A REVELATION

“When will your father come back?” asked Charles as he returned to the
kitchen, having deposited the man of law on his bed and shaken his fist
in his face as a token of what he would get if he rose from it.

“Not till this evening, late,” said Fanny.

“Then I must wait till he returns, or till this person recovers himself.
I cannot possibly leave you alone in the house with a tipsy man.”

“Oh yes, do stay till father returns. I want you to meet him so much,”
said Fanny, all her grief vanishing in smiles.

“Susannah, we’ll have supper at eight.”

“Yes, miss.”

“I am almost glad,” said Fanny, as she tripped up the kitchen stairs
before her cousin, “I am almost glad James took it into his head to get
tipsy, you’d have gone away if he hadn’t, without seeing father; it
seems almost like Providence. Mercy! it’s six o’clock.”

She glanced at the great old hall clock ticking away the moments, even
as it had done when George the Third was king, and Charles took his
watch out to verify the time, but he did not catch the old clock
tripping.

“Now we must think about supper,” said Fanny, in a busy voice. “You must
be dying of hunger. What do you like best?”

“But you have not dined, Fanny.”

“Oh, we always call dinner ‘luncheon,’ and have it in the middle of the
day; it saves trouble, and it is less worry.” Then, after a moment’s
pause: “I wish we had a lobster, but I don’t think there is one. I
_know_ there is a beefsteak.”

She went to the kitchen stairs.

“Susannah!”

“Yes, miss,” answered a dolorous voice from below.

“Have you a lobster in the house?”

“No, miss.”

“You have a beefsteak?”

A sound came as of search amongst the plates on the dresser.

“The beefsteak is gone, Miss Fanny.”

“Now, _where_ can that beefsteak have gone to?” murmured the girl,
whilst Charles called to mind the criminal countenances of the two
faithful cats, and the business-like manner in which they had left the
room.

“Search again, Susannah.”

A frightful crash of crockery came as a reply.

“Susannah!”

“Yes, miss.”

“Don’t look any more, I will go out and buy something.”

“Don’t mind me,” said Charles. “Anything will do for me; I am used–I
mean—-”

“I am not going to have father come back and find you starved to death;
he’d kill me. I’m going out marketing; will you come?”

“With pleasure.”

“Then wait till I fetch my hat and a basket.”

“May I light a cigar?”

“Yes, smoke everywhere, every one does,” and she rushed upstairs for her
hat. A moment later she returned, hat on head, and bearing in her hand
a little basket adorned with blue ribbons: a pound of tea would have
freighted it.

“How on earth is she going to get the dinner into that?” thought her
companion, as he unbarred the hall door and followed her down the steps.

Then they found themselves walking down the weed-grown avenue, the birds
twittering overhead in the light of the warm June evening.

That he should be going “a-marketing” in Highgate accompanied by a
pretty girl with a basket did not, strangely enough, impress Charles
Bevan as being an out-of-the-way occurrence.

He felt as if he had known the Lamberts for years–a good many years. He
no longer contemplated the joyous tragedy of their life wholly as a
spectator; he had become suddenly and without volition one of the
actors, a subordinate actor–a thinking part, one might call it.

The fearful fascination exercised by these people seemed, strange to
say, never so potent as when exercised upon hard-headed people, as
Major Sawyer and many another could have told.

“I love marketing,” said Fanny, as they trudged along, “at least buying
things.”

“Have you any money?”

“Lots,” said Miss Lambert, producing a starved-looking purse.

She opened it and peeped in at the three and sixpence it contained, and
then shut it with a snap as if fearful of their escaping.

“What do you like next best to marketing?” asked Charles in the sedate
voice of a heavy father speaking to his favourite child.

“Opening parcels.”

“I don’t quite—-”

“Oh, you know–strange parcels when they come, or when father brings
them, one never knows what may be in them–chocolate creams or what. I
wonder what father will bring me back this time?”

“Where has he gone to?”

“He has gone to get some money.”

“He will be back this evening?”

“Yes, unless he finds it difficult getting the money. If he does, he
won’t be home till morning.” She spoke as an Indian squaw might speak,
whose father or husband has gone a-hunting, whilst Charles marvelled
vaguely.

“But suppose–he doesn’t get any money?”

“Oh, he will get it all right, people are so good to him. Poor, dear Mr
Hancock—-”

She stopped suddenly.

