The Square watched and wondered; and murmured: “Well, bless us! What next?”
It was agreed that in giving paramount importance to the name of his late father-in-law, Mr. Povey had displayed a very nice feeling.
Some asked with glee: “What’ll the old lady have to say?”
Constance asked herself this, but not with glee. When Constance walked down the Square homewards, she could scarcely bear to look at the sign; the thought of what her mother might say frightened her. Her mother’s first visit of state was imminent, and Aunt Harriet was to accompany her. Constance felt almost sick as the day approached. When she faintly hinted her apprehensions to Samuel, he demanded, as if surprised—
“Haven’t you mentioned it in one of your letters?”
“If that’s all,” said he, with bravado, “I’ll write and tell her myself.”
So that Mrs. Baines was duly apprised of the signboard before her arrival. The letter written by her to Constance after receiving Samuel’s letter, which was merely the amiable epistle of a son-in-law anxious to be a little more than correct, contained no reference to the signboard. This silence, however, did not in the least allay Constance’s apprehensions as to what might occur when her mother and Samuel met beneath the signboard itself. It was therefore with a fearful as well as an eager, loving heart that Constance opened her side-door and ran down the steps when the waggonette stopped in King Street on the Thursday morning of the great visit of the sisters. But a surprise awaited her. Aunt Harriet had not come. Mrs. Baines explained, as she soundly kissed her daughter, that at the last moment Aunt Harriet had not felt well enough to undertake the journey. She sent her fondest love, and cake. Her pains had recurred. It was these mysterious pains which had prevented the sisters from coming to Bursley earlier. The word “cancer”—the continual terror of stout women—had been on their lips, without having been actually uttered; then there was a surcease, and each was glad that she had refrained from the dread syllables. In view of the recurrence, it was not unnatural that Mrs. Baines’s vigorous cheerfulness should be somewhat forced.
“What is it, do you think?” Constance inquired.
Mrs. Baines pushed her lips out and raised her eyebrows—a gesture which meant that the pains might mean God knew what.
“I hope she’ll be all right alone,” observed Constance. “Of course,” said Mrs. Baines, quickly. “But you don’t suppose I was going to disappoint you, do you?” she added, looking round as if to defy the fates in general.
This speech, and its tone, gave intense pleasure to Constance; and, laden with parcels, they mounted the stairs together, very content with each other, very happy in the discovery that they were still mother and daughter, very intimate in an inarticulate way.