“Well,” he said. “Give it up entirely, then! Take a holiday for life. You’ve deserved it, Mrs. Scales.”
She shook her head once again.
“Think it over,” he said.
“I gave you my answer years ago,” she said obstinately, while fearing lest he should take her at her word.
“Oblige me by thinking it over,” he said. “I’ll mention it to you again in a few days.”
“It will be no use,” she said.
He took his leave, waddling down the street in his vague clothes, conscious of his fame as Lewis Mardon, the great house-agent of the Champs Elysees, known throughout Europe and America.
In a few days he did mention it again.
“There’s only one thing that makes me dream of it even for a moment,” said Sophia. “And that is my sister’s health.”
“Your sister!” he exclaimed. He did not know she had a sister. Never had she spoken of her family.
“Yes. Her letters are beginning to worry me.”
“Does she live in Paris?”
“No. In Staffordshire. She has never left home.”
And to preserve her pride intact she led Mr. Mardon to think that Constance was in a most serious way, whereas in truth Constance had nothing worse than her sciatica, and even that was somewhat better.
Thus she yielded.
Soon after dinner one day in the following spring, Mr. Critchlow knocked at Constance’s door. She was seated in the rocking-chair in front of the fire in the parlour. She wore a large ‘rough’ apron, and with the outlying parts of the apron she was rubbing the moisture out of the coat of a young wire-haired fox-terrier, for whom no more original name had been found than ‘Spot.’ It is true that he had a spot. Constance had more than once called the world to witness that she would never have a young dog again, because, as she said, she could not be always running about after them, and they ate the stuffing out of the furniture. But her last dog had lived too long; a dog can do worse things than eat furniture; and, in her natural reaction against age in dogs, and also in the hope of postponing as long as possible the inevitable sorrow and upset which death causes when it takes off a domestic pet, she had not known how to refuse the very desirable fox-terrier aged ten months that an acquaintance had offered to her. Spot’s beautiful pink skin could be seen under his disturbed hair; he was exquisitely soft to the touch, and to himself he was loathsome. His eyes continually peeped forth between corners of the agitated towel, and they were full of inquietude and shame.
Amy was assisting at this performance, gravely on the watch to see that Spot did not escape into the coal-cellar. She opened the door to Mr. Critchlow’s knock. Mr. Critchlow entered without any formalities, as usual. He did not seem to have changed. He had the same quantity of white hair, he wore the same long white apron, and his voice (which showed however an occasional tendency to shrillness) had the same grating quality. He stood fairly straight. He was carrying a newspaper in his vellum hand.