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10. 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 connexion with a man bottled up in an office, with Roland Bean guarding the only exit.
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