Mr. Povey considered that, until something did happen, he must improve the occasion.
“Here we have trade getting worse every day,” said he (it was true), “and you are robbing your parents to make a beast of yourself, and corrupting your companions! I wonder your mother never smelt you!”
“I never dreamt of such a thing!” said Constance, grievously.
Besides, a young man clever enough to rob a till is usually clever enough to find out that the secret of safety in smoking is to use cachous and not to keep the stuff in your pockets a minute longer than you can help.
“There’s no knowing how much money you have stolen,” said Mr. Povey. “A thief!”
If Cyril had stolen cakes, jam, string, cigars, Mr. Povey would never have said ‘thief’ as he did say it. But money! Money was different. And a till was not a cupboard or a larder. A till was a till. Cyril had struck at the very basis of society.
“And on your mother’s birthday!” Mr. Povey said further.
“There’s one thing I can do!” he said. “I can burn all this. Built on lies! How dared you?”
And he pitched into the fire—not the apparatus of crime, but the water-colour drawing of a moss-rose and the straws and the blue ribbon for bows at the corners.
“How dared you?” he repeated.
“You never gave me any money,” Cyril muttered.
He thought the marking of coins a mean trick, and the dragging-in of bad trade and his mother’s birthday roused a familiar devil that usually slept quietly in his breast.
“What’s that you say?” Mr. Povey almost shouted.
“You never gave me any money,” the devil repeated in a louder tone than Cyril had employed.
(It was true. But Cyril ‘had only to ask’ and he would have received all that was good for him.)
Mr. Povey sprang up. Mr. Povey also had a devil. The two devils gazed at each other for an instant; and then, noticing that Cyril’s head was above Mr. Povey’s, the elder devil controlled itself. Mr. Povey had suddenly had as much drama as he wanted.
“Get away to bed!” said he with dignity.
Cyril went, defiantly.
“He’s to have nothing but bread and water, mother,” Mr. Povey finished. He was, on the whole, pleased with himself.
Later in the day Constance reported, tearfully, that she had been up to Cyril and that Cyril had wept. Which was to Cyril’s credit. But all felt that life could never be the same again. During the remainder of existence this unspeakable horror would lift its obscene form between them. Constance had never been so unhappy. Occasionally, when by herself, she would rebel for a brief moment, as one rebels in secret against a mummery which one is obliged to treat seriously. “After all,” she would whisper, “suppose he has taken a few shillings out of the till! What then? What does it matter?” But these moods of moral insurrection against society and Mr. Povey were very transitory. They were come and gone in a flash.