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The Disentanglers By Andrew Lang Characters: 27600

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

'His God is his belly, Mr. Graham,' said the client, 'and if the text strikes you as disagreeably unrefined, think how it must pain me to speak thus of an uncle, if only by marriage.'

The client was a meagre matron of forty-five, or thereabouts. Her dark scant hair was smooth, and divided down the middle. Acerbity spoke in every line of her face, which was of a dusky yellow, where it did not rather verge on the faint hues of a violet past its prime. She wore thread gloves, and she carried a battered reticule of early Victorian days, in which Merton suspected that tracts were lurking. She had an anxious peevish mouth; in truth she was not the kind of client in whom Merton's heart delighted.

And yet he was sorry for her, especially as her rich uncle's cook was the goddess of the gentleman whose god had just been denounced in scriptural terms by the client, a Mrs. Gisborne. She was sad, as well she might be, for she was a struggler, with a large family, and great expectations from the polytheistic uncle who adored his cook and one of his nobler organs.

'What has his history been, this gentleman's-Mr. Fulton, I think you called him?'

'He was a drysalter in the City, sir,' and across Merton's mind flitted a vision of a dark shop with Finnan haddocks, bacon, and tongues in the window, and smelling terribly of cheese.

'Oh, a drysalter?' he said, not daring to display ignorance by asking questions to corroborate his theory of the drysalting business.

'A drysalter, sir, and isinglass importer.'

Merton was conscious of vagueness as to isinglass, and was distantly reminded of a celebrated racehorse. However, it was clear that Mr. Fulton was a retired tradesman of some kind. 'He went out of isinglass-before the cheap scientific substitute was invented (it is made out of old quill pens)-with seventy-five thousand pounds. And it ought to come to my children. He has not another relation living but ourselves; he married my aunt. But we never see him: he said that he could not stand our Sunday dinners at Hampstead.'

A feeling not remote from sympathy with Mr. Fulton stole over Merton's mind as he pictured these festivals. 'Is his god very-voluminous?'

Mrs. Gisborne stared.

'Is he a very portly gentleman?'

'No, Mr. Graham, he is next door to a skeleton, though you would not expect it, considering.'

'Considering his devotion to the pleasures of the table?'

'Gluttony, shameful waste I call it. And he is a stumbling block and a cause of offence to others. He is a patron of the City and Suburban College of Cookery, and founded two scholarships there, for scholars learning how to pamper the-'

'The epicure,' said Merton. He knew the City and Suburban College of Cookery. One of his band, a Miss Frere, was a Fellow and Tutor of that academy.

'And about what age is your uncle?' he asked.

'About sixty, and not a white hair on his head.'

'Then he may marry his cook?'

'He will, sir.'

'And is very likely to have a family.'

Mrs. Gisborne sniffed, and produced a pocket handkerchief from the early Victorian reticule. She applied the handkerchief to her eyes in silence. Merton observed her with pity. 'We need the money so; there are so many of us,' said the lady.

'Do you think that Mr. Fulton is-passionately in love, with his domestic?'

'He only loves his meals,' said Mrs. Gisborne; 'he does not want to marry her, but she has a hold over him through-his-'

'Passions, not of the heart,' said Merton hastily. He dreaded an anatomical reference.

'He is afraid of losing her. He and his cronies give each other dinners, jealous of each other they are; and he actually pays the woman two hundred a year.'

'And beer money?' said Merton. He had somewhere read or heard of beer money as an item in domestic finance.

'I don't know about that. The cruel thing is that she is a woman of strict temperance principles. So am I. I am sure it is an awful thing to say, Mr. Graham, but Satan has sometimes put it into my heart to wish that the woman, like too, too many of her sort, was the victim of alcoholic temptations. He has a fearful temper, and if once she was not fit for duty at one of his dinners, this awful gnawing anxiety would cease to ride my bosom. He would pack her off.'

'Very natural. She is free from the besetting sin of the artistic temperament?'

'If you mean drink, she is; and that is one reason why he values her. His last cook, and his last but one-' Here Mrs. Gisborne narrated at some length the tragic histories of these artists.

'Providential, I thought it, but now,' she said despairingly.

