“In a week, then?”
“I cannot bind myself to a date,” said Mrs. Baines, haughtily. She felt that she was gaining ground.
“Because I can’t stay on here indefinitely as things are,” Mr. Povey burst out, and there was a touch of hysteria in his tone.
“Now, Mr. Povey, please do be reasonable.”
“That’s all very well,” he went on. “That’s all very well. But what I say is that employers have no right to have male assistants in their houses unless they are prepared to let their daughters marry! That’s what I say! No right!”
Mrs. Baines did not know what to answer.
The aspirant wound up: “I must leave if that’s the case.”
“If what’s the case?” she asked herself. “What has come over him?” And aloud: “You know you would place me in a very awkward position by leaving, and I hope you don’t want to mix up two quite different things. I hope you aren’t trying to threaten me.”
“Threaten you!” he cried. “Do you suppose I should leave here for fun? If I leave it will be because I can’t stand it. That’s all. I can’t stand it. I want Constance, and if I can’t have her, then I can’t stand it. What do you think I’m made of?”
“I’m sure—” she began.
“That’s all very well!” he almost shouted.
“But please let me speak,’ she said quietly.
“All I say is I can’t stand it. That’s all. ... Employers have no right. ... We have our feelings like other men.”
He was deeply moved. He might have appeared somewhat grotesque to the strictly impartial observer of human nature. Nevertheless he was deeply and genuinely moved, and possibly human nature could have shown nothing more human than Mr. Povey at the moment when, unable any longer to restrain the paroxysm which had so surprisingly overtaken him, he fled from the parlour, passionately, to the retreat of his bedroom.
“That’s the worst of those quiet calm ones,” said Mrs. Baines to herself. “You never know if they won’t give way. And when they do, it’s awful—awful. ... What did I do, what did I say, to bring it on? Nothing! Nothing!”
And where was her afternoon sleep? What was going to happen to her daughter? What could she say to Constance? How next could she meet Mr. Povey? Ah! It needed a brave, indomitable woman not to cry out brokenly: “I’ve suffered too much. Do anything you like; only let me die in peace!” And so saying, to let everything indifferently slide!
Neither Mr. Povey nor Constance introduced the delicate subject to her again, and she was determined not to be the first to speak of it. She considered that Mr. Povey had taken advantage of his position, and that he had also been infantile and impolite. And somehow she privately blamed Constance for his behaviour. So the matter hung, as it were, suspended in the ether between the opposing forces of pride and passion.