“Yes, yes.”

“He said we weren’t to tell.”

She spoke in a secretive voice which greatly inflamed her companion’s
curiosity.

“You might tell me, but don’t if you don’t want to.”

“Yes,” said Fanny. “I don’t think it matters now that you are friends
with us, and we’re all the same family. Father’s dividends had not come
in, and he lent us the money to pay the bills.”

“_What_ bills?”

“The butcher’s bill, and Stokes the baker’s bill, and the milk bill, and
some others.”

“_Hancock_ lent you the money to pay your bills?” cried Charles, feeling
like a person in a dream.

“Yes, old Mr Hancock, your Mr Hancock.”

“But he never told me he was a friend of your father’s; besides, he is
_my_ solicitor.”

“He never saw us before this week.”

“Tell me all about it, and how you came to know him so intimately, and
how he paid your bills,” commanded Mr Bevan.

There was, just here on the road, a seat dropped incontinently by the
County Council; they sat upon it whilst she told her tale.

“It was the other day. Father had not slept all night thinking of the
action. He came into my bedroom at two in the morning to tell me that if
he lost it before the House of Lords, he would take it before the Queen
in Council. He had been sitting up reading ‘Every Man his Own Lawyer.’
Well, next morning a lot of people came asking for their money, the
butcher and all those, and we hadn’t any.

“Father said it was all _your_ fault, and he wished he had never seen
the fish stream. I was so frightened by the way he was bothering himself
about everything–for, as a rule, you know he is the most easy-tempered
man in the world as long as he has got his pipe. Well, a friend advised
me to go privately to your lawyer and try to stop the action. So I went
to Mr Hancock.

“At first he seemed very stiff, and glared at me through his spectacles;
but, after a while, as I told him all about ourselves, he stopped
shuffling his feet, and listened with his hand to his ear as if he were
deaf, and he took a smelling bottle out of a drawer of his desk and
snuffed at it, and said, ‘Dear me, how very extraordinary!’ Then he
called me his ‘Poor child!’ and asked me had I had any luncheon. I said
‘Yes,’ though I hadn’t–I wasn’t hungry. Well, we talked and talked, and
at last he said he would come back with me home, for that our affairs
were in a dreadful condition and we didn’t seem to know it. He said he
would come as a friend and try to forget that he was a lawyer.

“Well, he came here with me. Father was upstairs in his bedroom, and I
poked my head in and told him your lawyer wanted to see him in the
drawing-room.

“I didn’t tell him it was I who had fetched him, for I knew he would
simply go mad if he thought I had been meddling with the action;
besides, Mr Hancock said I had better not, as he simply called as a
friend.

“Down came father and went into the drawing-room. I was in an awful
fright, too frightened even to listen at the door. I made Susannah
listen after a while, and she said they were talking about roses–I
felt so relieved.

“I sent Susannah in with wine, and Mr Hancock stayed to supper. After
supper they had cigars and punch, and I played to them on the piano, and
father sang Irish songs, and Mr Hancock told us awfully funny stories
all about the law, and said he was a bachelor and envied father because
he had a daughter like me.

“Then he talked about our affairs, and said he would require more punch
before he could understand them; so he had more punch, and father showed
him the housekeeping books, and he looked over them reading them upside
down and every way. Then he wrote out a cheque to pay the books, with
one eye shut, whilst father wrote out bills, you know, to pay the
cheque, and then he kissed me and said good-bye to father and went away
crying.”

“But,” cried Charles, utterly astounded at this artless revelation of
another man’s folly, “old Hancock never made a joke in his life–at
least to _me_–and he’s an awful old skinflint and never lent any man a
penny, so they say.”

“He made lots of jokes that night, anyhow,” said Fanny, “and lent
father over twenty pounds, too; and only yesterday a great bunch of
hothouse flowers came from Covent Garden with his card for me.”

“Old fool!” said Charles.

“He is not an old fool, he’s a dear old man, and I love him. Come on, or
the shops will be closed.”

“You seem to love everything,” said Mr Bevan in a rather stiff tone, as
they meandered along near now to the street where shops were.

“I do–at least everything I don’t hate.”

“Whom do you hate?”

“No one just now. I never hate people for long, it is too much trouble.
I used to hate you before I knew you. I thought you were a man with a
black beard; you see I hadn’t seen you.”

