“They won’t think the things came down from heaven,” said Miss Oman.
“No, I suppose they won’t. But you know what I mean. Now, where do you advise me to go for the raw materials of conviviality?”
Miss Oman reflected. “You’d better let me do your shopping and manage the whole business,” was her final verdict.
This was precisely what I had wanted, and I accepted thankfully, regardless of the feelings of Mrs. Gummer. I handed her two pounds, and, after some protests at my extravagance, she bestowed them in her purse; a process that occupied time, since that receptacle, besides and time-stained bills, already bulged with a lading of draper’s samples, ends of tape, a card of linen buttons, another of hooks and eyes, a lump of beeswax, a rat-eaten stump of lead-pencil, and other trifles that I have forgotten. As she closed the purse at the imminent risk of wrenching off its fastenings she looked at me severely and pursed up her lips.
“You’re a very plausible young man,” she remarked.
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“Philandering about museums,” she continued, “with handsome young ladies on the pretence of work. Work, indeed! Oh, I heard her telling her father about it. She thinks you were perfectly enthralled by the mummies and dried cats and chunks of stone and all the other trash. She doesn’t know what humbugs men are.”
“Really, Miss Oman—” I began.
“Oh, don’t talk to me!” she snapped. “I can see it all. You can’t impose on me. I can see you staring into those glass cases, egging her on to talk and listening open-mouthed and bulging-eyed and sitting at her feet—now, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know about sitting at her feet,” I said, “though it might easily have come to that with those infernal slippery floors; but I had a very jolly time, and I mean to go again if I can. Miss Bellingham is the cleverest and most accomplished woman I have ever spoken to.”
This was a poser for Miss Oman, whose admiration and loyalty, I knew, were only equalled by my own. She would have liked to contradict me, but the thing was impossible. To cover her defeat she snatched up the bundle of newspapers and began to open them out.
“What sort of stuff is ’hibernation’?” she demanded suddenly.
“Hibernation!” I exclaimed.
“Yes. They found a patch of it on a bone that was discovered in a pond at St. Mary Cray, and a similar patch on one that was found at some place in Essex. Now, I want to know what ‘hibernation’ is.”
“You must mean ‘eburnation,’” I said, after a moment’s reflection.
“The newspapers say ‘hibernation,’ and I suppose they know what they are talking about. If you don’t know what it is, don’t be ashamed to say so.”
“Well, then, I don’t.”
“In that case you’d better read the papers and find out,” she said, a little illogically. And then: “Are you fond of murders? I am, awfully.”