'She certainly seems a difficult woman to dislodge,' said Merton. 'A dangerous entanglement. Any followers allowed? Could anything be done through the softer emotions? Would a guardsman, for instance-?'

'She hates the men. Never one of them darkens her kitchen fire. Offers she has had by the score, but they come by post, and she laughs and burns them. Old Mr. Potter, one of his cronies, tried to get her away that way, but he is over seventy, and old at that, and she thought she had another chance to better herself. And she'll take it, Mr. Graham, if you can't do something: she'll take it.'

'Will you permit me to say that you seem to know a good deal about her! Perhaps you have some sort of means of intelligence in the enemy's camp?'

'The kitchen maid,' said Mrs. Gisborne, purpling a little, 'is the sister of our servant, and tells her things.'

'I see,' said Merton. 'Now can you remember any little weakness of this, I must frankly admit, admirable artist and exemplary woman?'

'You are not going to take her side, a scheming red-faced hussy, Mr. Graham?'

'I never betrayed a client, Madam, and if you mean that I am likely to help this person into your uncle's arms, you greatly misconceive me, and the nature of my profession.'

'I beg your pardon, sir, but I will say that your heart does not seem to be in the case.'

'It is not quite the kind of case with which we are accustomed to deal,' said Merton. 'But you have not answered my question. Are there any weak points in the defence? To Venus she is cold, of Bacchus she is disdainful.'

'I never heard of the gentlemen I am sure, sir, but as to her weaknesses, she has the temper of a-' Here Mrs. Gisborne paused for a comparison. Her knowledge of natural history and of mythology, the usual sources of parallels, failed to provide a satisfactory resemblance to the cook's temper.

'The temper of a Meg?ra,' said Merton, admitting to himself that the word was not, though mythological, what he could wish.

'Of a Meg?ra as you know that creature, sir, and impetuous! If everything is not handy, if that poor girl is not like clockwork with the sauces, and herbs, and things, if a saucepan boils over, or a ham falls into the fire, if the girl treads on the tail of one of the cats-and the woman keeps a dozen-then she flies at her with anything that comes handy.'

'She is fond of cats?' said Merton; 'really this lady has sympathetic points:' and he patted the grey Russian puss, Kutuzoff, which was a witness to these interviews.

'She dotes on the nasty things: and you may well say "lady!" Her Siamese cat, a wild beast he is, took the first prize at the Crystal Palace Show. The papers said "Miss Blowser's Rangoon, bred by the exhibitor." Miss Blowser! I don't know what the world is coming to. He stands on the doorsteps, the cat, like a lynx, and as fierce as a lion. Why he got her into the police-court: flew at a dog, and nearly tore his owner, a clergyman, to pieces. There were articles about it in the papers.'

'I seem to remember it,' said Merton. 'Christianos ad Leones'. In fact he had written this humorous article himself. 'But is there nothing else?' he asked. 'Only a temper, so natural to genius disturbed or diverted in the process of composition, and a passion for the felidae, such as has often been remarked in the great. There was Charles Baudelaire, Mahomet-'

'I don't know what you mean, sir, and,' said Mrs. Gisborne, rising, and snapping her reticule, 'I think I was a fool for answering your advertisement. I did not come here to be laughed at, and I think common politeness-'

'I beg a thousand pardons,' said Merton. 'I am most distressed at my apparent discourtesy. My mind was preoccupied by the circumstances of this very difficult case, and involuntarily glided into literary anecdote on the subject of cats and their owners. They are my passion-cats-and I regret that they inspire you with antipathy.' Here he picked up Kutuzoff and carried him into the inner room.

'It is not that I object to any of Heaven's creatures kept in their place,' said Mrs. Gisborne somewhat mollified, 'but you must make allowances, sir, for my anxiety. It sours a mother of nine. Friday is one of his gorging dinner-parties, and who knows what may happen if she pleases him? The kitchen maid says, I mean I hear, that she wears an engaged ring already.'

'That is very bad,' said Merton, with sympathy. 'The dinner is on Friday, you say?' and he made a note of the date.

'Yes, 15 Albany Grove, on the Regent's Canal.'

'You can think of nothing else-no weakness to work on?'

'No, sir, just her awful temper; I would save him from it, for he has another as bad. And besides hopes from him have kept me up so long, his only relation, and times are so hard, and schooling and boots, and everything so dear, and we so many in family.' Tears came into the poor lady's eyes.

