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Title: Once Aboard the Lugger-- The History of George and his Mary
Author: Hutchinson, A. S. M. (Arthur Stuart-Menteth)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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ONCE ABOARD THE LUGGER--

THE HISTORY OF GEORGE AND HIS MARY

By A. S. M. Hutchinson



CONTENTS.


 The Author’s Advertisement Of His Novel


 BOOK I.

 _Of George._

 I. Excursions In A Garden
 II. Excursions In Melancholy
 III. Upon Modesty In Art: And Should Be Skipped
 IV. Excursions In A Hospital
 V. Upon Life: And May Be Missed
 VI. Magnificent Arrival Of A Heroine
 VII. Moving Passages With A Heroine
 VIII. Astonishing After-Effects Of A Heroine


 BOOK II.

 _Of his Mary._

 I. Excursions In The Memory Of A Heroine
 II. Excursions In Vulgarity
 III. Excursions In The Mind Of A Heroine
 IV. Excursions In A Nursery
 V. Excursions At A Dinner-Table


 BOOK III.

 _Of Glimpses at a Period of this History: Of Love and of War._

 I. Notes On The Building Of Bridges
 II. Excursions Beneath The Bridge
 III. Excursions In Love
 IV. Events And Sentiment Mixed In A Letter
 V. Beefsteak For 14 Palace Gardens
 VI. A Cab For 14 Palace Gardens


 BOOK IV.

 _In which this History begins to rattle._

 I. The Author Meanders Upon The Enduring Hills; And The Reader Will
 Lose Nothing By Not Accompanying Him
 II. An Exquisite Balcony Scene; And Something About Sausages
 III. Alarums And Excursions By Night
 IV. Mr. Marrapit Takes A Nice Warm Bath
 V. Miss Porter Swallows A Particularly Large Sweet
 VI. The Girl Comes Near The Lugger


 BOOK V.

 _Of Mr. Marrapit upon the Rack: Of George in Torment._

 I. Prosiness Upon Events: So Uneventful That It Should Be Skipped
 II. Margaret Fishes; Mary Prays
 III. Barley Water For Mr. Marrapit
 IV. The Rape Of The Rose
 V. Horror At Herons’ Holt
 VI. A Detective At Herons’ Holt
 VII. Terror At Dippleford Admiral
 VIII. Panic At Dippleford Admiral
 IX. Disaster At Temple Colney


 BOOK VI.

 _Of Paradise Lost and Found._

 I. Mrs. Major Bids For Paradise
 II. Mrs. Major Finds The Lock
 III. Mrs. Major Gets The Key
 IV. George Has A Shot At Paradise
 V. Of Twin Cats: Of Ananias And Of Sapphira
 VI. Agony In Meath Street
 VII. Mr. William Wyvern In Meath Street
 VIII. Abishag The Shunamite In Meath Street
 IX. Excursions In A Newspaper Office
 X. A Perfectly Splendid Chapter

 _Last Shots from the Bridge_



THE AUTHOR’S ADVERTISEMENT OF HIS NOVEL.

This book has its title from that dashing sentiment, “Once aboard the
lugger and the girl is mine!” It is not to be read by those who in their
novels would have the entertainment of characters that are brilliant or
wealthy, noble of birth or admirable of spirit. Such have no place in
this history. There is a single canon of novel-writing that we have
sedulously kept before us in making this history, and that is the law
which instructs the novelist to treat only of the manner of persons with
whom he is well acquainted. Hence our characters are commonplace folks.
We have the acquaintance of none other than commonplace persons, because
none other than commonplace persons will have acquaintance with us.

And there are no problems in this history, nor is the reader to be
tickled by any risks taken with nice deportment. This history may be
kept upon shelves that are easily accessible. It is true that you will
be invited to spend something of a night in a lady’s bedroom, but the
matter is carried through with circumspection and dispatch. There shall
not be a blush.

Now, it is our purpose in this advertisement so clearly to give you the
manner of our novel that without further waste of time you may forego
the task of reading so little as a single chapter if you consider that
manner likely to distress you. Hence something must be said touching the
style.

We cannot see (to make a start) that the listener or the reader of a
story should alone have the right to fidget as he listens or reads; to
come and go at his pleasure; to interrupt at his convenience. Something
of these privileges should be shared by the narrator; and in this
history we have taken them. You may swing your legs or divert your
attention as you read; but we too must be permitted to swing our legs
and slide off upon matters that interest us, and that indirectly are
relevant to the history. Life is not compounded solely of action. One
cannot rush breathless from hour to hour. And, since the novel aims to
ape life, the reader, if the aim be true, cannot rush breathless from
page to page. We can at least warrant him he will not here.

These are the limitations of our history; and we admit them to be
considerable. Upon the other hand, the print is beautifully clear.

       *       *       *       *       *

As touching the title we have chosen, this was not come by at the cost
of any labour. Taken, as we have told, from that dashing sentiment,
“Once aboard the lugger and the girl is mine!” it is a label that might
be applied to all novels. It is a generic title for all modern novels,
since there is not one of these but in this form or that sets out the
pursuit of his mistress by a man or his treatment of her when he has
clapped her beneath hatches. This is a notable matter. The novelist
writes under the influences and within the limitations of his age, and
the modern novelist correctly mirrors modern life when he presents woman
as for man’s pursuit till he has her, and for what treatment he may will
when he captures her. The position is deplorable, is productive of a
million wrongs, and, happily, is slowly changing; but that it exists
is clear upon the face of our social existence, and is even advertised
between the sexes in love: “You are mine” the man says, and means it. “I
am yours” the woman declares, and, fruit of generations of dependence,
freely, almost involuntarily, gives herself.

But of this problem (upon which we could bore you to distraction) we
are nothing concerned in our novel. Truly we offer you the pursuit of
a girl; but my Mary would neither comprehend this matter nor wish to
be other than her George’s. From page 57 she waves to us; let us hurry
along.



  _.... Who so will stake his lot,
  Impelled thereto by nescience or whim,
  Cupidity or innocence or not,
  On Chance’s colours, let men pray for him._
                         RALPH HODGSON.



BOOK I.

Of George.



CHAPTER I.

Excursions In A Garden.



I.

Mr. Christopher Marrapit is dozing in a chair upon the lawn; his darling
cat, the Rose of Sharon, is sleeping on his lap; stiffly beside him sits
Mrs. Major, his companion--that masterly woman.

As we approach to be introduced, it is well we should know something of
Mr. Marrapit. The nervous business of adventuring into an assembly of
strangers is considerably modified by having some knowledge of the first
we shall meet. We feel more at home; do not rush upon subjects which are
distasteful to that person, or of which he is ignorant; absorb something
of the atmosphere of the party during our exchange of pleasantries with
him; and, warmed by this feeling, with our most attractive charm of
manner are able to push among the remainder of our new friends.

Unhappily, the friendly chatter of the neighbourhood, which should
supply us with something of the character of a resident, is quite
lacking at Paltley Hill in regard to Mr. Marrapit. Mr. Marrapit
rarely moves out beyond the fine wall that encircles Herons’ Holt,
his residence; with Paltley Hill society rarely mixes. The vicar,
with something of a frown, might tell us that to his divers parochial
subscription lists Mr. Marrapit has consistently, and churlishly,
refused to give a shilling. Professor Wyvern’s son, Mr. William Wyvern,
has been heard to say that Mr. Marrapit always reminded him “of one
of the minor prophets--shaved.” Beyond this--and how little helpful it
is!--Paltley Hill society can give us nothing.

In a lower social grade of the district, however, much might be learned.
In the kitchens, the cottages, and the bar-parlours of Paltley Hill, Mr.
Marrapit is considerably discussed. Nicely mannered as we are,
servants’ gossip concerning one in our own station of life is naturally
distasteful to us. At the same time it is essential to our ease on being
introduced that we should know something of this gentleman. Assuring
ourselves, therefore, that we shall not be prejudiced by cheap chatter,
let us hear what the kitchens, the cottages, and the bar-parlours have
to say.

Let it, at least, be written down; we shall know how to value such
stuff.

Material for this gossip, then, is brought into the kitchens, the
cottages, and the bar-parlours by Mr. Marrapit’s domestic staff.

Mrs. Armitage, his cook, has given tales of his “grimness” to the
cottages where her comfortable presence is welcomed on Sunday and
Thursday afternoons. She believes, however, that he must be a “religious
gentleman,” because (so she says) “he talks like out of the Bible.”

This would seem to bear out Mr. William Wyvern’s allusion to the minor
prophet element of his character.

It is the habit of Clara and Ada, his maids, squeezing at the gate from
positions dangerous to modesty into which their ardent young men have
thrust them--it is their habit, thus placed, to excuse themselves
from indelicate embraces by telling alarming tales of Mr. Marrapit’s
“carrying on” should they be late. He is a “fair old terror,” they say.

The testimony of Mr. Fletcher, his gardener, gloomy over his beer in
the bar-parlours, seems to support the “stinginess” that the vicar has
determined in Mr. Marrapit’s character. Mr. Fletcher, for example, has
lugubriously shown what has to be put up with when in the service of a
man who had every inch of the grounds searched because a threepenny
bit had been dropped. “It’s ‘ard--damn ‘ard,” Mr Fletcher said on that
occasion. “I’m a gardener, I am; not a treasure-’unter.” Murmurs of
sympathy chorused endorsement of this view.

Finally there are the words of Frederick, son of Mrs. Armitage, and
assistant to Fletcher, whose pleasure it is to set on end the touzled
hair of the youth of Paltley Hill by obviously exaggerated stories of
Mr. Marrapit’s grim rule.

“‘E’s a tryant,” Frederick has said.

Such is an epitome of the kitchen gossip concerning Mr. Marrapit; it is
wholesome to be away from such tattling, and personally to approach the
lawn whereon its subject sits.



II.

This lawn, a delectable sight on this fine July afternoon, is set about
with wire netting to a height of some six feet. By the energies of Mr.
Fletcher and Frederick the sward is exquisitely trimmed and rolled; and
their labours join with the wire netting to make the lawn a safe and
pleasant exercise ground for Mr. Marrapit’s cats.

Back in the days of Mr. Marrapit’s first occupancy of Herons’ Holt,
this man was a mighty amateur breeder of cats, and a rare army of cats
possessed. Regal cats he had, queenly cats, imperial neuter cats; blue
cats, grey cats, orange cats, and white cats--cats for which nothing was
too good, upon which too much money could not be spent nor too much love
be lavished. Latterly, with tremendous wrenchings of the heart, he had
disbanded this galaxy of cats. Changes in his household were partly
the cause of this step. The coming of his nephew, George, had seriously
upset the peaceful routine of existence which it was his delight to
lead; and a reason even more compelling was the gradual alteration in
his attitude towards his hobby. This man perceived that the fancier’s
eye with which he regarded his darlings was becoming so powerful as to
render his lover’s eye in danger of being atrophied. The fancier’s
eye was lit by the brain--delighted only in “points,” in perfection of
specimen; the lover’s eye was fed by the heart--glowed, not with pride
over breed, but with affection for cats as cats. And Mr. Marrapit
realised that for affection he was coming to substitute pride--that
he was outraging the animals he loved by neglecting the less admirable
specimens for those perfectly moulded; that even these perfect types he
was abusing by his growing craze for breeding; polygamy in cats, he came
to believe, desecrated and eventually destroyed their finer feelings.

Therefore--and the coming of his nephew George quickened his
determination--Mr. Marrapit dispersed his stud (the word had become
abhorrent to him), keeping only four exquisite favourites, of which
the Rose of Sharon--that perfect orange cat, listed when shown at the
prohibitive figure of 1000 pounds, envy and despair of every cat-lover
in Great Britain and America--was apple of his eye, joy of his
existence.

It was the resolve to keep but these four exquisite creatures that
encompassed the arrival in Mr. Marrapit’s household of Mrs. Major, now
seated beside him upon the lawn--that masterly woman. The fine cat-house
was pulled down, the attendant dismissed. A room upon the ground floor,
having a southern aspect, was set apart as bed-chamber and exclusive
apartment for the four favourites, and Mr. Marrapit sought about for
some excellent person into whose care they might be entrusted. Their
feeding, their grooming, constant attention to their wants and the sole
care of their chamber, should be this person’s duties, and it was not
until a point some way distant in this history that Mr. Marrapit ceased
daily to congratulate himself upon his selection.

Mrs. Major, that masterly woman, was a distressed gentlewoman. The death
of her husband, a warehouse clerk, by acute alcoholic poisoning, seems
to have given her her first chance of displaying those strong qualities
which ultimately became her chief characteristic. And she was of those
to whom plan of action comes instantly upon the arrival of opportunity.
With lightning rapidity this woman welded chance and action; with
unflagging energy and with dauntless perseverance used the powerful
weapon thus contrived.

The case of her husband’s death may be instanced. Her hysterical
distress on the day of the funeral (a matter that would have
considerably surprised the late Mr. Major) was exchanged on the
following morning for acute physical distress resulting from the means
by which, overnight, she had tried to assuage her grief. Noticing, as
she dressed, the subdued and martyrlike air that her face wore, noticing
also her landlady’s evident sympathy with the gentle voice and manner
which her racking head caused her to adopt, Mrs. Major saw at once
the valuable aid to her future which the permanent wearing of these
characteristics might be. From that moment she took up the role of
distressed gentlewoman--advertised by tight-fitting black, by little
sighs, and by precise, subdued voice,--and in this guise sought
employment at an Agency. The agency sent her to be interviewed by
Mr. Marrapit. Ushered into the study, she, in a moment of masterly
inspiration, murmured “The sweet! Ah, the sweet!” when viciously
scratched by the Rose of Sharon, and upon those words walked directly in
to Mr. Marrapit’s heart.

He required a lady--a _lady_ (Mrs. Major smiled deprecatingly) who
should devote herself to his cats. Did Mrs. Major like cats? Ah, sir,
she adored cats; her late husband--Words, at the recollection, failed
her. She faltered; touched an eye with her handkerchief; wanly smiled
with the resigned martyrdom of a true gentlewoman.

As so-often in this life, the unspoken word was more powerful than
mightiest eloquence. Mr. Marrapit is not to be blamed for the inference
he drew. He pictured the dead Mr. Major a gentleman sharing with his
wife a passion for cats; by memory of which fond trait his widow’s
devotion to the species would be yet further enhanced, would be
hallowed.

There is the further thought in this connection that once more, as so
often in this life, the unspoken word had saved the lie direct. Once
only, in point of fact, had Mrs. Major seen her late husband directly
occupied with a cat, and the occasion had been the cause of their
vacating their lodgings in Shepherd’s Bush precisely thirty minutes
later. Mr. Major, under influence of his unfortunate malady, with
savage foot had sped the landlady’s cat down a flight of stairs; and the
landlady had taken the matter in peculiarly harsh spirit.

All this, however, lay deeply hidden beneath Mrs. Major’s unspoken word.
The vision of a gentle Mr. Major that Mr. Marrapit conjured sealed
the liking he had immediately taken to Mrs. Major, and thus was she
installed.

The masterly woman, upon this July afternoon, desisted from her
crocheting; observed in the dozing figure beside her signs of movement;
turned to it, ready for speech.

This she saw. From the reluctant rays of a passing sun a white silk
handkerchief protected a nicely polished head--a little bumpy, fringed
with soft white hair. Beneath the head a long face, sallow of hue; in
either cheek a pit; between them a dominating nose carrying eyeglasses.
A long, spare body in an alpaca coat; long thin legs; brown morocco
slippers without heels--upon the lap the peerless Rose of Sharon.

“Time for the Rose to go in,” Mrs. Major softly suggested.

“The Rose,” said Mr. Marrapit, passing a hand gently over the creature’s
exquisite form, “is, I fear, still ailing. Her sleep is troubled; she
shivers. Her appetite?”

“It is still poorly.” The expression was that of a true distressed
gentlewoman.

“She has need,” Mr. Marrapit said, “of the most careful attention, of
the most careful dieting. Tend her. Tempt her. Take her.”

“I will, Mr. Marrapit.” Mrs. Major gathered the Rose against her bosom.
“You will not stay long? It is growing chilly.”

“I shall take a brief stroll. I am perturbed concerning the Rose.”

“Let me bring you a cap, Mr. Marrapit.”

“Unnecessary. Devote yourself, I pray, to the Rose. I am anxious.
Nothing could console me should any evil thing come upon her. I am
apprehensive. I look to you. I will take a stroll.”

Outside the wire fence Mr. Marrapit and Mrs. Major parted. The masterly
woman glided swiftly towards the house; Mr. Marrapit, with bent head,
passed thoughtfully along an opposite path.

And immediately the sleeping garden awoke to sudden activity.



III.

First to break covert was Frederick, Mr. Fletcher’s assistant.
Abnormally steeped in vice for one so young (this wretched boy was
but fourteen), with the coolness of a matured evil-doer Frederick
extinguished his cigarette-end by pressing it against his boot-heel;
dropped it amongst other ends, toilsomely collected, in a tin box;
placed the box in its prepared hole; covered this with earth and leaves;
hooked a basket of faded weeds upon his arm, and so appeared in Mr.
Marrapit’s path with bent back, diligently searching.

Mr. Marrapit inquired: “Your task?”

“Weedin’,” said Frederick.

“Weeding what?”

“Weeds,” Frederick told him, a little surprised.

Mr. Marrapit rapped sharply: “Say ‘sir’.”

“Sir,” said Frederick, making to move.

Mr. Marrapit peered at the basket. “You have remarkably few.”

“There ain’t never many,” Frederick said with quiet pride--“there ain’t
never many if you keep ‘em down by always doin’ your job.”

Mr. Marrapit pointed: “They grow thick at your feet, sir!”

In round-eyed astonishment Frederick peered low. “They spring up the
minute your back’s turned, them weeds. They want a weed destroyer what
you pours out of a can.”

“You are the weed-destroyer,” Mr. Marrapit said sternly. “Be careful.
It is very true that they spring up whenever _my_ back is turned. Be
careful.” He passed on.

“Blarst yer back,” murmured Frederick, bending his own to the task.



IV.

A few yards further Mr. Marrapit again paused. Against a laurel bush
stood a pair of human legs, the seat of whose encasing trousers stared
gloomily upwards at the sky. With a small twig he carried Mr.
Marrapit tapped the seat. Three or four raps were necessary; slowly it
straightened into line with the legs; from the abyss of the bush a back,
shoulders, head, appeared.

Just as the ostrich with buried head believes itself hid from
observation, so it was with Mr. Fletcher, needing peace, a habit to
plunge head and shoulders into a bush and there remain--showing
nothing against the sky-line. Long practice had freed the posture from
irksomeness. As a young man Mr. Fletcher had been employed in a public
tennis-court, and there had learned the little mannerism to which he now
had constant resort. In those days the necessity of freeing himself from
the constant annoyance of nets to be tightened, or of disputes between
rival claims to courts to be settled, had driven him to devise some
means of escape. It was essential to the safety of his post, upon
the other hand, that he must never allow it to be said that he was
constantly absent from his duties. Chance gave him the very means he
sought. Bent double into a bush one day, searching a tennis ball, he
heard his name bawled up and down the courts; he did not stir. Those who
were calling him stumbled almost against his legs; did not observe
him; passed on calling. Thereafter, when unduly pressed, it became Mr.
Fletcher’s habit to bury head and arms in a bush either until the hue
and cry for him had lulled, or until exasperated searchers knocked
against his stern; in the latter event he would explain that he was
looking for tennis balls.

The habit had persisted. Whenever irritated or depressed (and this man’s
temperament caused such often to be his fate), he would creep to the
most likely bush and there disappear as to his upper half. It is a fine
thing in this turbulent life thus to have some quiet refuge against the
snarlings of adversity.

Mr. Fletcher drew up now and faced Mr. Marrapit; in his hand a snail.

He said gloomily: “Another one”; held it towards his master’s face.

Here is an example of how one deception leads to another. This was no
fresh snail; often before Mr. Marrapit had seen it. To lend motive to
his concealment Mr. Fletcher carried always with him this same snail;
needing peace he would draw it from his pocket; plunge to consolation;
upon discovery exhibit it as excuse.

“There is an abominable smell here,” said Mr. Marrapit.

Mr. Fletcher inhaled laboriously. “It’s not for me to say what it is.”

“Adjust that impression. Yours is the duty. You are in charge here. What
is it?”

“It’s them damn cats.”

“You are insolent, sir. Your insolence increases. It grows unendurable.”

Mr. Fletcher addressed the snail. “He asts a question. I beg not to
answer it. He insists. I tell him. I’m insolent.” He sighed; the tyranny
of the world pressed heavily upon this man.

Mr. Marrapit advertised annoyance by clicks of his tongue: “You are
insolent when you swear in my presence. You are insolent when you impute
to my cats a fault that is not theirs.”

“I ain’t blamin’ the cats. It’s natural to them. Whenever the wind sets
this way I notice it. It’s blamin’ me I complain of. I don’t draw the
smell. I try to get away from it. It’s ‘ard--damn ‘ard. I’m a gardener,
I am; not a wind-shaft.”

Whenever Mr. Marrapit had occasion to speak with Mr. Fletcher, after the
first few exchanges he would swallow with distinct effort. It was wrath
he swallowed; and bitter as the pill was, rarely did he fail to force it
down. Mr. Fletcher spoke to him as no other member of his establishment
dared speak. The formula of dismissal would leap to Mr. Marrapit’s
mouth: knowledge of the unusually small wage for which Mr. Fletcher
worked caused it to be stifled ere it found tongue. Thousands of
inferiors have daily to bow to humiliations from their employers; it
is an encouraging thought for this army that masters there be who,
restrained by parsimony, daily writhe beneath impertinences from
valuable, ill-paid servants.

Mr. Marrapit swallowed. He said: “To the smell of which I complain my
cats are no party. It is tobacco. The air reeks of tobacco. I will not
have tobacco in my garden.”

Twice, with a roaring sound, Mr. Fletcher inhaled. He pointed towards an
elm against the wall: “It comes from over there.”

“Ascertain.”

The gardener plunged through the bushes; nosed laboriously; his
inhalations rasped across the shrubs. “There’s no smoking here,” he
called.

“Someone, in some place concealed, indubitably smokes. Yourself you have
noticed it. Follow the scent.”

Exertion beaded upon Mr. Fletcher’s brow. He drew his hand across it;
thrust a damp and gloomy face between the foliage towards his master.

“I’d like to know,” he asked, “if this is to be one of my regular jobs
for the future? Was I engaged to ‘unt smells all day? It’s ‘ard-damn
‘ard. I’m a gardener, I am; not a blood-’ound.”

But Mr. Marrapit had passed on.

“Damn ‘ard,” Mr. Fletcher repeated; drew the snail from his pocket;
plunged to consolation.



V.

A short distance down the garden Mr. Marrapit himself discovered the
source of the smell that had offended him. Bending to the left he came
full upon it where it uprose from a secluded patch of turf: from the
remains of a pipe there mounted steadily through the still air a thin
wisp of smoke.

Outraged, Mr. Marrapit stared; fuming, turned upon the step that sounded
on the path behind him.

The slim and tall young man who approached was that nephew George, whose
coming into Mr. Marrapit’s household had considerably disturbed Mr.
Marrapit’s peace. Orphaned by the death of his mother, George had
gone into the guardianship of his uncle while in his middle teens. The
responsibility had been thrust upon Mr. Marrapit by his sister. Vainly
he had writhed and twisted in fretful protest; she shackled him to her
desire by tearful and unceasing entreaty. Vainly he urged that his means
were not what she thought; she assured him--and by her will bore out the
assurance--that with her George should go her money.

And the will, when read, in some degree consoled Mr. Marrapit for the
sniffling encumbrance he took back with him to Herons’ Holt after the
funeral. It was a simple and trustful will--commended George into the
keeping of her brother Christopher Marrapit; desired that George should
be entered in her late husband’s--the medical--profession; and for that
purpose bequeathed her all to the said brother.

George was eighteen when Mr. Marrapit entered him at St. Peter’s
Hospital in mild pursuit of the qualification of the Conjoint Board of
Surgeons and Physicians. “I am entering you,” Mr. Marrapit had said,
consulting notes he had prepared against the interview--“I am entering
you at enormous cost upon a noble career which involves, however, a
prolonged and highly expensive professional training. Your mother wished
it.”

Mr. Marrapit did not add that George’s mother had expressly paid for
it. This man had the knowledge that Youth would lose such veneration for
Authority as it may possess were Authority to disclose the motives that
prompt its actions.

He continued: “For me this involves considerable self-denial and
patience. I do not flinch. From you it demands unceasing devotion to
your books, your studies, your researches. You are no longer a boy: you
are a man. The idle sports of youth must be placed behind you. Stern
life must be sternly faced.”

“I do not flinch,” George had replied.

“For your personal expenses I shall make you a small allowance. You will
live in my house. Your wants should be insignificant.”

In a faint voice George squeezed in: “I have heard that one can work far
better by living near the hospital in digs.”

“Elucidate.”

“Digs--lodgings. I have heard that one can work far better by living
near the hospital in lodgings.”

“Adjust that impression,” Mr. Marrapit had told him. “You are
misinformed.”

George struggled: “I should have the constant companionship of men
absorbed in the same work as myself. We could exchange views and notes
in the evenings.”

“In your books seek that companionship. With them compare your views.
Let your notes by them be checked. They are infallible.”

George said no more. At that moment the freedom of hospital as against
the restraint of school, was a gallant steed upon which he outrid all
other desires. The prospect of new and strange books in exchange for
those he so completely abhorred, was an alluring delight. It is not
until the bargain is complete that we discover how much easier to
polish, and more comfortable to handle, are old lamps than new.

Mr. Marrapit had referred to his notes: “In regard to the allowance I
shall make you. I earnestly pray no spur may be necessary to urge you
at your tasks. Yet, salutary it is that spur should exist. I arrange,
therefore, that in the deplorable event of your failing to pass any
examination your allowance shall be diminished.”

“Will it be correspondingly increased when I pass first shot?”

The fearful possibilities of this suggestion Mr. Marrapit had hesitated
to accept. Speculation was abhorrent to this man. Visions of success
upon success demanding increase upon increase considerably agitated him.
Upon the other hand, the sooner these successes were won, the sooner,
he reflected, would he be rid of this incubus, and, in the long-run, the
cheaper. He nerved himself to the decision. “I agree to that,” he had
said. “The compact is affirmed.”

It was a wretched compact for George.

But the sum had not yet been fixed. George, standing opposite his uncle,
twisted one leg about the other; twined his clammy hands; put the awful
question: “By how much will the allowance be increased or cut down?”

“By two pounds a quarter.”

George plunged: “So if I fail in my first exam. I shall get eleven
pounds at the quarter? if I pass, fifteen?”

Horror widened Mr. Marrapit’s eyes; shrilled his voice: “What is the
colossal sum you anticipate?”

“I thought you said fifty-two pounds a year-a pound a week.”

“A monstrous impression. Adjust it. Four pounds a quarter is the sum.
You will have no needs. It errs upon the side of liberality--I desire to
be liberal.”

George twisted his legs into a yet firmer knot: “But two failures would
wipe it bang out.”

“Look you to that,” Mr. Marrapit told him. “The matter is settled.”

But it was further pursued by George when outside the door.

“Simply to spite that stingy brute,” vowed he, “I’ll pass all my exams,
with such a rush that I’ll be hooking sixteen quid a quarter out of him
before he knows where he is. I swear I will.”

It was a rash oath. When Youth selects as weapon against Authority some
implement that requires sweat in the forging Authority may go unarmed.
The task of contriving such weapons is early abandoned. In three months
George’s hot resolve was cooled; in six it was forgotten; at the end
of three years, after considerable fluctuation, his allowance stood at
minus two pounds for the ensuing quarter.

Mr. Marrapit, appealed to for advance, had raved about his study with
waving arms.

“The continued strain of renewing examination fees consequent on your
callous failures,” he had said, “terrifies me. I am haunted by the
spectre of ruin. The Bank of England could not stand it.”

Still George argued.

With a whirlwind of words Mr. Marrapit drove him from the study:
“Precious moments fly even as you stand here. To your books, sir. In
them seek solace. By application to them refresh your shattered pocket.”

Shamefully was the advice construed. George sought and found solace in
his books by selling his Kirke, his Quain and his Stone to Mr. Schoole
of the Charing Cross Road; his microscope he temporarily lodged with Mr.
Maughan in the Strand; to the science of bridge he applied himself with
a skill that served to supply his petty needs.

Notwithstanding, his career at St. Peter’s was of average merit. George
was now in the sixth year of his studies; and by the third part of his
final examination, was alone delayed from the qualification which would
bring him freedom from his uncle’s irksome rule.



VI.

His attempt at this last examination had been concluded upon this July
day that opens our history, and thus we return to Mr. Marrapit, to
George, and to the line of smoke uprising from the tobacco.

Mr. Marrapit indicated the smouldering wedge.

George bent forward. “Tobacco,” he announced.

“My nose informed me. My eyes affirm. Yours?”

“I am afraid so.”

“My simple rule. In the vegetable garden you may smoke; here you may
not. Is it so hard to observe?”

“I quite forgot myself.”

Mr. Marrapit cried: “Adjust that impression. You forgot me. Consistently
you forget me. My desires, my interests are nothing to you.”

“It’s a rotten thing to make a fuss about.”

“That is why I make a fuss. It _is_ a rotten thing. A disgusting and a
noisome thing. Bury it.”

Into a bed of soft mould George struck a sullen heel; kicked the tobacco
towards the pit. Mr. Marrapit chanted over the obsequies: “I provide you
with the enormous expanse of my vegetable garden in which to smoke. Yet
upon my little acre you intrude. I am Naboth.”

Ahab straightened his back; sighed heavily. Naboth started against the
prick of a sudden recollection:

“I had forgotten. Your examination?”

George half turned away. The bitterest moment of a sad day was come. He
growled:

“Pipped.”

“_Pipped?_”

“Pilled.”

“_Pilled?_”

“Spun.”

“_Spun?”_

“Three months.”

Mr. Marrapit put his hands to his head: “I shall go mad. My brain reels
beneath these conundrums. I implore English.”

The confession of defeat is a thousandfold more bitter when made to
unkind ears. George paled a little; spoke very clearly: “I failed. I was
referred for three months.”

“I am Job,” groaned Mr. Marrapit. “I expected this. The strain is
unendurable. It is unnatural. The next chance shall be your last. What
is the fee for re-examination?”

“Five guineas.”

“My God!” said Mr. Marrapit.

He tottered away up the path.



CHAPTER II

Excursions In Melancholy.



I.

Gloom brooded over Herons’ Holt that evening. Gloom hung thickly about
the rooms: blanketed conversation; veiled eyes that might have sparkled;
choked appetites.

Nevertheless this was an atmosphere in which one member of the household
felt most comfortable.

Margaret, Mr. Marrapit’s only child, was nineteen; of sallow complexion,
petite, pretty; with large brown eyes in which sat always a constant
quest--an entreaty, a wistful yearning.

Hers was a clinging nature, readily responsive to the attraction of any
stouter mind. Enthusiasm was in this girl, but it lay well-like--not
as a spring. To stir it the influence of another was wanted; of itself,
spontaneous, it could not leap. Aroused, there was no rush and surge
of emotion--it welled, rose deeply; thickly, without ripple; crestless,
flinging no intoxicating spume. Waves rush triumphant, hurtling forward
the stick they support: the pool swells, leaving the stick quiescent,
floating.

Many persons have this order of enthusiasm; it is a clammy thing
to attract. A curate with a glimpse at Shelley’s mind once roused
Margaret’s enthusiasm for the poet. It welled so suffocatingly about him
that he came near to damning Shelley and all his works; threw up his hat
when opportunity put out a beckoning finger and drew him elsewhere.

Margaret walked in considerable fear of her father; but she clung to him
despite his oppressive foibles, because this was her nature. She loved
church; incense; soft music; a prayer-book tastefully bound. She “wrote
poetry.”

Warmed by the gloom that lay over Herons’ Holt upon this evening, she
sat brooding upon her cousin George’s failure until a beautiful picture
was hatched. He had gone to his room directly after dinner; during the
meal had not spoken. She imagined him seated on his bed, hands deep in
pockets, chin sunk, brow knitted, wrestling with that old devil despair.
She knew that latterly he had worked tremendously hard. He had told her
before the examination how confident of success he was, had revealed how
much in the immediate prospect of freedom he gloried. She recalled
his gay laugh as he had bade her good-bye on the first day, and the
recollection stung her just as, she reflected, it must now be stinging
him.... Only he must a thousand times more fiercely be feeling the burn
of its venom....

Margaret moved impatiently with a desire to shake into herself a
profounder sense of her cousin’s misfortune. By ten she was plunged in a
most pleasing melancholy.



II.

She was of those who are by nature morbid; who deceive themselves if
they imagine they have enjoyment from the recreations that provoke
lightness of heart in the majority. Only the surface of their
spirits ripples under such breezes; to stir the whole, to produce
the counterpart of a hearty laugh in your vigorous animal, a feast on
melancholy must be provided. This is a quality that is common among the
lower classes who find their greatest happiness in funerals. The sombre
trappings; white handkerchiefs against black dresses; tears; the mystery
of gloom--these trickle with a warm glow through all their senses. They
are as aroused by grief, unpleasant to the majority, as the drunkard is
quickened by wine, to many abhorrent.

Thus it was with Margaret, and to her the shroud of melancholy in which
she was now wrapped brought an added boon--arrayed in it she was best
able to make her verses. Not of necessity sad little verses; many of her
brightest were conceived in profoundest gloom. With a pang at the heart
she could be most merry--tinkling out her laughing little lines just as
martyrs could breathe a calm because, rather than spite of, they were
devilishly racked.



III.

But this was no hour for tinkling lines. A manuscript returned by the
last post emphasised her gloom.

Kissing her father good-night, Margaret crept to her room, aching with
desire to write.

She undressed, read a portion of the _Imitation_, then to her table by
the open window.

Two hours brought relief. Margaret placed her poem in an envelope
against its presentation to George in the morning, then from her window
leaned.

From her thoughts at once George sped; they rushed across the sleeping
fields to cling about the person of that Mr. William Wyvern who had
spoken of Mr. Marrapit as reminding him of a minor prophet--shaved.
This was Margaret’s nightly practice, but to-night this girl was most
exquisitely melancholy, and with melancholy her thoughts of her William
were tinged. She had not seen him that day; and now she brooded upon the
bitter happening that had forced all her meetings with her lover to be
snatched--fugitive, secret.

For Mr. William Wyvern was not allowed at Herons’ Holt. When love first
sent its herald curiosity into William’s heart, the young man had sought
to relieve its restlessness by a visit ostensibly on George, really upon
Margaret, and extremely ill-advised in that at his heels gambolled his
three bull-terriers.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram these were named, and they were abrupt dogs to
a point reaching brusqueness.

At the door, as William had approached, beamed Mr. Marrapit; upon the
drive the queenly Rose of Sharon sat; and immediately tragedy swooped.

The dogs sighted the Rose. Red-mouthed the shining pack flew at her.
Dignity fell before terror: wildly, with streaming tail, she fled.

Orange was the cat, white the dogs: like some orange and snow-white
ribbon magically inspired, thrice at enormous speed they set a belt
about the house. With tremendous bounds the Rose kept before her
pursuers--heavily labouring, horrid with thirsty glee. Impotent in the
doorway moaned Mr. Marrapit, his dirge rushing up to a wail of grief
each time the parti-coloured ribbon flashed before his eyes.

With Mr. Fletcher the end had come. Working indoors, aroused by the din,
the gardener burst out past his master just as the ribbon fluttered into
sight upon the completion of its fourth circuit. Like a great avalanche
it poured against his legs; as falls the oak, so pressed he fell.

Each eager jaw snapped once. Korah bit air, Dathan the cat’s right ear.
She wrenched; freed; sprang high upon the porch to safety, blood on her
coat.

Abiram put a steely nip upon Mr. Fletcher’s right buttock.

William called off his dogs; stood aghast. Mr. Marrapit stretched
entreating arms to his adored. Mr. Fletcher writhed prone.

The torn Rose slipped to Mr. Marrapit’s bosom. Clasping her he turned
upon William--“You shall pay for this blood!”

William stammered: “I’m very sorry, sir. If--”

“Never again enter my gates. I’ll have your curs shot!”

Curs was unfortunate; the evil three were whelped of a mighty strain.

“If your fool of a man hadn’t got in the way, the cat would have
escaped,” William hotly cried. Indignant he turned. Banishment was
nothing then; in time it came to be a bitter thing.

Mr. Marrapit had raged on to Mr. Fletcher, yet writhing.

“You hear that?” he had cried. “Dolt! You are responsible for this!” He
touched the blood-flecked side, the abrased ear; clasped close the Rose;
called for warm water.

Mr. Fletcher clapped a hand to his wound as shakily he rose.

“I go to rescue his cat!” he said; “I’m near worried to death by ‘ounds.
I’m a dolt. I’m responsible. It’s ‘ard,--damn ‘ard. I’m a gardener, I
am; not a dog muzzle.”

A dimness clouded Margaret’s beautiful eyes as this bitter picture--she
had watched it--was again reviewed. She murmured “Oh, Bill!”; stretched
her soft arms to the night; moved her pretty lips in a message to her
lover; snuggled between the sheets and made melancholy her bedfellow.



IV.

By seven she was up and in the fresh garden. George was before her.

She cried brightly: “Why, how early you are!” and ran to him--very
pretty in her white dress: at her breast a rose, the poem fluttering in
her hand.

“Yes; for once before you.”

George’s tone did not give back her mood, purposely keyed high. She
played on it again: “Turning a new leaf?”

He drummed at the turf with his heel: “Yes--for to-day.” He threw out a
hand towards her: “But in the same old book. I’ve had eight--nine years
of it, and now there are three more months.”

“Poor George! But only three months, think how they will fly!”

He was desperately gloomy: “I haven’t your imagination. Each single day
of them will mean a morning--here; a night--here.”

“Oh, is it so hard?”

“Yes, now. It’s pretty deadly now. You know, when I wasn’t precisely
killing myself with overwork, I didn’t mind so much. When it was three
or four years, anyway, before I could possibly be free, a few extra
months or so through failing an exam, didn’t trouble me. But this
is different. I was right up against getting clear of all this”--he
comprehended garden and house in a sweep of the hand--“counted it a dead
certainty--and here I am pitched back again.”

“But, George, you did work so hard this time. It isn’t as though you
had to blame yourself.” She put a clinging hand into his arm. “You
can suffer no--remorse. That is what makes failure so dreadful--the
knowledge that things might have been otherwise if one had liked.”

George laughed quite gaily. Gloom never lay long upon this young man.

“You’re a sweet little person,” he said. “You ought to be right, but
you are wrong. When I didn’t work I didn’t mind failing. It’s when I’ve
tried that I get sick.”

Margaret’s eyes brightened. There was melancholy here.

“Oh, I know what you mean. I know so well. I have felt that. You mean
the--the haunting fear that you may never be able to succeed; that you
have not the--the talent, the capacity.” She continued pleadingly:
“Oh, you mustn’t think that. You can--you _will_ succeed next time, you
know.”

“Rather!” responded George brightly.

Margaret was quite pained. She would have had him express doubt,
despondently sigh; would have heartened him with her poem. The confident
“rather!” jarred. She hurried from its vigour.

She asked: “What had you intended to do?”

“I was to have got a _locum tenens_. I think it would have developed
into a permanency. A big, rough district up in Yorkshire with a man who
keeps six horses going. His second assistant--a pal of mine--wants to
chuck it.”

“Why?”

“Why? Oh, partly because he’s fed up with it, partly because he wants a
practice of his own.”

“Ah! ... But, George, don’t you want a practice of your own? You don’t
want to be another man’s assistant, do you?”

George laughed. “I can’t choose, Margi. You know, if you imagine there
are solid groups of people all over England anxiously praying for the
arrival of a doctor, you must adjust that impression, as your father
would say. These things have to be bought. I’ve got about three pounds,
so I’m not bidding. They seldom go so cheap.”

Margaret never bantered. She had no battledore light enough to return
an airy shuttlecock. Now, as always, when this plaything came
buoyantly towards her she swiped it with heavy force clean out of the
conversational field.

She said gravely: “Ah, I know what you mean. You mean that father ought
to buy you a practice--ought to set you up when you are qualified. I
can’t discuss that, can I? It wouldn’t be loyal.”

“Of course not. I don’t ask you.”

They moved towards the sound of the breakfast bell.

“You think,” Margaret continued, “that father ought to buy you a
practice because your mother left him money for the purpose?”

“I know she left him nearly five thousand pounds for my education
and all that. I think I may have cost him three thousand, possibly
four--_so_ I think I am entitled to something, _but_ I shan’t get it,
_therefore_ I don’t worry. My hump is gone; in three months I shall be
gone. Forward: I smell bacon!”

Margaret smiled the wan smile of an invalid watching vigorous youth at
sport. Firmly she banged the shuttlecock out of sight.

“How bright you are!” she told him. “Look, here is a little poem I wrote
for you last night. It’s about failure and success. Don’t read it now.”

George was very fond of his cousin. “Oh, but I must!” he cried. “I think
this was awfully nice of you. He’s not down yet. Let’s sit on this seat
and read it together.”

“Oh, not aloud. It’s a silly little thing--really.”

“Yes--aloud.”

He smoothed the paper. She pressed against him; thrilled as she regarded
the written lines. George begged her read. She would not--well, she
would. She paused. Modesty and pride gathered on her cheeks, tuned her
voice low. She read:

  “So you have tried--So you have known
  The burning effort for success,
  The quick belief in your own prowess and your skill,
  The bitterness of failure, and the joy
  Of sweet success.”

“‘Burning effort,’” George said. “That’s fine!”

“I’m glad you like that. And ‘quick belief’--you know what I mean?”

“Oh, rather.”

The poet warmed again over her words.

  “So you have tried--
  So you have known
  The blind-eyed groping towards the goal
  That flickers on the far horizon of Attempt,
  Gleaming to sudden vividness, anon
  Fading from sight.”

“Sort of blank verse, isn’t it?” George asked.

“Well, sort of,” the poet allowed. “Not exactly, of course.”

“Of course not,” George agreed firmly.

Margaret breathed the next fine lines.

  “So you have tried--
  So you have known
  The bitter-sweetness of Attempt,
  The quick determination and the dread despair
  That grapple and possess you as you strive
  For imagery.”

George questioned: “Imagery...?”

“That verse is more for me than you,” the poet explained. “‘For
imagery’--to get the right word, you know.”

“Rather!” said George. “It does for me too--in exams, when one is
floored, you know.”

“Yes,” Margaret admitted doubtfully. “Ye-es. Don’t interrupt between the
verses, dear.”

Now emotion swelled her voice.

  “Success be yours!
  May you achieve
  To heights you do not dream you’ll ever touch;
  The power’s to your hand, the road before you lies--
  Forward! The gods not always frown; anon
  They’ll kindly smile.”

“Why, that’s splendid!” George cried. He put a cousinly arm about
the poet; squeezed her to him. “Fancy you writing that for me! What a
sympathetic little soul you are--and how clever!”

Breathless she disengaged herself: “I’m so glad you like it. It’s a
silly little thing--but it’s _real_, isn’t it? Come, there’s father.”

She paused against denial of the poem’s silliness, affirmation of its
truth; but George, moody beneath Mr. Marrapit’s eye, glinting behind the
window, had moved forward.

Margaret thrust the paper in her bosom, tucked in where heart might warm
against heart’s child. Constantly during breakfast her mind reverted to
it, drummed its rare lines.



CHAPTER III.

Upon Modesty In Art: And Should Be Skipped.


Yet Margaret had called her poem silly. Here, then, was mock-modesty by
diffidence seeking praise. But this mock-modesty, which horribly abounds
to-day, is only natural product of that furious modesty which has come
to be expected in all the arts.

Modesty should have no place in true art. The author or the painter,
the poet or the composer should be impersonal to his work. That which he
creates is not his; it is a piece of the art to which he is servant, and
as such (and such alone) he should regard it. His in the making and the
moulding, thereafter it becomes the possession of the great whole to
which it belongs. If it adorns that whole he may freely admire it; for
he is impersonal to it.

Unquestionably (or unconsciously) we accept this principle in regard to
human life. The child belongs not to the mother who conceived it but to
the race of which it is an atom. It hinders or it betters the race. The
race judges it. By the race it is honoured or condemned; and to it the
mother becomes impersonal. As it bears itself among its fellows, so she
judges it--as the artist’s work bears itself in the great art it joins,
so should he judge it. And if the mother joins in his fellows’ praise of
her child, and if she proclaims her pride in it, is she called wanting
in modesty?--and if the artist joins in praise of his work, and if he
freely names it good, must he then be vain, boastful? The race grants
that the mother who gave it this specimen of its kind has a first right
to show her pride--to the artist who gives a fair specimen to his art we
should allow a like voice.

For in demanding modesty--in naming impersonality conceit--we have
produced also mock-modesty; and because, as a people, we have little
appreciation of the arts, hence little knowledge, hence no standard by
which to judge, we continually mistake the one form of modesty for the
other. Modesty we suspect to be mock-modesty, and mock-modesty we take
to be pleasing humility.

Coming to literature alone, the author should be impersonal to his work
and must not cry that the writer is no judge of his own labour. Letters
is his trade; and just as the mason well knows whether the brick he has
laid helps or hinders, beautifies or insults the house, so the writer
should be full cognisant whether his work helps make or does mar the
edifice called literature. Nor must the term literature be denied to the
ruck of modern writing. All that is written to interest or to instruct
goes to make the literature of our day. We have introduced new
expressions just as we have contrived new expressions in architecture;
and as in the latter case so in the former the bulk of these is
ephemeral. Nevertheless they are a part of literature, and all efforts
in them better or sully the pages which in our day we are adding to the
book of literature. From this book the winds of cycles to come will blow
all that is unworthy--only the stout leaves will endure; but, no less
because you write for the supplement than if you have virtue sufficient
for the bound volume, remember that in every form of writing there
are standards of good, and that every line printed helps raise or does
tarnish the letters of our day.



CHAPTER IV.

Excursions In A Hospital.



I.

By the half-past nine train George went to town; an hour later was at
St. Peter’s.

From the bar of the Students’ Club a throng of young men of his year
loudly hailed him. He joined them; took with a laugh the commiserations
on his failure; wrung the hands of those who had been successful.

The successful young gentlemen were standing drinks-each man his
round. There was much smoke and much laughter. Amusing experiences were
narrated. You gathered that all who had passed their examination had
done so by sheer luck, by astonishing flukes. Not one had ever worked.
Each had been “ragged” on a subject of which he knew absolutely nothing.
To the brilliancy with which he had gulled or bluffed his examiner, to
the diplomacy with which he had headed him off the matters of which he
knew absolutely less than nothing-to these alone were his success due.

Such is ever Youth’s account of battle with Age. Youth is a devil of
a smart fellow, behind whom Age blunders along in the most ridiculous
fashion. Later this young blood takes his place in the blundering ranks
and then does learn that indeed he was right--Age knows nothing. For
with years we begin to realise our ignorance, and the lesson is not
complete when the grave slams the book. A few plumb the depths of their
ignorance before death: these are able to speak--and these are the
teachers of men. We get here one reason why giants are fewer in our day:
with the growth of man’s imaginings and his inventions there is more
vanity to be forced through; the truths of life lie deeper hid; more
phantasms arise to lure us from the quest of realities; the task of
striking truth accumulates.



II.

Soon after midday the party broke up. Its members lunched early;
visiting surgeons and physicians went their rounds at half-past one.

George strolled to the Dean’s office.

A woebegone-looking youth in spectacles stood before the table; opposite
sat the Dean. He looked up as George entered, and nodded: he was fond of
George.

“Come along in,” he said; “I shan’t be a minute.”

He turned to the sad youth. “Now your case, Mr. Carter,” he said, “is
quite unique. In the whole records of the Medical School”--he waved at
a shelf of fat volumes--“in the whole records of the Medical School we
have nothing in the remotest degree resembling it. You have actually
failed twice in--in--”

The Dean searched wildly among a litter of papers; baffled, threw out an
emphasising hand, and repeated, “_Twice_! Other hospitals, Mr. Carter,
may have room for slackers--we have not. We have a record and a
reputation of which we are proud. You are in your second year. How old
are you?”

A faint whisper said, “Nineteen.”

The Dean started. “Nineteen! Oh, dear me, dear me! this is worse than
I thought--far worse. I am afraid, Mr. Carter, I shall have to write to
your father.”

Guttural with emotion, Mr. Carter gasped: “I mean to work--indeed I do.”

Again the Dean frantically searched on his desk to discover the subject
in which Mr. Carter had failed; again was unsuccessful. Deep thought
ravelled his brow. His fingers drummed indecision on the table. It was a
telling picture of one struggling between duty and kindliness--masterly
as the result of long practice.

“Mr. Carter,” the Dean summed up, “I will consider your case more fully
to-night. Against my better judgment I may perhaps decide not on this
occasion to communicate with your father. But remember this. At the very
outset of your career you have strained to breaking-point the confidence
of your teachers. Only by stupendous efforts on your part can that
confidence be restored. These failures, believe me, will dog you from
now until you are qualified--nay, will dog your whole professional
career. That will do.”

In a convulsion of relief and of agitation beneath this appalling
prospect the dogged man quavered thanks; stumbled from the room.



III.

George laughed. “Same old dressing-down,” he said. “Don’t you ever alter
the formula?”

“It’s very effective,” the Dean replied. “That’s the sixth this morning.
Unfortunately I couldn’t remember in what subject that boy had failed;
so he didn’t get the best part--the part about that being the one
subject of all others which, if failed in, predicted ruin.”

“It was biology in my case,” George told him. “I trembled with funk.”

“I think most of you do. It’s fortunate that all you men when you first
come up are afraid of your fathers. It gives us a certain amount of hold
over you. If the thing were done properly, both at the ‘Varsities and
the hospitals, there would be a system of marks and reports just as at
schools. You are only boys when you first come up, and you should be
treated as boys; instead, you are left free and irresponsible. It ruins
dozens of men every year.”

“Perhaps that’s why I’m here now,” George responded. “You know I got
ploughed?”

The Dean told George how sorry he had been to hear it. He questioned:
“Bad luck, I suppose? I thought it was a sitter for you this time.”

“Yes, rotten luck.”

“It’s unfortunate, you know. You would have got a house appointment. I’m
afraid you will miss that mow. There will be a crowd of very hot men
up with you in October, junior to you, who will get the vacancies. What
will you do?”

George shrugged and laughed.

The Dean frowned; interpreted the shrug. “Well, you should care,” he
said. “You ought to be looking around you. Won’t your uncle help you to
buy a partnership?”

“We are on worse terms than ever after this failure. Not he.”

“And you’re not trying to be on good terms, I suppose?”

“Not I.”

“You are a remarkably silly young man. You want balance, Leicester, you
want balance. It would be the making of you to have some serious purpose
in life. You will run against something of the kind soon--you’ll get
engaged, perhaps, and then you’ll regret your happy-go-lucky ways.” He
fumbled amongst a pile of correspondence and drew out a letter. “Now,
look here, I was thinking of you only a few moments ago. Here’s a letter
from a man who--who--where is it?--Ah, yes--If you could raise 400
pounds by the time you are qualified I could put you on to a splendid
thing.”

“Not the remotest chance,” said George. “The serious purpose must wait.
I--”

The Dean waved a hand that asked silence; consulted the letter. “This is
from a man in practice at a place called Runnygate--one of these rising
seaside resorts--Hampshire--great friend of mine. He’s got money, and
he’s going to chuck it--doesn’t suit his wife. I told him I’d find a
purchaser if he would leave it with me. Merely nominal--only 400
pounds. He says that in a year or so there’ll be a small fortune in the
practice, because a company is taking the place over to develop it. You
shall have first refusal. Come now, pull yourself together, Leicester.”

George laughed. He stood up. “Thanks, I refuse now. What on earth’s the
good?”

“Rubbish,” said the Dean. “Think over that serious interest in life. You
never know your luck.”

George moved to the door. “I know my luck all right,” he laughed. “Never
mind, I’m not grumbling with it.”



CHAPTER V.

Upon Life: And May Be Missed.


In the ante-room, as it were, of a very short chapter, we must make
ready to receive our heroine. She is about to spring dazzling upon our
pages; will be our close companion through some moving scenes. We must
collect ourselves, brush our hair, arrange our dress, prepare our nicest
manner.

And as in ante-rooms there are commonly papers laid about to beguile the
tedium, and as the faint rustle of our heroine’s petticoats is warning
that George’s assertion that he knew his luck is immediately to be
disproved, let us make a tiny little paper on the folly of such a
statement.

For of his luck man has no glimmer of prescience. Day by day we
rattle the box, throw the dice; but of how these will fall we have no
knowledge. We only hope with the gambler’s feverishness; and it is this
very hazard that keeps us crowding and pushing to hold our place at
the tables where fortune spins. Grow we sick of the game, sour with our
luck, weary of the hazard, and relinquish we our place at the table, we
are pushed back and out--elbowed, thrown, trampled.

We are all treasure-seekers set on a treasure-island in a boundless sea.
Cruelly marooned we are--flung ashore without appeal, and here deserted
until the ship that disembarked us suddenly swoops and the press-gang
snatches us again aboard--again without heed to our desire. Whence the
ship brought us we do not know, and whither it will carry us we do not
know; there is none to prick a return voyage disclosing the ultimate
haven, though pilots there be who pretend to the knowledge--we cannot
test them.

But the marooners, when they land us, give us wherewith to occupy our
thoughts. This is a treasure-island. Each man of us they land with a
pick; the inhabitants tell us of the treasure, and, being acclimatised,
we set to work to dig and delve. Some work in shafts already sunk, some
seek to break new ground, but what the pick will next turn up no one
knows.

And it is this uncertainty, this hazard, that keeps us hammer, hammer,
hammering; that keeps us, some from brooding against the marooners,
their wanton desertion of us, our ultimate fate at their hands; others
from making ready against the return voyage as entreated by the pilots.

Certainly, when the pick strikes a pocket, we turn to carousing; cease
cocking a timid eye at the horizon.

And now our heroine is beckoning.



CHAPTER VI.

Magnificent Arrival Of A Heroine.



I.

Until three o’clock George sat in an operating theatre. An unimportant
case was in process: occasionally, through the group of dressers,
surgeons and nurses who filled the floor, George caught a glimpse of the
subject. He watched moodily, too occupied with his thoughts--three more
months of dependency--to take greater interest.

One other student was present. Peacefully he slumbered by George’s side
until the ring of a dropped forceps awakened him. Noting the cause,
“Clumsy beast,” said this Mr. Franklyn; and to George: “Come on,
Leicester; my slumber is broken. Let’s go for a stroll up West.”

In Oxford Street a pretty waitress in a tea-shop drew Mr. Franklyn’s
eye; a drop of rain whacked his nose. He winked the eye; wiped the nose.
“Tea,” said he; “it is going to rain.”

He addressed the pretty waitress: “I have no wish to seem inquisitive,
but which table do you attend?”

The girl jerked her chin: “What’s that to you?”

“So much,” Mr. Franklyn earnestly told her, “that, until I know, here,
beautiful but inconvenient, in the doorway I stand.”

“Well, all of ‘em.” She whisked away.

“You’re badly snubbed, Franklyn,” George said. “This rain is nothing.”

A summer shower crashed down as he spoke; a mob of shoppers, breathless
for shelter, drove them inwards.

“George,” said Mr. Franklyn, seating himself, “your base mind thinks I
have designs on this girl. I grieve at so distorted a fancy. The child
says prettily that she attends ‘all of ‘em.’ It is a gross case of
overwork into which I feel it my duty more closely to inquire.”

George laughed. “Do you always spend your afternoons like this?”

“As a rule, yes. I have been fifteen years at St. Peter’s awaiting that
day when through pure ennui the examiners will pass me. It will be a sad
wrench to leave the dear old home.” He continued, a tinge of melancholy
in his voice: “You know, I am the last of the old brigade. The medical
student no longer riots. His name is no longer a byword; he is a rabbit.
Alone, undismayed, I uphold the old traditions. I am, so to speak,
one of the old aristocracy. Beneath the snug characteristics of the
latter-day student--his sweet abhorrence of a rag, his nasty delight
in plays which he calls ‘hot-stuff,’ his cigarettes and his
chess-playing--beneath these my head, like Henley’s, is bloody but
unbowed. Forgive a tear.”

The shower ceased; the tea was finished; the pretty waitress was
coyly singeing her modesty in the attractive candle of Mr. Franklyn’s
suggestions. George left them at the game; strolled aimlessly towards
the Marble Arch; beyond it; to the right, and so into a quiet square.

Here comes my heroine.



II.

The hansom, as George walked, was coming towards him--smartly, with
a jingle of bells; skimming the kerb. As it reached him (recall that
shower) the horse slipped, stumbled, came on its knees.

Down came the shafts; out shot the girl.

The doors were wide; the impetus took her in her stride. One tiny foot
dabbed at the platform’s edge; the other twinkled--patent leather and
silver buckle--at the step, missed it, plunged with a giant stride for
the pavement.

“Mercy!” she cried, and came like a shower of roses swirling into
George’s arms.

Completely he caught her. About his legs whipped her skirts; against him
pressed her panting bosom; his arms--the action was instinctive--locked
around her; the adorable perfume of her came on him like breeze from a
violet bed; her very cheek brushed his lips--since the first kiss it was
the nearest thing possible to a kiss.

She twisted backwards. Modesty chased alarm across her face--caught,
battled, overcame it; flamed triumphant.

Fright at her accident drove her pale; shame at the manner of her
descent--leg to the knee and an indelicacy of petticoats--agitated she
had glimpsed it as she leapt--flushed her crimson from the line of her
dress about her throat to the wave of her hair upon her brow.

She twisted back. “Oh, what must you think of me?” she gasped.

He simply could not say.



CHAPTER VII.

Moving Passages With A Heroine.



I.

George could not say.

His senses were washed aswim by this torrent of beauty poured unexpected
through eyes to brain. It surged the centres to violent commotion, one
jostling another in a whirlpool of conflict. Out of the tumult alarm
flashed down the wires to his heart--set it banging; flashed in wild
message to his tongue--locked it.

The driver in our brains is an intolerable fellow in sudden crisis. He
loses his head; distracted he pulls the levers, and, behold, in a moment
the thing is irrevocably done; we are a coward legging it down the
street, a murderer with bloody hand, a liar with false words suddenly
pumped.

A moment later the driver is calm and aghast at the ruin he has
contrived. Why, before God, did he pull the leg lever?--the arm
lever?--the tongue lever? In an instant’s action he has accomplished
calamity; where sunshine laughed now darkness heaps; where the prospect
smiled disaster now comes rolling up in thunder.

These are your crises. Again, as now with George, the driver becomes
temporarily idiot--stands us oafishly silent, or perhaps jerks out some
stupid words; remembers when too late the quip that would have
fetched the laugh, the thrust that would have sped the wound. He is an
intolerable fellow.

“Oh, what must you think of me?”

That pause followed while the driver in George’s brain stood gapingly
inactive; and then came laughter to him like a draught of champagne. For
the girl put up her firm, round chin and laughed with a clear pipe of
glee--a laugh to call a laugh as surely as a lark’s note will set a
hedge in song; and it called the laugh in George.

He said: “I am thinking the nicest things of you. But have you dropped
from the skies?”

“From a _cab_,” she protested.

She turned to the road; back to George in dismay, for the catapult, its
bullet shot, had bolted up the street--was gone from view.

“Oh!--I _was_ in a cab?” she implored.

George said: “It _looked_ like a cab. But a fairy-car, I think.”

A pucker of her brows darkened the quick mirth that came to her eyes.
She cried: “Oh, don’t joke. She will be killed.”

“You were not alone?”

“No--oh, no! What has happened to her?”

“We had better follow.”

She corrected his number. “Yes, I had better. Thank you so much for your
help.” She took a step; faltered upon it with a little exclamation of
pain; put a white tooth on her lip.

“You have hurt your foot?” George said.

“My ankle, I think. Oh dear!” and then again she laughed.

It came even then to George that certainly she would have made her
fortune were she to set up a gloom-exorcising bureau--waiting at the end
of a telephone wire ready to rush with that laugh to banish the imps of
melancholy. Never had he heard so infectious a note of mirth.

“Oh, what must you think of me?” she ended. “I simply cannot help
laughing, you know--and yet, oh dear!”

She put the tips of the fingers of a hand against her lower lip, gazed
very anxiously up the road, and then again she gave that clear pipe of
laughter.

“I can’t help it,” she told him imploringly. “I simply cannot help
laughing. It is funny, you know. She was scolding me--”

“_Scolding_!” George exclaimed.

That beauty should be scolded!

“Scolding--yes. Oh, I’m only a--well, scolding me, and I was wishing,
_wishing_ I could escape. And then suddenly out I shot. And then I look
around and she’s--” A wave of her hand expressed a disappearance that
was by magic agency.

“But, _scolding_?” George said. “Need you trouble? She will be all
right.”

“Oh, I must. I live with her.”

“Will she trouble about you?”

“I think she will return for me. Please, _please_ go--would you
mind?--to the corner, and see if there has been an accident.”

From that direction a bicyclist approached. George hailed. “Is there a
cab accident round the corner?”

The youth stared; called “Rats!”; passed.

George interpreted: “It means No. Do you think if you were to take my
arm you could walk to the turning?”

Quite naturally she slipped a white glove around his elbow. The contact
thrilled him. “No nice girl, you know, would do this,” she said, “with a
perfect stranger.”

George bent his arm a little, the better to feel the pressure of those
white fingers. “I am not really perfect,” he told her.

She took his mood. “Nor I really nice,” she joined. “In fact, I’m
horrible--they tell me. But I think it is wise to follow, don’t you?”

“Profoundly wise. Who says you are horrible?”

She gave no answer. Glancing, he saw trouble shade her eyes, tremble her
lips.

That beauty should know distress!

Very slightly he raised his forearm so that the lock of his elbow felt
her hand. He had no fine words. This George was no hero with exquisite
ways. He was a most average young man, and nothing could he find but
most painfully average words.

“I say, what’s up?” he asked.

She spoke defiantly; but some stupid something that she hated yet could
not repress trembled her lips, robbed her tone of its banter. “What’s
up?” she said. “Why, _you_ would say something was up if you’d just been
shot plump out of a cab, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, but you were laughing a minute ago.” He looked down at her,
but she turned her face. “Now, now, I believe--” He did not name his
thought.

She looked up. Her pretty face was red. He saw little flutters of
eyelids, flutters round the eyes, flutters at the mouth. “Oh,” she said,
“oh, yes, and I don’t know why. I’m--I believe--” She tried to laugh,
but the little flutterings clouded the smile like soft, dark wings
flickering upon a sunbeam.

“I believe--it’s ridiculous to a perfect--imperfect--stranger--I believe
I’m nearly--crying.”

