There flashed through Mr. Fortune’s mind a poignant regret that, this being the case, he had not denied it. He said, “I am exceedingly glad to hear it. I might have known Twyning would not be capable of such a breach of discretion. Resuming what I had to say—and, Sabre, I shall indeed be most intensely obliged if you will refrain from fiddling with the things on my table—resuming what I had to say, I will observe in the second and last place that I entirely deprecate, I will go further, I most strongly resent any questioning by any one member of my staff based on any intentions of mine relative to another member of my staff. This business is my business. I think you are sometimes a little prone to forget that. If it seems good to me to strengthen your hand in your department that has nothing whatever to do with Twyning. And if it seems good to me to strengthen Twyning’s hand in Twyning’s department that has nothing whatever to do with you.”
Sabre, despite his private feelings in the matter, characteristically followed this reasoning completely, and said so. “Yes, that’s your way of looking at it, sir, and I don’t say it isn’t perfectly sound—from your point of view—”
Mr. Fortune inclined his head solemnly: “I am obliged to you.”
“—Only other people look at things on the face of them, just as they appear. You know—it’s difficult to express it—I’ve put my heart into those books.” He made a gesture towards his room. “I can’t quite explain it, but I felt that the slight, or what looks like a slight, is on them, not on me.” He put his hand to the back of his head, a habit characteristic when he was embarrassed or perplexed. “I’m afraid I can’t quite express it, but it’s the books. Not myself. I’m—fond of them. They’re not just paper and print to me. I feel that they feel it. You won’t quite understand, I’m afraid—”
“No, I confess that is a little beyond me,” said Mr. Fortune, smoothing his front; and they remained looking at one another.
A sudden and unearthly moan sounded through the room. Mr. Fortune spun himself with relief to his desk and applied his lips to a flexible speaking tube. “Yes?” He dodged the tube to his ear, then to his lips again.
“Beg Canon Toomuch to step up to my room.” He laid down the tube.
Sabre roused himself and stood up abruptly. “Ah, well! All right, sir.” He moved towards his door.
“Sabre,” inquired Mr. Fortune, “you get on well with Twyning, I trust?”
“Get on? Oh yes. We don’t have much to do with each other.”
“Do you dislike Twyning?”
“I don’t dislike him. I’m indifferent to him.”
“I regret to hear that,” said Mr. Fortune.
From the door Sabre put a question in his turn: “When are you going to make this change with Twyning?”
“Am I still to remember that you held out partnership to me?”