Once Aboard the Lugger Part 43

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XII.

Hallooing safety to the apple-tree, too preoccupied to inquire further into the reason for the gun and the presence of Bill's dog, George turned for the house.

Awakening birds carolled his presence. They hymned the adventures of the day that Dawn, her handmaiden, came speeding, silver-footed, perfume-bearing, fresh from her dewy bath, to herald.

George put up an answering pipe. For him also the day was adventure- packed and must l.u.s.tily be hymned. Entering Mr. Marrapit's study he drew the blinds; upon a telegraph form set Mary's name and her address; pondered; then to these words compressed his great idea:

"_Go agency this morning. Get name on books. Meet you there. Think can get you situation here. George._"

"Immediately the office opens," said George; trod up to his room.

CHAPTER IV.

Mr. Marrapit Takes A Nice Warm Bath.

I.

As Mr. Marrapit had said, the disaster of the night had sped his complaint.

He appeared at breakfast. No word was spoken. He ate nothing.

Once only gave he sign of interest. Midway through the meal m.u.f.fled sounds came to the breakfast party. Scufflings in the hall struck an attentive light in Mr. Marrapit's eyes; slam of the front door jerked him in his seat; wheels, hoofs along the drive drew his gaze to the window. A cab rolled past--a melancholy horse; a stout driver, legs set over a corded box; a black figure, bolt upright, handkerchief to eyes.

The vision pa.s.sed. Mr. Marrapit gazed upwards; his thin lips moved.

Vulgar curiosity shall not tempt us to pry into the demeanour with which, an hour earlier, this man had borne himself in the study with Mrs. Major. Of that unhappy woman's moans, of her explanations, of the tears that poured from her eyes--bloodshot in a head most devilishly racked by Old Tom--we shall not speak.

Margaret stretched her hand for more bread. Despite the moving scenes in which during the night she had travelled with her Bill, her appet.i.te was nothing affected. With her meals her sentimentality was upon the friendliest terms. This girl was most gnawed by hunger when by emotion she was most torn.

She stretched for a third slice.

Mr. Marrapit cleared his throat. The sound shot her. She caught his eye and the glance pierced her. Her outstretched hand dropped upon the cloth, toyed with crumbs.

Mr. Marrapit said: "I perceive you are finished?"

Margaret murmured: "Yes." Her voice had a tremulous note. It is a bitter thing to lose a slice of bread-and-b.u.t.ter for which the whole system imperatively calls.

"Withdraw," Mr. Marrapit commanded.

She put a lingering glance upon the loaf; wanly glided from the room.

II.

As she closed the door George prepared for his great idea. He drank deeply of a cup of tea; drew down his cuffs; pondered them. They were covered in pencilled notes, evolved by desperate work all that morning, to aid him when the hour was at hand.

He absorbed Note I; spoke: "I am afraid last night's events very much distressed you, sir--"

"They are interred. Do not resurrect them."

George hurried to Note 2. "My sympathies with you--"

"Let the dead bury the dead. Mourn not the past."

George skipped to Note 3. "What I am concerned about is the cats."

"You are?"

"Oh, sir, indeed I am. I am not demonstrative. Perhaps you have not guessed my fondness for the cats?"

"I have not."

"Believe me, it is a deep affection. When I saw that unhappy woman tigh--under the influence of spirits, what was my first thought?"

"Supply the answer."

George took another glimpse at Note 3. "What was my first thought?" he repeated. "Was it distress at sight of a woman so forgetful of her modesty? No. Was it sympathy for the cruel deception that had been practised upon you? Forgive me, sir, it was not." (He glanced at his notes.) "What, then?"

He paused brightly.

"It is your conundrum," said Mr. Marrapit. "Solve it."

George raised an impressive hand. "What, then? It was the thought of the risks that the cats I so loved had run whilst beneath the care of this woman."

Mr. Marrapit's groan inspirited George. He was on the right track. He took Note 4. "I asked myself, Who is responsible for the jeopardy in which these creatures have been placed? Heaven knows, I said, what they may not have suffered. This woman may have neglected their food, she may have neglected their comforts. In a drunken fit she might have poisoned them, beat them, set furious dogs upon them."

Mr. Marrapit writhed in anguish.

George acted as Note 4 bade him. He dropped his voice. "Let us trust, sir," he said, "that none of these things has taken place."

"Amen," Mr. Marrapit murmured. "Amen."

George's voice took a sterner note. "But, I asked myself, Who is responsible for those horrors that might have been, that may have been?"

Mr. Marrapit dropped his head upon his hands. He murmured: "I am.

Peccavi."

George rose in n.o.ble calm. He read Note 5; gave it with masterly effect: "No, sir. I am."

"You!"

Once Aboard the Lugger Part 43

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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 43 summary

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