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The Old Wives' Tale

IV.5. End Of Constance
I
When, on a June afternoon about twelve months later, Lily Holl walked into Mrs.
Povey's drawing-room overlooking the Square, she found a calm, somewhat
optimistic old lady--older than her years-- which were little more than sixty--
whose chief enemies were sciatica and rheumatism. The sciatica was a dear
enemy of long standing, always affectionately referred to by the forgiving
Constance as 'my sciatica'; the rheumatism was a new-comer, unprivileged,
spoken of by its victim apprehensively and yet disdainfully as 'this rheumatism.'
Constance was now very stout. She sat in a low easy-chair between the oval
table and the window, arrayed in black silk. As the girl Lily came in, Constance
lifted her head with a bland smile, and Lily kissed her, contentedly. Lily knew that
she was a welcome visitor. These two had become as intimate as the difference
between their ages would permit; of the two, Constance was the more frank. Lily
as well as Constance was in mourning. A few months previously her aged
grandfather, 'Holl, the grocer,' had died. The second of his two sons, Lily's father,
had then left the business established by the brothers at Hanbridge in order to
manage, for a time, the parent business in St. Luke's Square. Alderman Holl's
death had delayed Lily's marriage. Lily took tea with Constance, or at any rate
paid a call, four or five times a week. She listened to Constance.
Everybody considered that Constance had 'come splendidly through' the dreadful
affair of Sophia's death. Indeed, it was observed that she was more philosophic,
more cheerful, more sweet, than she had been for many years. The truth was
that, though her bereavement had been the cause of a most genuine and durable
sorrow, it had been a relief to her. When Constance was over fifty, the energetic
and masterful Sophia had burst in upon her lethargic tranquillity and very
seriously disturbed the flow of old habits. Certainly Constance had fought Sophia
on the main point, and won; but on a hundred minor points she had either lost or
had not fought. Sophia had been 'too much' for Constance, and it had been only
by a wearying expenditure of nervous force that Constance had succeeded in
holding a small part of her own against the unconscious domination of Sophia.
The death of Mrs. Scales had put an end to all the strain, and Constance had
been once again mistress in Constance's house. Constance would never have
admitted these facts, even to herself; and no one would ever have dared to
suggest them to her. For with all her temperamental mildness she had her
formidable side.
She was slipping a photograph into a plush-covered photograph album.
"More photographs?" Lily questioned. She had almost exactly the same
benignant smile that Constance had. She seemed to be the personification of
gentleness--one of those feather-beds that some capricious men occasionally
have the luck to marry. She was capable, with a touch of honest, simple stupidity.
 
 
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