“Miss Baines, your mother wants you at once.”
He was launched on the phrase before he noticed that, during his absence, Sophia had descended from the showroom and joined her sister and Mr. Scales. The danger and scandal were now less, he perceived, but he was glad he had summoned Constance away, and he was in a state to despise consequences.
The three chatterers, startled, looked at Mr. Povey, who left the shop abruptly. Constance could do nothing but obey the call.
She met him at the door of the cutting-out room in the passage leading to the parlour.
“Where is mother? In the parlour?” Constance inquired innocently.
There was a dark flush on Mr. Povey’s face. “If you wish to know,” said he in a hard voice, “she hasn’t asked for you and she doesn’t want you.”
He turned his back on her, and retreated into his lair.
“Then what—?” she began, puzzled.
He fronted her. “Haven’t you been gabbling long enough with that jackanapes?” he spit at her. There were tears in his eyes.
Constance, though without experience in these matters, comprehended. She comprehended perfectly and immediately. She ought to have put Mr. Povey into his place. She ought to have protested with firm, dignified finality against such a ridiculous and monstrous outrage as that which Mr. Povey had committed. Mr. Povey ought to have been ruined for ever in her esteem and in her heart. But she hesitated.
“And only last Sunday—afternoon,” Mr. Povey blubbered.
(Not that anything overt had occurred, or been articulately said, between them last Sunday afternoon. But they had been alone together, and had each witnessed strange and disturbing matters in the eyes of the other.)
Tears now fell suddenly from Constance’s eyes. “You ought to be ashamed—” she stammered.
Still, the tears were in her eyes, and in his too. What he or she merely said, therefore, was of secondary importance.
Mrs. Baines, coming from the kitchen, and hearing Constance’s voice, burst upon the scene, which silenced her. Parents are sometimes silenced. She found Sophia and Mr. Scales in the shop.
That afternoon Sophia, too busy with her own affairs to notice anything abnormal in the relations between her mother and Constance, and quite ignorant that there had been an unsuccessful plot against her, went forth to call upon Miss Chetwynd, with whom she had remained very friendly: she considered that she and Miss Chetwynd formed an aristocracy of intellect, and the family indeed tacitly admitted this. She practised no secrecy in her departure from the shop; she merely dressed, in her second-best hoop, and went, having been ready at any moment to tell her mother, if her mother caught her and inquired, that she was going to see Miss Chetwynd. And she did go to see Miss Chetwynd, arriving at the house-school, which lay amid trees on the road to Turnhill, just beyond the turnpike, at precisely a quarter-past four. As Miss Chetwynd’s pupils left at four o’clock, and as Miss Chetwynd invariably took a walk immediately afterwards, Sophia was able to contain her surprise upon being informed that Miss Chetwynd was not in. She had not intended that Miss Chetwynd should be in.