“I am afraid my father has misled you with his irreverent expressions. He will have to atone by explaining.”
“You see, Doctor,” said Mr. Bellingham, “Ruth is a literary searcher—”
“Oh, don’t call me a ’searcher’!” Miss Bellingham protested. “It suggests the female searcher at a police-station. Say investigator.”
“Very well, investigator or investigatrix, if you like. She hunts up references and bibliographies at the Museum for people who are writing books. She looks up everything that has been written on a given subject, and then, when she has crammed herself to bursting-point with facts, she goes to her client and disgorges and crams him or her, and he or she finally disgorges into the Press.”
“What a disgusting way to put it!” said his daughter. “However, that is what it amounts to. I am a literary jackal, a collector of provender for the literary lions. Is that quite clear?”
“Perfectly. But I don’t think that, even now, I quite understand about the stuffed Shepherd Kings.”
“Oh, it was not the Shepherd Kings who were to be stuffed. It was the author! That was mere obscurity of speech on the part of my father. The position is this: A venerable archdeacon wrote an article on the patriarch Joseph—”
“And didn’t know anything about him,” interrupted Mr. Bellingham, “and got tripped up by a specialist who did, and then got shirty—”
“Nothing of the kind,” said Miss Bellingham. “He knew as much as venerable archdeacons ought to know; but the expert knew more. So the archdeacon commissioned me to collect the literature on the state of Egypt at the end of the seventeenth dynasty, which I have done; and to-morrow I shall go and stuff him, as my father expresses it, and then—”
“And then,” Mr. Bellingham interrupted, “the archdeacon will rush forth and pelt that expert with Shepherd Kings and Seqenen-Ra and the whole tag-rag and bobtail of the seventeenth dynasty. Oh, there’ll be wigs on the green, I can tell you.”
“Yes, I expect there will be quite a lively little skirmish,” said Miss Bellingham. And thus dismissing the subject, she made an energetic attack on the toast while her father refreshed himself with a colossal yawn.
I watched her with furtive admiration and deep and growing interest. In spite of her pallor, her weary eyes, and her drawn and almost haggard face, she was an exceedingly handsome girl; and there was in her aspect a suggestion of purpose, of strength and character that marked her off from the rank and file of womanhood. I noted this as I stole an occasional glance at her or turned to answer some remark addressed to me; and I noted, too, that her speech, despite a general undertone of depression, was yet not without a certain caustic, ironical humour. She was certainly a rather enigmatical young person, but very decidedly interesting.
When she had finished her repast she put aside the tray and, opening the shabby handbag, asked: