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Without many words Sophia went straight into the shop. It looked like a jeweller's shop, and a shop for bargains generally. Only the conventional sign over a side-entrance showed that at heart it was a pawnbroker's. Mr. Till Boldero did a nice business in the Five Towns, and in other centres near Manchester, by selling silver-ware second-hand, or nominally second hand, to persons who wished to make presents to other persons or to themselves. He would send anything by post on approval. Occasionally he came to the Five Towns, and he had once, several years before, met Constance. They had talked. He was the son of a cousin of the late great and wealthy Boldero, sleeping partner in Birkinshaws, and Gerald's uncle. It was from Constance that he had learnt of Sophia's return to Bursley. Constance had often remarked to Sophia what a superior man Mr. Till Boldero was.
The shop was narrow and lofty. It seemed like a menagerie for trapped silver-ware. In glass cases right up to the dark ceiling silver vessels and instruments of all kinds lay confined. The top of the counter was a glass prison containing dozens of gold watches, together with snuff-boxes, enamels, and other antiquities. The front of the counter was also glazed, showing vases and large pieces of porcelain. A few pictures in heavy gold frames were perched about. There was a case of umbrellas with elaborate handles and rich tassels. There were a couple of statuettes. The counter, on the customers' side, ended in a glass screen on which were the words 'Private Office.' On the seller's side the prospect was closed by a vast safe. A tall young man was fumbling in this safe. Two women sat on customers' chairs, leaning against the crystal counter. The young man came towards them from the safe, bearing a tray.
"How much is that goblet?" asked one of the women, raising her parasol dangerously among such fragility and pointing to one object among many in a case high up from the ground.
The young man disposed his tray on the counter. It was packed with more gold watches, adding to the extraordinary glitter and shimmer of the shop. He chose a small watch from the regiment.
"Now, this is something I can recommend," he said. "It's made by Cuthbert Butler of Blackburn. I can guarantee you that for five years." He spoke as though he were the accredited representative of the Bank of England, with calm and absolute assurance.
The effect upon Sophia was mysteriously soothing. She felt that she was among honest men. The young man raised his head towards her with a questioning, deferential gesture.
"Can I see Mr. Boldero?" she asked. "Mrs. Scales."
The young man's face changed instantly to a sympathetic comprehension.
"Yes, madam. I'll fetch him at once," said he, and he disappeared behind the safe. The two customers discussed the watch. Then the door opened in the glass screen, and a portly, middle-aged man showed himself. He was dressed in blue broad-cloth, with a turned- down collar and a small black tie. His waistcoat displayed a plain but heavy gold watch-chain, and his cuff-links were of plain gold. His eye-glasses were gold-rimmed. He had grey hair, beard and moustache, but on the backs of his hands grew a light brown hair. His appearance was strangely mild, dignified, and confidence- inspiring. He was, in fact, one of the most respected tradesmen in Manchester.
He peered forward, looking over his eye-glasses, which he then took off, holding them up in the air by their short handle. Sophia had approached him.
"Mrs. Scales?" he said, in a very quiet, very benevolent voice. Sophia nodded. "Please come this way." He took her hand, squeezing it commiseratingly, and drew her into the sanctum. "I didn't expect you so soon," he said. "I looked up th' trains, and I didn't see how you could get here before six."
He led her further, through the private office, into a sort of parlour, and asked her to sit down. And he too sat down. Sophia waited, as it were, like a suitor.
"I'm afraid I've got bad news for you, Mrs. Scales," he said, still in that mild, benevolent voice.
"He's dead?" Sophia asked.
Mr. Till Boldero nodded. "He's dead. I may as well tell you that he had passed away before I telegraphed. It all happened very, very suddenly." He paused. "Very, very suddenly!"
"Yes," said Sophia, weakly. She was conscious of a profound sadness which was not grief, though it resembled grief. And she had also a feeling that she was responsible to Mr. Till Boldero for anything untoward that might have occurred to him by reason of Gerald.
"Yes," said Mr. Till Boldero, deliberately and softly. "He came in last night just as we were closing. We had very heavy rain here. I don't know how it was with you. He was wet, in a dreadful state, simply dreadful. Of course, I didn't recognize him. I'd never seen him before, so far as my recollection goes. He asked me if I was the son of Mr. Till Boldero that had this shop in 1866. I said I was. 'Well,' he says, 'you're the only connection I've got. My name's Gerald Scales. My mother was your father's cousin. Can you do anything for me?' he says. I could see he was ill. I had him in here. When I found he couldn't eat nor drink I thought I'd happen better send for th' doctor. The doctor got him to bed. He passed away at one o'clock this afternoon. I was very sorry my wife wasn't here to look after things a bit better. But she's at Southport, not well at all."
"What was it?" Sophia asked briefly.
Mr. Boldero indicated the enigmatic. "Exhaustion, I suppose," he replied.
"He's here?" demanded Sophia, lifting her eyes to possible bedrooms.
"Yes," said Mr. Boldero. "I suppose you would wish to see him?"
"Yes," said Sophia.
"You haven't seen him for a long time, your sister told me?" Mr. Boldero murmured, sympathetically.
"Not since 'seventy," said Sophia.
"Eh, dear! Eh, dear!" ejaculated Mr. Boldero. "I fear it's been a sad business for ye, Mrs. Scales. Not since 'seventy!" He sighed. "You must take it as well as you can. I'm not one as talks much, but I sympathize, with you. I do that! I wish my wife had been here to receive you."
Tears came into Sophia's eyes.
"Nay, nay!" he said. "You must bear up now!"
"It's you that make me cry," said Sophia, gratefully. "You were very good to take him in. It must have been exceedingly trying for you."
"Oh," he protested, "you mustn't talk like that. I couldn't leave a Boldero on the pavement, and an old man at that! . . . Oh, to think that if he'd only managed to please his uncle he might ha' been one of the richest men in Lancashire. But then there'd ha' been no Boldero Institute at Strangeways!" he added.
They both sat silent a moment.
"Will you come now? Or will you wait a bit?" asked Mr. Boldero, gently. "Just as you wish. I'm sorry as my wife's away, that I am!"
"I'll come now," said Sophia, firmly. But she was stricken.
He conducted her up a short, dark flight of stairs, which gave on a passage, and at the end of the passage was a door ajar. He pushed the door open. "I'll leave you for a moment," he said, always in the same very restrained tone. "You'll find me downstairs, there, if you want me." And he moved away with hushed, deliberate tread.
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