had
exclaimed, and Sophia was startled by the apprehension in her tone. Before
evening the sciatica had indeed revisited Constance's sciatic nerve, and Sophia
for the first time gained an idea of what a pulsating sciatica can do in the way of
torturing its victim. Constance, in addition to the sciatica, had caught a sneezing
cold, and the act of sneezing caused her the most acute pain. Sophia had soon
stopped the sneezing. Constance was got to bed. Sophia wished to summon the
doctor, but Constance assured her that the doctor would have nothing new to
advise. Constance suffered angelically. The weak and exquisite sweetness of her
smile, as she lay in bed under the stress of twinging pain amid hot-water bottles,
was amazing to Sophia. It made her think upon the reserves of Constance's
character, and upon the variety of the manifestations of the Baines' blood.
So on the Sunday morning she had arisen early, just after Amy.