“But, why on earth did you think I had a black beard?”

“_I_ don’t know. I suppose it was because I hate black beards.”

“So you don’t hate me?”

“No, _indeed_.”

“And as every one you don’t hate, you—- I say, what a splendid evening
this is! it is just like Italy. I mean, it reminds me of Italy.”

“And here are the shops at last,” said Fanny, as if the shops had been
travelling to them and had only just arrived.

She stopped at a stationer’s window.

“I want to get some envelopes. Come in, won’t you?”

She bought a packet of envelopes for fourpence. Charles turned away to
look at some of the gaudily-bound Kebles, Byrons, and Scotts so dear to
the middle-class heart, and before he could turn again she had bought a
little prayer-book with a cross on it for a shilling. The shopman was
besetting her with a new invention in birthday cards when Charles broke
the spell by touching her elbow with the head of his walking stick.

“Don’t you think,” said he when they were safely in the street, “it is a
mistake buying prayer-books, these shop-keepers are such awful
swindlers?”

“I bought it for Susannah,” explained Fanny. “It’s a little present for
her after the way James has gone on. Look at this dear monkey.”

A barrel organ of the old type was playing by the pavement, making a
sound as if an old man gone idiotic were humming a tune to himself. A
villainous-looking monkey on the organ-top, held out his hand when it
saw Fanny approaching. It knew the world evidently, or at least
physiognomy, which is almost the same thing.

“He takes it just like a man,” she cried, as the creature grabbed one of
her pennies and then nearly broke its chain trying to get at her to tear
the rose from her hat. “Look, it knows the people who are fond of it; it
is just like a child.”

Charles tore her from the monkey, only for a milliner’s shop to suck her
in.

“I must run in here for a moment, it’s only about a corset I ordered; I
won’t be three minutes.”

He waited ten, thinking how strange it was that this girl saw something
attractive in nearly everything–strange cats, monkeys, and even old
Hancock.

At the end of twenty minutes’ walking up and down, he approached the
milliner’s window and peeped into the shop.

Fanny was conversing with a tall woman, whose frizzled black hair lent
her somehow the appearance of a Frenchwoman.

The Highgate Frenchwoman was dangling something gaudy and flimsy before
Fanny’s eyes, and the girl had her purse in her hand.

Charles gave a sigh, and resumed his beat like a policeman.

At last she came out, carrying a tissue-paper parcel.

“Well, have you got your–what you called for?”

“No, it’s not ready yet; but I’ve got the most beautiful–Oh my goodness
me!–how stupid I am!”

“What?”

“I have only three halfpence left, and I have forgotten the eggs and
things for supper.”

“Give me your purse, and let me look into it,” he said, taking the
little purse and turning away a moment. Then he handed it back to her;
she opened it and peeped in, and there lay a sovereign.

“It’s just what father does,” she said, looking up in the lamp-light
with a smile that somehow made Mr Bevan’s eyes feel misty. “What makes
you so like him in everything you do?” And somehow these words seemed to
the correct Mr Bevan the sweetest he had ever heard.

Then they marketed after the fashion of youth when it finds itself the
possessor of a whole sovereign. Fanny laying out the money as the fancy
took her, and with the lavishness so conspicuously absent in the
dealings of your mere millionaire.

They then returned to “The Laurels,” Charles Bevan carrying the parcels.

The dining-room of “The Laurels” was a huge apartment furnished in the
age of heavy dinners, when a knowledge of comparative anatomy and the
wrist of a butcher were necessary ingredients in the composition of a
successful host.

Here Susannah, to drown her sorrows in labour and give honour to the
guest, had laid the supper things on a lavish scale. The Venetian vase,
before-mentioned, stood filled with roses in the centre of the table,
and places were laid for six–all sorts of places. Some of the
unexpected guests were presumably to sup entirely off fish, to judge by
the knives and forks set out for them, and some were evidently to be
denied the luxury of soup. That there was neither soup nor fish mattered
little to Susannah.

The cellar, to judge by the sideboard, had been seized with a spirit of
emulation begotten of the display made by the plate pantry, and had sent
three representatives from each bin. The sideboard also contained the
jam-pot, the bread tray, and butter on a plate: commestables that had
the abject air of poor relations admitted on sufferance, and come to
look on.

