THE ROOST

Mr Bevan, since his visit to Highgate, dreamed often at nights of
monstrous asparagus beds, and his friends and acquaintances noticed that
he seemed distrait.

The fact was the mind of this orderly and precise individual had
received a shock; his world of thought had tilted somewhat, owing to a
slight shifting of the poles, and regions hitherto in darkness were
touched with sun.

Go where he would a voice pursued him, turn where he would, a face. Wild
impulses to jump into a cab and drive to “The Laurels,” Highgate, as
swiftly as cab could take him were subdued and conquered. Perhaps it
would be happier for some of us if we used less reason in steering our
way through life. Impulsive people are often sneered at, yet, I dare
say that an impulse acted upon will as often make a man’s life as mar
it.

Mr Bevan was not an impulsive man. It was not for some days after his
visit to “The Laurels” that he carried out his determination to stop the
action once for all. He did not return to “The Laurels.” He was engaged
and a man of honour, and as such he determined to fly from temptation.
Accordingly one bright morning he despatched a wire intimating his
arrival by the 3.50 at Ditchingham, having sent which he flung himself
into a hansom and drove to Charing Cross, followed by another hansom
containing Strutt, two portmanteaux, a hunting kit-bag and a bundle of
fishing-rods. An extraordinary accident happened to the train he
travelled by; it arrived at Paddock Wood only three minutes late, making
up for this deficiency, however, by crawling into Ditchingham at 4.10.

On the Ditchingham platform stood two girls. One tall, pale, and
decidedly good-looking despite the _pince-nez_ she wore; the other short
and rather stout, and rather pretty.

The tall girl was Miss Pursehouse; the short was Lulu Morgan, Miss
Pursehouse’s companion, an American.

Pamela Pursehouse at this stage of her career was verging on thirty,
the only daughter of the late John Pursehouse of Birmingham, and an
orphan. She was exceedingly rich.

Some months ago she had met Bevan on board Sir Charles Napier’s yacht;
they had spent a fortnight cruising about the Balearic Islands and the
Riff coast of Morocco, had been sea-sick together, and bored together,
and finally had, one moonlight night, become engaged. It was a
cold-blooded affair despite the moonlight, and they harboured no
illusions one of the other, and no doubts.

Pamela had a mind of her own. She had attended classes at Mason’s
College and had quite a knowledge of Natural History; she also had an
interest in the ways of the working classes, and had written a paper to
prove that, with economy, a man, his wife and five children, could live
on an income of eleven shillings a week, and put by sixpence for a rainy
day; to disprove which she was eternally helping the cottagers round
about with doles of tea on a liberal scale, coal in the winter, and wine
in sickness. When the rainy day came she supplied the sixpence, which
ought to have been in the savings bank, for she was a girl who found
her heart when she forgot her head.

At Marseilles Lady Napier, Pamela, Lulu, and Charles Bevan had left the
yacht and travelled together to Paris; there, after a couple of days, he
had departed for London to look after his affairs. Pamela had remained
in Paris, where, through Lady Napier, she had the _entrée_ of the best
society, and had met many people, including the Lamberts. She had indeed
only returned to England a short time ago.

Outside the station stood a governess cart and the omnibus of the hotel.
Into the governess cart bundled the lovers and Lulu, into the omnibus
Strutt and the luggage. Pamela took the reins and the hog-maned pony
started.

“Hot, isn’t it?” said Charles, tilting his hat over his eyes, and
envying Strutt in the cool shelter of the omnibus.

“Think so?” said Pamela. “It’s July, you know. Why do men dress always
in summer in such heavy clothes? Seems to me women are much more
sensible in the matter of dress. Now if you were dressed as I am,
instead of in that Harris tweed, you wouldn’t feel the heat at all.”

Charles tried to imagine himself in a chip hat and lilac cotton gown,
and failed.

“You must have been fried in that train,” said Lulu, staring at him with
a pair of large blue eyes, eyes that never seemed to shut.

“Pretty nearly,” answered Charles, and the conversation languished.

Rookhurst stands on a hill; it is a village composed of gentlemen’s
houses. Country “seats” radiate from it to a distance of some three
miles. Three acres and a house constitute a “seat.”

The conservatism of the old Japanese aristocracy pales when considered
beside the conservatism of Rookhurst. In this microcosm there are as
many circles as in the Inferno of Dante, and the circles are nearly as
painful to contemplate.

