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

“Lawyer Lawton’s party broke up early—­at least I mean, considering—­” Mrs. Baines hesitated.

After a pause Mr. Scales replied, “Yes, I left immediately the clock struck twelve.  I’ve a heavy day to-morrow—­I mean to-day.”

It was not an hour for a prolonged visit, and in a few minutes Mr. Scales was ready again to depart.  He admitted a certain feebleness (’wankiness,’ he playfully called it, being proud of his skill in the dialect), and a burning in his elbow; but otherwise he was quite well—­thanks to Mrs. Baines’s most kind hospitality ...  He really didn’t know how he came to be sitting on her doorstep.  Mrs. Baines urged him, if he met a policeman on his road to the Tiger, to furnish all particulars about the attempted highway robbery, and he said he decidedly would.

He took his leave with distinguished courtliness.

“If I have a moment I shall run in to-morrow morning just to let you know I’m all right,” said he, in the white street.

“Oh, do!” said Constance.  Constance’s perfect innocence made her strangely forward at times.

“A happy New Year and many of them!”

“Thanks!  Same to you!  Don’t get lost.”

“Straight up the Square and first on the right,” called the commonsense of Mr. Povey.

Nothing else remained to say, and the visitor disappeared silently in the whirling snow.  “Brrr!” murmured Mr. Povey, shutting the door.  Everybody felt:  “What a funny ending of the old year!”

“Sophia, my pet,” Mrs. Baines began.

But Sophia had vanished to bed.

“Tell her about her new night-dress,” said Mrs. Baines to Constance.

“Yes, mother.”

“I don’t know that I’m so set up with that young man, after all,” Mrs. Baines reflected aloud.

“Oh, mother!” Constance protested.  “I think he’s just lovely.”

“He never looks you straight in the face,” said Mrs. Baines.

“Don’t tell me!” laughed Constance, kissing her mother good night.  “You’re only on your high horse because he didn’t praise your mince. I noticed it.”

IV

“If anybody thinks I’m going to stand the cold in this showroom any longer, they’re mistaken,” said Sophia the next morning loudly, and in her mother’s hearing.  And she went down into the shop carrying bonnets.

She pretended to be angry, but she was not.  She felt, on the contrary, extremely joyous, and charitable to all the world.  Usually she would take pains to keep out of the shop; usually she was preoccupied and stern.  Hence her presence on the ground-floor, and her demeanour, excited interest among the three young lady assistants who sat sewing round the stove in the middle of the shop, sheltered by the great pile of shirtings and linseys that fronted the entrance.

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