And this inept George could only return: “I say--oh, I say, can I help
you?”

She stopped; from his arm withdrew her hand. “Please--I think you had
better go. Please go. Oh, I shall hate myself for behaving like this.”

So unhappy she was that George immediately planned her a backdoor of
excuse. “But you have no occasion to blame yourself,” he told her.
“You’ve had an adventure--naturally you’re shaken a bit.”

She was relieved to think he had misunderstood her agitation. “Yes, an
adventure,” she said, “that’s it. And I haven’t had an adventure for
years, so naturally--But, please, I think you had better go. If my--my
friend saw me with you like this she would be angry--oh, very angry.”

“But why? She saw you fall. She saw me save you.”

“You don’t understand. She is not exactly my friend; she is my--my
employer. I’m a mother’s-help.”

The mirth that never lay deep beneath those blue eyes of hers was
sparkling up now; the soft, dark wings were fluttering no longer.

She continued: “A mother’s-help. Doesn’t that sound wretched? I’m
terribly slow at learning the mother’s-help rules, but I’m positive
of this rule--mothers’ helps may not shoot out of cabs and leave the
mother; it’s such little help--you must see that?”

“But you will be less help still if you stay here for ever with your
hurt ankle--you must see that? I must stay with you or see you to your
home.”

When she answered, it was upon another change of mood. The soft, dark
wings were fluttering again; and it was the banter of George’s tone
that had recalled them. For this was an adventure--and she had not known
adventure for years; for these were flippant exchanges arising out of
gay young hearts, and they recalled memories of days when such harmless
bantering was of her normal life; for there had been sympathy in
George’s stammering inquiries, and it recalled the time when she lived
amidst sympathy and amidst love.

The soft, dark wings fluttered again: “I am very grateful to you for
helping me,” she told him. “You must not think me ungrateful; only, I
think you had better go. In my position I am not free to--to do as I
like, talk where I will. You understand?” Her voice trembled a little,
and she repeated: “You understand?”

George said, “I understand.”



II.

And that was all that passed upon this meeting. A cab swung round the
opposite corner; pulled up with a rattle; turned towards them; was
alongside. Within, a brow of thunder sat.

The cabman called, “I knowed you was all right, miss,” raised the trap,
and cheerfully repeated the information to his fare: “I knowed she was
all right, mum.”

The mum addressed gave no congratulation to his prescience. He shut the
lid; winked at George; behind his hand communicated, “Not ‘arf angry,
she ain’t.”

The girl ran forward; agitation bound up her hurt ankle. “Oh!” she
cried, “I am so glad you are safe!”

The thunder-figure addressed said: “Please get in. I have had a severe
shock.”

“This gentleman--” The girl half turned to George.

“Please get in--instantly.”

Scarlet the girl went. “Thank you very much,” she said to George;
climbed in beside the cloud of wrath.

Her companion slammed the door; dabbed at George a bow that was like a
sharp poke with a stick; called, “Drive on.”

George stepped into the road, held half a crown to the driver: “The
address?”

The man stooped. With a tremendous wink answered, “Fourteen Palace
Gardens, St. John’s Wood.”

Away with a jingle.



CHAPTER VIII.

Astonishing After-Effects Of A Heroine.



I.

George did not return to St. Peter’s that afternoon; watched the cab
from view; walked back to Waterloo; thence took train to Paltley Hill
with mind awhirl.

Recovering from stunning shock the mind first sees a blur of
events--formless, seething, inextricably tangled. Deep in this boiling
chaos is one fact struggling more powerfully than the rest to cool and
so to shape itself. It kicks a leg free here, there an arm, then another
leg. Its exertions cause the whole more furiously to agitate--the brain
is afire. Very suddenly this struggling fact jumps free. Laid hold of it
is a cold spoon which, plunged back into the seething cauldron, arrests
the turmoil of its contents.

Or again, recovering from sudden shock the mind first sees a great
whirling, blinding cloud of dust which hides and wreathes about the
sudden topple of masonry that has provoked it. Here the slowly emerging
fact may be likened to a clear gangway through the ruin up which the
fevered owner may walk to investigate the catastrophe’s cause and
extent.

So now with George. If not dazed by stunning shock, he was at least
awhirl by set back of the swift sequence of events which suddenly
had buffeted him; and it was not until strolling up from Paltley Hill
railway station to Herons’ Holt that one cooling fact emerged from which
he might make an ordered examination of what had passed.

The address that the cabman had given him was this fact--14 Palace
Gardens, St. John’s Wood. Here was the gangway through the pile of
disorder, and here George resolutely made a start of examining events in
place of wildly beating about through the dust of aimless conjectures.

He visualised this Palace Gardens residence. A gloomy house, he
suspected,--prison-like; its inhabitants warders, the girl their
captive. A beautiful picture was thus presented to this ridiculous
young man. For if the girl were indeed captive, warder-surrounded, how
gratefully her heart must press towards him who was no turnkey! The more
irksomely her captors held her, the more warmly would she remember him.
Subconsciously he hoped for a rattle of chains, a scourging with whips.
Every bond, every stroke would speed her spirit to the recollection of
their meeting.

But this delectable picture soon faded. Love--and this ridiculous George
vowed he was in love--love is a mental see-saw. The nicely-balanced
mind is set suddenly oscillating: now up, commandingly above the world,
intoxicated with the rush and the elevation; now down to depths made
horribly deep by contrast, wretchedly jarred by the bump.

A new thought impelled a downward jolt of this kind. Failing a gloomy
14 Palace Gardens, supposing the girl to be happily situated, it was
horribly improbable that she would give him a moment’s thought. This was
a most chilling idea. Shivering beneath the douche, George’s mind ran
back along the episode of their meeting to discover arguments that would
build up the chains and the whips.

Memories banked high on either side. In search of his desire George
gathered them haphazard, closely examined each.

It was an unsatisfactory business. Here was a memory. She had said
so-and-so. Yes; but, damn it, that might mean anything. He flung it
down; took another. She had said so-and-so. Yes; but, damn it, that
might have meant nothing.

This was very disturbing. He must systematically go through the whole
pile of memories--upon an ordered plan reconstruct each step of the
episode.

At first attempt it was a wretched business. Never was builder set to
work with bricks so impossible as the bricks of conversation with which
this reconstruction must be done. Each that the girl had supplied
might dovetail in as he would have it go; upon the other hand it fitted
equally well when twisted into the form in which, for all he knew, she
might have constructed it. The bricks George had himself supplied he
found even more disconcerting--they were stupid, ugly, laughable. He
shoved them in, and they grinned at him--mocked him. None the less
he persevered--he must get his answer; he must see both what she had
thought of him and if she were likely still to be thinking of him. And
at last the whole passage was reconstructed. He examined it, and once
more down came the see-saw with a most shattering bump: he had made
himself an idiot, and stood champion idiot if he believed she were
likely to remember him.

With a crash George sent the whole pile flying. Let him wander blindly
in the dust of imaginings rather than be tortured by the grim austerity
of ordered facts. More than this, there was one most comfortable memory
to which he desperately clung--that falter in her voice when she had
said “You understand?” Whenever, during that evening, doubt stirred and
bade him recognise himself for a fool, George flattened the ugly spectre
with the arm he contrived out of this memory.

It was a lusty weapon.

But a fresh vexation that lies in wait for all new lovers tore him when
he got to bed. In the darkness he set his mind solely to recalling the
girl’s face. The picture tantalisingly eluded him. Generalities he could
recall. She was fair, very, very fair; her hair was shining golden; but
how was it arranged? In desperation he squirmed off to her eyes--blue;
no, grey; no, blue. Damn it, he would forget whether she were black or
white in a minute. Her chin? Ah, he had that!--white and firm and round.
And her nose?--small, and a trifle tip-tilted. And her mouth?--her
mouth, oh, heaven, he could not fix her mouth! The distracted young man
tossed upon his pillow and went elsewhere. Distinctly he could remember
her little feet with those silver buckles, quite different from any
other feet. And she held herself slim and supple. Held herself? Why,
good heavens! she was tall, and he had been thinking of her as short!
This was appalling! He might meet her and pass her by. He might ... he
rushed into troubled slumber.



II.

The night gave him little rest. Whilst his body lay heavy, his brain,
feverishly active, chased through the hours glimpses of the queen of
his adventure. By early morning he was prodded into consciousness, and
awaked to find himself instantly confronted with a terrible affair. Into
his life, so he assured himself, had come a serious interest such as
that which the Dean had hoped for him.

Here, lying abed with fresh morning smiling in through the open window,
for the first time he looked forward, following the face he had pursued
through his dreams, into the future. Its chambers he found ghastly
barren. He visualised it as a vast unfurnished house. To the merry eye
with which two days ago he had looked upon the world, the picture,
had he then conjured it, would have given him no gloom. He would have
thought it a fine thing, this empty house that was his own--empty, but
representing freedom.

The matter was different now. Into this empty house had danced the girl.
Her gay presence discovered its barrenness. There was not a chair on
which she could sit, not a dish in the larder.

George recalled that tight little practice at Runnygate that might be
had for 400 pounds; went down to breakfast rehearsing a scene with his
uncle; was moody through the meal.



III.

The breakfast dragged past its close. Mr. Marrapit spoke. “The moments
fly,” he observed.

Margaret said earnestly: “Oh, yes, father.”

“I was addressing George.”

“Ur!” said George, suddenly aroused.

Mr. Marrapit looked at his watch; repeated his observation.

George read his meaning. “I thought of going up by the later train
to-day,” he explained.

“A dangerous thought. Crush it.” Mr. Marrapit continued: “Margaret, Mrs.
Major, I observe you have concluded”; and when the two had withdrawn
addressed himself again to George: “A dangerous thought. You recall our
conversation of the day before yesterday?”

“Perfectly.”

“Yet by later trains, by idleness, you deliberately imperil your
future?”

George did not answer the question. This was the very opportunity for
which he had wished. “I would like to talk about my future,” he said.

“I dare not dwell upon it,” replied Mr. Marrapit.

“I have to. I shall pass all right this time. I want to know--the fact
is, sir, I know I have slacked in the past; I am a man now, and I--I
regret it. I fully realise my responsibilities. You may rely that I
shall make a certainty of the October examination.”

“Commendable,” Mr. Marrapit criticised.

“I want to know what help I may expect when I qualify.”

“I cannot tell you.” Mr. Marrapit threw martyrdom into his tone. “I
am so little,” he said, “in your confidence. Your expectations when
qualified may be enormous. I am not favoured with them.” He sighed.

George said: “I mean what help I may expect from you.”

The piece of toast rising to Mr. Marrapit’s mouth slowly returned
towards his plate: “Reiterate that. From _me_?”

“From you,” said George.

The toast dropped from trembling fingers. “_I_?” Mr. Marrapit dragged
the word to tremendous length. “I? Is it conceivable that you expect
money from me?”

“I only ask.”

“I only shudder. Might I inquire the amount?”

“The Dean told me of a practice I could have for 400 pounds.”

“Tea!” exclaimed Mr. Marrapit on a gasp. “I must steady myself! Tea!” He
paused; gulped a cup; with alarmed eyes stared at George.

The affair was going no better than George had expected. He remembered
the face that was dear to him; nerved himself to continue. “I would pay
it back,” he said. “Will you lend me the 400 pounds?”

“I must have air!” Mr. Marrapit staggered to the window. “I reel before
this sudden assault. For nine years at ruinous cost I have supported
you. Must I sell my house? Am I never to be free? Must I totter always
through life with you upon my bowed back? I am Sinbad.”

“There’s no need to exaggerate or make a scene.”

“Did I impel the scene?”

“I only asked you a question,” George reminded.

“You have aroused a spectre,” Mr. Marrapit answered.

“Well, I may understand that I need expect nothing?”

“I dare not answer you. I am shaken. I tremble.”

George rose. Though what hope he had possessed was driven by his uncle’s
attitude, he was as yet only upon the threshold of his love. Hence the
refusal of what he suddenly desired for that love’s sake was not so
bitter an affair as afterwards it came to be. “This is ridiculous,” he
said; moved to the door.

“To me a tragedy,” Mr. Marrapit declaimed from the window, “old as
mankind; not therefore less bitter--the tragedy of ingratitude. At
stupendous cost I have supported, educated, clothed you. You turn
upon me for more. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a
thankless child! I am Lear.”

George tried a thrust: “I always understood my mother left you ample for
me.”

“Adjust that impression. She left me less than a sufficiency--nothing
approaching amplitude. To the best of my ability I have fulfilled
my task. It has been hard. I do not complain. I do not ask you for
repayment of any excess that may have been incurred. But I am embittered
by yet further demands. I have been too liberal. Had I meted out strict
justice as I have striven to mete out kindness, my grey hairs would not
be speeding in poverty to the grave. I am Wolsey.”

Upon Wolsey George slammed the door; started for the station.



IV.

Palace Gardens, St. John’s Wood, was his aim. There could be no work,
nor even thought of work, until again he had met his lady. Yet how to
meet her cost him another of the wrestles with conjecture that had been
his lot since the cab carried her away.

At first it was easy work. He would call, he decided, with polite
inquiries; and as he pictured the scene his spirits rose. The
thunder-figure that had poked a bow at him from the cab would come
dragonish into the drawing-room where he waited. Her he would charm with
the suavity of his manners; she would doff the dragon’s skin; would
say (he had read the scene in novels), “You would like to see Miss
So-and-so?”

The girl would come in ....

With her appearance in his thoughts George’s mind swung from coherent
reasoning into a delectable phantasy ....

A sudden thought swept the filmy clouds-landed him with a bump upon hard
rock. He was not supposed to know their address. How, to the dragon,
could he explain the venal trick by which he had acquired it? Now he
beheld a new picture. Himself in the drawing-room; to him the dragon;
her first words, “How did you know where we lived?”; his miserable
answer.

This was very unpleasant. As a red omnibus took him on towards St.
John’s Wood he decided that the meeting must be otherwise effected. The
girl must sometimes go out. She had called herself a mother’s-help; it
suggested children; and, if children, doubtless her task to take them
walking. Well, he would take up a post near to the house, and wait--just
wait.

And then there came a final thought that struck him cold and staring.
What if she did not live at the house?--was merely about to visit there
when the accident befell the cab?

It was a sorely agitated young man that stepped off the ‘bus and struck
up Palace Gardens.



BOOK II.

Of his Mary.



CHAPTER I.

Excursions In The Memory Of A Heroine.



I.

AS that cab swung round the corner bearing away the nameless haunter of
George’s dreams, she to the red wrath beside her turned, and, “Oh, Mrs.
Chater,” she said, “I hope you are not hurt!”

By a mercy Mrs. Chater was not hurt. By a special intervention of
Providence she had escaped a fearful death. Whether she would ever
recover from the shock was another matter. Whether the shock would prove
to be that sudden strain on her heart which she had been warned would
end fatally, might at any moment be proved. Much anybody, except her
darling children, would care if she were brought home dead in this very
cab. Never had she known a heart to act as hers was acting now--thumping
as if it would burst, first quickly then slowly. Perhaps Miss Humfray
would feel it, and give her opinion.

Where the girl now laid her small hand five infant Chaters had been
nourished; the massive bosom was advertisement that they had done
well. Beneath the mingled gusts of hysteria and of wrath it violently
contracted and dilated; but the heart, terrificly though Mrs. Chater
said it throbbed, lay too deep to be discerned.

The agitated woman panted, “Can it go on like that?”

“I’m afraid I hardly--” Miss Humfray shifted her hand.

“_Stupid!_ Take off your glove!”

The white kid clung to the warm flesh. Nervous and clumsy the girl
struggled with it.

“Miss _Humfray!_ How slow you are! _Pull_ it!”

Mrs. Chater grabbed the turned-back wrist. A crack answered the jerk,
and the glove split away in her hand. “_There!_ Not my fault. Next time,
perhaps, you will buy gloves sufficiently large. Oh, my poor heart! Now,
feel. _Press!_”

The girl bit her lip. Humiliation lumped in her throat. She pressed, as
bid, into that heaving blouse; said she could feel it. It was not very
violent, she thought. Perhaps if Mrs. Chater lay back and closed her
eyes--

“_I_ was not able to jump out, you see,” said Mrs. Chater, sinking.

“Oh, you don’t think I _jumped_ out--and left you? I _wouldn’t_.
Besides, it is the most dangerous thing to do. That would have prevented
me in any case. I was thrown. I thought I was going to be killed.”

“You were with a young man.”

“He caught me.”

The words came faintly. Nearly the girl was crying. That lump in her
throat seemed to be squeezing tears from her eyes--silly tears. She
did not want Mrs. Chater’s sympathy, yet could not but reflect what
disregard for her the utter absence of inquiry showed. Bitter thoughts
yet more dangerously squeezed the tears. She was a paid _thing_, that
was all--not even a servant. Mrs. Chater was on kindly terms with her
servants--had experienced the servant problem and craftily evaded it by
the familiarity that was too useful to produce contempt--knew her maids’
young men, entered into their quarrels with their young men, read their
young men’s letters.



II.

Gazing through the cab window, pressed into her corner, the girl felt
herself friendless, outcast, alone. Again she told herself that she did
not want Mrs. Chater’s sympathy; yet it was the studied withholding of
it--studied or callous because so natural, the merest conventionalism,
to have asked, “Were you hurt?”--that made her acutely feel her
position.

A paradox, she thought, not to want a thing and yet to be wounded
because it was not hers. A ridiculous paradox--and brightly she tried to
smile at the silliness of it; blinking the tears that were swelling now,
her face turned against the window towards the pavement.

A tall, slim girl was passing, holding the arm of a nice-looking little
old man with a grey moustache and military air. The tall, slim girl
was laughing down at him, and he looked to be chuckling merrily, just
as--Her mind swung off, and the tears must be blinked again.

They reminded her, those two, of herself and her father. Such familiar
friends as they looked so she had been with Dad who idolised her
and whom she had idolised. Just like that--arm in arm, joking,
“ragging”--she used to walk with him round about the home in
Ireland--the world to one another and none else in the world, except the
mother who was so intimately and inseparably of them that years past her
death they still spoke of her as if she were alive.

Thus, long after her death, it would be: “Dad, we can’t go home by the
hill; mother never lets Grizzle do that climb after a long day.” And:
“Mary, your mother won’t like you being so late; we must turn back.”
 And: “Mary, there’s the pig by mother’s almond tree; run and shoo him.”

Partly this refusal to recognise that, though dead, Mother was actually
gone from them, no longer was sharing their little jokes and duties, was
because death came with such steady, appreciable, unfrightening steps.
First the riding stopped, and then the walks made shorter and shorter;
then the strolls in the garden stopped, and then carrying the couch out
under the trees--and none of them very fearful, because prepared: it was
to be--almost the very day could have been named. Thus, when it came,
though the blow swooped heavy, terrific, she never seemed actually to
have left them.

“Well, now, dear dears,” she had said with a little smile and a little
sigh, “we have been happy ... only a little way away....”

But with Dad it was different. Somehow, looking back on it, one had
supposed that nothing would ever touch the cheery little man; that
she and he would go on and on and on--well, till they grew very old
together.

Nothing could ever touch him....

“What a wicked beauty, eh, Mary?” he had said when the man brought round
the half-broken filly that its owner “funked.”

And she had laughed and said: “Yes, an angel in a temper--what a run you
will have, Dad!” and had waved from the gate as the angel in a temper
curveted away around the corner.

Nothing could ever touch him....

And then the man on a bicycle--with a dent in his hat, she noticed.

“If you can come quickly, missy. Top of the Three Finger field he lays.”

Bare-backed she had galloped Grizzle there, and as she sped could not
for the life of her think of aught else than the dent in the man’s hat;
rode up Three Finger Lane wondering how it came there; approached the
little group wondering why he did not push it out.

Just as she galloped up they took off their hats. Someone who had been
on his knees stood upright--she saw the stain of wet earth where he had
been kneeling; forgot the dented hat; wondered if he knew of the Marvel
Cleaning Pad that had done so wonderfully with Dad’s breeches when he
took a toss last Friday.

Dad...! Of course...! It was to see Dad that she was here.

Somebody tried to dissuade her ... better wait till they brought him
home ... could do no good--now.

“Why? Why not see him? Let me pass, Mr. Saunders.”

Well, the filly lay across him ... he had begged them not to move her
because of the pain.... Better come away.

She pushed through them.... Yes, better perhaps not to have seen ... all
crumpled up....

Recollecting, she could feel distinctly in her knees the creepy damp as
the moisture of the marshy ground penetrated her skirts, bending over
the twisted face.



III.

Thereafter a blank of days in which events must have occurred but
to which memory brought no lamp until the faint crunch as the coffin
touched the earth seven feet down....

Multitudinous papers after that. Wearying, sickening masses of
documents; interminable writing of signature; interminable making of
lists. And then the word LOT. “Lot I,” “Lot 2,” “Lot 50,” “Lot 200”--a
hammerlike word to thump the brain at night, frightening sleep,
producing grotesque nightmares, as “Lot 12, a polished oak coffin,
finished plain, brass Handles.”

No! No! That was not to be sold!--leaden hands holding her down;
stifling hands at her mouth to stay her shouting “Stop!”

Then sudden consciousness--only a dream! Bolt upright in bed staring
into the darkness. A dream? How much of it a dream? Was it all a dream?
The fevered brain would fetch her from her bed, groping to Dad’s
room, striking a match--no familiar form upon the bed; a big white
ticket--“Lot 56.”

Back to the hot, crumpled couch, there, tossing, to lie attempting a
grasp, a realisation of what it all meant....



IV.

A dark little office in Dublin.... So much the “Lots” had fetched, so
much the balance at the bank; no investments, it was to be feared; no
insurance, my dear Miss Humfray; so much the bills and other claims on
the estate.... “Don’t wish to be bothered with figures? Of course not,
my dear.... And then we come to the balance--I’m afraid a few pounds,
practically nothing....”



V.

On the steamer bound for Holyhead.... During the crossing the stifling
weight that had benumbed her intellect ever since the man with the dent
in his hat came riding up the drive seemed suddenly to lift. Whipped
away perhaps by the edged wind that rushed past her from England to
Ireland sinking in the sea--a wind to cut you to the bone; discovering
sensation in every marrow; stinging her to clear thought.... That
idyllic life with Mother and Dad--the world to one another and none else
in the world beside--had been rather the creation of circumstance than
of design. Dad’s people were furious when he married Mother; in defiance
of hers, Mother married Dad. Relations on either side had shrieked their
disapproval of the match, then left the couple to their own adventures.
A thing to laugh at in those days, but bringing now to the child that
was left the realisation of not a support in the world.

Her mother’s sisters had written after the funeral inviting her to come
to them in England “while she looked about her.” She could recall every
sentence of that letter. It had burned. Each word, each comma was fresh
before her eyes as the cab jolted on to Palace Gardens.

“It would have been our pleasure constantly to have entertained you
during your mother’s life-time,” they had written, “but she wilfully
flouted our desires at her marriage and thereafter utterly ignored us.
The fault for the rift between us was of her making, not ours; we sent
her an Easter card one year, and had no reply; though we have no
doubt that your father, not that we would say a word against him now,
influenced her against her better judgment. However....”

She had written back a hysterical letter.

“Your letter came just after I had returned from burying my dear, dear
father, who worshipped my darling mother. If I were begging in the
street, starving, dying, I would not touch a crumb or a penny of
yours. You are wicked--yes, you are wicked to write to me as you have
written....”



VI.

She could not stay in Ireland. Her only friends there lived about the
dear home that was now no longer a home but a “desirable residence with
some acres of garden and paddock.” Her only friends there were friends
who had been shared with Mother and Dad--whose presence now would be
constant reminder of that happy participation now lost. One and all
offered her hospitality, but she must refuse. “No, no silly idea of
being a burden to you, dear, dear Mrs. Sullivan--only I can’t, can’t
live anywhere near where we used to live.”

Years before a great friend of hers had married an English clergyman;
had written often to her from London of the numerous activities in which
she was engaged--principal among them a kind of agency and home for
gentlewomen. “Governesses, dear, and all that kind of thing ... poor
girls, many of them, who have suddenly had to earn a living.”

The correspondence had died, as do so many, from the effects of undue
urgency at the outset; but she had the address, and was certain there of
welcome and of aid. “Poor girls who have suddenly had to earn a living.”
 The words took on a new meaning: she was of these.

From Euston she drove to the address. Her friend had gone. Yes, the
present occupant remembered the name. The present occupant had been
there two years; had taken over the lease from the former tenant because
the lady was ill and had been ordered abroad. That was all the present
occupant knew; saw her to the door; closed it behind her.

Alone in London. “Alone in London”--it had been one of Dad’s jokes; he
had written a burlesque on it, and they had played it one Christmas
to roars of fun. O God! what a thing at which to laugh now that the
realisation struck and one stood on the pavement in the dark with this
great city roaring at one!

Cabmen, she had heard, were brutes; but the man who had brought her
to the house must be appealed to.... Where could she get the cheapest
lodging of some kind?

How did he know? What was she wanting to pay? ...

The great city roared at her. Her head swum a little. An idler or two
took up a grinning stand: the thing looked like a cab-fare dispute....
What was she wanting to pay? ... Well, as little as possible. “I have
never been in London before, and I don’t know anybody. My friend here
has gone. I have just arrived from Ireland.” She began to cry.

He from his box in a moment. “From Ireland!”

Why, he was from Ireland! ... Not likely she was from Connemara? ... She
was? ... From Kinsloe? ... Why, he knew it well; he was from Ballydag!

He rolled his tongue around other names of the district; she knew them
all; could almost have laughed at the silly fellow’s delight.

Why, the honour it would be if she would come and let his missus make
her up a bed! “Don’t ye cry, missie. Don’t ye take on like that. It’s
all right ye are now.” He put a huge, roughly great-coated arm about
her--squeezed her, she believed; helped her into the cab.



VII.

Missus in the clean little rooms over the rattling mews was no less
delighted. From Kinsloe? Why, missie saw that canary?--that was a
present from Betty Murphy in Kinsloe, not three months before!

The canary, aroused by the attention paid it, trilled upward in a
mounting ecstasy of shrillness that went up and up and up through her
head ... louder and louder ... shriller and yet more shrill ... bird and
cage became misty, swum around her.... Missus and Tim must have carried
her to the bed in which she awoke.



VIII.

Friends in Ireland had given her the addresses of friends in London
on whom she must call. She visited some houses; then in a sudden wild
despair tore the list. Either these people were dense of comprehension
or she clumsy of explanation. To make them realise her position she
found impossible. They were warmly kind, sympathetic--cheery in that
lugubrious fashion in which we are taught to be “bright” with the
afflicted. But when she spoke of the necessity to find employment they
would warmly cry, “Oh, but you must not think of that yet, Miss Humfray
... after all you have been through.... You must keep quiet for a
little.”

One and all gave her the same words. An impulse took her to kick over
the tea-table--anything to arouse these people from their stereotyped
mood of sympathy with a girl suddenly bereaved,--and to cry, “But don’t
you _understand_? I am living over a mews--over a _mews_ with twelve
pounds and a few shillings, and then _nothing_--nothing at all.”

Wise, perhaps, had she indulged the outburst without the action; wiser
had she written to some of the friends in Ireland, asked to go back to
one of them for a while. But the dull grief beneath which she still lay
benumbed prevented her from other course than tonelessly accepting
the proffered sympathy; and the thought of returning to Ireland was
impossible. She tore the list of London friends; appealed to Tim and
Missus.

Tim was helpful. He had taken fares to an Agency in Norfolk Street--an
Agency for “Disturbed Gentlewomen,” he called it; there took her one
morning.

“Distressed Gentlewomen,” she found the brass plate to read--“The
Norfolk Street Agency for Distressed Gentlewomen.”

A lymphatic-looking young woman, assisting the growth of a singularly
stout face by sucking a sweet, and wearing brown holland sleeve
protectors hooked up with enormous safety-pins, received her in the room
marked “Enquiries”; put her into that labelled “Waiting.” Here were two
copies of the _Christian Herald_, some emigration pamphlets, a carafe
of water covered by an inverted tumbler dusty with disuse, and three
elderly females--presumably gentlewomen, possibly distressed, but not
advertising either condition.

In due time her turn for the room marked “Private”; interrogation by
Miss Ram, a short, thin lady in black, who bowed more frequently than
she spoke, possessing a range of inclinations of the head each of which
had unmistakable meaning.

Position sought?--Oh, anything; governess, companion. Last
situation?--None; she was inexperienced. Capabilities?--Equally lacking,
as discovered by a probing cross-examination. Salary required?--Oh,
anything; whatever was usual; a _home_--that was the chief object in
view.

Miss Ram entered the details in a severe-looking book with a long
thin pen--could hold out but faint hopes. The applicants whom she was
accustomed to suit were “in nine and ninety cases out of one hundred
cases” accomplished in the domestic or scholastic arts. However. Yes,
Miss Humfray should call every morning. Better still, stay in the
waiting-room. Be On the Spot--that was the first requisite for success,
as Miss Humfray would find whether in a situation or awaiting a
situation; be On the Spot.



IX.

On the Spot. A nightmare week in the dingy waiting-room ... thoughts
probing the mind, stabbing the heart.... Nine till one, a cup of tea
and a roll at an A.B.C. shop, an aimless walk in the park; two till six,
good-night to the stout young woman named Miss Porter in “Enquiries,”
 home to the rattling mews and to Missus.

On the Spot. Occasional interviews. “Miss Humfray, a lady will see you.”
 ... “Oh, too young--far too young.” ... “Thank you, that will do, Miss
Humfray.” ... “Oh, not my style at all.” ... “Thank you, that will do,
Miss Humfray.”

On the Spot. Fortunately On the Spot one day--a Mrs. Eyton-Eyton, as
nursery governess, Streatham.

For a week very much On the Spot with Mrs. Eyton-Eyton. Nursery
governess was a comprehensive word in the Eyton-Eyton vocabulary;
covered every duty that in a nursery must be performed. One must do
the nursery fire, sweep the nursery floor, bring up and carry down the
nursery meals--servants, you see, object to waiting upon one whom, as
Mrs. Eyton-Eyton with a careless laugh pointed out, they regard as one
of themselves. Quickly the lesson was appreciated that while a servant
must never be “put upon,” the same consideration need not be extended to
a lady. Servants are rare in the market, young ladies cheap.



X.

The lesson of dependence, subserviency, Mary found harder in the
learning; did not study it; therein reaped disaster.

She arrived on a Tuesday. Upon that day of the following week Mrs.
Eyton-Eyton paid to the nursery one of her rare visits, beautifully
gowned, the hired victoria waiting to take her a round of calls.

Lunch, delayed not to disturb the midday sleep of Masters Thomas and
Richard Eyton-Eyton, was not cleared--Master Thomas still struggling
with a plate of sago pudding.

Betwixt her children Mrs. Eyton-Eyton--beautifully gowned, hired
victoria in waiting--took her seat; Mary hovered behind--and catastrophe
swooped. Master Thomas grabbed for a glass of milk; Mary strove to
restrain him. There was an awkward struggle, her elbow--or his--caught
the plate of pudding, tipped the sticky mass into the silken lap of Mrs.
Eyton-Eyton, beautifully gowned, hired victoria in waiting.

Infuriated, Mrs. Eyton-Eyton turned upon Mary. “Oh, you little fool!”

The rebuke that should have been taken with downcast eyes, murmured
apologies, was otherwise received.

“Mrs. Eyton! How dare you call me a fool!”

Pause of blank amazement; sago-messed table-napkin in the scented hand;
sago creeping down the silken skirt. That a nursery governess--not even
a servant--should so presume!

“Miss Humfray! You forget yourself!”

“No!-No! It is you who forget yourself. How dare you speak to me like
that!”

Another moment of utter bewilderment; small Eyton-Eytons gazing
round-eyed; the girl white, heaving; the woman dully red. Then “Pack
your boxes, Miss!”



XI.

She was upon the platform at Victoria Station, a porter asking commands
for her box, before she realised what she had done. A few pounds in her
purse, and infinitely worse off now than a week before. Then she had no
“character”; now employment was to be sought with Mrs. Eyton-Eyton as
her “last place.” She would not go back to Missus and Tim. Though they
had tried to conceal it, secretly, she had seen, they were relieved
when she left. They had not accommodation for her; latterly she had
dispossessed of his bed a sailor son on leave from his ship.

She left her box in the cloak-room; turned down Wilton Road from the
station; penetrated the narrow thoroughfares between Lupus Street and
the river; secured a bedroom with Mrs. Japes at six shillings a week.

Miss Ram at the Agency would have no more to do with her; had received a
furious letter from Mrs. Eyton-Eyton; showed in the ledger a cruel line
of red ink ruled through the page that began “Name: Mary Humfray,” and
ended “Salary:--”

“But I don’t know a soul in London.”

“You had a very comfortable place. You threw it away. I have a
reputation for reliable employees which I cannot afford to risk.”

A bow closed the interview.



XII.

It was her landlady’s husband, an unshaven, shifty-looking horror, who
dealt her, as it seemed to her then, the last furious blow.

Returning one evening after an aimless search for employment in shops
that had earned her rude laughter for her utter inexperience and her
presumption in supposing her services could be of any value, she found
Mrs. Japes in convulsive tears, speechless.

What was the matter? Hysterical jerks of the head towards the stairs. Up
to her room--the cause clear in her rifled box, its contents scattered
across the floor, the little case in which with her pictures of Mother
and Dad she kept her money gone.

A little raid by Mr. Japes, it appeared, in which Mrs. Japes’s property
had also suffered.... He had done it before ... a bad lot ... had done
time ... the rent overdue and the brokers coming in ... she’d best go
... of course she could tell the police.

Of course she did not tell the police. The whole affair bewildered and
frightened her.

To another lodging three streets away.... Initiation by the new landlady
into the mysteries of pawnshops; gradual thinning of wardrobe....
Answering of advertisements found in the public library in Great Smith
Street.... Long, feet-aching trudges to save omnibus fares.... Always
the same outcome. ... Experience?--None. References?--None.... “Thank
you; I’m afraid--I’m sure it’s all right, but one has to be so careful
nowadays. Good morning.” ... Always the same outcome.... The idea of
writing to Ireland was hardly conceived. ... That life, those friends,
seemed of a period that was dead, done, gone--ages and ages ago....



XIII.

Again it was a man who dealt the deeper blow--a gentlemanly-looking
person of whom in Wilton Road one evening she asked the way to an
address copied from the _Daily Telegraph_. Why, by an extraordinary
coincidence he was going that way himself, to that very house!--flat,
rather. Yes, it was his mother who was advertising for a lady-help.
Might he show her the way? ... It would be very kind of him.

Through a maze of streets, he chatting pleasantly enough, though putting
now and then curious little questions which she could not understand....
Hadn’t he seen her at the Oxford one night? ... Assuredly he had not;
what was the Oxford?

He laughed, evidently pleased. “Gad, you do keep it up!” he cried.

So to a great pile of flats; up a circular stair.

“You understand why I can’t use the lift?” he said. “They’re beastly
particular here.”

She did not understand; supposed it was some question of expense. Thus
to a door where he took out a latch-key.

It was then for the first moment that a sudden doubt, a horror, took
her, trembling her limbs.

She looked up at the figures painted over the door.

“Why, it is the wrong number!” she cried.

He had turned the key. “Lord! you do keep it up!” he laughed, his hand
suddenly about her arm.

Then she knew, and dragged back, sweating with the horror of the thing.

“Ah, let me go--let me go!”

“Oh, chuck it, you little ass!” His arm was about her waist now,
dragging her; his face close.

With a sudden twist and thrust that took him by surprise she wrenched
from his grasp; was a flight of stairs away before he had recovered his
wits; across the hall and running--shaking, hysterical--down the street.



XIV.

Thereafter men were a constant horror to her--adding a new and most
savage beast to the wolves of noise, of desolation and of despair that
bayed about her in this grinding city. Unable longer to face them, she
went again to Miss Ram at the Agency--almost upon her knees, crying,
trembling, pitching her tale from the man with the dent in his hat to
the man in Wilton Road.

Miss Ram was moved to the original depths that lay beneath her grim
exterior; had never realised the actual circumstances; would do what she
could; no need to be frightened.

Two days later Mary was unpacking her box at 14 Palace Gardens. No
sharpness, no slight now could prick her spirit; she had learned too
well; she would not face those streets again.

That was eighteen months, close upon two years ago. Wounds were
healing now; old-time brightness was coming back to laugh at present
discomforts. It was only now and again--as now--that she, driven by some
sudden stress, allowed her mind backwards to wander--bruising itself in
those dark passages.

The cab stopped. She with a start came to the present; gulped a sob; was
herself.

Mrs. Chater said: “Run in quickly and mix me a brandy-and-soda.”



CHAPTER II.

Excursions In Vulgarity.


A violent dispute with the cabman set that disturbed heart yet more
wildly thumping in Mrs. Chater’s bosom; the sight of her husband
uneasily mooning in the dining-room heated her wrath to wilder
bubblings.

Mr. Chater--a ‘oly dam’ terror in Mincing Lane, if his office-boy may be
quoted--was an astonishingly mild man in his own house.

He said brightly, noting with a shiver the gusty stress of his wife’s
deportment: “You _drove_ up, my dear?--And quite right, too,” he hastily
added, upon a sudden fear that his remark might be interpreted as
reproach.

“How do you know?” Mrs. Chater’s nose went into the brandy-and-soda.

“I saw you from the window,” her husband beamed. He repeated, “The
window,” and nervously pointed at it. There was a strained atmosphere in
the room, and he was a little frightened.

“_Oh!_” Out from the brandy-and-soda came the nose; down went the glass
with an emphasising bang: “_Oh!_”

Mr. Chater gave a startled little jump. He saw, immediately he had
spoken, the misfortune into which his admission had plunged him; the
bang of the glass twanged his already apprehensive nerves, and he jerked
out, “Certainly, my dear,” without any clear grasp as to what he was
affirming.

“If you had been a _man_,” said Mrs. Chater, speaking with a slow and
extraordinary bitterness--“if you had been a _man_, you would have come
out and helped me.”

“But you had got out when I came to the window, my dear.”

“With the _cabman_, I mean.” Mrs. Chater fired the word with alarming
ferocity. “With the _cabman_. Did you not see that violent brute
insulting me?”

It was precisely because he had observed the episode that Mr. Chater had
kept well behind the curtain; but he did not adduce the fact.

“I certainly did not,” he affirmed.

“Ah! I expect you took precious good care not to. You’ve done the same
thing before. Never to my dying day shall I forget the figure you cut
outside Swan and Edgar’s last Christmas. Making me--”

Mr. Chater implored: “Oh, my dear, don’t drag that up again!”

“But I _do_ drag it up!” Mrs. Chater a little unnecessarily cried. “I
_do_ drag it up, and I shall always drag it up--making me a fool as you
did! I was ashamed of you. I was--”

Mr. Chater nervously wiped his moist palms with his pocket handkerchief:
“I’ve told you over and over again, my dear, that I never understood
the circumstances. There was a great crowd, and I was very much pushed
about. If I had known the circumstances--”

Mrs. Chater hurled back the word at him: “Circumstances!”

“My dear,” the agitated man replied, ticking off the points on soft
fingers, “my dear, I had gone to the window of Swan and Edgar’s, leaving
you, as you expressly desired, to pay the man _yourself_. When I came
_back_ to you, what I gathered was that the man was entitled to a
further _sixpence_ and that you had no _change_.”

Mrs. Chater lashed herself with the recollection: “Nothing of the kind!”
 she burst. “Nothing of the kind! What did the man say to you when you
asked what was the matter?”

“I quite forget.”

“You do not forget.”

“My dear, I really and truly do forget.”

“For the hundredth time, then, let me tell you. He said that if you
pushed your ugly mug into it he would knock off your blooming head.”

“Did he say _mug?_” asked Mr. Chater, assuming the air of one who,
knowing this at the time, would have committed a singularly ferocious
murder.

“Well you know that he _did_ say mug--_ugly_ mug. Was _that_ a thing for
a man of spirit to take quietly? Was _that_ a thing for a wife to
hear bawled at her husband in the open street with the commissionaire
grinning behind his hand? To my dying day I shall never forget my
humiliation when you handed him sixpence.”

The unhappy husband murmured: “I do so wish you could, my dear.”

Mrs. Chater shook, handled her troops with the skill of a perfect
tactician, and hurled in the attack upon another quarter.

She said: “Ah, now insult me! Insult me before Miss Humfray! That’s
right! _That’s_ right! That’s what I’m accustomed to. We all have our
cross to bear, as the vicar said last Sunday, and open insult from my
husband is mine. I can’t complain; I married you with my eyes open.”

Mrs. Chater revealed this secret of her girlhood in a voice which
implied that most young women go through the ceremony with their eyes
tightly closed, mixed a second brandy-and-soda for her shattered nerves,
swallowed it with the air of one draining a poison flask by way of happy
release from martyrdom, banged down the glass, and, before her amazed
husband could open his lips, hammered in the attack from a third
quarter.

“Little you would have cared,” cried she, “if a miracle had not saved my
life this afternoon!”

Mr. Chater stood aghast. “My dearest! Saved you! From what?”

His dearest bitterly inquired: “What does it matter to you? You take no
interest. If my battered corpse--” Swept to tremendous heights by
the combined forces of her agitation, her imagination, and her two
brandys-and-sodas, she rose, pointed though the window. “If my battered
corpse had been carried up those steps by two policemen this very
afternoon, what would you have done, I wonder?”

Mr. Chater, apprehension creeping among the roots of his hair, affirmed
that he would have dropped dead in the precise spot at which he happened
to be standing at the moment.

Mrs. Chater trumpeted “Never!”--dropped to her chair, and continued.
“You would have been glad.” Her voice shook. “Glad--and in all this wide
world only my Bob and my blessed lambs in the nursery would have wept
o’er my body.”

Of so melancholy a character was the picture thus presented to her mind,
augmenting her previous agitation, that the tumult within her welled
damply through her eyes, with noisy distress through her lips.

Patting her distressed back, imploring her to calm, Mr. Chater begged
some account of the catastrophe from which she had escaped.

Between convulsive sobs she told him, he bridging the hiatuses of
emotion with “Oh-dear-oh-dears,” in which alarm and sympathy were nicely
mingled.

Painting details with a masterly hand, “And there was I alone,” she
concluded--“alone, at the mercy of a wild horse and a drunken cabman.”

“But Miss Humfray was with you?”

“Miss Humfray managed to jump out and leave me.”

Through all this scene--in one form or another a matter of daily
occurrence, and therefore not to arouse interest--Mary had stood waiting
its cessation and her orders. Mr. Chater turned upon her. Naturally
disposed to be kind to the girl, he yet readily saw in his wife’s
statement a way of escape from the castigation he had been enduring.
As the small boy who has been kicked by the bully will with delighted
relief rush to the bully’s aid when the kicks are at length turned to
another, urging him on so that he may forget his first prey, so Mr.
Chater, delighted at his fortune, eagerly joined in turning his wife’s
wrath to Mary’s head. For self-preservation, at whatever cost to
another, is the most compelling of instincts: its power great in
proportion as we have allowed our fleshly impulses to master us. If,
when they prompt, we coldly and impersonally regard them, find
them unworthy and crush them back humiliated, they become in time
disciplined--wither and die. In proportion as we permit them, upon the
other hand, they come in time to drive us with a fierceness that cannot
be checked.

Mr. Chater had disciplined no single impulse that came to him with his
flesh.

In pious horror he turned upon the girl.

“Managed to jump out!” he exclaimed, speaking as one re-echoing a horror
hardly to be believed.

“Managed to jump out! Miss Humfray, I would not have thought it of you!”

She cried: “Mr. Chater, I fell!”

Disregarding, and with a deeper note of pained reproach, he continued:
“So many ties, I should have thought, would have bound you to my wife
in such an emergency--the length of time you have been with us;
the unremitting kindness she has shown you, treating you as one of
ourselves, in sickness tending you, bountifully feeding and clothing
you, going out of her way to make you happy. Oh, Miss Humfray!”

The strain on his invention paused him. Mrs. Chater, moved by this
astonishing revelation of her love, assumed an air in keeping--an air
of some pain but no surprise at such ingratitude. She warmed to this
husband who, if no hero in the matter of ferocious cabmen, could at
least champion her upon occasion.

Mary cried: “But I did not jump out! Indeed I did not, Mr. Chater; I
fell.”

Mrs. Chater said _“Fell!”_ With sublime forbearance she added, “Never
mind; the incident is past.”

“Mrs. Chater, you must know that I fell out. I was leaning out--you had
asked me to see the name of the street--when the horse stumbled.”

“It is curious,” said Mrs. Chater, with a pained little smile, “that you
managed to ‘fall out’ before the horse could recover and bolt.”

“Very, very curious,” Mr. Chater echoed.

How hateful they were, the girl felt. She broke out: “I--”

“Miss Humfray, that is enough. Help me upstairs. I will lie down.”

Mr. Chater jumped brightly to the bell. “My dear, do; I will send you a
hot-water bottle.”

His wife recalled the shortcomings for which she had been taking him to
task. “Send a fiddlestick,” she rapped; “on a boiling day like this!”

She took Mary’s arm; leaning heavily, passed from the room.



CHAPTER III.

Excursions In The Mind Of A Heroine.


Her mistress disrobed, head among pillows, slippered, coverleted,
eau-de-Cologne on temples, with closed eyes inviting sleep to lull the
tumults of the day. Mary climbed to her room.

About her mouth there was a ridiculous twitching; and as she watched it
in the mirror she strove to wrap herself in the armour in which she had
learned to take buffetings.

To be dispassionate was the salve she had schooled herself to use upon
a wounded spirit--to regard this Mary with the comically twitching face
whom now she saw in the glass as a second person whose sufferings might
be coldly regarded and dissected.

It is a most admirable accomplishment. Nothing is so easy as to be
philosophic upon the cares of another--nothing so easy as to wax
impatient with an acquaintance who allows himself to be overridden by
troubles and pains which appear to us of trifling moment. If, then, we
can school ourselves to regard the figure that bears our name as one
person, and our ego as another, we have at least a chance of chiding
that figure out of all the fancied sufferings it may undergo.

With some success Mary had studied the art; now gave that
Mary-in-the-glass who stood before her a healthy reproof.

“The ridiculous thing you did,” Mary-in-the-glass was told--“the
ridiculous thing you did to make yourself miserable was to go thinking
about--about Ireland.”

The mouth of Mary-in-the-glass ominously twitched.

“There you go again. And it is so absolutely forbidden to think about
that. Whatever’s the use of it?”

Mary-in-the-glass could adduce no reason, and must be prodded.

“Does it do you any good? Does it do _them_ any good, do you suppose, to
know that you can never think of them without making yourself unhappy?”

Mary-in-the-glass attempted a weak quibble; was instantly snapped.

“I’m not saying you are _never_ to think of them. Goodness knows what
I should do if I did not. It’s all right to think of them when you are
happy and they can share the happiness with you; but, when you choose
to be idiotically miserable, that’s the time you are not to go whining
anywhere near them--understand? You only make them unhappy and make your
troubles worse. Troubles! if you can’t see the fun of Mrs. Chater, you
must be a wretched sort of person. Her face when the cab brought her
back! And trying to feel her heart! And her rage with that little worm
of a Mr. Chater! Can’t you see the fun of it instead of crying over it?”

Mary-in-the-glass could. The successive recollections induced the
prettiest dimples on her face. She was at once forgiven.

Indeed, to snuggle back into her and to merge into her again was just
now very desirable to the censorious Mary-outside-the-glass. For, merged
in her sentimental and romantic personality, a most delectable line of
thought could be pursued--a delectable line, since along this trail was
to be encountered that stranger who had caught her in her wild ejection
from the cab.

Sinking in a chair, Mary adventured upon it; she was instantly met.

Mary-outside-the-glass essayed her best to prevent the interview.
“Poof!” Mary-outside-the-glass, that cold young person, sneered. “Poof!
You little idiot! A stranger with whom you spoke for five minutes, whom
you will never again see, and from whose recollections you have most
certainly passed unless to be recalled as a joke--perhaps to some
other girl!” (A nasty dig that, but they are monsters these
Marys-outside-the-glass.) “Why, you must be a donkey to think about
him! For goodness’ sake come away before you make yourself too utterly
ridiculous! You won’t. Well, perhaps you will try to recall the figure
you must have cut in his eyes? Do you remember what you must have looked
like as you shot out of the cab like a sack of straw? Pretty sight, eh?
And can you imagine the expression on your face as you banged into his
arms? Charming you must have looked, mustn’t you? And can you by any
means realise the idiot you must have looked when Mrs. Chater came
up and swept you off like an escaped puppy, recaptured and in for a
whipping? Striking figure you cut, didn’t you? You didn’t happen to
peep back through the little window at the back of the cab and see him
laughing, I suppose? Ah, you should have looked....”

And so on. This was the attitude of that cold, calculating,
dispassionate Mary-outside-the-glass. But Mary smothered the
voice--would not hear a word of it. Completely she became
Mary-in-the-glass, that sentimental young woman, and in that personality
tripped along the path of thought where stood her stranger.

Delectably she relived the encounter. Paced down the street, took again
his arm; without a fault recalled his words, without a check gave her
replies; recalled the pitch of his voice to the nicest note, struck
again the light in his eyes.

Now why? She had met other men; in Ireland had thrice wounded her tender
heart by negations that had caused three suitors most desperate
anguish. None had awakened in her a deeper interest; and yet here was
a stranger--suddenly encountered, as suddenly left--who in her mind had
appropriated a track which she was eager to make a well-beaten path.
Why?

But Mary-in-the-glass, that sentimental young woman, was no prober of
emotions. They veiled the hard business of commonplace life; and amid
them mistily she now floated afar into dim features where her stranger,
stranger no more, walked with her hand in hand.

There was attempt at first to construct an actual re-encounter.
Mary-in-the-glass, that romantic young woman, very speciously pointed
out that in London when once you see a man you may reasonably suppose
that you will again meet him. For in London one does not aimlessly
wander; one has some set purpose and traverses a thousand times the same
streets, crossing daily at the same points as though upon the pursuit
of a chalked line. Mary-in-the-glass, therefore, constructing a
re-encounter, happened to be strolling along the scene of the accident,
and lo! there was he!

Unhappily this vision was transient. Mary-outside-the-glass, that cold
young woman, got in a word here that erased the picture. The square
where the cab crashed was too far afield to take the children for
their walk; holiday was a boon rarely granted and never granted at
the particular hour of the catastrophe--the only time of day at which,
according to the chalked-line theory, she might reasonably expect to
find the stranger in the same spot.

But Mary did not brood long upon this melancholy obstacle; drove away
Mary-outside-the-glass; became again Mary-in-the-glass. And they are
impossible creatures these Marys-in-the-glass. They will approach
an unbridged chasm across which no Mary-out-side could by any means
adventure, and, floating the gulf, will deliriously roam in the fields
beyond.

So now. And in that dream-world of the musing brain Mary with her
stranger sublimely wandered. With her form and his she peopled all
the favourite spots she knew; contrived others and strolled in
them; introduced other persons, and marked their comment on her dear
companion.

It was he whom she made to do mighty deeds in those misty fields; of
herself hers were merely a girl’s gentle fancies, held modest by
her sex’s natural desire to be loved for itself alone--not for big
behaviour.



CHAPTER IV.

Excursions In A Nursery.


The loud bang of a door was the gong that called Mary back from
those pleasant fields. They whirled from her, leaving her in sudden
realisation of the material.

She glanced at the clock.

“Goodness!” cried she, and fell to scattering her outdoor finery at a
speed dangerous under any but the deftest fingers. Into a skirt of black
and a simple blouse she slipped, and down, skimming the stairs, to where
her charges bided their bedtime.

Opening the nursery door she paused upon the threshold with a little
“Oh!” of surprise. There was a reek of cigar smoke; its origin between
the lips of a burly young man who stood drumming a tune upon the
window-pane.

Mr. Bob Chater turned at her entry. “I’ve been waiting for you a long
time,” he said.

She asked, “Whatever for?” and in her tone there was a chill.

“Didn’t I tell you yesterday that I was coming to see the kids tubbed?”

“I didn’t think you meant it.”

Mr. Bob Chater laughed. “Well, now you see that I did. I’ve been looking
forward to this all day.”

Plainly she was perturbed. She said: “Mr. Chater, I really would rather
you did not, if you don’t mind.”

“Well, but I do mind, d’you see? I mind very much indeed. It would be
the bitterest disappointment.”

His playfulness sat ill upon him. This was a stout young man,
black-eyed, dark-moustached, with a thick and heavy look about him.

She would not catch his mood. “I am sure when I ask you--”

“Well, you’re jolly well wrong, you know,” he laughed; “‘cause I ain’t
going.”

Mary flushed slightly; moved to the hearthrug where sat David and
Angela, her small charges, watching, from their toys, the scene.

It occurred to Mr. Bob Chater that she was annoyed.

“I say, be decent to a fellow, Miss Humfray,” he said. “Look here, I
hadn’t seen the kids for two years when I came back yesterday. They
hardly remember their kind big brother.” He addressed the small girl
whose round eyes, moving from speaker to speaker since Mary had entered,
were now upon him. “Do you, Angela?” he asked.

“I--hate--you,” Angela told him, in the slow utterance of one giving
completest effect to a carefully weighed sentiment.

With equal impressiveness, David, seated beside her, lent his authority
to the statement. “I--hate--you--too,” he joined.

Mr. Bob Chater laughed a little stupidly.

Mary cried: “Oh, Angela! Oh, David! How can you speak like that!”

“He is perfectly abom’able,” Angela said, unmoved. “He made Davie cry.
He trod on Davie’s beetle.”

The cracked corpse of a mechanical beetle, joy of David’s heart, was
produced in evidence; its distressed owner reddening ominously at this
renewed recollection of the calamity.

Mary took the sad pieces tenderly. “Silly children! He never meant to
break it. Oh, such silly children!”

Angela protested, “He did! He did! He put his foot over it while it was
running, and stopped it. He told David to get it away if he could, and
David bit his leg, and he said ‘Damn you!’ and crushed it crack.”

Mary whipped a glance at the murderer. She ignored the evidence.
“To-morrow!” said she. “Why, what fun! To-morrow we’ll play hospital
like we did when Christabel broke her arm. We’ll make Mr. Beetle just as
well as ever he was before!”

“I’ll be doctor!” cried David, transported into delight.

“Yes, and Angela nurse. Look, we’ll put poor Mr. Beetle on the
mantelpiece to-night, right out of the draughts. If he got a draught
into that crack in his back, goodness knows what wouldn’t happen. He
must eat slops like Christabel did. _What_ fun! Now, bed--_bustle!_”

Their adored Mary had restored confidence. They clung about her.

“It was a pure accident,” explained Mr. Bob Chater, gloomily watching
this scene. “I’ll buy you another to-morrow.”

“There!” Mary cried. “Think of that!”

David reflected upon it without emotion. He regarded his big brother
sullenly; sullenly said, “I don’t want another.”

Mary cried brightly: “Rubbish! Come, kiss your brother good-night, and
say ‘thank you!’ Both of you. Quick as lightning!”

They hung back.

Mary had obtained so complete a command of their affections that her
word was the wise law which, ordinarily, they had come unquestioningly
to accept. In their short lives David and Angela had experienced a
procession of nurses, of nursery-governesses, of lady-helps, each one of
whom received or gave her month’s notice within a few weeks of arrival,
and against whom they had conducted a sullen or a violent war. From the
first it had been different with Miss Humfray. As was their custom (for
this constant change tried tempers) upon the very day of her arrival
they had met her with frank hostility, had declared mutiny at her
first command. But her reception of this attitude they found a new and
astonishing experience. She had not been shocked, had not been angry,
had ventured no threat to tell their mother. Instead, at the outbreak of
defiance, she went into the gayest and most infectious laughter, kissed
them--and they had capitulated before they realised the event.

A second attempt at mutiny, made upon the following day, met with a
reception equally novel. Again this pretty Miss Humfray had laughed, but
this time had fully sympathised with their view of the point at issue
and had made of the affair a most entrancing game. She, behold, was a
pirate captain; they were the rebellious crew. In five minutes they had
marooned her upon the desert island represented by the hearthrug; had
rowed away with faces which, under her instructions, were properly
stern; and only when she waved the white flag of truce had they
taken her aboard again. Meanwhile the subject of the quarrel had been
forgotten.

Never a dispute arose thereafter. They idolised this pretty Miss
Humfray: whatsoever she said was clearly right.

Here, however, was a dangerous conflict of opinion. They hung back.

“Quickly,” Mary repeated. “Kiss him, and say thank-you quickly, or there
will be no story when you are in bed.”

It was a terrific price to pay; their troubled faces mirrored the
conflict of decision.

David found solution. In his slow, solemn voice, “You kiss him first,”
 he said. Miss Humfray always took their medicine first, and David argued
from the one evil necessity to this other.

Mr. Bob Chater laughed delightedly. “That’s a brilliant idea!” he cried;
came two strides towards Mary; put a hand upon her arm.

So sudden, so unexpected was his movement, that by the narrowest chance
only did she escape his purpose. A jerk of her head, and he had mouthed
at the air two inches from her face.

She shook her arm free. “Oh!” she cried; and in the exclamation there
was that which would have given a nicer man pause.

Mr. Bob Chater was nothing abashed. A handsome face and a bold air
had made conquests easy to him. It was an axiom of his that a girl who
worked for her living by that fact proclaimed flirtation to be agreeable
to her--at all events with such as he. Chance had so shaped affairs that
this was the first time his theory had found disproof. He saw she was
offended; so much the more tickling; conquest was thereby the more
enticing.

He laughed; said he was only “rotting.”

Mary did not reply. The command to kiss their brother went by default;
she hurried her charges through the door to the adjoining night nursery.

When they were started upon undressing she came back.

“You’re going to let me see you tub them?” Bob asked her.

Busy replacing toys in cupboards, she did not reply.

“You’re not angry, are you?”

She gave him no answer.

Bob Chater discarded the laugh from his tone. “If you are angry, I’m
very sorry. You must have known I was only fooling. It was only to make
the kids laugh.”

So far as was possible she kept her back to him.

The continued slight pricked him. His voice hardened. “When I have the
grace to apologise, I think you might have the grace to accept it.”

Mary said in low tones: “If you meant only to make them laugh, of course
I believe you. It is all right.”

“Good. Well, now, may I see them tubbed?”

“I have told you I would rather not.”

“Dash it all, Miss Humfray, you’re rather unkind, aren’t, you? Here have
I been away nearly two years--I’ve been travelling on the Continent for
the firm-you know that, don’t you?”

She said she had heard Mr. and Mrs. Chater talking of it.

“Well, and yet you won’t let me come near my darling little sister and
my sweet little brother to tell ‘em all about it?”

“But I’m not keeping you from them, Mr. Chater. You have had plenty of
time.”

“Time! Why, I only got back yesterday!”

“You have been in here this afternoon.”

“Ah, they were shy. They’re better when you are here.”

She had finished her task, and she turned to him. “Mr. Chater, you know
I could not keep David and Angela from you even if I dreamed of doing
such a thing. Only, I say I would rather you did not come in while I
bath them, that is all.”

“Yes, but why?”

“Mrs. Chater would not like it for one thing, I feel sure.”

“Oh, that’s all rot. Mother wouldn’t mind--anyway, I do as I like in
this house.”

From all she had heard of Mrs. Chater’s beloved Bob, Mary guessed this
to be true. Long prior to his arrival she had been prejudiced against
him; acquaintance emphasised the prophetic impression.

“Another night, then,” she said.

He felt he was winning. No girl withstood him long.

“No, to-night. Another thing--I want to know you better. This
arrangement is all new to me. There was a nurse here in your place when
I went. I’ve hardly spoken to you. Have you ever been abroad?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll tell you--and the kids--some of my adventures while you’re
tubbing ‘em. Lead on.”

She was at the night-nursery door. Evidently this man would not see her
conventional reason for not wishing him at the tubbing. Angela had grown
a biggish girl since he went away.

She said, “Please not to-night.”

“I’m jolly well coming,” he chuckled.

The lesson of dependence was wilfully forgotten. Mary agreed with Angela
and David: she hated this Bob.

“No,” she said sharply, “you are not.”

He had thrown his cigar into the grate; taken out another; stooped to
the hearth to scratch a match. His back was to her; to him all her tone
conveyed was that a “rag” was on hand.

“We’ll see,” he laughed; struck the match.

She stepped swiftly within the door; closed it.

Bob Chater laughed again; ran across.

The lock clicked as she turned the key.

“Let me in!” he cried, rattling the handle. “Let me in!”

The splash of water answered him.

He thumped the panel. “Open the door!”

“Now, Angela,” he heard her say, “quick as lightning with that chimmy.”

Bob’s face darkened; he damned beneath his breath. Then with a laugh
he turned away. “I’m going to have some fun with that girl,” he told
himself; and on the way downstairs, her pretty face and figure in his
mind, pleased himself with vicious anticipation.



CHAPTER V.

Excursions At A Dinner-Table.



I.

Two distressing reasons combined to compel Mrs. Chater to give
Mary place at the evening meal. There was the aggravating fact that
mothers’-helps, just as if they were ordinary people, must be fed; there
was also the contingency that servants most strongly objected to serving
a special meal--even “on a tray”--to one who was not of the family, yet
who had airs above the kitchen.

Except, then, when there were guests Miss Humfray must be accommodated
at late dinner. Mrs. Chater considered it annoying, yet found in it
certain comfortable advantages--as sympathy from friends: “Mustn’t it
be rather awkward sometimes, Mrs. Chater?” A plaintive shrug would
illustrate the answer: “Well, it is, of course, very awkward sometimes;
but one must put up with it. That class of person takes offence so
easily, you know; and I always try to treat my lady-helps as well as
possible.”

“I’m sure you do, Mrs. Chater. How grateful they should be!” And this
time a sad little laugh would illustrate: “Oh, one hardly expects
gratitude nowadays, does one?”

Mary at dinner must observe certain rules, however. Certain dishes--a
little out of season, perhaps, or classed as luxuries--were borne
triumphantly past her by a glad parlour-maid acting upon a frown and
a glance that Mrs. Chater signalled. Certain occasions, again, when
private matters were to be discussed, were heralded by “Miss Humfray,”
 in an inflexion of voice that set Mary to fold her napkin and from the
room.

The girl greeted these early dismissals with considerable relief.
Dinner was to her a nightly ordeal whose atmosphere swept appetite
sky-high--took the savour from meats, dried the throat.



II.

Descending to the dining-room upon this evening, her normal shrinking
from the meal was considerably augmented. On the previous night--the
first upon which Mr. Bob Chater’s legs had partnered hers beneath the
table--his eyes (like some bold gallant popping out on modesty whenever
it dared peep from the doorway) had captured her glance each time
she ventured look up from her plate. The episode of the nursery was
equivalent to having slapped the gallant’s face, and the re-encounter
was proportionately uncomfortable.

