Once Aboard the Lugger Part 83
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"Certainly _not!_" cried Mr. Bitt with virtuous warmth. Since this was precisely what he did suggest and most earnestly desired, he repeated his denial: "Certainly _not_! At the same time--"
"One moment," Mr. Vivian Howard interrupted. "This cat was obviously stolen by someone and placed in the hut where it was found. Very well.
We prosecute. We prosecute, and I could give you every morning my views on the guilt or otherwise--"
Mr. Bitt shook his head. "I had thought of that. It won't do. It won't do, Mr. Howard. For one thing, a rigorous prosecution and sentence might create bad feeling against the paper. You have no idea how curious the public is in that way. For another, you, as the injured party, ought not to comment; and certainly I could not publish your views. The matter would be _sub judice_ directly arrest was made; and I once got into very serious trouble over a _sub judice_ matter--very serious trouble indeed. I shall not touch the law, Mr. Howard. It is unwise. At the same time, I think the thief should be made to suffer-- be given a thorough fright. Now, if we inform the public that practically our Special Commissioner has his hand on the cat--which will be perfectly true--and is almost certain as to the identity of the thief--if we keep this up for the few days necessary for the publication of those magnificent articles of yours on 'What my Loss means to Me,' we shall be accomplishing three excellent objects. We shall be terrifying an evil-doer--we may take it for granted he reads the _Daily_; we shall be giving the public those articles which most certainly ought not to be lost to literature; and we shall be widening the sphere of influence of 'Amy Martin.'"
Mr. Vivian Howard did not hesitate. "It is impossible to override your arguments, Mr. Bitt. I think we shall be doing _right_."
Mr. Bitt concealed his immense joy. "I am convinced of it, Mr.
Howard," he said. "_Convinced_. The modern editor and the man of letters of your standing have enormous responsibilities."
Impelled by the virtuous public duty they were performing, the two men silently grasped hands.
A Perfectly Splendid Chapter.
Mr. Bitt turned to Bill; indicated the door behind which my poor George was wrestling in prayer. "The only difficulty is with that chap in there. He knows the cat is found! How can we--"
"If you will leave that to me, sir," Bill told him, "I think I can arrange it without difficulty."
"Or danger?" added Mr. Vivian Howard, who, standing for English literature, would not lightly imperil his integrity.
"Or the least danger," Bill affirmed. "He's a kind of friend of mine-- did I mention that, sir? I'll fix it up in a minute."
He stepped briskly to George; closed the door behind him.
George said faintly: "Say it quick, Bill. Quick."
"You've got it, old man. Got it."
George rose to his feet; stretched his arms aloft; wildly waved them.
The tremendous shout for which he opened his mouth was stayed upon his lips by Bill's warning finger. He hurled himself on a couch; rolled in ecstasy.
Rapidly Bill outlined the proposals. Then he struck a heavy hand upon George's shoulder. "And I've got it too!" he cried in an exultant whisper. "I've got it too! I've got Margaret!"
"Like this. Plain as a fiddle-stick. To-morrow, when we get out this story about practically having our hand on the thief, I shall go bang down to Marrapit with the paper and tell him I know it was Mrs. Major who took the cat. You can imagine the state that'll put 'em both in.
Then--then, my boy, I shall say 'Let Margy and me carry on and fix it up forthwith, and I'll promise Mrs. Major shall never hear a word more about the matter.' He'll agree like a shot. The chief's not going to prosecute, you see; so neither Mrs. Major nor you ever will hear a word more. George, we've done it! Done it! You've got your Mary and I've got my Margy!"
With swelling bosoms, staring eyes, upon this tremendous happening the two young men clasped hands; stood heavily breathing. These men were glimpsing heaven.
When they unlocked, George said: "There's one thing, Bill. Go in and tell that precious pair they can hold over the discovery till they please and that I shall never breathe a word. But tell 'em this: I don't agree unless I have my cheque right away."
Bill advised no stipulations.
George stood firm: "I don't care a snap, Bill. I will have it now.
I've been badgered about quite enough. I want to feel safe. I'll either lose it all or have it all. No more uncertainty. Anything might happen during the week, for all I know."
Bill took the message.
Upon immediate payment Mr. Bitt at first stuck. "He might turn back on us, or start blackmailing us. He may have stolen the cat himself for all we know."
"All the more likely, in that case, to keep his mouth shut," commented Mr. Vivian Howard. Despite he stood for literature, this man had strong business instincts.
Bill urged compliance. He knew this finder of the cat; would speak for him as for himself.
Mr. Bitt put a quill into his inkstand; took George's name; wrote a slip; handed it to Bill. "Take that to the cashier, Wyvern. He'll give you the cheque. Clear your friend out. Eh? No--no need for me to see him again. Of course you must get his story of how he found the cat, to use when the 'What my Loss means to Me' articles run out. Then come back and we'll fix up to-morrow's account."
A cabman drove to St. Peter's Hospital a seemingly insane young man, who bounded into the cab with a piece of paper in his hand; who sang and rattled his heels upon the foot-board, shouted to passers-by; who paid with two half-crowns; who bounded, paper still fluttering in hand, up the steps of the Dean's entrance with a wild and tremendous whoop.
George had scarcely explained to the Dean an incoherent story of L500 won through a newspaper competition, when the Mr. Lawrence, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., whose practice was at Runnygate, arrived.
Informally the purchase was at once arranged; a further meeting settled. George bolted to another cab; drove to Meath Street by way of the florist near Victoria Station; took aboard an immense basket of flowers.
At the house he gathered the flowers beneath his arm; on the way upstairs shifted them to his hands; flung wide the door.
His Mary, white, a tooth on a trembling lip, her pretty hands clasped, was before him. In a great whirling shower he flung the blossoms about her; then took her in his arms.
"Runnygate, Mary! Darling old girl, Runnygate!"
He kissed his Mary.
Last Shots from the Bridge.
If you had patience for another peep from the bridge that I can build, you might catch a glimpse or so.
Bending over you might see Bill seated at the editor's table of the editor's room of a monstrously successful monthly magazine of most monstrous fiction that Mr. Bitt's directors have started; Margaret, that sentimental young woman, by her husband's side is correcting the proofs of a poem signed "Margaret Wyvern." It is of the most exquisite melancholy.
Bending over you might see George upon one of the summer evenings when, his duties through, he is taking his Mary for a drive in the country behind that rising seaside resort Runnygate. They are plunging along in a tremendous dogcart drawn by an immense horse. George is fully occupied with his steed; Mary, peeping at constant intervals through the veil that hides the clear blue eyes and the ridiculous little turned-up nose of her baby, at every corner says: "Oh, George!
Georgie, do be careful! We were on _one_ wheel then, I _know_ we were!" But along the level the wind riots at her pretty curls as she sits up very straight and very proud, smiling at this splendid fellow beside her.
Bending over you might see the garden of Herons' Holt, Mr. Fletcher leading from the house the fat white pony and tubby wide car which Mrs. Marrapit, formerly Mrs. Major, has prevailed upon her husband to buy. The pony has all the docile qualities of a blind sheep, but Mr.
Fletcher is in great terror of it. When, while being groomed, it suddenly lifts its head, Mr. Fletcher drops his curry-comb and retires from the stall at great speed. "It's 'ard," says Mr. Fletcher--"damn 'ard. I'm a gardener, I am; not a 'orse-breaker."
Once Aboard the Lugger Part 83
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Once Aboard the Lugger Part 83 summary
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