MISS MORGAN

It is so easy not to do some things. Bevan, had he acted correctly,
ought to have informed Mr Lambert of his visit to Highgate and all that
therein lay, yet he did not. There was nothing to hide, yet, as Sir
Boyle-Roche might have said, he hid it.

During tea several things occupied his mind very much. The vision of
Fanny Lambert was constantly before him, so was the person of her
father. He could not but acknowledge that Lambert was a most attractive
personage–attractive to men, to women, to children, to dogs,
cats–anything that could see and feel, in fact. Everything seemed to
brighten in his presence. Hamilton-Cox’s dictum that if Lambert could be
bottled he would make the most excellent Burgundy, was not far wrong.

Bevan, as he sipped his tea, watched the genial Lambert, and could not
but notice that he paid very marked attention to Pamela, and even more
marked attention to old Miss Jenkins, her aunt.

This did not altogether please him, neither did the fact that Pamela
seemed to enjoy the attentions of this man, who was her diametrical
opposite.

To the profound philosopher who indites these lines it seems that
between men and women in the mass there is very little difference. They
act pretty much the same, except, perhaps, in the presence of mice.
Bevan did very much what a woman would have done in his position: seeing
his true love flirting with some one else, he flirted with some one
else. Lulu Morgan was nearest to him, so he used her.

“I’ve been in England a twelvemonth,” answered Miss Morgan, in reply to
a query, “and I feel beginning to get crusted. They say the old carp in
the pond in Versailles get moss-grown after they’ve been there a hundred
and fifty years or so, and I feel like that. When I say I’ve been in
England a twelvemonth, I mean Europe. I’ve been in England three months,
and the rest abroad. Pamela picked me up in Paris, you’d just gone back
home; Lady Scott introduced me to her. I was looking out for a job. I
came over originally with the Vandervades, then Sadie Vandervade got
married; I was her companion, and I lost the job. Of course I could have
stayed on with old man Vandervade and his wife, but I wanted a job. I’m
like a squirrel, put me in a cage with nothing to do, and I’d die. I
must have a mill to turn, so I froze on to Pamela’s offer. I write her
letters, and do her accounts, and interview her tradespeople. I guess
she’s getting fat for want of work since I’ve been her companion. Yes, I
like England, and I like this place; if the people could be scraped out
of it clean, it would be considerably nicer. I went to church last
Sunday to have a good long considerate look at them; they all arrived in
carriages–every one here who has a shay of any description turns it out
to go to church in on Sunday. Well, I went to have a good long look at
them, and such a collection of stuffed images and plug-uglies I never
beheld. I’m vicious about them p’rhaps, for they treated Pamela so mean,
holding off from her when she first came, and then rushing down her
throat when they found she knew a duchess. They’d boil themselves for a
duchess. Say–you know the Lamberts? Isn’t Fanny sweet?”

Mr Bevan started in his chair, but Miss Morgan did not notice, engrossed
as she was with her own conversation.

“We met them in Paris; and I don’t know which is sweeter, Fanny or her
father. She was to have come down here with him, but she didn’t. My, but
she is pretty. And don’t the men run after her! there were three men in
Paris raving about her; she’d only known them two days, and they were
near proposing to her. Don’t wonder at it, I’d propose to her myself, if
I was a man. But she’s a little flirt all the same, and I told her so.”

“Excuse me,” said Bevan, “but I scarcely think you are justified–that
is–from what I have heard of Miss Lambert, I would scarcely suspect her
of being a–flirt.”

“Wouldn’t you? Men never suspect a woman of being a flirt till they’re
flirted with and done for. Fanny’s the worst description of flirt–oh,
I’ve told her so to her face–for she doesn’t mean it; she just leads
men on with her sweetness, and doesn’t see they’re breaking their hearts
for her. She’s a regular trap bated with sugar. How did you escape, Mr
Bevan? You’re the only man, I guess, who ever did.”

“I haven’t the pleasure–er–of Miss Lambert’s acquaintance,” said
Charles, rather stiffly.

