’She will do. And there’s Mrs. Brown-Smith, Lord Yarrow’s daughter, who married the patent soap man. Elle est capable de tout. A real good woman, but full of her fun.’
‘That will do for the lady patronesses. We must secure them at once.’
‘But won’t the clients blab?’ Logan suggested.
‘They can’t,’ Merton said. ’They would be laughed at consumedly. It will be their interest to hold their tongues.’
‘Well, let us hope that they will see it in that light.’ Logan was not too sanguine.
Merton had a better opinion of his enterprise.
’People, if they come to us at all for assistance in these very delicate and intimate affairs, will have too much to lose by talking about them. They may not come, we can only try, but if they come they will be silent as the grave usually is.’
‘Well, it is late, and the whisky is low,’ said Logan in mournful tones. ’May the morrow’s reflections justify the inspiration of—the whisky. Good night!’
‘Good night,’ said Merton absently.
He sat down when Logan had gone, and wrote a few notes on large sheets of paper. He was elaborating the scheme. ’If collaboration consists in making objections, as the French novelist said, Logan is a rare collaborator,’ Merton muttered as he turned out the pallid lamp and went to bed.
Next morning, before dressing, he revolved the scheme. It bore the change of light and survived the inspiration of alcohol. Logan looked in after breakfast. He had no new objections. They proceeded to action.
II. FROM THE HIGHWAYS AND HEDGES
The first step towards Merton’s scheme was taken at once. The lady patronesses were approached. The divine Althaea instantly came in. She had enjoyed few things more since the Duchess of Richmond’s ball on the eve of Waterloo. Miss Nicky Maxwell at first professed a desire to open her coffers, ‘only anticipating,’ she said, ’an event’—which Logan declined in any sense to anticipate. Lady Lochmaben said that they would have a lovely time as experimental students of society. Mrs. Brown-Smith instantly offered her own services as a Disentangler, her lord being then absent in America studying the negro market for detergents.
‘I think,’ she said, ’he expects Brown-Smith’s brand to make an Ethiopian change his skin, and then means to exhibit him as an advertisement.’
‘And settle the negro question by making them all white men,’ said Logan, as he gracefully declined the generous but compromising proposal of the lady. ‘Yet, after all,’ thought he, ’is she not right? The prophylactic precautions would certainly be increased, morally speaking, if the Disentanglers were married.’ But while he pigeon-holed this idea for future reference, at the moment he could not see his way to accepting Mrs. Brown-Smith’s spirited idea. She reluctantly acquiesced in his view of the case, but, like the other dames, promised to guarantee, if applied to, the absolute respectability of the enterprise. The usual vows of secrecy were made, and (what borders on the supernatural) they were kept.