Once Aboard the Lugger Part 63

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The Rose wriggled. George thumped the basket. "As soon as you like, Mrs. Pinner. As quick as you like!"

Mrs. Pinner closed the door; the Rose advertised her feelings in a long, penetrating mi-aow. In an agony of strained listening George held his breath. But Mrs. Pinner heard nothing; moved steadily downstairs. He wiped his brow. This was the beginning of it.

When Mrs. Pinner reappeared, jug of milk and covered dish on a tray, George's plan, after desperate searchings, had come to him.

He gave it speech. "I want to arrange, Mrs. Pinner--"

"If you wait till I've settled the tray, mister, I'll come close to you. I'm that hard of hearing you wouldn't believe."

George sprang from the basket; approached the table. His life depended upon keeping a distance between basket and Pinner.

"I want to arrange to have this room as a private sitting-room."

It had never been so used before, but it could be arranged, Mrs.

Pinner told him. She would speak to her 'usband about terms.

"And I want to keep it very private indeed, I don't want anyone to enter it unless I am here." George mounted his lie and galloped it, blus.h.i.+ng for shame of his steed. "The fact is, Mrs. Pinner, I'm an inventor. Yes, an inventor. Oh, yes, an inventor." The wretched steed was stumbling, but he clung on; spurred afresh. "An inventor. And I have to leave things lying about--delicate instruments that mustn't be disturbed. Awfully delicate. I shall be out all day. I shall be taking my invention into the open air to experiment with it. My invention--"

He waved his hand at the basket.

Mrs. Pinner quite understood; was impressed. "Oh, dear, yes, mister.

To be sure. An inventor; fancy that, now!" She gazed at the basket.

"And the invention is in there?"

"Right in there," George a.s.sured her.

"You'll parding my asking, mister; but your saying you have to take it in the open hair--is it one of them hairs.h.i.+ps, mister?"

"Well, it _is,_" George said frankly. This was a useful idea and he approved it. "It _is._ It's an airs.h.i.+p."

"Well, I never did!" Mrs. Pinner admired, gazing at the basket. "A hairs.h.i.+p in there!"

"_Mi-aow!_" spoke the Rose--penetrating, piercing.

Mrs. Pinner c.o.c.ked her head on one side; looked under the table. "I declare I thought I heard a cat," she puzzled. "In this very room."

George felt perfectly certain that his hair was standing bolt upright on the top of his head, thrusting at right angles to the sides. He forced his alarmed face to smile: "A c.o.c.k crowing in the yard, I think, Mrs. Pinner."

Mrs. Pinner took the explanation with an apologetic laugh. "I'm that hard o' hearing you never would believe. But I could ha' sworn. Ill not keep you chattering, sir." She raised the dish cover.

A haddock was revealed. A fine, large, solid haddock from which a cloud of strongly savoured vapour arose.

George foresaw disaster. That smell! that hungry cat! Almost he pushed Mrs. Pinner to the door. "That you, thank you. I have everything now.

I will ring if--"

"_Mi-aow!_"

"Bless my soul!" Mrs. Pinner exclaimed. "There is a cat"; dropped on hands and knees; pushed her head beneath the sofa.

George rushed for the basket. Wreaking his craven alarm upon the hapless prisoner, he shook it; with a horrible b.u.mp slammed it upon the floor; placed his foot upon it.

Mrs. Pinner drew up, panting laboriously. "Didn't you hear a cat, mister?"

George grappled the crisis. "I did not hear a cat. If there were a cat I should have heard it. I should have felt it. I abominate cats. I can always tell when a cat is near me. There is no cat. Kindly leave me to my breakfast."

Poor Mrs. Pinner was ashamed. "I'm sure I do beg you parding, mister.

The fact is we've all got cats fair on the brain this morning. In this here new paper, mister, as perhaps you've seen, and they're giving us a free copy every day for a week, there's a cat been stole, mister. A hundred pounds reward, and as the paper says, the cat may be under your very nose. We're all a 'unting for it, mister."

She withdrew. George crossed the room; pressed his head, against the cold marble of the mantelpiece. His brows were burning; in the pit of his stomach a sinking sensation gave him pain. "All a 'unting for it!

all a 'unting for it!"

When the Rose had bulged her flanks with the complete haddock, when, responsive to a "Stuff your head in that, you brute," the patient creature had lapped a slop-bowl full of milk, George again imprisoned her; rushed, basket under arm, for open country.

Mr. Pinner in the bar-parlour, as George fled through, was reading from a paper to a stable hand, a servant girl, and a small red-headed Pinner boy: "It may be in John o' Groats," he read, "or it may be in Land's End." He thumped the bar. "'Ear that! Well, it may be in Dippleford Admiral."

It was precisely because it was in Dippleford Admiral that his young inventor lodger fled through the bar without so much as a civil "good morning."

At the post-office, keeping a drumming foot on the terrified Rose, George sent a telegram to Mr. Marrapit.

_"Think on track. Must be cautious. Don't tell Brunger."_

He flung down eightpence halfpenny; fled in the direction of a wood that plumed a distant hill. Fear had this man.

CHAPTER VIII.

Panic At Dippleford Admiral.

I.

George left Dippleford Admiral that night.

He left at great speed. There was no sadness of farewell. There was no farewell.

Returning at seven o'clock to his sitting-room at the inn, melancholy beneath a hungry and brooding day in the woods with the Rose tethered to a tree by the length of two handkerchiefs, he ordered supper-- milk, fish, and chops.

Mrs. Pinner asked him if that would be all. She and 'usband were going to a chapel meeting; the servant girl was out; there would only be a young man in the bar.

George took the news gratefully. His nerves had been upon the stretch all day. It was comforting to think that for a few hours he and this vile cat would have the house to themselves.

Immediately Mrs. Pinner left the room he greedily fell to upon the chops. All day he had eaten nothing: the Rose must wait. Three parts of a tankard of ale was sliding at a long and delectable draught down upon his meal when the slam of a door, footsteps and a bawling voice in the yard told him that Mrs. Pinner and 'usband had started, chatting pleasantly, for their chapel meeting.

The dish cleared, George arranged his prisoner's supper; stepped to the basket to fetch her to it. As he lifted her splendid form there came from behind him an exclamation, an agitated scuffling.

Once Aboard the Lugger Part 63

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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 63 summary

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