You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 7

Mr Myame is Uneasy

JIM WHITTAKER had sent his large expensive wreath to Mrs Tewler’s funeral in accordance with the feudal traditions of Colebrook and Mahogany, and at the same time he had recalled with surprise that there must be some family or something that had never been looked up and looked over by the Firm. There was no need for anyone who had inherited Richard Tewler’s dexterity of hand and solicitude of manner to go wandering beyond its range. Mr Whittaker had made a memorandum on a bit of paper,

“Tewler boy query”, but it had slipped under some other papers and he had forgotten it under the pressure of the sale of the great Borgman collection. It was only some six months later that the scrap of paper turned up to recall him to his obligation, “God bless my Heart and Liver,” said Mr Jim.

“I might have lost sight of him!”

So one morning Mr Myame beetled over Edward Albert for some moments and then said: “Tewler. A word with you in my study.”

“What’s he found out now?” thought Edward Albert, for plainly there was trouble in the air.

“Siddown,” said Mr Myame, and became hairily and darkly interrogative with his head on one side. He trifled with various objects on his table and began rather slowly.

“I had ah — a visitant — so to speak, this morning. An inquirer. Who wanted to know, to put it briefly, everything he could possibly know about you. He wanted to know how old you are, what your abilities are, your prospects, what you hoped to do in the world.” (”‘Strordinary!” interjected Edward Albert.)” Among other things he asked who paid your school fees? I told him that, as your guardian, I did. I asked him by what authority he was making these — these investigations. He said on behalf of a Mr James Whittaker, who carries on a china and glass business under the alias — or shall we say? the pseudonym — of Colebrook and Mahogany. It seems your father worked for him — or them — whichever one ought to say. Do you know anything about this?”

“Why, it was ’im sent that great wreath at mother’s funeral!” said Edward Albert.

“I remember. A really extravagant wreath. Yes. It was that person. Now why should he suddenly want to know all these things?”

“Was it ’im?” asked Edward Albert.

“No. It was some sort of agent. Never mind. Have you by any chance written to this Mr Whittaker?”

“I ‘adn’t got ‘is address.”

Mr Myame regarded Edward Albert with a look of intense penetration. “Or you might have done so?”

“Jest to thank ’im for that wreath of ‘is.”

Mr Myame dismissed some obscure suspicion. “Well, he seems to think he is entitled to know all about you. I would like to know how far he is. Your dear good mother made me your guardian. She was a sweet pure precious soul and your religious and moral welfare was her first thought and her last. She feared for you. Perhaps it was that very Mr James Whittaker with his pseudonyms and misrepresentation! that she feared. And if he wanted to communicate with you why should he resort to one of those Private Inquiry Agencies? Why should a Private Inquiry Agent come asking all sorts of questions about the conduct of my school?”

“I’ve read advertisements somewhere. ‘Does it take all that time shopping? Inquiries as to character. Missing relatives traced’. D’you think perhaps this Mr Whittaker is some sort of relation? Maybe he wasn’t thinking anything about the school. Didn’t mean any harm like. He’d just lost me and wanted to find me.”

“If he is a relation, then it is manifest your dear Mother thought he was not the sort of relation that would do you any good. This is all I wanted to ask you, Edward.”

The scrutiny intensified.

“You did not communicate your whereabouts to this Mr Whittaker — I believe that — and I would like you to give me your promise on your word of honour that you will not do anything of the sort. Except with my knowledge and consent.”

“I’d like to thank him for that lovely wreath, Sir. I think my mother would have appreciated that wreath.”

“I am not so sure, Edward. In this matter I ask you to be guided by me. As your dear mother wished. I might perhaps send him a message on your behalf.”

It was plain to Edward Albert’s cautious mind that the less he committed himself to Mr Myame and the sooner he found out what this Mr Whittaker was up to, the better.

“You know best, Sir,” he said. “Of course if he goes about pretending to be Colebrook and Mahogany, it certainly can’t be right. . . . ”

Mr Myame did not challenge the name of the firm. Good!

“I can rely on you, Edward?”

“Certainly, Sir.” And with that Edward Albert escaped and wrote down the name of Colebrook and Mahogany there and then on a scrap of paper.

In many ways Buffin Burleybank had enlarged Edward Albert’s knowledge of the dodges and expedients of life. He had learnt that there were things called Trade Directories. There was one, he discovered, in that accommodating newsagent’s shop. It was an old one, but no Trade Directory was half as old as the firm of Colebrook and Mahogany, Royal Warrant Holders, of North Lonsdale Street. And so Edward Albert, having been sent on a mission to Godberry’s, the school-furnishers in Oxford Street, to inquire if they dealt in second-hand desks and if so, would they give him a list of any bargains they had on offer, successfully lost his way and was presently contemplating for the first time the wonder and beauty of Colebrook and Mahogany’s magnificent windows. There you had the most wonderful china elephants, great blue vases with pictures of delightful scenery, white china statuary, gigantic bowls, lovely half-naked gods and goddesses of shining porcelain, dinner services for kings, decanters and glass beyond description.

He allowed his imagination to play loose with fantastic possibilities. He was related to this man who, for some mysterious purpose, ran this mighty and lovely business in the name of Colebrook and Mahogany. What was he trying to conceal by this? Some relationship? And what, if presently everything was brought to light, would that hidden relationship turn out to be? Edward Albert skipped a vast complication of possibilities, just as he skipped the plot stuff in the stories he read. He landed precisely where he wanted to land for the purpose of reverie. He was the long-lost rightful heir and this man, either out of affection or remorse, or just no reason at all, was going to do him justice.

This place must be worth fousands of pounds, fousands and fousands and fousands of pounds . . .

He could say to all sorts of people: “I came into some money. I came into —”

“Forty, fifty ‘undred fousand? Well, fifty, say?”

He would say it to Mr Myame. He would walk into the classroom when all the school was present. He could come in late for prayers. “Sorry to be late, but I’ve had important news, Sir. ‘Fraid I’ll have to be leaving you. You see I came into fifty fousand pounds and I been put down for Eton and ‘Arrow and Oxford and Cambridge, leastways as soon as there’s a vacancy anywhere. I’ll be looking in on you’ one of these days when I’m seeing the match at Lord’s. Maybe I’ll be in the match. If so”— here we turn to the school —“I hope I’ll be able to get all of you chaps tickets for the Pavilion. . . . ” Make ’em sit up, that will. Or Buffin Burleybanks. “Where ‘d’you get that ‘at?” Buffin would say.

“I lef old Myame’s for Eton,” Edward Albert would answer.

“What sort of school is Mottiscombe?”

Reluctantly he turned away from the great windows and, still dreaming and whistling softly to himself, pursued his errand to Messrs Godberry’s and so home to school again.

“You’ve been a long time,” said Mr Myame, faintly suspicious.

“I lost my way a bit,” said Edward Albert. “I arst a man who told me wrong.”

And now, how to get past the vigilance of Mr Myame to this opulent and mysterious friend behind that tremendous

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30