The Old Wives' Tale eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 811 pages of information about The Old Wives' Tale.

The Rector spoke too long; every one felt that.  But at length he finished.  The bands performed the Doxology, and the immense multitudes began to disperse by the eight streets that radiate from the Square.  At the same time one o’clock struck, and the public-houses opened with their customary admirable promptitude.  Respectable persons, of course, ignored the public-houses and hastened homewards to a delayed dinner.  But in a town of over thirty thousand souls there are sufficient dregs to fill all the public-houses on an occasion of ceremonial excitement.  Constance saw the bar of the Vaults crammed with individuals whose sense of decent fitness was imperfect.  The barman and the landlord and the principal members of the landlord’s family were hard put to it to quench that funereal thirst.  Constance, as she ate a little meal in the bedroom, could not but witness the orgy.  A bandsman with his silver instrument was prominent at the counter.  At five minutes to three the Vaults spewed forth a squirt of roysterers who walked on the pavement as on a tight-rope; among them was the bandsman, his silver instrument only half enveloped in its bag of green serge.  He established an equilibrium in the gutter.  It would not have mattered so seriously if he had not been a bandsman.  The barman and the landlord pushed the ultimate sot by force into the street and bolted the door (till six o’clock) just as a policeman strolled along, the first policeman of the day.  It became known that similar scenes were enacting at the thresholds of other inns.  And the judicious were sad.


When the altercation between the policeman and the musician in the gutter was at its height, Samuel Povey became restless; but since he had scarcely stirred through the performances of the bands, it was probably not the cries of the drunkard that had aroused him.

He had shown very little interest in the preliminaries of the great demonstration.  The flame of his passion for the case of Daniel Povey seemed to have shot up on the day before the execution, and then to have expired.  On that day he went to Stafford in order, by permit of the prison governor, to see his cousin for the last time.  His condition then was undoubtedly not far removed from monomania.  ‘Unhinged’ was the conventional expression which frequently rose in Constance’s mind as a description of the mind of her husband; but she fought it down; she would not have it; it was too crude—­with its associations.  She would only admit that the case had ‘got on’ his mind.  A startling proof of this was that he actually suggested taking Cyril with him to see the condemned man.  He wished Cyril to see Daniel; he said gravely that he thought Cyril ought to see him.  The proposal was monstrous, inexplicable—­or explicable only by the assumption that his mind, while not unhinged, had temporarily lost its balance.  Constance opposed an absolute negative, and Samuel being in every way enfeebled, she overcame.  As for Cyril, he was divided between fear and curiosity.  On the whole, perhaps Cyril regretted that he would not be able to say at school that he had had speech with the most celebrated killer of the age on the day before his execution.

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The Old Wives' Tale from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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