Here entered Fanny, followed by Mr Bevan, laden with parcels.

The girl’s hat was tilted slightly sideways, her raven hair was in
revolt, and her cheeks flushed with happiness and the excitement of
marketing.

Susannah followed them. She wore a wonderful white apron adorned with
frills and blue ribbons, a birthday present from her mistress, only
brought out on state occasions.

“Three candles only!” said the mistress of the house, glancing at the
table and the three candles burning on it. “That’s not enough; fetch a
couple more, and, Susannah, bring the sardine opener.”

“Why don’t you light the gas?” asked her cousin, putting his parcels
down and glancing at the great chandelier swinging overhead.

“I would, only father has had a fight with the gas company and they’ve
cut it off. Now let’s open the parcels; put the candles nearer.”

Mr Bevan’s parcels contained a box of sardines, a paysandu ox tongue,
and a basket of peaches; Fanny’s, the before-mentioned prayer-book,
envelopes, and in the tissue-paper parcel a light shawl or fichu of
fleecy silk dyed blue.

She cast her hat off, and throwing the fichu round her neck, hopped upon
a chair, candle in hand, and glanced at herself in a great mirror on the
opposite wall.

“It makes me look beautiful!” she cried. “And I have half a mind to keep
it for myself.”

“Why–for whom did you buy it, then?”

“For James’ wife, Mrs Regan.”

“Oh!”

“She is ill, you know, and I am going to see her again to-morrow. I hate
going to see sick people, but father says whenever we see a lame dog we
should put our shoulders to the wheel and help him over the stile, and
she’s a lame dog, if ever there was one. That’s right, Susannah, put the
candles here, and give me the can opener; I love opening tins, and
there is a little prayer-book I got for you when I was out.”

“Thank you, miss,” said Susannah in a muffled voice, putting the little
prayer-book under her apron with one hand, and snuffing a candle with
the finger and thumb of the other. “Can I get you anything more, miss?”

“Nothing. Is James all right?”

“He’s asleep now, miss,” answered the maid, closing her mouth for once
in her life by some miracle of Love, and catching in her breath through
her nose.

“That will do, Susannah,” hastily said her mistress, who knew this
symptom of old, and what it foreboded; “I’ll ring if I want you. Bring
up the punch things at ten, just as you always bring them.”

Susannah left the room making stifled sounds, and Fanny, with Mrs
Regan’s fichu about her neck, attacked the sardine tin with the opener.

“Let me,” said Charles.

“No, no; you open the champagne, and put the peaches on a plate, and
I’ll open the tins. Bring over the bread and butter and jam. I wish we
had some ice for the champagne, but the fishmonger–forgot to send it.
Bother this knife!”

She laboured away, with her cheeks flushed; a lock of black hair
hanging loose lent her a distracted air, and made her so lovely in the
eyes of Charles that he put the bread platter down on top of the butter
plate, so that the butter pat clung to the bottom of the bread platter,
and they had to scrape it off, one holding the platter, one scraping
with the knife, and both hands touching.

“We have had that bread plate ever since I can remember,” she said, as
they seated themselves to the feast, “and I wouldn’t have anything
happen to it for earths, not that the butter will do it any harm. Isn’t
the text on it nice?”

Charles examined the bread platter gravely.

“‘Want not,'” he read. He looked in vain for the “Waste not,” but that
part of the maxim was hidden by the carved representation of a full ear
of corn.

“It’s a very nice–motto. Have some champagne?”

“No thanks, I only drink water, wine flies to my head; I am like James.
I am going to have a peach–have one.”

“Thank you, I am eating sardines. You remind me of the old gentleman–he
was short-sighted–who offered me a pinch of snuff once when I was
eating a sole.”

Fanny, with her teeth set in the peach, gave a little shriek of
laughter, but Mr Bevan was perfectly grave. Still, for perhaps the first
time in his life, he felt his possibilities as a humorist, and
determined to exploit them.

“Talking about ghosts”–ghosts and mothers-in-law, to the medium
intellect, are always fair game,–“talking about ghosts,” said he, “you
said, I think, Cousin Fanny—-”

“Call me Fanny,” said that lady, who, having eaten her peach, was now
helping herself to sardines. “I hate that word ‘cousin,’ it sounds so
stiff. What about ghosts?”

