Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 5

But it was during the ensuing time that the real problem came up--the
problem of how far it was excusable to discuss the turpitude of parents
with a child of twelve, of thirteen, of fourteen. Absolutely inexcusable
and quite impossible it of course at first appeared; and indeed the
question didn't press for some time after Pemberton had received his
three hundred francs. They produced a temporary lull, a relief from the
sharpest pressure. The young man frugally amended his wardrobe and even
had a few francs in his pocket. He thought the Moreens looked at him as
if he were almost too smart, as if they ought to take care not to spoil
him. If Mr. Moreen hadn't been such a man of the world he would perhaps
have spoken of the freedom of such neckties on the part of a subordinate.
But Mr. Moreen was always enough a man of the world to let things pass--he
had certainly shown that. It was singular how Pemberton guessed that
Morgan, though saying nothing about it, knew something had happened. But
three hundred francs, especially when one owed money, couldn't last for
ever; and when the treasure was gone--the boy knew when it had
failed--Morgan did break ground. The party had returned to Nice at the
beginning of the winter, but not to the charming villa. They went to an
hotel, where they stayed three months, and then moved to another
establishment, explaining that they had left the first because, after
waiting and waiting, they couldn't get the rooms they wanted. These
apartments, the rooms they wanted, were generally very splendid; but
fortunately they never _could_ get them--fortunately, I mean, for
Pemberton, who reflected always that if they had got them there would
have been a still scantier educational fund. What Morgan said at last
was said suddenly, irrelevantly, when the moment came, in the middle of a
lesson, and consisted of the apparently unfeeling words: "You ought to
filer, you know--you really ought."

Pemberton stared. He had learnt enough French slang from Morgan to know
that to filer meant to cut sticks. "Ah my dear fellow, don't turn me
off!"

Morgan pulled a Greek lexicon toward him--he used a Greek-German--to look
out a word, instead of asking it of Pemberton. "You can't go on like
this, you know."

"Like what, my boy?"

"You know they don't pay you up," said Morgan, blushing and turning his
leaves.

"Don't pay me?" Pemberton stared again and feigned amazement. "What on
earth put that into your head?"

"It has been there a long time," the boy replied rummaging his book.

Pemberton was silent, then he went on: "I say, what are you hunting for?
They pay me beautifully."

"I'm hunting for the Greek for awful whopper," Morgan dropped.

"Find that rather for gross impertinence and disabuse your mind. What do
I want of money?"

"Oh that's another question!"

Pemberton wavered--he was drawn in different ways. The severely correct
thing would have been to tell the boy that such a matter was none of his
business and bid him go on with his lines. But they were really too
intimate for that; it was not the way he was in the habit of treating
him; there had been no reason it should be. On the other hand Morgan had
quite lighted on the truth--he really shouldn't be able to keep it up
much longer; therefore why not let him know one's real motive for
forsaking him? At the same time it wasn't decent to abuse to one's pupil
the family of one's pupil; it was better to misrepresent than to do that.
So in reply to his comrade's last exclamation he just declared, to
dismiss the subject, that he had received several payments.

"I say--I say!" the boy ejaculated, laughing.

"That's all right," Pemberton insisted. "Give me your written
rendering."

Morgan pushed a copybook across the table, and he began to read the page,
but with something running in his head that made it no sense. Looking up
after a minute or two he found the child's eyes fixed on him and felt in
them something strange. Then Morgan said: "I'm not afraid of the stern
reality."

"I haven't yet seen the thing you _are_ afraid of--I'll do you that
justice!"

This came out with a jump--it was perfectly true--and evidently gave
Morgan pleasure. "I've thought of it a long time," he presently resumed.

"Well, don't think of it any more."

The boy appeared to comply, and they had a comfortable and even an
amusing hour. They had a theory that they were very thorough, and yet
they seemed always to be in the amusing part of lessons, the intervals
between the dull dark tunnels, where there were waysides and jolly views.
Yet the morning was brought to a violent as end by Morgan's suddenly
leaning his arms on the table, burying his head in them and bursting into
tears: at which Pemberton was the more startled that, as it then came
over him, it was the first time he had ever seen the boy cry and that the
impression was consequently quite awful.

The next day, after much thought, he took a decision and, believing it to
be just, immediately acted on it. He cornered Mr. and Mrs. Moreen again
and let them know that if on the spot they didn't pay him all they owed
him he wouldn't only leave their house but would tell Morgan exactly what
had brought him to it.

"Oh you _haven't_ told him?" cried Mrs. Moreen with a pacifying hand on
her well-dressed bosom.

"Without warning you? For what do you take me?" the young man returned.

Mr. and Mrs. Moreen looked at each other; he could see that they
appreciated, as tending to their security, his superstition of delicacy,
and yet that there was a certain alarm in their relief. "My dear
fellow," Mr. Moreen demanded, "what use can you have, leading the quiet
life we all do, for such a lot of money?"--a question to which Pemberton
made no answer, occupied as he was in noting that what passed in the mind
of his patrons was something like: "Oh then, if we've felt that the
child, dear little angel, has judged us and how he regards us, and we
haven't been betrayed, he must have guessed--and in short it's
_general_!" an inference that rather stirred up Mr. and Mrs. Moreen, as
Pemberton had desired it should. At the same time, if he had supposed
his threat would do something towards bringing them round, he was
disappointed to find them taking for granted--how vulgar their perception
_had_ been!--that he had already given them away. There was a mystic
uneasiness in their parental breasts, and that had been the inferior
sense of it. None the less however, his threat did touch them; for if
they had escaped it was only to meet a new danger. Mr. Moreen appealed
to him, on every precedent, as a man of the world; but his wife had
recourse, for the first time since his domestication with them, to a fine
hauteur, reminding him that a devoted mother, with her child, had arts
that protected her against gross misrepresentation.

