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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 635 pages of information about The Old Wives' Tale.

“‘I’ll alum ye!’ says I, and I did.  I alummed him out o’ my shop with a pestle.  If there’d been one there’d been twenty between opening and nine o’clock.  ‘George,’ I says to my apprentice, ’shut shop up.  My old friend John Baines is going to his long home to-day, and I’ll close.  I’ve had enough o’ alum for one day.’”

The elephant fed the conversation until after the second relay of hot muffins.  When Mr. Critchlow had eaten to his capacity, he took the Signal importantly from his pocket, posed his spectacles, and read the obituary all through in slow, impressive accents.  Before he reached the end Mrs. Baines began to perceive that familiarity had blinded her to the heroic qualities of her late husband.  The fourteen years of ceaseless care were quite genuinely forgotten, and she saw him in his strength and in his glory.  When Mr. Critchlow arrived at the eulogy of the husband and father, Mrs. Baines rose and left the showroom.  The guests looked at each other in sympathy for her.  Mr. Critchlow shot a glance at her over his spectacles and continued steadily reading.  After he had finished he approached the question of the cenotaph.

Mrs. Baines, driven from the banquet by her feelings, went into the drawing-room.  Sophia was there, and Sophia, seeing tears in her mother’s eyes, gave a sob, and flung herself bodily against her mother, clutching her, and hiding her face in that broad crape, which abraded her soft skin.

“Mother,” she wept passionately, “I want to leave the school now.  I want to please you.  I’ll do anything in the world to please you.  I’ll go into the shop if you’d like me to!” Her voice lost itself in tears.

“Calm yourself, my pet,” said Mrs. Baines, tenderly, caressing her.  It was a triumph for the mother in the very hour when she needed a triumph.

CHAPTER V

THE TRAVELLER

I

‘Equisite, 1s. 11d.’

These singular signs were being painted in shiny black on an unrectangular parallelogram of white cardboard by Constance one evening in the parlour.  She was seated, with her left side to the fire and to the fizzing gas, at the dining-table, which was covered with a checked cloth in red and white.  Her dress was of dark crimson; she wore a cameo brooch and a gold chain round her neck; over her shoulders was thrown a white knitted shawl, for the weather was extremely cold, the English climate being much more serious and downright at that day than it is now.  She bent low to the task, holding her head slightly askew, putting the tip of her tongue between her lips, and expending all the energy of her soul and body in an intense effort to do what she was doing as well as it could be done.

“Splendid!” said Mr. Povey.

Mr. Povey was fronting her at the table; he had his elbows on the table, and watched her carefully, with the breathless and divine anxiety of a dreamer who is witnessing the realization of his dream.  And Constance, without moving any part of her frame except her head, looked up at him and smiled for a moment, and he could see her delicious little nostrils at the end of her snub nose.

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