Once Aboard the Lugger Part 29

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"Don't you want to know?"

She shook her head.

"Aren't you curious?" His voice was low with a note of intensity. This was love-making, as he. knew the pursuit.

He went on: "I'm sure you're curious. Look here, I'm going to tell you."

"I'm going," she said; made to rise.

He caught her hand where it lay on her lap; pressed her down. "You're not. If you do I shall follow--but I won't let you," and he pressed again in advertis.e.m.e.nt.

Now she was alarmed--not for the result of this interview, but for its very present perils. Fear strangled her voice, but she said, "Let me go."

"You must hear me, then."

"I wish to go."

"You must stay to hear me." He believed a fierce a.s.sault would now win the heights. He released her hand; but she was still his prisoner, and he leant towards her averted head.

"I'm going to tell you why I behaved like that that night. It was because I could not contain myself any longer. You had always been so icy to me; kept me at arm's-length, barely let me speak to you; and all the time I was burning to tell you that I loved you--there, you know it now. On that night you were still cold when you might have been only barely civil and I could have contained myself. But you would not give me a word, and at last all that was in me for you burst out and I could not hold myself. It was unkind; it was frightening to you, perhaps; but was it a crime?--is it a crime to love?"

His flow checked, waiting an impulse from her.

She was but capable of a little "Oh!"--the crest of a gasp.

He misread her emotion. "Has it all been pretence, your keeping me from you like this? I believe it has. But now that you know you will be kind. Tell me. Speak."

Encouraged by her silence he took her hand.

That touch acted as a cold blast upon her fevered emotions. Now she was calm.

She shook off his hand. "Have you done?"

The tone more than the question warned him.

"Well?" he said; sullen wrath gathering.

"Well, never speak to me again."

"You won't be friends?"

"Friends! With you!"

Her meaning--that he had lost--stung him; her tone--that she despised him--was a finger in the wound.

He gripped her arm. "You little fool! How are you going to choose? If I want to be friends with you, how are you going to stop it? By G.o.d, if you want to be enemies it will be the worse for you. If I can't be friends with you at home, I'll get you turned out and I'll make you be friends outside."

She was trying to twist her arm from his grasp.

He gripped closer. "No, I don't mean that. I love you--that's why I talk so when you rebuff me. I'll not hurt you. We shall--I will be friends."

His right arm held her. He slipped his left around her, drew her to him, and with his lips had brushed her cheek before she was aware of his intention.

The insult swept her free of every thought but its memory. By a sudden motion she slipped from his grasp and to her feet; faced him.

"You beast!" she cried. "You beast!"

He half rose; made a half grab at her.

She stepped back a pace; something in her action reminded him of that stinging blow she had dealt him in the library; he dropped back to his seat and she turned and fled up the path whither Angela and David had toddled.

IV.

It was while Bob sat gazing after her, indeterminate, that he felt a hand from behind the seat upon his shoulder; looked up to see a tall young man, fresh faced, but fury-browed, regarding him.

"What's your name?" asked George.

"What the devil's that to do with you?"

The tone of the first question had been of pa.s.sion restrained. The pa.s.sion broke now from between George's clenched teeth, flamed in his eyes.

He tightened his grip upon the other's shoulder so that he pinched the flesh.

"A lot to do with me," he cried. "Is it Chater?"

"What if it is? Let me go, d.a.m.n you!"

"Let you go! I've been itching for you for weeks! What have you been saying to Miss Humfray?"

"d.a.m.n you! Take off your hand! She's a friend of yours, is she?"

My furious George choked: "Engaged to me." Further bit upon his pa.s.sion he could not brook. He brought his free hand down with a crash upon the face twisted up at him; relaxed his hold; ran round the seat- -those brown hands clenched.

If Bob Chater at no time had aching desire for a brawl, he was at least no coward: here the events he had suffered well sufficed to whip his blood to action. He sprang to his feet, was upon them as George, sideways to him, came round the arm of the seat; lunged furiously and landed a crack upon the cheekbone that spun George staggering up the path.

It was a good blow, a l.u.s.ty blow--straight from the shoulder and with body and leg work behind it; a blow that, happier placed, might well have won the battle.

A ring upon Bob's finger cut the flesh he struck, and he gave a savage "Ha!" of triumph as he saw George go spinning and the red trickle come breaking down his cheek.

A great ridge in the gravel marked the thrust of foot with which George stayed his stagger, from which he impelled the savage spring that brought him within striking distance.

There was no science. This was no calmly prepared fight with cool brains directing attack, searching weak points, husbanding strength, deft in defence. Here was only the animal instinct to get close and wound; to grapple and wound again.

George it was that provoked this spirit. Till now he had not seen this flushed face before him. But he had for many days conjured it up in his fancy--sharpening upon it the edge of his wrath, bruising himself against the wall of wise conduct that kept him from meeting and visiting upon it the distress his Mary had endured.

Now that he saw it in the flesh (and it was not unlike his conception), he came at it with the impulse of one who, straining against a rope, rushes headlong forward when a knife parts the bond.

Once Aboard the Lugger Part 29

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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 29 summary

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