Taking her place she was by sheer nervousness impelled to meet his
gaze--so heavily freighted it was as to raise a sudden flush to
her cheek. Her eyes fled round to Mrs. Chater, received a look that
questioned the blush, drove it duskier; through an uncomfortable
half-hour she kept her face towards her plate.

It was illuminative of the relations between husband and wife that Mrs.
Chater carved; her husband dealt the sweets. The carving knife is the
domestic sceptre of authority: when it is wielded by the woman, the man,
you will find, is consort rather than king.



III.

Upon the previous evening Mr. Bob Chater had led the conversation.
To-night he was indisposed for the position--would not take it despite
his mother’s desperate attempts to board the train of his ideas and
by it be carried to scenes of her son’s adventures. A dozen times she
presented her ticket; as often Bob turned her back at the barrier.

It was a rare event this refusal of his to carry passengers. So loudly
did he whistle as a rule as to attract all in the vicinity, convinced
that there was an important train by which it would be agreeable to
travel.

For Mr. Bob Chater was a loud young man, emanating a swaggering air
that the term “side” well fitted. To have some conceit of oneself is
an excellent affair. The possession is a keel that gives to the craft a
dignified balance upon the stream of life--prevents it from being sailed
too close to mud; helps maintain stability in sudden gale. Other craft
are keelless--they are canoes; bobbing, unsteady, likely to capsize in
sudden emergency; prone to drift into muddy waters; liable to be swept
anywhither by any current. Others, again--and Mr. Bob Chater was of
these--are over-freighted upon one quarter or another: they sail with a
list. Amongst well-trimmed boats these learn in time not to adventure,
since here they are greeted with ridicule or with contempt; yet among
the keelless fleets they have a position of some authority; holding
it on the same principle as that by which among beggars he who has a
coin--even though base--is accounted king.

Bob Chater’s list was ego-wards. His mighty “I”--I am, I do, I say, I
know, I think--bulged from him, hanging from his voice, his glance, his
gesture, his walk. In it Mrs. Chater bathed; to be carried along in the
train of his mighty “I” was delectable to her. But to-night she could
not effect the passage.

A final effort she made to get aboard. “And in St. Petersburg!” she
tempted. “I wonder if you ever saw the _Tsar_ when you were in St.
Petersburg?”

Bob drove her back: “St. Petersburg’s a loathsome place.”

Mrs. Chater tried to squeeze through. “So _gay_, they say.”

Bob slammed the gate. “I wish you’d _tell_ me something instead of
expecting _me_ to do all the talking. I want to hear all that’s been
going on here while I’ve been away, but I’m hanged if I can find out.”

A little mortified, Mrs. Chater said: “I’ve hardly seen you, dear,
except at meals”--then threw the onus for her son’s lack of local
gossip upon her husband. Addressing him, “You’ve been with Bob all the
morning,” she told him. “I wonder you haven’t given him all the news.
But, there! I suppose you’ve done nothing but question him about what
business he’s done!”

Mr. Chater, startled at the novelty of being drawn into table
conversation while his son and his wife were present, dropped his
spoon with a splash into his soup, wiped his coat, frowned at the
parlour-maid, cleared his throat, and, to gain time to determine whether
he had courage to say that which was burning within him, threw out an
“Eh?” for his pursuing wife to Worry.

Mrs. Chater pounced upon it; shook it. “What I said was that I suppose
you’ve been doing nothing but question poor Bob about what he has done
for the firm while he’s been away.”

Mr. Chater nerved himself to declare his mind. “There wasn’t very much
to question him about,” he said.

His words--outcome of views forcibly expressed by his partners in
Mincing Lane that morning--were the foolhardy action of one who pokes a
tigress with a stick.

The tigress shook herself. “Now, I wonder what you mean by _that_?” she
challenged.

Mr. Chater dropped the stick; precipitantly fled. “Of course it was all
new to Bob,” he granted, throwing a bone.

Very much to his alarm the tigress ignored the bone; rushed after him.
“All you seem to think about,” cried she, “is making the boy slave. He’s
never had a proper holiday since he left school, and yet the very first
time he goes off to see the world you must be fidgeting yourself to
death all the time that he’s not pushing the firm sufficiently; and
immediately he comes back you must start cross-examining just as if he
was an office-boy--not a word about his health or his pleasure. Oh, no!
of course not!”

Squirming in misery, Mr. Chater remarked that he had his partners to
consider. “I’m only too glad that Bob should enjoy himself--only too
glad. But you must remember, my dear, that part of his expenses for this
trip was paid for by the firm--the _firm_. He was to call on foreign
houses--”

The tigress opened her mouth for fresh assault. Mr. Chater hurriedly
thrust in a bone. “I don’t say he hasn’t done a great deal for us--not
at all; I’d be the last to say that. What I say is that in duty to my
partners I must take the first opportunity to ask him a few questions
about it. Bob sees that himself; don’t you, Bob?”

“Oh, do let’s keep shop off the table,” Bob snarled. “Fair sickens me
this never getting away from the office.”

“There you are!” Mrs. Chater cried. “There you are! Always business,
business, business--that’s what _I_ complain of.”

With astounding recklessness Mr. Chater mildly said: “My dear, you
started it.”

Mrs. Chater quivered: “Ah, put it on me! Put it on me! Somehow you
always manage to do that. Miss Humfray, when you’ve _quite_ finished
your soup _then_ perhaps Clarence can take the plates.”

Mary’s thoughts, to the neglect of her duty, had crept away beneath
cover of these exchanges. Now she endured the disaster of amid silence
clearing her plate with four pairs of eyes fixed upon her. Clarence
removed the course; Mr. Chater, leaping as far as possible from the
scene of his ordeal, broke a new topic.

He enticed tentatively: “I saw a funny bit in the paper this morning.”

The tigress paused in the projection of another spring; sniffed
suspiciously. “Oh!”

“About that young Lord Comeragh,” Mr. Chater hurried on, delighted
with his success. “He was up at Marlborough Street police-court this
morning--at least his butler was; of course his lordship wouldn’t go
himself--charged with furiously driving his motorcar; and who do you
think was in the car with him at the time? Ah!”

Mrs. Chater, naming a young lady who nightly advertised a pretty leg
from the chorus of a musical comedy, announced that she would not be
surprised if that was the person. Being told that it was none other, and
that Mr. Chater had heard in the City that morning that Lady Comeragh
was taking proceedings and had named the nicely-legged young lady the
cause of infidelity, became highly astonished and supremely diverted.

Conversation of a most delectable nature was by this means supplied. A
pot of savoury gossip, flavoured with scandal, was upon the table; and
Mary, lost to sight behind the cloud of steam that uprose as the three
leaped about it, finished her dinner undisturbed.

A nod bade her leave before dessert. As she passed out the signaller
spoke. “I want to see you,” Mrs. Chater said. “Wait for me in the
drawing-room.”

The command was unusual, and Mary, waiting as bid, worried herself with
surmises upon it. She prayed it did not mean she was to soothe Mr.
Bob Chater’s digestion with lullabies upon the piano; that it boded an
unpleasant affair she was assured.

She did not err. Mrs. Chater came to her, dyspeptic-flushed, sternly
browed.

“Miss Humfray, I have one thing to say to you, no more. No explanations,
no excuses, please. I hear you have been trying to entertain my son
in the nursery this evening. If that, or anything like it, occurs
again--You understand?”

“Mrs. Chater--”

A massive hand signalled Stop. “I said ‘not a word.’ That is all. Good
night.”

And Mary, crimson, to her room.



BOOK III.

Of Glimpses at a Period of this History: of Love and of War.



CHAPTER I.

Notes On The Building Of Bridges.


Within the limits of this short section of our story we shall cram two
months of history, taking but a furtive peep or two at our personages as
they plod through it.

This is well within our power, since the position of the novelist in
regard to his characters may be compared with that of the destiny which
in the largest comedy moves to and fro mankind its actors. As destiny
moves its puppets, so the novelist moves his--upraising, debasing;
favouring, tormenting; creating, wiping from the page.

And of the pair the novelist is the more just. Has villainy in a
novel ever gone unpunished? Has virtue ever failed of its reward?
Your novelist is of all autocrats the most zealous of right and wrong.
Villain may through two-thirds of his career enjoy his wicked pleasures,
exceedingly prosper despite his baseness; but ever above him the cold
eye of his judge keeps watch, and in the end he is apportioned the most
horrible deserts that any could wish. Virtue may by the gods be hounded
and harried till the reader’s heart is wrung. But spare your tears;
before Finis is written, down swoops the judge; the dogs are whipped
off; Virtue is led to fair pastures and there left smiling.

Contrasted with this autocrat of the printed page, the destiny whose
comedy began with the world and is indefinitely continued makes sorry
show. Here the wicked exceedingly flourish and keep at it to the end of
their chapter; here virtue, battling with tremendous waves of adversity,
is at last engulfed and miserably drowned. Truly, their fit rewards are
apportioned, we are instructed, after death. But there is something of a
doubt; the novelist, in regard to his characters, takes no risks.

Upon another head, moreover, the novelist shows himself the more kindly
autocrat. There is his power, so freely exercised, to bridge time.
Whereas destiny makes us to watch those in whom we are interested plod
every inch and step of their lives-over each rut, through each swamp,
up each hill,-the novelist, upon his characters coming to places dull or
too difficult, immediately veils from us their weary struggles. Destiny
will never grant such a boon: we must watch our friends even when they
bore us, even when they cause us pain. Yet this boon is the commonest
indulgence of the novelist-as it now (to become personal) is mine.

I bridge two months.

And you must imagine this bridge as indeed a short and airy passage
across a valley, down into which the persons of our story must carefully
climb, across which they must plod, and up whose far side they must
laboriously scramble to meet us upon the level ground. For we are
much in the position, we novel readers, of village children curiously
watching a caravan of gipsies passing through their district. The
gipsies (who stand for our characters) plod wearily away along a bend
of dusty road. The children cease following, play awhile; then by a
short-cut through the fields overtake the travellers as again they come
into the straight.

So now with you and me. We have no need to follow our gipsies down
the valley that takes two months in the traversing: we skip across the
bridge.

But, leaning over, we may take a shot or two at them as here and there
they come into view.



CHAPTER II.

Excursions Beneath The Bridge.



I.

Thus we see the meeting again of George and Mary.

When the agitated young man on the day following the cab accident
had alighted from the omnibus at the bottom of Palace Gardens he was
opposite No. 14 by half-past ten; waiting till eleven; going, convinced
she did not live there; returning, upon the desperate hope that indeed
she did; waiting till twelve--and being most handsomely rewarded.

Her face signalled that she saw him, but her eyes gave no
recognition--quickly were averted from him; the windows behind her had
eyes, she knew.

My agitated George, who had made a hasty step at the red flag that
fluttered on her cheeks, as hastily stepped away beneath the chill of
her glance; in tremendous perturbation turned and fled; in tremendous
perturbation turned and pursued. In Regent’s Park he saw her produce a
brilliant pair of scarlet worsted reins, gay with bells; heard her hiss
like any proper groom as tandemwise she harnessed David and Angela,
those restive steeds.

The equipage was about to start--she had cracked her whip, clicked her
tongue--when with thumping heart, with face that matched the flaming
reins, hat in hand he approached; spoke the driver.

Her steeds turned about; with wide, unblinking eyes, searched his face
and hers.

“Your faces are very red,” Angela said. “Are you angry?”

“You have got very red faces,” David echoed. “Are you in a temper?”

Mary told them No; George said they were fine horses; felt legs; offered
to buy them.

His words purchased their hearts, which were more valuable.

After the drive they would return to the stable, which was this seat,
Mary told him; she could not stay to speak to him any longer. George
declared he was the stable groom and would wait.

Away they dashed at handsome speed, right round the inner circle;
returned more sedately, a little out of breath. There had been,
moreover, an accident: leader, it appeared, had fallen and cut his
knees.

“I shied at a motor,” David explained, proud of the red blood now that
the agony was past.

George unharnessed them; dressed the wounds; scolded the coachman
because no feed had been brought for the horses; promised that to-morrow
he would bring some corn--bun corn.

“Will you come to-morrow?” Angela asked.

George glanced at Mary. “Yes,” he told them.

“Every to-morrow?”

“Every to-morrow.”

Tremendous joy. Well delighted, they ran to a new game.

Every to-morrow ran but to three: George and Mary had by then exchanged
their histories. The pending examination was discussed, and Mary simply
would not speak to him if, wasting his time, he came daily to idle with
the children (so she expressed it). She would abandon the Park, she told
him--would take her charges to a Square gardens of which they had the
entry, where George might not follow.

George did not press the point. As he wrestled out the matter in the
hours between their meetings she was a fresh incentive to work. But once
a week he must be allowed to come: here he was adamant, and she gladly
agreeable. Saturday mornings was the time arranged.

Mary had been fearful at this first re-encounter that it would be the
last. The children would certainly tell their mother; Mrs. Chater would
certainly make an end to the acquaintance.

“Ask them not to tell,” George had suggested.

Impossible to think of such a thing: it would be to teach them deceit.

“Well, I’ll ask them.”

“But that would be just as bad. No--if they tell, it cannot be helped.
And after all--”

“Well, after all...?”

“After all--what would it matter?”

George said: “It would matter to me--a lot.”

He glanced at her, but she was looking after Angela and David. He asked:
“Wouldn’t it matter to you?”

She flushed a little; answered, with her eyes still averted towards the
children, “Why--why, of course I should mind. I mean--”

But there are meanings for which it is difficult to find clothes in
which they may decently take the air; and here the wardrobe of Mary’s
mind stood wanting.

George enticed. “Do you mean you would be sorry not to--not to--”

He also found his wardrobe deficient.

Then Mary sent out her meaning, risking its decency. “Why, yes, I would
be sorry not to see you again; why should I mind saying so? I have liked
meeting you.” And, becoming timid at its appearance, she hurried after
it a cloak that would utterly disguise it. “I meet so few people,” she
said.

But George was satisfied; she had said she would mind--nay, even though
she had not spoken it, her manner assured him that indeed she would
regret not again meeting him. It was a thought to hug, a memory to spur
his energies when they flagged over his studies; it was a brush to paint
his world in lively colours.

Nor, as the future occurred, need either have had apprehension that the
children would tell their mother and so set up an insurmountable barrier
between them. A previous experience had warned Angela that it were
wise to keep from her mother joys that were out of the ordinary run of
events.

Returning homeward that day, a little in advance of Mary, she therefore
addressed her brother upon the matter.

“Davie, I hope that man will come to-morrow.”

“I hope it, too.”

“We won’t tell mother, Davie.”

“Why?”

“Because mother’ll say No.”

“Why?”

“Because she _always_ says No, stupid.”

“Why?”

“Oh, Davie, you _are_ stupid! I don’t know why; I only _know_. Don’t you
remember that lady that used to talk to Miss Humf’ay and play with us?
Well, when we told mother, mother said No, didn’t she? and the lady
played with those abom’able red-dress children that make faces instead.”

“Will he play with the abom’able red-dress children that make faces if
we tell mother?”

“Of _course_ he will.”

“Why?”

“They always _do_, stupid.”

“Why?”

Angela ran back. “Oh, Miss Humf’ay, Davie is so _irrating!_ He will say
_Why_ ....”

There is a lesson for parents in that conversation, I suspect.



II.

Leaning from our bridge we may content ourselves with a hurried shot
at George, laboriously toiling at his books, sedulously attending his
classes, with his Mary spending glorious Saturday mornings that, as
they brought him nearer to knowledge of her, sent him from her yet more
fevered; and, straining towards another point, we will focus for an
instant upon Margaret his cousin, and Bill Wyvern, her adored.

Mr. William Wyvern had most vigorously whacked about among events since
that evening when his Margaret had composed her verses for George. At
that time a fellow-student with George at St. Peter’s Hospital, he had
now abandoned the profession and was started upon the literary career
(as he named it) that long he had wished to follow. The change had been
come by with little difficulty. Professor Wyvern--that eminent biologist
whose fame was so tremendous that even now a normally forgetful Press
yet continued to paragraph him while he spent in absent-minded seclusion
the ebb of that life which at the flood had so mightily advanced
knowledge--Professor Wyvern was too much attached to his son, too docile
in the hands of his loving wife, to gainsay any wish that Bill might
urge and that Mrs. Wyvern might support.

Bill achieved his end: the stories he had had printed in magazines,
secretly shown to his proud mother, were now brought forth and chuckled
over with glee by the Professor. The famous biologist struggled through
one of the stories, vowed he had read them all, cheerily patted Bill’s
arm with his shaky old hand, and cheerfully abandoned the hope he had
held of seeing his son a great surgeon.

It was Bill’s burning ambition to obtain a post upon a paper. Not until
later did he learn that it is the men outside the papers who must have
a turn for stringing sentences; that those inside are machines, cutting
and serving the material with no greater interest in it than has the
cheesemonger in the cheese he weighs and deals. Meanwhile, the glimpse
we may take of him shows Bill Wyvern urging along his pen until clean
paper became magic manuscripts; living upon a billow of hope when the
envelopes were sped, submerged beneath oceans of gloom when they were
returned; trembling into Fleet Street deliciously to inhale the thick
smell of printer’s ink that came roaring up from a hundred basements;
with goggle eyes venerating the men who with assured steps passed in
and out the swing-doors of castles he burned to storm; snatching brief
moments for the boisterous society of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, those
rare bull-terriers; and finally, expending with his Margaret moments
more protracted--stealthy meetings, for the most part--in Mr. Marrapit’s
shrubbery.



III.

But two more peeps from our bridge need we take, and then our characters
will be ready to meet us upon the further side.

A glance from here will reveal to us Mrs. Major, that masterly woman,
inscribing in her diary:

“_Getting on with Mr. M. Should sue. Precip. fat._”

Fill out the abbreviations to which Mrs. Major, in her diary, was prone,
and we have:

“_Getting on with Mr. Marrapit. Should succeed. Precipitancy fatal._”

Succeed in what? To what would precipitancy of action be irreparable?
Listen to a conversation that may enlighten us--spoken upon the lawn
of Herons’ Holt; Mr. Marrapit in his chair making a lap for the Rose of
Sharon; Mrs. Major on a garden seat, crocheting.

A stealthy peep assuring her that his eyes were not closed, Mrs. Major
nerved herself with a deep breath; with a long sigh let it escape in the
form, “A year ago!”--dropped hands upon her lap and gazed wistfully at
the setting sun. She had seen the trick very successfully performed upon
the stage.

Mr. Marrapit turned his eyes upon her.

“You spoke, Mrs. Major?”

With an admirable start Mrs. Major appeared to gather in wandering
fancies. “I fear I was thinking aloud, Mr. Marrapit. I beg pardon.”

“Do not. There is no occasion. You said ‘A year ago.’”

“Did I, Mr. Marrapit?”

“Certainly,” said Mr. Marrapit.

A pause followed. The wistful woman felt that, were the thing to be done
properly, the word lay with her companion. To her pleasure he continued:

“To-day, then, is an anniversary?”

“It is.”

“Of a happy event, I trust?”

Mrs. Major clasped her hands; spoke with admirable ecstasy. “Oh, Mr.
Marrapit, of a golden--golden page in my life.”

“Elucidate,” Mr. Marrapit commanded.

Mrs. Major put into a whisper:

“The day I came here.”

Mr. Marrapit slowly moved his head towards her.

Her eyes were averted. “The time has passed swiftly,” he said.

Mrs. Major breathed: “For me it has flown on--on--” She searched wildly
for a metaphor. “On wings,” she concluded.

Again there was a pause, and again Mrs. Major felt that for this passage
to have fullest effect the word lay with Mr. Marrapit. But Mr. Marrapit,
himself considerably perturbed, did not speak. The moments sped. Fearful
lest they should distance beyond recovery the sentiments she felt she
had aroused, Mrs. Major hastened to check them.

She said musingly: “I wonder if they are right?”--sighed as though
doubtful.

“To whom do you refer?”

“Why, the people who say that time flies when it is spent in pleasant
company.”

“They are correct,” Mr. Marrapit affirmed.

“Oh, I do not doubt it for my part, Mr. Marrapit. I never knew what
happiness was until I come here--came here. But if--” The masterly woman
paused.

“Continue” Mr. Marrapit commanded.

The hard word was softly spoken. Mrs. Major’s heart gave two little
thumps; her plan clear before her, pushed ahead. “But if to you also,
Mr. Marrapit, the time has seemed to fly, then--then Mr. Marrapit, my
company has--has been agreeable to you?”

Certainly there was a softness in Mr. Marrapit’s tones as he made
answer.

“It has, Mrs. Major,” he said, “it has. Into my establishment you have
brought an air of peace that had for some time been lacking. Prior to
your arrival, I was often worried by household cares that should not
fall upon a man.”

Earnestly Mrs. Major replied: “Oh, I _saw_ that. I strove to lift them.”

“You have lifted them. You have attended not only my cats but my
kitchen. I am now able often to enjoy such evenings as these. This peace
around us illustrates the tranquillity you have brought--”

The tranquillity was at that moment disastrously shattered. A bed of
shrubbery lay within a few feet of where they sat. What had appeared
to be a gnarled stump in its midst now quivered, broadened, fell into a
line with the straightening back of Mr. Fletcher.

Mr. Marrapit was startled and annoyed. “What are you doing there, sir?”

“Snailin’,” said Mr. Fletcher gloomily; exhibited his snail.

“Snail elsewhere. Do not snail where I am.”

“I snails where there’s snails.”

“Cease snailing. You must have been there hours.”

“What if I have? This garden’s fair planted with snails.”

“Snail oftener. Depart.”

Mr. Fletcher moved a few steps; then turned. “I should like to ast if
this is to be part of my regular job. First you says ‘cease snailin’,’
then you says ‘snail oftener,’ then you says ‘snail elsewhere.’
Snails take findin’. They don’t come to me; I has to go to them. It’s
‘ard--damn ‘ard. I’m a gardener, I am; not a lettuce-leaf.”

He gloomily withdrew.

Mr. Marrapit’s face was angrily twitching. The moment was not propitious
for continuing her conversation, and with a little sigh Mrs. Major
withdrew.

But it was upon that night that she inscribed in her diary:

_“Getting on with Mr. M. Should suc. Precip. fat.”_



IV.

A last peep, ere we hurry across the bridge, will disclose to us Mr. Bob
Chater still pressing upon Mary the attentions which her position, in
relation to his, made it so difficult for her to escape. Piqued by her
attitude towards him, he was the more inflamed than ordinarily he would
have been by the fair face and neat figure that were hers. Yet he made
no headway; within a month of the date of his return to Palace Gardens
was as far from conquest as upon that night in the nursery.

To a City friend, Mr. Lemuel Moss, dining at 14 Palace Gardens with him
one night, he explained affairs.

“Dam’ pretty girl, that governess of yours, or whatever she is,” said
Mr. Moss, biting the end from a cigar in the smoking-room after dinner.
“Lucky beggar you are, Bob. My mater won’t have even a servant in the
place that wouldn’t look amiss in a monkey-house. Knows me too well,
unfortunately,” and Mr. Moss, taking a squint at himself in the
overmantel, laughed--well enough pleased.

Bob pointed out that there was not so much luck about it as Mr. Moss
appeared to think. “Never seen such a stand-offish little rip in all my
life,” he moodily concluded.

“What, isn’t she--?”

Bob understood the unvoiced question. “Won’t even let a chap have two
minutes’ talk with her,” he said, “let alone anything else.”

Mr. Moss stretched himself along the sofa; rejoined: “Oh, rats! Rats!
You don’t know how to manage ‘em--that’s what it is.”

“I know as well as you, and a dashed sight better, I don’t mind
betting,” Bob returned with heat. In some circles it is an aspersion
upon a man’s manliness to have it hinted that a petticoat presenting
possibilities has not been ruffled.

“Well, it don’t look much like it. I caught her eye in the passage when
we were coming downstairs, and you don’t tell me--not much!”

“Did you though?” Bob said. Himself he had never been so fortunate.

“No mistake about it. Why, d’you mean to say you’ve never got as far as
that, even?”

“Tell you she won’t look at me.”

Mr. Moss laughed. Enjoyed the “score” over his host for a few moments,
and then:

“Tell you what it is, old bird,” said he, “you’re going the wrong way
about it. I know another case just the same. Chap out Wimbledon way.
His people kept a girl--topper she was, too--dark. He was always messing
round just like you are, and she was stand-offish as a nun. One night
he came home early, a bit screwed--people out--girl in. Met her in the
drawing-room. Almost been afraid to speak to her before. Had a bit of
fizz on board him now--_you_ know; didn’t care a rip for anybody. Gave
her a smacking great kiss, and, by Gad!--well, she _was_ all right. Told
him she’d always stood off up to then because she was never quite sure
what he meant--afraid he didn’t mean anything, and that she might get
herself into no end of a row if she started playing around. Same with
this little bit of goods, I’ll lay.”

Bob was interested. “Shouldn’t be surprised if you’re right,” he said;
and moodily cogitated upon the line of action prescribed.

Mr. Moss offered to bet that where girls were concerned he was never
far wrong. “Slap-dash style is what they like,” he remarked, and with a
careless “It’s all they understand” dismissed the subject.

It remained, however, in Bob’s mind throughout the evening; sprang
instantly when, after breakfast upon the following day, he caught a
glimpse of Mary as he prepared for the City.

Standing for a moment in the hall, it occurred to him that this very
evening offered the opportunity he sought. Mr. and Mrs. Chater were
to dine at the house of a neighbour. The invitation had included
Bob--fortunately he had refused it. Returning to the morning-room, “I
shan’t be in to-night,” he told his mother.

“Then I needn’t order any dinner for you?”

“No.” He hung about irresolute, then lit a cigar, and between the puffs,
“Shall you be late?” he asked carelessly.

“Sure to be,” Mrs. Chater told him. “It’s going to be a big bridge
drive, you know. We shan’t get back before midnight. Don’t sit up for
us, dear.”

Bob inhaled a long breath from his cigar, exhaled it deliciously. The
chance for the slap-dash style was at hand.

“Oh, I’ll be later than you. Lemmy Moss has got a bachelors’ party on.
We’re going to have a billiard match.”

“That’s capital then, dear. I shall let the servants go to Earl’s
Court--I’ve promised them a long time.”

Bob whistled gaily as he mounted his ‘bus for the City. The opportunity
was surely exceptional.

At eight o’clock he returned; noiselessly let himself in.

The gas in the hall burned low. Beneath the library door gleamed a
stronger light. Bob turned the handle.

Mary was curled in a big chair with a book. Certainly the opportunity
was exceptional.

At the noise of his entry she sprang to her feet with a little cry. “Oh,
dear!” she exclaimed: “what a fright you gave me!”

Bob pushed the door. He laughed. “Did I?”; came towards her. “Are you
all alone? What a shame!”

“Minnie is in the kitchen, I think. Mrs. Chater said you wouldn’t be in
to-night.”

“Why do you think I came?”

“I don’t know.”

“I came to see you.”

She gave a nervous little laugh and made to pass him.

Bob fell back a pace, guarding the door. “Don’t you think that was
thoughtful of me?”

“I don’t know what you mean. There was no need.”

“What! No need! You all alone like this when all the rest are enjoying
themselves!”

“So was I. A long evening with a book.”

She had fallen back as he, speaking, had slowly advanced.

Now the great chair in which she had been seated was alone between them.

“Oh, books! Books are rot.” He stepped around the chair.

She fell back; was cornered between the hearth and a low table.

Bob dropped into the chair; boldly regarded her; his eyes as expressive
of his slap-dash intentions as he could make them: “Look here, I want
you to enjoy yourself for once. I’m going to take you to a music-hall or
somewhere.”

He stretched a foot; touched her.

She drew back close against the mantelpiece, her agitation very evident.

“Well, don’t that please you?”

“You know it is impossible.”

Bob paid no regard. This was that same diffidence with which the chap
near Wimbledon had had to contend.

“We’ll come out of the show early and have a bit of supper and be back
before half-past eleven. Who’s to know? Now, then?”

“It’s very kind of you. I know you mean it kindly--”

“Of course I do--”

“But I’d rather not.”

“Are you afraid?”

She was desperately afraid. Her face, the shaking of her hand where it
was pressed back against the wall, and the catch in her voice advertised
her apprehension. She was afraid of this big young man confidently
lolling before her.

She said weakly: “It would not be right.”

Bob sat up. “Is that all?” he laughed. His hands were upon the arms of
the chair, and he made to pull himself up towards her.

She saw her mistake. “No,” she cried hurriedly--“no; I would not go with
you in any case.”

A shadow flickered upon Bob’s face. “What do you mean?”

“I mean what I say. Please let me pass.”

“I want to be friends with you. Why can’t you let me?”

“Please let me pass. Mr. Chater.”

Bob lay back. He said with a laugh, “Well, I’m not stopping you, am I?”

She hesitated a moment. The passage between the table and the long
chair was narrow. But truly he was not stopping her--so far as one might
judge.

She took her skirts about her with her left hand; stepped forward; was
almost past the chair before he moved.

Then he flung out a hand and caught her wrist, drawing her.

“Now!” he cried, and his voice was thick.

She gave a half-sound of dismay--of fear; tried to twist free. Bob
laughed; pulled sharply on her arm. She was standing sideways to
him--against the sudden strain lost her balance and half toppled across
the chair.

As Bob reflected, when afterwards feeding upon the incident, had he not
been as unprepared as she for her sudden stumble, he would have made--as
he put it--a better thing of it. As it was, her face falling against
his, he was but able to give a half kiss when she had writhed herself
free and made across the room.

But that embrace of her had warmed Bob’s passions. Springing up, he
caught her as she fumbled with the latch; twisted her to him.

For a moment they struggled, he grasping her wrists and pressing towards
her.

With the intention of encircling her waist he slipped his hold. But
panic made her the quicker. Her outstretched arms held him at bay for
a breathing space; then as he broke them down she dealt him a swinging
blow upon the face that staggered him back a step, his hand to his
cheek.

Mrs. Chater opened the door.

“Oh, he kissed me! He kissed me!” Mary cried.

Bob said very slowly, “You--infernal--little--liar.”

Mrs. Chater glowered upon Mary with cruel eyes. “It was a fortunate
thing,” she said coldly, “that a headache brought me home. Go to your
room, miss.”

We may hurry across the bridge.



CHAPTER III.

Excursions In Love.



I.

Saturday was the day immediately following this scene.

George, on a ‘bus carrying him towards Regent’s Park, was in spirit
at one with the gay freshness that gave this September morning a
spring-like air.

A week of torrid heat, in which London crawled, groaned, and panted, had
been wiped from the memory by an over-night thunderstorm that burst the
pent-up dams of heaven and loosed cool floods upon the staring streets.
No misty drizzle nor gusty shower it had been, but a strong, straight,
continuous downpour, seemingly impelled by tremendous pressure. Dusty
roofs, dusty streets, dusty windows it had scoured and scrubbed and
polished; torrents had poured down the gutters--whenever temporarily the
pressure seemed to relax, the ears of wakeful Londoners were sung to by
the gurgle and rush of frantic streams driving before them the collected
debris of many days.

Upon this morning, in the result, a tempest might have swept the town
and found never a speck of dust to drive before it. The very air had
been washed and sweetened; and London’s workers, scurrying to and from
their hives, seemed also to have benefited by some attribute of the
downpour that tinted cheeks, sparkled eyes, and, rejuvenating limbs,
gave to them a new sprightliness of movement.

George, from his ‘bus, caught many a bright eye under a jaunty little
hat; gave each back its gleam from the depths of gay lightness that
filled his heart. Nearing the Park he alighted; made two purchases. From
a confectioner bun-corn for David and Angela, those ramping steeds;
from a florist the reddest rose that an exhaustive search of stock could
discover.

Mary had from him such a rose at their every meeting. She might not wear
it back to Palace Gardens--it would not flourish beneath Mrs. Chater’s
curiosity; but while they were together she would tuck it in her bosom,
and George tenderly would bear it home and set it in a vase before him
to lend him inspiration as he worked.

It is almost certain that such a part is one for which flowers were
especially designed.



II.

Those splendid steeds, David and Angela, having been duly exercised,
groomed, and turned out to browse upon bun-corn, George rushed at once
upon the matter that was singing within him.

Where he sat with his Mary they were sheltered from any but chance
obtrusion. She had taken off her gloves, and George gave her hands, as
they lay in her lap, a little confident pat. It was the tap of the baton
with which the conductor calls together his orchestra--for this was a
song that George was about to tune, very confident that the chords of
both instruments that should give the notes were in a harmony complete.

He said: “Mary, do you know what I am going to talk about?”

She had been a little silent that morning, he had thought; did not
answer now, but smiled.

He laid a hand upon both hers. “You must say ‘yes.’ You’ve got to say
‘yes’ about twenty times this morning, so start now. Do you know what
I’m going to talk about?”

“Yes.”

“No objections this time?”

“Yes.”

He laughed; gave her hand a little smack of reproof. (You who have loved
will excuse these lovers’ absurdities.) “No, no; you are only to say
‘yes’ when I tell you. No objections to the subject this morning?”

His Mary told him “No.”

“Couldn’t have a better morning for it, could we?”

She took a little catch at her breath.

George dropped the banter in his tone. “Nothing wrong to-day, is there,
dear? Nothing up?”

How sadly wrong everything in truth was she had determined not to
tell him until she more certainly knew its extent. She shook her head;
reassuringly smiled.

“Well, that’s all right--there couldn’t be on a morning like this. Now
we’ve got to begin at the beginning. Mary, I planned it all out last
night--all this conversation. We’ve got to begin at the beginning--Do
you know I’ve never told you yet that I love you? You knew it, though,
didn’t you, from the first, the very first? Tell me from when?”

“George, this is awfully foolish, isn’t it?”

“Never mind. It’s jolly nice. It’s necessary, too. I’ve read about it.
It’s always done. Tell me from when you knew I loved you.”

“After last Saturday.”

“Oh, Mary! Much earlier than _that_! You must have!”

“Well, I thought perhaps you--you cared after that first day when you
came here.”

“Not before that?”

She laughed. “Come, how _could_ I? Why, I’d hardly seen you.”

“Well, I did, anyway,” George told her. “I loved you from the very
minute you shot out of the cab that day. There! But even this isn’t the
proper thing. I’ve been promising myself all night to say four words to
you--just four. Now I’m going to say them: Mary, I love you.”

She looked in his eyes for a moment, answering the signal that shone
thence; and then she laughed that clear pipe of mirth which was so
uniquely her own possession.

“Oh, I say, you mustn’t do that,” George cried. He was really perturbed.

“I can’t help it. You are so utterly foolish.”

“I’m not. It’s the proper thing. I tell you I’ve planned it all out. I
love you. I’ve never said it to you before. Now it’s your turn.”

“But what on earth am I to say?”

“You’ve got to say that you love me.”

“You’re making a farce of it.”

“No, I tell you I’ve planned it all out. I can’t go on till you’ve said
it.”

“You can’t expect me to say: ‘George, I love you.’ It’s ridiculous. It’s
like a funny story.”

“Oh, never mind what it’s like. Do be serious, Mary. How can I be sure
you love me if you won’t tell me?”

For the first moment since its happening the thought of Bob Chater and
of Mrs. Chater passed completely from Mary’s mind. She looked around:
there was no soul in sight. She listened: there was no sound. She
clasped her fingers about his; leaned towards him, her face upturned....

He kissed her upon the lips....

“The plans,” said George after a moment, “have all gone fut. I never
thought of that way.”

“It’s much better,” Mary said.

“The other’s not a patch upon it,” said George.



III.

You must conjecture of what lovers think when, following their first
kiss, they sit silent. It is not a state that may be written down in
such poor words as your author commands. For the touch of lips on lips
is the key that turns the lock and gives admission to a world dimly
conceived, yet found to have been wrongly conceived since conceived
never to be so wonderful or so beautiful as it does prove. Nor, ever
again, once the silence is broken and speech is found, has that world an
aspect quite the same. For the door that divides this new world from the
material world can never from the inside be closed. It is at first--for
the space of that silence after the first kiss--pushed very close by
those who have entered; but, soon after, the breath of every rushing
moment blows it further and further ajar. Drab objects from the outer
world drift across the threshold and obtrude their presence--vagabond
tramps in a rose-garden, unpleasant, marring the surroundings, soiling
the atmosphere. Cares drift in, worldly interests drift in; in drift
smudgy, soiled, unpleasant objects brushing the door yet wider upon
its hinges till it stands back to its furthest extent and the
interior becomes at one with the outer world. The process is gradual,
indiscernible. When completed the knowledge of what has been done dawns
suddenly. One knocks against an intruder especially drab, starts into
wakefulness to rub the bruise, and looking around exclaims, “And this is
love!”

Well, it was love. But a rose-garden will not long remain beautiful if
no care is taken of what may intrude.

If we but stand sentinel at the door, exercising a nice discretion, the
garden may likely remain unsoiled, its air uncontaminated.



IV.

George said that though across the first portion of the scheme he had so
laboriously planned he had been shot at lightning speed by the vehicle
of Mary’s action, its latter portion yet remained to be discussed.
“We’ve got to marry, dearest--and as quick as quick. We can’t go on like
this--seeing each other once a week. No, not even if it were once a day.
It’s got to be always.”

“Always and always, dear,” Mary said softly.

Women are more intoxicated than men by the sudden atmosphere of that
new world. The awe of it was still upon her. The light of love comes
strongly to men, with the sensation of bright sunshine; to women as
through stained glass windows, softly.

She continued: “Fancy saying ‘always’ and being glad to say it! I never
thought I could. Do you know--will this frighten you?--I am one of those
people who dread the idea of ‘always.’ I never could bear the idea of
looking far, far ahead and not seeing any end. It frightened me. Ever
since father died, I’ve been like that--even in little things, even in
tangible things. When we go to the seaside in the summer I never
can bear to look straight across the sea. That gives me the idea of
always--of long, long miles and miles without a turn or a stop. I
want to think every day, every hour, that what I am doing can’t go
on--mustchange. It suffocates me to think otherwise. I want to jump out,
to scream.”

Then she gave that laugh that seldom failed to come to her relief,
and said: “It’s a sort of claustrophobia--isn’t that the word?--on a
universal scale. But why is it? And why am I suddenly changed now? Why
does the thought of always, always, endless always with you, bring a
sort of--don’t laugh, dear--a sort of bliss, peace?”

This poor George of mine, who was no deep thinker, nevertheless had the
reason pat. He said:

“I think because the past has all been unhappy and because this, you
know, means happiness.”

She gave a little sigh; told him: “Yes, that’s it--happiness.”



V.

And now they fell to making plans as mating birds build nests. Here a
bit of straw and there a tuft of moss; here a feather, there a shred
of wool--George would do this and George would do that; here the
house would be and thus would they do in the house. Probabilities were
outraged, obstacles vaulted.

Castles that are builded in the air spring into being quicker than
Aladdin’s palace--bricks and mortar, beams and stones are featherweight
when handled in the clouds; every piece is so dovetailed, marked and
numbered that like magic there springs before the eye the shining
whole--pinnacled, turreted, embattled.

Disaster arrives when the work is completed. “There!” we say, standing
back, a little flushed and out of breath with the excitement of the
thing. “There! There’s a place in which to live! Could any existence be
more glorious?” And then we advance a step and lean against the walls
to survey the surrounding prospect. It is the fatal action. The material
body touches the aerial structure and down with a crash the castle
comes--back we pitch into the foundations, and thwack, bump, thwack,
comes the masonry tumbling about us, bruising, wounding.



VI.

George had built the castle. Mary had sat by twittering and clapping her
hands for glee as higher and higher it rose. He knew for a fact, he told
her, that his uncle had not expended upon his education much more than
half the money left him for the purpose. He was convinced that by
hook or by crook he could obtain the 400 pounds that would buy him the
practice at Runnygate of which the Dean had told him. They would have
a little house there--the town would thrive--the practice would
nourish--in a year--why, in a year they would likely enough have to be
thinking of getting a partner! And it would begin almost immediately!
In three weeks the examination would be held. He could not fail to
pass--then for the 400 pounds and Runnygate!

And then, unhappily, George leaned against this castle wall; provoked
the crash.

“Till then, dear,” he said, “you will stay with these Chater people.
I know you hate it; but it will be only a short time, a few weeks at
most.”

Instantly her gay twittering ceased. Trouble drove glee from her eyes.
Memory chased dreams from her brain. Distress tore down the gay colours
from her cheeks. She clasped her hands; from her seat half rose.

“Oh!” she cried; and again, “Oh! I had forgotten!”

“Forgotten? Forgotten what?”

“Dearest, I should have told you at the beginning, but I could not. I
wanted to wait until I knew. I have not seen her yet this morning.”

My startled George was becoming pale. “Knew what? Seen whom? What do you
mean?”

She said, “No, I won’t tell you. I won’t spoil all this beautiful
morning we have spent. I will wait till next week.”

“Mary, what do you mean? Wait till next week? No. You must tell me now.
How could I leave you like this, knowing you are in some trouble? What
has happened? You must tell. You must. I insist.”

“Ah, I will.” Her agitation, as her mind cast back over the events of
the previous night, was enhanced by the suddenness of the change from
the sunshine in which she had been disporting to the darkness that now
swept upon her. She was as a girl who, singing along a country lane, is
suddenly confronted from the hedgeside by some ugly tramp.

She said, “You know that young Mr. Chater?”

Dark imaginings clouded upon George’s brow. “Yes,” he said. “Yes;
well--?”

“Last night--” And then she gave him the history of events.

This simple George of mine writhed beneath it.

It was a poison torturing his system, twisting his brow, knotting his
hands. Her presence, when she finished, did not stay his cry beneath
his rackings: he was upon his feet. “By Gad,” he cried, “I’ll thrash the
life out of him! The swine! By Gad, I’ll kill him!”

She laid a hand upon his arm. “Georgie, dear,” she pleaded. “Don’t,
don’t take it like that. I haven’t finished.”

Roughly he turned upon her. “Well, what else? What else?”

“I haven’t seen him since. He went away early this morning for the
week-end. And I have not seen Mrs. Chater again either. I am to see her
this afternoon. She sent me word to take the children as usual and that
she would see me at three.”

My poor George bitterly broke out: “Oh! Will she? That’s kind of her!
That’s delightful of her! Are you going to see her?”

“Of course I shall see her.”

“‘Of course’! ‘Of course’! I don’t know what you mean by talking in that
tone. You won’t stay there another minute! That’s what you’ll tell her
if you insist upon seeing her. If you had behaved properly you’d have
walked out of the house there and then when it happened last night.”

Spite of her trouble Mary could not forbear to laugh. “Dearest, how
could I?”

But this furious young man could not see her point. His fine passion
swept him above contingencies.

“Well, then, this morning,” he laid down. “The first thing this morning
you should have gone.” He supplied detail: “Packed your box, and called
a cab and gone.”

His dictatory air drew from her another sad little laugh.

“Oh, George, dear,” she cried, “gone where?”

It was a bucket of water dashed upon his flames, and for a moment they
flickered beneath it--then roared again: “_Where? Anywhere!_”

“Oh!” she cried, “you are stupid! You don’t see--you don’t understand!
Easy to say ‘anywhere,’ but where--_where_? I have no money. I have no
friends--I--”

The knowledge of her plight and her outlook crowded upon her speech;
broke her voice.

Her distracted George in a moment had her hands in his. “Oh, my dear,”
 he cried, “what a fool I am! What a beast to storm like that! I was
so wild. So mad. Of course you had to think before you moved. You were
right, of course you were right. But, my darling, I’m right now. You see
that, don’t you? You can’t stay a moment longer with those beasts.”

And then he laughed grimly. “Especially,” he added, “after what I’m
going to do to Master Bob.”

She too laughed. The thought of Bob learning manners beneath the tuition
of those sinewy brown hands that were about hers was very pleasant to
her. But it was a pleasure that must be denied--this she saw clearly as
the result of weary tossings throughout the night; and now she set about
the task of explaining it to George.

She said: “Oh, my dear, you’re not right. Georgie, I can’t go--if Mrs.
Chater will let me stay I must stay.”

He tried to be calm, to understand these women, to understand his Mary.
“But why?” he asked. “Why?”

“Dearest, because I must bridge over the time until you are ready to
take me. You see that?”

“Of course. But why there? You can easily get another place.”

“Oh, easily! If you had been through it as I have been! The first thing
they ask you for is a reference from your former situation. Think what a
reference Mrs. Chater would give me!”

He would not agree. He plunged along in his blundering, man fashion:
“In time you could get a place where they would not ask questions--or
rather--yes, of course this is it. Tell them frankly all that happened.
Who could see you and not believe you? Tell them everything. There must
be some nice people in the world.”

“There may be. But they don’t want helps or governesses--in my
experience.” The little laugh she gave was sadly doleful.

He was still angry. “You can’t generalise like that. There are thousands
who would believe you and be glad to take you. Suppose you have to wait
a bit--well, you have a little money that she must give you; and I--oh,
curse my poverty!--I can borrow, and I can sell things.”

The help that a man would give a woman so often has lack of sympathy; he
is unkind while meaning to be kind. George’s obdurateness, coming when
she was most in need of kisses, hurt her. Trouble welled in her eyes.

“I wouldn’t do that,” she said. “For one thing, we want all our money.
Why throw it away to get me out of a place in which I shall only be
for a few weeks longer? Another thing--another thing--” She dragged
a ridiculous handkerchief from her sleeve; dabbed her brimming eyes.
“Another thing--I’m afraid to risk it. I’m afraid to be alone and
looking for a place again. There--now you know. I’m a coward.”

She fell to sniffing and sobbing; and her wretched George, cursing
himself for the grief he had evoked, cursing Bob Chater, cursing Mrs.
Chater, cursing his uncle Marrapit, put his arms about her and drew her
to him. She quivered hysterically, and he frantically moaned that he
was a beast, a brute, unworthy; implored forgiveness; entreated calm; by
squeezing her with his left arm and with his right hand dabbing her eyes
with her handkerchief, screwed to a pathetic little damp ball, strove to
stem the flood that alarmingly welled from them.



VII.

It was an awful position for any young man; and just as my poor George,
distinguished in nothing, inept, bewildered, was in a mood murderous to
the whole world save this anguished fairy, a wretched old gentleman
must needs come sunning himself down the path, making for this seat with
hobbling limbs.

He collapsed upon it, and then, glancing to his right, was struck with
palpitations by sight of the heaving back of a young woman over whose
shoulder glared at him with hideous ferocity the face of a young man.

“Dear me, dear me,” said he; “nothing wrong, sir, I trust?”

“Go away!” roared my distracted George.

“Eh?” inquired the old gentleman, horribly startled.

“Go away! Go away!”

The fire of those baleful eyes, of that bellowing voice, struck terror
into the aged heart. He clutched his stick.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” said he; hobbled away at a speed dangerous to his
life and limbs to seek protection of a park-keeper.

The sobs grew longer, less hysterical: changed into long “ohs” of
misery; died away.

“There, there,” said George, patting, dabbing. “There, there.”

With a final frantic sniff she recovered her self-possession.

“I’m a little f--fool,” said she.

“I’m a brute,” said George.

The bitter knowledge nerved each to better efforts. Calm reigned.

Mary said, “Now you must listen and believe, dear.”

“Let me have your hand, then.”

She gave it with a little confiding, snuggling movement, and she
continued: “You must believe, because I have thought it all out, whereas
to you it is new. If I were a proper-spirited girl”--she rebuked his
negation with a gesture--“if I were a proper-spirited girl I know I
should leave Mrs. Chater at once--walk out and not care what I might
suffer rather than stay where I had been insulted. Girls in books would
do it. Oh, Georgie, this isn’t books. This is real. I have been through
it, and I would die sooner than face it again. You know--I have told
you--what it is like being alone in cheap lodgings in London. Afraid of
people, dear. Afraid of men, afraid of women. I couldn’t, could not go
through it again. And after all-don’t you see?--if Mrs. Chater will
let me stay, what have I to mind? I shall be better off than before, if
anything. Mrs. Chater has always been--well, sharp. She may be a little
worse--there’s nothing in that. But this Bob Chater, since he came, has
been the worst part of it. And as things are now, his mother watchful
and he--what shall I say? angry, ashamed--why, he will pay no further
attention to me. Come, am I not right? Isn’t it best?--if only she will
let me stay.”

“I don’t like it,” George said. “I don’t like it.”

“Dearest, nor I. But we can’t, can’t have what we like, and this will be
the best of the nasty things. For so short a time, too. I’m quite bright
about it. Am I not? Look at me.”

George looked. Then he said, “All right, old girl.”

She clapped her hands. “Only one thing more. You mustn’t seek out--you
mustn’t touch the detestable Bob.”

With the gloom of one relinquishing life’s greatest prize George said,
“I suppose I mustn’t.” He added, “I tell you what, though. You mustn’t
interfere with this. I’ll save it up for him. The day I take you out and
marry you I’ll pull him out--and pay him.”

They parted upon the promises that Mary would write that evening to tell
him of the result of her interview with Mrs. Chater, and that, in the
especial circumstances, he might come to see her in the Park for just
two minutes on Monday morning.

And each went home, thinking, not of that portending interview with Mrs.
Chater, but upon the love they had declared.



CHAPTER IV.

Events And Sentiment Mixed In A Letter.



I.

At ten o’clock that night Mary took up her pen.

“First, my dear, to tell you that it is all right. I may stay. I had
lunch with the children in the nursery, and just as we had finished
a maid came to say that Mrs. Chater would see me in the study. Down I
crawled, wishing that I was the heroine of a novel who would have passed
firmly down the stairs and into the room, ‘pale, but calm and serene.’
Oh! I was pale enough, I feel sure. But as to serene!--my heart was
flapping about just like a tin ventilator in a wind, and I was jumpy all
over. You see what a coward am I.

“Mrs. Chater had grown since last I saw her. Of that I am convinced. She
sat, enormous, thunder-browed, bolt upright in a straight chair. I stood
and quivered. Books are all wrong, dear. In books the consciousness of
virtue gives one complete self-possession in the face of any accusation,
however terrible. In books it is the accuser of the innocent who is ill
at ease. Oh, don’t believe it! Mrs. Chater had the self-possession, I
had the jim-jams.

“‘I have not seen you since last night,’ she said.

“I gave a kind of terrified little squeak. I had no words.

“‘Your version of what happened I do not wish to hear,’ she went on.

“This relieved me, because for the life of me I could not have told her
had she wished to hear it. So I gave another little mouse-squeak.

“‘My son has told me.’ Her voice was like a deep bell. ‘How you can
reconcile your conduct with the treatment that you have received at my
hands, here beneath my roof’--she was very dramatic at this point--‘I do
not know.’

“Nor did I--but not in the way she meant. I was thinking how ignoble was
my meek attitude in light of what had happened. But you don’t know what
it was like, facing that woman and dreading the worse fate of being
turned out into this awful London again. Another wretched little squeak
slipped out of me, and she went on.

“‘My boy,’ said she, ‘has implored me to overlook this matter. My
boy has declared there were faults on both sides’ (!!!!). ‘If I acted
rightly as a mother, what would I do?’

“I didn’t tell her, Georgie. Could I tell her that if she acted rightly
as a mother she would box her boy’s fat ears until his nose bled? I
couldn’t. I squeaked instead.

“‘If I acted rightly as a mother,’ said she, ‘I would send you away. I
am not going to.’

“I squeaked.

“‘I choose to believe that your behaviour in this matter was a slip. I
believe the episode will be a lesson to you. That is all. Go.’ I goed.”



II.

George, when he had read thus far, was broadly grinning. Obviously
Mrs. Chater was not such a bad sort after all. If--as no doubt--she
implicitly believed her son’s version of the incident, then her attitude
towards Mary was, on the whole, not so bad.

But his Mary, when she had written thus far, laid down her pen, put her
pretty head upon the paper and wept.

“Oh, my dear!” she choked. “There, that will make you think it was all
right. You shall never know--never--what really happened. Oh, Georgie,
Georgie, come very quick and take me away! How can I go on living with
these beasts? Oh, Georgie, be quick, be quick!”

Then this silly Mary with handkerchief, with india-rubber, and with
pen-knife erased a stain of grief that had fallen upon her pretty story;
sniffed back her tears; lifted again her pen.

Now she wrote in an eager scrawl; nib flying. Had her George not been so
very ordinary a young man he must have perceived the difference between
that first portion so neatly penned--parti-coloured words showing where
the ink had dried while the poor little brain puzzled and planned at
every syllable--and this where emotion sped the thoughts.



III.

“So that’s all right” (she wrote), “and now we’ve only got to wait, a
few, few weeks. Dearest, will they fly or will they drag? What does love
do to time, I wonder--whip or brake?--speed or pull? Georgie mine, I
feel I don’t care. If the days fly I shall be riding in them--galloping
to you, wind in the face; shouting them on; standing up all flushed with
the swing and the rush of it; waving to the people we go thundering past
and gazing along the road where soon I will see you--nearer and nearer
and nearer.

“And if the days creep? Well, at first, after that picture, the thought
seems melancholy, unbearable. But that is wrong. The realisation will
not be unbearable. If they creep, why, then I shall lie in them, very
comfortable, very happy; dreaming of you, seeing you, speaking with you,
touching you. Yes, touching you. For, my dear, you are here in the
room with me as I write. I look up just to my right, and there you are,
Georgie mine; sitting on the end of my bed, smiling at me. You have
not left me, my dear, since we parted on the seat this morning. Why, I
cannot even write that it is only in imagination that I see you. For me
it is not imagination. I do, do see you, Georgie mine. You are part of
me, never to leave me.

“How new, how different, love makes life! Everything I do, everything
I see, everything I hear has a new interest because it is something to
share with you, something to save up and tell you. I am in trouble
(you understand that I am not, shall never be again; this is only
illustration--you must read it ‘if I were in trouble’). I am in trouble,
and you are sharing it with me, sympathising so that trouble is an
unkind word for what is indeed but an opportunity acutely to feel
the joy of loving and being loved. I am happy, and the happiness is a
thousandfold increased because it comes to me warmed through you. I
am amused, and it is something to tell you and to laugh at the more
heartily by the compelling sound of your own laughter.

“Everything is new. Why, my very clothes are new. Look, here in my left
hand is my handkerchief. Only a handkerchief this morning, and to other
eyes still but a handkerchief. But to mine! Why, you have had it in your
hand and indeed it speaks to me of you. Here you laid your arm, this was
the side upon which you touched me as we sat together, here in my hair
your fingers caressed me--each and all they are new--different from this
morning.

“Are you thinking me silly when I write like this, or are you dreadfully
bored with it? I can’t help it, Georgie; love means so much more to us
women than to you men. It is essentially different. When a man in
love thinks of the woman he thinks of her as ‘mine,’ and that thrills
him--possession. But when the woman thinks of him she thinks of
herself as ‘his,’ and that moves every fibre of her, strikes every
chord--capitulation. The man expresses love by saying ‘You are mine’;
the woman by ‘I am yours.’ That is how it is with me. I sing to myself
that I am yours, yours, yours. I want you to have every bit of me. I
want you to know every thought I have. If I had bad thoughts, I would
tell them you. If I had desires, I would make them known and would
not blush. I want you to see right into my very heart. I want to lay
everything before you--to come to you bound and naked. That is what love
is with women, dear. Some of us resist it, school it otherwise--but I do
not think they are happy; not really happy. It is our nature to be as I
have said, and to fight against nature is wearying work, leaving marks:
it is to get tossed aside out of the sun.

“Are you thinking me unutterably tiresome and foolish?--but you will not
think that; because you love me.

“Ah, let me write that again!-because you love me. And let me write
this: I love you.

“My dear, is not that curious?--the precious joy of saying ‘I love you,’
and the constant yearning to hear it said. Not lovers alone have this
joy and this desire. Mothers teach their babies to say ‘I love you,
mother,’ and constantly and constantly they ask, ‘Do you love me, baby?
‘--yes, and are not satisfied until they have the assurance. And babies,
too, will get up suddenly from their toys to run to say, ‘Mother, I _do_
love you.’

“Why is it? Why is love so doubted that it must for ever be declared? So
doubted that even those who do love must constantly be proclaiming
the fact to the object of their affections, impelled either by the
subconscious fear that that object mistrusts the devotion, or by the
subconscious fear that they themselves are under delusion and must
protest aloud--just as a child upon the brink of being frightened in the
dark will say aloud, ‘I’m not afraid!’ Why is it?

“Actions are allowed to proclaim hate, deeds suffice to advertise
sympathy, but love must be testified by bond. To what crimes must love
have been twisted and contorted that it should come to such a pass? How
often must it have been used as disguise to be now thus suspected?

“You never knew I thought of things like this, did you?

“My dear dear, I who am so frivolous think of yet deeper things. And I
would speak of them to you tonight, for I would have you know my heart
and mind as, dearest (how dear to think!), you know my face. Yes, of
deeper things. I suppose clever people would laugh at the religion my
mother and father lived in, taught me, died in, and now is mine. They
believed--and I believe--in what I have heard called the Sunday School
God! the God who lives, who listens, and to whom I pray. I have read
books attempting to shatter this belief--yes, and I think succeeding
because written with a cunning appeal only to the intelligence of man.
Can such a Being as God exist? they ask. And since man’s intelligence
can only grasp proved facts, proofs are heaped upon proof that
He cannot. The impossibilities are heaped until man must--of his
limitations--cry that it is impossible. But in my belief God is above
the possibilities--not to be judged by them, not to be reduced to them.
I suppose such a belief is Faith--implicit Faith--the Faith that we are
told makes all things possible. Well, fancy, for the sake of having a
‘religion’ that comes into line with ‘reason,’ abandoning the sense of
comfort that comes after prayer! Fancy receiving a ‘reasoned’ belief and
paying for it the solace of entreating help in the smallest trouble and
in the largest!

“Do you know, my dear dear, that I pray for you every night?--for your
health, your happiness, and your success?

“Now you know a little more of me. Is there more to learn, I wonder? Not
if I can make it clear.

“The candle is in a most melancholy condition: in the last stage of
collapse. I have prodded it out from its socket with my knife and set it
flabbily on a penny--so it must work to its very last drop of life. That
will not be long delayed. I shall suddenly be plunged into darkness
and must undress in the dark. I shall be smiling all the time I am
undressing, my thoughts with you.

“At eleven--ten minutes’ time--I am to be leaning from the window gazing
at Orion as you too--so we agreed--will be gazing. Each will know
the other has his thoughts, and we will say ‘good-night.’ How
utterly foolish! How contemptibly absurd, common!--and how mystically
delightful! You and I with Orion for the apex of eye’s sight and our
thoughts flying from heart to heart the base!

“Georgie mine, if we had never met could we have ever been so happy?
Impossible! Impossible! Before I pray for you to-night, I thank God for
you.

“I have kissed the corner where I shall just be able to squeeze
in--good-night.”

Such was her letter-disloyal to women in its exposure of those truths
of women’s love which are theirs by the heritage of ages, by their
daily training from childhood upward, and against which they should most
desperately battle; simple in its ideas of religion; silly in its baby
sentiment.

Such was my Mary.



CHAPTER V.

Beefsteak For 14 Palace Gardens.



I.

Friday was the night of the incident in the library between Bob Chater
and Mary; Saturday the exchange of love in the Park between Mary and
her George; Saturday evening the writing of Mary’s letter; upon Monday
George read it.

Now it was Monday morning, and precisely at ten o’clock three persons
set out for the same seat in Regent’s Park--the mind of each filled with
one of the others, empty of all thought of the third.

Mary--accompanied by David and Angela--carried towards the seat the
image of her George, but had no heed of Mr. Bob Chater’s existence; she
was the magnet that drew Bob, ignorant of George; George sped to his
Mary and had no thought of Bob.

Our young men were handicapped in point of distance. Mary, with but
a short half-mile to go, must easily be first to make the seat; Bob,
coming to town from a week-end up the river, would occupy little short
of an hour. George from Herons’ Holt to that dear seat, allowed full
seventy-five minutes.



II.

Upon the whole, Mr. Bob Chater had not enjoyed his week-end; ideally
circumstanced, for once the attractions it offered had failed to allure.

Mr. Lemmy Moss, in the tiny riparian cottage he rented for the summer
months, was the most excellent of hosts; Claude Avinger was widely known
as a rattling good sort; the three young ladies who came down early on
Sunday morning and had no foolish objections to staying indecorously
late, were in face, figure and morals all that Bob, Lemmy, and Claude
could desire. Yet throughout that day in the cushioned punt Bob won more
pouts than smiles from the lady who fell to his guardianship.

Disgustedly she remarked to her friends on the home journey, “Fairly
chucked myself at him, the deadhead “--wherein, I apprehend, lay her
mistake. For whether a man’s assault upon a woman be dictated by love
or desire, its vehemence is damped by acquiescence, spurred by rebuff.
Doubtless for our lusty forefathers one-half the fascination of
obtaining to wife the naked ladies who caught their eye lay in the
tremendous excitement of snatching them from their tribes; while for the
ladies, the joy of capture comprised a great proportion of the amorous
delights.

The characteristics remain. Maidens are more decorously won to-day;
their tribes do not defend them; but they do the fighting for
themselves. The sturdier the defence they are able to make, the greater
the joy of at length being won; while, for the suitor, the more pains he
hath endured in process of conquest the more keenly doth he relish his
captive.

So with Bob. The young lady fairly chucking herself at him in the punt
he could not forbear to contrast with the enticing reserve of Mary. The
more playfully (or desperately, poor girl) she chucked herself at him,
the more did her charms cloy as against those of that other prize who so
stoutly kept him at arm’s-length. Nay, the more strenuously did she
seek to entice his good offices, the more troubled was he to imagine why
another of her sex should so slightingly regard him.

Thus, as the day wore on, was Bob thrice impelled towards Mary--by
initial attraction of her beauty; by natural instinct to show himself
master where, till now, he had been bested; and by the stabbings of his
wounded vanity.

On Monday morning, then, he caught the ten o’clock train to town, hot
in the determination immediately to see her and instantly to press his
suit. He would try, he told himself, a new strategy. Bold assault had
been proved ill-advised; for frontal attack must be substituted an
advance more crafty. Its plan required no seeking. He would play--and,
to a certain extent, would sincerely play--the part of penitent. He
would apologise for Friday’s lapse; would explain it to have been the
outcome of sheer despair of ever winning her good graces.

As to where he would find her he had no doubts. Dozing one day over a
book, he had not driven David and Angela from the room until they
had forced upon him a wearisome account of the secluded seat they had
discovered in Regent’s Park. His patience in listening was an example of
the profit of casting one’s bread upon the waters; for, making without
hesitation for the seat, he discovered Mary.



III.

The children, as he approached, were standing before her. David had
scratched his finger, and the three were breathlessly examining the
wounded hand for traces of the disaster. Brightly Mary was explaining
that the place of the wound was over the home of very big drops of
“blug,” which could not possibly squeeze out of so tiny a window; when
Angela, turning at footsteps, exclaimed: “Oh, dear, oh, dear, what
_shall_ we do? Here’s Bob!”