'I'll give the case my very best attention,' he said, shaking hands with the client. To Merton's horror she tried, Heaven help her, to pass a circular packet, wrapped in paper, into his hand. He evaded it. It was a first interview, for which no charge was made. 'What can be done shall be done, though I confess that I do not see my way,' and he accompanied her downstairs to the street.

'I behaved like a cad with my chaff,' he said to himself, 'but hang me if I see how to help her. And I rather admire that cook.'

He went into the inner room, wakened the sleeping partner, Logan, on the sofa, and unfolded the case with every detail. 'What can we do, que faire!'

'There's an exhibition of modern, medi?val, ancient, and savage cookery at Earl's Court, the Cookeries,' said Logan. 'Couldn't we seduce an artist like Miss Blowser there, I mean thither of course, the night before the dinner, and get her up into the Great Wheel and somehow stop the Wheel-and make her too late for her duties?'

'And how are you going to stop the Wheel?'

'Speak to the Man at the Wheel. Bribe the beggar.'

'Dangerous, and awfully expensive. Then think of all the other people on the Wheel! Logan, vous chassez de race. The old Restalrig blood is in your veins.'

'My ancestors nearly nipped off with a king, and why can't I carry off a cook? Hustle her into a hansom-'

'Oh, bah! these are not modern methods.'

'Il n'y a rien tel que d'enlever,' said Logan.

'I never shall stain the cause with police-courts,' said Merton. 'It would be fatal.'

'I've heard of a cook who fell on his sword when the fish did not come up to time. Now a raid on the fish? She might fall on her carving knife when they did not arrive, or leap into the flames of the kitchen fire, like ?none, don't you know.'

'Bosh. Vatel was far from the sea, and he had not a fish-monger's shop round the corner. Be modern.'

Logan rumpled his hair, 'Can't I get her to lunch at a restaurant and ply her with the wines of Eastern France? No, she is Temperance personified. Can't we send her a forged telegram to say that her mother is dying? Servants seem to have such lots of mothers, always inconveniently, or conveniently, moribund.'

'I won't have forgery. Great heavens, how obsolete you are! Besides, that would not put her employer in a rage.'

'Could I go and consult ---?' he mentioned a specialist. 'He is a man of ideas.'

'He is a man of the purest principles-and an uncommonly hard hitter.'

'It is his purity I want. My own mind is hereditarily lawless. I want something not immoral, yet efficacious. There was that parson, whom you say the woman's cat nearly devoured. Like Paul with beasts he fought the cat. Now, I wonder if that injured man is not meditating some priestly revenge that would do our turn and get rid of Miss Blowser?'

Merton shook his head impatiently. His own invention was busy, but to no avail. Miss Blowser seemed impregnable. Kutuzoff Hedzoff, the puss, stalked up to Logan and leaped on his knees. Logan stroked him, Kutuzoff purred and blinked, Logan sought inspiration in his topaz eyes. At last he spoke: 'Will you leave this affair to me, Merton? I think I have found out a way.'

'What way?'

'That's my secret. You are so beastly moral, you might object. One thing I may tell you-it does not compromise the Honourable Company of Disentanglers.'

'You are not going to try any detective work; to find out if she is a woman with a past, with a husband living? You are not going to put a live adder among the eels? I daresay drysalters eat eels. It is the reading of sensational novels that ruins our youth.'

'What a suspicious beggar you are. Certainly I am neither a detective nor a murderer à la Montépin!

'No practical jokes with the victuals?'

'Of course not.'

'No kidnapping Miss Blowser?'

'Certainly no kidnapping-Miss Blowser.'

'Now, honour bright, is your plan within the law? No police-court publicity?'

'No, the police will have no say or show in the matter; at least,' said Logan, 'as far as my legal studies inform me, they won't. But I can take counsel's opinion if you insist on it.'

'Then you are sailing near the wind?'

'Really I don't think so: not really what you call near.'

'I am sorry for that unlucky Mrs. Gisborne,' said Merton, musingly. 'And with two such tempers as the cook's and Mr. Fulton's the match could not be a happy one. Well, Logan, I suppose you won't tell me what your game is?'

