Once Aboard the Lugger Part 68

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CHAPTER I.

Mrs. Major Bids For Paradise.

I.

Impossible to tell how far will spread the ripples from the lightest action that we may toss into the sea of life.

Life is a game of consequences. A throws a stone, and the widening ripples wreck the little boats of X and Y and Z who never have even heard of A. Every day and every night, every hour of every day and night, ripples from unknown splashes are setting towards us--perhaps to swamp us, perhaps to bear us into some pleasant stream. One calls it luck, another fate. "This is my just punishment," cries one. "By my good works I have merited this," exclaims another; but it is merely the ripple from some distant splash--merely consequences.

Consequences.

A sleepy maid in Mr. City Merchant's suburban mansion leaves the dust-pan on the stairs after sweeping. That is the little action she has tossed into the sea of life, and the ripples will wreck a boat or two now snug and safe in a cheap and happy home many miles away.

Mr. City Merchant trips over the dustpan, starts for office fuming with rage, vents his spleen upon Mr. City Clerk--dismisses him.

Mr. City Clerk seeks work in vain; the cheap but happy home he shares with pretty little Mrs. City Clerk and plump young Master City Clerk is abandoned for a dingy lodging. Grade by grade the lodging they must seek grows dingier. Now there is no food. Now they are getting desperate. Now pneumonia lays erstwhile plump Master City Clerk by the heels and carries him off--consequences, consequences; that is one boat wrecked. Now Mr. City Clerk is growing mad with despair; Mrs.

City Clerk is well upon the road that Master City Clerk has followed.

Mr. City Clerk steals, is caught, is imprisoned--consequences, consequences; another boat wrecked. Mrs. City Clerk does not hold out long, follows Master City Clerk--consequences, consequences. Three innocent craft smashed up because the housemaid left the dustpan on the stairs.

II.

Impossible to tell how far will speed the ripples from the lightest action that we may toss into the sea of life. Solely and wholly because George abducted the Rose of Sharon, Miss Pridham, who keeps the general drapery in Angel Street, Marylebone Road, sold a pair of green knitted slippers, each decorated with a red knitted blob, that had gazed melancholy from her shop window for close upon two years.

It was Mrs. Major who purchased them.

Since that terrible morning on which, throat and mouth parched, head painfully throbbing through the overnight entertainment of Old Tom, Mrs. Major had been driven from Mr. Marrapit's door, this doubly distressed gentlewoman had lived in retirement in a bed-sitting-room in Angel Street. She did not purpose immediately taking another situation. This woman had sipped the delights of Herons' Holt; her heart was there, and for a month or two, as, sighing over her lot, she determined, she would brood in solitude upon the paradise she had lost before challenging new fortunes.

The ripples of the abduction of the Rose reached her. This was a masterly woman, and instanter she took the tide upon the flood.

Mrs. Major was not a newspaper reader. The most important sheet of the _Daily_, however, she one day carried into her bed-sitting-room wrapped about a quartern of Old Tom. It was the day when first "Country House Outrage" shouted from the _Daily's_ columns.

Idly scanning the report her eye chanced upon familiar names. A common mind would have been struck astonished and for some hours been left fluttering. Your masterly mind grasps at once and together a solution and its possibilities. Without pause for thought, without even sniff of the new quartern of Old Tom, Mrs. Major sought pen and paper; wrote with inspired pen to Mr. Marrapit:

"I do not even dare begin 'Dear Mr. Marrapit.' I have forfeited the right even to address you; but in the moment of your great tribulation something stronger than myself makes me take up my pen--"

Here Mrs. Major paused; read what she had written; without so much as a sigh tore the sheet and started afresh. That "something stronger than myself makes me" she felt to be a mistake. Something decidedly stronger than herself sat in the quartern bottle a few inches from her nose, and it occurred to her that a cruel mind might thus interpret her meaning. She tore the sheet. This was a masterly woman.

"I dare not even begin 'Dear Mr. Marrapit.' I have forfeited the right even to address you; but in the moment of your tribulation I feel that I must come forward with my sympathy. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, may I say with my aid? I feel I could help you if only I might come to dear, dear Herons' Holt. When I think of my angel darling Rose of Sharon straying far from the fold my heart bleeds. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, I cannot rest, I cannot live, while my darling is wandering on the hillside, or is stolen, and I am unable to search for her. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, think of me, I implore you, not as Mrs. Major, but as one whom your sweet darling Rose loved. If the Rose is anywhere near Herons' Holt, she would come to me if I called her, I feel sure, more readily than she would come to anyone else except yourself, and you are not strong enough to search as I would search. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, let me come to Herons' Holt in this terrible hour. Do not speak to me, do not look at me, Mr. Marrapit. I do not ask that. I only beg on my bended knees that you will let me lay myself at night even in the gardener's shed, so that I may be there to tend my lamb when she is found, and by day will be able to search for her. That is all I ask.

"Of myself I will say nothing. I will not force upon you the explanations of that dreadful night which you would not take from my trembling lips. I will not tell you that, maddened by the toothache, I was advised to hold a little drop of spirit in the tooth, and that, never having touched anything but water since I and my dear little brother promised my dying mother we would not, the spirit went to my head and made me as you saw me. I will not write any of those things, Mr. Marrapit; only, oh, Mr. Marrapit, I implore you to let me come and look for my Rose. Nor will I tell you how fondly, since I left you, I have thought of all your n.o.bility of character and of your goodness to me, Mr. Marrapit. Wronged, I bear no resentment. I have received too much kindness at your hands. Ever since I left you I have thought of none but the Rose and you. Shall I prove that? I will, Mr. Marrapit--"

Here again Mrs. Major paused; thoughtfully scratched her head with her penholder. Like authors more experienced, her emotions had driven her pen to a point demanding a special solution which was not immediately forthcoming. She had galloped into a wood. How to get out of it?