When Pamela Pursehouse rented “The Roost” and took up residence there
she came unknown and untrumpeted. The parson and several curious old
ladies called upon her, but the seat-holders held aloof, she was not
received. Mrs D’Arcy-Jones–Rookhurst is full of people with
double-barrelled names, those double-barrelled names in which the
second barrel is of inferior metal–Mrs D’Arcy-Jones discovered that
Pamela’s father was of Birmingham. Mrs D’Arcy-Johnson found out that he
was in trade, and Mrs D’Arcy Somebody-else that her mother’s maiden name
was Jenkins. There was much turning up of noses when poor Pamela’s name
was mentioned, till one fine day when all the turned-up noses were
suddenly turned down by the arrival at “The Roost” of the Duchess of
Aviedale, her footman, her maid, her dog, and her companion. Then there
was a rush. People flung decency to the winds in their haste to know the
tradesman’s daughter and incidentally get a lick at the Duchess’s boots.
But to all callers Pamela was not at home; she had even the rudeness not
to return their visits.

The snobs, beaten back, retired, feeling very much like damaged goods,
and Pamela was left in peace. Her aunt, Miss Jenkins, a sweet-faced and
perfectly inane old lady, lived with her and kept house, and Pamela,
protected by her wing, had all sorts of extraordinary people to visit
her. Sandyman, M.P., the Labour representative, came down for a week-end
once, and smoked shag tobacco in the dining-room and wandered about the
village on Sunday in a Keir-Hardy cap; he also attended the tin chapel,
had a quart of beer at the village pub, and did other disgraceful things
which were all duly reported and set down to Pamela’s account in the
D’Arcy-Jones-Johnson notebook.

Pamela liked men, that is to say, men who were original and interesting;
yet she had engaged herself to the most unoriginal man in England: a
fact for which there is no accounting, save on the hypothesis that she
was a woman.

The governess cart having climbed a long, long hill, the hog-maned pony
took to himself wings, and presently, in a cloud of dust, halted.

“The Roost,” though a fairly large house, did not boast a
carriage-drive. A gate in a high hedge led to a path through a
rose-garden which was worth all the carriage-drives in existence.

“We have several people staying with us, did I tell you?” said Pamela as
she led the way. “Hamilton-Cox, the man who wrote the ‘Pillar of Salt,’
and Wilson–Professor Wilson of Oxford, and–but come on, and I’ll
introduce you.”

They entered a pleasant hall. The perfume of cigars and the sound of a
man’s laughter came from a half-open door on the right. Pamela made for
it, and as Charles Bevan followed he heard a rich Irish voice. “My
friend Stacey, of Castle Stacey, raised one four foot broad across the
face; such a sunflower was never seen by mortal man, I measured it with
my own hands–four foot—-”

Bevan suddenly found himself before a man, an immense, good-looking,
priestly-faced man, in his shirt-sleeves, a cigar in his mouth, and a
billiard cue in his hand.

“Mr Charles Bevan, Mr Lambert; Mr Bevan, Professor Wilson; Mr—-”

“Why, sure to goodness it’s not my cousin, Charles Bevan of the
‘Albany’!” cried the big man, effusively clasping the hand of Charles
and gazing at him with the astonished and joyous expression of a man who
meets a dear and long-lost brother.

Mr Bevan intimated that he was that person.

“But, sure to goodness,” said the big man, dropping Charles’ hand and
scratching his head with a puzzled air, then he turned on his heel:
“Where’s my coat?” He found his coat and took from it a pocket-book,
from the pocket-book a telegram and a sheet of paper, whilst Pamela
turned to Professor Wilson and the novelist.

“I got that from your lawyer, Mr Bevan,” said he, “some days ago.”
Charles read:

“Bevan has stopped action. Isn’t it sweet of him?–HANCOCK.”

“Yes,” said Charles rather stiffly, “I stopped the action, but Hancock
seems to have–been drinking.”

“And there’s the reply I was going to send, only I forgot it,” said
George Lambert, handing the copy of a telegram to Charles.

“Tell Bevan I relinquish all fishing rights. Wish to be friends.–GEORGE
LAMBERT.”

“It is very generous of you,” said Charles, really touched. “But I can’t
have it, we’ll divide the rights.”

“Come into the garden, my boy,” said George, who had now resumed his
coat, linking his arm in that of Charles and leading him out through the
open French window, into the rose-scented garden, “and let’s talk things
over. It’s the pity of the world we weren’t always friends. Damn the
fish stream and all the fish in it! I wish they’d been boiled before
they were spawned. What’s the _good_ of fighting? Isn’t life too short
for fighting and divisions? Sure, there’s a rose as big as a red
cabbage, but you should see the roses at my house in Highgate–and where
did you meet Miss Pursehouse?”

