A little before tea Mrs. Baines announced that she would go out for a short walk by herself.
“Where has she gone to?” smiled Samuel, superiorly, as with Constance at the window he watched her turn down King Street towards the church.
“I expect she has gone to look at father’s grave,” said Constance.
“Oh!” muttered Samuel, apologetically.
Constance was mistaken. Before reaching the church, Mrs. Baines deviated to the right, got into Brougham Street and thence, by Acre Lane, into Oldcastle Street, whose steep she climbed. Now, Oldcastle Street ends at the top of St. Luke’s Square, and from the corner Mrs. Baines had an excellent view of the signboard. It being Thursday afternoon, scarce a soul was about. She returned to her daughter’s by the same extraordinary route, and said not a word on entering. But she was markedly cheerful.
The waggonette came after tea, and Mrs. Baines made her final preparations to depart. The visit had proved a wonderful success; it would have been utterly perfect if Samuel had not marred it at the very door of the waggonette. Somehow, he contrived to be talking of Christmas. Only a person of Samuel’s native clumsiness would have mentioned Christmas in July.
“You know you’ll spend Christmas with us!” said he into the waggonette.
“Indeed I shan’t!” replied Mrs. Baines. “Aunt Harriet and I will expect you at Axe. We’ve already settled that.”
Mr. Povey bridled. “Oh no!” he protested, hurt by this summariness.
Having had no relatives, except his cousin the confectioner, for many years, he had dreamt of at last establishing a family Christmas under his own roof, and the dream was dear to him.
Mrs. Baines said nothing. “We couldn’t possibly leave the shop,” said Mr. Povey.
“Nonsense!” Mrs. Baines retorted, putting her lips together. “Christmas Day is on a Monday.”
The waggonette in starting jerked her head towards the door and set all her curls shaking. No white in those curls yet, scarcely a touch of grey!
“I shall take good care we don’t go there anyway,” Mr. Povey mumbled, in his heat, half to himself and half to Constance.
He had stained the brightness of the day.
CHRISTMAS AND THE FUTURE
Mr. Povey was playing a hymn tune on the harmonium, it having been decided that no one should go to chapel. Constance, in mourning, with a white apron over her dress, sat on a hassock in front of the fire; and near her, in a rocking-chair, Mrs. Baines swayed very gently to and fro. The weather was extremely cold. Mr. Povey’s mittened hands were blue and red; but, like many shopkeepers, he had apparently grown almost insensible to vagaries of temperature. Although the fire was immense and furious, its influence, owing to the fact that the mediaeval grate was designed to heat the flue rather than the room, seemed to die away at the borders of the fender. Constance could not have been much closer to it without being a salamander. The era of good old-fashioned Christmases, so agreeably picturesque for the poor, was not yet at an end.