“About ghosts,” he answered slowly, his new-found sense of humour
suddenly becoming lost. “Oh yes, you said, Fanny, that a ghost was
haunting this house.”

“Yes, Fanny Lambert. I told you she hid her jewels before she hung
herself. When people see her she is always beckoning them to follow her.
We found James insensible one night on the landing upstairs; he told us
next morning he had seen her, and she had beckoned him to follow her,
and after that he remembered nothing more.”

“A sure sign there were spirits in the house.”

“Wasn’t it? But why, do you think, does she beckon people?”

“Perhaps she beckons people to show them where the jewels are hidden.”

“Oh!” cried Fanny; “_why_ did we never think of that before? Of _course_
that is the reason–and they are worth two hundred thousand pounds. We
must have the panels in the corridor taken down. I’ll make father do it
to-morrow. Two hundred thousand pounds: what is that a year?”

“Ten thousand.”

“Fancy father with ten thousand a year!” Mr Bevan shuddered. “We can
have a steam yacht, and everything we want. I feel as if I were going
mad,” said Miss Lambert, with the air of a person who had often been mad
before and knew the symptoms.

The door opened and Susannah appeared with the punch things. “Susannah,
guess what’s happened–never mind, you’ll know soon. Have you got the
lemon and the sugar? That is right.”

And Miss Lambert, forgetting for a moment fortune, turned her attention
to the manufacturing of punch.

Susannah withdrew, casting her eyes over Fanny and Charles as she went,
and seeming to draw her under-lip after her.

When the door was shut, Miss Lambert looked into the punch bowl to see
if it was clean, and, having turned a huge spider out of it, went to the
sideboard.

“You are not going to make punch in this great thing?”

“I am,” said Fanny, returning with a bottle in each hand and one under
her arm.

“Go on,” said Charles resignedly. “May I smoke?”

“Of course, smoke. Open me this champagne.”

“You are not going to put champagne in punch?”

“Everything is good in punch. Father learned how to make it in Moscow,
when he was dining with the Hussars there. After dinner a huge bowl was
brought in, and everything went in–champagne, whisky, brandy, all the
fruit from the dessert; then they set it on fire, and drank it,
burning.”

“Has your father ever made punch like that?”

“No, but now I’ve got him away, I am going to try.”

Pop went the champagne cork, and the golden wine ran creaming into the
bowl.

“Now the brandy.”

“But this will be cold punch.”

“Yes, it’s just as good; milk punch is always cold.”

“I’m blest if this is milk punch,” said Mr Bevan, as he looked fearfully
into the bowl; “but go on.”

“I am going as quick as I can,” she replied. Then the whisky went in,
and half a tumblerfull of curaçoa also, the lemon cut in slices and the
peaches that remained.

“I haven’t anything more to throw in,” said Fanny, casting her eye over
the sardines and the ox tongue. “We ought to have grapes and things; no
matter, stir it up and set it on fire, and see what it tastes like.”

“But, my dear child,” said the horrified Charles, as he stirred the
seething mixture with the old silver ladle into whose belly a guinea had
been beaten. “You surely don’t expect me to drink this fearful stuff? I
thought you were making it for fun.”

“You taste it and see, but set it on fire first.”

He struck a match.

“It won’t catch fire!” he cried. “Knew it wouldn’t.”

“Well, taste it cold; it smells delicious.”

She plucked a rose from the vase and strewed the petals on the surface
of the liquid to help the taste, whilst Mr Bevan ladled some into a
glass.

“It’s not bad, ‘pon my word it’s not bad; the curaçoa seems to blend all
the other flavours together, but it’s fearfully strong.”

“Wait”–she ran to the sideboard for a bottle of soda water.

“Mix it half and half, and see how it tastes.”

“That’s better.”

“Then we’ll take it into the library, it’s more comfortable there. You
carry the bowl, and I will bring the candles.”

“What are these?” asked Mr Bevan, as he removed some papers from the
library table to make room for the punch bowl.

“Oh, some papers of father’s.”

“The Rorkes Drift Gold Mines.”

“Yes,” she said, glancing over his shoulder. “I remember now; those are
the things I am to get a silk dress out of when they go to twenty.
Father is mad over them; he says nothing will stop them when they begin
to move, whatever that means.”

