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   Chapter 3 ADVENTURE OF THE FIRST CLIENTS

The Disentanglers By Andrew Lang Characters: 19888

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Merton was reading the newspaper in the office, expecting a client. Miss Blossom was typewriting in the inner chamber; the door between was open. The office boy knocked at Merton's outer door, and the sound of that boy's strangled chuckling was distinctly audible to his employer. There is something irritating in the foolish merriment of a youthful menial. No conduct could be more likely than that of the office boy to irritate the first client, arriving on business of which it were hard to exaggerate the delicate and anxious nature.

These reflections flitted through Merton's mind as he exclaimed 'Come in,' with a tone of admonishing austerity.

The office boy entered. His face was scarlet, his eyes goggled and ran water. Hastily and loudly exclaiming 'Mr. and Miss Apsley' (which ended with a crow) he stuffed his red pocket handkerchief into his mouth and escaped. At the sound of the names, Merton had turned towards the inner door, open behind him, whence came a clear and piercing trill of feminine laughter from Miss Blossom. Merton angrily marched to the inner door, and shut his typewriter in with a bang. His heart burned within him. Nothing could be so insulting to clients; nothing so ruinous to a nascent business. He wheeled round to greet his visitors with a face of apology; his eyes on the average level of the human countenance divine. There was no human countenance divine. There was no human countenance at that altitude. His eyes encountered the opposite wall, and a print of 'Mrs. Pelham Feeding Chickens.'

In a moment his eyes adjusted themselves to a lower elevation. In front of him were standing, hand in hand, a pair of small children, a boy of nine in sailor costume, but with bare knees not usually affected by naval officers, and a girl of seven with her finger in her mouth.

The boy bowed gravely. He was a pretty little fellow with a pale oval face, arched eyebrows, promise of an aquiline nose, and two large black eyes. 'I think, sir,' said the child, 'I have the pleasure of redressing myself to Mr. Gray or Mr. Graham?'

'Graham, at your service,' said Merton, gravely; 'may I ask you and Miss Apsley to be seated?'

There was a large and imposing arm-chair in green leather; the client's chair. Mr. Apsley lifted his little sister into it, and sat down beside her himself. She threw her arms round his neck, and laid her flaxen curls on his shoulder. Her blue eyes looked shyly at Merton out of her fleece of gold. The four shoes of the clients dangled at some distance above the carpet.

'You are the author of this article, I think, Mr. Graham?' said Mr. Apsley, showing his hand, which was warm, and holding out a little crumpled ball of paper, not precisely fresh.

Merton solemnly unrolled it; it contained the advertisement of his firm.

'Yes,' he said, 'I wrote that.'

'You got our letters, for you answered them,' said Mr. Apsley, with equal solemnity. 'Why do you want Bats and me?'

'The lady's name is Bats?' said Merton, wondering why he was supposed to 'want' either of the pair.

'My name is Batsy. I like you: you are pretty,' said Miss Apsley.

Merton positively blushed: he was unaccustomed to compliments so frank from a member of the sex at an early stage of a business interview. He therefore kissed his fair client, who put up a pair of innocent damp lips, and then allowed her attention to be engrossed by a coin on his watch-chain.

'I don't quite remember your case, sir, or what you mean by saying I wanted you, though I am delighted to see you,' he said to Mr. Apsley. 'We have so many letters! With your permission I shall consult the letter book.'

'The article says "To Parents, Guardians, Children, and others." It was in print,' remarked Mr. Apsley, with a heavy stress on "children," 'and she said you wanted us.'

The mystified Merton, wondering who 'she' was, turned the pages of the letter book, mumbling, 'Abernethy, Applecombe, Ap. Davis, Apsley. Here we are,' he began to read the letter aloud. It was typewritten, which, when he saw his clients, not a little surprised him.

'Gentlemen,' the letter ran, 'having seen your advertisement in the Daily Diatribe of to-day, May 17, I desire to express my wish to enter into communication with you on a matter of pressing importance.-I am, in the name of my sister, Miss Josephine Apsley, and myself,

'Faithfully yours,

'Thomas Lloyd Apsley.'

'That's the letter,' said Mr. Apsley, 'and you wrote to us.'

'And what did I say?' asked Merton.

'Something about preferences, which we did not understand.'

'References, perhaps,' said Merton. 'Mr. Apsley, may I ask whether you wrote this letter yourself?'

'No; None-so-pretty printed it on a kind of sewing machine. She told us to come and see you, so we came. I called her None-so-pretty, out of a fairy story. She does not mind. Gran says she thinks she rather likes it.'

