She picked it up with a hostile air. For her attitude towards the Free Library was obscurely inimical. She never read anything herself except The Sunday at Home, and Constance never read anything except The Sunday at Home. There were scriptural commentaries, Dugdale’s Gazetteer, Culpepper’s Herbal, and works by Bunyan and Flavius Josephus in the drawing-room bookcase; also Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And Mrs. Baines, in considering the welfare of her daughters, looked askance at the whole remainder of printed literature. If the Free Library had not formed part of the Famous Wedgwood Institution, which had been opened with immense eclat by the semi-divine Gladstone; if the first book had not been ceremoniously ‘taken out’ of the Free Library by the Chief Bailiff in person—a grandfather of stainless renown—Mrs. Baines would probably have risked her authority in forbidding the Free Library.
“You needn’t be afraid,” said Sophia, laughing. “It’s Miss Sewell’s Experience of Life.”
“A novel, I see,” observed Mrs. Baines, dropping the book.
Gold and jewels would probably not tempt a Sophia of these days to read Experience of Life; but to Sophia Baines the bland story had the piquancy of the disapproved.
The next day Mrs. Baines summoned Sophia into her bedroom.
“Sophia,” said she, trembling, “I shall be glad if you will not walk about the streets with young men until you have my permission.”
The girl blushed violently. “I—I—”
“You were seen in Wedgwood Street,” said Mrs. Baines.
“Who’s been gossiping—Mr. Critchlow, I suppose?” Sophia exclaimed scornfully.
“No one has been ‘gossiping,’” said Mrs. Baines. “Well, if I meet some one by accident in the street I can’t help it, can I?” Sophia’s voice shook.
“You know what I mean, my child,” said Mrs. Baines, with careful calm.
Sophia dashed angrily from the room.
“I like the idea of him having ’a heavy day’!” Mrs. Baines reflected ironically, recalling a phrase which had lodged in her mind. And very vaguely, with an uneasiness scarcely perceptible, she remembered that ‘he,’ and no other, had been in the shop on the day her husband died.
The uneasiness of Mrs. Baines flowed and ebbed, during the next three months, influenced by Sophia’s moods. There were days when Sophia was the old Sophia—the forbidding, difficult, waspish, and even hedgehog Sophia. But there were other days on which Sophia seemed to be drawing joy and gaiety and goodwill from some secret source, from some fount whose nature and origin none could divine. It was on these days that the uneasiness of Mrs. Baines waxed. She had the wildest suspicions; she was almost capable of accusing Sophia of carrying on a clandestine correspondence; she saw Sophia and Gerald