Once Aboard the Lugger Part 25

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She said, "No, I won't tell you. I won't spoil all this beautiful morning we have spent. I will wait till next week."

"Mary, what do you mean? Wait till next week? No. You must tell me now. How could I leave you like this, knowing you are in some trouble?

What has happened? You must tell. You must. I insist."

"Ah, I will." Her agitation, as her mind cast back over the events of the previous night, was enhanced by the suddenness of the change from the suns.h.i.+ne in which she had been disporting to the darkness that now swept upon her. She was as a girl who, singing along a country lane, is suddenly confronted from the hedgeside by some ugly tramp.

She said, "You know that young Mr. Chater?"

Dark imaginings clouded upon George's brow. "Yes," he said. "Yes; well--?"

"Last night--" And then she gave him the history of events.

This simple George of mine writhed beneath it.

It was a poison torturing his system, twisting his brow, knotting his hands. Her presence, when she finished, did not stay his cry beneath his rackings: he was upon his feet. "By Gad," he cried, "I'll thrash the life out of him! The swine! By Gad, I'll kill him!"

She laid a hand upon his arm. "Georgie, dear," she pleaded. "Don't, don't take it like that. I haven't finished."

Roughly he turned upon her. "Well, what else? What else?"

"I haven't seen him since. He went away early this morning for the week-end. And I have not seen Mrs. Chater again either. I am to see her this afternoon. She sent me word to take the children as usual and that she would see me at three."

My poor George bitterly broke out: "Oh! Will she? That's kind of her!

That's delightful of her! Are you going to see her?"

"Of course I shall see her."

"'Of course'! 'Of course'! I don't know what you mean by talking in that tone. You won't stay there another minute! That's what you'll tell her if you insist upon seeing her. If you had behaved properly you'd have walked out of the house there and then when it happened last night."

Spite of her trouble Mary could not forbear to laugh. "Dearest, how could I?"

But this furious young man could not see her point. His fine pa.s.sion swept him above contingencies.

"Well, then, this morning," he laid down. "The first thing this morning you should have gone." He supplied detail: "Packed your box, and called a cab and gone."

His dictatory air drew from her another sad little laugh.

"Oh, George, dear," she cried, "gone where?"

It was a bucket of water dashed upon his flames, and for a moment they flickered beneath it--then roared again: "_Where? Anywhere!_"

"Oh!" she cried, "you are stupid! You don't see--you don't understand!

Easy to say 'anywhere,' but where--_where_? I have no money. I have no friends--I--"

The knowledge of her plight and her outlook crowded upon her speech; broke her voice.

Her distracted George in a moment had her hands in his. "Oh, my dear,"

he cried, "what a fool I am! What a beast to storm like that! I was so wild. So mad. Of course you had to think before you moved. You were right, of course you were right. But, my darling, I'm right now. You see that, don't you? You can't stay a moment longer with those beasts."

And then he laughed grimly. "Especially," he added, "after what I'm going to do to Master Bob."

She too laughed. The thought of Bob learning manners beneath the tuition of those sinewy brown hands that were about hers was very pleasant to her. But it was a pleasure that must be denied--this she saw clearly as the result of weary tossings throughout the night; and now she set about the task of explaining it to George.

She said: "Oh, my dear, you're not right. Georgie, I can't go--if Mrs.

Chater will let me stay I must stay."

He tried to be calm, to understand these women, to understand his Mary. "But why?" he asked. "Why?"

"Dearest, because I must bridge over the time until you are ready to take me. You see that?"

"Of course. But why there? You can easily get another place."

"Oh, easily! If you had been through it as I have been! The first thing they ask you for is a reference from your former situation.

Think what a reference Mrs. Chater would give me!"

He would not agree. He plunged along in his blundering, man fas.h.i.+on: "In time you could get a place where they would not ask questions--or rather--yes, of course this is it. Tell them frankly all that happened. Who could see you and not believe you? Tell them everything.

There must be some nice people in the world."

"There may be. But they don't want helps or governesses--in my experience." The little laugh she gave was sadly doleful.

He was still angry. "You can't generalise like that. There are thousands who would believe you and be glad to take you. Suppose you have to wait a bit--well, you have a little money that she must give you; and I--oh, curse my poverty!--I can borrow, and I can sell things."

The help that a man would give a woman so often has lack of sympathy; he is unkind while meaning to be kind. George's obdurateness, coming when she was most in need of kisses, hurt her. Trouble welled in her eyes.

"I wouldn't do that," she said. "For one thing, we want all our money.

Why throw it away to get me out of a place in which I shall only be for a few weeks longer? Another thing--another thing--" She dragged a ridiculous handkerchief from her sleeve; dabbed her br.i.m.m.i.n.g eyes.

"Another thing--I'm afraid to risk it. I'm afraid to be alone and looking for a place again. There--now you know. I'm a coward."

She fell to sniffing and sobbing; and her wretched George, cursing himself for the grief he had evoked, cursing Bob Chater, cursing Mrs.

Chater, cursing his uncle Marrapit, put his arms about her and drew her to him. She quivered hysterically, and he frantically moaned that he was a beast, a brute, unworthy; implored forgiveness; entreated calm; by squeezing her with his left arm and with his right hand dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief, screwed to a pathetic little damp ball, strove to stem the flood that alarmingly welled from them.

VII.

It was an awful position for any young man; and just as my poor George, distinguished in nothing, inept, bewildered, was in a mood murderous to the whole world save this anguished fairy, a wretched old gentleman must needs come sunning himself down the path, making for this seat with hobbling limbs.

He collapsed upon it, and then, glancing to his right, was struck with palpitations by sight of the heaving back of a young woman over whose shoulder glared at him with hideous ferocity the face of a young man.

"Dear me, dear me," said he; "nothing wrong, sir, I trust?"

"Go away!" roared my distracted George.

"Eh?" inquired the old gentleman, horribly startled.

"Go away! Go away!"

The fire of those baleful eyes, of that bellowing voice, struck terror into the aged heart. He clutched his stick.

Once Aboard the Lugger Part 25

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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 25 summary

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