His mother, who was seated next to him, seized the bottle. Denry’s hand, in clasping the bottle, had hidden a small label, which said:
“POISON—Nettleship’s Patent Enamel-Cleaning Fluid. One wipe does it.”
Confusion! Only Nellie Cotterill seemed to be incapable of realising that a grave accident had occurred. She had laughed throughout the supper, and she still laughed, hysterically, though she had drunk scarcely any wine. Her mother silenced her.
Denry was the first to recover.
“It’ll be all right,” said he, leaning back in his chair. “They always put a bit of poison in those things. It can’t hurt me, really. I never noticed the label.”
Mrs Machin smelt at the bottle. She could detect no odour, but the fact that she could detect no odour appeared only to increase her alarm.
“You must have an emetic instantly,” she said.
“Oh no!” said Denry. “I shall be all right.” And he did seem to be suddenly restored.
“You must have an emetic instantly,” she repeated.
“What can I have?” he grumbled. “You can’t expect to find emetics here.”
“Oh yes, I can,” said she. “I saw a mustard tin in a cupboard in the kitchen. Come along now, and don’t be silly.”
Nellie’s hysteric mirth surged up again.
Denry objected to accompanying his mother into the kitchen. But he was forced to submit. She shut the door on both of them. It is probable that during the seven minutes which they spent mysteriously together in the kitchen, the practicability of the kitchen apparatus for carrying off waste products was duly tested. Denry came forth, very pale and very cross, on his mother’s arm.
“There’s no danger now,” said his mother, easily.
Naturally the party was at an end. The Cotterills sympathised, and prepared to depart, and inquired whether Denry could walk home.
Denry replied, from a sofa, in a weak, expiring voice, that he was perfectly incapable of walking home, that his sensations were in the highest degree disconcerting, that he should sleep in that house, as the bedrooms were ready for occupation, and that he should expect his mother to remain also.
And Mrs Machin had to concur. Mrs Machin sped the Cotterills from the door as though it had been her own door. She was exceedingly angry and agitated. But she could not impart her feelings to the suffering Denry. He moaned on a bed for about half-an-hour, and then fell asleep. And in the middle of the night, in the dark, strange house, she also fell asleep.
The next morning she arose and went forth, and in about half-an-hour returned. Denry was still in bed, but his health seemed to have resumed its normal excellence. Mrs Machin burst upon him in such a state of complicated excitement as he had never before seen her in.
“Denry,” she cried, “what do you think?”