'Better not, I think, but, I assure you, honour is safe. I am certain that nobody can say anything. I rather expect to earn public gratitude, on the whole. You can't appear in any way, nor the rest of us. By-the-bye do you remember the address of the parson whose dog was hurt?'

'I think I kept a cutting of the police case; it was amusing,' said Merton, looking through a kind of album, and finding presently the record of the incident.

'It may come in handy, or it may not,' said Logan. He then went off, and had Merton followed him he might not have been reassured. For Logan first walked to a chemist's shop, where he purchased a quantity of a certain drug. Next he went to the fencing rooms which he frequented, took his fencing mask and glove, borrowed a fencing glove from a left-handed swordsman whom he knew, and drove to his rooms with this odd assortment of articles. Having deposited them, he paid a call at the dwelling of a fair member of the Disentanglers, Miss Frere, the lady instructress in the culinary art, at the City and Suburban College of Cookery, whereof, as we have heard, Mr. Fulton, the eminent drysalter, was a patron and visitor. Logan unfolded the case and his plan of campaign to Miss Frere, who listened with intelligent sympathy.

'Do you know the man by sight?' he asked.

'Oh yes, and he knows me perfectly well. Last year he distributed the prizes at the City and Suburban School of Cookery, and paid me the most extraordinary compliments.'

'Well deserved, I am confident,' said Logan; 'and now you are sure that you know exactly what you have to do, as I have explained?'

'Yes, I am to be walking through Albany Grove at a quarter to four on Friday.'

'Be punctual.'

'You may rely on me,' said Miss Frere.

Logan next day went to Trevor's rooms in the Albany; he was the capitalist who had insisted on helping to finance the Disentanglers. To Trevor he explained the situation, unfolded his plan, and asked leave to borrow his private hansom.

'Delighted,' said Trevor. 'I'll put on an old suit of tweeds, and a seedy bowler, and drive you myself. It will be fun. Or should we take my motor car?'

'No, it attracts too much attention.'

'Suppose we put a number on my cab, and paint the wheels yellow, like pirates, you know, when they are disguising a captured ship. It won't do to look like a private cab.'

'These strike me as judicious precautions, Trevor, and worthy of your genius. That is, if we are not caught.'

'Oh, we won't be caught,' said Trevor. 'But, in the meantime, let us find that place you mean to go to on a map of London, and I'll drive you there now in a dog-cart. It is better to know the lie of the land.'

Logan agreed and they drove to his objective in the afternoon; it was beyond the border of known West Hammersmith. Trevor reconnoitred and made judicious notes of short cuts.

On the following day, which was Thursday, Logan had a difficult piece of diplomacy to execute. He called at the rooms of the clergyman, a bachelor and a curate, whose dog and person had suffered from the assaults of Miss Blowser's Siamese favourite. He expected difficulties, for a good deal of ridicule, including Merton's article, Christianos ad Leones, had been heaped on this martyr. Logan looked forward to finding him crusty, but, after seeming a little puzzled, the holy man exclaimed, 'Why, you must be Logan of Trinity?'

'The same,' said Logan, who did not remember the face or name (which was Wilkinson) of his host.

'Why, I shall never forget your running catch under the scoring-box at Lord's,' exclaimed Mr. Wilkinson, 'I can see it now. It saved the match. I owe you more than I can say,' he added with deep emotion.

'Then be grateful, and do me a little favour. I want-just for an hour or two-to borrow your dog,' and he stooped to pat the animal, a fox-terrier bearing recent and glorious scars.

'Borrow Scout! Why, what can you want with him?'

'I have suffered myself through an infernal wild beast of a cat in Albany Grove,' said Logan, 'and I have a scheme-it is unchristian I own-of revenge.'

The curate's eyes glittered vindictively: 'Scout is no match for the brute,' he said in a tone of manly regret.

'Oh, Scout will be all right. There is not going to be a fight. He is only needed to-give tone to the affair. You will be able to walk him safely through Albany Grove after to-morrow.'

'Won't there be a row if you kill the cat? He is what they think a valuable animal. I never could stand cats myself.'

'The higher vermin,' said Logan. 'But not a hair of his whiskers shall be hurt. He will seek other haunts, that's all.'

