“Swallowed what, Mr. Povey?” Constance inquired.
The tip of Mr. Povey’s tongue made a careful voyage of inspection all round the right side of his mouth.
“Oh yes!” he said, as if solemnly accepting the inevitable. “I’ve swallowed it!”
Sophia’s face was now scarlet; she seemed to be looking for some place to hide it. Constance could not think of anything to say.
“That tooth has been loose for two years,” said Mr. Povey, “and now I’ve swallowed it with a mussel.”
“Oh, Mr. Povey!” Constance cried in confusion, and added, “There’s one good thing, it can’t hurt you any more now.”
“Oh!” said Mr. Povey. “It wasn’t that tooth that was hurting me. It’s an old stump at the back that’s upset me so this last day or two. I wish it had been.”
Sophia had her teacup close to her red face. At these words of Mr. Povey her cheeks seemed to fill out like plump apples. She dashed the cup into its saucer, spilling tea recklessly, and then ran from the room with stifled snorts.
“Sophia!” Constance protested.
“I must just—–” Sophia incoherently spluttered in the doorway. “I shall be all right. Don’t—–”
Constance, who had risen, sat down again.
Sophia fled along the passage leading to the shop and took refuge in the cutting-out room, a room which the astonishing architect had devised upon what must have been a backyard of one of the three constituent houses. It was lighted from its roof, and only a wooden partition, eight feet high, separated it from the passage. Here Sophia gave rein to her feelings; she laughed and cried together, weeping generously into her handkerchief and wildly giggling, in a hysteria which she could not control. The spectacle of Mr. Povey mourning for a tooth which he thought he had swallowed, but which in fact lay all the time in her pocket, seemed to her to be by far the most ridiculous, side-splitting thing that had ever happened or could happen on earth. It utterly overcame her. And when she fancied that she had exhausted and conquered its surpassing ridiculousness, this ridiculousness seized her again and rolled her anew in depths of mad, trembling laughter.
Gradually she grew calmer. She heard the parlour door open, and Constance descend the kitchen steps with a rattling tray of tea-things. Tea, then, was finished, without her! Constance did not remain in the kitchen, because the cups and saucers were left for Maggie to wash up as a fitting coda to Maggie’s monthly holiday. The parlour door closed. And the vision of Mr. Povey in his antimacassar swept Sophia off into another convulsion of laughter and tears. Upon this the parlour door opened again, and Sophia choked herself into silence while Constance hastened along the passage. In a minute Constance returned with her woolwork, which she had got from the showroom, and the parlour received her. Not the least curiosity on the part of Constance as to what had become of Sophia!