“I was just wondering whether something oughtn’t to be done for Mr. Povey.”
“What?” Sophia demanded.
“Has he gone back to his bedroom?”
“Let’s go and listen,” said Sophia the adventuress.
They went, through the showroom door, past the foot of the stairs leading to the second storey, down the long corridor broken in the middle by two steps and carpeted with a narrow bordered carpet whose parallel lines increased its apparent length. They went on tiptoe, sticking close to one another. Mr. Povey’s door was slightly ajar. They listened; not a sound.
“Mr. Povey!” Constance coughed discreetly.
No reply. It was Sophia who pushed the door open. Constance made an elderly prim plucking gesture at Sophia’s bare arm, but she followed Sophia gingerly into the forbidden room, which was, however, empty. The bed had been ruffled, and on it lay a book, “The Harvest of a Quiet Eye.”
“Harvest of a quiet tooth!” Sophia whispered, giggling very low.
“Hsh!” Constance put her lips forward.
From the next room came a regular, muffled, oratorical sound, as though some one had begun many years ago to address a meeting and had forgotten to leave off and never would leave off. They were familiar with the sound, and they quitted Mr. Povey’s chamber in fear of disturbing it. At the same moment Mr. Povey reappeared, this time in the drawing-room doorway at the other extremity of the long corridor. He seemed to be trying ineffectually to flee from his tooth as a murderer tries to flee from his conscience.
“Oh, Mr. Povey!” said Constance quickly—for he had surprised them coming out of his bedroom; “we were just looking for you.”
“To see if we could do anything for you,” Sophia added.
“Oh no, thanks!” said Mr. Povey.
Then he began to come down the corridor, slowly.
“You haven’t been to the dentist’s,” said Constance sympathetically.
“No, I haven’t,” said Mr. Povey, as if Constance was indicating a fact which had escaped his attention. “The truth is, I thought it looked like rain, and if I’d got wet—you see—”
Miserable Mr. Povey!
“Yes,” said Constance, “you certainly ought to keep out of draughts. Don’t you think it would be a good thing if you went and sat in the parlour? There’s a fire there.”
“I shall be all right, thank you,” said Mr. Povey. And after a pause: “Well, thanks, I will.”
The girls made way for him to pass them at the head of the twisting stairs which led down to the parlour. Constance followed, and Sophia followed Constance.
“Have father’s chair,” said Constance.
There were two rocking-chairs with fluted backs covered by antimacassars, one on either side of the hearth. That to the left was still entitled “father’s chair,” though its owner had not sat in it since long before the Crimean war, and would never sit in it again.