“Well, they have moved with a vengeance, for only yesterday I heard they
had gone into liquidation.”

“All the good luck seems coming together,” said Fanny with a happy sigh,
as Charles went to the window and looked out at the moon, rising in a
cloudless sky over the forsaken garden and ruined tennis ground. “Not
that it matters much if we get those jewels whether the old mines go up
or down; still, no matter how rich one becomes, more money is always
useful.”

“Yes, I suppose it is,” said he, looking with a troubled but sentimental
face at the moon. “Tell me, Fanny, do you know much about the Stock
Exchange?”

“Oh, heaps.”

“What do you know?”

“I know that Brighton A’s are called Doras–no, Berthas–no, I think
it’s Doras–and Mexican Railways are going to Par, and the Kneedeep
Mines are going to a hundred and fifty, and father has a thousand of
them he got for sixpence a share, and he gave me fifty for myself, but
I’m not to sell them till they go to a hundred. Aren’t stockbrokers
nice-looking, and always so well dressed? I saw hundreds of them one day
father left me for a moment in Angel Court whilst he ran in to see his
broker–Oh yes! and the bears are going to catch it at the next
settlement.”

“Do you know what ‘bears’ are?”

“No,” said Fanny, “but they’re going to catch it whatever they are, for
I heard father say so–Oh, what a moon! I am sure the fairies must be
out to-night.”

“You don’t mean to say you believe in such rubbish as fairies?”

“Of course I believe in them; not here in Highgate, perhaps, for there
are too many people, but in woods and places.”

“But there are no such things, it has been proved over and over again;
_no_ one believes in them nowadays.”

“Did you never see the mushrooms growing in rings? Well, how could they
grow like that if they were not planted, and who’d be bothered planting
umbrella mushrooms in rings but the fairies?”

“Does your father believe in them?”

“Never asked him, but of course he does; every one does–even
Susannah.”

She went to the table and blew out the candles.

“What are you doing now?”

“Blowing out the lights; it’s so much nicer sitting in the moonlight.
Fill your glass and sit down beside me.”

“Extraordinary child,” thought Mr Bevan, doing as he was bid, whilst she
opened the window wide to “let the moon in.”

Other things came too, a night moth and a perfume of decaying leaves,
the souls of last year’s sun-flowers and hollyhocks were abroad
to-night; the distant paddock seemed full of cats, to judge by the
sounds that came from it, and bats were flickering in the air. The voice
of Boy-Boy, metallic and rhythmical as the sound of a trip hammer, came
from a distant corner of the garden where he had treed a cat.

“Quick,” said Fanny, drawing in her head and pulling her companion by
the arm, “and you’ll be in time to see our tortoise.”

Charles regarded the quadruped without emotion.

“I don’t see the necessity for such frightful haste.”

“Still, if you’d been a moment sooner the moonlight would have been on
him; he was shining a moment ago like silver. Do you know what a
tortoise is? it’s a sign of age. You and I will be some day like that
tortoise, without any teeth, wheezing and coughing and grubbing along;
and may-be we will look back and think of this night when we were
young–Oh, dear me, I wish I were dead!”

“Why, why, what’s the matter now–Fanny?”

“I don’t want to grow old,” pouted Miss Lambert.

“When two people grow old together,” began Mr Bevan in whose brain the
punch was at work, “they do not notice the–that is to say, age really
does not matter. Besides, a woman is only as old as she feels–I mean as
she looks.”

The fumes of the punch of a sudden took on themselves a form as of the
pale phantom of Pamela Pursehouse, and the phantom cried, “Begone, flee
from temptation whilst you may.”

Before him the concrete form of Miss Lambert sitting in the corner of
the window-seat and bathed in moonlight, said to him, “Hug me.”

Her eyes were resting upon him, then she gazed out at the garden and
sighed.

Charles took her hand: it was not withdrawn. “I must be going now,” he
said.

She turned from the garden and gazed at him in silence.

A few minutes later, feeling clouds beneath his feet and all sorts of
new sensations around his heart, he was walking down the weed-grown
avenue, Boy-Boy at his heels barking and snarling, satisfied no doubt by
some preternatural instinct that do what he might he would not be
kicked.

Ere he had reached the middle of the avenue he heard a voice calling,
“Cousin Charley!”

“Yes, Fanny.”

“Come back soon!”