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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.

“A telegram!” said Miss Insull.  “The postmaster brought it down himself—­”

“What?  Mr. Derry?” asked Samuel, opening the telegram with an affectation of majesty.

“Yes.  He said it was too late for delivery by rights.  But as it seemed very important ...”

Samuel scanned it and nodded gravely; then gave it to his wife.  Tears came into her eyes.

“I’ll get Cousin Daniel to drive me over at once,” said Samuel, master of himself and of the situation.

“Wouldn’t it be better to hire?” Constance suggested.  She had a prejudice against Daniel.

Mr. Povey shook his head.  “He offered,” he replied.  “I can’t refuse his offer.”

“Put your thick overcoat on, dear,” said Constance, in a dream, descending with him.

“I hope it isn’t—­” Miss Insull stopped.

“Yes it is, Miss Insull,” said Samuel, deliberately.

In less than a minute he was gone.

Constance ran upstairs.  But the cry had ceased.  She turned the door-knob softly, slowly, and crept into the chamber.  A night-light made large shadows among the heavy mahogany and the crimson, tasselled rep in the close-curtained room.  And between the bed and the ottoman (on which lay Samuel’s newly-bought family Bible) the cot loomed in the shadows.  She picked up the night-light and stole round the bed.  Yes, he had decided to fall asleep.  The hazard of death afar off had just defeated his devilish obstinacy.  Fate had bested him.  How marvellously soft and delicate that tear-stained cheek!  How frail that tiny, tiny clenched hand!  In Constance grief and joy were mystically united.

II

The drawing-room was full of visitors, in frocks of ceremony.  The old drawing-room, but newly and massively arranged with the finest Victorian furniture from dead Aunt Harriet’s house at Axe; two “Canterburys,” a large bookcase, a splendid scintillant table solid beyond lifting, intricately tortured chairs and armchairs!  The original furniture of the drawing-room was now down in the parlour, making it grand.  All the house breathed opulence; it was gorged with quiet, restrained expensiveness; the least considerable objects, in the most modest corners, were what Mrs. Baines would have termed ‘good.’  Constance and Samuel had half of all Aunt Harriet’s money and half of Mrs. Baines’s; the other half was accumulating for a hypothetical Sophia, Mr. Critchlow being the trustee.  The business continued to flourish.  People knew that Samuel Povey was buying houses.  Yet Samuel and Constance had not made friends; they had not, in the Five Towns phrase, ’branched out socially,’ though they had very meetly branched out on subscription lists.  They kept themselves to themselves (emphasizing the preposition).  These guests were not their guests; they were the guests of Cyril.

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