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The Old Wives' Tale eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 635 pages of information about The Old Wives' Tale.

And they would answer that really they did not know what they would do if there was a baby.  What with the shop and one thing or another ...!  And they were quite sincere.

IV

It is remarkable what a little thing will draw even the most regular and serious people from the deep groove of their habits.  One morning in March, a boneshaker, an affair on two equal wooden wheels joined by a bar of iron, in the middle of which was a wooden saddle, disturbed the gravity of St. Luke’s Square.  True, it was probably the first boneshaker that had ever attacked the gravity of St. Luke’s Square.  It came out of the shop of Daniel Povey, the confectioner and baker, and Samuel Povey’s celebrated cousin, in Boulton Terrace.  Boulton Terrace formed nearly a right angle with the Baines premises, and at the corner of the angle Wedgwood Street and King Street left the Square.  The boneshaker was brought forth by Dick Povey, the only son of Daniel, now aged eleven years, under the superintendence of his father, and the Square soon perceived that Dick had a natural talent for breaking-in an untrained boneshaker.  After a few attempts he could remain on the back of the machine for at least ten yards, and his feats had the effect of endowing St. Luke’s Square with the attractiveness of a circus.  Samuel Povey watched with candid interest from the ambush of his door, while the unfortunate young lady assistants, though aware of the performance that was going on, dared not stir from the stove.  Samuel was tremendously tempted to sally out boldly, and chat with his cousin about the toy; he had surely a better right to do so than any other tradesman in the Square, since he was of the family; but his diffidence prevented him from moving.  Presently Daniel Povey and Dick went to the top of the Square with the machine, opposite Holl’s, and Dick, being carefully installed in the saddle, essayed to descend the gentle paven slopes of the Square.  He failed time after time; the machine had an astonishing way of turning round, running uphill, and then lying calmly on its side.  At this point of Dick’s life-history every shop-door in the Square was occupied by an audience.  At last the boneshaker displayed less unwillingness to obey, and lo! in a moment Dick was riding down the Square, and the spectators held their breath as if he had been Blondin crossing Niagara.  Every second he ought to have fallen off, but he contrived to keep upright.  Already he had accomplished twenty yards—­thirty yards!  It was a miracle that he was performing!  The transit continued, and seemed to occupy hours.  And then a faint hope rose in the breast of the watchers that the prodigy might arrive at the bottom of the Square.  His speed was increasing with his ‘nack.’  But the Square was enormous, boundless.  Samuel Povey gazed at the approaching phenomenon, as a bird at a serpent, with bulging, beady eyes.  The child’s speed went on increasing and his path grew straighter.  Yes, he would arrive; he would do it!  Samuel Povey involuntarily lifted one leg in his nervous tension.  And now the hope that Dick would arrive became a fear, as his pace grew still more rapid.  Everybody lifted one leg, and gaped.  And the intrepid child surged on, and, finally victorious, crashed into the pavement in front of Samuel at the rate of quite six miles an hour.

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