Alarm drummed in Mary’s heart: fluttered upon her cheeks. She had felt,
as she told her George, so certain that from Bob she had now not even
acknowledgment to fear, that this deliberate intrusion set her mind
bounding into disordered apprehensions--stumbling among them, terrified,
out of breath.

When he had raised his hat, bade her good morning, she could but sit
dumbly staring at him-questioning, incapable of speech.

It was Angela that answered his salutation: “Oh, why _have_ you come
here? You spoil _everything_.”

“Hook!” said Bob.

David asked: “What’s hook?”

“Run away.”

“Why?”

“Because I tell you to.”

“Why?”

Bob exclaimed: “Hasn’t mother told you not to say ‘Why’ like that? Run
away and play. I want to speak to Miss Humfray.”

David swallowed the rising interrogation; substituted instead an
observant poke: “Miss Humfray doesn’t want to speak to you. She hates
you.”

The uncompromising directness of these brats, their gross
ill-mannerliness, was a matter of which Bob made constant complaint to
his mother. The belief that he observed a twitch at the corner of Mary’s
mouth served further to harden his tones.

He said: “Look here, you run away when I tell you, or I’ll see you don’t
come out here any more.”

“Why?”

Bob swallowed. It was necessary before he spoke to clear his tongue of
the emotions that surged upon it.

Angela, in the pause, entreated David: “Oh, don’t keep saying ‘Why?’,
David,” and before he could ask the reason she addressed Bob: “We won’t
go for you. If Miss Humf’ay tells us to go, _then_ we will go.”

Bob looked at Mary. “I only want to speak to you for a minute.”

Amongst the slippery apprehensions in which she had taken flight Mary
had struggled to the comfortable rock that Bob’s appearance must have
been chance, not deliberate--how should he have known where to seek
them? Sure ground, too, was made by the belief that it were well to take
the apology with which doubtless he had come--well to be on good terms.

Encouraged by these supports, “Shoo!” she cried to her charges. “Don’t
you hear what your brother asks?”

“Do _you_ want us to go?”

“Oh, shoo! shoo!”

Laughing, they shoo’d.

Bob let them from earshot. “I want to say how sorry I am about Friday
night.”

“I have forgotten all that.”

“I want to know that you have forgiven me.”

“I tell you I have forgotten it.”

“That is not enough. You can’t have forgotten it.” He took a seat beside
her; repeated: “You can’t have forgotten it. How can you have forgotten
a thing that only happened three days ago?”

“In the sense that I have wiped it out--I do not choose to remember it.”

“Well, I remember it. I cannot forget it. I behaved very badly. I want
to know that you forgive me.”

She told him: “Yes, then--oh yes, yes.” His persistence alarmed her, set
her again to flight among her apprehensions.

“Not when you say it like that.”

Her breath came in jerks, responsive to the unsteady flutters of her
heart. She made an effort for control; for the first time turned to him:
“Mr. Chater, please go.”

Her words pricked every force that had him there--desire, obstinacy,
wounded vanity.

“Why do you say that?” he asked.

“You happened to be passing--”

“Nothing of the kind,” he told her.

“You have come purposely?” One foothold that seemed safe was proving
false.

“Of course. I tell you--why won’t you believe me?--that I have been
ashamed of myself ever since that night. At the first opportunity I have
come straight to tell you so, I ought to be in the City. I could not
rest until I had made my apology.”

“Well, you have made it--I don’t mean to say that sharply. I think--I
think it is very nice of you to be so anxious, and I freely accept your
apology. But don’t you see that you are harming me by staying here? I
beg you to go.”

“How am I harming you? Am I so distasteful to you that you can’t bear me
near you?”

This was the personal note that of all her apprehensions had given Mary
greatest alarm. “Surely you see that you are harming me--I mean hurting
me--I mean, yes, getting me into trouble by staying like this with me.
Mrs. Chater might have turned me off on Saturday--”

“I spoke for you.”

“Yes.” The words choked her, but she spoke them--“I am grateful to you
for that. But if she found me talking to you again--especially if she
knew you came here to see me, she would send me away at once. She told
me so.”

“How is she to know?”

“The children--”

“I’ll take care of that.”

“You can’t prevent it. In any case--”

Bob said bitterly: “In any case! Yes, that’s it. In any case you hate
the sight of me.”

She cried: “Oh, why will you speak like that? I mean that in any case it
is not right. I promised.”

Bob laughed. “If that’s all, it is all right. You didn’t promise for
me.”

“It makes no difference. You say you are sorry--I believe you are sorry.
You can only show it one way. Mr. Chater, please leave me alone.”

Her pretty appeal was fatal to her desire. It enhanced her graces.
In both phrase and tone it was different from similar request in the
petulant mouths of those ladies amongst whom Bob purchased his way.
Dissatisfied, they would have said “Oh, chuck it! Do!” But “Mr. Chater,
please leave me alone!”--that had the effect of moving Mr. Chater a
degree closer along the seat.

He said: “You shan’t have cause to blame me. Look here, you haven’t
asked me to explain my conduct on Friday.”

“I don’t wish you to.”

“Don’t you want to know?”

She shook her head.

“Aren’t you curious?” His voice was low with a note of intensity. This
was love-making, as he knew the pursuit.

He went on: “I’m sure you’re curious. Look here, I’m going to tell you.”

“I’m going,” she said; made to rise.

He caught her hand where it lay on her lap; pressed her down. “You’re
not. If you do I shall follow--but I won’t let you,” and he pressed
again in advertisement.

Now she was alarmed--not for the result of this interview, but for its
very present perils. Fear strangled her voice, but she said, “Let me
go.”

“You must hear me, then.”

“I wish to go.”

“You must stay to hear me.” He believed a fierce assault would now win
the heights. He released her hand; but she was still his prisoner, and
he leant towards her averted head.

“I’m going to tell you why I behaved like that that night. It was
because I could not contain myself any longer. You had always been so
icy to me; kept me at arm’s-length, barely let me speak to you; and all
the time I was burning to tell you that I loved you--there, you know
it now. On that night you were still cold when you might have been only
barely civil and I could have contained myself. But you would not give
me a word, and at last all that was in me for you burst out and I could
not hold myself. It was unkind; it was frightening to you, perhaps; but
was it a crime?--is it a crime to love?”

His flow checked, waiting an impulse from her.

She was but capable of a little “Oh!”--the crest of a gasp.

He misread her emotion. “Has it all been pretence, your keeping me from
you like this? I believe it has. But now that you know you will be kind.
Tell me. Speak.”

Encouraged by her silence he took her hand.

That touch acted as a cold blast upon her fevered emotions. Now she was
calm.

She shook off his hand. “Have you done?”

The tone more than the question warned him.

“Well?” he said; sullen wrath gathering.

“Well, never speak to me again.”

“You won’t be friends?”

“Friends! With you!”

Her meaning--that he had lost--stung him; her tone--that she despised
him--was a finger in the wound.

He gripped her arm. “You little fool! How are you going to choose? If
I want to be friends with you, how are you going to stop it? By God,
if you want to be enemies it will be the worse for you. If I can’t be
friends with you at home, I’ll get you turned out and I’ll make you be
friends outside.”

She was trying to twist her arm from his grasp.

He gripped closer. “No, I don’t mean that. I love you--that’s why I talk
so when you rebuff me. I’ll not hurt you. We shall--I will be friends.”

His right arm held her. He slipped his left around her, drew her to
him, and with his lips had brushed her cheek before she was aware of his
intention.

The insult swept her free of every thought but its memory. By a sudden
motion she slipped from his grasp and to her feet; faced him.

“You beast!” she cried. “You beast!”

He half rose; made a half grab at her.

She stepped back a pace; something in her action reminded him of that
stinging blow she had dealt him in the library; he dropped back to his
seat and she turned and fled up the path whither Angela and David had
toddled.



IV.

It was while Bob sat gazing after her, indeterminate, that he felt a
hand from behind the seat upon his shoulder; looked up to see a tall
young man, fresh faced, but fury-browed, regarding him.

“What’s your name?” asked George.

“What the devil’s that to do with you?”

The tone of the first question had been of passion restrained. The
passion broke now from between George’s clenched teeth, flamed in his
eyes.

He tightened his grip upon the other’s shoulder so that he pinched the
flesh.

“A lot to do with me,” he cried. “Is it Chater?”

“What if it is? Let me go, damn you!”

“Let you go! I’ve been itching for you for weeks! What have you been
saying to Miss Humfray?”

“Damn you! Take off your hand! She’s a friend of yours, is she?”

My furious George choked: “Engaged to me.” Further bit upon his passion
he could not brook. He brought his free hand down with a crash upon
the face twisted up at him; relaxed his hold; ran round the seat--those
brown hands clenched.

If Bob Chater at no time had aching desire for a brawl, he was at least
no coward: here the events he had suffered well sufficed to whip
his blood to action. He sprang to his feet, was upon them as George,
sideways to him, came round the arm of the seat; lunged furiously and
landed a crack upon the cheekbone that spun George staggering up the
path.

It was a good blow, a lusty blow--straight from the shoulder and with
body and leg work behind it; a blow that, happier placed, might well
have won the battle.

A ring upon Bob’s finger cut the flesh he struck, and he gave a savage
“Ha!” of triumph as he saw George go spinning and the red trickle come
breaking down his cheek.

A great ridge in the gravel marked the thrust of foot with which George
stayed his stagger, from which he impelled the savage spring that
brought him within striking distance.

There was no science. This was no calmly prepared fight with cool brains
directing attack, searching weak points, husbanding strength, deft in
defence. Here was only the animal instinct to get close and wound; to
grapple and wound again.

George it was that provoked this spirit. Till now he had not seen this
flushed face before him. But he had for many days conjured it up in
his fancy--sharpening upon it the edge of his wrath, bruising himself
against the wall of wise conduct that kept him from meeting and visiting
upon it the distress his Mary had endured.

Now that he saw it in the flesh (and it was not unlike his conception),
he came at it with the impulse of one who, straining against a rope,
rushes headlong forward when a knife parts the bond.

The impulse thus given more than countered the greater bulk and reach
that should have told in Bob’s scale. Bob felt his wits and his courage
simultaneously deserting him before the pell-mell of blows that came
raining against his guard. Whensoever he effected a savage smash that
momentarily checked the fury, it served but to bring back this seemingly
demented young man with a new rush and ardour.

Bob gave step by step, struck short-arm, felt the faint saltness of
blood upon his lips, staggered back before a tremendous hit between the
eyes, stumbled, tripped, fell.

“Get up!” George bellowed; waited till Bob came rushing, and sent him
reeling again with a broken tooth that cut the brown knuckles.

Bob lacked not courage and had proved it, for he was sorely battered.
But the pluck in him was whipped and now venom alone bade him make what
hurt he could.

His heavy stick was leaning against the seat. He seized it; swung it
high; crashed a blow that must have split the head it aimed.

George slipped aside; the blow missed. He poised himself as Bob,
following the impulse, went staggering by; put all his weight behind a
crashing hit and sent him spinning prone with a blow that was fittingly
final to the exhibition of lusty knocks.

Bob propped himself on one arm, rose to his feet; glared;
hesitated--then fell to brushing his knees.

It was a masterly white flag.

“Had enough?” George panted. “Had enough? Are you whipped, you swine?”

Bob assiduously brushed.

“When you’re better, let me know,” George cried; turned and hurried up
the path whither Mary had disappeared.

The forced draught of fury, pain, and exertion sent Bob’s breath roaring
in and out in noisy blasts--now long and laboured, now spasmodic quick.

He examined his bill of health and damage. Face everywhere tender to the
touch; clothes dust-covered and torn; both knees of trousers rent; silk
hat stove in when in a backward rush he had set his foot upon it. His
tongue discovered a broken tooth, his handkerchief a bleeding nose, his
fingers blood upon his chin, trickling to his shirt front.

So well as might be he brushed his person; straightened his hat; clapped
handkerchief to his mouth; past staring eyes, grinning faces, hurried
out of the Park to bury himself in a cab.



V.

From a window Mrs. Chater saw the bruised figure of her darling boy
alight; with palpitating heart rushed to greet him.

“Bob! My boy! My boy! What has happened?”

Her boy brushed past; bounded to his room. Laboriously, sick with fear,
the devoted mother toiled in pursuit--found him in his room tearing off
his coat.

“My boy! My boy!”

Her boy bellowed: “_Hot water!_”

Can a mother’s tender care cease towards the child she bare?

Oh! needless to ask such a question, you for whom is pictured this
devoted woman plunging at breakneck speed for the bathroom, screaming as
she runs: “Susan! Kate! Jane! Jane! Kate! Susan!”

Doors slammed, cries echoed, stairs shook, as trembling servants rushed
responsive.

Crashing of cans, rushing of water, called them to the bathroom.

“Oh, m’am! What is it?”

Water flew in sprays as the agonised mother tested its temperature with
her hands; cans rattled as she kicked them from where, in dragging one
from the shelf, the others had clattered about her feet.

Jane, Kate, and Susan clustered in alarm about the door: “Oh, m’am!
M’am! Whatever is it?”

Mrs. Chater gave no reply. Her can full, she plunged through them. This
way and that they dodged to give her passage; dodge for dodge, demented,
hysterical, she gave them--slopping boiling water on to agonised toes;
bursting through at last; thundering up the stairs.

The three plunged after her: “Oh, m’am! M’am! Whatever is it?”

The devoted woman paused at the head of the stairs; screamed down
orders: “Sticking-plaster! Lint! Cotton-wool! Mr. Bob has had an
accident! Hot-water bottles! Ice! Doctor! Go for the doctor, one of
you!”

A figure with battered face above vest and pants bounded from its room.
“No!” Bob roared. “No!”

“No!” Mrs. Chater echoed, not knowing to what the negative applied, but
hysterically commanding it.

“No!” screamed the agitated servants, one to another.

“No! no doctor!” bellowed Bob; grabbed the can from his mother; shot
back to his room.

“No doctor!” Mrs. Chater screamed to the white-faced pack upon the
stairs; fled after him.

“My boy! Tell me!”

Her boy raised his dripping face from the basin. “For God’s sake shut
the door!” he roared.

She did. “Tell me!” she trembled.

“It’s that damned girl.”

“That girl?”

“Miss Humfray!”

“Miss Humfray! Done that to you! Oh, your poor face! Your poor face!”

“No!--no! Do be quiet, mother! Some infernal man she goes about with in
the Park! I spoke to him and he set on me!”

“The infamous creature! The wicked, infamous girl! A bad girl, I knew
it!--”

Agitated tapping at the door: “The cotton-wool m’am.” “Sticking-plaster,
m’am.” “‘Ot bottle, m’am.”

“Go away!” roared Bob. “Go away! O-oo, my face!” He hopped in wrath and
pain. “Send those damned women away!”

Mrs. Chater rushed to the door. Passing, she for the first time caught
full sight of her son’s face now that the hot water had exposed its
wreck. “Oh, your eyes! Your poor eyes! They’re closing up!”

Bob staggered to the mirror; discovered the full horror of his marred
beauty. “Curse it!” he groaned and gave an order.

Mrs. Chater flew to the telephone.

In the office of Mr. Samuel Hock, purveyor of meat, by appointment, to
the Prince of Wales, the telephone bell sharply rang. Mr. Hock stepped
to the receiver, listened, then bellowed an order into the shop:

“One of beefsteak to 14 Palace Gardens, sharp!”



CHAPTER VI.

A Cab For 14 Palace Gardens.



I.

With tremendous strides, with emotion roaring in and out his nostrils in
gusty blasts of fury, my passionate George encompassed the Park this way
and that until he came at length upon his trembling Mary.

Save for that first blow where Bob’s ring had marked his cheek he had
suffered but little in the fight--sufficiently, notwithstanding, coupled
with his colossal demeanour, for Mary’s eyes to discover that something
was amiss.

She came to him; cried at a little distance: “Oh, dearest, I--I could
not meet you at the seat.”

Then she saw more clearly. She asked: “What has happened?” and stood
with quivering lip recording the flutters of her heart.

George took one hand; patted it between both his. For the moment his
boiling anger cooled beneath grim relish of his news. “I’ve pretty well
killed that Chater swine,” he said.

“Mr. Chater?--you’ve met Mr. Chater?”

Now emotion boiled again in her turbulent George. He said: “I saw you
run from him. I saw--what had he been doing?”

“Oh, Georgie!”

“Well, never mind. I’d rather not hear. I’ve paid him for it, whatever
it was.”

“You fought? Oh, and your face--and your hand bleeding too!”

Tears stood in this ridiculous Mary’s eyes. Women so often cry at the
wrong moment. They should more closely study their men in the tremendous
mannish crises that come to some of us. This was no moment for tears; it
was an hour to be Amazon. To be hard-eyed. To count the scalps brought
home by the brave--in delight to squeal over them; in pride to clap the
hands and jump for joy at such big behaviour.

My Mary erred in every way. Her moistening eyes annoyed George.

“Oh, don’t make a fuss about that, Mary,” he cried irritably. “It’s
nothing. Master Bob won’t be able to see for a month.”

“Oh, George, why did you do it?”

Then the tremendous young man flamed. “Why did I do it? ‘Pon my soul,
Mary, I simply don’t understand you sometimes. You’ve made me stand by
and see you insulted for a month, and then I see him catch hold of you,
and you run, and I go and thrash him, and you say, ‘Why did you do
it?’ _Do_ it? _Do_ it? Why, good Lord, what would you have had me
do--apologise for you?”

She turned away, dropped his hand.

My unfortunate George groaned aloud: sprang to her. “Mary, darling,
dearest, you know I didn’t mean that.”

She kept her face from him; her pretty shoulders heaved.

He cried in misery, striving to see her face: “What a brute I am! What a
brute! Mary, Mary, you know I didn’t mean that.”

She gasped: “You ge-get angry so quick.”

“I know, I know. I’m not fit--I couldn’t help--Mary, do look up.”

She swallowed a sob; gave him her little hand.

He squeezed it, squeezed it as it were between his love for her and the
tremendous passion that was consuming him. Contrition at his sharp words
to her hammered the upper plate, wrath at the manner of her reception of
his news was anvil beneath. The poor fingers horribly suffered.

There are conditions of the male mind--and this George was in the very
heart of one--when softness in a woman positively goads to fury.
The mind is in an itching fever, and--like a bull against a
gate-post--requires hard, sharp corners against which to rub and ease
the irritation. Comes the lord and master home sulky or in fury, the
wise wife will meet him with a demeanour so spiked that he may scratch
his itching at every turn. To be soft and yielding is the most fatal
conduct; it is to send the lumbering bull crashing through the gate-post
into the lane to seek solace away from the home paddock.

Unversed in these homely recipes, this simple Mary had at least the wit
not to cry “Oh!” in pain and move her hand. They found a seat, and for
good five minutes this turbulent George sat and threshed in his wrath
like a hooked shark--this little hand the rope that held him. Soon its
influence was felt. His tuggings and boundings grew weaker. The venom
oozed out of him.

He uncovered the crushed fingers; raising, pressed them to his lips.

He groaned. “Now you know me at last.”

She patted those brown hands; did not speak.

“You know the awful temper I’ve got,” he went on. “Uncontrollable--angry
even with you--foul brute--”

“But I annoyed you, Georgie.”

He flung out an accusatory hand against himself. “How? By being sweet
and loving! Why, what a brute I must be!”

She told him: “You shan’t call yourself names. In fact, you mustn’t.
Because that is calling me names too. We belong, Georgie.”

The pretty sentiment tickled him. Gloom flew from his brow before
sunshine that took its place. He laughed. “You’re a dear, dear old
thing.”

She gave a whimsical look at him. “I ought to have said at once what I
am going to say now: Did you hurt him much?”

“I bashed him!” George said, revelling in it. “I fairly bashed him!”

She snuggled against this tremendous fellow.



II.

It was a park-keeper who, from that opium drug of sweet silence with
which lovers love to dull their senses, recalled them to the urgency for
action.

The park-keeper led David by one hand, Angela by the other, whence
he had found them wandering. Disappointment that their owner was
a protected lady instead of a nicely-shaped nursemaid whom by this
introduction he might add to his recreations, delivered him of stern
reproof at the carelessness which had let these children go astray.

“I would very much like to know,” he concluded, “what their ma would
say.”

“My plump gentleman,” said George pleasantly, “meet me at this
trysting-place at noon to-morrow, and your desire shall be gratified.”

The park-keeper eyed him; thought better of the bitter words he had
contemplated; contented himself with: “Funny, ain’t yer?”

“Screaming,” said George. “One long roar of mirth. Hundreds turned away
nightly. Early doors threepence extra. Bring the wife.”

The park-keeper withdrew with a morose air.



III.

And now my George and his Mary turned upon the immediate future. Conning
the map of ways and means and roads of action, a desolate and almost
horrifying country presented itself. No path that might be followed
offered pleasant prospects. All led past that ogre’s castle at 14 Palace
Gardens; at the head of each stood the ogress shape of Mrs. Chater,
gnashing for blood and bones over the disaster to her first-born. She
must be faced.

George flared a torch to light the gloom: “But why should you go near
her, dearest? Let me do it. I’ll take the children back. I’ll see her.
I’ll get your boxes.”

Even the sweetest women trudge through life handicapped by the
preposterous burden of wishing to do what their sad little minds
hold right. It is a load which, too firmly strapped, makes them dull
companions on the highway.

Mary said: “It wouldn’t be _right_, dear. The children are in my charge;
how could I send them back to their mother in the care of a strange
man? And it wouldn’t be right to myself, either. It would look as if I
admitted myself in the wrong. No; I must, must face her.”

George’s torch guttered; gave gloom again. He tried a second: “Well,
I’ll come with you. That’s a great idea. She won’t dare say much while
I’m there.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t be _right_, Georgie. You oughtn’t to come to the
house--to see her--after what you’ve done to the detestable Bob. No,
I’ll go alone and I’ll go now. You shall come as far as the top of the
road and there wait.”

“And then?” George asked.

This was to research the map for rest-houses and for fortunes that might
be won after the ogre castle had been passed.

Mary conned and peered until the strain squeezed a little moisture in
her eyes. “I don’t know,” she said faintly.

Her bold George had to know. “It won’t be for very long, dear old girl.
You must find another situation. Till then a lodging. I know a place
where a man I know used to have digs. A jolly old landlady. I’ll raise
some money--I’ll borrow it.”

Mary tried to brighten. “Yes, and I’ll go to that agency again. I must,
because I shall have no character, you see. I’ll tell her everything
quite truthfully, and I think she’ll be nice.”

“It’s no good waiting,” George said. His voice had the sound of a
funeral bell.

Mary arose slowly, white. She said: “Come along.”

With a tumbril rumble in their ears, the children dancing ahead, they
started for Palace Gardens.



IV.

The groans and curses of her adored Bob, his bulgy mouth and shutting
eyes, his tender nose and the encrimsoned water where he had layed his
wounds--these had so acted upon Mrs. Chater’s nerves, plunged her into
such vortex of hysteria, that the manner of her reception of Mary was
true reflection of her fears, nothing dissembled.

Withdrawing her agitated face from the dining-room window as Mary and
the children approached, she bounded heavily to the door; flung it ajar;
collapsed to her knees upon the mat; clasped David and Angela to that
heaving bosom.

“Safe!” she wailed. “Safe! Thank God, my little lambs are safe!”

Distraught she swayed and hugged; kissed and moaned again.

David pressed away. “You smell like whisky, mummie,” he said.

It was a dash of icy water on a fainting fit; wonderfully it strung the
demented woman’s senses. She pushed her little lambs from her; fixed
Mary with awful eye.

“So you’ve come back--_Miss?_”

Mary quivered.

“I wonder you dared. I wonder you had the boldness to face me after
your wicked behaviour. You’ve got nothing to say for yourself. I’m not
surprised--”

Mary began: “Mrs. Chater, I--”

“Oh, how can you? How can you dare defend yourself? Never, never in
all my born days have I met with such ingratitude; never have I been
deceived like this. I took you in. I felt sorry for you. I fed you,
clothed you, cared for you, treated you as one of my own family; and
this is my reward. There you stand, unable to say a word--”

“If you think, Mrs. Chater--”

“Don’t _speak_! I won’t hear you. Here have I day after day been
entrusting my beloved lambs to your care, and heaven alone knows what
risks they have run. My boy--my Bob, who would die rather than get a
living soul into trouble--sees you with this man you have been going
about with. He does his duty to me, his mother, and to my precious
lambs, his brother and sister, by reproving you, and you set this
man--this low hired bully--upon him to murder him. I’ll have the law
on the coward. I’ll punish him and I’ll punish you, miss. No wonder you
were frightened when my Bob caught you. No wonder.”

“That is untrue, Mrs. Chater.”

“Don’t _speak!_”

“I will speak. I shall speak. It is untrue.”

“You dare--”

“It is a lie. Yes, I don’t mind what I say when you speak to me like
that. It is a wicked lie.”

“Girl--!”

“If your son told you he caught me with the man who thrashed him as he
deserved, he told you a lie. He never saw me with him. He followed me
into the Park this morning and tried to repeat what he did on Friday
night. He is a coward and a cad. The man to whom I am engaged caught him
at it and thrashed him as he deserved. There! Now you know the truth!”

Very white, my ridiculous Mary pressed her hand to her panting breast;
stopped, choked by the wild words that came tumbling up into her mouth.

Very red, swelling and panting in turkey-cock fury, Mrs. Chater,
towering, swallowed and gasped, breathless before this vixenish attack.

But she was the first to find speech; and incoherently she stormed as
at a scratching do those persons whose true selves lie beneath a tissue
film of polish.

She bubbled and panted: “Oh, you wicked girl!--oh, you wicked girl!--oh,
you wicked girl!--bold as brass-calling me a liar--_me_--and my
battered boy--engaged indeed!--I’ll have the law and the police and
the judges--my solicitors--libel and assault, and slander and attempted
murder--boxes searched--my precious lambs to hear their mother spoken
to like this--get out of the hat-rack, David, and go upstairs this
instant--Angela, don’t stand there--if I wasn’t a lady I’d box your
ears, miss--only a week ago didn’t I give you a black silk skirt of
mine?--and fed you like a princess, with a soft feather pillow too,
because you said the bolster made your head ache--servants to wait on
you hand and foot--and this is my reward--how I keep my hands off you
heaven only knows--but you shall suffer, miss--oh, yes you shall--I’ll
give you in charge--I’ll call a policeman.”

She turned towards the kitchen stairs; screamed “Susan! Kate! Jane!
Susan!”

Small need to bellow. Around the staircase corner three white-capped
heads--Kate holding back Susan, Susan restraining Jane, Jane holding
Kate--had been with delighted eyes and straining ears bathing in this
rare scene. With glad unanimity they broke their restraint one upon the
other; crushed pell-mell, hustling up the narrow stairs.

Mrs. Chater plumped back into a chair; with huge hands fanned her heated
face. “Fetch a policeman!”

They plunged for the door.

Bob’s swollen countenance came over the banisters. He roared “Stop!”

Kate, Jane and Susan swung between the conflicting authorities.

“Call a policeman! Summon a constable! Fetch an officer!” In
gusty breaths from behind Mrs. Chater’s hands, working like a red
paddle-wheel, came the commands.

“Stop!” roared Bob; and to enforce pushed forward the battered face till
it stuck out flat over the hall.

His alarmed mother screamed: “Bob, you’ll fall over the banisters!”

The two kept up a battledore and shuttlecock of agitated conversation.

“Well, stop those women!” Bob cried; “for God’s sake, stop them, mother!
What on earth are you thinking of?”

“I’ll give her in charge!”

“You can’t, you can’t. Oh, my God, what a house this is!”

“She called me a liar!”

“You can’t charge her for that.”

“She half murdered you!”

“She never touched me. Why don’t you do as I told you? Why don’t you
send her away?”

“Mercy, Bob! you’ll fall and kill yourself!”

“Do as I say, then! Do as I say!”

“Well, put back your head! Put back your head.”

“Do as I say, then!”

Mrs. Chater stopped the paddle-wheel; rose to her feet. Bob’s ghastly
face drew in to safer limits. She addressed Mary: “Again my boy has
interceded for you. Oh, how you must feel!” She addressed the maids: “Is
her box packed?”

They chorused “Yes”; pointed, and Mary saw her tin box, corded, set
against the wall.

“Call a cab,” Mrs. Chater commanded; and as the whistle blew she turned
again upon Mary.

“Now, miss, you may go. I pack you off as you deserve. But before you
go--”

The battered face shot out again above the banisters: “Pay her her wages
and send her away, mother. Do, for goodness’ sake, send her away!”

“Wages! Certainly not! Mercy! Your head again! Go back, Bob!”

The maddened, pain-racked Bob bellowed: “Oh, stop it! stop it! I shall
go mad in a minute. She is entitled to her wages. Pay her.”

“I won’t!”

“Well, I will. Susan! Susan, come up here and take this money. How much
is it?”

“She is not to be paid,” Mrs. Chater trumpeted.

“She is to be paid,” bawled her son. “Do you want an action brought
against you? Oh, my God, what a house this is!”

“My boy! You will fall! Very well, I’ll pay her.” Mrs. Chater turned to
Mary. “Again and yet again my son intercedes for you, miss. Oh, how you
must feel!” She grabbed around her dress for her pocket; found a purse;
produced coins; banged them upon the table. “There!”

And now my Mary, who had stood upright breasting these successive
surges, spoke her little fury.

With a hand she swept the table, sending the coins flying this way and
that--with them a card salver, a vase, a pile of prayer-books. With her
little foot she banged the floor.

“I would not touch your money--your beastly money. You are contemptible
and vulgar, and I despise you. Mr. Chater, if you are a man you
will tell your mother why you were thrashed. Do you dare to say you
interfered because you found me with someone? Do you dare?”

With masterly strategy Bob drove home a flank attack. To have affirmed
he did dare might lead to appalling outburst from this little vixen. He
said very quietly, as though moved by pity: “Please do not make matters
worse by blustering, Miss Humfray.” He sighed: “I bear you no ill-will.”

My poor Mary allowed herself to be denuded of self-possession. His words
put her control to flight; left her exposed. Tears started in her eyes.
She made a little rush for the stairs. “Oh, you coward!” she cried. “You
coward! I will make you say the truth.”

Would she have clutched the skirts of his dressing-gown, forgetting the
proper modesty of a nice maiden, and dragged him down the stairs?
Would she indelicately have pursued him to his very bedroom, and there,
regardless of his scanty dress, have assaulted him?

Bob believed she would. It is so easy for the world’s heroines to remain
calm against attack. My Mary was made of commoner stuff--the wretched,
baser clay of which not I, but my neighbours, not you, but your
acquaintances, are made.

Bob believed she would. He cried, “Send her away! Why the devil don’t
you send her away?”; gathered his skirts; fled for the safety of a
locked door.

Mrs. Chater believed she would. Mrs. Chater plunged across the hall;
stood, an impassable and panting guardian, upon the lowermost step. Her
outstretched arm stayed Mary; a voice announced, “The cab’m.”

My Mary stood a moment; little fists clenched, flashing eyes; blinked
against the premonition of a rush of tears; then, as they came, turned
for the door.

“Go!” trumpeted Mrs. Chater. “Go!”

Mary was upon the mat when Angela and David made a little rush; caught
her skirts. The alarming scenes had hurtled in sequence too rapid and
too violent to be by the children understood. But a scrap here and a
scrap there they had caught, retained, correctly interpreted; and the
whole, though it supplied no reason, told clearly that their adored Mary
was going from them.

“You’re coming back soon, aren’t you?” David cried.

“You’re not going away, are you, Miss Humf’ay?” implored Angela.

Mrs. Chater shrilled: “Children, come away. Come here at once.”

Mary dropped one knee upon the mat; caught her arms about the
children. She pressed a cool face against each side her wet and burning
countenance, gave kisses, and upon the added stress of this new emotion
choked: “Good-bye, little ducklings!”

“Oh, darling, _darling_ Miss Humf’ay, we _will_ be good if you’ll stay!”
 They felt this was the desperate threat that so often followed their
misdemeanours put into action.

She held them, hugging them. “It isn’t that. You have been good.”

“Then you said you would stay for ever and ever if we were good.”

“Not ever and ever; I said--I said perhaps a fairy prince would come to
take me. Didn’t I?”

This was the romance that forbade tears. But David had doubts. He
regarded the hansom at the door: “That’s a cab, not a carriage. Fairy
princes don’t come in cabs.”

“The prince is waiting. Kiss me, darling Davie. Angie, dear, dear Angle,
kiss me.”

She rose. Mrs. Chater had come from the stairs, now laid hands upon the
small people and dragged them back from the pretty figure about which
they clung.

They screamed, “Let me go!”

David roared; dropped prone upon the mat to kick and howl: “Take away
your _hand_, mother!”

Angela gasped: “Oh, comeback, comeback, darling Miss Humf’ay!”

With a glare of defiance into Mrs. Chater’s stormy eyes, my Mary stooped
over David.

“David!” The calm ring of the tones he had learned to obey checked his
clamour, his plunging kicks. She stooped; kissed him. “Be good as gold,”
 she commanded. “Promise.”

“Good as gold--yes--p’omise,” David choked.

Angela was given, and gave, the magic formula. Mary stepped back. Susan
slammed the door.

With quivering lips my Mary walked to the cab.

“Drive down the street,” she choked; lay back against the cushions; gave
herself to shaking sobs.



V.

Her George met her a very few yards down the street. He gave an order to
the cabman and sat beside her.

It was not long before her grief was hushed. She dried her eyes; nestled
against this wonderful fellow who, as love had now constituted her
world, was the solace against every trouble that could come to her, the
shield against any power that might arise to do her hurt.

They debated the position and found it desperate; discussed the
immediate future to discover it threatening. Yet the gloom was
irradiated by the glowing light of the prospective future; the rumbling
of present fears was lost in the tinkling music of their voices,
striking notes from love.

The cab twisted this way and that; clattered over Battersea Bridge, down
the Park, to the right past the Free Library, and so into Meath Street
and to the clean little house of the landlady whom George knew.

To her, in the tiny sitting-room, the story was told.

It appeared that she had never yet taken a lady lodger. In her street
ladies were regarded with suspicion; that no petticoats were ever to be
fetched across the threshold was a rule to which each medical student
who engaged her rooms must first subscribe.

None the less she was here acquiescent. She knew George well; had for
him an affection above that which commonly she entertained for the noisy
young men who were her means of livelihood. Mary should pay for the
little back bedroom that Mr. Thornton had; and, free of charge, should
have use of the sitting-room rented by Mr. Grainger. There would be no
lodgers until the medical schools reopened in October.

So it was settled--and together in the sitting-room where Mrs. Pinking
made them a little lunch again they debated the immediate future. It
was three weeks before George’s examination was due. Again he declared
himself confident that, when actually he had passed, his uncle would
not refuse the 400 pounds which meant the world to them--which meant
the tight little practice at Runnygate. But the intervening weeks were
meanwhile to be faced. Mary must have home. At the Agency she must pour
forth her tale and seek new situation till they could be married. If the
Agency failed them--They shuddered.

Revolving desperate schemes for the betterment of this position into
which with such alarming suddenness they had been thrust, George took
his leave. He would have tarried, but his Mary was insistent that his
work must not be interfered with. Upon its successful exploitation
everything now depended.

Brightly she kissed her George good-bye. He was not to worry about her.
She was to be shut from his mind. To-morrow she would go to the Agency.
He might lunch with her, and, depend upon it, she would greet him with
great news.

So they parted.



BOOK IV.

In which this History begins to rattle.



CHAPTER I.

The Author Meanders Upon The Enduring Hills; And The Reader Will Lose
Nothing By Not Accompanying Him.


In pursuit of our opinion that the novel should hark back to its origin
and be as a story that is told by mouth to group of listeners, here we
momentarily break the thread.

It is an occasion for advertisement.

As when the personal narrator, upon resumption of his history, will at a
point declare, “Now we come to the exciting part,” so now do I.

Heretofore we have somewhat dragged. We have been as host and visitor at
tea in the drawing-room. Guests have arrived; to you I have introduced
them, and after the shortest spell they have taken their leave.

My Mary and my George--favoured guests--have sat with us through our
meal; but how fleeting our converse with those others--with Mr. William
Wyvern, with Margaret, with Mrs. Major and with Mr. Marrapit! I grant
you cause to grumble at their introduction, so purposeless has been
their part. I grant you they have been as the guests at whose arrival,
disturbing the intimate chatter, impatient glances are exchanged; at
whose departure there is shuffle of relief.

Well, I promise you we shall now link our personages and set our history
bounding to its conclusion. We have collected them; now to switch on the
connection and set them acting one against the other until the sparks do
fly; watching those sparks shall be your entertainment.

The switch which thus sets active the play of forces I shall call
circumstance. If it has been long delayed, I have the precedent of
all the story of human life as my excuse. For we are the children
of circumstance. We move each in our little circle by a stout hedge
encompassed. Circumstance suddenly will break the wall: some fellow man
or woman is flung against us, and immediately the quiet ambulation of
our little circle is for some conflict sharp exchanged. To-day we are at
peace with the world, to-morrow warring with all mankind.

I say with all mankind, because so narrow and so selfish is our outlook
upon life that one single man or woman--a dullard neighbour or a
silly girl--who may interfere with us, throws into turmoil our whole
existence. Walls of impenetrable blackness shut out all life save only
this intruder and ourself; that other person becomes our world--engaging
our complete faculties.

Deeper misfortune cannot be conceived. It is through allowing such
occurrences to crush us that brows are wrinkled before their time;
nerves broken-edged while yet they should be firmly strung; death
reached ere yet the proper span of life is lived.

For these unduly wrinkled brows, too early broken nerves, too soon
encountered graves, civilised man has agreed upon an excuse. He names it
the strain of life in modern conditions. There is no body in this plea.
It is not the conditions that matter; it is our manner of receiving
those conditions. Bend to them and they will crush; face them and they
become of no avail; allow them to be the Whole of life, and immediately
they are given so great a weight that to withstand them is impossible;
regard them in their proper proportion to the scheme of things, and they
become of airy nothingness.

For if we regulate each to its right importance all that surrounds us,
not forgetting that since life is transient time is the only ultimate
standard of value, how unutterably insignificant must small human
troubles appear in their relation to the whole scheme of things, to the
enduring hills, the immense seas, vast space.

Gain strength from strength. Compare vexations encompassed by the
artifice of man with the tremendous life that is mothered by nature.

Gain strength from strength. Set troubles against the enduring hills,
misfortunes against the immense seas, perplexities against vast space,
torments against the stout trees. Learn to take tribute of strength from
every object that is built of strength--the strength of solidity that
a stout beam may give, the strength of beauty that from a picture or a
statuary irradiates.

Gain strength from strength. It is a first principle of warfare to band
undisciplined troops with tried regiments, to shoulder recruits with
veterans. The horse-breaker will set the timid colt in harness with the
steady mare. Thus is stiffening and a sense of security imparted to
the weaker spirit; timidity oozes and is burned by the steady flame
of courage that from the stronger emanates. In the heat of that flame
latent strength warms and kindles in the weaker.

Gain strength from strength. Seek intercourse with the minds that are
above you; if not to be encountered, they are to be purchased in books.
Avoid communion with the small minds below you and of your level.

No man, nor book, nor thing can be touched without virtue passing thence
into you. See to it that who or what you touch gives you strength, not
weakness; uplifts, not debases. The aspiring athlete does not seek to
match his strength against inferiors. These give him--easy victory.
Contact with them is for him effortless; they tend to draw him to their
plane. Rather, being wise, he shuns them to pit his prowess against such
as can give him best, from whom he may learn, out of whom he will take
virtue, by whom he will be raised to all that is best in him. Gain
strength from strength. The attributes strength and weakness are
as infectious as the plague. Make your bed so that you may lie with
strength and catch his affection.

I do not pretend that these are thoughts which influenced the persons of
my history. My unthinking George and my simple Mary would care nothing
for such things. Sight of the enduring hills would evoke in my George
the uttered belief that they would be an infernal sweat to climb; sound
of the immense seas if in anger would move my Mary to prayer for all
those in peril on the wave, if in lapping tranquillity to sentimental
thoughts of her George. But they had laughter and they had love.
Adversity can make little fight against those lusty weapons.

And now we have an exquisite balcony scene and rare midnight alarms for
your delectation.



CHAPTER II.

An Exquisite Balcony Scene; And Something About Sausages.



I.

On that day when George left his Mary at the little lodgings in Meath
Street, Battersea, Bill Wyvern returned to Paitley Hill after absence
from home for a week upon a visit.

His Margaret was his first thought upon his arrival. Letters between
the pair were, by the sharpness of Mr. Marrapit’s eye, compelled to be
exchanged not through the post but by medium of a lovers’ postal box
situate in the hole of a tree in that shrubbery of Herons’ Holt where
they were wont by stealth to meet. Thus when Bill, upon this day of his
return, scaled the tremendous wall and groped among the bushes, he
saw the trysting bower innocent of his love--then searched and found a
letter.

A sad little note for lover’s heart. Mr. Marrapit, it said, abed of a
chill, prevented Margaret meeting her Bill that afternoon. Her father
must be constantly ministered; impossible to say when she would be
released. She heard him calling, she must fly to him. With fondest love.
No time for more.



II.

The lines chilled Bill’s heart. His was a fidgety and nervous love
that took fright at shadow of doubt. The week that had divided him
from Margaret was the longest period they had not embraced since their
discovery one of another. Was it not possible, he tortured himself,
that loss of his presence had blurred his image in her heart? Countless
heroes of his own stories who thus had suffered rose to assure him that
possible indeed it was. The more he brooded upon it the more probable
did it become.

Bedtime found him desolated. In apprehension he paced his room. The
thought of sleep with this devil of doubt to thump his pillow was
impossible. Leaning from his window he gazed upon the stars and groaned;
dropped eyes to the lawn, silvered in moonlight, and started beneath the
prick of a sudden thought. It was a night conceived for lovers’ tryst.
He would seek his Margaret’s open window, whistle her from her bed, and
bring this damned doubt of her to reality or knock the ghostly villain
dead.

It was an inspiriting thought, and Bill started to whistle upon it until
he remembered the demeanour in which he would have sent forth one of
his own heroes upon such a mission. “Dark eyes gleaming strangely from a
pale, set face,” he would have written. Bill’s eyes were of a clearest,
childlike blue which interfered a little with the proper conception of
the role he was to play; but blanketing his spirits in melancholy he
stepped from his room and passed down the stairs.

That favoured bull-terrier Abiram, sleeping in the hall, drummed a
tattoo of welcome upon the floor.

“Chuck it,” said Bill morosely.

The “faithful hound” that gives solace to the wounded heart is a pretty
enough thing in stories; Abiram had had no training for the part. This
dog associated his master not with melancholy that needed caressing but
with wild “rags” that gave and demanded tremendous spirits.

Intelligence, however, showed the wise creature that the tone of that
command meant he was to be excluded from whatever wild rag might be
now afoot. It was not to be borne. Therefore, to lull suspicion,
Abiram ceased his drumming; rose when Bill had passed; behind him crept
stealthily; and upon the door being opened bounded around his master’s
legs and into the moonlight with a joyous yelp.

Fearful of arousing Korah and Dathan in their kennels to tremendous din
if he bellowed orders, Bill hissed commands advising Abiram to return
indoors under threat of awful penalties.

Abiram frisked and skipped upon the lawn like a young lamb.

Bill changed commands for missiles.

Abiram, entering into the thing with rare spirit, caught, worried, and
killed each clod of earth hurled at him, then bounded expectant forward
for the next sacrifice that would be thrown for his delight in this
entrancing game.

“Very well,” spoke Bill between his teeth. “Very well. You jolly well
come, my boy. Wait till you get near enough for me to catch you, that’s
all.”

Beneath this understanding they moved forward across the lawn and down
the road; Abiram sufficiently in the rear to harass rats that might be
going about their business, without himself being in the zone of his
master’s strength.

Heaving a sigh burthened with fond memory as he passed the wall
of Herons’ Holt where it gave upon the secret meeting-place in the
shrubbery, Bill skirted the grounds; for the second time in his life
passed through the gate and up the drive.



III.

Well he knew his adored’s window. From the shrubbery she had pointed it
him. Now with a bang of the heart he observed that the bottom sash stood
open so that night breezes, mingling freely with the perfumes of her
apartment, unhindered could bear in to her his tremulous love-signals.

He set a low whistle upon the air. It was not louder, he felt, than the
agitated banging of his heart that succeeded it.

Again he whistled, and once again. There was a rustling from within.

“Margaret!” he softly called. “Margaret!”

She appeared. The blessed damosel leaned out. About her yearning face
the long dark hair abundantly fell; her pretty bed-gown, unbuttoned low,
gave him glimpse of snowy bosom, beautifully rounded.

“Oh, Bill!” she cried, stretching her arms.

Then, glancing downwards at her person, she stepped back swiftly.
Reappearing, the soft round of her twin breasts was not to view.

She had buttoned up her night-dress.

“Oh, Bill!”

“Oh, Margaret!”

“_Wow!_” spoke Abiram in nerve-shattering welcome. “_Wow!_”

The blessed damosel fled. Bill plunged a kick. Abiram took the skirt of
it; waddled away across the lawn, his waving stern expressing pleasure
at having at once shown his politeness by bidding a lady good evening,
and at being, like true gentleman, well able to take a hint.

Bill put upon the breeze:

“It’s all right. He’s gone.”

No answer. Shuddering with terror lest that hideous _wow!_ had disturbed
the house the blessed damosel lay trembling abed, the coverings pressed
about her straining ears.

“He’s gone,” Bill strained again, his larynx torn with the rasp of
whispers that must penetrate like shouts and yet speed soft-shod. “He’s
gone!”

Margaret put a white leg to the ground--listened; drew forth its
companion--listened; glimpsed her white legs; shuddered at such
immodesty with a man so close; veiled them to their toes with her
bed-gown; listened; stepped again to the window.

“Oh, Bill!”

“Oh, Margaret!”

“Has anyone heard, do you think?”

“My darling, not a soul. It sounded loud to us. Oh, Margaret--”

“Hush! Yes?”

“Do you know why I am come?”

“Hush!--no.”

“I thought--from your note--that you didn’t care to see me again. I
thought-being away like that--that you found you didn’t-love me after
all. Oh, I was tortured, Margaret. Oh--!”

“Hush! Listen!”

“Damn!” said Bill.

The blessed damosel poked her beautiful head again into the night. “It’s
all right. I thought I heard a sound. We must be careful.”

“Oh, Margaret, I was tortured--racked. I had to come to you. Tell me I
was wrong in thinking--”

“Oh, Bill, Bill, I--”

This girl was well-nigh in a swoon of delicious excitement. Emotion took
her and must be gulped ere she found voice. She stretched her arms down
towards him.

“Oh, Bill, I thought so, too.”

A steely pang struck at his heart. “You thought you didn’t love me after
all?”

“No, no, no.”

Emotion dragged her from the window to her waist. Her long hair cascaded
down to him so that the delicious tips, kissing his face, might by his
lips be kissed.

“No, no,” she breathed; “I thought the same of you. I thought you might
have found--”

“Yes?”

“Hush!”

“Damn!” said Bill.

She reappeared; again her tresses trickled to him. “It’s all right. I
thought you might have found you didn’t love me after all. Dearest, not
hearing from you--”

In sympathy of spirit Bill groaned: “What could I do?”

She clasped her hands in a delicious ecstasy. “I know, I know. But you
know how foolish I am. I felt--oh, Bill, forgive me!--I felt that, if
you had really cared, a way of sending me a message might have been
found. Of course, it was impossible. And there was more than that. When
we parted last week, I thought you seemed not to care very much--”

“Oh, Margaret!”

“I know, I know. I know now how foolish I was, but that is what I
thought--and, Bill, it tortured me. I’ve not been able to sleep at
nights. That is how I was awake just now.”

“Margaret, I believe you’re crying.”

“I’m so--so happy now.”

“Oh, so am I! Aren’t you glad I came, Margaret?”

She murmured, “Oh, Bill!”; gave him a smile that pictured her answer.

Mutually they gazed for a space, drinking delight.

Her thirst quenched, Margaret said:

“Bill, those nights, those terrible nights when I have been doubtful of
you, filled me with thoughts that shaped into a poem last night.”

“A poem to me?”

“About us. Shall I read it?--now that the doubt is all over.”

He begged her read.

She was a space from his sight; then, bending down to him, in her hand
paper of palest heliotrope, whispered to him by light of the beautiful
moon:

  “Our meeting! Do you remember, dear,
  How Nature knew we met?
  Twilight soft with a gentle breeze
  Bearing scent of the slumbering seas;
  Music sweet--‘twas a nightingale,
  Trilling and sobbing from laugh to wail--
  Golden sky that was flecked with red
  (Ribands of rose on a golden bed).
  Ah, love! when first we met!”

She paused. “It was raining as a matter of fact, dearest,” she
whispered, “and just after breakfast. But you know what I mean. That is
the imagery of it--as it seemed to me.”

Bill said: “And to me; a beautiful imagery.”

She smiled in the modest pride of authorship: “Oh, it’s nothing, really.
You know how these things come. To you in prose, to me in song. One has
to set them down.”

“One is merely the instrument,” Bill said.

“Yes, the instrument.” She hugged the phrase. “The _instrument_. How
cleverly you put things!”

Bill disavowed the gift. Margaret breathed, “Oh, you do; I have so often
noticed it.” Bill again denied.



IV.

Conventionality demanded this little exchange of them, and to-day the
empress sway of conventionality is rarely rebelled. Even, as here, when
treading the path of love, the journey must constantly be stopped while
handfuls of the sweet-smelling stuff are tossed about our persons.
Neglect the duty and you must walk alone. For to neglect conventionality
is like going abroad without clothes; the naked man appears. Now,
nothing can be more utterly horrid to our senses than a stark woman or
stark man walking down the street. We should certainly pull aside the
blind to have a peep, and the more we could see of the nakedness the
further would we crane our heads (provided no one was by to watch); but
to go out and chat, to be seen in company with the naked creature,
is another matter. We would sooner chop off our legs. So with the
conventions. The fewer of them you wear, the more naked (that is to say,
real) do you become. Eyes will poke at you round the blinds, but you
must walk quickly past the gate, please. If you will not go through
the machine and come out a nice smooth sausage, well, you must remain
original flesh and gristle; but you will smell horrid in nice noses.

Is it not warming, as you read this, to know perfectly well that you are
not one of the sausages?



V.

When they had sufficiently daubed themselves, Margaret asked:

“Shall I read the next verse? That was the imagery of our meeting; this
of our parting.”

Bill gulped. This man was fondling the scented tresses that trickled
about his face; speech was a little difficult.

She put her page beneath the moon; gave her voice to its rapture:

  “Our parting! Do you remember, dear,
  How Nature our folly knew?
  Mournful swish of the sobbing rain;
  Distant surge of the Deep in pain;
  Whispering wail of the wandering wind,
  Seeking, sobbing, a rest to find;
  Fitful gleam from a troubled sky
  (Nature weeping to see love die).
  Ah, love, when last we met!

“It was a perfect day, really,” she said. “Very hot, and just before
lunch, do you remember? But there, again, it is the _imagery_ of it
as it seemed to our inner selves. It comes to one, and one is the
_instrument_.”

Bill’s voice was hoarse. “Margaret, come down to me,” he said.

“I dare not.”

“You must. I must touch you--kiss you. You must come down!”

“Bill, I dare not; I should be heard.”

He bitted his next words as they came galloping up. Dare he give them
rein? And then again he bathed in the ecstasy of the scene. The black
square of the open window; the scented roses that framed it; the silver
night that lit its picture--her dusky face between her streaming hair,
her white arms, bare to where the pushed-back sleeves gave them to the
soft breeze to kiss, the soft outline of her breast where the press of
her weight drew close her gown.

It was not to be borne. The bitted words lashed from his hold. He
gasped:

“Then I am coming up!”

Was she aghast at him? he asked himself. He stood half-checked while her
steady eyes left his face, roamed from him--contrasting, as ashamed he
felt, the purity of the still night with the clamour of his turbulent
passions--and settled on an adjacent flowerbed.

At last she spoke, very calmly.

“There is a potting-box just there,” she said. “If you turned it on end
you could reach the window, and then--”

The box gave him two feet of reach. He jumped for the ledge--caught it;
pulled; fetched the curve of an arm over the sill.

Then between earth and paradise he hung limp; for a sudden horror was in
his Margaret’s eyes.

She put upon his brow a hand that pressed him back; gave words to her
pictured alarm: “A step upon the gravel!”

‘Twixt earth and window, with dangling legs and clutching arms, in
muscle-racking pain he hung.

Truly a step, and then another step.

And then a very tornado of sound beat furiously upon the trembling
night; with it a flash; from it the pattering of a hundred bullets.

Someone had discharged a gun.

As Satan was hurled, so, plumb out of the gates of Paradise, Bill fell.
And now the still air was lashed into a fury of sound-waves, tearing
this way and that in twenty keys; now the sleeping garden was torn by
rushing figures, helter-skelter for life and honour.

Sounds!--the melancholy bellow of that gardener, Mr. Fletcher, as the
recoil of the bell-mouthed blunderbuss he had fired hurled him prone
upon the gravel; the dreadful imprecations of Bill striving to clear
his leg of the potting-box through whose side it had plunged; piercing
screams of Mrs. Major from a ground-floor room; shrills of alarm from
Mr. Marrapit; _gurr-r-ing_ yelps from Abiram in ecstasy of man-hunt.

Rushing figures!--Bill, freed from his box, at top speed towards the
shrubbery; Mr. Fletcher, up from his fall, with tremendous springs
bounding across the lawn; Abiram in hurtling pursuit.

More sounds!--panic screams from Mr. Fletcher, heavily labouring; the
protest of a window roughly raised; from George’s head, thrust into the
night: “Yi! Yi! Yi! Hup, then! Good dog! Sock him! Sock him! Yi! Yi!
Yi!”

We must seek the fuse that touched off this hideous turbulence.



CHAPTER III.

Alarums And Excursions By Night.



I.

We are going into a lady’s bedroom, but I promise you the thing shall be
nicely done: there shall not be a blush.

It was midnight when Bill Wyvern projected the scheme whose execution
we have followed through sweetness to disaster. Two hours earlier the
Marrapit household had sought its beds.

It was Mr. Marrapit’s wise rule that each member of his establishment
should pass before him as he or she sought their chambers. Night is the
hour when the thoughts take on unbridled licence; and he would send
his household to sleep each with some last admonition to curb fantastic
wanderings of the mind.

Upon this night Mr. Marrapit was himself abed of the chill that Margaret
had mentioned in her note to Bill. But the review was not therefore
foregone. Upon his back, night-capped head on pillow propped, he lay as
the minute-hand of his clock ticked towards ten.

His brow ruffled against a sound without his door. He called:

“Mrs. Armitage!”

“Sir?” spoke Mrs. Armitage through the oak.

“Breathe less stertorously.”

Mrs. Armitage, his cook, waiting outside upon the mat, gulped wrath;
respirated through open mouth.

The clock at Mr. Marrapit’s elbow gave the first chime of ten. Instantly
Mrs. Armitage tapped.

“Enter,” said Mr. Marrapit.

She waddled her stout figure to him. Behind her Clara and Ada, those
trim maids, took place.

Mr. Marrapit addressed her. “To-morrow, Mrs. Armitage, arouse your girls
at six. Speed them at their toilet; set them to clean your flues.”
 He glanced at a tablet taken from beneath his pillow. “At 4.6 this
afternoon I smelt soot.”

“The flues were cleaned this morning, sir.”

“Untrue. Your girls were late. Prone in suffering upon my couch, my ears
tell me all that is accomplished in every part of the house. Ten minutes
after your girls descended I heard the kitchen fire roar. I suspect
paraffin.”

Mrs. Armitage wriggled to displace the blame. “I rose them at six, sir.
They sleep that heavy and they take that long to dressing, it’s a wonder
to me they ever do get down.”

Mr. Marrapit addressed the sluggards. “Shun the enervating couch. Spring
to the call. Cleanliness satisfied, adorn not the figure; pursue the
duties. Ponder this. Seek help to effect it. Contrive a special prayer.
To your beds.”

They left him; upon the mat encountered Frederick, and him, in abandon
of relief, dug vitally with vulgar thumbs.



II.

Squirming, Frederick, the gardener’s boy, advanced to the bedside.

Mr. Marrapit sternly regarded him: “Recite your misdeeds.”

“I’ve done me jobs, sir.”

“Prostrated, I cannot check your testimony. One awful eye above alone
can tell. Upon your knees this night search stringently your heart.
Bend.”

Frederick inclined his neck until his forehead was upon the coverlet.
Mr. Marrapit scanned the neck.

“Behind the ears are stale traces. Cleanse abundantly. To your bed.”

Without the door Frederick encountered Mr. Fletcher. “You let me catch
you reading abed to-night,” Mr. Fletcher warned him.

“Cleanse yer blarsted ear-’oles,” breathed Frederick, pushing past.



III.

Mr. Fletcher moved in to the presence.

“Is all securely barred, bolted and shuttered?” Mr. Marrapit asked.

“It’s all right.”

“I am apprehensive. This is the first night I have not accompanied you
upon your round. Colossal responsibility lies upon you. Should thieves
break through and steal, upon your head devolves the crime.”

Wearily Mr. Fletcher repeated: “It’s all right.”

Mr. Marrapit frowned: “You do not inspire confidence. Sleep films your
eye. I shudder for you. Women and children are in your care this night.
The maids, Mrs. Armitage, Mrs. Major, my daughter, the young life of
Frederick, are in your hands. What if rapine and murder, concealed in
the garden, are loosed beneath my roof this night?”

Mr. Fletcher passed a fist across his brow; spoke wearily: “It’s all
right, Mr. Marrapit. I can’t say more; I can’t do more. I tell you again
it’s all right.”

“Substantiate. Adduce evidence.”

Mr. Fletcher raised an appealing hand: “How can I prove it? My word’s a
good word, ain’t it? I tell you the doors are locked. I can’t bring ‘em
up to show you, can I? I’m a gardener, I am.”

“By zeal give proof. Set your alarum-clock so that twice in the night
you may be roused. Gird then yourself and patrol. But lightly slumber.
Should my bell sound in your room spring instantly to my bedside. To
your couch.”

Battling speech, Mr. Fletcher moved to the door. At the threshold
protest overcame him. He gave it vent: “I should like to ast if I was
engaged to work by night as well as day? Can’t I even have me rest?
‘Ow many nights am I to patrol the house? It’s ‘ard--damn ‘ard. I’m a
gardener, I am; not a watchdog.”

“Away, insolence.”

Insolence, upon the stairs, morosely descending, drew aside to give room
to Margaret and George.

Margaret parted her lips at him in her appealing smile. “Oh, Mr.
Fletcher,” in her pretty way she said, “you locked me out. Indeed you
did.” She smiled again; tripped towards Mr. Marrapit’s door.

Mr. Fletcher stayed George, following. “Mr. George, did you shut up
secure behind Miss Margaret?”

George reassured him; questioned his earnestness.

Mr. Fletcher pointed through a window that gave upon the garden. “I’ve
the ‘orrors on me to-night,” he said. “According to Master there’s
rapine lurking in them bushes. Mr. George, what’ll I do if there’s
rapine beneath this roof to-night?”

“Catch it firmly by the back of the neck and hold its head in a bucket
of water,” George told him.

Mr. Fletcher passed, pondering the suggestion. “Only something to do
with rats after all,” he cogitated with wan smile of relief.



IV.

Margaret, at her father’s bedside, luxuriously mouthed the fine phrases
of the Book of Job which nightly she read him. Her chapter finished, she
inquired: “Shall I read on?”

“Does Job continue?”

“No, father. The next begins, ‘Then answered Bildad, the Shuite.’”

George coughed upon the threshold.

“Terminate,” said Mr. Marrapit. “Bildad is without.”

“Oh, father, George is not!”

“He torments me. He is Bildad. Terminate. To your bed.”

She pressed a warm kiss upon Job’s brow; took on her soft cheek the
salute of his thin lips. “You have everything, dear father?”

“Prone on my couch I lack much. I am content. You are a good girl,
Margaret.”

“Oh, father!” She tripped from the room in a warmth of satisfaction.

The rough head of Bildad the Shuite came round the door; spoke “Good
night.”

“Approach,” said Job. Bildad’s legs came over the mat. “You seek your
room? But not your couch?”

“I’m going to bed, if that’s what you mean,” George told him.

Mr. Marrapit groaned. “Spurn it. Shun sloth. In the midnight oil set the
wick of knowledge. Burn it, trim it, tend it.”

George withdrew to his room; set the midnight pipe in his mouth; leaning
from his window sped his thoughts to Battersea.



V.

One member of the house remained to be sent to sleep. Mrs. Major put a
soft knuckle to the door; came at the call; whispered “I thought I might
disturb you.”

“You never disturb me, Mrs. Major.”

A little squeak sprung from the nutter in the masterly woman’s heart.

“You sigh, Mrs. Major?”

“Oh, Mr. Marrapit, I can’t bear to see you lying there. The”--she paused
against an effort, then took the aspirate in a masterly rush--“the house
is not the same without you.”

“Your sympathy is very consoling to me, Mrs. Major.”

“Oh, Mr. Marrapit!” She plunged a shaft that should try him: “I wish I
had the right to give you more.”

“Your position in this house gives you free access to me, Mrs. Major.
Regard your place as one of my own circle. Do not let deference stifle
intercourse.”

The masterly woman hove a superb sigh. “If you knew how I feel your
kindness, Mr. Marrapit. Truly, as I say to myself every night, fair is
my lot and goodly is my--” Icy dismay took her. Was the missing word
“hermitage” or “heritage”? With masterly decision she filled the blank
with a telling choke; keyed her voice to a brilliant suggestion of
brightness struggling with tears: “The sweetling cats are safely
sleeping. I have come straight from them. Ah, how they miss you! How
well they know you suffer!”

“They do?” A tremble of pleasure was in Mr. Marrapit’s voice.

“They does--do.” Mrs. Major recited their day, gave their menu. “I must
not tarry,” she concluded; “you need rest. Good night, Mr. Marrapit.
Good night.”

“Good night, Mrs. Major.”

Mr. Marrapit put out his candle.



VI.

And now in every room, save one, Sleep drew her velvet fingers down
recumbent forms; pressed eyelids with her languorous kiss; upon her warm
breast pillowed willing heads; about her bedfellows drew her Circe arms.

Mrs. Major’s room was that single exception, and it is that masterly
woman’s apartment we now shall penetrate.

Hurrying to semi-toilet; again assuring herself that the key was turned;
peering a last time for lurking ravishers beneath the bed, Mrs. Major
then fumbled with keys before her box--threw up the lid.

Down through a pile of garments plunged her arm. Her searching fingers
closed about her quest and a very beautiful smile softened her face--a
smile of quiet confidence and of trust.

