But they did mean that.
The hammer fell, and the auctioneer’s clerk and the solicitor’s clerk took Mr. Critchlow aside and wrote with him.
Nobody was surprised when Mr. Critchlow bought Lot No. 2, his own shop.
Constance whispered then to Cyril that she wished to leave. They left, with unnatural precautions, but instantly regained their natural demeanour in the dark street.
“Well, I never! Well, I never!” she murmured outside, astonished and disturbed.
She hated the prospect of Mr. Critchlow as a landlord. And yet she could not persuade herself to leave the place, in spite of decisions.
The sale demonstrated that football had not entirely undermined the commercial basis of society in Bursley; only two Lots had to be withdrawn.
On Thursday afternoon of the same week the youth whom Constance had ended by hiring for the manipulation of shutters and other jobs unsuitable for fragile women, was closing the shop. The clock had struck two. All the shutters were up except the last one, in the midst of the doorway. Miss Insull and her mistress were walking about the darkened interior, putting dust-sheets well over the edges of exposed goods; the other assistants had just left. The bull-terrier had wandered into the shop as he almost invariably did at closing time—for he slept there, an efficient guard—and had lain down by the dying stove; though not venerable, he was stiffening into age.
“You can shut,” said Miss Insull to the youth.
But as the final shutter was ascending to its position, Mr. Critchlow appeared on the pavement.
“Hold on, young fellow!” Mr. Critchlow commanded, and stepped slowly, lifting up his long apron, over the horizontal shutter on which the perpendicular shutters rested in the doorway.
“Shall you be long, Mr. Critchlow?” the youth asked, posing the shutter. “Or am I to shut?”
“Shut, lad,” said Mr. Critchlow, briefly. “I’ll go out by th’ side door.”
“Here’s Mr. Critchlow!” Miss Insull called out to Constance, in a peculiar tone. And a flush, scarcely perceptible, crept very slowly over her dark features. In the twilight of the shop, lit only by a few starry holes in the shutters, and by the small side-window, not the keenest eye could have detected that flush.
“Mr. Critchlow!” Constance murmured the exclamation. She resented his future ownership of her shop. She thought he was come to play the landlord, and she determined to let him see that her mood was independent and free, that she would as lief give up the business as keep it. In particular she meant to accuse him of having deliberately deceived her as to his intentions on his previous visit.
“Well, missis!” the aged man greeted her. “We’ve made it up between us. Happen some folk’ll think we’ve taken our time, but I don’t know as that’s their affair.”