'I shouldn't wonder if she did,' said Merton. 'But what is her real name?'

'She made me promise not to tell. She was staying at the Home Farm when we were staying at Gran's.'

'Is Gran your grandmother?'

'Yes,' replied Mr. Apsley.

Hereon Bats remarked that she was 'velly hungalee.'

'To be sure,' said Merton. 'Luncheon shall be brought at once.' He rang the bell, and, going out, interpellated the office boy.

'Why did you laugh when my friends came to luncheon? You must learn manners.'

'Please, sir, the kid, the young gentleman I mean, said he came on business,' answered the boy, showing apoplectic symptoms.

'So he did; luncheon is his business. Go and bring luncheon for-five, and see that there are chicken, cutlets, tartlets, apricots, and ginger-beer.'

The boy departed and Merton reflected. 'A hoax, somebody's practical joke,' he said to himself. 'I wonder who Miss None-so-pretty is.' Then he returned, assured Batsy that luncheon was even at the doors, and leaving her to look at Punch, led Mr. Apsley aside. 'Tommy,' he said (having seen his signature), 'where do you live?'

The boy named a street on the frontiers of St. John's Wood.

'And who is your father?'

'Major Apsley, D.S.O.'

'And how did you come here?'

'In a hansom. I told the man to wait.'

'How did you get away?'

'Father took us to Lord's, with Miss Limmer, and there was a crowd, and Bats and I slipped out; for None-so-pretty said we ought to call on you.'

'Who is Miss Limmer?'

'Our governess.'

'Have you a mother?'

The child's brown eyes filled with tears, and his cheeks flushed. 'It was in India that she-'

'Yes, be a man, Tommy. I am looking the other way,' which Merton did for some seconds. 'Now, Tommy, is Miss Limmer kind to you?'

The child's face became strangely set and blank; his eyes looking vacant. 'Miss Limmer is very kind to us. She loves us and we love her dearly. Ask Batsy,' he said in a monotonous voice, as if he were repeating a lesson. 'Batsy, come here,' he said in the same voice. 'Is Miss Limmer kind to us?'

Batsy threw up her eyes-it was like a stage effect, 'We love Miss Limmer dearly, and she loves us. She is very, very kind to us, like our dear mamma.' Her voice was monotonous too. 'I never can say the last part,' said Tommy. 'Batsy knows it; about dear mamma.'

'Indeed!' said Merton. 'Tommy, why did you come here?'

'I don't know. I told you that None-so-pretty told us to. She did it after she saw that when we were bathing.' Tommy raised one of his little loose breeks that did not cover the knee.

That was not pleasant to look on: it was on the inside of the right thigh.

'How did you get hurt there?' asked Merton.

The boy's monotonous chant began again: his eyes were fixed and blank as before. 'I fell off a tree, and my leg hit a branch on the way down.'

'Curious accident,' said Merton; 'and None-so-pretty saw the mark?'

'Yes.'

'And asked you how you got it?'

'Yes, and she saw blue marks on Batsy, all over her arms.'

'And you told None-so-pretty that you fell off a tree?'

'Yes.'

'And she told you to come here?'

'Yes, she had read your printed article.'

'Well, here is luncheon,' said Merton, and bade the office boy call Miss Blossom from the inner chamber to share the meal. Batsy had as low a chair as possible, and was disposing her napkin to do the duty of a pinafore.

Miss Blossom entered from within with downcast eyes.

'None-so-pretty!'

'None-so-pretty!' shouted the children, while Tommy rushed to throw his arms round her neck, to meet which she stooped down, concealing a face of blushes. Batsy descended from her chair, waddled up, climbed another chair, and attacked the girl from the rear. The office boy was arranging luncheon. Merton called him to the writing-table, scribbled a note, and said, 'Take that to Dr. Maitland, with my compliments.'

Maitland had been one of the guests at the inaugural dinner. He was entirely devoid of patients, and was living on the anticipated gains of a great work on Clinical Psychology.

'Tell Dr. Maitland he will find me at luncheon if he comes instantly,' said Merton as the boy fled on his errand. 'I see that I need not introduce you to my young friends, Miss Blossom,' said Merton. 'May I beg you to help Miss Apsley to arrange her tucker?'

Miss Blossom, almost unbecomingly brilliant in her complexion, did as she was asked. Batsy had cold chicken, new potatoes, green peas, and two helpings of apricot tart. Tommy devoted himself to cutlets. A very mild shandygaff was compounded for him in an old Oriel pewter. Both children made love to Miss Blossom with their eyes. It was not at all what Merton felt inclined to do; the lady had entangled him in a labyrinth of puzzledom.