In greater degree than men, women have this power of taking strength
from the mere contact of an inanimate object. A girl will smile all
through her sleep because, hand beneath pillow, her fingers are about
a photograph or letter; no need, as with Mrs. Major there was no need,
even to see the thing that thus inspires. The pretty hand will delve to
recesses of a drawer, and the thrill that brings the smile will run
up from, it may be, a Bible, a diary, or a packet of letters touched.
Dependent since Eden, woman is more emotionally responsive to aught that
gives aid than is man; for man is accustomed to battle for his prizes,
not to receive them.

Mrs. Major drew up, that smile still upon her face, and the moon through
uncurtained window gave light upon the little joy she fetched from the
depths of her trunk.

“Old Tom Gin.”

The neck of Old Tom’s bottle clinked against a glass; Old Tom gurgled
generously; passed away through the steady smile he had inspired.

       *       *        *       *        *

Mrs. Major set a carafe of water upon a little table; partnered it with
Old Tom; reclined beside the pair on a comfortable seat; closed her
eyes.

At intervals, as the hand crept between eleven and twelve of the clock,
she would open them; when she did so diluted Old Tom in the glass fell
lower, full-bodied Old Tom in the bottle marched steadily behind.

The further Old Tom crept downwards from the neck of his captivity, with
the greater circumspection did Mrs. Major open her eyes. Considerable
practice had told this masterly woman that Old Tom must be commanded
with a steady will: else he took liberties. Eyes suddenly opened annoyed
Old Tom, and he would set the furniture ambulating round the room in a
manner at once indecorous in stable objects and calculated to bewilder
the observer. Therefore, upon setting down her glass, this purposeful
woman would squarely fix the bureau that stood opposite her, would for
a moment keep her gaze upon it with a sternness that forbade movement,
then gently would close her eyes. When Old Tom must be again interviewed
she would lift the merest corner of an eyelid; catch through it the
merest fraction of the bureau; determine from the behaviour of this
portion the stability of the whole.

Thus if the corner she sighted showed indecorous propensities--as,
swelling and receding, fluttering in some ghostly breeze, or altogether
disappearing from view,--she would drop her lid and wait till she might
catch it more seemly. This effected, she would work from that fixed
point, inch by inch, until the whole bureau was revealed--swaying a
little, perhaps, but presently quiescent.

When, and not until, it was firmly anchored she would slowly start
her eye in review around the other objects of her apartment. If
the wash-stand had tendency to polka with the bed, or the wardrobe
unnaturally to stretch up its head through the ceiling, Mrs. Major would
march her gaze steadily back to the bureau, there to take fresh strength
and start again. When all was orderly--then Old Tom.

Masterly in all things, this woman was most masterly in her cups.



VII.

Into Mr. Marrapit’s dreams there came a whistle.

He pushed at Sleep; she crooned to him and he snuggled against her.

Upon his brain there rapped a harsh _Wow_!

He wriggled from his bedfellow; she put an arm about him, drew him to
her.

Now there succeeded a steady wash of sound--rising, falling, murmuring
persistent against his senses.

He turned his back upon Sleep. She crooned; he wriggled from her.
Seductively she followed; he kicked a leg and jarred her, threw an arm
and hurt her. Disgusted, she slipped from bed and left him, leaving a
chilly space where she had warmly lain.

Mr. Marrapit shivered; felt for Sleep; found her gone; with a start sat
upright.

The breakwater gone, that wash of sound which had lapped around his
senses rushed in upon them. Lingering traces of the touch of Sleep still
offered resistance--a droning hum. The wash surged over, poured about
him--_VOICES_!

Mr. Marrapit violently cleared his throat. The voices continued.
Violently again. They still continued. Tremendously a third time. They
yet continued. From this he argued that they could not be very close to
his door. Intently he listened, then located them--they came from the
garden. He felt for the bell-push that carried to Mr. Fletcher’s room;
put his thumb upon it; steadily pressed.

Sleep toyed no tricks in Mr. Fletcher’s bed. Like some wanton mistress
discovered in the very act of betrayal, she at the first tearing clamour
of the electric bell bounded from the sheets, scuttled from the room.

“Rapine!” cried Mr. Fletcher; plunged his head beneath the bedclothes
and wrestled in prayer.

The strident gong faltered not nor failed. Steady and penetrating it
dinned its hideous call. Mr. Fletcher waited for screams. None came. He
pushed the sheet between his chattering teeth, listened for cudgelling
and heavy falls. None came. That bell had single possession of the
night. The possibility that only patrolling was required of him nerved
him to draw from his concealment. He lit a candle; into trousers pushed
his quivering legs; upon tottering limbs passed up the stairs to Mr.
Marrapit’s room.

“Judas!” Mr. Marrapit greeted him.

Mr. Fletcher sighed relief: “I thought it was rapine.”

“You have betrayed your trust. You are Iscariot.”

“I come when you rung.”

“Silence. I have heard voices.”

“God help us,” Mr. Fletcher piously groaned; the candle in his shaking
hand showered wax.

“Blasphemer! He will not help the craven. Gird yourself.”

“I’ll call Mr. George.”

“Refrain. I will attend to that. Gird yourself. Take the musket from the
hall. It is loaded. Patrol!”

“I don’t want the musket.”

“Be not overbold. Outside you may be at their mercy.”

“_Outside!_”

“Assuredly.”

“Me patrol outside!”

“That is your task. Forward!”

By now Mr. Marrapit had risen; swathed himself in a dressing-gown.
Sternly he addressed Mr. Fletcher: “As you this night quit yourself so
will I consider the question of your dismissal. If blood is spilt this
night it will be upon your head.”

Mr. Fletcher trembled. “That’s just it. It’s ‘ard--damn ‘ard--”

“Forward, Iscariot.” Mr. Marrapit drove Judas before him; in the hall
took down the gun and pressed it into the shaking hands. He drew the
bolts, impelled Iscariot outward, and essayed to close the door.

Mr. Fletcher clutched the handle. Mr. Marrapit pushed; hissed through
the crack: “Away! Search every nook. Penetrate each fastness. Use
stealth. Track, trace, follow!”

Discarding entreaty, Mr. Fletcher put hoarse protest through the slit of
aperture that remained: “I should like to ast if I was engaged for this,
Mr. Marrapit,” he panted. “I’m a gardener, I am--”

“I recognise that. To your department. With your life forefend it.”

Mr. Marrapit fetched the door against the lintel; in the brief moment he
could hold it close slid the lock.



VIII.

No tremor of fear or of excitement ruffled this remarkable man. Calm in
the breezes of life he was calm also in its tempests. This is a natural
corollary. As a man faces the smaller matters of his life so he will
face its crises. Each smallest act accomplished imprints its stamp upon
the pliable mass we call character; our manner of handling each tiniest
common-place of our routine helps mould its form; each fleeting thought
helps shape the mould.

The process is involuntary and we are not aware of its working.
Character is not made by tremendous thumps, but by the constant
patterings of minutest touches. The athlete does not build his strength
by enormous exertions, but by consistent and gentle training. Huge
strains at spasmodic intervals, separated by periods in which he lies
fallow in sloth, add nothing to his capacity for endurance; it is by the
tally of each minute of his preparation that you may read how he
will acquit himself against the test. Thus also with the shaping of
character, and thus was Mr. Marrapit, collected in minor affairs, mighty
in this crisis.



IX.

Turning from the door he marched steadily across the hall towards the
stairs to arouse George.

At the lowermost step a movement on the landing above made him pause. He
was to be spared the trouble. Placing the candle upon a table he looked
up. He spoke. “George!”

“Wash it?” said a voice. “Wash it?”

“Wash nothing,” Mr. Marrapit commanded. “Who is this?”

The answer, starting low, ascended a shrill scale: “Wash it? Wash it?
Wash it?”

“Silence!” Mr. Marrapit answered. “Descend!”

He craned upwards. The curl-papered head of Mrs. Major poked at him over
the banisters.

“Darling,” breathed Mrs. Major. “Darling--_um!_”

“Mrs. Major! What is this?”

“Thash what _I_ want to know,” said Mrs. Major coquettishly. “Wash it?
Wash _ish_ it?”

“You are distraught, Mrs. Major. Have no fear. To your room.”

The curl-papered head waggled. Mrs. Major beamed. “Darling.
Darling--um!”

“Exercise control,” Mr. Marrapit told her. “Banish apprehension. There
are thieves; but we are alert.”

The head withdrew. Mrs. Major gave a tiny scream: “Thieves!” She took a
brisk little run down the short flight which gave from where she stood;
flattened against the wall that checked her impulse; pressed carefully
away from it; stood at the head of the stairs facing Mr. Marrapit.

He gazed up. “I fear you have been walking in your sleep, Mrs. Major.”

Mrs. Major did not reply. She pointed a slippered toe at the stair below
her; swayed on one leg; dropped to the toe; steadied; beamed at Mr.
Marrapit; and in a high treble coquettishly announced, “_One_!”

Mr. Marrapit frowned: “Retire, Mrs. Major.”

Mrs. Major plumped another step, beamed again: “_Two_!”

“You dream. Retire.”

Mrs. Major daintily lifted her skirt; poised again. The projected
slipper swayed a dangerous circle. Mrs. Major alarmingly rocked. That
infamous Old Tom presented three sets of banisters for her support; she
clutched at one; it failed her; “Three four five six seven eight nine
ten--_darling_!” she cried; at breakneck speed plunged downwards, and
with the “_Darling_!” flung her arms about Mr. Marrapit’s neck.

Back before the shock, staggering beneath the weight, Mr. Marrapit went
with digging heels. They could not match the pace of that swift blow
upon his chest. Its backward speed outstripped them. With shattering
thud he plumped heavily to his full length upon the floor; Mrs. Major
pressed him to earth.

But that shock was a whack on the head for Old Tom that temporarily
quieted him. “What has happened?” Mrs. Major asked, clinging tightly.

Mr. Marrapit gasped: “Release my neck. Remove your arms.”

“Where are we?”

“You are upon my chest. I am prone beneath you. Release!”

“It’s all dark,” Mrs. Major cried; gripped firmer.

“It is not dark. I implore movement. Our juxtaposition unnaturally
compromises us. It is abhorrent.”

Mrs. Major opened the eyes she had tightly closed during that staggering
journey and that shattering fall. She loosed her clutch; got to her
knees; thence tottered to a chair. That infamous Old Tom raised his head
again; tickled her brain with misty fingers.

Mr. Marrapit painfully rose. He put a sympathetic hand upon the seat of
his injury; with the other took up the candle. He regarded Mrs. Major;
suspiciously sniffed the air, pregnant with strange fumes; again
regarded his late burden.

Upon her face that infamous Old Tom set a beaming smile,

“Follow me, Mrs. Major,” Mr. Marrapit commanded; turned for the
dining-room; from its interior faced about upon her.

With rare dignity the masterly woman slowly arose; martially she poised
against the hat-rack; with stately mien marched steadily towards him.

Temporarily she had the grip of Old Tom--was well aware, at least, of
his designs upon her purity, and superbly she combated him.

With proud and queenly air she drew on--Mr. Marrapit felt that the swift
suspicion which had taken him had misjudged her.

Mrs. Major reached the mat. Old Tom gave a playful little twitch of her
legs, and she jostled the doorpost.

With old-world courtesy she bowed apology to the post. “Beg pardon,” she
graciously murmured; stood swaying.



X.

Step by step with her as she had crossed the hall, Mr. Fletcher,
recovering from the coward fear in which he shivered outside the door,
had crept forward along the path around the house. As Mrs. Major stood
swaying upon the threshold of the dining-room he reached the angle;
peered round it; in horror sighted Bill’s figure pendant from Margaret’s
window.

Thrice the bell-mouth of his gun described a shivering circle; tightly
he squeezed his eyelids--pressed the trigger.

BANG!

Mr. Marrapit bounded six inches--hardly reached the earth again when,
with a startled scream, Mrs. Major was upon him, again her arms about
his neck.

And now shriek pursued shriek, tearing upwards through her throat. Old
Tom had loosed the ends of all her nerves. Like bolting rabbit in young
corn the tearing discharge of that gun went madly through them, and
lacerated she gave tongue.

Stifled by the bony shoulder that pressed against his face, Mr. Marrapit
went black. He jerked his head free, put up his face, and giving cry for
cry, shrilled, “George! George! George!”

The din reached George where from his window he leaned, crying on Abiram
in the man-hunt across the garden. He drew in his head, bounded down the
stairs. Over Mrs. Major’s back, bent inwards from the toes to the rock
about which she clung, Mr. Marrapit’s empurpled face stared at him.

Upon George’s countenance the sight struck a great grin; his legs it
struck to dead halt.

Mrs. Major’s shrieks died to moans.

“Action!” Mr. Marrapit gasped. “Remove this creature!”

George put a hand upon her back. It shot a fresh shriek from her; she
clung closer.

“Pantaloon!” Mr. Marrapit strained. “Crush that grin! Action! Remove
this woman! She throttles me! The pressure is insupportable. I am
Sinbad.”

George again laid hands. Again Mrs. Major shrieked; tighter clung.

Mr. Marrapit, blacker, cried, “Zany!”

“Well, what the devil can I do?” George asked, hopping about the pair;
Mrs. Major’s back as responsive to his touch as the keys of a piano to
idle fingers.

“You run to and fro and grin like a dog,” Mr. Marrapit told him. “Each
time you touch her she screams, grips me closer. I shall be throttled.
Use discretion. Add to mine your assurance of her safety. She is not
herself.”

George chuckled. “She’s not. She’s tight as a drum.”

“Liar!” moaned Mrs. Major.

“Intoxicated?” Mr. Marrapit asked.

“Blind.”

Sharp words will move where entreaty cannot stir.

Mrs. Major relaxed her hold; spun round. “Monster” and “Perjurer” rushed
headlong to her lips. “Ponsger!” she cried; tottered back against the
sofa; was struck by it at the bend of her knees; collapsed upon it. Her
head sunk sideways; she closed her eyes.

“You can see for yourself,” George said.

Mr. Marrapit sniffed: “My nose corroborates.”

“Ponsger!” the prone figure wailed.

Mr. Marrapit started: “Mrs. Major!”

She opened her eyes: “Call me Lucy. Darling-_um!_” She began to snore.

“Abhorrent!” Mr. Marrapit pronounced.

Whisperings without made him step to the door. White figures were upon
the stairs. “To your beds!” he cried.

“Oh, whatever is it, sir?” Mrs. Armitage panted.

“Away! You outrage decency.” Mr. Marrapit set a foot upon the stairs.
The affrighted figures fled before him.

George, when his uncle returned, was peering through the blind. “Who
the devil loosed off that gun? It is immaterial. All events are buried
beneath this abhorrent incident. The roof of my peace has crashed about
me.” Mr. Marrapit regarded the prone figure. “Her inspirations grate
upon me; her exhalations poison the air. Rouse her. Thrust her to her
room.”

“You’ll never wake her now till she’s slept it off.”

“Let us then essay to carry her. She cannot remain here. My shame shall
not be revealed, nor hers uncovered.”

George began: “To-morrow--”

“To-morrow I speed her from my gates. My beloved cats have been in the
care of this swinish form. They have been in jeopardy. I tremble at
their escape. To-morrow she departs.”

A sudden tremendous idea swept over George, engulfing speech.

With no word he moved to the sofa; grasped the prone figure; put it upon
its weak legs. They gave beneath it. “You must take her feet,” he said.

Averting his gaze, Mr. Marrapit took the legs that Old Tom had
devitalised. The procession moved out; staggered up the stairs.

Heavy was the burden; bursting with vulgar laughter was George; but that
huge idea that suddenly had come to him swelled his muscles, lent him
strength.

He heaved the form upon the bed.

On the dressing-table a candle burned. By its light Mr. Marrapit
discovered Old Tom’s bottle, two fingers of the villain yet remaining.

He beat his breast. “Extinguish that light. I to my room. Seek Fletcher.
He patrols the garden for malefactors. In the morning I will see you.
Before this disaster my chill is sped. You are of my flesh. Cleave unto
me. In our bosoms let this abhorrent sore be buried. Seek Fletcher.”

The distraught man tottered to his room.



XI.

George went slowly down the stairs, bathing in the delicious thrills of
unfolding the wrappings from about his great idea. He had yet had time
but to feel its shape and hug it as a child will feel and hug a doll
packed in paper. Now he stripped the coverings, and his pulses thumped
as he saw how fine was it. Almost unconscious to his actions he unbarred
the door; stepped into the thin light; was not aroused until, treading
upon Mr. Fletcher’s musket, his idea was suddenly jolted from him.

Here the gun that gave the echoes; where the hand that started it?

A hoarse cry came to him: “Mr. George! Mr. George!”

He looked along the sound. Above a hedge below the lawn an apple-tree
raised its branches. Within them he could espy a dark mass that as he
approached took form. Mr. Fletcher.

The grass hushed George’s footsteps. Rounding the hedge he came upon the
little drama that gave that note of dread to Mr. Fletcher’s calls.

Beneath the gardener’s armpits one branch of the apple-tree passed;
behind his knees another. Between them hung his heavy seat. Whitely a
square of it peered downwards; melancholy upon the sward lay the lid of
corduroy that should have warmed the space. For ten paces outwards from
the tree-trunk there stretched a pitted path. Abiram, as George came,
turned at this path’s extremity; set his sloe eye upon the dull white
patch in Mr. Fletcher’s stern; hurled forward up the track; sprang and
snapped jaws an inch below the mark as Mr. Fletcher mightily heaved.

A lesser dog would have yapped bafflement, fruitlessly scratched upwards
from hind legs. Abiram was perfect dog of the one breed of dog that
is in all things perfect. Silently he plodded back; turned; ran; leapt
again. Again Mr. Fletcher heaved, and again the fine jaws snapped an
inch beneath the pallid square of flesh.

As once more uncomplaining he turned, Abiram sighted George; ruffled.
George spoke his name. Abiram wagged that short tail that marked his
Champion Victor Wild blood, shook the skull that spoke to the same
mighty strain.

This dog expected in his human friends that same devotion to duty which
is the governing trait of his breed. His shake implied, “No time for
social niceties, sir. I have a job in hand.”

“Call ‘im off, Mr. George,” Mr. Fletcher implored. “Call ‘im--_ur!_”--he
heaved upward as Abiram again sprang--“off,” he concluded, sinking once
more as the bull-terrier trotted up the little path.

It was a fascinating scene. “You’re quite safe,” George told him.

“Safe! I’m _tired!_ I can’t keep on risin’ and fallin’ all night. It’s
‘ard--damn ‘ard. I’m a gardener, I am; not a--_ur!_” He heaved again.

George told him: “You do it awfully well, though; so neat.”

“Call ‘im off,” Mr. Fletcher moaned. “He’ll have me in a minute. He’s
‘ad a bit off of me calf; he’s ‘ad a piece out of me trousers. He’ll go
on. He’s a methodical dog--_ur!_”

George took a step; caught Abiram’s collar. “How on earth did you get up
there?”

“Jumped.”

“Jumped! You couldn’t jump up there!”

Mr. Fletcher took a look to see that Abiram was securely held; then
started to wriggle to a pose of greater comfort. “I’d jump a house with
that ‘orror after me,” he said bitterly. By intricate squirmings he laid
a hand upon the cold patch of flesh that gazed starkly downwards from
his stern. “If I ain’t got hydrophobia I’ve got frost-bite,” he moaned.
“Cruel draught I’ve had through this ‘ole. Take ‘im off, Mr. George.”

George was scarcely listening. His thoughts had returned to the
delicious task of fingering his great idea.

“Take ‘im off, Mr. George,” Mr. Fletcher implored.

George passed a handkerchief under Abiram’s collar; tugged for the gate;
there dispatched the dog down the road.

Abiram shook his head; trotted with dejected stern. A job had been left
unfinished.



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 lustily 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 muffled
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 passed. 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 appetite
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-butter 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 noble calm. He read Note 5; gave it with masterly effect:
“No, sir. I am.”

“You!”

“I! I have not slept since I leftyou, sir. I have paced my room and” (he
read a masterly note) “remorse has paced with me, step by step, hour by
hour. Did I help my uncle, I asked myself, when he was selecting this
Mrs. Major? No. Was I by his right hand to counsel and advise him?
No. Has not my training at hospital, my intercourse with ten thousand
patients, taught me to read faces like an open book? It has. Should not
I then have been by his side to help him when he selected a woman for
the post of caring for our-forgive me, sir, I said ‘our’--caring for our
cats? I should. I asked myself how I could make amends. Only by begging
my uncle’s forgiveness for my indifference and by imploring him to let
me help him in the choice of the next woman he selects.”

A masterly pause he followed with an appeal sent forth in tones of rare
beauty: “Oh, sir, I do beg your forgiveness; I do implore you let me
make amends by helping you in your next choice.”

Mr. Marrapit wiped moist eyes. “I had not suspected in you this
profundity of feeling.”

George said brokenly: “I have given you no reason.”

Mr. Marrapit replied on a grim tone: “Assuredly you have not.”

George glanced at Note 6; fled from the danger zone.

“Where I fear the mistake was made in Mrs. Major,” he hurried, “was that
she was not a perfect lady. Our--forgive me for saying ‘our’--our cats
are refined cats, cats of gentle birth, of inherent delicacy. Their
attendant should be of like breeding. She should be refined, her birth
should be gentle, her feelings delicate. She should be a lady.”

“You are right,” Mr. Marrapit said. “As sea calleth to sea, as like
calleth to like, so would an ebb and flow of sympathy be set in motion
between my cats and an attendant delicately born. Is that your meaning?”

George murmured in admiration: “In beautiful words that is my meaning.”
 He paused. Now the bolt was to be shot, and he nerved himself against
the strain. He fired: “I have a suggestion.”

“Propound.”

No further need for notes. George pushed back his cuffs; gulped the
agitation that swelled dry and suffocating in his mouth. “This is my
suggestion. Because I have had experience in the reading of faces;
because I wish to make recompense for my share in the catastrophe of
Mrs. Major’s presence; because--”

“You are drowning beneath reasons. Cease bubbling. Strike to the
surface.”

George had not been drowning. He had been creeping gingerly from
stepping-stone to stepping-stone. The endeavour had been to come as
close as possible to the big rock upon which he intended to spring. The
less the distance of the leap the more remote the chance of slipping
down the rock and being whirled off in swift water. It is a method of
progression by which, in the race of existence, many lives are lost.
The timid will hobble from stone to stone, landing at each forward point
more and yet more shaky in the knees. The torrent roars about them. Sick
they grow and giddy; stepping-stones are green and slimy; the effort of
balancing cannot be unduly prolonged.

Ere ever they feel themselves ready for the leap they slip, go whirling
and drowning downstream past the stepping-stones that are called
Infirmity of Purpose. Or they may creep close enough the rock, only to
find they have delayed over their hobbling progression until the rock is
already so crowded by others who have been bolder over the stones as to
show no foothold remaining. They leap and fall back.

We are all gifted with strength sufficient for that spring; but disaster
awaits him who scatters his energies in a hundred hesitating little
scrambles.

Now George sprang; poised upon that last “because.”

“And because--I wish--” He sprang--“Therefore I suggest that I should go
to town to-day and search every agency until I find you a lady I think
suitable.”

The thud of his landing knocked the breath out of him. In terror he lay
lest Mr. Marrapit’s answering words should have the form of desperate
fellows who would hurl him from his hold, throw him back.

“I agree,” Mr. Marrapit said.

George was drawn to his feet. He could have whooped for joy.

“I agree. I have misjudged you. In this matter I lay my trust in you.
Take it, tend it, nurse it; cherish it so that it may not be returned to
me cold and dead. Speed forth.”

“Have I a free hand?” George asked.

“Emphatically no. Every effort must be made to keep down expenses. Here
are two shillings. Render account. As to salary--”

George burst out: “Oh, she’ll come for anything.”

Mr. Marrapit started. “She? Whom?”

George threw a blanket to hide the hideous blunder. “Told of such a home
as this is,” he explained, “a true lady would come for anything.”

The blunder sank, covered. “I earnestly pray that may be so,” Mr.
Marrapit said. “I doubt. Rapacity and greed stalk the land. Mrs. Major
had five-and-twenty pounds per annum. I will not go above that figure.”

George told him: “Rely upon me. But, by a free hand I meant a free hand
as to engaging what I may think a suitable person.”

“Emphatically no. You are the lower court. Sift sheep from goats. Send
sheep here to me. I am the tribunal. I will finally select.”

The refusal placed a last obstacle in the path of George’s scheme, but
he did not demur. Primarily he dared not. To demur might raise again
that blunder he had let escape when he had said, “She’ll come for
anything”; this time it might rage around and not be captured. All might
be wrecked. Secondly he felt there to be no great need for protest. The
confidence of having won thus far gave him courage against this final
difficulty.

“Trust me, sir,” he said.

Very soberly he paced from the room; gently closed the door; with the
tread of one bearing a full heart heavily moved up the stairs.

He reached his room; ripped off sobriety. “Oh, Mary!” he exultantly
cried, “if I can get you down here, old girl!”

Mr. Marrapit, meanwhile, stepped to the room where his cats lived;
lovingly toyed with his pets; took the Rose of Sharon a walk in the
garden. He was in pleasant mood. Great had been the distress of the
night, but this man had enjoyed a luxurious warm bath--in crocodile’s
tears.



CHAPTER V.

Miss Porter Swallows A Particularly Large Sweet.



I.

Mary in the little Battersea lodgings was at breakfast when her George’s
telegram arrived. She puckered over its mystery; shaped events this way
and that, but could make of them no keyhole that the message would fit
and unlock.

She flew among the higher improbabilities: George, she conjectured, had
misrepresented this stony-hearted uncle; last night had told all to Mr.
Marrapit, and Mr. Marrapit had warmed to her and bade him fetch her to
Herons’ Holt. She ripped George’s description of his uncle from about
the old man; dressed Mr. Marrapit in snowy locks and a benign smile;
pictured him coming down the steps with outstretched hand to greet her.
She heard him say, “My daughter”; she saw him draw George to her, lock
their hands; she heard him murmur, “Bless you, my children.”

This was a romantic young woman. A poached egg was allowed to grow cold
as she trembled over her delectable fancies.

But a glance at the telegram pulled her from these delicious flights;
bumped her to earth. “_Think can get you situation here._” “Situation”
 drove the fatherly air from Mr. Marrapit; once more rehabilitated him as
her George presented him--grim and masterly.

Further conjecture altogether drove Mr. Marrapit from the picture. What
situation could be offered her in the Marrapit household? Why should
“here” mean Herons’ Holt? It must mean at a house in the district.

Upon the magic carpet of this new thought my Mary was whirled again in
an imaged paradise. She would be near her George.

High in these clouds she ran to her bedroom for her hat; but with it
there descended upon her head a new thought that again sent her toppling
earthwards. Characterless, and worse than characterless, how was she
to get any such delightful post? My Mary started up the street for the
Agency, blinking tears.

At Battersea Bridge a new thought came sweeping. She clutched on to it;
held it fast. Into her tread it put a spring; to her chin gave a brave
tilt. If everything failed, if of the telegram nothing came, why, at
least she had the telegram!--was making for the Agency under a direct
command from her George. The thought swelled her with confidence and
comfort. How warm a thing it was to feel that she did not face the world
alone! Her George’s arm was striking for her, her George’s hand was
pointing a terse command. “Go to Agency.” She was obeying him; she
belonged to him.



II.

Mary had intended to wait outside the Agency until her George should
arrive and explain his mysterious message. But she was scarcely at the
building when Miss Ram, also arriving, accosted her--took her upstairs.
Miss Ram quite naturally regarded the meeting as evidence that Mary had
come for help. Mary, in a flutter as to George’s intentions, could but
meekly follow.

In the room marked “Private,” settled at her table, Miss Ram icily
opened the interview. “I have heard from Mrs. Chater. I did not expect
to see you again.”

Mary began: “I don’t know what you have heard--”

Miss Ram stretched for a letter.

“Oh, I don’t wish to,” Mary cried; put out a hand that stayed the
action. “To hear all she says would again begin it all. It would be like
her voice. It would be like being with her again. Please, please, Miss
Ram, don’t tell me.”

“You have your own version?”

“I have the truth.” Mary pointed at the letter-file. “The truth isn’t
there. Mrs. Chater isn’t capable of the truth. She cannot even recognise
the truth when she hears it.”

In yet more freezing tones Miss Ram replied: “She is an old and valued
client.”

“You only know her in this office,” Mary told her. “You don’t know her
in her home.”

“I have suited her with other young ladies. I have heard of her from
them.”

“And they have spoken well of her?”

“Discounting the prejudice of a late employee, they have spoken well.”

“Was her son there with them?”

“They have not told me so.”

“Ah!” said Mary; sat back in her chair.

“Then your version is about the son?”

Mary nodded. Recollection put a silly lump in her throat.

Miss Ram said: “Miss Humfray, when I received that letter from Mrs.
Chater, I said I would have no more to do with you. I told Miss Porter
I would not see you. Why, out of all my ladies, do you come back to me
characterless from your situations? I will listen to your story. Make
it very brief. Don’t exaggerate. I have sat in this chair for seventeen
years. I can distinguish in a minute between facts and spleen. You
desire to tell your version?”

“I must,” Mary said. “What I’d like to do would be to get up and say,
‘If you doubt me, I’ll not trouble to convince you.’ I’d like to walk
out and leave you and face anything rather than ‘explain.’ Why should
I ‘explain’ to anybody? But I’m not going to walk out. I haven’t the
pluck. I know what it is like to be alone out there.” She gave a little
choke. “I’ve learnt that much, anyway.” She went on. “I’ll just tell
you, that’s all. I don’t want your sympathy; I only want your sense of
justice.”

“I like your spirit,” Miss Ram said. It was a quality she rarely found
in her applicants. “Go on.”

Then Mary told. She phrased bluntly. Her recital was after the manner of
the fireworks called “Roman candles.” These, when lit, pour out fire and
smoke in a rather weak-kneed dribble. They must be held tightly. When
tensely enough constricted, of fire and smoke there is little, but at
intervals out there pops an exceedingly luminous ball of flame.

My Mary kept the pressure of pride upon her throat. There was no dribble
of emotion. Only the facts popped out--hard and dry, and to Miss
Ram intensely illuminative. Mary did not mention George’s name. She
concluded her narrative with jerky facts relative to the scene in the
Park. “Then I ran away,” she said, “and a friend of mine came up. He had
seen. And he thrashed him. When I got back to Mrs. Chater’s her son had
arrived--battered. He told his mother that he had seen me with a man and
had interfered. That the man assaulted him. That’s all.”

“The miserable hound!” pronounced Miss Ram with extraordinary ferocity.

From a drawer in her desk she took a manuscript book, bound in limp
leather, tied with blue ribbon. Herein were contained the remarkable
thoughts which from time to time had come to this woman during her
seventeen years’ occupancy of the chair in which she sat. Upon the
flyleaf was inscribed “Aphorisms: by Eugenie Ram.” It was her intent
to publish this darling work when beneath each letter of the alphabet
twelve aphorisms were written.

“The miserable hound!” cried she, when the full tale of Mr. Bob Chater’s
vileness was told; drew “Aphorisms” towards her and wrote in hot blood.

Then looked at Mary. “_L,_” she read, “_L. Lust. Lust is the sound meat
of natural instinct gone to carrion. Men eat meat, wolves eat carrion.
Some men are wolf-men_--Hand me the dictionary, Miss Humfray. Two r’s in
carrion. I _thought_ so. Thank you.”

She replaced “Aphorisms.” “My dear, I will do what I can for you,” she
told Mary. “I _do_ believe you. Go into the interview room. I hear a
step.”



III.

That step was George’s. Abashed in this home of women he shuffled
uneasily in the passage, then put a hesitating knuckle upon “Enquiries.”

From within a violent movement was followed by a strange guttural sound.
George entered.

With scarlet face and watery eyes, Miss Porter--the stout young woman
who presided over this department, and whose habit it was to suck sweets
the better to beguile the tedium of her duties--gazed at him; made
guttural sounds. The start of George’s knock had caused this girl
to swallow a particularly large sweet, and its downward passage was
inflicting upon her considerable pain.

Her face was an alarming sight. “I’m afraid--” George began.

“Pardon!” gasped Miss Porter, driving the sweet with a tremendous
swallow. “Pardon!”

“Not at all,” George pleasantly said. “Not at all. I called with
reference to a lady-help.”

The grinding sweet forbade the pleasant dalliance

Miss Porter could have wished with this handsome young man. In a brave
spasm (this girl was in great suffering), “I will tell the Principal,”
 she said; trod heavily to Miss Ram’s door.

Fate is an abominable trickster; loves to tease us. With one hand
it gave Miss Porter a delectable male; with the other prevented her
enjoying him. Furthermore, it prematurely deprived her of a fine sweet.

Reappearing and holding the door ajar: “Miss Ram will see you,” she
murmured. Tears were in this girl’s eyes; the bolted sweet was still
paining her very much indeed.

IV.

In two clever bows Miss Ram without a word greeted George; indicated a
chair.

George sat down. “I want,” he began--“that is, my uncle wants, a
lady-help--”

“Name, please,” rapped Miss Ram, opening the ledger.

George gave it; stretched a leg to indicate a confidence he did not
feel; pitched his voice to aid the presentment. “When I say lady-help--”

“Address, please,” said Miss Ram with a pistol-snap.

George withdrew the signs of confidence with a jerk. He gave the
information. Then waited Miss Ram to give him a lead. He had twice been
shot; was in no desire again to expose his person.

Miss Ram fixed her small black eyes upon him. She said nothing. The
intrusion of a young man into matters essentially domestic she strongly
disapproved. Under “D” in “Aphorisms” this woman had a trenchant note
touching this matter. “_D. Domesticity. Domesticity_,” said this note,
“_is the offspring of all the womanly virtues. The virtues impregnate
the woman, and domesticity is the resultant child. Absence of a single
womanly trait aborts or debilitates the offspring. Men have nothing
whatever to do with it, and nothing is more abominable than a man who
meddles with domestic matters._”

The rays of Miss Ram’s disconcerting eye pushed George steadily
backwards from the rock of such small confidence as remained to him.
Assailed by the inquiring bows with which she now interrogated his
further purpose, he slipped from it, plunged wildly into the sea of what
he required, and for five minutes beat this way and that, hurling the
splash of broken sentences at Miss Ram’s unbending countenance.

Beginning a description of Mr. Marrapit’s household, he floundered
thence to a description of the required lady’s duties; abandoning that
unfinished, splashed to a description of the manner of person for whom
he sought.

It was his object to paint a character and appearance as near to his
Mary’s as he could master; to induce Miss Ram to suggest her as likely
candidate for the post. He could not introduce his Mary to his uncle
unless she came under the auspices of some recognised institution.

So he floundered on.

Miss Ram did not move. His struggles grew less; he caught at haphazard
words; flung them desperately; at last relapsed; sat sweating.

Miss Ram poked him with a questioning bow. He did not stir.

With a further bow she accepted his defeat; handed him a pink paper.
“Now, kindly fill up this form. State precisely what you require. Write
clearly, please.”

George obeyed. Miss Ram studied the answers to her printed
interrogations; opened her ledger. “I have several suitable ladies.”
 She started to read a list. “Miss Minna Gregor; aged 25; daughter of
the late Humphrey Gregor, stockbroker; three years’ character from Mrs.
Mountsaffron of Charles Street, to whom she was lady-help and from whom
an excellent reference may be obtained.”

“Too old,” said George.

Miss Ram frowned; returned to the ledger. “Miss Ellen Hay; aged
20; daughter of Lieutenant Hay, late R.N. For two years with Mrs.
Hoyle-Hoyle of Knightsbridge.”

George squeaked, “Too young.” He had not anticipated this ordeal.

Miss Ram read on. At the fifteenth name George was in desperate
agitation. His list of objections was exhausted. Each protest had
narrowed his field.

“This is the last upon my books,” Miss Ram severely told him. “She
fills all your requirements. None of your objections applies. You will
certainly engage her.”

“I feel sure I shall,” George brightly said. If this was the last name
it must be Mary.

“I am glad to hear that,” Miss Ram announced. “You are hard to please.
This is a most admirable young woman.”

George leaned forward with an expectant smile. Miss Ram read: “Miss Rosa
Brump--”

George’s smile died. An “Eh?” was startled out of him.

“Brump,” said Miss Ram testily. “Brump. B-r-u-m-p, _Brump_.”

George said “Oh!”; ran a finger around the inside of his collar.

Miss Ram read on, emphasising the Brumps with the suggestion of a ball
bouncing from rock to rock:

“Miss Rosa _Brump_; aged 21; daughter of the late Selwyn Agburn _Brump_,
barrister-at-law. Companion to Miss Victoria Shuttle of Shuttle Hall,
Shuttle, Lines, until that lady’s death. The late Miss Shuttle dying
suddenly, Miss _Brump_ has no reference from her. What that reference
would have been, however, is clearly evidenced by the fact that in her
will Miss Shuttle bequeathed ‘to my faithful companion Rosa _Brump_,’
her terra-cotta bust of the late Loomis Shuttle, Esq., J.P., inventor of
the Shuttle liquid manure.”

Miss Ram wagged a finger at George. “That speaks for itself,” she said.

George did not answer. He was in a confusion of fear. This terrible
woman would force Miss Brump upon him. He was powerless in her hands. He
was in chains.

“Does it not?” poked Miss Ram.

“Rather,” said George. “Oh, rather.”

“Very good. I congratulate your uncle upon obtaining this estimable
young woman. She should call here in a few minutes. You can then make
final arrangements. Meanwhile, this form--”

George hurled himself free from this hypnotic panic. Anything must be
done to shake off this intolerable Brump.

“One moment,” he said. “I had forgotten--”

“Well?”

“What colour is Miss Brump’s hair?”

“Her _what?_”

“Hair. Her hair.”

“How extraordinary! Brown.”

George effected an admirable start. He echoed: “_Brown?_ Oh, not brown?”

“Certainly. Brown.”

George mournfully shook his head. “Oh, dear! How unfortunate! I’m afraid
Miss Brump will not suit, Miss Ram. My uncle--extraordinary foible--has
a violent objection to brown hair. He will not have it in the house.”

“Unheard of!” Miss Ram snapped. “Unheard of!”

George rubbed together his sweating palms; blundered on. “None the less
a fact,” he said impressively. He dropped his voice. “It is a very sad
story. He had fifteen brothers--”

“Fifteen!”

“I assure you, yes. All were black-haired except one, who was brown--the
first brown-haired child in the history of the house. ‘Bantam’ they used
to call him when they were girls and boys together--‘Bantam.’”

“_Girls_! You said brothers!”

“Ah, yes. Girls as well. Twelve, twelve girls.”

“Twelve girls and fifteen boys!”

“I assure you, yes. A record. As I was saying, the brown-haired child,
he took to drink. It is most painful. Died in a madhouse. My uncle, head
of the family, reeled beneath the stigma--reeled. Vowed from that day
that he would never let a brown-haired person cross his threshold.”

George wiped his streaming face; sat back with a sigh. Miss Brump was
buried.

Miss Ram’s next words caused him to start in his seat.

“But your hair is brown.”

My contemptible George, all his lies now rushing furious upon him, put
his hand to his head; withdrawing it, gazed at the palm with the air of
one looking for a stain.

“How about _that_?” rapped Miss Ram.

George gave a wan smile. “It is my misfortune,” he said simply--“my
little cross. We all have our burdens in this life, Miss Ram. Pardon me
if I do not care to dwell upon mine.”

With a bow Miss Ram indicated sympathy; decorously closed the subject.

George gave a little sigh. With a simulation of brightness he proceeded:
“You are sure you have no other lady?”

“I have one,” said Miss Ram. “She would not suit.”

“May I be allowed to judge?”

Miss Ram turned to the ledger. “‘Miss Mary Humfray.’”

George started. “It is nothing,” he explained. “One of those shivers;
that is all.”

Miss Ram bowed. “‘Miss Mary Humfray; aged 21; only child of the late
Colonel Humfray, Indian Army; references from former employer not good,
but with extenuating circumstances.’”

“I think she might suit,” George said. “She--she--” he groped
wildly--“she is the daughter of a colonel.”

“So were four others.”

George wiped his brow. “The--the _only_ daughter.”

“You consider that a merit?”

“My uncle would. He has curious ideas. He is himself an only child.”

Miss Ram stared. George had the prescience of trouble, but could not
find it. “Oh, yes,” he said, “oh, yes.”

“Fifteen brothers and twelve sis--”

George saw the gaping pit; sprang from it. “_Has_ an only child,” he
corrected. “_Has_, not _is_.”

Miss Ram glared, continued: “What of the absence of character?”

“I imagine the fact of being an only child would override that. You said
there were extenuating circumstances?”

“There are. I personally would speak for the young lady.”

Excitement put George upon his feet. “I thank you very much, Miss Ram. I
feel that this lady will suit.”

“You have asked nothing about her. With the others you were unusually
particular.”

“I act greatly by instinct. It is a family trait. Something seems to
assure me in this case.”

Miss Ram gazed searchingly at George; answered him upon an interested
note. “Indeed!” she spoke. “Remarkable. Pray pardon me.” She drew
“Aphorisms” from its drawer; hesitated a moment; with flowing pen wrote
beneath “I.”

She turned towards George. “Pray pardon me,” she repeated. “What you
tell me of acting by instinct greatly interests me as a student of
character. In this little volume here I--allow me.” She emphasised with
a quill-pen. “_I. Instinct. Instinct is the Almighty’s rudder with which
He steers our frail barques upon the tempestuous sea of life at moments
when otherwise we should be quite at a loss. Some of us answer quickly
to this mysterious helm and for example something seems to tell them in
the middle of the night that the house is on fire, and they get up and
find it is. Let those who don’t answer quickly beware!_”

“That’s awfully well put,” said George. “Awfully well.”

For the first time Miss Ram smiled. “You would wish to interview the
young lady?” she asked. “Fortunately she is present. Kindly step to the
Interview Room.”

She led the way. With thundering pulses George followed. His Mary rose.
Miss Ram introduced them.

George rolled his tongue in a dry mouth; passed it over dry lips. He had
no words.

“Have you no questions?” Miss Ram asked severely.

For a third time since he had entered this building, panic broke damply
upon George’s brow. He blew his nose; in a very faint voice asked: “Your
age is twenty-one?”

Upon an agitated squeak his Mary told him: “Yes.”

“Ah!” In desperation he paused: caught Miss Ram’s awful eye; was goaded
to fresh plunge. “Ah, one-and-twenty?”

In a tiny squeak Mary replied: “Yes.”

He shuffled in desperation. “When will you be twenty-two?”

“In February.”

“Ah! February.” This was awful. “February.”

Miss Ram’s eye stabbed him again.

“February. Then you must be twenty-one now?”

“_Tch-tch!_” sounded Miss Ram.

“Twenty-one,” George stammered. “Twenty-one--”

From the other room at that moment Miss Porter called.

“I am required,” said Miss Ram, “elsewhere. I will return in a moment.”
 She passed out; closed the door.



V.

“My darling!” cried George.

“Georgie!”

They embraced.

He held her to him; kissed the soft gold hair.

On a movement in the next room his Mary wriggled free. “Tell me.”

“By Gad, it’s been awful! Did you hear me in that room?”

She nodded, laughing at him. He kissed the smiles.

“Oh, do be careful! Let _go_, George; let _go_. I couldn’t hear what you
said. But you were hours--_hours_.”

“Years,” said George. “Years. Aeons of time. I have aged considerably. I
thought it would never end. It was appalling.”

She clasped her pretty hands. “But tell me, George. Do tell me. I don’t
understand _anything_. What has _happened?_”

“Give me time,” George told her. “I am not the same George. The
light-hearted George of yore is dead under Miss Ram’s chair. I am old
and seamed with care.”

“George, _do, do_ tell me! Don’t fool.”

“I’m not fooling. I can’t fool. You don’t realise what I have been
through. You have no heart. I can’t fool. When I was a child I thought
as a child; I did childish things. But now that I have been through
Miss Ram’s hands my bright boyhood is sapped. I am old and stricken in
years.”

“Oh, Georgie, _do, do_ tell me!”

This ridiculous George gave a boyish laugh; clasped his Mary again;
squeezed her to him till she gasped. “I’ve got you, Mary!” he said. He
kissed the gold hair. “I’ve got you. I’m going to see you every day.
You’re coming down to live at Herons’ Holt.”

Then he told her.



VI.

Miss Ram returned; directed at George a bow that Was one huge note of
interrogation.

“Quite satisfactory,” George replied. “I am sure my uncle will agree.”

“There is, of course,” objected Miss Ram, “the unfortunate matter of
references.”

George took a frank air. “Miss Ram, I am quite willing to take your
personal assurances on that matter. On behalf of my uncle I accept
them.”

“I will send a written statement of the matter,” said Miss Ram. Her air
was dogged.

“I most solemnly assure you that is unnecessary.”

Miss Ram killed him with a bow. “It is my custom. I have the reputation
of seventeen years to sustain.”

George quailed.

“Your uncle,” Miss Ram exclaimed, “will also wish to see Miss Humfray.
She shall go this afternoon.”

“Not this afternoon,” George told her. “No. To-morrow. He could not see
her to-day.”

“Very well. To-morrow. To-night I will write the references to him.
Kindly pay the fee to Miss Porter in the office. Good morning!”

She pushed him off with a stabbing bow. He fled.



VII.

In that delectable interview during Miss Ram’s absence George had
arranged with his Mary that this was a day to be celebrated. She should
not proceed instantly to be weighed by Mr. Marrapit; let that ordeal be
given to the morrow. This splendid day should splendidly end; tremendous
gaiety should with a golden clasp fasten the golden hours of the
morning. In the afternoon he had a lecture and clinical demonstrations.
Like a horse he would work till half-past six. At seven he would meet
his Mary in Sloane Square.

So it was. At that hour George from the top of his ‘bus spied his Mary
upon the little island in the Square. He sprang down and his first
action was to show a fat and heavy sovereign, pregnant with delights,
lying in his palm.

“Borrowed,” said George. “One pound sterling. Twenty shillings net. And
every penny of it is going to fly.”

He called a hansom, and they smoothly rolled to Earl’s Court.

When sovereigns are rare possessions, how commanding an air the feel of
one imparts! Mary watched her George with pride. How masterful was he!
How deferential the head waiter at the restaurant in the Exhibition
became! The man was putting them off with an inner table. Her George by
a look and a word had him in a minute to right-abouts, and one of the
coveted tables upon the verandah was theirs. Waiters flocked about. With
such an air did George command the cheapest wine upon the list that
the waiter, whose lip ordinarily would have curled at such an order,
hastened to its execution with dignity of task, deference of service.

They ate robustly through the menu: faltered not nor checked at a single
dish. They passed remarks upon their neighbours. At intervals George
would say, “Isn’t this fine, Mary?”; or his Mary would say, “Oh,
Georgie, isn’t this splendid?” And the other would answer, “Rather!”

A meal and a conversation to make your proper lovers shudder! There was
no nibbling at and toying with food; there was no drinking and feasting
from the light of one another’s eyes. When George felt thirsty he
would put his nose in the cheap claret and keep it there till mightily
refreshed; such hungry yearnings as his Mary felt she satisfied with
knife and fork. These were very simple children and exceedingly healthy.

But while his Mary’s tongue ached with a cold, cold ice, George was
in the pangs of mental arithmetic. As the bill stood, that pregnant
sovereign had given birth to all the delights of which it was capable;
was shattered and utterly wrecked in child-bed.

A waiter came bustling. There was just time. George leant across. “Mary,
when I ask you if you’ll have coffee, say you prefer it outside--it’s
cheaper there.”

“Coffee, sir?”

“Special coffee,” George ordered nonchalantly. “Yes, two. One moment.
Would you rather have your coffee outside near the band, Mary?”

His Mary was splendid. She looked around the room, she looked into the
cool night--and there her eye longer lingered. “It’s cooler outside,”
 she said. “I think it would be nicer outside, if you don’t mind.”

“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 passed 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 accomplishing 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 appetite. 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 advertisements at
me. I am a hoarding.”

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

The hoarding 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 assistance 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 astonishing 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 pass, 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 hoard 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 passed 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?”

“Assuredly. 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.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Pah!” Mr. Marrapit exclaimed. “You said ‘I am.’ Were you not about to
say ‘I am standing on the polished boards’?”

“No.”

“I believed that was in your mind. Let it now enter your mind. You are
on the polished boards. You have high heels. I quake in terror lest they
have left scratch or blemish. Adjust your position.”

Mary stepped to the carpet. She was dumb before this man.

Mr. Marrapit bent above the polished flooring where she had stood.
“There is no scratch,” he announced, “neither is there any blemish.” He
resumed his post against the fireplace and again regarded her: “You are
young.”

“I am older really.”

“Elucidate that.”

“I mean--I am not inexperienced.”

“Why say one thing and mean another? Beware the habit. It is perilous.”

“Indeed it is not my habit.”

“It is your recreation, then. Do not indulge it. Continue.”

“I am young, but I have had experience. I think if you were to engage me
I would give you satisfaction.”

“Adduce grounds.”

“I would try in every way to do as you required. I understand I am to
look after cats.”

“Where?”

“Here.”

“Abandon that impression. I have not said so.”

“No, I mean if you engage me.”

“Again you say one thing and mean another. I am suspicious. It is a
habit.”

“Oh, _indeed_ it is not.”

“Then if a recreation, a recreation to which you are devoted. You romp
in it. Twice within a minute you have gambolled.”

My Mary blinked tears. Since rising that morning, her nerves had been
upon the stretch against this interview. She had schooled herself
against all possibilities so as to win into the house of her dear
George, yet at every moment she seemed to fall further from success.

“You ca-catch me up so,” she trembled.

Mr. Marrapit expanded upwards. “Catch you up! A horrible accusation. The
table is between us.”

“You mis-misunderstand me.” She silenced a little sniff with a dab of
her handkerchief. She looked very pretty. Mr. Marrapit placed beside her
the mental image of Mrs. Major; and at every point she had the prize. He
liked the soft gold hair; he liked the forlorn little face it enframed;
he liked the slim little form. His cats, he suspected, would appreciate
those nice little hands; he judged her to have nice firm legs against
which his cats could rub. Mrs. Major’s, he apprehended, would have been
bony; not legs, but shanks.

Mary made another dab at her now red little nose. The silence increased
her silly fright. “You mis-misunderstand me,” she repeated.

With less asperity Mr. Marrapit told her: “I cannot accept the blame.
You wrap your meanings. I plunge and grope after them. Eluding me, I am
compelled to believe them wilfully thrown. Strive to let your yea be yea
and your nay nay. With circumspection proceed.”

Mary gathered her emotion with a final little sniff. “I like ca-cats.”

“I implore you not to accuse me of misunderstanding you. A question is
essential. You do not always pronounce ‘cats’ in two syllables?”

“Oh, no.”

“Satisfactory. You said ‘ca-cats.’ Doubtless under stress of emotion.
Proceed.”

Mary sniffed; proceeded. “I like ca-cats--cats. If you were to engage me
I am sure your cats would take to me.”

“I admit the possibility. I like your appearance. I like your voice.
Had you knowledge of the acute supersensitiveness of my cats you would
understand that they will appreciate those points. I do not require in
you veterinary knowledge; I require sympathetic traits. I do not engage
you to nurse my cats--though, should mischance befall, that would come
within your duties,--but to be their companion, their friend. You are a
lady; themselves ancestral they will appreciate that. I understand
you are an orphan; there also a bond links you with them. All cats are
orphans. It is the sole unfortunate trait of their characters that they
are prone to forget their offspring. In so far as it is possible to
correct this failing amongst my own cats, I have done my best. Amongst
them the sanctity of the marriage tie is strictly observed. The word
stud is peculiarly abhorrent to me. Polygamy is odious. There is a final
point. Pray seat yourself.”

Mary took a chair. Mr. Marrapit, standing before her, gazed down upon
her. From her left he gazed, then from her right. He returned to the
fireplace.

“It is satisfactory,” he said. “You have a nice lap. That is of first
importance. The question of wages has been settled. Arrive to-morrow.
You are engaged.”



BOOK V.

Of Mr. Marrapit upon the Rack: of George in Torment.



CHAPTER I.

Prosiness Upon Events: So Uneventful That It Should Be Skipped.


If we write that Mary’s first month at Herons’ Holt was uneventful, we
use the term as a figure of speech that must be taken in its accepted
sense; not read literally. For it is impossible that life, in whatever
conditions, can be eventless. The dullest life is often with events the
most crowded. In dulness we are thrown back upon our inner selves, and
that inner self is of a construction so sensitive that each lightest
thought is an event that leaves an impression.

In action, in gaiety, in intercourse we put out an unnatural self to
brunt the beat of events. We are upon our guard. There are eyes watching
us, and from their gaze we by instinct fend our inner self just as by
instinct we fend our nakedness.

Overmuch crowded with such events, the inner self is prone to shrivel,
to fade beneath lack of nutriment; and it may happen that in time the
unnatural self will take its place, will become our very self.

That is gravely to our disadvantage. Overmuch in action, the man of
affairs may win the admiration of a surface-seeing world; may capture
the benefits of strong purpose, of wealth, and of position. But he is
in danger of utterly losing the fruits that only by the inner, the
original, and true self can be garnered.

Life presents for our pursuit two sets of treasures. The one may be had
by the labours of the hands; the other by exercise of the intellect--the
true self. And at once this may be said: that the treasures heaped by
the hands soil the hands, and the stain sinks deep. The stain enters the
blood and, thence oozing, pigments every part of the being--the face,
the voice, the mind, the thoughts. For we cannot labour overlong in the
fields without besweating the brow; and certainly we cannot ceaselessly
toil after the material treasures of life without gathering the traces
of that labour upon our souls. It stains, and the stain is ugly.

Coming to treasures stored by exercise of the intellect, the true
self, these also put their mark upon the possessor; but the action is
different and the results are different. Here the pigment that colours
the life does not come from without but distils from within. Man does
not stoop to rend these treasures from the earth; he rises to them. They
do not bow; they uplift. They are not wrenched in trampling struggle
from the sties where men battle for the troughs; they are absorbed from
the truths of life that are as breezes upon the little hills. They are
in the face of Nature and in Nature’s heart; they are in the written
thoughts of men whose thoughts rushed upward like flames, not
dropped like plummet-stones--soared after truth and struck it to our
understanding, not made soundings for earthy possessions showing how
these might be gained.

Yet it is not to be urged that the quest of material treasures is to
be despised, or that life properly lived is life solely dreaming among
truths. The writer who made the story of the Israelites sickening of
manna, wrapped in legend the precept that man to live must work for
life. We are not living if we are not working. We cannot have strength
but we win meat to make strength.

No; my protest is against the heaping of material treasure to the
neglect of treasure stored by the true self. Material treasure is not
ours. We but have the enjoyment of it while we can defend it from the
forces that constantly threaten it. Misfortune, sorrow, sickness--these
are ever in leash against us; may at any moment be slipped. Misfortune
may whirl our material treasures from us; sorrow or sickness may canker
them, turn them to ashes in the mouth. They are not ours; we hold them
upon sufferance. But the treasures of the intellect, the gift of
being upon nodding terms with truth, these are treasures that are our
impregnable own. Nothing can filch them, nothing canker them: they are
our own--imperishable, inexhaustible; never wanting when called upon;
balm to heal the blows of adversity, specific against all things malign.
Cultivate the perception of beauty, the knowledge of truth; learn to
distinguish between the realities of life and the dross of life; and you
have a great shield of fortitude of which certainly man cannot rob you,
and against which sickness, sorrow, or misfortune may strike tremendous
blows without so much as bruising the real you.

And it is in the life that is called uneventful that there is the most
opportunity for storing these treasures of the intellect. Perhaps there
is also the greater necessity. In the dull round of things we are thrown
in upon ourselves, and by every lightest thought and deed either are
strengthening that inner self or are sapping it. Either we are reading
the thoughts of men whose thoughts heap a priceless store within us,
or we are reading that which--though we are unaware--vitiates and puts
further and further beyond our grasp the truths of life; either we are
watching our lives and schooling them to feed upon thoughts and deeds
that will uplift them, or we are neglecting them, and allowing them
to browse where they will upon the rank weeds of petty spites, petty
jealousies, petty gossipings and petty deeds. In action we may have no
time to waste over this poisonous herbage; but in dulness most certainly
we do have the temptation--and as we resist or succumb so shall we
conduct ourselves when the larger events of life call us into the lists.



CHAPTER II

Margaret Fishes; Mary Prays.



I.

Mary’s first month at Herons’ Holt was uneventful: need not be recorded.
We are following the passage of the love ‘twixt her and George; and
within the radius of Mr. Marrapit’s eye love durst not creep. She saw
little of her George. They were most carefully circumspect in their
attitude one to another, and conscience made their circumspection trebly
stiff. There are politenesses to be observed between the inmates of a
house, but my Mary and my George, in terror lest even these should be
misconstrued, studiously neglected them.

The aloofness troubled Margaret. This girl wrapped her sentiment about
Mary; delighting in one who, so pretty, so young, so gentle-voiced, must
face life in an alien home. The girls came naturally together, and it
was not long before Margaret bubbled out her vocation.

The talk was upon books. Margaret turned away her head; said in the
voice of one hurrying over a commonplace: “I write, you know.”

She tingled for the “Do you?” from her companion, but it did not come,
and this was very disappointing.

She stole a glance at Mary, sitting with a far-away expression in her
eyes (the ridiculous girl had heard an engine whistle; knew it to be the
train that was taking her George to London). Margaret stole a glance at
Mary; repeated louder: “I write, you know.”

It fetched the delicious response. Mary started: “Do you?”

Margaret said hurriedly: “Oh, nothing worth speaking of.”

Mary said: “Oh!”; gave her thoughts again to the train.

It was wretched of her. “Poems,” said Margaret, and stressed the word
“_Poems_.”

Mary came flying back from the train. “Oh, how interesting that is!”

At once Margaret drew away. “Oh, it is nothing,” she said, “nothing.”
 She put her eyes upon the far clouds; breathed “Nothing” in a long sigh.

From this it was not a far step to reading, with terrible reluctance,
her poems to Mary; nor from this again was it other than an obvious step
to telling of Bill. Her pretty verses were so clearly written at some
heart which throbbed responsive, that Mary must needs put the question.
It came after a full hour’s reading--the poet sitting upon her bed in a
litter of manuscripts, Mary in a low chair before her.

In a tremulous voice the poet concluded the refrain of an exquisite
verse:

  “Beat for beat, your heart, my darling,
          Beats with mine.
  Skylarks carol, quick responsive,
          Love divine.”

The poet gave a little gulp; laid down her paper.

Mary also gulped. From both their pretty persons emotion welled in a
great flood that filled the room.

“I’m sure that is written _to_ somebody,” Mary breathed.

Margaret nodded. This girl was too ravished with the grip of the thing
to be capable of words.

Mary implored: “Oh, do tell me!”

Then Margaret told the story of Bill--with intimate details and in the
beautiful phrases of the poet mind she told it, and the flooding emotion
piled upwards to the very roof.

Love has rightly been pictured as a naked babe. Men together will
examine a baby--if they must--with a bashful diffidence that pulls down
the clothes each time the infant kicks; women dote upon each inch of its
chubby person. And so with love. Men will discuss their love--if they
must--with the most prudish decorum; women undress it.

It becomes essential, therefore, that what Margaret said to Mary must
not be discovered.

When she had ceased she put out a hand for the price of her confidence:
“And have you--are you--I know practically nothing about you, Mary,
dear. _Do_ tell me, are _you_ in love?”

Bang went the gates of Mary’s emotion. Here was awful danger. She
laughed. “Oh, I’ve no time to fall in love, have I?”

Margaret sighed her sympathy; then gazed at Mary.

Mary read the gaze aright. These were women, and they read one another
by knowledge of sex. Mary knew Margaret’s gaze to be that of an archer
sighting at his mark, estimating the chances of a hit. She saw the arrow
that was to come speeding at her breast; gathered her emotions so that
she should not flinch at the wound.

Margaret twanged the bow-string. “No time to fall in love?” she
murmured. She fitted the shaft; let fly. “Do you like George, dear?”

Mary stooped to her shoe-laces. Despite her preparations the arrow had
pierced, and she hid her face to hide the blood.

“George?” said she, head to floor.

“Yes, George. Do you like George?”

My Mary sat up, brazen. “George? Oh, you mean your cousin? I daresay
he’s very nice. Practically I’ve never even spoken to him since I’ve
been here.”

“I know. Of course he’s very busy just now. Do you think you would like
him if you did know him?”

It was murderous work. Mary was beginning to quiver beneath the arrows;
was in terror lest she should betray the secret. A desperate kick was
necessary. She wildly searched for a foothold; found it; kicked:

“I’m sure I shouldn’t like him.”

The poet softly protested: “Oh why, Mary?”

“He’s clean-shaven.”

“And you don’t like a--”

“I can’t stand a--”

“But if he had a--”

“Oh, if he had a--Margaret, I hear Mr. Marrapit calling. I must fly.”
 She fled.

Upon a sad little sigh the poet moved to her table; drew heliotrope
paper towards her; wrote:

  “Why are your hearts asunder, ye so fair?”

A thought came to her then, and she put her pen in her mouth; pursued
the idea. That evening she walked to the gate and met George upon his
return. After a few paces, “George,” she asked, “do you like Mary?”

George was never taken aback. “Mary? Mary who?”

“Miss Humfray.”

“Oh, is her name Mary?”

“Of course it is.” Margaret slipped her arm through George’s; gazed up
at him. “Do you like her, George?”

“Like whom?”

“Why, Mary--Miss Humfray.”

“Oh, I think she’s a little better than Mrs. Major--in some ways. If
that’s what you mean.”

Margaret sighed. Such mulish indifference was a dreadful thing to this
girl. But she had set her heart on this romance.

“George, dear, I wish you would do something for me.”

“Anything.”

“How nice you are! Will you grow a moustache?”

She anxiously awaited the answer. George took his handkerchief from his
pocket and wiped his eyes. He did not speak.

She asked him: “What is the matter?”

He said brokenly: “You know not what you ask. I cannot grow a moustache.
It is my secret sorrow, my little cross. There is only one way. It is
by pushing up the hairs from inside with the handle of a tooth-brush
and tying a knot to prevent them slipping back. You have to do it every
morning, and I somehow can never remember it.”

Margaret slipped her arm free; without a word walked to the house.

She was hurt. This girl had the artistic temperament, and the artistic
temperament feels things most dreadfully. It even feels being kept
waiting for its meals.



II.

George followed the pained young woman into the house; set down in the
hall the books he carried; left the house again; out through the gate,
and so, whistling gaily along roads and lanes, came to the skirts of
an outlying copse. By disused paths he twisted this way and that to
approach, at length, a hut that once was cottage, whose dilapidated air
advertised long neglect.