Mrs. Major scratched thoughtfully; gazed at Old Tom; gazed round the room; on a happy inspiration gazed from the window. Miss Pridham's general drapery was immediately opposite. A bright patch of green in the window caught Mrs. Major's eye. She recognised it as the knitted slippers she had once or twice noticed in pa.s.sing.

The very thing! Laying down her pen the masterly woman popped across to Miss Pridham's; in two minutes, leaving that lady delighted and one-and-eleven-three the richer, was back with the green knitted slippers with the red knitted blobs.

She took up her pen and continued:

"Ever since I left I have thought of none but the Rose and you. Shall I prove that? I will, Mr. Marrapit. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, I make so bold as to send you in a little parcel a pair of woollen slippers that I have knitted for you."

Mrs. Major examined them. Such sun as creeps into Angel Street, Marylebone Road, jealous of rival brightness had filched their first delicate tint of green, had stolen the first pa.s.sionate scarlet of the red blobs. She continued:

"They are a little faded because on every st.i.tch a bitter tear has fallen. Yes, Mr. Marrapit, my tears of sorrow have rained upon these slippers as I worked. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, they are not damp, however.

Every evening since they were finished I have had my little fire lighted and have stood the slippers up against the fender; and then, sitting on the opposite side of the hearth, just as I used to sit for a few minutes with you after we had brought in the darling cats, I have imagined that your feet were in the slippers and have imagined that I am back where I have left my bleeding heart. I never meant to dare send them to you, Mr. Marrapit, but in this moment of your tribulation I make bold to do so. Do not open the parcel, Mr.

Marrapit, if you would rather not. Hurl it on the fire and let the burning fiery furnace consume them, tears and all. But I feel I must send them, whatever their fate.

"Oh, Mr. Marrapit, let me come to Herons' Holt to find my darling Rose!--then without a word I will creep away and die.--LUCY MAJOR."

III.

Upon the following morning there sped to Mrs. Major from Herons' Holt a telegram bearing the message "Come."

Frantic to clutch at any straw that might bring to him this Rose, Mr.

Marrapit eagerly clutched at Mrs. Major. He felt there to be much truth, in her contention that his Rose, if secreted near by, would come quicker at her call than at the call of another. His Rose had known and loved her for a full year. His Rose, refined cat, did not take quickly to strangers, and had not--he had noticed it--given herself to Miss Humfray. Therefore Mr. Marrapit eagerly clutched at Mrs. Major.

As to the remainder of her letter--it considerably perturbed him. Had he misjudged this woman, whom once he had held estimable? All the delectable peace of his household during her reign, as contrasted with the turmoil that now had taken its place, came back to him and smote his heart. He opened the slippers, noted the tear-stains. Had he misjudged her? What more likely than her story of the racking tooth that must be lulled with a little drop of spirit? Had he misjudged her? But as against that little drop of spirit, how account for the vast and empty bottle of Old Tom found in her room? Had he misjudged her?

In much conflict of mind this man paced the breakfast room, a green knitted slipper with red knitted blob in either hand.

It was thus that Margaret, entering, found him.

With a soft little laugh, "Oh, father!" she cried, "what have you got there?"

Mr. Marrapit raised the green knitted slippers with the red knitted blobs. "A contrite heart," he answered. "A stricken and a contrite heart."

He resumed his pacing. Margaret squeezed round the door which happily she had left ajar; fled breakfastless. Quick at poetic image though she was, the symbol of a contrite heart in a pair of green knitted slippers with red knitted blobs was not clear to this girl. In her father it alarmed her. This great sorrow was perchance turning his brain.

Mr. Marrapit laid the slippers upon his dressing-table; that afternoon greeted Mrs. Major with a circ.u.mspect reserve. Combining the vast and empty bottle of Old Tom with the fact that never had his judgment of man or matter failed him, he determined that Mrs. Major was guilty. But not wilfully guilty. Tempted to drown pain, she had succ.u.mbed; but the slippers were the sign of a contrite heart.

The masterly possessor of the contrite heart betrayed no signs of its flutterings and its exultant boundings at being once more in paradise.

This was a masterly woman, and, masterly, she grasped at once her position--without hesitation started to play her part.

In Mr. Marrapit's study she stood humbly before him with bowed head; did not speak. Her only sounds were those of repressed emotion as Mr.

Marrapit recited the history of the abduction. The white handkerchief she kept pressed against her chin punctuated the story with sudden little dabs first to one eye then the other. Little sniffs escaped her; little catches of the breath; tiny little moans.

She choked when he had finished: "Let me see--my darling's--bed."

Mr Marrapit led the way. Above the silk-lined box whence George had s.n.a.t.c.hed the Rose, the masterly woman knelt. She fondled the silken coverlet; her lips moved. Suddenly she dashed her handkerchief to her eyes; with beautiful moans fled hurriedly to the bedroom that had been allotted her.

It was an exquisitely touching sight. Mr. Marrapit, greatly moved, went to his room; took out the green knitted slippers with the red knitted blobs. Had he misjudged this woman?

Ten minutes later he again encountered Mrs. Major. Now she was girt against the weather and against exercise. Beneath her chin were firmly knotted the strings of her sober bonnet; a short skirt hid nothing of the stout boots she had donned; her hand grasped the k.n.o.b of a bludgeon-like umbrella.

Once Aboard the Lugger Part 68

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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 68 summary

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