The Old Wives' Tale eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 811 pages of information about The Old Wives' Tale.
later, administered one coat, and vanished for another ten days.  Then two masons suddenly came with heavy tools, and were shocked to find that all was not prepared for them. (After three carpetless weeks Constance had relaid her floors.) They tore off wall-paper, sent cascades of plaster down the kitchen steps, withdrew alternate courses of bricks from the walls, and, sated with destruction, hastened away.  After four days new red bricks began to arrive, carried by a quite guiltless hodman who had not visited the house before.  The hodman met the full storm of Constance’s wrath.  It was not a vicious wrath, rather a good-humoured wrath; but it impressed the hodman.  “My house hasn’t been fit to live in for a month,” she said in fine.  “If these walls aren’t built to-morrow, upstairs and down—­to-morrow, mind!—­don’t let any of you dare to show your noses here again, for I won’t have you.  Now you’ve brought your bricks.  Off with you, and tell your master what I say!”

It was effective.  The next day subdued and plausible workmen of all sorts awoke the house with knocking at six-thirty precisely, and the two doorways were slowly bricked up.  The curious thing was that, when the barrier was already a foot high on the ground-floor Constance remembered small possessions of her own which she had omitted to remove from the cutting-out room.  Picking up her skirts, she stepped over into the region that was no more hers, and stepped back with the goods.  She had a bandanna round her head to keep the thick dust out of her hair.  She was very busy, very preoccupied with nothings.  She had no time for sentimentalities.  Yet when the men arrived at the topmost course and were at last hidden behind their own erection, and she could see only rough bricks and mortar, she was disconcertingly overtaken by a misty blindness and could not even see bricks and mortar.  Cyril found her, with her absurd bandanna, weeping in a sheet-covered rocking-chair in the sacked parlour.  He whistled uneasily, remarked:  “I say, mother, what about tea?” and then, hearing the heavy voices of workmen above, ran with relief upstairs.  Tea had been set in the drawing-room, he was glad to learn that from Amy, who informed him also that she should ‘never get used to them there new walls,’ not as long as she lived.

He went to the School of Art that night.  Constance, alone, could find nothing to do.  She had willed that the walls should be built, and they had been built; but days must elapse before they could be plastered, and after the plaster still more days before the papering.  Not for another month, perhaps, would her house be free of workmen and ripe for her own labours.  She could only sit in the dust-drifts and contemplate the havoc of change, and keep her eyes as dry as she could.  The legal transactions were all but complete; little bills announcing the transfer of the business lay on the counters in the shop at the disposal of customers.  In two days Charles Critchlow would pay the price of a desire realized.  The sign was painted out and new letters sketched thereon in chalk.  In future she would be compelled, if she wished to enter the shop, to enter it as a customer and from the front.  Yes, she saw that, though the house remained hers, the root of her life had been wrenched up.

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