Once Aboard the Lugger Part 49

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"All right."

"Sure you don't mind?"

"Oh, no; no, not a bit. Bill, waiter."

The waiter bowed low over his munificent tip; dropped it into a jingling pocket. George gathered his miserable change; slid it silently to where it lay companionless; with his Mary pa.s.sed into the warm night.

In the Empress Gardens they found a hidden table; here sipped coffee, and here were most dreadfully common. Mary's hand crept into her George's; they spoke little. The warm night breeze gently kissed their faces; the band stirred deepest depths; they set their eyes upon the velvety darkness that lay beyond the lights, and there pictured one another in a delectable future. Mary saw a very wonderful George; now and then glimpsed a very happy little Mary in a wonderful home. George also saw a happy little Mary in a wonderful home, but he more clearly followed a very wonderful George, magnificently accomplis.h.i.+ng the mighty things that made the little Mary happy.

George kissed his Mary upon the doorstep of the Battersea lodgings; caught the last train to Paltley Hill; and as he walked home from the station the scented hedges murmured to him with his Mary's voice.

CHAPTER VI.

The Girl Comes Near The Lugger.

I.

At breakfast upon the following day George set forth the result of his labours; with urgent eloquence extolled the virtues of this Miss Humfray.

Before Mr. Marrapit's plate lay an open envelope; upon the back George could read the inscription "Norfolk Street Agency for Distressed Gentlewomen."

What had Miss Ram said of his Mary? The thought that she had written a reference which at the last moment would dash into dust this mighty scheme, was as a twisting knife in George's vitals. Every time that Mr. Marrapit stretched his hand for the letter the agitated young man upon a fresh impulse would dash into defiant eulogy of his darling; and so impetuous was the rush of his desperate words that at the beat of every new wave Mr. Marrapit would withdraw his startled hand from the letter; frown at George across the coffee-pot.

At last: "Sufficient," he announced. "Curb zeal. Mount discretion.

Satisfy the demands of appet.i.te. You have not touched food. Tasks he before you. Do not starve the brain. I am tired of your eulogies of this person. For twenty-one minutes you have been hurling advertis.e.m.e.nts at me. I am a h.o.a.rding."

The bill-sticker pushed a piece of bacon into a dry mouth; sat with goggling eyes.

The h.o.a.rding continued: "I have here this person's reference. It is good."

"Down shot the piece of bacon; convulsively bolted like Miss Porter's sweet.

"Good!" cried George.

"I said good. For faulty articulation I apologise."

"I know, I heard. I meant that I am pleased."

"Strive to express the meaning. The person arrives for inspection at mid-day. For your a.s.sistance I tender thanks. The incident is now closed. Do you labour at hospital to-day?"

George had determined to be at the fount of news. In town, uncertain, he could have applied himself to nothing. He said:

"No, here; I work here to-day."

"To your tasks," commanded Mr. Marrapit.

II.

George went to his room, but his tasks through that morning lay neglected.

Impossible to work. He was in a position at which at one time or another most of us are placed. He was upon one end of a balanced see- saw, and he was blindfolded so that it was impossible to see what might happen upon the other extremity. Suddenly he might be swung up to highest delight; suddenly he might be dashed earthwards to hit ground with a jarring thud. The one eventuality or the other was certain; but he must sit blindfold and helpless--unable to affect the balance by an ounce. Here is the position in which all of us are made cowards. Bring the soldier into action, and his blood will run hot enough to make him intoxicated and insensible to fear; hold him in reserve, and courage will begin to ooze. Give us daylight in which we may see aught that threatens us, and likely enough we shall have desperate courage sufficient to rush in and grapple; it is in the darkness that uncertainty sets teeth chattering. More prayers are said, and with more devotion, at night than in the morning. We creep and crawl and squirm to heaven when the uncertainty of the night has to be faced; but we can get along well enough, thank you, when we spring out of bed with the courage of morning.

George could not work until he knew whether he was to be swung high or thrown low. He paced his room; glimpsed his watch; tremendously smoked--and groaned aloud as, at every turn, he would receive the buffets of recollection of some important point upon which he had omitted to school his Mary.

In those desperate moments he decided finally that Margaret should not be told that Mary and he were so much more than strangers. Supposing all went well, and his Mary came to Herons' Holt, her safety and his would certainly be imperilled by giving the key of their secret to his cousin. It was a hard resolve. About the beautiful romance of the thing Margaret's nature would have crooned as a mother over her suckling. She would have mothered it, cherished it, given them a hundred opportunities of exchanging for clasps and whispers the chilly demeanour they must bear one to another. But the pleasure must be foregone. My George had the astonis.h.i.+ng sense to know that the animal instinct in Margaret's nature would outride the romance. Twice the countless years that separate us from the gathering of our first instincts may pa.s.s, and this the strongest of them--the abhorrence of secrecy-will never be uprooted. When all life was a ferocious struggle for life, secrecy--and it would have been the secret of a store of food--was inimical to the existence of the pack: it was opposed to the first of the slowly forming laws of nature. There must be equality of opportunity that all might equally be tested. Thus it was that a secret h.o.a.rd of food, when come upon, instantly was noised abroad by the discoverer, and its possessor torn to death; and thus it is to-day that a secret once beyond the persons immediately concerned is carried from mouth to mouth till the world has it, and its first possessors take the violence of discovery.

For a reason that was almost similar George negatived the impulse which bade him meet his Mary at the station, walk with her to the house, and leave her before the gates. For, supposing again that she were accepted and came to Herons' Holt, this suspicious meeting would come flying to Mr. Marrapit upon the breezes that whirl in and out of every cranny and nook in small communities. Towns are blind and deaf; villages have peeping eyes, straining ears, loose mouths, that pry and listen and whisper.

Almost upon the hour of twelve there came to the agitated young man's ears a ring that could be none other than hers.

He tip-toed to the banisters; peered below. His Mary was ushered in.

While she stood behind the maid who tapped on Mr. Marrapit's door, she glanced up. George had a glimpse of her face; waved encouragement from the stairhead.

The maid stood aside. His Mary pa.s.sed in to the ogre's den.

III.

Clad in a dressing-gown, Mr. Marrapit was standing against the fireplace. My trembling Mary settled just clear of the closing door; took his gaze. He put his eye upon her face; slowly travelled it down her person; rested it upon her little shoes; again brought it up; again carried it down; this time left it at her feet.

The gaze seemed to burn her stockings. She shuffled; little squirms of fright nudged her. She glanced at her feet, fearful of some hideous hole in her shoes.

"I am--" she jerked.

Then Mr. Marrapit spoke: "I see you are. Discontinue."

The command was shot at her. Trembling against the shock she could only murmur: "Discontinue?"

"a.s.suredly. Discontinue. Refrain. Adjust."

"Discontinue...?" With difficulty she articulated the word, then put after it on a little squeak: "... What?"

"It," rapped Mr. Marrapit.

"I am afraid--"

"I quake in terror."

Once Aboard the Lugger Part 49

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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 49 summary

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