'None-so-pretty,' exclaimed Tommy, 'I am glad you told us to come here. Your friends are nice.'

Merton bowed to Tommy, 'I am glad too,' he said. 'Miss Blossom knew that we were kindred souls, same kind of chaps, I mean, you and me, you kno

w, Tommy!'

Miss Blossom became more and more like the fabled peony, the crimson variety. Luckily the office boy ushered in Dr. Maitland, who, exchanging glances of surprise with Merton, over the children's heads, began to make himself agreeable. He had nearly as many tricks as Miss Maskelyne. He was doing the short-sighted man eating celery, and unable to find the salt because he is unable to find his eyeglass.

Merton, seeing his clients absorbed in mirth, murmured something vague about 'business,' and spirited Miss Blossom away to the inner chamber.

'Sit down, pray, Miss Blossom. There is no time to waste. What do you know about these children? Why did you send them here?'

The girl, who was pale enough now, said, 'I never thought they would come.'

'They are here, however. What do you know about them?'

'I went to stay, lately, at the Home Farm on their grandmother's place. We became great friends. I found out that they were motherless, and that they were being cruelly ill-treated by their governess.'

'Miss Limmer?'

'Yes. But they both said they loved her dearly. They always said that when asked. I gathered from their grandmother, old Mrs. Apsley, that their father would listen to nothing against the governess. The old lady cried in a helpless way, and said he was capable of marrying the woman, out of obstinacy, if anybody interfered. I had your advertisement, and I thought you might disentangle him. It was a kind of joke. I only told them that you were a kind gentleman. I never dreamed of their really coming.'

'Well, you must take them back again presently, there is the address. You must see their father; you must wait till you see him. And how are you to explain this escapade? I can't have the children taught to lie.'

'They have been taught that lesson already.'

'I don't think they are aware of it,' said Merton.

Miss Blossom stared.

'I can't explain, but you must find a way of keeping them out of a scrape.'

'I think I can manage it,' said Miss Blossom demurely.

'I hope so. And manage, if you please, to see this Miss Limmer and observe what kind of person she is,' said Merton, with his hand on the door handle, adding, 'Please ask Dr. Maitland to come here, and do you keep the children amused for a moment.'

Miss Blossom nodded and left the room; there was laughter in the other chamber. Presently Maitland joined Merton.

'Look here,' said Merton, 'we must be rapid. These children are being cruelly ill-treated and deny it. Will you get into talk with the boy, and ask him if he is fond of his governess, say "Miss Limmer," and notice what he says and how he says it? Then we must pack them away.'

'All right,' said Maitland.

They returned to the children. Miss Blossom retreated to the inner room. Bats simplified matters by falling asleep in the client's chair. Maitland began by talking about schools. Was Tommy going to Eton?

Tommy did not know. He had a governess at home.

'Not at a preparatory school yet? A big fellow like you?'

Tommy said that he would like to go to school, but they would not send him.

'Why not?'

Tommy hesitated, blushed, and ended by saying that they didn't think it safe, as he walked in his sleep.

'You will soon grow out of that,' said Maitland, 'but it is not very safe at school. A boy I knew was found sound asleep on the roof at school.'

'He might have fallen off,' said Tommy.

'Yes. That's why your people keep you at home. But in a year or two you will be all right. Know any Latin yet?'

Tommy said that Miss Limmer taught him Latin.

'Are you and she great friends?'

Tommy's face and voice altered as before, while he mechanically repeated the tale of the mutual affection which linked him with Miss Limmer.

'That's all very jolly,' said Maitland.

'Now, Tommy,' said Merton, 'we must waken Batsy, and Miss Blossom is going to take you both home. Hope we shall often meet.'

He called Miss Blossom; Batsy kissed both of her new friends. Merton conducted the party to the cab, and settled, in spite of Tommy's remonstrances, with the cabman, who made a good thing of it, and nodded when told to drive away as soon as he had deposited his charges at their door. Then Merton led Maitland upstairs and offered him a cigar.

'What do you think of it?' he asked.

'Common post-hypnotic suggestion by the governess,' said Maitland.

'I guessed as much, but can it really be worked like that? You are not chaffing?'

'Simplest thing to work in the world,' said Maitland. 'A lot of nonsense, however, that the public believes in can't be done. The woman could not sit down in St. John's Wood, and "will" Tommy to come to her if he was in the next room. At least she might "will" till she was black in the face, and he would know nothing about it. But she can put him to sleep, and make him say what he does not want to say, in answer to questions, afterwards, when he is awake.'