“Well, you’re safe, for you are engaged; only for that I’d say ‘Don’t
have the pleasure of her acquaintance.’ What I like about her is that
she makes all the other women so furious; she sucks the men away from
them like a whirlpool. It’s a pity she’s so rich, for it’s simply gilt
thrown away—-”

“Is Miss–Miss Lambert rich?”

“Why, certainly; at least I conclude so.”

“Did she tell you so?”

“No–but she gives one the impression; they have country houses like
mushrooms all over the place, and she dresses simply just as she
pleases; only really rich people can afford to do that. She went to the
opera in Paris with us in an old horror of a gown that made her look
quite charming. No one notices what she has on; and if she went to
heaven in a coffee-coat they’d let her in, for she’d still be Fanny
Lambert.”

“You saw a good deal of her in Paris?”

“Yes, we went about a good deal.”

“Tell me,” said Mr Bevan very gravely, “you said she was a flirt–did
you really mean that?”

“Why, how interested you are! She is, but not a bad sort of flirt. She’s
one of those people all heart–she loves everything and everybody–up to
a certain point.”

“Do you think she is in love with any man–beyond a certain point?”

“Can’t say,” said Miss Morgan, shaking her head sagely; “but when she
does, she’ll go the whole hog. The man she’ll love she’ll love for ever
and ever, and die on his grave, and that sort of thing, you know.”

“I believe you are right.”

“Why, how do you know? You’ve never met her.”

“I was referring to your description of her. Girls of her impulsive
nature–er–generally do–I mean they are generally warm-hearted and
that sort of thing.”

“There’s one man I think she has a fancy for,” said Miss Morgan, staring
into space with her wide-open blue eyes, “but he’s poor as a rat–an
awfully nice fellow, a painter; Mr Lambert fished him up somewhere in a
café. He and Fanny and I and a friend of his went and had dinner at a
little café near the Boul’ Miche. Then we got lost–that is to say, I
and Heidenheimer lost sight of Fanny and her friend; and Fanny told me
afterwards she’d had no end of a good time finding her way home; so’d I.
‘Twas awfully improper, of course, but no one knew, and it was in
Paris.”

“I may be old-fashioned, of course,” said Mr Bevan stiffly, “but I think
people can’t be too careful, you know–um–how long was Miss Lambert
lost with Mr—-”

“Leavesley–that’s his name. Oh! she didn’t turn up at the hotel till
after eight.”

“Did Mr Lambert know?”

“Oh yes, but he wasn’t uneasy; he said she was like a bad penny, sure to
turn up all right.”

“Good God!”

“What on earth!–why, there was no harm. Leavesley is the best of good
fellows, he looked after her like a grandmother; he worships the very
ground she walks on, and I’d pity the man who would as much as look
twice at Fanny if he was with her.”

“Um–Mr Leavesley, as you call him—-”

“I don’t call him, he calls himself.”

“Well, Mr Leavesley may be all right in his way, but I should not care
to see a sister of mine worshipped by one of these sort of people.
Organ-grinders and out-of-elbow artists may be delightful company amidst
their own set, but I confess I am not accustomed to them—-”

“That’s just your insular prejudice–seems to me I’ve heard that
expression before, but it will do–Leavesley isn’t an organ-grinder. I
can’t stand loafers myself, and if a man can’t keep up with the
procession, he’d better hang himself; but Leavesley isn’t a loafer, and
he’ll be at the top of the procession yet, leading the elephant. Oh, he
paints divinely!”

“Miss Lambert, you say, is in love with him?”

“I didn’t–I fancy she had a weakness; but maybe it’s only a fancy.”

“Does he write to her?”

“Don’t know–very likely; these artistic people can do things other
people can’t. We all went to see the Lamberts off at the Nord, and had
champagne at the buffet; and poor old Fragonard–he was another
worshipper, an artist you know–turned up with a huge big bouquet of
violets for Fanny; we asked him where he’d got them, and he said he’d
stolen them. They don’t care a fig for poverty, artists; make a joke of
it you know. Yes, I daresay he writes to Fanny. Heidenheimer writes to
me every week–says he’s dying in love with me, and sends poems,
screechingly funny poems, all about nightingales and arrows and hearts.
He’s an artist too, and I’d marry him, I believe I would, only we’re
both as poor as Lazarus.”