“Oh,” said Charles. “I’ve known her for some time.”

“We met her in Paris, Fanny–that’s my daughter–and me met her in
Paris. Fanny doesn’t care for her much, and wouldn’t come with me; but
there’s never a woman in the world that really cares for another woman,
unless the other woman is as ugly as sin and a hundred. There’s a melon
house for you, but you should see my melon houses in Highgate, the one’s
I am going to have built by Arthur Lawrence of Cockspur Street; he’s
made a speciality of glass, but he charges cruel. It’s the passion of my
life, a garden.”

He leaned over the gate leading to the kitchen-garden, and whistled an
old Irish hunting song softly to himself as he contemplated the cabbages
and peas. Charles lit a cigar. He was a fine figure of a man, this
Lambert; one of those large natures in a large frame that dwarf other
individualities when brought in contact with them. Hamilton Cox would
pass in a crowd, and Professor Wilson was not unimpressive, but beside
George Lambert, Hamilton-Cox looked a shrimp, and the Oxford professor
somewhat shrivelled.

“It’s the passion of my life,” reiterated Fanny Lambert’s father,
addressing the cabbages, the marrow fat peas, Charles Bevan, and the
distant woods of Sussex. “And if I’d stuck to it and left horses alone,
a richer man I’d have been this day.”

“I say,” said Charles, who had been plunged in meditation, “why did
Hancock telegraph to you, I wonder? It wasn’t exactly solicitors’
etiquette; the proper course, I think, would have been to communicate
with your lawyers, Messrs Sykes and Fagan.”

George Lambert broke into a low, mellow laugh.

“Faith,” he said, “I suppose he did communicate with them, and they
answered that they weren’t my lawyers any more. I’ve fought with them,
and that’s a fact; and now that we’re friends, you and me, I’ve an idea
of transferring my business to Hancock. I’ve one or two little suits
pending; and I’m not sure but one of them won’t be with Fagan for the
names I called him in his own office before his own clerks. ‘I’ll have
you indicted for slander,’ he says. ‘Slander!’ said I, ‘slander, you old
clothes-bag, have me up for slander, and I’ll beat the dust out of your
miserable reputation in any court in the kingdom, ye old
wandering-Jew-come-to-roost,’ and with that I left the office, and never
will I set my foot in it again.”

“I should think not.”

“Never again. He’s a red Jew–always beware of red Jews; black Jews are
bad, but red Jews are the devil–bad luck to them! If I’d left Jews
alone, a richer man I’d have been this day. Who’s that ringing a bell?
Oh, it’s the afternoon tea-bell: let’s go in and talk to the old
professor and Miss Pursehouse.”

They did not go in, for the Professor and Miss Pursehouse, Lulu Morgan,
and the author of the “Pillar of Salt” were having tea on the lawn.
There were few places pleasanter than the lawn of “The Roost,”
especially on this golden and peaceful summer’s evening, through which
the warm south wind brought the cawing of rooks from distant elm trees.

“Have you two finished your business?” asked Pamela, addressing Charles;
“if so, sit down and tell me all the news. I got your note. So sorry you
were bored by old Mr–Blundell–was it?–at the club. Mr Blundell is a
rose-bore, it seems,” turning to Hamilton Cox; “he is mad on roses.”

“Blundell! what an excellent name for a bore!” said the “Pillar of Salt”
man dreamily, closing his eyes. “I can see him, stout and red-faced
and—-”

“Matter of fact, old Blundell isn’t stout,” cut in Charles, to whom
Hamilton-Cox did not appeal. “He’s thin and white.”

“_All_ white?”

“No, his face, you know.”

“Ah! I had connected him with the idea of red roses. Why is it that in
thinking of roses one always figures them red?”

“Sure, I don’t know–I never do.”

“I do.”

“Well,” put in Pamela, “when you escaped from Mr Blundell what did you
do with yourself that day–smoked, I suppose, and went to Tattersal’s?”

“No, I was busy.”

“What was the business–luncheon?”

“Yes,” said Charles Bevan, feeling that he was humorous in his reply,
and feeling rather a sneak, too. “Luncheon was part of the business.”

The remembrance of the fried whiting rose before him, backed by a vision
of Susannah holding in one hand a bottle of Böllinger, and in the other
a bottle of Gold-water.