It was a week after Mary’s arrival at Herons’ Holt that, quite by
chance, George had stumbled upon this hut. He had taken his books into
the copse, had somehow lost his way in getting out, and through thick
undergrowth had plumped suddenly upon the building. Curiosity had taken
him within, shown him an outer and an inner room, and, in the second, a
sight that had given him laughter; for he discovered there sundry empty
bottles labelled “Old Tom,” a glass, an envelope addressed to Mrs.
Major. It was clear that in this deserted place--somehow chanced
upon--the masterly woman had been wont, safe from disturbance, to meet
the rascal who, taken to Herons’ Holt on that famous night, had so
villainously laid her by the heels.

Nothing more George had thought of the place until the morning of this
day when, leaving for hospital, his Mary had effected a brief whispered
moment to tell him that Mr. Marrapit had thought her looking pale, had
told her to take a long walk that afternoon. Immediately George gave her
directions for the hut; there he would meet her at five o’clock; there
not the most prying eye could reach them.

Now he approached noiselessly; saw his pretty Mary, back towards him,
just within the threshold of the open door. It was their first secluded
meeting since she had come to Herons’ Holt.

Upon tip-toe George squirmed up to her; hissed “I have thee, girl”;
sprang on his terrified Mary; hugged her to him.

“The first moment together in Paltley Hill!” he cried. “The first holy
kiss!”

His Mary wriggled. “George! You frightened me nearly out of my life.
It’s not holy. You’re hurting me awfully.”

“My child, it is holy. Trust in me.”

“George, you _are_ hurting.”

“Scorn that. It is delicious!”

He let her from his arms; but he held her hands, and for a space,
looking at one another, they did not speak. Despite he was in wild
spirits, despite her roguishness, for a space they did not speak. His
hands were below hers and about hers. The contact of their palms was
the junction whence each literally could feel the other’s spirit being
received and pouring inwards. The metals were laid true, and without
hitch or delay the delectable thrill came pouring; above, between their
eyes, on wires invisible they signalled its safe arrival.

They broke upon a little laugh that was their utmost expression of the
intoxication of this draught of love, just as a man parched with thirst
will with a little sigh put down the glass that has touched him back to
vigour. Dumb while they drank, their innate earthiness made them dumb
before effort to express the spiritual heights to which they had been
whirled. In that moment when, spirit mingling with spirit through the
medium of what we call love, all our baseness is driven out of us, we
are nearest heaven. But our vocabulary being only fitted for the needs
about us, we have no words to express the elevation. Debase love and we
can speak of it; let it rush upwards to its apotheosis and we must be
dumb.

With a little laugh they broke.

“Going on all right, old girl?” George asked.

“Splendidly.”

“Happy?”

She laughed and said: “I will give the proper answer to that. How can I
be other than happy, oh, my love, when daily I see your angel form?”

“I forgot that. Yes, you’re a lucky girl in that way--very, very lucky.
Beware lest you do not sufficiently prize your treasure. Cherish it,
tend it, love it.”

“Oh, don’t fool, George. Whenever we have two minutes together you waste
them in playing the goat. Georgie, tell me--about your exam.”

“To-morrow.”

She was at once serious. “To-morrow?”

“To-morrow I thrust my angel form into the examination room. To-morrow
my angel voice trills in the examiners’ ears.”

“I thought you had a paper first, before the viva?”

“Do not snap me up, girl. I speak in metaphors. To-morrow my angel hand
glides my pen over the paper. On Thursday my angel tongue gives forth my
wisdom with the sound of a tinkling cymbal.”

“The paper to-morrow, the viva on Thursday?”

He bowed his angel head.

“George, don’t, _don’t_ fool. Are you nervous? Will you pass?”

“I shall rush, I shall bound. I shall hurtle through like a great
boulder.”

“_Georgie!_ Will you?”

He dropped his banter. “I believe I shall, old girl. I really think I
shall. I’ve simply sweated my life out these weeks--all for you.”

She patted his hand. “Dear old George! How I shall think of you! And
then?”

“Then--why, then, we’ll marry! Mary, I shall hear the result immediately
after the viva. Then I shall rush back here and tackle old Marrapit at
once. If he won’t give me the money I think perhaps he’ll lend it, and
then we’ll shoot off to Runnygate and take up that practice and live
happily ever after.”

With the brave ardour of youth they discussed the delectable picture;
arranged the rooms they had never seen; planned the daily life of which
they had not the smallest experience.

Twice in our lives we can play at Make-Believe--once when we are
children, once when we are lovers. And these are the happiest times
of our lives. We are not commoners then; we are emperors. We touch the
sceptre and it is a magic wand. We rule the world, shaping it as we
will, dropping from between our fingers all the stony obstacles that
would interfere with its plasticity. Between childhood and love, and
between love and death, the world rules us and bruises us. But in
childhood, and again in love, we rule the world.

So they ruled their world.



III.

That night Mary prayed her George might pass his examination--a prayer
to make us wise folk laugh. The idea of our conception of the Divinity
deliberately thrusting into George’s mind knowledge that he otherwise
had not, the idea of the Divinity deliberately prompting the examiners
to questions that George could answer--these are ludicrous to us in
our wisdom. We have the superiority of my simple Mary in point of
intelligence; well, let us hug that treasure and make the most of it.
Because we miss the sense of confidence with which Mary got from her
knees; passed into her dreams. With our fine intellects we should lie
awake fretting such troubles. These simple, stupid Marys just hand the
tangle on and sleep comforted. They call it Faith.

Yes, but isn’t it grand to be of that fine, brave, intellectual,
hard-headed, business-like stamp that trusts nothing it cannot see and
prove? Rather!



CHAPTER III.

Barley Water For Mr. Marrapit.



I.

Up the drive George came bounding with huge strides. The fires of
tremendous joy that roared within him impelled him to enormous energy.

Upon the journey from Waterloo to Paltley Hill he could with difficulty
restrain himself from leaping upon the seat; bawling “I’ve passed! I’ve
passed! I’m qualified!” He could not sit still. He fidgeted, wriggled;
thrust his head first from one window, then from the other. Every foot
of the line was well known to him. To each familiar landmark his spirit
bellowed: “Greeting! When last you saw me I was coming up in a blue
funk. Now! Oh, good God, now--” and he would draw in, stride the
carriage, and thrust his head from the other window.

His four fellow-passengers regarded him with some apprehension. They
detected signs of lunacy in the young man; kept a nervous eye cocked
upon the alarm cord; at the first stopping place with one accord arose
and fled. One, signing herself “Lady Shareholder,” had her alarming
experience in her daily-paper upon the following morning.

At his station George leapt for the platform a full minute before the
train had stopped. Up the lanes he sent his bursting spirits flying
in shrill whistlings and gay hummings; slashed stones with his
stick; struck across the fields and took gates and stiles in great
spread-eagled vaults.

So up the drive, stones still flying, whistlings still piping.



II.

Upon the lawn he espied Mr. Marrapit and his Mary. She, on a garden
seat, was reading aloud from the _Times_; Mr. Marrapit, on a deep chair
stretched to make lap for the Rose of Sharon, sat a little in advance of
her.

George approached from Mr. Marrapit’s flank; soft turf muffled his
strides. The warm glow of kindliness towards all the world, which his
success had stoked burning within him, put a foreign word upon his
tongue. He sped it on a boisterous note:

“Uncle!” he cried. “Uncle, I’ve passed!”

Mary crushed the _Times_ between her hands; bounded to her feet. “Oh!”
 she cried. “Hip! hur--!”

She bit the final exclamation; dropped to her seat. Mr. Marrapit had
twisted his eye upon her.

“You are in pain?” he asked.

“No--oh, no.”

“You have a pang in the hip?”

“Oh no--no.”

“But you bounded. You cried ‘hip’! Whose hip?”

“I was startled.”

“Unsatisfactory. The brain, not the hip, is the seat of the emotion.
Elucidate.”

“I don’t know why I said ‘hip.’ I was startled. Mr. George startled me.”

“Me also he startled. I did not shout hip, thigh, leg nor knee. Control
the tongue.”

He turned to George. “Miss Humfray’s extraordinary remark has projected
this dilatory reception of your news. I beg you repeat it.”

Sprayed upon between mortification and laughter at the manner of his
greeting, George’s enthusiasm was a little damped. But its flame was too
fierce to be hurt by a shower. Now it roared again. “I’ve passed!” he
cried. “I’m qualified!”

“I tender my felicitations. Accept them. Leave us, Miss Humfray. This is
a mighty hour. Take the Rose. Give her cream. Let her with us rejoice.”

Mary raised the cat. She faced about so that she directly shut Mr.
Marrapit from his nephew; with her dancing eyes spoke her happiness to
her George; passed down the lawn.



III.

Mr. Marrapit drew in the lap he had been making. He sat upright. “Again,
accept my felicitations,” he said. “They are yours. Take them.”

With fitting words George took them. Mr. Marrapit continued: “It is a
mighty hour. Through adversity we have won to peace, through perils to
port, through hurts to harbour.”

He paused.

“You mean--” George said, groping.

“Do not interpose. It is a mighty hour. Let this scene sink into our
minds and march with us to the grave. Here upon the lawn we stand.
Westward the setting sun. Creeping towards us the lengthening shadows.
Between us the horrid discord which has so long reigned no longer
stands. It is banished by a holy peace. The past is dead. My trust is
ended. The vow which I swore unto your mother I have steadfastly kept. I
would nourish you, I declared, until you were a qualified physician.
You are a qualified physician. I have nourished you. Frequently in the
future, upon a written invitation, I trust you will visit this home in
which your youth has been spent. When do you leave?”

The query towards which Mr. Marrapit had been making through his psalm
came to George with a startling abruptness that was disconcerting. He
had not anticipated it. He jerked: “When do I--leave?”

“Certainly. The hour of your departure, unduly deferred by idleness and
waywardness upon which we will not dwell, is now at hand. When does
it fall? Not to-night, I trust? A last night you will, I hope, spend
beneath my roof. To-morrow, perchance? What are your plans?”

George flamed. “You’re in a mighty hurry to get rid of me.”

Mr. Marrapit cast upward his eyes. He groaned:

“Again I am misunderstood. All my life I have been misunderstood.” He
became stern. “Ingrate! Is it not patent to you that my desire is not to
stand in your way? You have earned manhood, freedom, a charter to wrest
money from the world. I might stay you. I do not. I bid you Godspeed.”

George remembered his weighty purpose. Making for it, he became humble.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I see what you mean. I appreciate your kindness.
You ask what are my plans. I have come specially to lay them before
you.”

Mr. Marrapit clutched the seat of his chair with the action of one
waiting a dentist’s torture. He had a premonition that support of some
kind would be necessary. “Proceed,” he said.

George said: “My plans--” He swallowed. “My plans--” Again he swallowed.
His plans were red-hot within him, but he sought despairingly for one
that would not at the very outset turn Mr. Marrapit into screams. “My
plans--” he stammered.

“My God!” Mr. Marrapit groaned. “My God! What is coming?”

George said on a rush: “These are my plans. I intend to marry--”

Mr. Marrapit gave a faint little bark.

“Then--then--” said George, floundering. “After that--then--I intend to
marry--I--”

“Bigamy,” Mr. Marrapit murmured. “Bigamy.”

“Not twice. I am nervous. I intend to marry. I want to buy a little
seaside practice that is for sale.”

Mr. Marrapit repeated the faint little bark. He was lying back, eyes
half closed, face working upon some inward stress.

“Those are my plans,” George summarised: “to marry and buy this
practice.”

A considerable pause followed. The workings of Mr. Marrapit’s face
ceased; he opened his eyes, sat up. “When?” he asked.

“At once.”

“This practice--”

“I have it in my eye.”

“Immaterial. Have you it in your pocket?”

“You mean the price?”

“I mean the money wherewith to finance these appalling schemes.”

“Not exactly. It is about that I wish to speak to you.”

“To _me?_”

“Yes. I wanted to ask--”

“You intend to ask me for money?”

“I want to suggest--”

“How much?”

“Four--five hundred pounds.”

“Great heaven!” Mr. Marrapit wildly fingered the air. Margaret, at the
end of the lawn, crossed his vision. He called huskily: “Margaret!”

She tripped to him. “Father! What is it?”

“Barley water!” Mr. Marrapit throated. “Barley water!”

While she was upon her errand no--words passed between the two. Mr.
Marrapit took the glass from her in shaking hands. “Leave us,” he said.
He drank of his barley water; placed the glass upon the bench beside
him; gave George a wan smile. “I am stricken in years,” he said. “I
have passed through a trance or conscious nightmare. You will have had
experience of such affections of the brain. I thought”--the hideous
memory shook him--“I thought you asked me for five hundred pounds.”

George said defiantly: “I did.”

Mr. Marrapit frantically reached for the barley water; feverishly
gulped. “I shall have a stroke,” he cried. “My hour is at hand.”

My poor George flung himself on a note of appeal. “Oh, I say, uncle,
don’t go on like that! You don’t know what this means to me.”

“I do not seek to know. I am too fully occupied with its consequences to
myself; it means a stroke. I feel it coming. My tomb yawns.”

George gripped together his hands; paced a few strides; returned. “Oh,
for heaven’s sake, don’t go on like that! Won’t you listen to me? Is it
impossible to speak with you as man to man? If you refuse what I ask,
you have only to say no.”

“You promise that?”

“Of course; of course.”

“I say it now, then. No.”

“But you haven’t heard me.”

“Unnecessary.”

The tortured young man raised his voice.

“It is necessary! You shall! You must!”

“Barley water!” Mr. Marrapit gasped. “Barley water! I am going to be
murdered.”

“Oh, this is insupportable!” George cried.

“I endorse that. A double death threatens me. I shudder between a stroke
and a blow. I shall be battered to death on my own lawn.”

“If you would only listen to me,” George implored. “Why can we never be
natural when we meet?”

“Search your heart for the answer,” Mr. Marrapit told him. “It is
because your demands are unnatural.”

“You haven’t heard them. Listen. I am on the threshold of my career.
I am sure you will not ruin it. The real price of this practice is
650 pounds--the value of a year and a half’s income; that is the usual
custom. I am offered it for four hundred. Then I want to marry and to
have a little balance with which to start--say 100 pounds for that. That
makes 500 pounds altogether. I implore you to lend--lend, not give--that
sum. I will pay you back 50 pounds at the end of the first year and a
hundred a year afterwards. Interest too. I don’t know much about these
things. Any interest you like. We would get a solicitor to draw up an
agreement. Say you will lend the money. I feel sure you will.”

“You delude yourself by that assurance.”

“Oh, wait before you refuse. My prospects are so bright if only you
will help me. I have no one else to whom I can turn. It is only a loan I
ask.”

“It is refused.”

George stamped away, hands to head. The poor boy was in agony. Then
returned:

“I won’t believe you. You will not be so heartless. Think over what I
have said. Tell me to-night--to-morrow.”

“My answer would be the same.”

“You absolutely refuse to lend me the money?”

“I refuse. It is against my principles.”

My frantic George clutched at a shimmering hope. “Against your
principles to lend? Do you mean that you will give--give me 500 pounds?”

“Barley water!” Mr. Marrapit gasped. He drank; gasped: “Give 500 pounds!
You are light-headed!”

“Then lend it!” George supplicated on a last appeal. “Make any
conditions you please, and I will accept them. Uncle, think of when you
were a young man. Remember the time when you were on the threshold of
your career. Think of when you were engaged as I am now engaged. Imagine
your feelings if you had been prevented marrying. You won’t stand in
my way? The happiest life is before me if you will only give your aid.
Otherwise--otherwise--oh, I say, you won’t refuse?”

“I implore you to close this distressing scene.”

“Will you lend me the money?”

“My principles prevent me.”

“Then damn your principles!” George shouted. “Damn your principles!”

While he had been battering his head against this brick wall he had been
saved pain by the hope that a last chance would carry him through. Now
that he realised the futility of the endeavour, the stability of the
wall, he had time to feel the bruising he had suffered--the bitterness
of failure and of all that failure meant. The hurts combined to make him
roar with pain, and he shouted furiously again: “Damn your principles!”

“Barley water!” throated Mr. Marrapit on a note of terror. He reached
for the glass. It was empty.

He struggled to his feet; got the chair between George and himself;
cried across it: “Beware how you touch me.”

“Oh, I’m not going to touch you. You needn’t be afraid.”

“I have every need. I am afraid. Keep your distance. You are not
responsible for your actions.”

“You needn’t be afraid, I tell you. It is too ridiculous.”

“I repeat I have need. Keep your distance. My limbs tremble as one in a
palsy.” Mr. Marrapit gripped the chair-back; his shudders advertised his
distress.

“I only want to say this,” George declaimed, “that if you refuse what
I ask, you are refusing what is lawfully mine. My mother left you 4000
pounds for my education. At the outside you have spent three. The 500
pounds is mine. I have a right to it.”

“Keep your distance, sir.”

My furious George took three steps forward.

“Can you answer what I say?” he shouted.

Mr. Marrapit gave a thin cry: turned, and with surprising bounds made
across the lawn. A slipper shot from his foot. He alighted upon a
stone; bounded heavenwards with a shrill scream; and hopping, leaping,
shuffling, made the corner of the house.

George swung on his heel. It occurred to him to visit Bill Wyvern.



CHAPTER IV.

The Rape Of The Rose.



I.

Bill was away from home, the maid who answered the door told George;
Mrs. Wyvern was out; the Professor was in his study.

George found the great biologist warming his chilly old bones in a vast
armchair before a fire.

With a twinkling of his sky-blue eyes that spoke to pleasant temper, the
Professor greeted George; nodded him into an opposite seat.

“I am reading a letter,” he announced. This man spoke very slowly, never
abbreviated; had now an air of child-like happiness. “It is a letter
from Bill.”

George said: “Ah, what is Bill doing? I’ve not seen him for days.”

Professor Wyvern chuckled away and fumbled with clumsy old fingers among
the closely-written sheets on his lap. One he selected and inclined
towards George. Its upper half was thickly lettered in heavy red type,
prominent among which there bawled forth in wavy capitals, thickly
underscored:

  “THE DAILY.” EVERYBODY’S PAPER. PRICE 1/2d.

“Hot stuff!” George cried. “Is old Bill on the staff of the _Daily_?”

“Old Bill is on the staff of the _Daily_,” the Professor returned with
more chuckling. “You have heard of it?”

“Well, it’s advertised everywhere. You can’t get away from it. First
number out to-morrow, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. I think it will be a very terrible production--a very
horrible production indeed. But I am an annual subscriber because
of Bill, and I have written a short article for the first issue also
because of Bill. Bill says” (the Professor fumbled again; ran his nose
twice up and down each sheet; finally struck the passage) “Bill says,
‘You were a brick, dear old governor, to send that article. It is a most
thundering scoop for the _Daily_, and made the Boss most awfully bucked
up with me. You are a brick, dear old Governor.”

A little tear rolled out of Professor Wyvern’s silly old eye, and he
blew his nose in a series of terrific thunder-claps.

“There!” he said. “You see how pleased Bill is with himself. I am afraid
he uses the most terrible expressions in his letters, but he does not
use them when he is writing his stories. He is a clever boy, and I am
very proud of him. Now let me tell you.” He fell to nosing the sheets
again. “All this first part is about his dogs. ‘... if Abiram and Dathan
start scrapping, just hoof Abiram--it’s his fault.’”

The Professor looked up at George. “I would more readily kick a police
constable than I would kick Abiram,” he said. “I must tell Hocken all
this.”

He continued, “‘... see that Korah is kept short of meat for a bit ...
when they are exercising, for goodness’ sake don’t let them be taken
down Windmill Lane. There is a collie there that they have got a grudge
against and will tear to bits if they catch.’”

The Professor paused. “Oh, dear! oh, dear! I must give all this part to
Hocken to keep. Ah! Now here is about his work. They have engaged him
at four pounds a week. He does not know exactly what he is. Not a
sub-editor. Not a reporter. He thinks they will put him on to what he
calls ‘special jobs,’ or he may have to do what he calls ‘ferret round’
and find jobs for himself. The understanding is that he is only on
probation. If he does anything very good they will put him on the
permanent staff; if not, he is liable to go at a week’s notice. Then he
says, ‘Tell all this to George, and give him my love. He was up for his
exam--’”

Professor Wyvern broke off. “Dear me!” he cried; “oh, dear me, I have
forgotten! You have been up for your examination?”

George nodded.

Kindly old Professor Wyvern misinterpreted the lack of enthusiasm. “When
I was a medical student,” he said, “I failed dozens of times in my final
examination--dozens. It’s no criterion of knowledge, you know: it
is just luck. Never let examination failure dishearten you. Go along
happily, George, and take your chance when it comes.”

“It’s come,” George said, beaming; recollection of his splendid success
temporarily overshadowed recollection of his tragic failure.

“You have qualified?”

“Yes.”

The Professor’s sky-blue eyes danced with glee. He struggled on to his
tottery old legs; before George could save him the exertion, had hobbled
over the hearth-rug and was wringing his hand in tremendous pleasure.

“Well done, George!” he bubbled. “Well done! Well done! It is the
most splendid news. I have not had such a happy day for a long time.
Qualified! Well, that is splendid! Splendid!”

He fell back into his chair, panting with his excitement. “Ring that
bell, George. We must celebrate this.”

A maid appeared. “Susan,” said the Professor, “bring up a small bottle
of champagne and two glasses. Mr. George has passed his examination. Be
very quick, Susan.”

Susan was very quick. The cork popped; the glasses foamed and fizzed.
“Now we will have one glass each,” the Professor said. “I think, it will
kill me at this hour, and if my wife catches me she will send me to bed;
so we must be very quick. Now, this is your health, George. God bless
you and good luck!”

He drained his glass like the brave old boy that he was; and when his
eyes had done streaming, and he had finished gasping and choking, bade
Susan hurry away the signs of the dreadful deed before her mistress
should catch her.

“And now tell me your plans, George. Which road to Harley Street, eh?”

Then George poured into those kindly old ears all the tragic story--the
girl he was going to marry; the practice he was going to buy; the
wrecker who had wrecked his fair ships ere ever he had put to sea.

There were in the Professor’s nature no sympathies that enabled him even
to comprehend miserliness in any degree. Made aware of the taint in Mr.
Marrapit, he became red and furious in his abhorrence of it. With snorts
and fumes he punctuated the recital; when it closed, burst out: “Why,
but it is yours! the money is yours. It is misappropriation.”

“That’s just what I say.”

“Well, he must be made to give it you.” George laughed grimly. “I say
that, too. But how?”

“Are you certain of your facts, George?”

“I’ve been to Somerset house and seen my mother’s will.”

“Legally, then--we’ll get it out of him by law.”

“I’ve thought of that,” George said. “I don’t think it is possible.
Look, the passage runs like this. I have it word for word. ‘To my
brother Christopher Marrapit 4000 pounds, and I desire him to educate in
the medical profession my son George.’ Not even ‘with which I desire
him,’ you see. I don’t think there’s any legal way of getting the money
I want--the five hundred.”



II.

For full ten minutes Professor Wyvern made no answer. He stared in the
fire, and every now and again one of his little chuckles set his bent
old shoulders bobbing. Upon a longer chuckle they waggled for a
space; then he turned to George. “Not legally; well, then, what about
illegally, George?”

George did not comprehend.

“A very bad notion has come into my head,” the Professor continued. “I
ought to be ashamed of it, but I am not. I think it would be very funny.
I think your uncle would deserve it. I am sure it would be very funny,
and I think it would be proper and justifiable.”

“Go on,” George said. “Tell me.”

The Professor’s old shoulders bobbed about again. “No, I will not tell
you,” he said. “I will not be a party to it; because if my wife found
out she would send me to bed and keep me there. But I will tell you a
little story, George. If it sets up a train of action that you like to
follow--well, I think it will be very funny. Only, don’t tell me.”

“I say, this is mysterious. Tell me the story.”

“Yes, I will. This is the story. When I was a student in Germany we had
a professor called Meyer. He wore a wig because he was quite bald. He
was very sensitive about his baldness and would have no one know--but we
knew. Upon one afternoon there was a great violinist who was coming to
play at our town. All the professors announced that for this occasion
they would postpone the lectures they should then have given, so that
their classes might attend the concert. But this Professor Meyer said
that he would not postpone his lecture. It was a link in a series, you
understand--not to be missed,--so his class, of which I was one; were
very furious. We told him that we were entitled to a holiday this day
since all had it, but he would not hear us. We were very angry, for
this holiday was our right. Now, also, one week before the concert the
burgomaster of our town was to give a great banquet to the celebration
of the centenary of a famous citizen. Here our Professor Meyer was to
make a speech. Well, when he remained adamant, determined to give us
no holiday, we had a great meeting, and thus we arranged to procure
the holiday that was ours by right. Our plot was justified by his
mulishness. He should lose the thing he most cherished--he should lose
his wig two days before his banquet with the burgomaster. One of us
would take his wig, seizing him as by night he walked to his rooms.
Before his distress we should be most sympathetic, offering every aid.
Perchance he would encourage our efforts by offer of the prize we most
desired. The plot worked, with no misadventure, to a brilliant triumph.
We took the wig. We enveloped him in our sympathy. ‘Search out and
restore my wig,’ said he, ‘and you shall have your holiday.’ Then we
found his wig and we enjoyed the holiday that was our right. That is the
story,” Professor Wyvern ended.

Mystification clouded George’s face. He pushed out a leg, stared at the
toe. He stared at the fire; at the Professor, chuckling and rubbing
his hands, he stared. His brain twisted the story this way and that,
striving to dovetail it into his own circumstances.

In such a process the eyes are the mouth of the machine whence the
completed manufacture sends forth its sparkling. But while the mechanism
twists and turns the fabrics there is no sparkle--the eyes are clouded
in thought, as we say.

The eyes that George turned upon toe, upon fire, and upon Professor
Wyvern, were dull and lack-lustre. The machine worked unproductive;
there was a cog that required adjustment, a lever that wanted a pull.

George sought the foreman machinist; said slowly: “But I don’t see how
the story helps me?”

“Well, you must think over it,” Professor Wyvern told him. “I dare
not tell you any more. I must be no party to the inference that can be
drawn. But do you not see that the thing our Professor cherished most
was his wig? Now, Bill has told me that the thing your uncle cherishes
above all price is--”

Click went the machine; round buzzed the wheels; out from George’s eyes
shot the sparkles. He jumped to his feet, his face red. “Is his cat!” he
cried. “His Rose of Sharon! I see it! I see it! By Gad, I’ll do it! Look
here now--”

“No, I will not,” the Professor said. “I do not wish to know anything
about it. I hear my wife’s step.”

“I understand. All right. But don’t tell a soul--not even Bill.”

“I cannot tell, because I do not know. But I suspect it is something
very funny,” and the Professor burst into a very deep “Ho! ho! ho!”

“My dearest,” said Mrs. Wyvern at the door, “whatever can you be
laughing at so loudly?”

“Ho! ho! ho! ho!” boomed the Professor, belling like a bloodhound. “It
is something very funny.”

Mrs. Wyvern kissed the thin hairs on the top of his mighty head. “Dear
William, I do trust it was not one of those painful stories of your
young days.”

George stayed to dinner. By nine he left the house. He did not make for
home. Striking through lanes he climbed an ascending field, mounted a
stile, and here, with an unseeing eye upon Herons’ Holt twinkling its
bedroom lights in the valley below, he smoked many pipes, brooding upon
his scheme.



III.

It was not a melancholy process. Every now and again a crack of laughter
jerked him; once he took his pipe from his mouth and put up a ringing
peal of mirth that sent a brace of bunnies, flirting near his feet,
wildly scampering for safety. Long he brooded....

A church clock gave him eleven. At ten he had been too deeply buried.
Now his head was pushed clear from the burrow in which he had been
working, and the sound caught his attention. No light now pricked
Herons’ Holt upon the dusky chart stretched beneath him. Its occupants
were abed.

“I’ll do it to-night!” cried George. “I’ll do it at once!”

He drew on his pipe. A full cloud of smoke came. The pipe was well
alight, and caution bidding him that it were well to bide a while
so that sleep might more cosily warm the beds of the household, he
determined that he would have out his last smoke as plotter: his next
would be smoked as doer of the deed.

He rehearsed his plan. A knife would slip back the catch of the window
behind which the Rose of Sharon lay. Possessing himself of her person
he would speed to that tumbled hut in the copse. There she might lie in
safety for the night: neither hut nor copse was in any man’s road. Upon
the morrow, when the hideous circumstance had been discovered, he would
bear himself as events seemed to demand. He would be boundless in his
sympathy, a leader in the search. If the idea of reward did not occur to
Mr. Marrapit, he must suggest it. Unlikely that in the first moment
of loss, when the Rose would still seem to be near, the reward would
approach the figure at which he aimed. That was for his cunning to
contrive. But obviously it would be impossible permanently to keep the
Rose in the hut. To-morrow, when pretending to search for her he could
guard the place where she lay; but he could not always be sentinel.
The countryside would be scoured; no stone left unturned, no spinney
unbeaten.

As he saw the matter, the plan would be to get somewhere down the
railway line on pretext of a clue, taking the Rose of Sharon with him;
for the success of the whole scheme depended upon his concealing the cat
until Mr. Marrapit should be upon his bended knees in his distress,
in deepest despair as to the Rose’s recovery, and hence would be
transported to deepest gratitude when it was restored to his arms.
George told himself he must be prepared against the eventuality of his
uncle failing to offer in public reward so large a sum as 500 pounds.
That did not greatly distress. Best indeed if that sum were offered,
but, failing it, it was upon Mr. Marrapit’s gratitude that George
ultimately reckoned. Surely when he “found” the cat it would be Mr.
Marrapit’s natural reply to give in exchange the sum he had that
afternoon so violently refused. At the least, he could not refuse to
lend it.

Early in his brooding George had decided he must not tell his Mary.
First, it would be cruel to set her upon the rack of acting a part
before Mr. Marrapit, before the household, before every questioner she
must encounter; second--second, my ignoble George had doubts as to in
what spirit his Mary would regard this plot did he make her partner in
it. That it was wholly justifiable he personally would have contended
before archangels. This miserly uncle was keeping from him money that
was as incontestably his own as the being which also his mother
had given him. Before all the angelic host he would thus have
protested-without stammer, without blush; with the inspiration of
righteousness, with the integrity of innocence. But to protest his
cause before his Mary was another matter. There might be no occasion
to protest; his Mary might see eye to eye with him in the matter. She
might; but it was an eventuality he did not care to try against a test.
His Mary was a girl--and girls are in their conduct narrowed by scruples
that do not beset men. His Mary--and this it was that would make a test
so violent--his Mary was his Mary, and well he knew, and loved, the
little heart so delicately white as instantly to discover the finest
specks of sootiness--if specks there were--in any breeze that might
cross its surface.

No, he would not tell his Mary. When the thing was done--when he, the
black-hearted rogue, had the little saint safe in the toils she would
find so delicious, then--then he would tell her, would silence her
frightened squeals--if she squealed--by his intention to pay back the
money, whether won as reward (which was improbable) or earned as token
of gratitude (which was highly likely). He had only asked to borrow, and
it should only be a loan.

Across the dark fields in spirit he kissed his little saint. ... Of
course--of course--one must admit these brutal things--of course the
scheme might fail. Anything might happen to crash it about his ears.
That was a deadly, dismal thought, but he flattened it from sight with
that lusty hammer that gay youth uses--“I shan’t be any worse off if it
does fail.”

The smoke came through his pipe in burning whiffs. He shook it bowl
downwards. Ashes and sparks fell in a shower. The pipe was done.

_Whoop! forrard!_ The game was afoot.



IV.

A moon as clear as that which shone when Bill stole to Herons’ Holt
to woo his blessed damosel, gave a clear light to George as now he
approached the house. He took his way across the fields, and his
progression was that of no stealthy-footed conspirator. Two miles of
downward-sloping land lay between the stile whereon he had brooded and
the home that his plottings were to disturb. In buoyant spirits--for
this was action, and action makes lusty appeal to youth--he trotted or
galloped as the descent was easy or sharply inclined; the low hedges he
took in great sprawling jumps, the ditches in vast giant strides--arms
working as balance-pole, humming as he ran.

Upon the lawn he became more cautious. But the moon showed Herons’ Holt
sleepy-eyed-blinds drawn.

The cats’ parlour, back of the house, gave upon a little strip of turf
that kept away the kitchen garden. George drew his knife; approached the
window. Now he was a criminal indeed.

To slip the catch was easy work; between upper and lower sash there was
clear space. George inserted his pen-knife. Tip of blade grated against
catch; a little pressure--an answering movement; a little more--and,
_click_, the trick was done!

Now he raised the sash, and now he is in the room. Glimmer of a match
shows him the sleeping-baskets; its steadier flame discloses the Rose,
snugly curled, a little free of her silken coverlet.

Wake, now, Rose--as an older school of novelists would have addressed
you. Wake, Rose! Wake, pretty Rose! Queenly Rose, awake! Wake precious,
virgin Rose! Squeal! scratch! bite! Claw those wicked hands descending
into your pure bed! Spring like spotless maiden aroused to find ravisher
at her couch! Spring, Rose, spring! Squawking news of outrage to all the
house, bound wildly, Rose, about this room that else you shall not see
until through searing perils you have passed! Spring! Rose, spring!

Not Rose!



II.

The ravisher’s hands descended upon her person--she only purred. They
passed about her warm and exquisite form--she purred the more. They
tickled her as they laid hold--she stretched a leg; purred with fuller
note. Perchance this virgin cat dreamed of some gallant young Tom wooing
her bed; perchance these ticklings had their deliciously transfigured
place in her visions; perchance--she only purred.

Now George tucked her beneath his arm. Legs dangled wretchedly; gallant
young Tom leapt from her dreams and she awoke. She stirred. George had a
foot upon the window-sill, and the night air ruffled her downy coat.
She was pressed against bony ribs; a rough arm squeezed her wretchedly;
long, poky fingers tortured her flank; her legs draggled dismally. She
voiced protest in a plaintive, piercing, long-drawn _“Mi-aow!”_

_Clout!_

Ah, Rose! Pretty, foolish Rose--as our older school again would have
written--why did you entertain sensuous dreams when you should have been
stirring?

_“Mi-aow!”_

_Clout!_

Too late, Rose! Too late! That beauteous head--that prize-winning head
which from kittenhood upwards has known none other than caress, is now
a mark for battering bumps if you do but open those perfect jaws--those
prize-winning jaws. Too late, Rose! Too late! Do not cry now, Rose! The
ravisher has you. His blood congeals in terror at your plaintive cry.
In his brutish panic he will answer it with thuds. Too late, Rose! Too
late!

“_Mi-aow!_”

_Clout!_

Ah, Rose, Rose!

He is outside now. “Shut up, you fat idiot!” he hisses. Squeezing her
yet more villainously with one arm, with the other he draws down the
sash. Through the gate, into the lane, over the stream, down the ride,
into the copse--up to the hut.

The outer door hangs grinningly upon its hinges. The door going to
the inner room has a working latch; George kicks it open; elbows it to
behind him; drops the Rose with jarring plump; strikes a match. There is
the dusty pile of Old Tom bottles, there the little heap of bracken upon
which Mrs. Major doubtless had reclined while with Old Tom she talked.
Excellent!

The match goes out. He lights another. The Rose is standing forlornly at
his feet. While the match lasts he lifts her to the bracken bed; presses
her down; backs out; closes the door.

His watch, put beneath the moon, tells him it is upon one o’clock. He
pulls to the outer door; wedges beneath it a stump of wood that keeps it
firmly shut; makes for home.

In an hour he is sleeping the dreamless, childlike slumber that comes
to those who, setting their hand to the plough, have manfully laboured a
full day’s work.



CHAPTER V.

Horror At Herons’ Holt.



I.

Sleep does not necessarily shun the bed of the wicked. She is a wanton
mistress, and will cuddle where her fancy chances, careless whether vice
or virtue is her bedfellow; coy when most eagerly supplicated, seductive
when least desired.

George, steeped in crime, snuggled warmly to her until aroused by a rude
shaking.

Night-capped and dressing-gowned, white-faced and trembling, awful in
grief Mr. Marrapit stood near him.

“Get up! The Rose of Sharon is lost.”

“Impossible!”

“I tell you it is so. Up!”

George pushed a shaking leg out of bed. He was had unawares. As a
sleeper pitched sleeping into the sea, so from unconsciousness he was
hurled plump into the whirlpool of events. And as the sleeper thus
immersed would gulp and sink and kick, so now he blinked, shivered, and
gasped.

He repeated: “Impossible!”

“I tell you it is so. I have eyes; I have been to her room.” Mr.
Marrapit’s voice rose in a wailing cry. “I have been to her room. Gone!
Gone!”

George put out the other leg--crime-steeped legs that quivered. He had
looked for a space between awaking and meeting his uncle in which to
prepare his plans, rehearse his words. This abrupt rousing stampeded his
senses. He quavered “Wher--where can she be?”

Mr. Marrapit flung up his arms. “Oh, my God! If I knew that would I be
here? Up! Up! Join the searchers in the garden.”

George pushed a criminal leg into his trousers. Conscience made thumbs
of his fingers, trembled his joints. He hopped frantically, thrusting
with the other foot.

“Dance!” Mr. Marrapit moaned bitterly. “Dance! That is right! Why do you
not sing also? This is nothing to you! Dance on! Dance on!”

George cannoned the wash-stand. “It _is_ something to me. I can hardly
believe it!”

“Is sorrow expressed in a gavotte? Grief in a hornpipe?”

“I’m not dancing. My damned bags are stuck!”

Mr. Marrapit wrung his hands. “Discard them! Discard them! Must decency
imperil the Rose?”

With a tremendous kick George thrust in past the obstruction.

“They’re on now--my slippers--coat--what shall I do?”

“Join the searchers. Scour the grounds. Search every shrub. Climb every
tree.”

The agonised man led downstairs. “I found the window open,” he moaned.
“Night by night, year in year out, I have shut it. Impossible that I
forgot. If I forgot, the Rose is in the garden or in the vicinity. If I
did not forget, the window was forced--the Rose was stolen. A detective
shall decide.”

George grew quite cold. Employment of a detective had not occurred to
him. They were at the front door. He put a hand on Mr. Marrapit’s arm.
“Oh, not a detective. Don’t get a detective.”

“If need be I will get forty detectives. I will blacken the countryside
with detectives.”

George grew quite hot. “Uncle, let us keep this private. Leave it with
me. Rely on me. I will find your cat.”

“Into the garden,” cried Mr. Marrapit. “Join the searchers. They have
failed once. Lead, animate, encourage.”

“And you won’t get a detective?”

Mr. Marrapit did not reply. He had opened the hall door; Mr. Fletcher in
the middle distance approached moodily.

Mr. Marrapit thrust out a hand. “Back! Back!” he cried hoarsely.

Wearily Mr. Fletcher gave answer. “It’s no use, Mr. Marrapit. It’s no
good saying ‘back.’ I’ve been back. I’ve been back and I’ve been front
and I’ve been both sides. I’ve looked here, I’ve looked there; I’ve
looked up, I’ve looked down. I’m giddy with looking.” He approached;
stood before them. Woe heavily draped herself about this man.

“Oh, easily discouraged!” Mr. Marrapit cried.

“Oh, infirm of purpose! Back, faint-heart! Do not say die.”

Faint-heart mopped a streaming brow. “But I do say die. I do say die,
Mr. Marrapit, and I damn well shall die if I go creepin’ and crawlin’
and hissin’ much longer. It’s ‘ard--damn ‘ard. I’m a gardener, I am; not
a cobra.”

Mr. Marrapit slammed the door. George hurried out of sight; in the
kitchen garden sat down to think. He was frightened. Thus far the plot
had not worked well. Detectives!

He gave an hour to the search he was ostensibly conducting; when he
again entered the house was more easy-minded. Employed in meditation
that hour gave him back his coolness of the night. Rudely awakened,
given no time in which firmly to plant his feet, securely to get a
purchase with his hands before the storm burst, he had been whirled
along helpless and bewildered before Mr. Marrapit’s gusty agony. Instead
of resisting the torrent, directing its course, he had been caught where
it surged fiercest, hurled down-stream. In the vulgar simile of his
reflections he was rotting the whole show.

But now he had steadied himself. He girded his loins against the part he
had to play; with new determination and confidence entered the house.



II.

There was no breakfast at Herons’ Holt that morning. When George,
dressed, bathed and shaved, sought out his uncle, it was to find Mr.
Marrapit in the study.

The distracted man was pacing the floor, a closely written sheet of
paper in his hands. He turned upon George.

“In the hour of my travail I am also beneath the burden of earlier
griefs. Yesterday a disastrous scene took place between us. Oaths rasped
from your lips.”

“Forget that, sir. Forget it.”

“That is my desire. Misery wails through the corridors. In her presence
let us bury private differences. In this appalling catastrophe every
help is required. You have youth, manhood; you should be invaluable.”

George declared: “I mean to be. I will not rest until the Rose is
restored.”

This was perfectly true, as he was to discover.

“Commendable,” Mr. Marrapit pronounced. Now that this volunteer was
enlisted, Mr. Marrapit discarded supplication, resumed mastery. “While
you have searched,” he said, “I have schemed.” He indicated the paper he
carried. “These are my plans. Peruse them.”

George read; returned the paper. “If these arrangements do not restore
the Rose,” he declared, “nothing will. I see you do not mention my name.
I fear you doubted my assistance. I think I will join the--the----“--he
glanced at the paper--“the _extra-mural_ searchers. I know the
countryside well. I can go far and fast.”

Mr. Marrapit agreed. “Summon the household,” he commanded.

George called Margaret; the two carried out the order.

In a semicircle the household grouped about their master; from Mrs.
Armitage at the one horn to George at the other they took their
places--Mrs. Armitage, Clara, Ada, Mr. Fletcher, Frederick, Mary,
Margaret, George.

Paper in hand Mr. Marrapit regarded them. He pointed at Frederick.

“That boy is sucking a disgusting peppermint. Disgorge.”

Glad of relief, all eyes went upon the infamous youth. He purpled,
struggled, gulped, swallowed--from his eyes tears streamed.

“Stiffneck!” Mr. Marrapit thundered. “Disgorge, I said. You are
controlled by appetite; your belly is your god.”

“Well, I ain’t ‘ad no breakfast,” Stiffneck answered fiercely. Like Miss
Porter upon a similar occasion this boy was in great pain.

“And no breakfast shall you have until the Rose is restored. Heartless!
How can you eat while she, perhaps, does starve?” The angry man
addressed the group. “These are the plans for her recovery. Give ear.
You, vile boy, will rush to the dairy and order to be sent at once as
much milk as Mrs. Armitage will command you. Mrs. Armitage, you with
your maids--Fletcher, you with that boy, are the _intramural_
workers, the workers within the walls. George, Margaret, Miss
Humfray--_extra-mural_. Mrs. Armitage, with milk let every bowl and
saucer be filled. Fletcher, at intervals of thirty feet along the wall
let these be placed. If our wanderer is near she will be attracted.
Margaret, with Miss Humfray to the village. Collect an army of village
boys. Describe our Rose. Set them to scour the countryside for her.
Yourselves join that search. Let the call of ‘Rose! Rose!’ echo through
every lane. George, you also will scour far and wide. Upon your way
despatch to me a cab from the station. I drive to the post-office to
telephone for a detective. I have not yet decided which detective. It is
a momentous matter.” He flung out both hands. “To your tasks! Let zeal,
let love for our lost one spur each to outvie the efforts of another.
Fletcher, raise the window. That pungent boy has poisoned the air.”

They trooped from him.



CHAPTER VI

A Detective At Herons’ Holt.



I.

Bolt Buildings, Westminster, is a colossal red structure reared upon
the site of frightened-looking little houses which fell beneath the
breaker’s hammer coincident with the falling in of their lease. Here you
may have a complete floor of rooms at from three to five hundred a
year; or, high under the roof, you may rent a single room for forty-five
pounds.

Mr. David Brunger, Private Detective and Confidential Inquiry Agent,
appeared on the books of the Bolt Buildings management as lessee of one
of these single rooms. The appearance of his quarters as presented to
the visitor had, however, a more pretentious aspect.

Shot to the topmost floor in the electric lift, passing to the left
and up five stairs in accordance with the lift boy’s instructions,
the intending client would be faced by three doors. Upon the first was
inscribed:

  DAVID BRUNGER (Clerks).

Upon the middle door:

  DAVID BRUNGER (Private).

And upon the third:

  DAVID BRUNGER (Office).

These signs of large staff and flourishing business were in keeping with
the telling advertisements which Mr. David Brunger from time to time
caused to appear in the Press.

“Watch your wife,” said these advertisements, adding in smaller type
that had the appearance of a whisper: “David Brunger will watch her.”
 “What keeps your husband late at office?” they continued. “David Brunger
will find out. Confidential inquiry of every description promptly and
cheaply carried out by David Brunger’s large staff of skilled detectives
(male and female). David Brunger has never failed. David Brunger has
restored thousands of pounds’ worth of stolen property, countless
missing relatives. David Brunger, 7 Bolt Buildings, Strange Street, S.W.
Tel. 0000 West.”

In London, with its myriad little eddies of crime and matrimonial
infelicity, there is a neat sum to be made out of detective work.
Scotland Yard wolfs the greater part of these opportunities; there are
established names that absorb much of the remainder. In the surplus,
however, there is still a livelihood for the David Brungers. For if the
Brungers do not go nosing after silken petticoats covering aristocratic
but wanton legs; if the Brungers do not go flying across the Continent,
nose to ground, notebook in hand, after the fine linen worn by my lord
who is making holiday with something fair and frail under the quiet
name of Mr. and Mrs. Brown; if the Brungers are not employed to draggle
silken petticoats and fine linen through the Divorce Court, there is
work for them among humbler washing baskets. Jealous little shop-keepers
have erring little wives, and common little wives have naughty little
husbands: these come to your Brungers. And if, again, the Brungers
do not dog the footsteps of your fifty-thousand-pound men, your
embezzlement-over-a-period-of-ten-years men, your cheque-forging
men--if the Brungers are invited to do no dogging after these, there are
pickings for them in less flashy crimes. Hiding in cupboard work while
the sweated little shop-assistant slips a marked shilling from the till,
hiding in basement work while a trembling little figure creeps down and
pilfers the stock--these are the pranks that come to your Brungers.



II.

While Mr. Marrapit at Herons’ Holt was addressing to his household
grouped about him his orders relative to the search for the Rose of
Sharon, Mr. David Brunger at Bolt Buildings was entering the door marked
“DAVID BRUNGER (Private).”

A telephone, a gas stove, a roll-top desk, an office chair, an armchair,
a tiny deal table and a wooden-seated chair comprised the furniture of
the apartment.

“For myself, I like severity and simplicity of surroundings,” Mr. David
Brunger in the office chair would tell a client in the armchair. “For
_myself_--” and he would waggle his head towards the side walls with an
air that seemed to imply prodigal luxury in the fittings of “(Clerks)”
 and “(Office).”

Entering the room Mr. Brunger unlocked the roll-top desk; discovered the
stump of a half-smoked cigarette; lit it and began to compare the day’s
racing selections of “Head Lad,” who imparted stable secrets to one
tipster’s organ, with those of “Trainer,” who from the knowledge of his
position very kindly gave one horse snips to another.

At ten o’clock the large staff of trained detectives (male and female),
mentioned in Mr. Brunger’s advertisements, came pouring up the stairs,
knocked at the door and filed into the room. Its name was Issy Jago, a
Jewish young gentleman aged seventeen, whose appearance testified in the
highest manner to the considerable thrift he exercised in the matter of
hair-dressers and toilet soap.

Mr. Issy Jago sat himself on the wooden-seated chair before the small
deal table; got to work upon his finger-nails with the corner of an
omnibus ticket; proceeded to study the police court reports in the
_Daily Telegraph_.

It was his duty, whenever he noted plaintiffs or defendants to whom Mr.
David Brunger’s services might be of benefit, to post to them Mr.
David Brunger’s card together with a selection of entirely unsolicited
testimonials composed and dictated by Mr. Brunger for the occasion.

Also his duty to receive clients.

When a knock was heard at “DAVID BRUNGER (Clerks)” Mr. Issy Jago
would slip through from “DAVID BRUNGER (Private)” to the tiny closet
containing the cistern into which the door marked “DAVID BRUNGER
(Clerks)” opened. Sliding through this door in such a manner as to give
the client no glimpse of the interior, he would inform the visitor,
with a confidential wink, “Fact is we have a client in there--a very
well-known personage who does not wish it to be known that he is
consulting us.” The impressed caller would then be conducted into “DAVID
BEUNGER (Private).”

Between “DAVID BRUNGER (Private)” and “DAVID BRUNGER (Office),” on the
other hand, there was no communication. Indeed there was no room behind
“(Office)”: the door gave on to the roof. When, therefore, a hesitating
client chose to knock at “(Office)” Mr. Issy Jago, emerging from
“(Private),” would give the whispered information: “Fact is there’s a
very important private consultation going on in there--Scotland Yard
consulting us.” And the impressed client would forthwith be led into
“DAVID BRUNGER (Private).”

In either event, the client trapped, Mr. Issy Jago would skip into
“(Clerks)” and sit on the cistern till Mr. Brunger’s bell summoned him.

For the privilege of adding to the dignity of his single apartment
by having his name inscribed upon the cistern cupboard and upon the
emergency exit to the roof, Mr. Brunger paid thirty shillings extra per
annum.

III.

By half-past ten Mr. Brunger was occupied in composing an unsolicited
testimonial to be sent to the wife of a green-grocer in the Borough who,
on the previous day, had summoned her husband for assault at Lambeth
Police-Court.

“I had suspicions but no proof of my ‘usband’s infidelity,” dictated
Mr. Brunger, pacing the floor, “until I enlisted your services. I must
say--”

At that moment the telephone bell rang. Mr. Brunger ceased dictation;
took up the receiver.

“Are you David Brunger, the private detective?” a voice asked.

“We are,” replied Mr. Brunger in the thin treble he used on first
answering a call. “Who are you, please?”

“I am Mr. Christopher Marrapit of Herons’ Holt, Paltley Hill, Surrey.
I--”

“One moment,” piped Mr. Brunger. “Is it confidential business?”

“It is most urgent business. I--”

“One moment, please. In that case the private secretary must take your
message.”

Mr. Brunger laid down the receiver; took a turn across the room;
approached the telephone; in a very deep bass asked, “Are you there?”

The frantic narrative that was poured into his ears he punctuated with
heavy, guttural “Certainly’s,” “Yes’s,” “We comprehend’s,” “We follow
you’s.” Then: “Mr. David Brunger himself? I’m afraid that is impossible,
sir. Mr. Brunger has his hands very full just now. He is closeted
with Scotland Yard. At this moment, sir, the Yard is consulting him
...’m...’m. Well, I’ll see, sir, I’ll see. I doubt it. I very much doubt
it. But hold the line a minute, sir.”

In his capacity of Mr. David Brunger’s private secretary, Mr. David
Brunger drank from the carafe of water on the mantelpiece to clear his
tortured throat.

In his capacity of the great detective and confidential inquiry agent
himself, he then stepped to the telephone and, after exhibiting a power
of invention relative to startling crimes in hand that won even the
admiration of Mr. Issy Jago, announced that he would be with Mr.
Marrapit at three o’clock.

“It may be a big job, Issy,” he remarked, relighting the stump of
cigarette, “or it may be a little job. But what I say and what I do is,
_impress your client. Impress your client,_ Issy. Let that be your maxim
through life. And if I catch you again takin’ a draw at my cigarette
when my back’s turned, as I see you just now, I’ll damn well turn you
inside out and chuck you through that door. So you watch it. You’ve made
this smoke taste ‘orrid-’orrid. No sauce, now; no sauce.”



IV.

By two o’clock the results of Mr. Marrapit’s colossal scheme began to
pour in.

The bowls of milk, gleaming along the wall of Herons’ Holt, drew every
stray cat within a radius of two miles. Beneath, each armed with a
clothes-prop, toiled Mr. Fletcher and Frederick under the immediate
generalship of Mr. Marrapit.

Throughout the morning cats bounded, flickered and disappeared upon the
wall. Fat cats, thin cats; tom cats, tabby cats; white cats, black cats,
yellow cats, and grey cats; young cats and old cats. As each appeared,
Mr. Marrapit, first expectant then moaning, would wave his assistants to
the assault. Up would go the clothes-prop of Mr. Fletcher or Frederick;
down would go the stranger cat. It was exhausting work.

At two-thirty the village boys who had been searching were mustered at
the gate. Each bore a cat. Some carried two. Leaving his clothes-prop
lancers, Mr. Marrapit hurried down the drive to hold review.

“Pass,” he commanded, “in single file before me.”

They passed. “Dolt! Dolt!” groaned Mr. Marrapit, writhing in the
bitterness of crushed hope as each cat was held towards him. “Dolt and
pumpkin-head! How could that wretched creature be my Rose?”

How, indeed, when at that moment the Rose of Sharon in the ruined hut
was lapping milk taken her by George in a lemonade bottle, her infamous
captor smoking on the threshold?

Precisely at three o’clock Mr. David Brunger arrived. Conducted to the
room whence the Rose had disappeared, the astute inquiry agent was there
closeted with Mr. Marrapit for half an hour. At the end of that time Mr.
Marrapit appeared on the lawn. His face was white, his voice, when he
spoke, hollow and trembling. He called to the clothes-prop lancers:

“Cease. Cease. Withdraw the milk. The Rose of Sharon is not strayed. She
is stolen!”

“Thenk Gord!” said Frederick. “Thenk Gord! I’ve pretty well busted
myself over this game.”

Mr. Fletcher said nothing; drew his snail from his pocket; plunged head
downwards in a bush. Woe sat heavy upon him; beneath the indignity and
labour of thrusting at stranger cats with a clothes-prop this man had
grievously suffered.



V.

The Rose was stolen. That was Mr. Brunger’s discovery after examination
of the window-latch where George’s knife had marked it, the sill where
George’s boots had scratched it. Outside the great detective searched
for footmarks--they had been obliterated by heavy rainfall between
the doing of the hideous deed and its discovery. Upon the principle of
impressing his client, however, Mr. Brunger grovelled on the path with
tape measure and note-book; measured every pair of boots in the house;
measured the window; measured the room; in neat little packets tied up
specimens of the gravel, specimens of the turf, specimens of hair from
the Rose of Sharon’s coat, picked from her bed.

It was six o’clock when he had concluded. By then George had returned;
the three held council in the study. Addressing Mr. Marrapit, Mr.
Brunger tapped his note-book and his little packages. “We shall track
the culprit, never fear, Mr. Marrapit,” he said. “My impression is that
this is the work of a gang--a _gang_.”

“Precisely my impression,” George agreed.

Mr. Brunger took the interruption with the gracious bow of one who
condescends to accept a pat on the back from an inferior. Mr. Marrapit
twisted his fingers in his thin hair; groaned aloud.

“A _gang,_” repeated Mr. Brunger, immensely relishing the word. “We
detectives do not like to speak with certainty until we have clapped our
hands upon our men; we leave that for the amateurs, the bunglers--the
_quacks_ of our profession.” The famous confidential inquiry agent
tapped the table with his forefinger and proceeded impressively. “But I
will say this much. Not only a gang, but a desperate gang, a dangerous,
stick-at-nothing gang.”

Mr. Marrapit writhed. The detective continued: “What are our grounds for
this belief?” he asked. “What are our _data_?”

He looked at George. George shook his head. Easy enough, and useful,
to acquiesce in the idea of a gang, but uncommonly hard to support the
belief. He shook his head.

Mr. Brunger was disappointed; a little at sea, he would have clutched
eagerly at any aid. However, “impress your client.” He continued: “These
are our data. We have a valuable cat--a cat, sir, upon which the eyes of
cat-breeders are enviously fixed. Take America--you have had surprising
offers from America for this cat, sir, so you told me?”

“Eight hundred pounds,” Mr. Marrapit groaned.

“Precisely. Observe how our data accumulate. We have dissatisfaction
among breeders at home because you will not employ this cat as, in their
opinion, for the good of the breed, she should be employed.”

Mr. Marrapit moaned: “Polygamy is abhorrent to me.”

“Precisely. Our data positively pile about us. We have a thousand
enthusiasts yearning for this cat. We have your refusal to sell or
to--to--” Mr. Brunger allowed a hiatus delicately to express his
meaning. “Then depend upon it, sir, we have a determination to secure
this cat by foul means since fair will not avail. We have a conspiracy
among unscrupulous breeders to obtain this valuable cat, and hence, sir,
we have a gang--a _gang_.”

Mr. Marrapit put his anguish of mind into two very deep groans.

“Keep calm, my dear sir,” Mr. Brunger soothed. “We shall return your
cat. We have our data.” He continued: “Now, sir, there are two ways of
dealing with a _gang_. We can capture the _gang_ or we can seduce the
_gang_--by offering a reward.”

George jumped in his chair. “Anything wrong?” Mr. Brunger inquired.

“Your--your extraordinary grasp of the case astonishes me,” George
exclaimed.

“Experience, sir, experience,” said Mr. Brunger airily. Addressing Mr.
Marrapit, “We must put both methods to work,” he continued. “I shall
now go to town, look up the chief breeders and set members of my trained
staff to track them. Also I must advertise this reward. With a cat of
such value we cannot use half measures. Shall we say one hundred pounds
to start with?”

“Barley water!” gasped Mr. Marrapit. “Barley water!”

George sprang to the sideboard where always stood a jug of Mr.
Marrapit’s favourite refreshment. Mr. Marrapit drank, agitation rattling
the glass against his teeth.

“Think what it means to you, sir,” persuaded Mr. Brunger, a little
alarmed at the effects of his proposal.

The detective’s tone had a very earnest note, for he was thinking
with considerable gratification what the hundred pounds would mean to
himself. On previous occasions he had urged rewards from his clients,
put Mr. Issy Jago in the way of securing them, and paid that gentleman a
percentage.

“Think what it means to you,” he repeated. “What is a hundred pounds or
thrice that sum against the restoration of your cat? Come, what is it,
sir?”

“Ruin,” answered Mr. Marrapit, gulping barley water. “Ruin.”

Mr. Brunger urged gravely: “Oh, don’t say that, sir. Think what our dumb
pets are to us. I’ve got a blood-’ound at home myself that I’d give
my life for if I lost--gladly. Surely they’re more to us, our faithful
friends, than mere--mere--”

“Pelf,” supplied George, on a thin squeak that was shot out by the
excitement of seeing events so lustily playing his hand.

“Mere pelf,” adopted Mr. Brunger.

Mr. Marrapit gulped heavily at the barley water; set his gaze upon
a life-size portrait in oils of his darling Rose; with fine calm
announced: “If it must be, it must be.”

With masterly celerity Mr. Brunger drew forward pen and paper;
scribbled; in three minutes had Mr. Marrapit’s signed authority to offer
one hundred pounds reward.

He put the document in his pocket; took up his hat. “To-morrow,” he
said after farewells, “I or one of my staff will return to scour the
immediate neighbourhood. It has been done, you tell me, but only by
amateurs. The skilled detective, sir, will see a needle where the
amateur cannot discern a haystack.”



VI.

He was gone. His last words had considerably alarmed George. No time was
to be lost. All was working with a magic expediency, but the Rose
must not be risked in the vicinity of one of these needle-observing
detectives. She must be hurried away.

“Uncle,” George said, “I did not say it while the detective was here--I
do not wish to raise your hopes; but I believe I have a clue. Do not
question me,” he added, raising a hand in terror lest Mr. Marrapit
should begin examination. “I promise nothing. My ideas may be wholly
imaginary. But I believe--I believe--oh, I believe I have a clue.”

Mr. Marrapit rushed for the bell. “Recall the detective! You should have
spoken. I will send Fletcher in pursuit.”

George seized his uncle’s arm. “On no account. That is why I did not
speak before. I am convinced I can do better alone.”

“You do not convince me. You are an amateur. We must have the skilled
mind. Let me ring.”

George was in terror. “No, no; do you not see it may be waste of time?
Let me at least make sure, then I will tell the detective. Meanwhile
let him pursue other clues. Why send the trained mind on what may be a
goose-chase?”

The argument had effect. Mr. Marrapit dropped into a chair.

George explained. To follow the clue necessitated, he said, instant
departure--by train. He would write fullest details; would wire from
time to time if necessary. His uncle must trust him implicitly. The
detective must not be told until he gave the word.

Eager to clutch at any hope, Mr. Marrapit clutched at this. George was
given money for expenses; at eight o’clock left the house. There had
been no opportunity for words with his Mary. She did not even know
that Mr. Marrapit had refused the money that was to mean marriage and
Runnygate; she had not even danced with her George upon his success in
his examination. Leaving the household upon his desperate clue, George
could do no more than before them all bid her formal farewell. At
half-past eight he is cramming the peerless Rose of Sharon into a basket
taken from Mr. Fletcher’s outhouses; at nine the villain is tramping
the railway platform, in agony lest his burden shall mi-aow; at ten the
monster is at Dippleford Admiral; at eleven the traitor is asleep in the
bedroom of an inn, the agitated Rose uneasily slumbering upon his bed.



CHAPTER VII.

Terror At Dippleford Admiral.



I.

“Impress your client,” was the maxim of Mr. David Brunger. “Make a
splash and keep splashing,” was that of Mr. Henry T. Bitt, editor of
Fleet Street’s new organ, the _Daily_.

Muddy pools were Mr. Bitt’s speciality. His idea of the greatest
possible splash was some stream, pure and beautiful to the casual eye,
into which he could force his young men and set them trampling the
bottom till the thick, unpleasant mud came clouding up whence it had
long lain unsuspected. There was his splash, and then he would start to
keep splashing. By every art and device the pool would be flogged till
the muddy water went flying broadcast, staining this, that, and the
other fair name to the nasty delight of Mr. Bitt’s readers. Scandal was
Mr. Bitt’s chief quest. Army scandal, navy scandal, political scandal,
social scandal--these were the courses that Mr. Bitt continuously strove
to serve up to his readers. Failing them--if disappointingly in evidence
on every side was the integrity and the honour for which Mr. Bitt raved
and bawled when in the thick of splashing a muddy pool,--then, argued
Mr. Bitt, catch hold of something trivial and splash it, flog it,
placard it, into a sensational and semi-mysterious bait that would set
the halfpennies rising like trout in an evening stream.

Bringing these principles-indeed they won him his appointment--to the
editorship of the _Daily_, Mr. Bitt was set moody and irritable by the
fact that he had no opportunity to exercise them over the first issue of
the paper.

But while preparing for press upon the second night the chance came.
There was no scandal, no effective news; but there was matter for a
sensational, semi-mysterious “leading story” in a tiny little scrap of
news dictated by Mr. David Brunger, laboriously copied out a dozen times
by Mr. Issy Jago and left by that gentleman at the offices of as many
newspapers.

Seven sub-editors “spiked” it, three made of it a “fill-par.,” one gave
it a headline and sent it up as an eight-line “news-par.”; one, in the
offices of the _Daily_, read it, laughed; spoke to the news-editor;
finally carried it up to Mr. Bitt.