"I should misrepresent you grossly if I accused you of common honesty!"
our friend replied; but as he closed the door behind him sharply,
thinking he had not done himself much good, while Mr. Moreen lighted
another cigarette, he heard his hostess shout after him more touchingly:

"Oh you do, you _do_, put the knife to one's throat!"

The next morning, very early, she came to his room. He recognised her
knock, but had no hope she brought him money; as to which he was wrong,
for she had fifty francs in her hand. She squeezed forward in her
dressing-gown, and he received her in his own, between his bath-tub and
his bed. He had been tolerably schooled by this time to the "foreign
ways" of his hosts. Mrs. Moreen was ardent, and when she was ardent she
didn't care what she did; so she now sat down on his bed, his clothes
being on the chairs, and, in her preoccupation, forgot, as she glanced
round, to be ashamed of giving him such a horrid room. What Mrs.
Moreen's ardour now bore upon was the design of persuading him that in
the first place she was very good-natured to bring him fifty francs, and
that in the second, if he would only see it, he was really too absurd to
expect to be paid. Wasn't he paid enough without perpetual money--wasn't
he paid by the comfortable luxurious home he enjoyed with them all,
without a care, an anxiety, a solitary want? Wasn't he sure of his
position, and wasn't that everything to a young man like him, quite
unknown, with singularly little to show, the ground of whose exorbitant
pretensions it had never been easy to discover? Wasn't he paid above all
by the sweet relation he had established with Morgan--quite ideal as from
master to pupil--and by the simple privilege of knowing and living with
so amazingly gifted a child; than whom really (and she meant literally
what she said) there was no better company in Europe? Mrs. Moreen
herself took to appealing to him as a man of the world; she said "Voyons,
mon cher," and "My dear man, look here now"; and urged him to be
reasonable, putting it before him that it was truly a chance for him. She
spoke as if, according as he _should_ be reasonable, he would prove
himself worthy to be her son's tutor and of the extraordinary confidence
they had placed in him.

After all, Pemberton reflected, it was only a difference of theory and
the theory didn't matter much. They had hitherto gone on that of
remunerated, as now they would go on that of gratuitous, service; but why
should they have so many words about it? Mrs. Moreen at all events
continued to be convincing; sitting there with her fifty francs she
talked and reiterated, as women reiterate, and bored and irritated him,
while he leaned against the wall with his hands in the pockets of his
wrapper, drawing it together round his legs and looking over the head of
his visitor at the grey negations of his window. She wound up with
saying: "You see I bring you a definite proposal."

"A definite proposal?"

"To make our relations regular, as it were--to put them on a comfortable
footing."

"I see--it's a system," said Pemberton. "A kind of organised blackmail."

Mrs. Moreen bounded up, which was exactly what he wanted. "What do you
mean by that?"

"You practise on one's fears--one's fears about the child if one should
go away."

"And pray what would happen to him in that event?" she demanded, with
majesty.

"Why he'd be alone with _you_."

"And pray with whom _should_ a child be but with those whom he loves
most?"

"If you think that, why don't you dismiss me?"

"Do you pretend he loves you more than he loves _us_?" cried Mrs. Moreen.

"I think he ought to. I make sacrifices for him. Though I've heard of
those _you_ make I don't see them."

Mrs. Moreen stared a moment; then with emotion she grasped her inmate's
hand. "_Will_ you make it--the sacrifice?"

He burst out laughing. "I'll see. I'll do what I can. I'll stay a
little longer. Your calculation's just--I _do_ hate intensely to give
him up; I'm fond of him and he thoroughly interests me, in spite of the
inconvenience I suffer. You know my situation perfectly. I haven't a
penny in the world and, occupied as you see me with Morgan, am unable to
earn money."

Mrs. Moreen tapped her undressed arm with her folded bank-note. "Can't
you write articles? Can't you translate as _I_ do?"

"I don't know about translating; it's wretchedly paid."

"I'm glad to earn what I can," said Mrs. Moreen with prodigious virtue.

"You ought to tell me who you do it for." Pemberton paused a moment, and
she said nothing; so he added: "I've tried to turn off some little
sketches, but the magazines won't have them--they're declined with
thanks."

"You see then you're not such a phoenix," his visitor pointedly
smiled--"to pretend to abilities you're sacrificing for our sake."

"I haven't time to do things properly," he ruefully went on. Then as it
came over him that he was almost abjectly good-natured to give these
explanations he added: "If I stay on longer it must be on one
condition--that Morgan shall know distinctly on what footing I am."

Mrs. Moreen demurred. "Surely you don't want to show off to a child?"

"To show _you_ off, do you mean?"

Again she cast about, but this time it was to produce a still finer
flower. "And _you_ talk of blackmail!"

"You can easily prevent it," said Pemberton.

"And _you_ talk of practising on fears," she bravely pushed on.

"Yes, there's no doubt I'm a great scoundrel."

His patroness met his eyes--it was clear she was in straits. Then she
thrust out her money at him. "Mr. Moreen desired me to give you this on
account."

"I'm much obliged to Mr. Moreen, but we _have_ no account."

"You won't take it?"

"That leaves me more free," said Pemberton.

"To poison my darling's mind?" groaned Mrs. Moreen.

"Oh your darling's mind--!" the young man laughed.

She fixed him a moment, and he thought she was going to break out
tormentedly, pleadingly: "For God's sake, tell me what _is_ in it!" But
she checked this impulse--another was stronger. She pocketed the
money--the crudity of the alternative was comical--and swept out of the
room with the desperate concession: "You may tell him any horror you
like!"

Henry James

Sorry, no summary available yet.