'You're sure of it?'

'It is as certain as anything in the world up to a certain point.'

'The girl said something that the boy did not say, more gushing, about his dead mother.'

'The hypnotised subject often draws a line somewhere.'

'The woman must be a fiend,' said Merton.

'Some of them are, now and then,' said the author of Clinical Psychology.

* * * * *

Miss Blossom's cab, the driver much encouraged by Tommy, who conversed with him through the trap in the roof, dashed up to the door of a house close to Lord's. The horse was going fast, and nearly cannoned into another cab-horse, also going fast, which was almost thrown on its haunches by the driver. Inside the other hansom was a tall man with a pale face under the tan, who was nervously gnawing his moustache. Miss Blossom saw him, Tommy saw him, and cried 'Father!' Half-hidden behind a blind of the house Miss Blossom beheld a woman's face, expectant. Clearly she was Miss Limmer. All the while that they were driving Miss Blossom's wits had been at work to construct a story to account for the absence and return of the children. Now, by a flash of invention, she called to her cabman, 'Drive on-fast!' Major Apsley saw his lost children with their arms round the neck of a wonderfully pretty girl; the pretty girl waved her parasol to him with a smile, beckoning forwards; the children waved their arms, calling out 'A race! a race!'

What could a puzzled parent do but bid his cabman follow like the wind? Miss Blossom's cab flew past Lord's, dived into Regent's Park, leading by two lengths; reached the Zoological Gardens, and there its crew alighted, demurely waiting for the Major. He leaped from his hansom, and taking off his hat, strode up to Miss Blossom, as if he were leading a charge. The children captured him by the legs. 'What does this mean, Madam? What are you doing with my children? Who are you?'

'She's None-so-pretty,' said Tommy, by way of introduction.

Miss Blossom bowed with grace, and raising her head, shot two violet rays into the eyes of the Major, which were of a bistre hue. But they accepted the message, like a receiver in wireless telegraphy. No man, let be a Major, could have resisted None-so-pretty at that moment. 'Come into the gardens,' she said, and led the way. 'You would like a ride on the elephant, Tommy?' she asked Master Apsley. 'And you, Batsy?'

The children shouted assent.

'How in the world does she know them?' thought the bewildered officer.

The children mounted the elephant.

'Now, Major Apsley,' said Miss Blossom, 'I have found your children.'

'I owe you thanks, Madam; I have been very anxious, but-'

'It is more than your thanks I want. I want you to do something for me, a very little thing,' said Miss Blossom, with the air of a supplicating angel, the violet eyes dewy with tears.

'I am sure I shall be delighted to do anything you ask, but-'

'Will you promise? It is a very little thing indeed!' and her hands were clasped in entreaty. 'Please promise!'

'Well, I promise.'

'Then keep your word: it is a little thing! Take Tommy home this instant, let nobody speak to him or touch him-and-make him take a bath, and see him take it.'

'Take a bath!'

'Yes, at once, in your presence. Then ask him . . . any questions you please, but pay extreme attention to his answers and his face, and the sound of his voice. If that is not enough do the same with Batsy. And after that I think you had better not let the children out of your sight for a short time.'

'These are very strange requests.'

'And it was by a strange piece of luck that I met you driving home to see if the lost children were found, and secured your attention before it could be pre-engaged.'

'But where did you find them and why?'

Miss Blossom interrupted him, 'Here is the address of Dr. Maitland, I have written it on my own card; he can answer some questions you may want to ask. Later I will answer anything. And now in the name of God,' said the girl reverently, with sudden emotion, 'you will keep your promise to the letter?'

'I will,' said the Major, and Miss Blossom waved her parasol to the children. 'You must give the poor elephant a rest, he is tired,' she cried, and the tender-hearted Batsy needed no more to make her descend from the great earth-shaking beast. The children attacked her with kisses, and then walked off, looking back, each holding one of the paternal hands, and treading, after the manner of childhood, on the paternal toes.

Miss Blossom walked till she met an opportune omnibus.

About an hour later a four-wheeler bore a woman with blazing eyes, and a pile of trunks gaping untidily, from the Major's house in St. John's Wood Road.

The Honourable Company had won its first victory: Major Apsley, having fulfilled Miss Blossom's commands, had seen what she expected him to see, and was disentangled from Miss Limmer.

The children still call their new stepmother None-so-pretty.

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