as a page in an unknown language—altogether different from the obvious

little Anglo-Saxons who had misrepresented childhood to Pemberton.

Indeed the whole mystic volume in which the boy had been amateurishly

bound demanded some practice in translation. To-day, after a

considerable interval, there is something phantasmagoria, like a

prismatic reflexion or a serial novel, in Pemberton’s memory of the

queerness of the Moreens. If it were not for a few tangible tokens—a

lock of Morgan’s hair cut by his own hand, and the half-dozen letters

received from him when they were disjoined—the whole episode and the

figures peopling it would seem too inconsequent for anything but

dreamland. Their supreme quaintness was their success—as it appeared to

him for a while at the time; since he had never seen a family so

brilliantly equipped for failure. Wasn’t it success to have kept him so

hatefully long? Wasn’t it success to have drawn him in that first

morning at déjeuner, the Friday he came—it was enough to _make_ one

superstitious—so that he utterly committed himself, and this not by

calculation or on a signal, but from a happy instinct which made them,

like a band of gipsies, work so neatly together? They amused him as much

as if they had really been a band of gipsies. He was still young and had

not seen much of the world—his English years had been properly arid;

therefore the reversed conventions of the Moreens—for they had _their_

desperate proprieties—struck him as topsy-turvy. He had encountered

nothing like them at Oxford; still less had any such note been struck to

his younger American ear during the four years at Yale in which he had

richly supposed himself to be reacting against a Puritan strain. The

reaction of the Moreens, at any rate, went ever so much further. He had

thought himself very sharp that first day in hitting them all off in his

mind with the “cosmopolite” label. Later it seemed feeble and

colourless—confessedly helplessly provisional.

He yet when he first applied it felt a glow of joy—for an instructor he

was still empirical—rise from the apprehension that living with them

would really be to see life. Their sociable strangeness was an

intimation of that—their chatter of tongues, their gaiety and good

humour, their infinite dawdling (they were always getting themselves up,

but it took forever, and Pemberton had once found Mr. Moreen shaving in

the drawing-room), their French, their Italian and, cropping up in the

foreign fluencies, their cold tough slices of American. They lived on

macaroni and coffee—they had these articles prepared in perfection—but

they knew recipes for a hundred other dishes. They overflowed with music

and song, were always humming and catching each other up, and had a sort

of professional acquaintance with Continental cities. They talked of

“good places” as if they had been pickpockets or strolling players. They

Download<<BackPagesMainNext>>
(C) 2013