Mr. Bitt’s journalistic nose gave one sniff. The thing was done. Some
old idiot was actually offering the ridiculously large sum of one
hundred pounds for the recovery of a cat. Here, out of the barren,
un-newsy world, suddenly had sprung a seed that should grow to a forest.
The very thing. The _Daily_ was saved.

Away sped a reporter; and upon the following morning, bawling from the
leading position of the principal page of the _Daily_, introducing a
column and a quarter of leaded type, these headlines appeared:

  COUNTRY HOUSE OUTRAGE.

  VALUABLE CAT STOLEN.

  SENSATIONAL STORY.

  HUGE REWARD.

  CHANCE FOR AMATEUR DETECTIVES.

All out of Mr. Issy Jago’s tiny little paragraph.

_Daily_ readers revelled in it. It appeared that a gang of between five
and a dozen men had surrounded the lonely but picturesque and beautiful
country residence of Mr. Christopher Marrapit at Herons’ Holt, Paltley
Hill, Surrey. Mr. Marrapit was an immensely wealthy retired merchant
now leading a secluded life in the evening of his days. First among
the costly art and other treasures of his house he placed a magnificent
orange cat, “The Rose of Sharon,” a winner whenever exhibited. The gang,
bursting their way into the house, had stolen this cat, despite Mr.
Marrapit’s heroic defence, leaving the unfortunate gentleman senseless
and bleeding on the hearth-rug. Mr. Marrapit had offered 100 pounds
reward for the recovery of his pet; and the _Daily_, under the heading
“Catchy Clues,” proceeded to tell its readers all over the country how
best they might win this sum.

All out of Mr. Issy Jago’s tiny little paragraph.



II.

_Daily_ readers revelled in it. Upon three of their number it had a
particular effect.

Bill Wyvern had not been at the _Daily_ office that night. Employed
during the day, he had finished his work at six; after a gloomy meal had
gone gloomily to bed. This man was on probation. His appointment to a
permanent post depended upon his in some way distinguishing himself; and
thus far, as, miserable, he reflected, he utterly had failed. The “copy”
 he had done for the first issue of the _Daily_ had not been used; on
this day he had been sent upon an interview and had obtained from his
subject a wretched dozen words. These he had taken to the news-editor;
and the news-editor had treated them and him with contempt.

“But that’s all he would say,” poor Bill had expostulated.

“All he would say!” the news-editor sneered. “Here, Mathers, take this
stuff and make a quarter-col. interview out of it.”

Thus it was in depressed mood that Bill on the following morning opened
his _Daily._

The flaring “Country House Outrage” hit his eye; he read; in two minutes
his mood was changed. A sensation at Paltley Hill! At Mr. Marrapit’s!
Here was his chance! Who better fitted than he to work up this story?
Fortunately he knew Mr. Henry T. Bitt’s private address; had the good
sense to go straight to his chief.

A cab took him to the editor’s flat in Victoria Street. Mr. Bitt was
equally enthusiastic.

“Hot stuff,” said Mr. Bitt. “You’ve got your chance; make a splash. Go
to the office and tell Lang I’ve put you on to it. Cut away down to the
scene of the outrage and stay there as our Special Commissioner till I
wire you back. Serve it up hot. Make clues if you can’t find ‘em. Hot,
mind. H-O-T.”



III.

Professor Wyvern was the second reader upon whom the sensational story
had particular effect.

Through breakfast the Professor eyed with loving eagerness the copy of
the _Daily_ that lay folded beside his plate.

At intervals, “I have made a very good breakfast, now,” he would say.
“Now I will try to find what Bill has written in this terrible paper.”

But thrice Mrs. Wyvern lovingly checked him. “Dear William, no. You have
hardly touched your sole. You must finish it, dear, every scrap, before
you look at the paper. You have been eating such good breakfasts lately.
Now, please, William, finish it first.”

“It is as big as a shark,” the Professor grumbles, making shots with his
trembling fork.

“Dear William, it is a very small sole.”

At last he has finished. A line catches his eye as he unfolds the
_Daily_, and he chuckles: “Oh, dear! This is a very horrible paper.
‘Actress and Stockbroker--Piccadilly by night.’”

“Dear William, we only want to read what Bill has written. An interview,
he tells us, with--”

Dear William waggles his naughty old head over the actress and the
stockbroker; shaky fingers unfold the centre pages; nose runs up one
column and down another, then suddenly starts back burnt by the flaring
“Country House Outrage.”

“Dearest! Dearest! Whatever is the matter?”

But dearest is speechless. Dearest can only cough and choke and splutter
in convulsions of mirth over some terrific joke of which he will tell
Mrs. Wyvern no more than: “He has done it. Oh, dear! oh, dear! He has
done it. Oh, dear! This will be very funny indeed!”



IV.

It will be seen that two out of the three readers particularly
interested in Mr. Bitt’s splash were agreeably interested. Upon the
third the effect was different.

It was George’s first morning in the little inn at Dippleford Admiral.
An unaccustomed weight upon his legs, at which thrice he sleepily kicked
without ridding himself of it, at length awoke him.

He found the morning well advanced; the disturbing weight that had
oppressed him he saw to be a hairy object, orange of hue. Immediately
his drowsy senses awoke; took grip of events; sleep fled. This object
was the Rose of Sharon, and at once George became actively astir to the
surgings of yesterday, the mysteries of the future.

Pondering upon them, he was disturbed by a knock that heralded a voice:
“The paper you ordered, mister; and when’ll you be ready for breakfast?”

“Twenty minutes,” George replied; remembered the landlady had overnight
told him she was a little deaf; on a louder note bawled: “Twenty
minutes, Mrs. Pinner!”

Mrs. Pinner, after hesitation, remarked: “Ready now? Very well, mister”;
pushed a newspaper beneath the door; shuffled down the stairs.

In the course of his brief negotiations with Mrs. Pinner upon the
previous evening, George, in response to the proud information that the
paper-boy arrived at nine o’clock every morning on a motor bicycle,
had bellowed that he would have the _Daily_. For old Bill’s sake he had
ordered it; with friendly curiosity to see Bill’s new associations he
now withdrew his legs from beneath the Rose of Sharon; hopped out of
bed; opened the paper.

Upon “Country House Outrage” George alighted plump; with goggle eyes,
scalp creeping, blood freezing, read through to the last “Catchy Clue”;
aghast sank upon his bed.

It had got into the papers! Among all difficult eventualities against
which he had made plans this had never found place. It had got into the
papers! The cat’s abduction was, or soon would be, in the knowledge of
everyone. This infernal reward which with huge joy he had heard offered,
was now become the goad that would prick into active search for the
Rose every man, woman, or child who read the story. It had got into the
papers! He was a felon now; fleeing justice; every hand against him.
Discovery looked certain, and what did discovery mean? Discovery meant
not only loss of the enormous stake for which he was playing--his
darling Mary,--but it meant--“Good God!” groaned my miserable George,
“it means ruin; it means imprisonment.”

Melancholy pictures went galloping like wild nightmares through this
young man’s mind. He saw himself in the dock, addressed in awful words
by the judge who points out the despicable character of his crime;
he saw himself in hideous garb labouring in a convict prison; he
saw himself struck off the roll at the College of Surgeons; he saw
himself--“Oh, Lord!” he groaned, “I’m fairly in the cart!”

Very slowly, very abject, he peeled off his pyjamas; slid a white and
trembling leg into his bath.

But the preposterous buoyancy of youth! The cold water that splashed
away the clamminess of bed washed, too, the more vapoury fears from
George’s brain; the chilly splashings that braced his system to a
tingling glow braced also his mind against the pummellings of his
position. Drying, he caught himself whistling; catching himself in such
an act he laughed ruefully to think how little ground he had for good
spirits.

But the whistling prevailed. This ridiculous buoyancy of youth! What
luckless pigs are we who moon and fret and grow besodden with the waters
of our misfortunes! This cheeky corkiness of youth! Shove it under the
fretted sea of trouble, and free it will twist, up it will bob. Weight
it and drop it into the deepest pool; just when it should be drowned,
pop! and it is again merrily bobbing upon the surface.

It is a sight to make us solemn-souled folk disgustingly irritated. We
are the Marthas--trudging our daily rounds, oppressed with sense of the
duties that must be done, with the righteous feeling of the hardness of
our lot; and these light-hearts, these trouble-shirkers, this corkiness
of youth, exasperate us enormously. But the grin is on their side.

The whistling prevailed. By the time George was dressed he had put his
position into these words--these feather-brained, corky, preposterous
words: “By gum!” said George, brushing his hair, “by gum! I’m in a devil
of a hole!”

The decision summed up a cogitation that showed him to be in a hole
indeed, but not in so fearsome a pit as he had at first imagined. He had
at first supposed that within a few minutes the earth would be shovelled
in on him and be buried. Review of events showed the danger not to be
so acute. On arrival the previous night, after brief parley with Mrs.
Pinner he had gone straight to his room, bearing the Rose tight hid in
her basket. No reason, then, for suspicion yet to have fallen upon him.
He must continue to keep the Rose hid. It would be difficult, infernally
difficult; but so long as he could effect it he might remain here
secure. The beastly cat must of course be let out for a run. That was a
chief difficulty. Well, he must think out some fearful story that would
give him escape with the basket every morning.



V.

Breakfast was laid in a little sitting-room over the porch, adjoining
his bedroom. George pressed the poor Rose into her basket; carried it
in.

Mrs. Pinner was setting flowers on the table. George carried the basket
to the window; placed it on a chair; sat upon it. With his right hand
he drummed upon the lid. It was his purpose to inspire the Rose with a
timid wonder at this drubbing that should prevent her voicing a protest
against cramped limbs.

“Some nice tea and a bit of fish I’m going to bring you up, mister,”
 Mrs. Pinner told him.

Recollecting her deafness, and in fear lest she should approach the
basket, George from the window bellowed: “Thank you, Mrs. Pinner. But I
won’t have tea, if you please. Won’t have tea. I drink milk--_milk_. A
lot of milk. I’m a great milk-drinker.”

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, blushing
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 assured her.

“You’ll parding my asking, mister; but your saying you have to take it
in the open hair--is it one of them hairships, mister?”

“Well, it _is,_” George said frankly. This was a useful idea and he
approved it. “It _is._ It’s an airship.”

“Well, I never did!” Mrs. Pinner admired, gazing at the basket. “A
hairship in there!”

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

Mrs. Pinner cocked 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 cock 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 bump 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.

In heart-stopping panic George dropped the cat, jumped around. The
red-headed Pinner boy, whom that morning he had seen in the bar-parlour,
was scrambling from beneath the sofa, arms and legs thrusting his
flaming pate at full-speed for the door.

“Stop!” George cried, rooted in alarm.

The red-headed Pinner boy got to Ms feet, hurled himself at the door
handle.

“Stop!” roared George, struggling with the stupefaction that gripped
him. “Stop, you young devil!”

The red-headed Pinner boy twisted the handle; was half through the door
as George bounded for him.

“Par-par!” screamed the flaming head, travelling at immense speed down
the passage. “Par-par! It ain’t a hairship. It’s a cat!”

George dashed.

“Par-par! Par-par! It’s a cat!” The redheaded Pinner boy took the first
short flight of stairs in a jump; rounded for the second.

George lunged over the banisters; gripped close in the flaming hair;
held fast.

For a full minute in silence they poised--red-headed Pinner boy, on
tip-toe as much as possible to ease the pain, in acute agony and great
fear; George wildly seeking the plan that must be followed when he
should release this fateful head.

Presently, with a backward pull that most horribly twisted the
red-headed face: “If you speak a word I’ll pull your head off,” George
said. “Come up here.”

The pitiful procession reached the sitting-room. “Sit down there,”
 George commanded. “If you make a sound I shall probably cut your head
clean off. What do you mean by hiding in my room?”

Between gusty pain and terror: “I thought it was a hairship.”

“Oh!” George paced the room. What did the vile boy think now? “Oh, well,
what do you think it is now?”

“I believe it’s the cat wot’s in the piper.”

“Oh, you do, do you?” Yes, this was a very horrible position indeed.
“Oh, you do, do you? Now, you listen to me, my lad: unless you want your
head cut right off you sit still without a sound.”

The red-headed Pinner boy sat quite still; wept softly. Life, at the
moment, was a bitter affair for this boy.



II.

George paced. The hideous nightmares of the morning had returned
now--snorting, neighing, trampling iron-shod; stampeding in hideous
irresistible rushes. This was the beginning of the end. He was
discovered--his’ secret out.

Flight--immediate flight--that was the essential course. Par-par, thanks
to sweet heaven, was at a chapel meeting. The thing could be done.
A timetable upon the mantelpiece told him that a down-train left the
station at 8.35. It was now eight. Better a down-train than an up. The
further from London the less chance of this infernal _Daily_ with its
Country House Outrage. Examining the time-table he determined upon
Temple Colney--an hour’s run. He had been there once with Bill.

But what of this infernal red-headed Pinner boy? In agony wrestling with
the question, George every way ran into the brick wall fact that there
was no method of stopping the vile boy’s mouth. The red head must be
left behind to shriek its discovery to par-par. All that could be done
was to delay that shriek as long as possible.

George packed his small hand-bag; placed upon the table money to pay his
bill; lifted the crime-stained basket; addressed the red-headed Pinner
boy:

“Stop that sniffling. Take that bag. You are to come with me. If you
make a sound or try to run away you know what will happen to you. What
did I tell you would happen?”

“Cut me ‘ead off.”

“Right off. Right off--_slish_! Give me your hand; come on.”

Through a side door, avoiding the bar, they passed into the street.
Kind night gave them cloaks of invisibility; no one was about. In a few
minutes they had left the bold village street, were in timid lanes that
turned and twisted hurrying through the high hedges.

Half a mile upon the further side of the station George that morning had
passed a line of haystacks. Now he made for it, skirting the railway by
a considerable distance.

The red-headed Pinner boy, exhausted by the pace of their walk, not
unnaturally nervous, spoke for the first time: “Ain’t you going to the
station, mister?”

“Station? Certainly not. Do you think I am running away?”

The red-headed Pinner boy did not answer. This boy was recalling in
every detail the gruesome story, read in a paper, of a bright young lad
who had been foully done to death in a wood.

George continued: “I shall be back with you at the inn this evening, and
I shall ask your father to give you a good thrashing for hiding in my
room.”

In an earnest prayer the red-headed Pinner boy besought God that he
might indeed be spared to receive that thrashing.



III.

They reached the haystack. George struck a match; looked at his watch.
In seven minutes the train was due.

The ladder George had noticed that morning was lying along the foot of
a stack. Uprearing it against one partially demolished, “Put down that
bag,” he commanded. “Up with you!”

Gustily sniffing in the huge sighs that advertised his terror, the
red-headed Pinner boy obeyed. George drew down the ladder. “Stop up
there; I shall be back in five minutes. If you move before then--”

He left the trembling boy out of his own agitated fear to fill the
unspoken doom. He walked slowly away in the direction opposite from the
station until the haystack was merged and lost in the blackness that
surrounded it. Then, doubling back, he made for the road; pounded along
it at desperate speed.

Most satisfactorily did that bounding, lurching, stumbling run along the
dark, uneven lane punish this crime-steeped George. Well he realised,
before he had sped a hundred yards, that guilt lashes with a double
thong. She had scourged him mentally; now with scorpions she physically
lashed him. As it had been racked throbbed that left arm encircling
the basket wherein in wild fear the Rose clung to ease the dreadful
bruisings that each oscillation gave her; as it were a ton-weight did
that hand-bag drag his right arm, thud his thigh; as he were breathing
fire did his tearing respirations sear his throat; as a great piston
were driving in his skull did the blood hammer his temples.

Topping a low rise he sighted the station lights below. Simultaneously,
from behind a distant whistle there sprang to his ears the low rumble of
the coming train.

This history is not to be soiled with what George said at the sound.
With the swiftness and the scorching of flame his dreadful commination
leapt from the tortured Rose, terrified in her basket, to the red-headed
Pinner boy wrestling in prayer upon the haystack--from the roughness of
the lane that laboured his passage to the speed of the oncoming train
that hammered at his fate.

He hurled himself down the rise; with his last breath gasped for a
ticket; upon a final effort projected himself into the train; went prone
upon a seat. He was away!

       *       *       *       *       *

It was when George was some fifteen minutes from Temple Colney that the
red-headed Pinner boy, bolstered up with prayer, commended his soul to
God; slipped with painful thud from the haystack; pelted for Par-par.



CHAPTER IX.

Disaster At Temple Colney.



I.

Three days have passed.

That somewhat pale and haggard-looking young man striding, a basket
beneath his arm, up the main street of Temple Colney is George. The
villagers stop to stare after him; grin, and nudge into one another
responsive grins, at his curious mannerisms. He walks in the exact
centre of the roadway, as far as he can keep from passers-by on either
side. Approached by anyone, he takes a wide circle to avoid that person.
Sometimes a spasm as of fear will cross his face and he will violently
shake the basket he carries. Always he walks with giant strides. Every
morning he shoots out of the inn where he is staying as though sped on
the blast of some ghostly current of air; every evening, returning, he
gives the impression of gathering himself together on the threshold,
then goes bolting in at whirlwind speed. He is a somewhat pale and
haggard young man.

The villagers know him well. He is the young hairship inventor who has
a private sitting-room at the Colney Arms. Certain of them, agog to pry
his secret, followed him as he set out one day. They discovered nothing.
For hours they followed; but he, glancing ever over his shoulder,
pounded steadily on, mile upon mile--field, lane, high road, hill and
dale. He never shook them off though he ran; they never brought him
to standstill though indomitably they pursued. Towards evening the
exhausted procession came thundering up the village street.

It was a very pale and haggard young man that bolted into the Colney
Arms that night.



II.

Three days had passed.

If George had the _Daily_ to curse for the miserable life of secrecy
and constant agony of discovery that he was compelled to lead, he had
it also to bless that his discovery by the red-headed Pinner boy had
not long ago led to his being run to earth. In its anxiety to cap the
satisfactory splash it was making over this Country House Outrage,
the _Daily_ had overstepped itself and militated against itself. Those
“Catchy Clues” were responsible. So cunningly did they inspire the taste
for amateur detective work, so easy did they make such work appear, that
Mr. Pinner, having thrashed silence into his red-headed son, kept that
son’s discovery to himself. As he argued it--laboriously pencilling down
“data” in accordance with the “Catchy Clue” directions,--as he argued
it--if he communicated his knowledge to the _Daily_ or to the local
police, if he put them--(the word does not print nicely) on the scent,
ten to one they would capture the thief and secure the reward. No, Mr.
Pinner intended to have the reward himself. Therefore he hoarded his
secret; brooded upon it; dashed off hither and thither as the day’s news
brought him a Catchy Clue that seemed to fit his data.

But of this George knew nothing. Steeped in crime this miserable young
man dragged out his awful life at Temple Colney: nightmares by night,
horrors by day.

Every morning with trembling fingers he opened his _Daily_; every
morning was shot dead by these lines or their equivalent:

  COUNTRY HOUSE OUTRAGE.

  FRESH CLUE.

  CAT SEEN.

  SENSATIONAL STORY.

After much groaning and agony George would force himself to know the
worst; after swearing furiously through the paragraphs of stuffing with
which Mr. Bitt’s cunning young man skilfully evaded the point, would
come at last upon the “fresh clue” and read with a groan of relief that,
so far as the truth were concerned, it was no clue at all.

But the strain was horrible. All Temple Colney read the _Daily_; eagerly
debated its “Catchy Clues.”

Yet George could not see, he told himself, that he would better his
plight by seeking fresh retreat. If the _Daily_ were to be believed, all
the United Kingdom read it and discussed its Catchy Clues. He decided it
were wiser to remain racked at Temple Colney rather than try his luck,
and perhaps be torn to death, elsewhere.

Twice he had been moved to abandon his awful enterprise--in the train
fleeing from the red-headed Pinner boy; pounding across country pursued
by curious inhabitants of Temple Colney. On these occasions this
miserable George had been minded to cry defeated to the circumstances
that struck at him, to return to Herons’ Holt with the cat whilst yet he
might do so without gyves on his wrists.

But thought of his dear Mary hunted thought of this craven ending. “I’ll
hang on!” he had cried, thumping the carriage seat: “I’ll hang on! I’ll
hang on! I’ll hang on!” he had thumped into the table upon his weary
return to the inn on the day he had been followed.

He had cause for hope. When, on his second morning at Temple Colney, the
_Daily_ had struck him to white agony by its newest headlines; cooling,
he was able to find comfort in the news it gave to the world. “On the
advice of the eminent detective, Mr. David Brunger, who has the case in
hand, the reward has been raised to 125 pounds.”

“Whoop!” cried George, spirits returning.



III.

Three days had passed.

Rain began to fall heavily on this afternoon. Usually--even had there
been floods--George did not return to the inn until seven o’clock. The
less he was near the abode of man the safer was his vile secret. But
to-day, when the clouds told him a steady downpour had set in, he put
out for his lodging before three. He was in high spirits. Success was
making him very bold. At Temple Colney, thus far, no breath of suspicion
had paled his cheek; at Herons’ Holt events were galloping to the end he
would have them go. That morning the _Daily_ had announced the raising
of the reward to 150 pounds. True, the _Daily_ added that Mr. Marrapit
had declared, absolutely and finally, that he would not go one penny
beyond this figure. George laughed as he read. In four days his uncle
had raised the offer by fifty pounds; at this rate--and the rate would
increase as Mr. Marrapit’s anguish augmented--the 500 pounds would soon
be reached. And then! And then!

Through the pouring rain George whistled up the village street, whistled
up the stairs, whistled into the sitting--room. Then stopped his
tune. The buoyant notes of triumph dwindled to a tuneless squeak, to a
noiseless breathing--Bill Wyvern, seated at a table, sprung to meet him.

“What ho!” cried Bill. “They told me you wouldn’t be in before seven!
What ho! Isn’t this splendid?”

George said in very hollow voice: “Splendid!” He put the basket on a
chair; sat on it; gave Bill an answering, “What ho!” that was cheerful
as rap upon a coffin lid.

“Well, how goes it?” Bill asked eagerly.

George put out a hand. “Don’t come over here, dear old fellow. I’m
streaming wet. Sit down there. How goes what?”

“Why, the clue--your clue to this cat?”

“Oh, the clue--the clue. Yes, I’ll tell you all about that. Just wait
here a moment.” He rose with the basket; moved to the door.

“What on earth have you got in that basket?” Bill asked.

“Eggs,” George told him impressively. “Eggs for my uncle.”

“You must have a thundering lot in a basket that size.”

“Three or four hundred,” George said. “Three or four hundred eggs.”

He spoke in the passionless voice of one in a dream. Indeed he was in a
dream. This horrible contingency had so set him whirling that of clear
thought he was incapable. Moving to his bedroom he thrust the basket
beneath the bed; came out; locked the door; took the key; returned to
Bill.

Bill came over and slapped him on the back. “Expect you’re surprised to
see me?” he cried. “Isn’t this ripping, old man?”

“Stunning!” said George. “Absolutely stunning.” He sank on a chair.

Bill was perplexed. “You don’t look best pleased, old man. What’s up?”

This was precisely what George wished to know. Terror of hearing some
hideous calamity stayed him from putting the question. He gave a pained
smile. “Oh, I’m all right. I’m a bit fagged, that’s all. The strain of
this search, you know, the--”

“I know!” cried Bill enthusiastically. “I _know_. You’ve been splendid,
old man. Finding out a clue like this and pluckily carrying it through
all by yourself. By Jove, it’s splendid of you!--especially when you’ve
no reason to do much for your uncle after the way in which he’s treated
you. I admire you, George. By Gad, I _do_ admire you!”

“Not at all!” George advised him. “By no means, old fellow.” He wiped
his brow; his mental suffering was considerable.

“I say, I can see you’re pretty bad, old man,” Bill continued. “Never
mind, I’m here to help you now. That’s what I’ve come for.”

George felt that something very dreadful indeed was at hand. “How did
you find out where I was?” he asked.

“From old Marrapit.”

“Marrapit? Why, but my uncle won’t let you come within a mile of him.”

“Ah! that’s all over now.” A very beautiful look came into Bill’s eyes;
tenderness shaded his voice: “George, old man, if I can track down the
hound who has stolen this cat your uncle has practically said that he
will agree to my engagement with Margaret.”

George tottered across the room; pressed his head against the cold
window-pane. Here was the calamity. He had thought of taking Bill into
his confidence--how do so now?

“I say, you do look bad, old man,” Bill told him.

“I’m all right. Tell me all about it.”

“Well, it’s too good--too wonderful to be true. Everything is going
simply splendidly with me. I’m running this cat business for the
_Daily_--my paper, you know. It’s made a most frightful splash and the
editor is awfully bucked up with me. I’m on the permanent staff, six
quid a week--eight quid a week if I find this cat. I’m working it from
Herons’ Holt, you know. I’m--”

George turned upon him. “Are you ‘Our Special Commissioner at Paltley
Hill’?”

“Rather! Have you been reading it? Pretty hot stuff, isn’t it? I say,
George, wasn’t it lucky I chucked medicine! I told you I was cut out
for this kind of thing if only I could get my chance. Well, I’ve got my
chance; and by Gad, old man, if I don’t track down this swine who’s got
the cat, or help to get him tracked down, I’ll--I’ll--” The enthusiastic
young man broke off--“Isn’t it great, George?”

My miserable George paced the room. “Great!” he forced out. “Great!”
 This was the infernal Special Commissioner whom daily he had yearned to
strangle. “Great! By Gad, there are no words for it!”

“I knew you’d be pleased. Thanks awfully--_awfully_. Well, I was telling
you. Being down there for the paper I simply had to interview Marrapit.
I plucked up courage and bearded him. He’s half crazy about this
wretched cat. I found him as meek as a lamb. Bit snarly at first, but
when he found how keen I was, quite affectingly pleasant. I’ve seen
him every day for the last four days, and yesterday he said what I told
you--I came out with all about Margaret and about my splendid prospects,
and, as I say, he practically said that if I could find the cat he’d be
willing to think of our engagement.”

“But about finding out where I was? How did you discover that?”

“Well, he told me. Told me this morning.” Bill shuffled his legs
uncomfortably for a moment, then plunged ahead. “Fact is, old man,
he’s a bit sick with you. Said he’d only had one telegram from you
from Dippleford Admiral and one letter from here. Said it was
unsatisfactory--that it was clear you were incapable of following up
this clue of yours by yourself. You don’t mind my telling you this, do
you, old man? You know what he is.”

George gave the bitter laugh of one who is misunderstood, unappreciated.
“Go on,” he said, “go on.” He was trembling to see the precipice over
which the end of Bill’s story would hurl him.

“Well, as I said--that it was clear you could not carry through your
clue by yourself. So I was to come down and help you. That was about ten
o’clock, and I caught the mid-day train--I’ve been here since two. Well,
Brunger--the detective chap, you know--Marrapit was going to send him on
here at once--”

This was the precipice. George went hurtling over the edge with whirling
brain: “Brunger coming down here?” he cried.

“Rather! Now, we three together, old man--”

“When’s he coming?” George asked. He could not hear his own voice--the
old nightmares danced before his eyes, roared their horrors in his ears.

Bill looked at the clock. “He ought to be here by now. He ought to have
arrived--”

The roaring confusion in George’s brain went to a tingling silence;
through it there came footsteps and a man’s voice upon the stairs.

As the tracked criminal who hears his pursuer upon the threshold, as
the fugitive from justice who feels upon his shoulder the sudden hand
of arrest, as the poor wretch in the condemned cell when the hangman
enters--as the feelings of these, so, at this sound, the emotions of my
miserable George.

A dash must be made to flatten this hideous doom. Upon a sudden impulse
he started forward. “Bill! Bill, old man, I want to tell you something.
You don’t know what the finding of this cat means to me. It--”

“I do know, old man,” Bill earnestly assured him. “You’re splendid, old
man, splendid. I never dreamt you were so fond of your uncle. Old man,
it means even more to me--it means Margaret and success. Here’s Brunger.
We three together, George. Nothing shall stop us.”



IV.

The sagacious detective entered. George gave him a limp, damp hand.

“You don’t look well,” Mr. Brunger told him, after greetings.

“Just what I was saying,” Bill joined.

Indeed, George looked far from well. Round-shouldered he sat upon the
sofa, head in hands--a pallid face beneath a beaded brow staring out
between them.

“It’s the strain of this clue, Mr. Brunger,” Bill continued. “He’s on
the track!”

“You are?” cried the detective.

“Right on,” George said dully. “Right on the track.”

“Is it a gang?”

“Two,” George answered in the same voice. “Two gangs.”

The sagacious detective thumped the table. “I said so. I knew it. I told
you so, Mr. Wyvern. But _two_, eh? _Two_ gangs. That’s tough. One got
the cat and the other after it, I presume?”

“No,” said George. He was wildly thinking; to the conversation paying no
attention.

“No? But, my dear sir, one of ‘em _must_ have the cat?”

George started to the necessities of the immediate situation; wondered
what he had said; caught at Mr. Brunger’s last word. “The cat? Another
gang has got the cat.”

“What, three gangs!” the detective cried.

“Three gangs,” George affirmed.

“Two gangs you said at first,” Mr. Brunger sharply reminded him.

My miserable George dug his fingers into his hair. “I meant three--I’d
forgotten the other.”

“Don’t see how a man can forget a whole _gang_,” objected the detective.
He stared at George; frowned; produced his note-book. “Let us have the
facts, sir.”

As if drawn by the glare fixed upon him, George moved from the sofa to
the table.

“Now, the facts,” Mr. Brunger repeated. “Let’s get these gangs settled
first.”

George took a chair. He had no plan. He plunged wildly. “Gang A, gang B,
gang C, gang D--”

Mr. Brunger stopped short in the midst of his note.

“Why, that’s _four_ gangs!”

The twisting of George’s legs beneath the table was sympathetic with
the struggles of his bewildered mind. He said desperately, “Well, there
_are_ four gangs.”

The detective threw down his pencil. “You’re making a fool of me!” he
cried. “First you said two gangs, then three gangs--”

“You’re making a fool of yourself,” George answered hotly. “If you knew
anything about gangs you’d know they’re always breaking up--quarrelling,
and then rejoining, and then splitting again. If you can’t follow, don’t
follow. Find the damned gangs yourself. You’re a detective--I’m not. At
least you say you are. You’re a precious poor one, seems to me. You’ve
not done much.”

In his bewilderment and fear my unfortunate George had unwittingly
hit upon an admirable policy. Since first Mr. Marrapit had called Mr.
Brunger it had sunk in upon the Confidential Inquiry Agent that indeed
he was a precious poor detective. In the five days that had passed he
had not struck upon the glimmer of a notion regarding the whereabouts
of the missing cat. This was no hiding in cupboard work, no marked coin
work, no following the skittish wife of a greengrocer work. It was
the real thing--real detective work, and it had found Mr. Brunger
most lamentably wanting. Till now, however, none had suspected
his perplexity. He had impressed his client--had bounced,
noted, cross-examined, measured; and during every bounce, note,
cross-examination and measurement fervently had prayed that luck--or the
reward--would help him stumble upon something he could claim as outcome
of his skill. George’s violent attack alarmed him; he drew in his horns.

“Ah! don’t be ‘ot,” he protested. “Don’t be ‘ot. Little
misunderstanding, that’s all. I follow you completely. Four gangs--_I_
see. _Four_ gangs. Now, sir.”

It was George’s turn for fear. “Four gangs--quite so. Well, what do you
want me to tell you?”

“Start from the beginning, sir.”

George started--plunged head-first. For five minutes he desperately
gabbled while Mr. Brunger’s pencil bounded along behind his splashing;
words. Every time the pencil seemed to slacken, away again George would
fly and away in pursuit the pencil would laboriously toil.

“Four gangs,” George plunged along. “Gang A, gang B, gang C, gang D.
Gang A breaks into the house and steals the cat. Gang B finds it gone
and tracks down gang C.”

“Tracks gang A, surely,” panted Mr. Brunger. “Gang A had the cat.”

“Gang B didn’t know that. I tell you this is a devil of a complicated
affair. Gang B tracks down gang C and finds gang D. They join. Call ‘em
gang B-D. Gang A loses the cat and gang C finds it. Gang C sells it to
gang B-D, which is run by an American, as I said.”

“Did you?” gasped Mr. Brunger without looking up.

“Certainly. Gang B-D hands it over to gang A by mistake, and gang A
makes off with it. Gang C, very furious because it is gang A’s great
rival, starts in pursuit and gets it back again. Then gang B-D demands
it, but gang A refuses to give it up.”

“Gang C!” Mr. Brunger panted. “Gang C had got it from gang A.”

“Yes, but gang A got it back again. Gang B-D--Look here,” George broke
off, “that’s perfectly clear about the gangs, isn’t it?”

“Perfectly,” said Mr. Brunger, feeling that his reputation was
gone unless he said so. “Wants a little studying, that’s all. Most
extraordinary story I ever heard of.”

“I’m dashed if I understand a word of it,” Bill put in. “Who _are_ these
gangs?”

George rose: “Bill, old man, I’ll explain that another time. The fact
is, we’re wasting time by sitting here. I was very near the end when you
two arrived. The cat is here--quite near here.”

The detective and Bill sprang to their feet. George continued: “It’s
going to change hands either tonight or to-morrow. If you two will
do just as I tell you and leave the rest to me, we shall bring off a
capture. To-morrow evening I will explain everything.”

The detective asked eagerly; “Is it a certainty?”

“Almost. It will be touch and go; but if we miss it this time it is a
certainty for the immediate future. I swear this, that if you keep
in touch with me you will be nearer the cat than you will ever get by
yourselves.”

Sincerity shone in his eyes from these words. The detective and Bill
were fired with zeal.

“Take command, sir!” said Mr. Brunger.

“All right. Come with me. I will post you for the night. We have some
distance to go. Don’t question me. I must think.”

“Not a question,” said the detective: he was, indeed, too utterly
bewildered.

George murmured “Thank heaven!”; took his hat; led the way into the
street. In dogged silence the three tramped through the rain.



V.

George led for the Clifford Arms, some two miles distant. For the
present he had but one object in view. He must get rid of Bill and this
infernal detective; then he must speed the cat from Temple Colney.

As he walked he pushed out beyond the primary object of ridding himself
of his companions; sought the future. In the first half-mile he decided
that the game was up. He must deliver the Rose to his uncle immediately
without waiting for the reward to be further raised. To hang on for
the shadow would be, he felt, to lose the substance that would stand
represented by Mr. Marrapit’s gratitude.

But this preposterous buoyancy of youth! The rain that beat upon his
face cooled his brow; seemed to cool his brain. Before the first mile
was crossed he had vacillated from his purpose. When he said to his
followers “Only another half-mile,” his purpose was changed.

This preposterous corkiness of youth! It had lifted him up from the sea
of misfortune in which he had nigh been drowned, and now he was assuring
himself that, given he could hide the Rose where a sudden glimmering
idea suggested, he would be safer than ever before. The two men who
were most dangerous to him--the detective and the _Daily’s_ Special
Commissioner at Paltley Hill, now slushing through the mud behind--were
beneath his thumb. If he could keep them goose-chasing for a few days or
so--!

The turn of a corner brought them in view of the Clifford Arms. George
pointed: “I want you to spend the night there and to stay there till I
come to-morrow. A man is there whom you must watch--the landlord.”

“One of the gangs?” Mr. Brunger asked, hoarse excitement in his voice.

“Gang B--leader. Don’t let him suspect you. Just watch him.”

“Has he got the cat?”

With great impressiveness George looked at the detective, looked at
Bill. Volumes of meaning in his tone: “_Not yet!_” he said.

Bill cried: “By Gad!” The detective rubbed his hands in keen
anticipation.

They entered the inn. Bill gave a story of belated tourists. A room
was engaged. In a quarter of an hour George was speeding back to Temple
Colney.

At the post-office he stopped; purchased a letter-card; held his pen a
while as he polished the glimmering idea that now had taken form; then
wrote to his Mary:--

“My dearest girl in all the world,--You’ve never had a line from me
all this time, but you can guess what a time I’ve been having. Dearest
darling, listen and attend. This is most important. Our future depends
upon it. Meet me to-morrow at 12.0 at that tumbled-down hut in the copse
on the Shipley Road where we went that day just before my exam. Make any
excuse to get away. You must be there. And don’t tell a soul.

“Till to-morrow, my darling little Mary.--G.”

He posted the card.



BOOK VI.

Of Paradise Lost and Found.



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 nobility 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 passing.

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 passionate scarlet of the
red blobs. She continued:

“They are a little faded because on every stitch 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 circumspect 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 succumbed; 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
snatched 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 knob of a
bludgeon-like umbrella.

The masterly woman had removed all traces of her emotion. In a voice
humble yet strong, “I start to search, Mr. Marrapit,” she said. “I will
find the Rose if she is to be found.”

So deep sincerity was in her speech, so strong she seemed, so restful
in this crisis, that Mr. Marrapit, watching her stride the drive,
again fell to pacing and cogitation--had he misjudged her? Almost
unconsciously he moved upstairs to his room; drew those green slippers
with red blobs from their drawer.



IV.

Had Mr. Marrapit doubted the sincerity of Mrs. Major’s search, assuredly
he would have misjudged her. In her diary that night the masterly woman
inscribed:

“_Am here; must stick_.”

Her best chance of sticking, as well she knew, lay in finding the Rose.
Could she but place that creature’s exquisite form in Mr. Marrapit’s
arms, she felt that her reward would be to win back to the paradise from
which Old Tom had driven her.

Therefore most strenuously she scoured the countryside; pried into
houses; popped her head into stable doors. This woman nothing spared
herself; in the result, at the end of two days, was considerably
dejected. For it was clear to her that the Rose had not strayed, but had
been stolen; was not concealed in the vicinity of Herons’ Holt, but had
been spirited to the safety of many miles. She was driven to accept
Mr. Brunger’s opinion--the Rose had been stolen by some eager and
unscrupulous breeder to be used for gross purposes.

It was upon the evening of the second day in paradise that this woman
settled upon this gloomy conclusion. Gloomy it was, and desperately,
sitting in her bedroom that night, the masterly woman battled for some
way to circumvent it. To that entry made in her diary on the night of
her arrival she had added two further sentences:

_“Hate that baby-faced Humfray chit.”

“Certain cannot stick unless find cat.”_

Opening her diary now she gazed upon these entries; chewed them. They
were bitter to the taste. To agony at what she had lost was added
mortification at seeing another in her place; and rankling in this
huge wound was the poison of the knowledge that she could not win
back. Circumstances were too strong. The cat was not to be found,
and--stabbing thought--“certain cannot stick unless find cat.”

This way and that the masterly woman twisted in search of a means to
circumvent her position. It might be done by accomplishing the overthrow
of this baby-faced chit. If the baby-faced chit could be made to
displease Mr. Marrapit and be turned out, it would surely be possible,
being ready at hand, to take her place. But how could the baby-faced
chit be made to err?

This way and that Mrs. Major twisted and could find no means. Always she
was forced back to the brick-wall fact--salvation lay only in finding
the cat. That would accomplish everything. She would have succeeded
where the baby-faced chit had failed; she would have proved her
devotion; she, would have earned, not a doubt of it, the reward of
re-entry into paradise that Mr. Marrapit in his gratitude would more
than offer--would press upon her.

But the cat was not to be found.

Beating up against the desperate barrier of that thought, Mrs. Major
groaned aloud as she paced the room, threw up her arms in her despair.
The action caused her to swerve; with hideous violence she crashed her
stockinged foot against the leg of the wash-stand.

Impossible to tell how far will spread the ripples of the lightest
action we may toss upon the sea of life. The stunning agony in this
woman’s toes, as, hopping to the bed, she sat and nursed them, with the
swiftness of thought presented to her a solution of her difficulty that
struck her staring with excitement.

Her first thought in her throbbing pain was of remedy for the bruise.
“Bruise” brought involuntarily to her mind the picture of a chemist’s
shop in the Edgware Road, not far from Angel Street, whose window she
had seen filled with little boxes of “Bruisine,” the newest specific for
abrasions. Thence her thoughts, by direct passage, jumped to the time
when last she had noticed the shop--she had been returning from a stroll
by way of Sussex Gardens. And it was while mentally retracing that walk
down Sussex Gardens that Mrs. Major lit plump upon the solution of her
difficulty. She had noticed, let out for a run from No. 506, an orange
cat that was so precisely the image of the Rose of Sharon that she had
stopped to stroke it for dear memory’s sake. Often since then she had
spoken to it; every time had been the more struck by its extraordinary
resemblance to the Rose. She had reflected that, seen together, she
could not have told them apart.

Mrs. Major forgot the throbbing of her abrased toes. Her brows knitted
by concentration of thought, very slowly the masterly woman concluded
her disrobing. Each private garment that she stripped and laid aside
marked a forward step in the indomitable purpose she had conceived. As
her fingers drew the most private from her person, leaving it naked, so
from her plan did her masterly mind draw the last veil that filmed it,
leaving it clear. When the Jaeger nightdress fell comfortably about her,
her purpose too was presentable and warm.

Every day and every night, every hour of every day and night, ripples
from unknown splashes are setting towards us. From this masterly
woman, in process of toilet, ripples were setting towards a modest and
unsuspecting cat lying in sweet slumber at 506 Sussex Gardens, off the
Edgware Road.

For the masterly woman had thus determined--she would have that cat that
was the Rose’s second self. The Rose was in the hands of some villain
breeder and would never be returned; small fear of discovery under that
head. This cat was the Rose’s second self; differences that Mr. Marrapit
might discover, lack of affection that he might notice, could be
attributed to the adventures through which the Rose had passed since her
abduction. Under this head, indeed, Mrs. Major did not anticipate great
difficulty. Similar cats are more similar than similar dogs. They
have not, as dogs have, the distinguishing marks of character and
demonstrativeness. In any event, as the masterly woman assured herself,
she ran no peril even if her plot failed. She would say she had found
the cat, and if Mr. Marrapit were convinced it was not his Rose--well,
she had made a mistake, that was all.



V.

Upon the morrow, playing her hand with masterly skill, Mrs. Major
sought interview with Mr. Marrapit. With telling dabs of her pocket
handkerchief at her eyes, with telling sniffs of her masterly nose, she
expressed the fear that she had outstayed his kindness in receiving her.
He had granted her request--he had let her come to Herons’ Holt; but two
days had passed and she had not found his Rose. True, if she had longer
she could more thoroughly search; but as an honest woman she must admit
that she had been given her chance, had failed.

Upon a wailing note she ended: “I must go.”

“Cancel that intention,” Mr. Marrapit told her. Her honesty smote this
man. Had he misjudged her?

She smothered a sniff in her handkerchief: “I must go. I must go. I have
seen that you regard me with suspicion. Oh, you have reason, I know; but
I cannot bear it.”

“Remove that impression,” spoke Mr. Marrapit. He _had_ misjudged this
woman; he was convinced of it.

Mrs. Major gave her answer in the form of two smothered sniffs and a
third that, eluding her handkerchief, escaped free and loud--a telling
sniff that advertised her distress; wrung Mr. Marrapit’s emotions.

He continued: “Mrs. Major, at a future time we will discuss the painful
affair to which you make reference. At present I am too preoccupied
by the calamity that has desolated my hearth. Meanwhile, I suspend
judgment. I place suspicion behind me. I regard you only as she whom my
Rose loved.”

“Do you wish me to stay a little longer?” asked Mrs. Major, trembling.

“That is my wish. Continue to prosecute your search.”

Trembling yet more violently Mrs. Major said: “I will stay. I had not
dared to suppose I might stop more than two days. I brought nothing with
me. May I go to London to get clothes? I will return to-morrow morning.”

“Why not to-night?”

“Early to-morrow would be more convenient. I have other things to do in
London.”

“To-morrow, then,” Mr. Marrapit agreed.

At the door Mrs. Major turned. Her great success at this interview
emboldened her to a second stroke. “There is one other thing I would
like to say, if I dared.”

“Be fearless.”

She plunged. “If Heaven should grant that I may find the Rose, I implore
you not to distress me by offering me the reward you are holding out. I
could not take it. I know you can ill afford it. Further than that, to
have the joy of giving you back your Rose would be reward enough for me.
And to know that she was safe with you, though I--I should never see her
again, that would make me happy till the end of my days.”

Her nobility smote Mr. Marrapit. Cruelly, shamefully, he _had_ misjudged
her. Her handkerchief pressed to her eyes, very gently Mrs. Major closed
the door; very soberly mounted the stairs.

Out of earshot, she walked briskly to her room; drew forth her diary; in
a bold hand inscribed:

“_Absolutely certain shall stick._”

The masterly woman lunched in town.



CHAPTER II.

Mrs. Major Finds The Lock.



I.

By six o’clock Mrs. Major had all ready for her adventure. In the little
room at Angel Street she deposited a newly purchased basket; at eight
o’clock started for Sussex Gardens.

Twice, while passing down the terrace at about nine, she had seen the
cat she now pursued let out for what was doubtless its nightly run.

On each occasion she had observed the same order of events, and she
judged them to be of regular occurrence. Out from No. 506 had stepped a
tall man, long-haired, soft-hatted, poetically bearded. Behind him had
followed the cat. The cat had trotted across the road to the gardens;
the tall man had walked slowly round the enclosure. Returning, he had
called. The cat had walked soberly forth from the railings and the pair
had re-entered the house.

II.

Matters fell this night precisely as the sapient woman had conjectured.
Shortly before nine she took up position against the railings in a dark
patch that marked the middle point between two lamps, some doors
above 506. No tremor agitated her form; in action this woman was most
masterly.

A church clock struck a full clear note, another and another. The
after-humming of the ninth had scarcely died when the blackness that
lay beneath the fanlight of 506 was split by a thin rod of yellow light.
Instantly this widened, served for a moment to silhouette a tall figure,
then vanished as the door slammed. The tall figure stepped on to the
pavement; a cat at its feet trod sedately across the road. The tall
figure turned; in a moment was meditatively pacing the pavement opposite
where Mrs. Major stood.

Mrs. Major gave him twenty yards. Then she hurried along the railings to
where the cat had tripped. Six feet inwards, delicately scratching the
soil beneath a bush, she espied it.

The masterly woman pressed her face between the rails; stretched a
snapping finger and thumb; in an intense voice murmured, “Tweetikins
puss!”

Tweetikins puss continued thoughtfully to turn the soil. This was a
nicely mannered cat.

“Tweety little puss!” cooed Mrs. Major. “Tweety pussikins! puss, puss!”

Tweety pussikins turned to regard her. Mrs. Major moistened her finger
and thumb; snapped frantically. “Puss, puss--tweety pussy!”

Tweety pussy advanced till the snapping fingers were within an inch of
its nose.

“Pussikins, pussikins!” implored Mrs. Major.

Pussikins very deliberately seated itself; coiled its fine tail about
its feet; regarded Mrs. Major with a sphinx-like air.

Mrs. Major pressed till the iron railings cut her shoulders. She
stretched the forefinger of her extended arm; at great peril of slipping
forward and rasping her nose along the rails effected to scratch the top
of the sphinx’s head.

“Puss, puss! Tweety, _tweety_ puss!”

By not so much as a blink did tweety puss stir a muscle.

Mrs. Major was in considerable pain. Her bent legs were cramped; the
railings bit her shoulder; her neck ached: “Tweety little puss! Tweety
puss! Puss! _Drat_ the beast!”

In great physical agony and in heightening mental distress--since
time was fleeting and the cat as statuesque as ever,--Mrs. Major again
dratted it twice with marked sincerity and a third time as a sharp sound
advertised the splitting of a secret portion of her wear against the
tremendous strain her unnatural position placed upon it. Unable longer
to endure the pain of her outstretched arm, she dropped her hand to
earth; with a masterly effort resumed her smiling face and silky tone.
Repeating her endearing cooings, she scratched the soil, enticing to
some hidden mystery.

The demon of curiosity impelled this cat’s doom. For a moment it
eyed the scratching fingers; then stretched forward its head to
investigation.

The time for gentle methods was gone. Mrs. Major gripped the downy
scruff of the doomed creature’s neck; dragged the surprised animal
forward; rudely urged it through the railings; tucked it beneath her
cloak; sped down the road in the same direction that the tall figure had
taken.

But where the tall figure had turned round the gardens Mrs. Major kept
straight. Along a main street, into a by-street, round a turning,
across a square, up a terrace, over the Edgware Road--so into the
bed-sitting-room at Angel Street.



III.

Speeding by train to Herons’ Holt upon the following morning, beside
her the basket wherein lay the key that was to open paradise, Mrs. Major
slightly altered her plans. It had been her intention at once to burst
upon Mr. Marrapit with her prize--at once to put to desperate test
whether or no he would accept it as the Rose. But before Paltley Hill
was reached the masterly woman had modified this order. The cat she had
abducted was so much the facsimile of the Rose that for the first time
it occurred to her that, like the Rose, it might be valuable, and that a
noisy hue and cry might be raised upon its loss.

If this so happened, and especially if Mr. Marrapit were doubtful that
the cat was his Rose, it would be dangerous to let him know that she
had made her discovery in London. Supposing he heard that a London cat,
similar to the Rose in appearance, were missing, and remembered that
this cat--of which from the first he had had doubts--was filched from
London? That might turn success into failure. The chances of such events
were remote, but the masterly woman determined to run no risks. She
decided that on arrival at

Paltley Hill she would conceal her cat; on the morrow, starting out
from Herons’ Hill to renew her search, would find it and with it come
bounding to the house.

As to where she should hide it she had no difficulty in determining. She
knew of but one place, and she was convinced she could not have known a
better. The ruined hut in the copse off the Shipley Road, whither in the
dear, dead days beyond recall she had stolen for Old Tommish purposes,
was in every way safe and suitable. None visited there at ordinary
times; now that the country-side was no longer being searched for the
Rose save by herself, it was as safe as ever. She would leave her cat
there this day and night.

Upon this determination the remarkable woman acted; before proceeding to
Herons’ Holt secured her cat in that inner room of the hut where, but a
few days previously, the Rose herself had lain.

When she reached the house a maid told her that Mr. Marrapit was
closeted with young Mr. Wyvern.



IV.

During the afternoon Mrs. Major visited her cat, taking it milk. That
evening, Mary and Margaret being elsewhere together, she was able to
enjoy a quiet hour with Mr. Marrapit.

He was heavily depressed: “A week has passed, Mrs. Major. Something
tells me I never again will see my Rose. This day I have sent young Mr.
Wyvern and Mr. Brunger after my nephew George. The clue he claims to
know is my last chance. I have no faith in it. Put not your trust--” Mr.
Marrapit allowed a melancholy sigh to conclude his sentence. This man
had suffered much.

Mrs. Major clasped her hands. “Oh, do not give up hope, Mr. Marrapit.
Something tells me you _will_ see her--soon, very soon.”

Mr. Marrapit sighed. “You are always encouraging, Mrs. Major.”

“Something tells me that I have reason to be, Mr. Marrapit. Last night I
dreamed that the Rose was found.” The encouraging woman leaned forward;
said impressively, “I dreamed that I found her.”

Mr. Marrapit did not respond to her tone. Melancholy had this man in
leaden grip. “I lose hope,” he said. “Man is born unto trouble as the
sparks fly upward. Do not trust in dreams.”

“Oh, but I _do_!” Mrs. Major said with girlish impulsiveness. “I _do_.
I always have. My dreams so often come true. Do not lose hope, Mr.
Marrapit.” She continued with a beautiful air of timidity: “Oh, Mr.
Marrapit, I know I am only here on sufferance, but your careworn air
emboldens me to suggest--it might keep your poor mind from thinking--a
game of backgammon such as we used to play before--” She sighed.

“I should like it,” Mr. Marrapit answered.

Mrs. Major arranged the board; drew Mr. Marrapit’s favourite chair to
the table; rattled the dice. After a few moves, “Oh, you’re not beating
me as you used to,” she said archly.

“I am out of practice,” Mr. Marrapit confessed.

Mrs. Major paused in the act of throwing her dice. “Out of practice! But
surely Miss Humfray plays with you?”

“She does not.”

Mrs. Major gave a sigh that suggested more than she dared say.

She sighed again when the game was concluded. Mr. Marrapit sat on.
“Quite like old times,” Mrs. Major murmured. “Good night, Mr. Marrapit;
and don’t lose hope. Remember my dream.”

“Quite like old times,” Mr. Marrapit murmured.

The masterly woman ascended the stairs rubbing her hands.



V.

Mrs. Major ate an excellent breakfast upon the following morning. She
was upon the very threshold of winning into paradise, but not a tremor
of nervousness did she betray or feel. This was a superb woman.

At eleven she left the house and took a walk--rehearsing the manner
in which she had arranged to burst in upon Mr. Marrapit with the cat,
checking again the arguments with which she would counter and lull any
doubts he might raise.

At twelve she entered the hut.

Mrs. Major was in the very act of leaving the building, the cat
beneath her arm, when a sound of voices and footsteps held her upon the
threshold. She listened; the sounds drew near. She closed the door; the
sounds, now loud, approached the hut. She ran to the inner room; a hand
was laid upon the outer latch. She closed the door; applied her eye to a
crack; George and Mary entered.



CHAPTER III.

Mrs. Major Gets The Key.


George carried a basket. He laid it upon the floor. Then he turned and
kissed his Mary. He put his arms about her; held her to him for a moment
in a tremendous hug; pressed his lips to hers; held her away, drinking
love from her pretty eyes; again kissed her and again hugged.

She gasped: “I shall crack in half in a minute if you will be so
ridiculous.”

He laughed; let her free. He led to the tottering bench that stood
across the room, sat her there, and taking her little gloved hand patted
it between his.

“Fine, Mary,” he said, “to see you again! Fine! It seems months!”

“Years,” Mary whispered, giving one of the patting hands a little
squeeze. “Years. And you never sent me a line. I’ve not had a word with
you since you came up on the lawn that day and said you had passed your
exam. You simply _bolted_ off, you know.”

“You got my letter, though, this morning?” George said. He dropped
her hand; fumbled in his pocket for his pipe. He was becoming a little
nervous at the matter before him.

Mary told him: “Well, that was _nothing_. It was such a _frantic_
letter! What is all the mystery about?”

“I’ll tell you the whole story.” George got from the bench and began to
pace, filling his pipe.

With a tender little smile Mary watched her George’s dear face. Then, as
he still paced, lit his pipe, gustily puffed, but did not speak, a tiny
troubled pucker came between her eyes. There was a suspicion of a silly
little tremor in her voice when at last she asked: “Anything wrong, old
man?”

George inhaled a vast breath of smoke; let it go in a misty cloud. With
a quick action he laid his pipe upon the table; sprang to her side.
His right arm he put about her, in his left hand he clasped both hers.
“Nothing wrong,” he cried brightly; “not a bit wrong. Mary, it’s a game,
a plot, a dickens of a game.”

“Well, tell me,” she said, beaming.

“It wants your help.”

“Well, tell me, tell me, stupid.”

“You will help?”

“Of course, if I can. Oh, do tell me, Georgie!”

“I’ll show you, that’s quicker.”

He sprang to the basket; unstrapped the lid; threw it back. A most
exquisite orange head upreared. A queenly back arched. A beautiful
figure stepped forth.

“_George!_” Mary cried. “George! _The Rose!_ You’ve found her!”

George gave a nervous little crack of laughter. “I never lost her.”

“Never lost her! No, but she’s been--”

“I’ve had her all the time!”

“_All the_--”

“I took her!”

“You _took_ her! _You_--took her! Oh, George, speak sense! Whatever
can you mean?” Mary had jumped to her feet when first the Rose stepped
forth; now was close to her George--face a little white, perplexed;
hands clasped.

He cried: “Sweetest dove of a Mary, don’t talk like that. Sit down and
I’ll tell you.”

“But what have you done?--what have you _done?_”

The true woman was in that question. How they jostle us, these women,
with their timid little flutterings when we are trying to put a case
before them in our manlike way!--first spoiling their palate with all
the sugar, so that they may not taste the powder.

“I’ll tell you what I’ve done if you’ll only sit down.”

She went to the seat.

“Now laugh, Mary. You simply must laugh. I can’t tell you while you look
like that. Laugh, or I shall tickle you.”

She laughed merrily--over her first bewilderment. “But, Georgie, it’s
something fearful that you’ve done, isn’t it?”

He sat beside her; took her hands. “It’s terrific. Look here. From the
beginning. When I told old Marrapit I’d passed my exam. I asked for that
500 pounds--you know--to start us.”

She nodded.

“He refused. He got in an awful state at the bare idea. I asked him
to lend it--he got worse. Mary, he simply would not give or advance a
penny: you know what that meant?”

The dejected droop of her mouth gave answer.

“Well, then, I concocted a plot. Old Wyvern helped me--Professor Wyvern,
you know. I thought that if I took his cat, his beloved Rose, and lay
low with her for a bit, he would--”

“Oh, _George!_”

“Well?”

“Nothing--finish.”

“--He would be certain to offer a reward. And I guessed he wouldn’t mind
what he paid. So I thought I’d take the cat and hang on till he offered
L500, or till I thought he’d be so glad to get the Rose back that he’d
do what I want out of pure gratitude. Then I’d bring it back and get
the money--say I’d found it, you see, and--and--wait a bit--for heaven’s
sake don’t speak yet.” George saw his Mary was bursting with words; as
he judged the look in her eyes they were words he had reason to fear.
Shirking their hurt, he hurried along. “Don’t speak yet. Get the money,
and then we’d save up and pay him back and then tell him. There!”

She burst out: “But, George--how _could_ you? Oh, it’s wrong--it’s
_awful!_ Why, do you know what people would call you? They’d say you’re
a--yes, they’d say you’re a--”

He snatched the terrible word from her lips with a kiss.

“They’d say I was a fool if I let Marrapit do me out of what is my own.
That’s the point, Mary. It’s my money. I’m only trying to get what is my
own. I felt all along you would see that; otherwise--” He hesitated.
He was in difficulties. Manlike, he suddenly essayed to shoot the
responsibility upon the woman. “--Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it,” he
ended.

His Mary had the wit to slip from the net, to dig him a vital thrust
with the trident: “If you thought that, why didn’t you tell me?”

The thrust staggered him; set him blustering: “Tell you! Tell you! How
could I tell you? I did it on the spur of the moment.”

“You could have written. Oh, Georgie, it’s wrong. It _is_ wrong.”

He took up the famous sex attack. “Wrong! Wrong! That’s just like a
woman to say that! You won’t listen to reason. You jump at a thing and
shut your eyes and your ears.”

“I _will_ listen to reason. But you haven’t _got_ any reason. If you
had, why didn’t you tell me before you did it?”

He continued the sex assault; flung out a declamatory hand. “There you
go! Why didn’t I tell you? I’ve told you why. I tell you I did it on the
spur of the moment--”

But she still struggled. “Yes, that’s just it. You didn’t think. Now
that you are thinking you must see it in its proper light. You _must_
see it’s wrong.”

“I don’t. I don’t in the least.”

“Well, why are you getting in such a state about it?”

“I’m not getting in a state!”

“You are.” His Mary fumbled at her waist-belt. “You
are. You’re--saying--all sorts--of--things.
You--said--I--was--just--like--a--woman.” Out came this preposterous
Mary’s pocket handkerchief; into it went Mary’s little nose.

George sprang to her. “Oh, Mary! Oh, I say, don’t cry, old girl!”

The nose came out for a minute, a very shiny little nose. “I can’t
help crying. This is an--an _awful_ business.” The shiny little nose
disappeared again.

George tried to pull away the handkerchief, tried to put his face
against hers. A bony little shoulder poked obstinately up and prevented
him. He burst out desperately. “Oh, damn! Oh, what a beast I am! I’m
always making you cry. Oh, damn! Oh, Mary! I can’t do anything right.
I’ve had an awful time these days--and I was longing to see you,--and
now I’ve called you names and been a brute.”

His Mary gulped the tears that were making the shiny little nose every
minute more shiny. Never could she bear to hear her George accuse
himself. Upon a tremendous sniff, “You haven’t been a brute,” she said,
“--a bit. It’s my--my fault for annoying you when I don’t properly
understand. Perhaps I don’t understand.”

He put an arm about her. “You don’t, Mary. Really and truly you don’t.
Let me tell you. Don’t say a word till I’ve done. I’ll tell you first
why I’ve brought the Rose here. You see, I can’t keep her anywhere
else. I’m being chased about all over England. Bill and that infernal
detective are after me now, and I simply must hide the beastly cat where
it will be safe. Well, it’s safest here--here, right under their noses,
where nobody will ever look because everyone thinks it miles away by
now. I can’t stop near it, because I must be away on this clue they
think I’ve got--especially now I’ve got mixed up with the detectives:
see? So I want you just to come up from the house every day and feed the
cat. You’ll be perfectly safe, and it can’t be for very long. You would
do that, wouldn’t you? Oh, Mary, think what it means to us!”

She polished the shiny little nose: “I’d do anything that would help
you. But, Georgie, it’s not _right_; it’s _wrong_. Oh, it is wrong! I
don’t care _what_ you say.”

“But you haven’t heard what I’ve got to say.”

“I have. I’ve been listening for hours.”

“No, no, Mary. No, I haven’t explained yet. You’re too serious about
it. It isn’t a bit serious. It’s only a frightful rag. And nobody will
suffer, because he’ll get his money back. And, think--think what it
means. Now, do listen!”

She listened, and her George poured forth a flood of arguments that were
all mixed and tangled with love. She could not separate the two. This
argument that he was right was delectably sugared with the knowledge
that the thing was done for her; that delicious picture of the future,
when it was swallowed, proved to be an argument in favour of his
purpose. Love and argument, argument and love--she could not separate
them, and they combined into a most exquisite sweetmeat. The arm her
George had about her was a base advantage over her. How doubt her George
was right when against her she could feel his heart! How be wiser than
he when both her hands were in that dear brown fist?

She was almost won when with a “So there you are!” he concluded. She had
been won if she had much longer remained beneath the drug of his dear,
gay, earnest words.

But when he ceased she came to. The little awakening sigh she gave was
the little fluttering sigh of a patient when the anesthetic leaves the
senses clear.

She looked at her George. Horrible to dim the sparkling in those
dear eyes, radiant with excitement, with love. Yet she did it. The
goody-goody little soul of her put its hands about the little weakness
of her and held it tight.

She said: “I do, _do_ see what you mean, Georgie. But I do, _do_ think
it’s wrong.”

And then the little hands and the brown fist changed places. For she
put one hand below the fist, and with the other patted as she gave
her little homily--goody-goody little arguments, Sunday-school little
arguments, mother-and-child little arguments. And very timidly she
concluded: “You are not angry, Georgie, are you?”

