He walked home, as he had decided, over the wavy moorland of the county dreaming in the heart of England. Night fell on him in mid-career, and he was tired. But the earth, as it whirled through naked space, whirled up the moon for him, and he pressed on at a good speed. A wind from Arabia wandering cooled his face. And at last, over the brow of Toft End, he saw suddenly the Five Towns a-twinkle on their little hills down in the vast amphitheatre. And one of those lamps was Constance’s lamp—one, somewhere. He lived, then. He entered into the shadow of nature. The mysteries made him solemn. What! A boneshaker, his cousin, and then this!
“Well, I’m damned! Well, I’m damned!” he kept repeating, he who never swore.
Constance stood at the large, many-paned window in the parlour. She was stouter. Although always plump, her figure had been comely, with a neat, well-marked waist. But now the shapeliness had gone; the waist-line no longer existed, and there were no more crinolines to create it artificially. An observer not under the charm of her face might have been excused for calling her fat and lumpy. The face, grave, kind, and expectant, with its radiant, fresh cheeks, and the rounded softness of its curves, atoned for the figure. She was nearly twenty-nine years of age.
It was late in October. In Wedgwood Street, next to Boulton Terrace, all the little brown houses had been pulled down to make room for a palatial covered market, whose foundations were then being dug. This destruction exposed a vast area of sky to the north-east. A great dark cloud with an untidy edge rose massively out of the depths and curtained off the tender blue of approaching dusk; while in the west, behind Constance, the sun was setting in calm and gorgeous melancholy on the Thursday hush of the town. It was one of those afternoons which gather up all the sadness of the moving earth and transform it into beauty.
Samuel Povey turned the corner from Wedgwood Street, and crossed King Street obliquely to the front-door, which Constance opened. He seemed tired and anxious.
“Well?” demanded Constance, as he entered.
“She’s no better. There’s no getting away from it, she’s worse. I should have stayed, only I knew you’d be worrying. So I caught the three-fifty.”
“How is that Mrs. Gilchrist shaping as a nurse?”
“She’s very good,” said Samuel, with conviction. “Very good!”
“What a blessing! I suppose you didn’t happen to see the doctor?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What did he say to you?”
Samuel gave a deprecating gesture. “Didn’t say anything particular. With dropsy, at that stage, you know ...”
Constance had returned to the window, her expectancy apparently unappeased.