“I think I’ll lie down on the sofa for a minute,” was Mr. Povey’s strange reply; and forthwith he sprang up and flung himself on to the horse-hair sofa between the fireplace and the window, where he lay stripped of all his dignity, a mere beaten animal in a grey suit with peculiar coat-tails, and a very creased waistcoat, and a lapel that was planted with pins, and a paper collar and close-fitting paper cuffs.
Constance ran after him with the antimacassar, which she spread softly on his shoulders; and Sophia put another one over his thin little legs, all drawn up.
They then gazed at their handiwork, with secret self-accusations and the most dreadful misgivings.
“He surely never swallowed it!” Constance whispered.
“He’s asleep, anyhow,” said Sophia, more loudly.
Mr. Povey was certainly asleep, and his mouth was very wide open— like a shop-door. The only question was whether his sleep was not an eternal sleep; the only question was whether he was not out of his pain for ever.
Then he snored—horribly; his snore seemed a portent of disaster.
Sophia approached him as though he were a bomb, and stared, growing bolder, into his mouth.
“Oh, Con,” she summoned her sister, “do come and look! It’s too droll!”
In an instant all their four eyes were exploring the singular landscape of Mr. Povey’s mouth. In a corner, to the right of that interior, was one sizeable fragment of a tooth, that was attached to Mr. Povey by the slenderest tie, so that at each respiration of Mr. Povey, when his body slightly heaved and the gale moaned in the cavern, this tooth moved separately, showing that its long connection with Mr. Povey was drawing to a close.
“That’s the one,” said Sophia, pointing. “And it’s as loose as anything. Did you ever see such a funny thing?”
The extreme funniness of the thing had lulled in Sophia the fear of Mr. Povey’s sudden death.
“I’ll see how much he’s taken,” said Constance, preoccupied, going to the mantelpiece.
“Why, I do believe—–” Sophia began, and then stopped, glancing at the sewing-machine, which stood next to the sofa.
It was a Howe sewing-machine. It had a little tool-drawer, and in the tool-drawer was a small pair of pliers. Constance, engaged in sniffing at the lees of the potion in order to estimate its probable deadliness, heard the well-known click of the little tool-drawer, and then she saw Sophia nearing Mr. Povey’s mouth with the pliers.
“Sophia!” she exclaimed, aghast. “What in the name of goodness are you doing?”
“Nothing,” said Sophia.
The next instant Mr. Povey sprang up out of his laudanum dream.
“It jumps!” he muttered; and, after a reflective pause, “but it’s much better.” He had at any rate escaped death.
Sophia’s right hand was behind her back.
Just then a hawker passed down King Street, crying mussels and cockles.