The poor young man hesitated and procrastinated: it cost him such an
effort to broach the subject of terms, to speak of money to a person who
spoke only of feelings and, as it were, of the aristocracy. Yet he was
unwilling to take leave, treating his engagement as settled, without some
more conventional glance in that direction than he could find an opening
for in the manner of the large affable lady who sat there drawing a pair
of soiled gants de Suede through a fat jewelled hand and, at once
pressing and gliding, repeated over and over everything but the thing he
would have liked to hear. He would have liked to hear the figure of his
salary; but just as he was nervously about to sound that note the little
boy came back--the little boy Mrs. Moreen had sent out of the room to
fetch her fan. He came back without the fan, only with the casual
observation that he couldn't find it. As he dropped this cynical
confession he looked straight and hard at the candidate for the honour of
taking his education in hand. This personage reflected somewhat grimly
that the thing he should have to teach his little charge would be to
appear to address himself to his mother when he spoke to her--especially
not to make her such an improper answer as that.
When Mrs. Moreen bethought herself of this pretext for getting rid of
their companion Pemberton supposed it was precisely to approach the
delicate subject of his remuneration. But it had been only to say some
things about her son that it was better a boy of eleven shouldn't catch.
They were extravagantly to his advantage save when she lowered her voice
to sigh, tapping her left side familiarly, "And all overclouded by
_this_, you know; all at the mercy of a weakness--!" Pemberton gathered
that the weakness was in the region of the heart. He had known the poor
child was not robust: this was the basis on which he had been invited to
treat, through an English lady, an Oxford acquaintance, then at Nice, who
happened to know both his needs and those of the amiable American family
looking out for something really superior in the way of a resident tutor.
The young man's impression of his prospective pupil, who had come into
the room as if to see for himself the moment Pemberton was admitted, was
not quite the soft solicitation the visitor had taken for granted. Morgan
Moreen was somehow sickly without being "delicate," and that he looked
intelligent--it is true Pemberton wouldn't have enjoyed his being
stupid--only added to the suggestion that, as with his big mouth and big
ears he really couldn't be called pretty, he might too utterly fail to
please. Pemberton was modest, was even timid; and the chance that his
small scholar might prove cleverer than himself had quite figured, to his
anxiety, among the dangers of an untried experiment. He reflected,
however, that these were risks one had to run when one accepted a
position, as it was called, in a private family; when as yet one's
university honours had, pecuniarily speaking, remained barren. At any
rate when Mrs. Moreen got up as to intimate that, since it was understood
he would enter upon his duties within the week she would let him off now,
he succeeded, in spite of the presence of the child, in squeezing out a
phrase about the rate of payment. It was not the fault of the conscious
smile which seemed a reference to the lady's expensive identity, it was
not the fault of this demonstration, which had, in a sort, both vagueness
and point, if the allusion didn't sound rather vulgar. This was exactly
because she became still more gracious to reply: "Oh I can assure you
that all that will be quite regular."
Pemberton only wondered, while he took up his hat, what "all that" was to
amount to--people had such different ideas. Mrs. Moreen's words,
however, seemed to commit the family to a pledge definite enough to
elicit from the child a strange little comment in the shape of the
mocking foreign ejaculation "Oh la-la!"
Pemberton, in some confusion, glanced at him as he walked slowly to the
window with his back turned, his hands in his pockets and the air in his
elderly shoulders of a boy who didn't play. The young man wondered if he
should be able to teach him to play, though his mother had said it would
never do and that this was why school was impossible. Mrs. Moreen
exhibited no discomfiture; she only continued blandly: "Mr. Moreen will
be delighted to meet your wishes. As I told you, he has been called to
London for a week. As soon as he comes back you shall have it out with
This was so frank and friendly that the young man could only reply,
laughing as his hostess laughed: "Oh I don't imagine we shall have much
of a battle."
"They'll give you anything you like," the boy remarked unexpectedly,
returning from the window. "We don't mind what anything costs--we live
"My darling, you're too quaint!" his mother exclaimed, putting out to
caress him a practised but ineffectual hand. He slipped out of it, but
looked with intelligent innocent eyes at Pemberton, who had already had
time to notice that from one moment to the other his small satiric face
seemed to change its time of life. At this moment it was infantine, yet
it appeared also to be under the influence of curious intuitions and
knowledges. Pemberton rather disliked precocity and was disappointed to
find gleams of it in a disciple not yet in his teens. Nevertheless he
divined on the spot that Morgan wouldn't prove a bore. He would prove on
the contrary a source of agitation. This idea held the young man, in
spite of a certain repulsion.
"You pompous little person! We're not extravagant!" Mrs. Moreen gaily
protested, making another unsuccessful attempt to draw the boy to her
side. "You must know what to expect," she went on to Pemberton.
"The less you expect the better!" her companion interposed. "But we
_are_ people of fashion."
"Only so far as _you_ make us so!" Mrs. Moreen tenderly mocked. "Well
then, on Friday--don't tell me you're superstitious--and mind you don't
fail us. Then you'll see us all. I'm so sorry the girls are out. I
guess you'll like the girls. And, you know, I've another son, quite
different from this one."
"He tries to imitate me," Morgan said to their friend.
"He tries? Why he's twenty years old!" cried Mrs. Moreen.
"You're very witty," Pemberton remarked to the child--a proposition his
mother echoed with enthusiasm, declaring Morgan's sallies to be the
delight of the house.
The boy paid no heed to this; he only enquired abruptly of the visitor,
who was surprised afterwards that he hadn't struck him as offensively
forward: "Do you _want_ very much to come?"
"Can you doubt it after such a description of what I shall hear?"
Pemberton replied. Yet he didn't want to come at all; he was coming
because he had to go somewhere, thanks to the collapse of his fortune at
the end of a year abroad spent on the system of putting his scant
patrimony into a single full wave of experience. He had had his full
wave but couldn't pay the score at his inn. Moreover he had caught in
the boy's eyes the glimpse of a far-off appeal.
"Well, I'll do the best I can for you," said Morgan; with which he turned
away again. He passed out of one of the long windows; Pemberton saw him
go and lean on the parapet of the terrace. He remained there while the
young man took leave of his mother, who, on Pemberton's looking as if he
expected a farewell from him, interposed with: "Leave him, leave him;
he's so strange!" Pemberton supposed her to fear something he might say.
"He's a genius--you'll love him," she added. "He's much the most
interesting person in the family." And before he could invent some
civility to oppose to this she wound up with: "But we're all good, you
"He's a genius--you'll love him!" were words that recurred to our
aspirant before the Friday, suggesting among many things that geniuses
were not invariably loveable. However, it was all the better if there
was an element that would make tutorship absorbing: he had perhaps taken
too much for granted it would only disgust him. As he left the villa
after his interview he looked up at the balcony and saw the child leaning
over it. "We shall have great larks!" he called up.
Morgan hung fire a moment and then gaily returned: "By the time you come
back I shall have thought of something witty!"
This made Pemberton say to himself "After all he's rather nice."