'But you don't mean to steal him?' asked the curate anxiously. 'You see, suspicion might fall on me, as I am known to bear a grudge to the brute.'

'I steal him! Not I,' said Logan. 'He shall sleep in his owner's arms, if she likes. But Albany Grove shall know him no more.'

'Then you may take Scout,' said Mr. Wilkinson. 'You have a cab there, shall I drive to your rooms with you and him?'

'Do,' said Logan, 'and then dine at the club.' Which they did, and talked much cricket, Mr. Wilkinson being an enthusiast.

* * * * *

Next day, about 3.40 P.M., a hansom drew up at the corner of Albany Grove. The fare alighted, and sauntered past Mr. Fulton's house. Rangoon, the Siamese puss, was sitting in a scornful and leonine attitude, in a tree of the garden above the railings, outside the open kitchen windows, whence came penetrating and hospitable smells of good fare. The stranger passed, and as he returned, dropped something here and there on the pavement. It was valerian, which no cat can resist.

Miss Blowser was in a culinary crisis, and could not leave the kitchen range. Her face was of a fiery complexion; her locks were in a fine disorder. 'Is Rangoon in his place, Mary?' she inquired of the kitchen maid.

'Yes, ma'am, in his tree,' said the maid.

In this tree Rangoon used to sit like a Thug, dropping down on dogs who passed by.

Presently the maid said, 'Ma'am, Rangoon has jumped down, and is walking off to the right, after a gentleman.'

'After a sparrow, I dare say, bless him,' said Miss Blowser. Two minutes later she asked, 'Has Rangy come back?'

'No, ma'am.'

'Just look out and see what he is doing, the dear.'

'He's walking along the pavement, ma'am, sniffing at something. And oh! there's that curate's dog.'

'Yelping little brute! I hope Rangy will give him snuff,' said Miss Blowser.

'He's flown at him,' cried the maid ambiguously, in much excitement. 'Oh, ma'am, the gentleman has caught hold of Rangoon. He's got a wire mask on his face, and great thick gloves, not to be scratched. He's got Rangoon: he's putting him in a bag,' but by this time Miss Blowser, brandishing a saucepan with a long handle, had rushed out of the kitchen, through the little garden, cannoned against Mr. Fulton, who happened to be coming in with flowers to decorate his table, knocked him against a lamp-post, opened the garden gate, and, armed and bareheaded as she was, had rushed forth. You might have deemed that you beheld Bellona speeding to the fray.

What Miss Blowser saw was a man disappearing into a hansom, whence came the yapping of a dog. Another cab was loitering by, empty; and this cabman had his orders. Logan had seen to that. To hail that cab, to leap in, to cry, 'Follow the scoundrel in front: a sovereign if you catch him,' was to the active Miss Blowser the work of a moment. The man whipped up his horse, the pursuit began, 'there was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,' Marylebone rang with the screams of female rage and distress. Mr. Fulton, he also, leaped up and rushed in pursuit, wringing his hands. He had no turn of speed, and stopped panting. He only saw Miss Blowser whisk into her cab, he only heard her yells that died in the distance. Mr. Fulton sped back into his house. He shouted for Mary: 'What's the matter with your mistress, with my cook?' he raved.

'Somebody's taken her cat, sir, and is off, in a cab, and her after him.'

'After her cat! D--- her cat,' cried Mr. Fulton. 'My dinner will be ruined! It is the last she shall touch in this house. Out she packs-pack her things, Mary; no, don't-do what you can in the kitchen. I must find a cook. Her cat!' and with language unworthy of a drysalter Mr. Fulton clapped on his hat, and sped into the street, with a vague idea of hurrying to Fortnum and Mason's, or some restaurant, or a friend's house, indeed to any conceivable place where a cook might be recruited impromptu. 'She leaves this very day,' he said aloud, as he all but collided with a lady, a quiet, cool-looking lady, who stopped and stared at him.

'Oh, Miss Frere!' said Mr. Fulton, raising his hat, with a wild gleam of hope in the trouble of his eyes, 'I have had such a misfortune!'

'What has happened, Mr. Fulton?'

'Oh, ma'am, I've lost my cook, and me with a dinner-party on to-day.'

'Lost your cook? Not by death, I hope?'

