“No,” she said quietly, “I see nothing for you.”
Taken with a swift rash audacity, he said: “Have you had any one named Povey here recently?”
“Yes. Cyril Povey, of Bursley—in the Five Towns.”
He was very impressionable, very sensitive, was Matthew Peel-Swynnerton. His voice trembled as he spoke. But hers also trembled in reply.
“Not that I remember! No! Were you expecting him to be here?”
“Well, it wasn’t at all sure,” he muttered. “Thank you. Good-night.”
“Good-night,” she said, apparently with the simple perfunctoriness of the landlady who says good-night to dozens of strangers every evening.
He hurried away upstairs, and met the portress coming down. “Well, well!” he thought. “Of all the queer things—!” And he kept nodding his head. At last he had encountered something really strange in the spectacle of existence. It had fallen to him to discover the legendary woman who had fled from Bursley before he was born, and of whom nobody knew anything. What news for Cyril! What a staggering episode! He had scarcely any sleep that night. He wondered whether he would be able to meet Mrs. Scales without self-consciousness on the morrow. However, he was spared the curious ordeal of meeting her. She did not appear at all on the following day; nor did he see her before he left. He could not find a pretext for asking why she was invisible.
The hansom of Matthew Peel-Swynnerton drew up in front of No. 26, Victoria Grove, Chelsea; his kit-bag was on the roof of the cab. The cabman had a red flower in his buttonhole. Matthew leaped out of the vehicle, holding his straw hat on his head with one hand. On reaching the pavement he checked himself suddenly and became carelessly calm. Another straw-hatted and grey-clad figure was standing at the side-gate of No. 26 in the act of lighting a cigarette.
“Hello, Matt!” exclaimed the second figure, languidly, and in a veiled voice due to the fact that he was still holding the match to the cigarette and puffing. “What’s the meaning of all this fluster? You’re just the man I want to see.”
He threw away the match with a wave of the arm, and took Matthew’s hand for a moment, blowing a double shaft of smoke through his nose
“I want to see you, too,” said Matthew. “And I’ve only got a minute. I’m on my way to Euston. I must catch the twelve-five.”
He looked at his friend, and could positively see no feature of it that was not a feature of Mrs. Scales’s face. Also, the elderly woman held her body in exactly the same way as the young man. It was entirely disconcerting.
“Have a cigarette,” answered Cyril Povey, imperturbably. He was two years younger than Matthew, from whom he had acquired most of his vast and intricate knowledge of life and art, with certain leading notions of deportment; whose pupil indeed he was in all the things that matter to young men. But he had already surpassed his professor. He could pretend to be old much more successfully than Matthew could.