“Mr Leavesley is an artist you say?”

“Yes, but he’s a genius, but genius doesn’t pay–that’s to say at
first–afterwards–afterwards it’s different. Trading rats for diamonds
in famine time isn’t in it with a genius when he gets on the make.”

Mr Bevan gazed reflectively at the tips of his shoes. He quite
recognised that these long-haired and out-at-elbowed anomalies y’clept
geniuses had the trick, at times, of making money. A dim sort of wrath
against the whole species possessed him. To a clean, correct, and
level-headed gentleman possessed of broad acres and a huge rent-roll, it
is unpleasant to think that a slovenly, shiftless happy-go-lucky
tatterdemallion may be a clean, correct and level-headed gentleman’s,
superior both in brains, fascination, and even in wealth. We can fancy
the correct one subscribing sympathy, if not money, to a society for the
extinction of genius, were not such a body entirely superfluous in the
present condition of human affairs.

“It may be,” said Mr Bevan at last, “that those people are very pleasant
and all that, and useful in the world and so on, but I confess I like to
associate with people who cut their hair, and, not to put too fine a
point on it, wash—-”

“Oh, Leavesley washes,” said Miss Morgan, “he’s as clean as a new pin.
And as for cutting his hair, my!–that’s what spoils him in my opinion;
why, it’s cut to the bone almost, like a convict’s. All artists cut
their hair now; it’s only Polish piano-players and violinists wear their
hair long.”

“Whether they cut their hair ‘to the bone’ or wear it long is a matter
of indifference,” said Mr Bevan. “They’re all a lot of bounders, and I’d
be sorry to see a sister of mine married amongst them–very sorry.”

Miss Morgan said nothing, the warmth of Mr Bevan on the subject of
Leavesley struck her as being somewhat strange; though she said nothing,
like the parrot, she thought the more, and began to consider Mr Bevan
more attentively and to “turn him over in her mind.” Now the fortunate
or unfortunate person whom Miss Morgan distinguished by turning them
over in her mind, generally gave up their secrets in the process
unconsciously, subconsciously, or sometimes even consciously. Those
wide-open blue eyes that seemed always gazing into futurity and distance
saw many happenings of the present invisible to most folk.

Professor Wilson and Hamilton-Cox had wandered away through the garden
discussing Oxford and modern thought. Miss Pursehouse, Lambert, and old
Miss Jenkins were talking and laughing, and seemingly quite happy and
content. Said Miss Morgan, looking round:

“Every one’s busy, like the children in the Sunday-school story, and
we’ve no one to play with; shall we go for a walk in the village, and
I’ll show you the church and the pump and the other antiques?”

“Certainly, I’ll be delighted,” said Charles, rising.

“Then com’long,” said Miss Morgan, “Pamela, I’m taking Mr Bevan to show
him the village and the creatures that there abound. If we’re not back
by six, send a search-party.”

Rookhurst is, perhaps, one of the prettiest and most quaint of English
villages, and the proudest. If communities receive attention from the
Recording Angel, amidst Rookhurst’s sins written in that tremendous book
will be found this entry, “It calls itself a town.”

“Isn’t the village sweet and sleepy?” said Miss Morgan, as she tripped
along beside her companion; “it always reminds me of the dormouse in
‘Alice in Wonderland’–always asleep except at tea-time, when it wakes
up–and talks gossip. That’s the chemist’s shop with the two little red
bottles in the window, isn’t it cunning? The old man chemist doesn’t
keep any poisons, for he’s half blind and’s afraid of mixing the
strychnine with the Epsom salts. His wife does the poisoning; she libels
every one indifferently, and she gave out that Pamela was a lunatic and
I was her keeper. She was the butcher’s daughter, and she married the
chemist man for his money ten years ago, hoping he’d die right off,
which he didn’t. He was seventy with paralysis agitans and a squint, and
the squint’s got worse every year, and the paralysis agitans has got
better–serve her right. That’s the butcher’s with the one leg of mutton
hanging up, and the little pot with a rose-tree in it. He drinks, and
beats his wife, and hunts snakes down the road when he has the
jumps–but he sells very good mutton, and he’s civil. Here comes a
queen, look!”