'No, ma'am, she has run away, in the very crisis, as I may call it.'

'With whom?'

'With nobody. After her cat. In a cab. I am undone. Where can I find a cook? You may know of some one disengaged, though it is late in the day, and dinner at seven. Can't you help me?'

'Can you trust me, Mr. Fulton?'

'Trust you; how, ma'am?'

'Let me cook your dinner, at least till your cook catches her cat,' said Miss Frere, smiling.

'You, don't mean it, a lady!'

'But a professed cook, Mr. Fulton, and anxious to help so nobly generous a patron of the art . . . if you can trust me.'

'Trust you, ma'am!' said Mr. Fulton, raising to heaven his obsecrating hands. 'Why, you're a genius. It is a miracle, a mere miracle of good luck.'

By this time, of course, a small crowd of little boys and girls, amateurs of dramatic scenes, was gathering.

'We have no time to waste, Mr. Fulton. Let us go in, and let me get to work. I dare say the cook will be back before I have taken off my gloves.'

'Not her, nor does she cook again in my house. The shock might have killed a man of my age,' said Mr. Fulton, breathing heavily, and leading the way up the steps to his own door. 'Her cat, the hussy!' he grumbled.

Mr. Fulton kept his word. When Miss Blowser returned, with her saucepan and Rangoon, she found her trunks in the passage, corded by Mr. Fulton's own trembling hands, and she departed for ever.

Her chase had been a stern chase, a long chase, the cab driven by Trevor had never been out of sight. It led her, in the western wilds, to a Home for Decayed and Destitute Cats, and it had driven away before she entered the lane leading to the Home. But there she found Rangoon. He had just been deposited there, in a seedy old traveller's fur-lined sleeping bag, the matron of the Home averred, by a very pleasant gentleman, who said he had found the cat astray, lost, and thinking him a rare and valuable animal had deemed it best to deposit him at the Home. He had left money to pay for advertisements. He had even left the advertisement, typewritten (by Miss Blossom).

'FOUND. A magnificent Siamese Cat. Apply to the Home for Destitute and Decayed Cats, Water Lane, West Hammersmith.'

'Very thoughtful of the gentleman,' said the matron of the Home. 'No; he did not leave any address. Said something about doing good by stealth.'

'Stealth, why he stole my cat!' exclaimed Miss Blowser. 'He must have had the advertisement printed like that ready beforehand. It's a conspiracy,' and she brandished her saucepan.

The matron, who was prejudiced in favour of Logan, and his two sovereigns, which now need not be expended in advertisements, was alarmed by the hostile attitude of Miss Blowser. 'There's your cat,' she said drily; 'it ain't stealing a cat to leave it, with money for its board, and to pay for advertisements, in a well-conducted charitable institution, with a duchess for president. And he even left five shillings to pay for the cab of anybody as might call for the cat. There is your money.'

Miss Blowser threw the silver away.

'Take your old cat in the bag,' said the matron, slamming the door in the face of Miss Blowser.

* * * * *

After the trial for breach of promise of marriage, and after paying the very considerable damages which Miss Blowser demanded and received, old Mr. Fulton hardened his heart, and engaged a male chef.

The gratitude of Mrs. Gisborne, now free from all anxiety, was touching. But Merton assured her that he knew nothing whatever of the stratagem, scarcely a worthy one, he thought, as she reported it, by which her uncle was disentangled.

It was Logan's opinion, and it is mine, that he had not been guilty of theft, but perhaps of the wrongous detention or imprisonment of Rangoon. 'But,' he said, 'the Habeas Corpus Act has no clause about cats, and in Scottish law, which is good enough for me, there is no property in cats. You can't, legally, steal them.'

'How do you know?' asked Merton.

'I took the opinion of an eminent sheriff substitute.'

'What is that?'

'Oh, a fearfully swagger legal official: you have nothing like it.'

'Rum country, Scotland,' said Merton.

'Rum country, England,' said Logan, indignantly. 'You have no property in corpses.'

Merton was silenced.

Neither could foresee how momentous, to each of them, the question of property in corpses was to prove. O pectora c?ca!

* * * * *

Miss Blowser is now Mrs. Potter. She married her aged wooer, and Rangoon still wins prizes at the Crystal Palace.

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