The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

I.6. Escapade
The uneasiness of Mrs. Baines flowed and ebbed, during the next three months,
influenced by Sophia's moods. There were days when Sophia was the old
Sophia--the forbidding, difficult, waspish, and even hedgehog Sophia. But there
were other days on which Sophia seemed to be drawing joy and gaiety and
goodwill from some secret source, from some fount whose nature and origin
none could divine. It was on these days that the uneasiness of Mrs. Baines
waxed. She had the wildest suspicions; she was almost capable of accusing
Sophia of carrying on a clandestine correspondence; she saw Sophia and Gerald
Scales deeply and wickedly in love; she saw them with their arms round each
other's necks. ... And then she called herself a middle-aged fool, to base such a
structure of suspicion on a brief encounter in the street and on an idea, a fancy, a
curious and irrational notion! Sophia had a certain streak of pure nobility in that
exceedingly heterogeneous thing, her character. Moreover, Mrs. Baines watched
the posts, and she also watched Sophia--she was not the woman to trust to a
streak of pure nobility--and she came to be sure that Sophia's sinfulness, if any,
was not such as could be weighed in a balance, or collected together by stealth
and then suddenly placed before the girl on a charger.
Still, she would have given much to see inside Sophia's lovely head. Ah! Could
she have done so, what sleep-destroying wonders she would have witnessed! By
what bright lamps burning in what mysterious grottoes and caverns of the brain
would her mature eyes have been dazzled! Sophia was living for months on the
exhaustless ardent vitality absorbed during a magical two minutes in Wedgwood
Street. She was living chiefly on the flaming fire struck in her soul by the shock of
seeing Gerald Scales in the porch of the Wedgwood Institution as she came out
of the Free Library with Experience Of Life tucked into her large astrakhan muff.
He had stayed to meet her, then: she knew it! "After all," her heart said, "I must
be very beautiful, for I have attracted the pearl of men!" And she remembered her
face in the glass. The value and the power of beauty were tremendously proved
to her. He, the great man of the world, the handsome and elegant man with a
thousand strange friends and a thousand interests far remote from her, had
remained in Bursley on the mere chance of meeting her! She was proud, but her
pride was drowned in bliss. "I was just looking at this inscription about Mr.
Gladstone." "So you decided to come out as usual!" "And may I ask what book
you have chosen?" These were the phrases she heard, and to which she
responded with similar phrases. And meanwhile a miracle of ecstasy had
opened--opened like a flower. She was walking along Wedgwood Street by his
side, slowly, on the scraped pavements, where marble bulbs of snow had defied
the spade and remained. She and he were exactly of the same height, and she
kept looking into his face and he into hers. This was all the miracle. Except that
she was not walking on the pavement--she was walking on the intangible sward
of paradise! Except that the houses had receded and faded, and the passers-by