A carriage drawn by a pair of chestnut horses approached and passed
them, revealing a fat and bulbous-faced lady lolling on the cushions,
and seen through a haze of dust.

“A queen?” said Bevan; “she doesn’t look like one.”

“No? She’s the Queen of Snobs; looks as if she’d come out of a
joke-book, doesn’t she? and her name is–I forget. She lives in a big
house a mile away. That’s a ‘pub.’ There are seven ‘pubs’ in this
village, and this is a model village–at least, they call it so; what an
immodel village in England must be, I don’t know. There’s a tailor lives
in that little house; he preaches in the tin chapel at the cross-roads.
I heard him last Sunday.”

“You go to Chapel?”

“No, I’m Church. I heard him as I was passing by–couldn’t help it, he
shouts so’s you can hear him at ‘The Roost’ when the wind’s blowing that
way–You religious?”

“Not very, I’m afraid.”

“Neither’m I. That’s the doctor’s; he’s Church and his wife’s Chapel.
She has a sister in a lunatic asylum, and her aunt was sister of the
hair-cutter’s first wife, so people despise her and fling it in her
teeth. We can raise some snobs in the States, but they’re button
mushrooms to the toadstools you raise in England. Pamela is awfully good
to the doctor’s wife just because the other people are nasty to her.
Pamela is grit all through. The parson lives there–a long, thin man,
looks as if he’d been mangled, and they’d forgot to hang him out to dry.
How are you, Mrs Jones? and how are the rheumatics?” Miss Morgan had
paused to address an old lady who stood at the door of a cottage leaning
on a stick.

“That’s Mrs Jones; she has more enquiries after her health than any
woman in England. Can you tell why?”

“No.”

“Well, she has a sort of rheumatics that the least damp affects, and so
she’s the best barometer in this part of the country. She’s eighty, and
has been used to weather observation so long, she can tell what’s
coming–hail, or snow, or rain to a T. That old man leaning on the gate,
he’s Francis, the village lunatic, he’s just ninety; fine days he crawls
down to Ditchingham cross-roads to wait for the soldiers coming back
from the Crimea. I call that pathetic, but they only laugh at it here.
He must have waited for them when he was a boy and seen them marching
along, and now he goes and waits for them–makes me feel s’if I could
cry. Here’s a shilling for you, Francis; Miss Pamela is knitting you
some socks–good-day–poor old thing! Let’s see now, those cottages are
all work-people’s, and there’s nothing beyond, only the road, and it’s
dusty, and I vote to go back. Why, there’s that old scamp of a Francis
making a bee-line for the ‘Hand in Hand’; n’mind, I won’t have to wear
his head in the morning.”

Miss Morgan chatted all the way back uninterruptedly, disclosing a more
than comprehensive knowledge of all the affairs of the village in which
she had lived some ten days or less.

At the gate of “The Roost” she stopped suddenly. “My, what a pity!”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing; only I might have called and seen Mrs Harmer. She has such a
pretty daughter, and I’d have liked you to have seen her, for she’s the
image of Fanny Lambert.” She stared full at Mr Bevan as she said this,
and there was a something in her tone and a something in her manner, and
a something in her glance that made Charles Bevan lose control of his
facial capillaries and blush.

“Fanny’s cooked him,” thought the lady of the blue eyes as she retired
to dress for dinner. “But what in the nation did he mean by saying he
did not know her?”

“What the deuce made her say that in such a way?” asked Mr Bevan of
himself as he assumed the clothes laid out for him by the careful
Strutt.