The Man, the Maid and the Miasma

Although this story is concerned principally with the Man and the Maid, the Miasma pervades it to such an extent that I feel justified in putting his name on the bills. Webster’s Dictionary gives the meaning of the word “miasma” as “an infection floating in the air; a deadly exhalation;” and, in the opinion of Mr. Robert Ferguson, his late employer, that description, though perhaps a little too flattering, on the whole summed up Master Roland Bean pretty satisfactorily. Until the previous day he had served Mr. Ferguson in the capacity of office-boy; but there was that about Master Bean which made it practically impossible for anyone to employ him for long. A syndicate of Galahad, Parsifal, and Marcus Aurelius might have done it, but to an ordinary erring man, conscious of things done which should not have been done, and other things equally numerous left undone, he was too oppressive. One conscience is enough for any man. The employer of Master Bean had to cringe before two. Nobody can last long against an office- boy whose eyes shine with quiet, respectful reproof through gold-rimmed spectacles, whose manner is that of a middle-aged saint, and who obviously knows all the Plod and Punctuality books by heart and orders his life by their precepts. Master Bean was a walking edition of Stepping-Stones to Success, Millionaires who Have Never Smoked, and Young Man, Get up Early. Galahad, Parsifal, and Marcus Aurelius, as I say, might have remained tranquil in his presence, but Robert Ferguson found the contract too large. After one month he had braced himself up and sacked the Punctual Plodder.

Yet now he was sitting in his office, long after the last clerk had left, long after the hour at which he himself was wont to leave, his mind full of his late employee.

Was this remorse? Was he longing for the touch of the vanished hand, the gleam of the departed spectacles? He was not. His mind was full of Master Bean because Master Bean was waiting for him in the outer office; and he lingered on at his desk, after the day’s work was done, for the same reason. Word had been brought to him earlier in the evening, that Master Roland Bean would like to see him. The answer to that was easy: “Tell him I’m busy.” Master Bean’s admirably dignified reply was that he understood how great was the pressure of Mr. Ferguson’s work, and that he would wait till he was at liberty. Liberty! Talk of the liberty of the treed ’possum, but do not use the word in connection with a man bottled up in an office, with Roland Bean guarding the only exit.

Mr. Ferguson kicked the waste-paper basket savagely. The unfairness of the thing hurt him. A sacked office-boy ought to stay sacked. He had no business to come popping up again like Banquo’s ghost. It was not playing the game.

The reader may wonder what was the trouble—why Mr. Ferguson could not stalk out and brusquely dispose of his foe; but then the reader has not employed Master Bean for a month. Mr. Ferguson had, and his nerve had broken.

A slight cough penetrated the door between the two offices. Mr. Ferguson rose and grabbed his hat. Perhaps a sudden rush—he shot out with the tense concentration of one moving towards the refreshment- room at a station where the train stops three minutes.

“Good evening, sir!” was the watcher’s view halloo.

“Ah, Bean,” said Mr. Ferguson, flitting rapidly, “you still here? I thought you had gone. I’m afraid I cannot stop now. Some other time—”

He was almost through.

“I fear, sir, that you will be unable to get out,” said Master Bean, sympathetically. “The building is locked up.”

Men who have been hit by bullets say that the first sensation is merely a sort of dull shock. So it was with Mr. Ferguson. He stopped in his tracks and stared.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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