A close shave.
MISS OLIVER PROFFERS ASSISTANCE.
Although this narrative has faintly attempted to trace it here and there in operation, no one can keep tally with rumour in Polpier, or render any convincing account of its secret ways. It were far easier to hunt thistledown.
The Penhaligon family were packing, preparing for the great move into Aun’ Bunney’s derelict cottage. ’Bert and ’Beida had been given to understand—had made sure in fact—that the move would be made, at earliest, in the week before Michaelmas Day. For some reason or other Mrs Penhaligon had changed her mind, and was hurrying things forward almost feverishly. ’Beida—who for a year or so had been taken more and more into her mother’s confidence—suddenly found herself up against a dead wall of mystery and obstinacy. The growing girl was puzzled—driven to consult ’Bert about it; and a Polpier woman is driven far before she seeks advice from husband or brother.
She might have spared herself the humiliation, too. For ’Bert, when she cornered him, gave no help at all. Yet he was positive enough. [It takes some experience to discover what painted laths men are.]
“Some woman’s rot!” decided ’Bert with a shrug of his shoulders. “Father bein’ away, she’s worryin’, an’ wants to get it over. She don’t consult me, so I’ve no call to tell her to take things cooler.” The trumpet, after thus uttering no uncertain sound, tailed off upon the word ‘females.’
“Get along with your ’females’!” fired up ’Beida, springing to arms for her sex. “I’d like to know where the world’d be without us. But don’t you see that ‘tisn’ like Mother to be so daggin’ to quit the old house?”
“She wants to get the grievin’ over, I tell you,” ’Bert maintained.
As for ’Biades, he was rather more—certainly not less—of a nuisance than children of his age usually are when a family intends a move. He asked a thousand questions, wandered among packing-cases as in a maze, and, if his presence were forgotten for a moment, sat down and howled. On being picked up and righted he would account for his emotion quite absurdly yet lucidly and in a way that wrung all hearts. On the second day of packing he looked out from a zareba of furniture under which he had contrived to crawl, and demanded— “What’s a Spy?”
“A Spy?” his mother echoed after he had repeated the question three or four times. “A Spy is a wicked man: worse nor a Prooshian.”
“What’s a Prooshian?”
“A Prooshian,” said Mrs Penhaligon, inverting one bedroom chair on another, “is a kind o’ German, and by all accounts the p’isonest. A Spy is worse nor even a Prooshian, because he pretends he isn’t till he’ve wormed hisself into your confidence, an’ then he comes out in his true colours, an’ the next thing you know you’re stabbed in the back in the dark.” Mrs Penhaligon might miss to be lucid in explanation, but never to be vivid.