This splendid George of hers gave her a tremendous kiss. “You’re a
little saint; you’re a little idiot; you’re a little angel; you’re
a little goose,” he told her. “But I love you all the more for it,
although I’d like to shake you. I _would_ like to shake you, Mary.
You’re ruining the finest joke that ever was tried; and you’re ruining
our only chance of marrying; and goodness only knows what’s going to
happen now.”

She laughed ever so happily. It was intoxicating to bend this dear
George; intoxicating to have the love that came of bending him.

“But I _am_ right, am I not?” she asked.

George said: “Look here, saint and goose. I’m simply not going to chuck
the thing and all our happiness like this. I’ll make a bargain. Saint
and goose, we’ll say you are right, but you shall have one night to
think over it. One night. And this afternoon you will go to Professor
Wyvern and tell him everything and hear what he thinks about it--what an
outsider thinks: see? Yes, that’s it. Don’t even spend a night over it.
Have a talk with Professor Wyvern, and if you still think I ought to
chuck it, write to me at once, and to-morrow I’ll come down and creep
in unto my uncle with the cat, and say: ‘Uncle, I have sinned.’ There,
Mary, that’s agreed, isn’t it?”

“That’s agreed,” she joined. “Yes, that’s fair.”

He looked at his watch. “I must cut. I must catch the one-thirty train.
I must calm Bill and the ‘tec. in case you--Mary, _do_ weigh whatever
Wyvern says, won’t you?”

She promised; gave her George her hope that the Professor would make her
see differently.

“That’s splendid of you!” George cried. “Saint and goose, that’s sweet
of you. Mary, I’m sure he will. Look here, I must fly; come half-way
to the station. The cat’s all right here. Pop up and feed her this
afternoon.”

They pressed the door behind them; hurried down the path.

It was precisely as they turned from the lane into the high-road, that
Mrs. Major, a cat beneath her arm, went bounding wildly through the
copse towards Herons’ Holt.



CHAPTER IV.

George Has A Shot At Paradise.



I.

Two hours after George, leaving his Mary near Paltley Hill railway
station, had got back to his inn at Temple Colney, a very agitated
young man booked from Temple Colney to Paltley Hill and was now speeding
between them in the train.

He had the carriage to himself. Sometimes he sat, hands deep in pockets,
legs thrust before him, staring with wide and frightened eyes at the
opposite seat. Sometimes he paced wildly from door to door, chin sunk on
breast, in his eyes still that look of frantic apprehension. Sometimes
he would snatch from his pocket a telegram; glare at it; pucker his
brows over it; groan over it.

George was this feverish young man.

On his table in his room at the inn he had found this telegram awaiting
him. He had broken the envelope, had read, and immediately a tickling
feeling over his scalp had sent a dreadful shiver through his frame:

“_Return at once. Cat found.--Marrapit._”

He had plumped into a chair.

For a space the capacity for thought was gone. In his brain was only
a heavy drumming that numbed. Beneath the window a laden cart went
thumping by--thump, thump; thump, thump--cat found; cat found. The cart
drubbed away and was lost. Then the heavy ticking of the clock edged
into his senses--tick, tock; tick, tock--cat found; cat found.

Then thought came.

Cat found!--then all was lost. Cat found!--then some damned prowling
idiot had chanced upon the hut.

This miserable George had felt certain that Professor Wyvern’s arguments
would overcome his Mary’s scruples. That little meeting with his Mary
had made him the more desperately anxious for success so that he might
win her and have her. And now--cat found!--all over. Cat found! His
pains for nothing!

Then came the support of a hope, and to this, hurrying back to the
station, speeding now in the train, most desperately he clung. The
Rose, he struggled to assure himself, had not been found at all. It was
impossible that anyone had been to the hut. Some idiot had found a
cat that answered to the Rose’s description, and had telegraphed the
discovery to his uncle; or someone had brought a cat to his uncle and
his uncle was himself temporarily deluded.

Wildly praying that this might be so, George leaped from the train at
Paltley Hill; went rushing to the hut. Outside, for full ten minutes he
dared not push the door. What if he saw no Rose? What if all were indeed
lost?

He braced himself; pushed; entered.

At once he gave a whoop, and another whoop, and a third. He snapped his
fingers; cavorted through the steps of a wild dance that considerably
alarmed the noble cat that watched him.

For there was the Rose!



II.

When George had indulged his transports till he was calmer, he took a
moment’s swift thought to decide his action.

Since someone was bouncing a spurious Rose on his uncle, he must delay,
he decided, no longer--must dash in with the true Rose at once. Surely
his uncle’s delight would be sufficient to arouse in him the gratitude
that would produce the sum necessary for Runnygate!

Previously, when he had reflected upon the plan he should follow on
restoring the cat, he had been a little alarmed at the difficulties
he foresaw. Chief among them was the fact that his uncle, and the
detective, and heaven knew who else besides, would require a plausible
and circumstantial story of how the Rose had been found--might wish to
prosecute the thief. How to invent this story had caused George enormous
anxiety. He shuddered whenever he thought upon it; had steadily put it
behind him till the matter must be faced.

But this and all other difficulties he now sent flying. The relief of
freedom from the badgering he had endured since he abducted the Rose;
the enormous relief of finding that the Rose was not, after all, gone
from the hut; the tearing excitement of the thought that he had his very
fingers upon success--these combined to make him reckless of truth and
blind to doubts. He relied upon his uncle’s transports of delight on
recovering the Rose--he felt that in the delirious excitement of that
joy everything must go well and unquestioned with him who had brought it
about. As to his Mary’s scruples--time enough for them when the matter
was done.

This was George’s feeling at the end of his rapid cogitation. A
heartless chuckle he gave as he thought of Bill and Mr. Brunger at
the inn, closely dogging the landlord; then he seized the cat and in a
second was bounding through the copse to Herons’ Holt as Mrs. Major, a
short space ago, had bounded before him.



CHAPTER V.

Of Twin Cats: Of Ananias And Of Sapphira.



I.

The maid who opened the door told George that the master awaited him in
the study.

Nothing of George’s excitement had left him during the rush down to the
house. His right arm tucked about the cat he carried, with his left hand
impulsively he pushed open the door; with a spring eagerly entered.

Even as he stepped over the threshold the bubbling words that filled his
mouth melted; did not shape. In the atmosphere of the apartment there
was that sinister element of some unseen force which we detect by medium
of the almost atrophied sense that in dogs we call instinct. As dogs
will check and grow suspicious in the presence of death that they cannot
see, but feel, so my George checked and was struck apprehensive by the
sudden sensation of an invisible calamity.

The quick glance he gave increased the sudden chill of his spirits.
He saw Mr. Marrapit standing against the mantelshelf--dressing-gowned,
hands behind back, face most intensely grim; his glance shifted and he
froze, for it rested upon Mrs. Major--hidden by a table from the waist
downwards, prim, bolt upright in a chair, face most intensely grim; his
eyes passed her and now goggled in new bewilderment, for they took in
his Mary--seated upon the extreme edge of the sofa, a white tooth upon
lower lip, face most intensely woebegone.

George stood perfectly still.

Like the full, deep note of a huge bell, Mr. Marrapit’s voice came
booming through the fearful atmosphere.

“Well?” boomed Mr. Marrapit.

The cat beneath George’s arm wriggled.

Boom and wriggle touched George back to action from the fear into which
the invisible something and the fearful panorama of faces had struck
him.

After all--let have happened what might have happened--he had the cat!

He swung the creature round into his hands; outstretched it. He took a
step forward. “Uncle!” he cried, “uncle, I have found the Rose!”

“Hem!” said Mrs. Major on a short jerk.

From Mary there came a violent double sniff.

George stood perfectly still; the unseen horror he felt to be rushing
upon him, but it remained invisible. With considerably less confidence
he repeated:

“The Rose, uncle.”

“Hem!” said Mrs. Major on a yet shorter jerk; from Mary a double sniff
yet more violent.

Mr. Marrapit raised a white hand.

“Hark!” said Mr. Marrapit.

Alarmed, his nerves unstrung, with straining ears George listened. The
tense atmosphere made him ajump for outward sounds.

“Hark!” boomed Mr. Marrapit; lowered the warning hand; at George
directed a long finger. “Are you not afraid that you will hear upon the
threshold the footsteps of the young men who will come in, wind you up,
and carry you out?”

“What on earth--?” George asked.

Mr. Marrapit poked the extended finger towards him. “Ananias!” he
boomed. He poked at my quivering Mary. “Sapphira!”

“Hem!” said Mrs. Major. “Hem!”

George recovered. “Is this a joke?” he asked. “I tell you--look for
yourself--I have found the Rose.”

Mr. Marrapit stooped to Mrs. Major’s lap, hidden by the table. With a
most queenly creature in his arms he stood upright. “Here is the Rose,”
 said he.

Instantly George forgot all that had immediately passed. Instantly
he remembered that a bogus Rose was what he fully expected to see.
Instantly fear fled. Instantly assurance returned.

In a full and confident note, “Uncle,” he said, “you have been
deceived!”

His words let loose a torrent upon him.

Mr. Marrapit with one arm clasped to his breast the cat he had raised
from Mrs. Major’s lap. Alternately raising and lowering the other hand,
his white hair seeming to stream, his eyes flashing, he took on, to
George’s eyes, the appearance of an enraged prophet bellowing over the
cities of the Plain.

“I _have_ been deceived!” he cried. “You are right. Though you have the
forked tongue of an adder, yet you speak truly. I have been deceived.
Woe is me for I have been most wickedly deceived by those who eat of my
bread, who lie beneath my roof. I have cherished vipers in my bosom, and
they have stung me. Bitterly have I been deceived.”

He paused. A low moan from Mrs. Major, handkerchief to eyes, voiced the
effect of his speech upon her; in racking sniffs Mary’s emotion found
vent. But upon George the outburst had a cooling result--he was certain
of his ground.

He said solidly: “That’s all rot.”

“Rot!” cried Mr. Marrapit.

“Yes, rot. You work yourself up into such a state when you get like
this, that you don’t know what you’re talking about--vipers and all that
kind of thing. When you’ve calmed down and understand things, perhaps
you’ll be sorry. I tell you you’ve been deceived. That’s not the Rose
you’ve got hold of. This is the Rose. Someone has made a fool of you.
Someone--”

Between two violent sniffs, “Oh, George, don’t, don’t!” came from his
Mary.

Startled, George checked.

“Monster, be careful,” said Mr. Marrapit. “Beware how much deeper you
enmire yourself in the morass of your evil. Put down that miserable
creature you hold. I place Mrs. Major’s Rose beside it. Look upon them.”

George looked. With staring eyes he gazed upon the two cats. With arched
tails they advanced to exchange compliments, and the nearer they stood
together the less Rose-like became the cat he had brought into the room.
For the cat that Mr. Marrapit had produced--Mrs. Major’s cat, as he
called it--was the Rose herself; could be none other, and none other
(when thus placed alongside) could be she.

Struck unconscious to his surroundings by this appalling spectacle,
George slowly stooped towards the cats as though hypnotised by the
orange coats. His eyes goggled further from his head; the blood went
thumping in his temples. He was aghast and horror-struck with the
stupefaction that comes of effort to disbelieve the eyes. But he did
disbelieve his eyes. How possibly trust them when from the Rose’s very
bed he had taken the Rose herself and held her till now when he produced
her? He did disbelieve his eyes.

He gave Mrs. Major’s cat a careless pat. By an effort throwing a
careless tone into his voice, “A very good imitation,” he said. “Not at
all unlike the Rose!”

Mr. Marrapit became an alarming sight. He intook an enormous breath that
swelled him dangerously. He opened his lips and the air rushed out with
roaring sound. Again he inspired, raised his clenched hands above his
head, stood like some great tottering image upon the brink of internal
explosion.

As upon a sudden thought, he checked the bursting words that threatened
from his lips; allowed his pent-up breath to escape inarticulate; to his
normal size and appearance shrank back when it was gone.

With an air of ebbing doubt, “Not at all unlike?” he questioned.

George replied briskly. He forced himself to take confidence, though
every moment made yet more difficult the struggle to disbelieve what his
eyes told him. “Not at all unlike,” he affirmed. “Very similar, in fact.
Yes, I should say very similar indeed.”

Still in the same tone of one who is being reluctantly convinced, Mr.
Marrapit again played Echo’s part: “Very similar indeed? You grant
that?”

“Certainly,” George admitted frankly. “Certainly. I do not wonder you
were mistaken.”

“Nor I,” Mr. Marrapit smoothly replied. “Indeed, in Mrs. Major’s cat I
detect certain signs which my Rose has long borne but which she has no
longer, if the cat you bring is she?”

“Eh?” said George.

“Certain signs,” Mr. Marrapit repeated, with the smoothness of flowing
oil, “which I recollect in my Rose. The mark, for example, where her
left ear was abrased by Mr. Wyvern’s blood-thirsty bull-terrier.”

George stooped to the cats. Pointing, he cried triumphantly: “Yes, and
there is the mark!”

“Yes,” Mr. Marrapit pronounced mildly. “Yes, but you are now looking at
Mrs. Major’s cat.”

“Hem!” said Mrs. Major. “Hem!”

Like one who has stepped upon hot iron George started back, stared
aghast. A further “hem,” with which a chuckle was mixed, came from Mrs.
Major; from my collapsed Mary upon the edge of the sofa a sniff that was
mingled groan and sob.

George put a hand to his head. This young man’s senses were ajostle and
awhirl. Well he remembered that mark which by disastrous blunder he had
indicated on Mrs. Major’s cat; vainly he sought it on his own. Yet his
was the Rose. Was this a nightmare, then, and no true thing? He put his
hand to his head.

“Looking at Mrs. Major’s cat,” repeated Mr. Marrapit, his tone smooth as
the trickle of oil.

George fought on. “Quite so. Quite so. I know that. That is what makes
it so extraordinary--that this cat which you call Mrs. Major’s and think
is the Rose should have the very mark that our Rose had.”

“But our Rose has not--if that is she.”

“Ah! not now,” George said impressively. “Not now. It healed. Healed
months ago. Don’t you remember my saying one morning, ‘The Rose’s ear is
quite healed now’?”

“I do not, sir,” snapped Mr. Marrapit, with alarming sharpness.

“Oh!” said George. “Oh!”

“Hem!” fired Mrs. Major. “Hem! Hem!”

“That tail,” spoke Mr. Marrapit, a sinister hardness now behind the
oiliness. “Mark those tails.”

George marked. To this young man’s disordered mind the room took on the
appearance of a forest of waving tails.

“Well?” rapped Mr. Marrapit. “You note those tails? Mrs. Major’s cat has
a verdant tail, a bush-like tail. Yours has a rat tail. Do you recollect
my pride in the luxuriousness of the Rose’s tail?”

George blundered along the path he had chosen. “Formerly,” he said, “not
latterly. Latterly, if you remember, there was a remarkable falling off
in the Rose’s tail. Her tail moulted. It shed hairs. I remember worrying
over it. I remember--”

A voice from the sofa froze him. “Oh, George, don’t, don’t!” moaned his
Mary.

Recovering his horror, he turned stiffly upon her. “If you mean me, Miss
Humfray, you forget yourself. I do not understand you. Kindly recollect
that I have another name.”

The hideous frown he bent upon his Mary might well have advertised
the sincerity of his rebuke. He faced Mr. Marrapit, blundered on. “I
remember noticing how thin the Rose’s tail was getting.” He gathered
confidence, pushed ahead. “You have forgotten those little points, sir.
Upset by your loss you have jumped at the first cat like the Rose that
you have seen.” He took new courage, became impressive. “You are making
a fearful mistake, sir--an awful mistake. A mistake at which you will
shudder when you look back--”

“Incredible!”

Mr. Marrapit, swelling as a few moments earlier he had swollen, this
time burst to speech. He raised his clenched fists; in immense volume of
sound exploded. “Incredible!”

George misinterpreted; was shaken, but hurried on. “It is. I admit it.
It is an incredible likeness. But look again, sir.”

Mr. Marrapit gave instead a confused scream.

Alarmed, George made as if to plunge on with further protests. “George!
George!” from his Mary checked him. Furious, he turned upon her; and in
that moment Mr. Marrapit, recovering words, turned to Mrs. Major.

“As you have restored my treasure to my house, Mrs. Major, so now
silence this iniquitous man by telling him what you have told me. I
implore speed. Silence him. Utterly confound him. Stop him from further
perjury before an outraged Creator rains thunderbolts upon this roof.”

With a telling “Hem!” the masterly woman cleared for action. “I will,
Mr. Marrapit,” she bowed. She murmured “Rosie, Rosie, ickle Rosie!” The
cat Mr. Marrapit had lifted from her lap sprang back to that enticing
cushion.

Gently stroking its queenly back, to the soft accompaniment of its
majestic purr, in acid-tipped accents she began to speak.

She pointed at the cat that now sat at George’s crime-steeped boots.
“When I was out this morning I found that cat in a little copse on the
Shipley Road. At first I thought it was our darling Rose. Suddenly I
heard voices. I did not wish to be seen, because, dear Mr. Marrapit, if
it was the Rose I had found, I wanted to bring it to you alone--to be
the first to make you happy. So I slipped into a disused hut that stands
there. Footsteps approached the door and I went into an inner room.”

Mrs. Major paused; shot a stabbing smile at George.

And now my miserable George realised. Now, visible at last, there rushed
upon him, grappled him, strangled him, the sinister something whose
presence he had scented on entering the apartment. No sound came from
this stricken man. He could not speak, nor move, nor think. Rooted he
remained; dully gazed at the thin lips whence poured the flood that
engulfed and that was utterly to wreck him.

The masterly woman continued. She indicated the rooted figure in the
middle of the room, the collapsed heap upon the sofa’s edge. “Those two
entered. He had a basket. Oh, what were my feelings when out of it he
took our darling Rose!”

For the space of two minutes the masterly woman advertised the emotions
she had suffered by burying her face in the Rose’s coat; rocking gently.

Emerging, she gulped her agitation; proceeded. “I need not repeat again
all the dreadful story I heard, Mr. Marrapit? Surely I need not?”

“You need not,” Mr. Marrapit told her. “You need not.”

With a masterly half-smile, expressive of gratitude through great
suffering, Mrs. Major thanked him. “Indeed,” she went on, “I did not
hear the whole of it. It was so dreadful, I was so horrified, that I
think I fainted. Yes, I fainted. But I heard them discuss how he had
stolen the Rose so they might marry on the reward when it was big
enough. He had kept the darling till then; now it was her turn to take
charge of it--”

Mrs. Major ceased with a jerk, drew in her legs preparatory to flight.

For the rooted figure had sprung alarmingly to life. George would not
have his darling Mary blackened. He took a stride to Mrs. Major; his
pose threatened her. “That’s untrue!” he thundered.

“Ho!” exclaimed Mrs. Major. “Ho! A liar to my face! Ho!”

“And you are a liar,” George stormed, “when you say--”

“Silence!” commanded Mr. Marrapit. “Do not anger heaven yet further. Can
you still deny--?”

“No!” George said very loudly. “No! No! I deny nothing. But that woman’s
a liar when she says Miss Humfray discussed the business with me, or
that it was Miss Humfray’s turn to take the damned cat. Miss Humfray
knew nothing about it till I told her. When she heard she said it was
wrong and tried to make me take the cat back to you.”

In his wrath George had advanced close to Mrs. Major. He stretched a
violent finger to an inch from her nose. “That’s true, isn’t it? Have
the grace to admit that.”

Indomitable of purpose, the masterly woman pressed back her head as far
as the chair would allow, tightened her lips.

The violent finger followed. “Say it’s true!” George boiled.

His Mary implored: “Oh, George, don’t, don’t!”

The furious young man flamed on to her. “Be quiet!”

Mr. Marrapit began a sound. The furious young man flamed to him: “You be
quiet, too!” He thrust the dreadful finger at Mrs. Major. “Now speak the
truth. Had Miss Humfray anything to do with it?”

This tremendous George had temporary command of the room. The masterly
woman for once quailed. “I didn’t hear that part,” she said.

George drew in the fearful finger. “That’s as good as the truth--from
you.” He rounded upon Mr. Marrapit. “You understand that. This has been
my show.”

“A blackguard show,” pronounced Mr. Marrapit. “A monstrous and an
impious show. A--”

“I don’t want to hear that. Whatever it is you are the cause of it. If
you had done your duty with my mother’s money--”

A figure passed the open French windows along the path. Mr. Marrapit
shouted “Fletcher!” The gardener entered.

“But you’ve betrayed your trust,” George shouted. He liked the fine
phrase and repeated it. “You’ve betrayed your trust!”

Mr. Marrapit assumed his most collected air. “Silence. Silence, man of
sin. Leave the house. Return thanks where thanks are due if I do not
hound the law upon you. Take that girl. That miserable cat take. Hence!”

Mary got to her feet, put a hand on her George’s arm. “Do come, dear.”

The wild young man shook her off. “I’ll go when it pleases me!” he
shouted at Mr. Marrapit.

“You shall be arrested,” Mr. Marrapit returned. He addressed Mary.
“Place that cat in that basket Carry it away.”

George stood, heaving, panting, boiling for effective words, while
his Mary did as bade. Awful visions of her George, fettered between
policemen, trembled her pretty fingers. At last she had the basket
strapped, raised it.

“Come, George,” she said; and to Mr. Marrapit, “I’m so sorry, Mr.
Marrapit. I--”

It gave her furious George a vent. “Sorry! What are you sorry about?
What have you done?” He roared over to Mrs. Major: “What other lies have
you been telling?” He lashed himself at Mr. Marrapit. “Set the law on
me? I jolly well hope you will. It will all come out then how you’ve
behaved--how you’ve treated me. How you’ve betrayed--”

“Fletcher,” Mr. Marrapit interrupted, “remove that man. Take him out.
Thrust him from the house.”

“Me?” said Mr. Fletcher. “Me thrust him? I’m a gardener, I am; not a--”

“Duty or dismissal,” pronounced Mr. Marrapit. “Take choice.” He turned
to the window. “Come, Mrs. Major.”

George dashed for him. “You’re not going till I’ve done with you!”

Violence was in his tone, passion in his face.

Alarmed, “Beware how you touch me!” called Mr. Marrapit; caught Mr.
Fletcher, thrust him forward. “Grapple him!” cried Mr. Marrapit.

Mr. Fletcher was violently impelled against George; to save a fall
clutched him. “Don’t make a scene, Mr. George,” he implored.

George pushed him away. Mr. Fletcher trod back heavily upon Mr.
Marrapit’s foot. Mr. Marrapit screamed shrilly, plunged backwards into a
cabinet, overturned it, sat heavily upon its debris.

A laugh overcame George’s fury. He swung on his heel; called “Come” to
his Mary; stalked from the house.

As they passed through the gate, “Oh, Georgie!” his Mary breathed. “Oh,
Georgie!”

He raged on to her: “What on earth made you say you were sorry? You’ve
no spirit, Mary! No spirit!”

The tremendous young man stalked ahead with huge strides.

       *       *       *       *       *

In deep melancholy, sore beneath the correction Mr. Marrapit had heaped
upon him, Mr. Fletcher wandered from the study; turned as he reached the
path. “Me grapple him!” said Mr. Fletcher. “Me a craven! Me thrust
him from the house! It’s ‘ard--damn ‘ard. I’m a gardener, I am; not a
Ju-jitsu.”



CHAPTER VI.

Agony In Meath Street.



I.

Silent, gloom-ridden, my sniffing Mary, my black-browed George laboured
to the station. Silent they sat upon a bench waiting the London train.

George bought his Mary a piece of chocolate from the automatic machine;
she was a forlorn picture as with tiny nibbles she ate it, tears in her
pretty eyes. In the restaurant George bought himself a huge cigar. This
man was a desperate spectacle as with huge puffs he smoked, hands deep
in pockets, legs thrust straight, brows horribly knitted.

They had no words.

The train came in. George found an empty compartment; helped his poor
Mary to a corner; roughly dumped the cat-basket upon the rack; moodily
plumped opposite his Mary.

They had no words.

It was as the train moved from the third stop that Mary, putting a giant
sniff upon her emotions, asked her George: “Wher--where are we going,
dear?”

It was not until the fifth stop that George made answer. “Those
Battersea digs,” he told her.

They had no words.

At Queen’s Road station gloomily they alighted; silently laboured to the
house of Mrs. Pinking.

George answered her surprise. “Miss Humfray will have these rooms again,
Mrs. Pinking, if you will be so kind; and I--” He checked. “Could you
let us have some tea, Mrs. Pinking? Afterwards I’ll have a talk with
you. We’ve got into a--We’re very tired. If you could just let us have
some tea, then I’ll explain.”

In silence they ate and drank. George was half turned from the table,
gloomily gazing from the window. Tiny sniffs came from his Mary; he had
no words for her; looked away.

But presently there was a most dreadful choking sound. He sprang
around. Most painfully his Mary was spluttering over a cup of tea. With
trembling hands she put down the cup; her face was red, convulsively
working.

George half rose to her. “Don’t cry, darling Mary-kins. Don’t cry.”

She set down the cup; swallowed; gasped, “I’m not crying--I’m
la-laughing,” and into a pipe of gayest mirth she went.

Gloom gathered its sackcloth skirts; scuttled from the room.

George roared with laughter; rocked and roared again. When he could
get a catch upon his mirth there was the clear pipe of his Mary’s glee,
clear, compelling, setting him off again. When she would gasp for breath
there was her dear George, head in those brown hands, shaking with
tremendous laughter--and she must start again.

She gasped: “George! If you could have seen yourself standing there
telling those awful stories--!”

He gasped: “When I mistook the cats--!”

She gasped: “Mr. Marrapit’s face--!”

He gasped: “Mrs. Major’s--!”

The exhaustion of their mirth gave them pause at last. George wiped his
running eyes; Mary tremendously blew her little nose, patted her gold
hair where it eagerly straggled.

“I feel better after that,” George said.

She told him, “So do I--heaps. It’s no good being miserable over what is
past, is it, dear?”

“Not a bit; not the slightest. Come and sit on the sofa and let’s see
where we are.” She put that golden head upon his manly shoulder; he
fetched his right arm about her; she nursed her hands upon the brown
fist that came into her lap; that other brown hand he set upon the
three.

Together they viewed their prospects--gloomy pictures.

“But we’re fairly in the cart,” George summed up. “We are, you know.”

His ridiculous Mary gave him that lovers’ ridiculous specific. “We’ve
got each other,” she told him, snuggling to him.

George kissed her. He fumbled in his pockets. “I’ve got just about three
pounds--over from what Marrapit gave me for the clue-hunting. I say,
Mary, it’s pretty awful.”

She snuggled the closer.

Early evening, tip-toeing through the window, was drawing her dusky
hangings about the room when at length George withdrew the brown hands;
stirred.



II.

Upon a little sigh Mary let go the string that held the dreams she had
been dreaming. Like a great gay bundle of many-coloured toy balloons
suddenly released, they soared away. She came to the desperate present;
noted her George filling his pipe.

He got upon his legs; paced the floor, puffing.

It was his characteristic pose when he was most tremendous. She watched
this tremendous fellow adoringly.

He told her: “I’ve settled it all, Marykins. I’ve fixed it all up. We’ll
pull through right as rain.” He caught the admiring glance in his Mary’s
eye; inhaled and gusted forth a huge breath of smoke; repeated the fine
sentence. “We’ll pull through right as rain.”

“Dear George!” she softly applauded.

He pushed ahead. “There’s this locum tenens I was going to take up in
the North. I haven’t offed that yet--haven’t refused it, I mean. Well,
I shall take it. The screw’s pretty rotten, but up in the North--in the
North, you know--well, it’s not like London. It’s cheap--frightfully
cheap. You can live on next to nothing--”

She pushed out the irritating, practical, womanish side of her. “_Can_
you? How do you _know_, Georgie?”

We men hate these pokes at our knowledge; women will not understand
generalisations. George jerked back: “How do I _know_? Oh, don’t
interrupt like that, Mary. Everybody knows that living is cheap in the
North--in the _North_.”

“Of course,” she excused herself. “Of course, dear, I see.”

“Well, where was I? Frightfully cheap, so the screw won’t matter. I’ll
take the job, dearest. I’ll take it for next month. And--listen--we’ll
marry and go up there together and live in some ripping little rooms.
There!”

She was flaming pink; could only breathe: “Georgie, _dear!_”

He stopped his pacing to give her a squeezing hug, a kiss upon the
top of the gold hair. Then he went through the steps of a wild dance.
“Marry!” he cried. “Marry, old girl, and let everybody go hang! We’ll
have to work it through a registrar. I’m not quite sure how it’s done,
but I’ll find out tomorrow. I know you both have to have been resident
in the place for a week or so--I’ll fix all that. Then we’ll peg along
up in the North; and we’ll look out for whatever turns up, and we’ll
save, and in time we’ll buy a practice just like Runnygate.”

Now he sat beside his Mary again; with a tremendous brush painted in
more details of this entrancing picture. Every doubt, every difficulty
he threw to tomorrow--that glad sea in which youth casts its every
trouble. Was he sure he still had the refusal of this locum?--rather!
but he would make certain, tomorrow. Was he sure they both could live
upon the salary?-rather! he would prove it to-morrow. Could they really
get married at a registrar’s within a few days?-rather! he’d fix that up
to-morrow. As to the money necessary for the marriage, necessary to tide
over the days till the locum was taken up, why, he knew he could borrow
that--from the Dean or from Professor Wyvern--to-morrow.

They were upon the very crest and flood of their delight when George
noted the gathering dusk.

“I say, it’s getting late!” he exclaimed. “I must fix it up with Mrs.
Pinking. We’ve made no arrangement with her yet.”

Mary agreed: “Yes, dear.” She went on, pretty eyes shining, face aglow:
“Oh, Georgie, think of the last time you brought me here! I had nothing
to expect but going out to work again; and you weren’t qualified. And
now--now, although we’ve lost our little Runnygate home” (she could not
stop a tiny sigh), “we’re actually going to be married in a few days!
Georgie, I shan’t sleep for hoping everything will turn out all right
to-morrow.”

“It will,” George told her. “It will. Right as rain, old girl.”

Her great sigh of contentment advertised the drink she took of that
sparkling future. “Think of us being together always in a week or
so--belonging! Where will you stay till then? Quite close. Get a room
quite close, Georgie?”

He stared at her. “Why, you old goose, I’m not going.”

She echoed him: “Not going?”

“Of course not. I’m going to get a bedroom here, and we’ll have all our
meals and everything in here. We’re not going to part again, Marykins.
Not much!”

That maddening handicap beneath which the sweetest women trudge shackled
Mary, deluged this joy.

“Oh, Georgie!” she said; and again trembled, “Oh, Georgie!”

My impulsive George scented the damp. “Well?” he asked. “Well?
Whatever’s--?”

“Oh, Georgie, you can’t have a room here. We can’t have all our meals
together here?”

He realised the trouble. He broke out: “Why ever not? Why ever--?”

“It wouldn’t be _right_! Georgie, it _wouldn’t_ be right!”

Her impulsive George choked for words. “Not right! ‘Pon my soul, Mary, I
simply don’t understand you sometimes. Not _right! Why_ isn’t it right?”

It was so difficult to tell. “You don’t understand, dear--”

“No, I’m damned if I do. I’m sorry, Mary, but you are so funny, you
women. It’s so exasperating after the--the devil of a day I’ve had. Just
when I’ve fixed up everything you turn round and”--he threw out an angry
hand--“_Why_ isn’t it right?”

This poor little Mary clung to her little principles. “Don’t you see?
we’re engaged, dear; and being engaged, we oughtn’t to live alone like
this. People would--”

He began to rave. Certainly he had had a devil of a day; and this was a
maddening buffet.

“People!” he cried. “People! People! You’re always thinking of people,
you women! Who’s to know? Who on earth’s to know?”

The instinct of generations of training gave her the instinctive reply
in the instinctive sweet little tone: “We should know, Georgie,” she
said.

He flung up his arms: “Oh, good God!”

He swallowed his boiling irritation; laughed ‘spite himself; went to
his Mary. “Mary, don’t be such an utter, utter goose. It’s too, too
ridiculous.”

She took his kiss; but she held her stupid little ground.

“It wouldn’t be right, Georgie, _really_!”

Her George clanged the bell with a furious stroke that brought Mrs.
Pinking in panic up the stairs. Holding himself very straight, speaking
in sentences short and hard, paying to his Mary no smallest attention,
he made the arrangements. Miss Humfray would take on her bedroom again.
By the week. If Mrs. Pinking would be so kind as to allow them the same
terms. He thanked her. That was settled, then. He would look in in the
morning. He would say good night, Mrs. Pinking.

Mrs. Pinking gave him good night; busied herself with the tea-things.

Her presence enabled this brutal George to preserve his stony bearing;
denied his pretty Mary opportunity to melt him with her tears.

Hard as flint, “Well, good night,” he said to her. “I’ll look in
to-morrow morning.”

Upon a little sniff, “Good night,” she whispered; strangled an “Oh,
George! George!”

She followed him to the door. He was down the stairs before she could
command her voice for: “Where shall you go, George?”

With the reckless fury of one who sets forth to plunge into the river,
he called back, “I? I? Oh, _anywhere--anywhere_. Who cares where _I_
go?”

The hall door slammed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Late into that night while a young woman sobbed her pretty eyes out upon
a pillow in a back room of Meath Street, Battersea, a young man, who
furiously had been pacing London, paced and repaced the street from end
to end, gazing the windows of the house where she lay. This young man
muttered, gesticulated, groaned. “Oh, damn!” was his song. “Oh, Mary!
Oh, what a cursed brute I am!”

It was a bitter ending to a fearful day.



CHAPTER VII.

Mr. William Wyvern In Meath Street.



I.

George spent the night--such of it as remained after his bitter moanings
outside his Mary’s lodging--with the Mr. Franklyn who had accompanied
him on that little “stroll up west” that had terminated in the cab
adventure nearly three months before. Of all his student friends who
would give him a bed, Mr. Franklyn, because in a way associated with
his Mary, had come most prominently into his mind. That same association
gave him a lead from which to pour out his reply to Mr. Franklyn’s
rallying, as they sat at supper, upon his gloom.

“You remember that day after the July exam, when we went up west
together?” he began.

Mr. Franklyn remembered; in some gloom shook his head over the
recollection. “That waitress you left me with in the shop,” said Mr.
Franklyn sadly, “she--”

“Oh, hang the waitress! Listen, Franklyn, After I left you I turned
up past the Marble Arch--” He proceeded with some account of the love
between him and his Mary; skipped all details relating to the cat; came
to the impending marriage; sought advice upon the prospects of a man
marrying on a locum’s earnings.

Mr. Franklyn listened with great sympathy. “It’s a rum thing you should
be placed like that, George,” he said. “I’m in just the same position.”

George exclaimed eagerly--in love, youth warms to a companion--“You
are!”

“Well, not exactly,” Mr. Franklyn admitted. “Very nearly. I’ve got
myself into a brute of a fix over a girl in the lager-beer garden at
Earl’s Court. She--”

George bounced from the table, seized his hat. “Who cares a damn about
your lager-beer girls?” he shouted; slammed from the house.

It was then, while Mr. Franklyn laboriously indited a letter in reply to
one received from the lager-beer girl’s mother, that George paced Meath
Street.



II.

At breakfast with Mr. Franklyn upon the following morning, he was in
brighter trim--apologised for his over-night abruptness; apologised for
the hasty meal he was making; announced that he was off to see his Mary.

As he lit his pipe, “I’ll see you at hospital this morning some time,
old chap,” he said. “I shall dash in to fix up with the Dean about
taking Bingham’s place in that practice up in Yorkshire.”

Mr. Franklyn prodded for another slice of bacon. “You can’t, old chap,”
 he remarked. “That’s filled.”

George shouted: “Filled! What do you mean?”

“Why, taken--gone. Simpson’s got it--ten days ago.”

An icy chill smote my poor George. After the dreadful loss of
Runnygate everything had depended upon this appointment with its salary
considerably above the average.

“Simpson! Simmy got it!” he shouted. “What the blazes does Simmy mean by
taking it? He knew I was after it.”

“My good lad, you never came near the place after you’d qualified. If
Simmy hadn’t taken it someone else would. Bingham was in a hurry.”

Blankly George stared before him. At length, “I suppose there are
several other jobs going?” he asked.

“None on the Dean’s list,” said Mr. Franklyn. “I was looking at it last
night.”

Beneath this new distress George postponed the burning desire to clasp
his Mary in his arms and beg forgiveness. He hurried to hospital; made
for the Dean’s office. Here disaster was confirmed. Simpson had already
taken the Yorkshire place; the Dean had no other posts on his lists.
“Only this Runnygate practice,” he said. “I haven’t seen you since you
qualified. Can you raise the price?”

George, rising and making for the door, could only shake his head. There
was something at his throat that forbade speech. Runnygate and all that
Runnygate meant--the dear little home, the tight little practice, the
tremendous future--was a bitter picture now that it was so utterly lost;
now that even this place in Yorkshire was also gone.

He shook his head.

“Great pity!” the Dean told him. “I’ve kept it for you. Lawrence, the
man who’s leaving it, is coming to see me at five this evening. I shall
have to help him find another purchaser.”



III.

The infernal something in George’s throat gripped the harder as he took
his way to his Mary. He cursed himself for that hideous cat enterprise.
Had he never undertaken it, had he continued instead to entreat and
implore, there was always the chance that his uncle would have relented
and advanced the money sufficient for Runnygate.

As things were, he stood for ever damned in his uncle’s eyes; further,
by his folly he had encompassed his darling Mary’s ejection from a home
where she might comfortably have stayed till he was in position to marry
her; further, he had just missed the assistantship which, to his present
frame of mind, seemed the sole post in the world that would give him
sufficient upon which to call his Mary wife.

The desperate thoughts augmented his fearful remorse at his treatment
of her overnight. Arrived at Meath Street, admitted by Mrs. Pinking, he
bounded up the stairs, tremendous in his agony of love.

His Mary had her pretty nose pressed flat against the window. With dim
eyes she had been gazing for her George in the opposite direction from
that he had approached.

He closed the door behind him.

“Mary!” he called, arms outstretched.

Into them she flung herself.

They locked in a hug so desperate as only love itself could have borne.

He poured out his remorse; beside him on the sofa she patted those brown
hands. He told his gloomy tale; she patted the more lovingly--assured
him that, if the Yorkshire place had failed, something equally good
would turn up.

But he was in desperate despondency. “It’s all that infernal cat, Mary,”
 he groaned; she kissed that knotted forehead.

He asked her: “By the way, where’s that other brute?--the beast we
brought here with us?”

She peered low. “I’ve just fed the poor thing.”

Attracted by her movement, that orange cat which had wrought the fearful
disaster came forth from beneath the table.

“G-r-r-r!” George growled; stamped his foot.

The orange cat again took shelter.

“Ah, don’t frighten it, dear,” Mary told him. “It’s done no harm.”

George rose. He was too tremendously moved to contain himself while
seated. “Done no harm!” he cried. He took a step to the window. “Done
no--” He stopped short. “Oh, Lord! I say, Mary! Oh, Lord! here’s Bill!”

Mary fluttered to his side; saw Bill Wyvern disappear beneath the porch
of the door.

A knock; shuffling in the passage; footsteps up the stairs.

“By Gad! I’d forgotten all about old Bill,” George said.

Then Bill entered.



CHAPTER VIII.

Abishag The Shunamite In Meath Street.



I.

The most tremendous crises between man and man commonly begin with
exchange of the customary banalities. Charlotte Corday gave Marat
_“Bonsoir, citoyen,”_ ere she drove her knife. This was no cloak to hide
her purpose. We are so much creatures of convention that the man who
sets out, hell in breast, to avenge himself upon another, cannot forbear
to give him greeting before ever he comes upon the matter between them.

George, involuntarily straightening his back as he remembered how
desperately he had hoodwinked this Bill, had upon a fool’s errand packed
him to that inn, as involuntarily passed him the customary words.

“Hullo, Bill!” he said. “How on earth did you know I was here?”

He awaited the burst of reproach; the torrent of fury.

These did not come. About Bill’s mouth, as from George to Mary he
glanced, there were the lines of amusement; no menace lay in his clear
blue eyes.

“Went to look for you at the hospital,” Bill replied. “Met that man
Franklyn, and he told me you very probably were here.”

George pushed ahead with the banalities. “Surprised to see Miss
Humfray here?” he asked. “You met her, of course, at my uncle’s
while--while”--this was dangerous ground, and he hurried over it--“while
I was away,” he said quickly; blew his nose.

Bill told him: “Yes. Not a bit surprised.” The creases of amusement
became more evident. He shook Mary’s hand.

“Ah!” George said. “Um! Quite so. Sit down, Bill.”

They took seats. Constraint was upon these people; each sat upon the
extreme edge of the chair selected.

After a pause, “You’ve been to Herons’ Holt, then?” George remarked.

“Yesterday. Yesterday night.”

“Ah! Yesterday. Thursday, so to speak. Um! Margaret quite well?”

“Quite.”

The deadly pause came on again. Mary looked appealing to her George.
George, his right boot in a patch of sunlight, earnestly was watching it
as, twisting it this way and that, the polish caught the rays.

It lay with herself to make a thrust through this fearful silence. Upon
a timid little squeak she shot out: “Mr. Marrapit quite well?”

“Quite,” Bill told her. “Quite. A little bit--” He checked; again the
silence fell.

Mary no longer could endure it. Impulsively leaning forward, arms
outstretched, hands clasped, “Oh, Mr. Wyvern!” she cried. “You’re _not_
angry with George, _are_ you? He _couldn’t_ help sending you to that
inn, _could_ he?”

Constraint fled. “Of course I’m not,” Bill declared. “Not a bit. I’ve
come here to congratulate you both. I--”

George sprang forward; grasped Bill’s hand. “Good old buck!” he cried.
“Good old Bill! I’m awfully sorry, Bill. You’re a stunner, Bill. Isn’t
he a stunner, Mary?”

“He _is_ a stunner,” Mary agreed.

The stunner, red beneath this praise, warmly returned George’s grip.
When they released, “I say, George, you _are_ an ass, you know,” he
said. “Why on earth didn’t you tell me what you were up to?”

“You weren’t there, old man, when it began. You were in London. How on
earth was I to know your paper would come plunging into the business?”
 The memory of the pains that paper had caused him swept all else from
George’s mind. Indignation seized him. “It was a scandalous bit of work,
Bill. ‘Pon my soul it’s simply shameful that a newspaper can go and
interfere in a purely private matter like that. Yes, it is, Mary. Don’t
you interrupt. Bill understands. I don’t blame you, Bill; you were doing
your duty. I blame the editor. What did he want to push into it for? I
tell you that paper drove me up and down the country till I was pretty
well dead. It’s all very well for you to grin, Bill.”

“I’m not grinning.”

“You are grinning.” George threw a bitter note into his declamations.
“Of course, you can afford to grin. What was agony to me was hot
stuff for you. I expect you’ve made your reputation over this show.
Everything’s turned out all right for you--”

Bill took that bitter note. “Rather!” he broke in. “Rather! I pulled it
off, didn’t I? I found the rotten cat, didn’t I? I wasn’t made a fool of
for two days in a country inn, was I? I’ve not got the sack all through
you, have I?”

George instantly forgot his personal sorrows. “Oh, I say, Bill, you
haven’t, have you?”

Bill, not expecting the interruption, confessed a little lamely: “No,
I haven’t. I _haven’t_--as it turns out. But I might have--if it wasn’t
for--” He paused a moment; sadly said, “Anyway, just as I thought I’d
got her, I’ve lost Margaret again.”

In those fierce days when her Bill was the Daily Special Commissioner,
Margaret had confided in Mary the promise Mr. Marrapit had made should
Bill find the cat. Now Mary was filled with sympathy. “Oh, Mr. Wyvern!”
 she cried, “I _am_ sorry! What has happened? How do you know? Do tell us
everything of when you went to Herons’ Holt last night.”

Bill took a chair. He said gloomily: “There’s not much to tell. I felt
I couldn’t wait at that infernal inn any longer, so I left the detective
in charge, went to the inn where we’d found George, didn’t see him, and
came back to Herons’ Holt. I saw old Marrapit for about two minutes in
the hall. He foamed at me all about George, foamed out that I was one of
George’s friends, and foamed me out of the door before I could get in a
word. Said I never was to come near the place again. I asked him about
Margaret, and he had a kind of fit--a kind of fit.”

George said softly: “I know what you mean, old man.”

“A kind of fit,” Bill gloomily repeated. Then he struck one clenched
fist into the palm of the other hand. “And hang it!” he cried, “I’ve won
her! According to the bargain old Marrapit made with me, I’ve won her.
If it had not been for me you wouldn’t have taken the cat to that hut
in the wood, and if you hadn’t taken it there Marrapit wouldn’t have it
_now_. It’s through me he got it, isn’t it?”

“Bill,” George told him, “it is. You rotted my show all right. No
mistake about that.”

It was a fearful situation as between these two young men. In silence,
in gloom, they gazed each upon the ground.

Bill took a glance at George’s face; turned hurriedly from the despair
there stamped; set his eyes upon my pretty Mary. He gave a sigh.

“But, George, old man, you’ve come out of it the better,” he said.
“You’ve lost the money you wanted, but you’ve got your--you’ve got Miss
Humfray. I’ve lost my--I’ve lost Margaret.”

In great melancholy George rose; crossed to his Mary; sat upon the arm
of her chair; caressed her pretty shoulders.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Bill. Bill, we’re in a most
fearful hole. We haven’t got a sou, and I’ve got no work. You’re doing
well. You’re making money. You’re bound to get Margaret in time. As for
us--”

Bill was deeply stirred. “I say, I am sorry,” he told them. He sat up
very straight. “Look here, don’t get down on your luck. Come out and
have lunch with me and tell me just how you’re fixed. If a small loan
will do you any good I’m certain my guv’nor will stand it. He likes
you awfully, George. Come on. I shan’t see you again otherwise for some
time. I’m off on another Special Commissioner job for the _Daily_, you
know.”

George gave a slight shudder. “Oh? Thank goodness, I’m not the object of
it this time. What is it?”

“What is it? Why, you’ve seen the _Daily_ this morning, haven’t you?”

“I’ll never open the infernal thing again.”

Bill did not heed the aspersion. “It’s really rather funny, you know,”
 he went on. “Look here.” He tugged at his pocket; produced a _Daily_.

A pencil dislodged by the paper fell to the ground; rolled beneath the
table.

Bill stooped after it. The cat that lay there, disturbed, walked
forth--arching its proud orange back.



II.

With eyes that goggled tremendously Bill stared at it; with a finger
that shook he pointed at it; turned his head to George. “George,” he
asked, “whose cat is that?”

George looked at Mary; gave a bitter little laugh. “I suppose it’s
ours,” he replied. “Eh, Mary?”

A sad little smile his Mary gave, “I suppose it is,” she agreed.

From one to the other Bill looked, suspicion in those goggling eyes.

“You _suppose_ it is?” he emphasised. Again he swiftly looked from
George to Mary; again stared at the splendid orange form. “George,” he
said sharply--“George, what is that cat’s name?”

George regarded him with a whimsical smile. “Bill, you old duffer, you
don’t think it’s the Rose, do you?”

Yet more sharply than before Bill spoke. “George, is that cat’s name
Abishag?”

“_Abishag?_ What an awful--”

Bill turned from him with an impatient gesture. He called to the cat,
“Abishag! Abishag!”

With upreared tail the fine creature trotted to him.

“Good Lord!” George broke out. “Is that _your_ cat, Bill?”

Bill turned upon him. “_My_ cat! You know thundering well it’s not my
cat.”

“But it knows you, Mr. Wyvern,” Mary told him wonderingly.

There was sorrow, a look of pity in this young man’s eyes as
reproachfully he regarded my Mary.

He swung round upon George. “George, you’ve made a fool of me once--”

“I don’t know what on earth’s the matter with you,” George told him.

With knitted brows Bill for a moment searched his face. “I ask you
point-blank,” he said slowly. “Did you steal this cat, George?”

George struck the stern young man upon the back. “Is _that_ what you’re
driving at, you old ass? Stole it! D’you suppose I’ll ever _touch_ a
cat again? That’s the infernal cat Mrs. Major left in that hut when she
hooked off the Rose. Marrapit told you, didn’t he?”

Into a chair Bill collapsed--legs thrust straight before him, head
against the cushioned back. He gasped. “George, this is a licker, a
fair licker.” Enormously this staggered man swelled as he inhaled a
tremendous breath; upon a vast sigh he let it go. “That cat--” he said.
He got to his legs and paced the room; astonished, Mary and George
regarded him. “That cat--I’ll bet my life that’s the cat!”



III.

My Mary was trembling before this fearful agitation. For support she
took her George’s hand. “Oh, Mr. Wyvern!” she cried, “whatever is
it? Have we got into another awful trouble through those dreadful,
_dreadful_ cats?”

“Look at the _Daily_,” Bill said. “Look at the _Daily_. George, give me
a cigarette. I must smoke. This is an absolute licker.”

My frightened Mary jumped for the paper where it had fallen; spread
it upon the table; opened it. “Oh, George!” she cried. “Oh, George!”;
pressed a pretty finger upon these flaming words:

  ANOTHER CAT OUTRAGE.

  AMAZING STORY.

  MR. VIVIAN HOWARD’S FAMOUS PET

  STOLEN WHILE BACK TURNED.

  “DAILY” OFFER.

  500 POUNDS FOR OUR READERS.

My Mary’s golden head, my George’s head of brown, pressed and nudged as
with bulging eyes they read the crisp, telling paragraphs that followed
in a column of leaded type.

Readers of the _Daily_, it appeared, would be astonished to learn
that the abduction of Mr. Marrapit’s famous cat, the Rose of
Sharon--concerning the recovery of which all hope had now been
abandoned--had been followed by a similar outrage of a nature even more
sensational, more daring.

Mr. Vivian Howard, the famous author and dramatist, whose new novel,
“Amy Martin,” _Daily_ readers need not be reminded, was to start in the
_Daily_ as a feuilleton on Monday week, had been robbed of his famous
cat “Abishag the Shunamite.”

The whole reading public were well aware of Mr. Howard’s devotion to
this valuable pet. Scarcely a portrait of Mr. Howard was extant that did
not show Abishag the Shunamite by his side.

It was a melancholy coincidence that in the interview granted to the
_Daily_ by Mr. Howard last Saturday he had told that Abishag had sat
upon his table while every single word of the manuscript of “Amy
Martin” was penned. He had admitted that she was his mascot. Without
her presence he could not compose a line. _Daily_ readers would imagine,
then, Mr. Howard’s prostration at his appalling loss.

The occurrence had taken place on Monday night. As _Daily_ readers were
well aware, Mr. Howard had for some weeks been staying at the house of
his widowed mother in Sussex Gardens. Nightly at nine it had been his
custom to stroll round the gardens before settling down for three hours’
work upon “Amy Martin.” During his stroll Abishag would slip into the
gardens, meeting her master upon his completion of the circuit.

According to this practice, Mr. Howard, on Monday night, had followed
his usual custom. He believed he might possibly have walked a little
slower than usual as he was pondering deeply over his final revise of
the proof of “Amy Martin.” Otherwise his programme was identical with
its usual performance. But upon his return the cat was not to be found.

Theories, suggestions, investigations that had already been made,
followed. The _Daily_ abundantly proved that the cat had not strayed
but had been deliberately stolen by someone well acquainted with Mr.
Howard’s nightly promenade; pointed out that this second outrage showed
that no one possessing a valuable cat was safe from the machinations of
a desperate gang; asked, Where are the police? and concluded with the
pica sub-head:

  “DAILY” OFFER.

The _Daily,_ it appeared, on behalf of the whole reading public of Great
Britain, the Colonies, America, and the many Continental countries
into whose tongues Mr. Howard’s novels had been translated, offered 500
pounds to the person who would return, or secure the return of, Abishag
the Shunamite, and thus restore peace to the heart of England’s premier
novelist, whose new story, “Amy Martin,” would start in the _Daily_ on
Monday week.

A sketch-map of Sussex Gardens, entitled “Scene of the Outrage,” showed,
by means of dotted lines, (A) Route taken by Mr. Vivian Howard; (B)
Route into Gardens taken by cat; (C) Supposed route taken by thief.

Mr. Henry T. Bitt had achieved a mammoth splash.



IV.

The golden head and the head of brown lifted simultaneously from the
paper; stared towards Bill, pacing, smoking.

Tremendous possibilities flickered in George’s mind; made his
voice husky. “Bill,” he asked, “do you believe that cat is this
Abishag--Vivian Howard’s Abishag?”

Bill nodded absently. This man’s thoughts were afar--revolving this
situation he had named “licker.” “Look at the description,” he said.
“Look at the cat. It knows its name, doesn’t it? I’ve seen a life-size
painting of Abishag. It’s a cert.”

George dropped upon the sofa; his thoughts, too, rushed afar.

Tremendous possibilities danced a wild jig in his Mary’s pretty head;
trembled her voice. “Oh, Mr. Wyvern!” she appealed, “what does it mean?
What does it mean--for us?”

“It’s a licker,” Bill told her. “It’s a fair licker.”

Mary dropped by her George’s side; to his her thoughts rushed.

Presently Bill threw away his cigarette; faced George. He said slowly:
“Mrs. Major must have stolen this cat, George. But how did she get it?
She’s been at Herons’ Holt the last week.”

Mary gave a little jump. “Oh, Mr. Wyvern, she went up to town on Monday
till Tuesday.”

Bill struck a hand upon the table. “That fixes it. By gum, that
fixes it! I tell you what it is, George. I tell you what it is. I
believe--yes, I believe she’d seen this cat before, knew it was like the
Rose, and meant to have palmed it off on old Marrapit herself so as to
get him to take her back. Margaret told me all about her getting the
sack. I bet my life that’s it. By gum, _what_ a splash for the _Daily!_”
 And upon this fine thought the young man stood with sparkling eyes.

George timidly touched the castles he had been building: “Bill, where do
I--where do Mary and I come in?”

Bill clapped his hands together. “Why, my good old buck, don’t you
see?-don’t you realise?-you get this L500. Just do you, eh?”

_“Runnygate!”_ George burst out with a violent jerk; clasped his Mary in
an immense hug.

_“Runnygate!”_ came thickly from his Mary, face squashed against this
splendid fellow.

When they unlocked my blushing Mary suddenly paled: “Oh, but you, Mr.
Wyvern--you found it really.”

“Not much,” Bill declared. “Not likely. You found it. I couldn’t have
the reward, anyway. I’m one of the staff.” He repeated the fine words:
“One of the _staff_.”

She made to thank him. “Besides,” he interrupted her, “I’ll make a lot
out of it. I’m doing awfully well. The chief was awfully pleased with
the way I ran that Rose of Sharon job. Of course this is twice as big a
splash, because Vivian Howard’s mixed up in it. Look what a boost it
is for our new serial--look what a tremendous ad. it is for the paper!
Directly Howard came to us the editor dropped the Rose like a hot coal;
plumped for this and put me in charge. Now I’ve pulled it off, just
think how bucked up he’ll be! It’s a licker, George--a licker all
round.”

“Bill,” George said, “I can’t speak about it. My head’s whirling. I
believe it’s a dream.”

Indeed this George had rushed through so much in the past hours, was
now suddenly come upon so much, that the excitement, as he attempted
realisation, was of stunning effect. He sat white, head in hands.

“Jolly soon show you!” Bill cried. “Come to the office straight away.
Bring the cat. I was to meet the chief and Vivian Howard there at
twelve.”

George sprang to his feet; ruddy again of face. “Come on!” he cried.
“Bill, if it isn’t his Abishag, if there’s any hitch, I’ll--I’ll--oh,
Mary, don’t build too highly on this, old girl!”

“Shall I come, Georgie?”

George hesitated. “Better not. Better not, if you don’t mind. I couldn’t
bear to see your face if Vivian Howard says it isn’t the cat.”

White-faced, between tears and smiles, his Mary waved from the window as
George, cat under arm, turned the corner with Bill.



CHAPTER IX

Excursions In A Newspaper Office.



I.

Silent, white and stern of face, occupied with immense thoughts, the
young men sat as the cab they had found outside Battersea Park station
sped them towards Fleet Street.

They were upon the Embankment, rattling beneath Hungerford Bridge, when
from the tangle of his plans Bill at last drew a thread; weaved it to
words. “George, we mustn’t tell the chief anything about your being
mixed up with the other cat outrage--the Rose. It might be awkward.”

George shifted the hand that firmly held Abishag on the seat between
them; squeezed that fine creature’s head to him with his arm; with his
handkerchief wiped his sweating palms.

“It’s _going_ to be awkward,” he said--“damned awkward! I see that. Oh,
Bill!”

He groaned. This young man was in desperate agitation.

“Buck up,” Bill told him. “This is a cert. Safe as houses.”

“All very well for you, Bill. I seem to have been living one gigantic
lie all the past week.”

“Well, you have, you know,” Bill granted. “By gum, you have! But you
aren’t now. You didn’t steal _this_ cat. You found it just as anyone
else might have found it. All I tell you is: Don’t say anything about
the Rose. Don’t open your mouth, in fact. Leave the gassing to me.”

It was upon this repeated injunction that my poor George tottered up the
stairs of the _Daily_ office, cat in arm, in Bill’s wake.



II.

Bill rapped upon Mr. Bitt’s door; poked in his head at the answering
call; motioned my trembling George to wait; stepped over the threshold.

Mr. Bitt sat behind a broad table; before him, deep in an armchair,
smoking a cigarette, lay Mr. Vivian Howard.

“Ah! Wyvern,” spoke Mr. Bitt. “Mr. Howard, this is Mr. Wyvern, one of my
brightest young men. From to-day he takes in hand this business.”

Mr. Vivian Howard did not rise; stretched a white hand to Bill. This
man had an appreciation of the position he had won. This man stood for
English literature. Within a wide estimate of public opinion, and
within that immense estimate of him that was his own, this man stood for
literature. In a manner worthy of his proud standing this man comported
himself. The talents that were his belonged to the nation, and very
freely he gave them to the people. This man did not deny himself to the
crowd as another might have denied himself. Of him it never could be
said that he missed opportunity to let the public feed upon him. This
man made such opportunities. Where excitement was, there this man,
pausing between his novels, would step in. If a murder-trial had the
public attention this man would write upon that trial; if interest
were fixed upon a trade dispute this man would by some means draw that
interest upon himself. Nothing was too small for this man. Walking the
public places he did not shrink from recognition; he gladly permitted
it. Not once but many times, coming upon a stranger reading one of
his novels, he had announced himself; autographed the copy. This man’s
character was wholly in keeping with his gifts.

Yet beautifully he could preserve the dignity that was his right.
Preserving it now, he gave his hand to Bill but did not move his
position.

“It is a great pleasure to me to meet you, sir,” Bill told him.

“You have only lately joined the ranks of journalism, Mr. Bitt tells
me,” Mr. Vivian Howard graciously replied. “It is the stepping-stone to
literature. Never forget that. Never lose sight of that. I shall watch
your career with the greatest interest.”

Mr. Bitt broke in a trifle impatiently: “Well, well, we must keep to
business just now. Mr. Howard will kindly give us a daily interview,
Wyvern, until the feuilleton starts, or until the cat is found. You’d
better--”

Bill took a pace back; faced them both. “No need,” he cried in bursting
words. “The cat is found!”

The cigarette dropped from Mr. Vivian Howard’s lip to his waistcoat. He
brushed at it violently; burnt his fingers; brushed again; swore with
a ferocity that would have astonished his admirers; sprang to his feet
amid a little shower of sparks and cloud of ash. “Found!” he exclaimed;
jabbed a burnt finger in his mouth and thickly repeated, “Found!”

Mr. Bitt simultaneously rose. “Found?” cried Mr. Bitt. “What the--”

“I have the finder here,” Bill told them; stepped to the door.

On legs that shook my agitated George advanced.

Mr. Vivian Howard drew forth his suffering finger with a loud pop; made
three hasty strides to George; took the cat. “Abishag!” he cried in
ecstasy, “Abishag!”

In very gloomy tones Mr. Bitt announced that he was bust. “Well, I’m
bust!” he said. “I’m bust. It _is_ your cat, eh?”

Mr. Vivian Howard nodded the head he was bending over his Abishag.

Bill signalled to George a swift wink. George drew a handkerchief; wiped
from his face the beaded agony.

Mr. Bitt dropped heavily into his seat. “Of course I’m very glad, Mr.
Howard,” he announced stonily. “_Very_ glad. At the same time--at the
same _time_--” He turned upon George with a note that was almost savage.
“You, sir!” he cried.

George started painfully.

“How the--How did you come to find this cat?”

George forced his pocket handkerchief into his trousers pocket; rammed
it down; cleared his throat; ran a finger round the inside of his
collar; cleared again; said nothing.

Bill hurried to the rescue. “Like this, sir. Let me tell you. This
gentleman was at Paltley Hill, a place on the South-Western. He used to
live there. He found the cat in a deserted kind of hut, took charge of
it. I happened to meet him and brought him along. By Jove, sir, only
published this morning and found within a few hours! It’s pretty good,
isn’t it?”

Mr. Bitt spoke with great disgust. “Pretty _good!_” he cried bitterly.
“Pretty _good!_” He had no fit words in which to express his feeling.
“Kindly step in there a moment,” he addressed George.

George trembled into the adjoining room indicated; closed the door.

Mr. Bitt turned to Mr. Vivian Howard. “It will always be a great
pleasure to me,” he told the great novelist, “to think that the _Daily_
was the means of restoring your cat.”

“I never shall forget it,” Mr. Vivian Howard assured him. The famous
author placed himself upon the couch, caressed Abishag the Shunamite
upon his lap. “Never shall forget it. It was more than good of you,
Mr. Bitt, to take up the matter and offer so handsome a reward. It was
public-spirited.”

Mr. Bitt’s deprecatory little laugh had a rueful note.

He nerved himself to step upon the delicate ground that lay between him
and his purpose. This man had not known Mr. Vivian Howard sufficiently
long to put to him directly that the reward was offered, and gladly
agreed to by Mr. Howard, for purposes of respective self-advertisement
agreeable at once to the paper and to the man who stood for English
literature. He nerved himself:

“When you say public-spirited, Mr. Howard, you use the right term. I do
not attempt to deny that I fully appreciated that this reward for your
cat, and the interview you agreed to give us, would greatly benefit
our paper. Why should I deny it? We editors must be business men first,
nowadays; journalists afterwards. But I do ask you to believe me, Mr.
Howard, that in offering this reward, in arousing this interest, I had
in view also a matter that has been my aim since I was at College.”

Mr. Bitt’s college was Rosa Glen College, 156 Farmer Road, Peckham; but
he preferred the briefer designation.

“The aim,” he continued, gathering courage as he detected in Mr. Vivian
Howard’s face a look which seemed to show that the famous author was
advancing upon the delicate ground to meet him, “the aim of attracting
the people to good literature.”

Mr. Vivian Howard, as standing for that literature, took the implied
compliment with a bow. “I congratulate you, Mr. Bitt.”

“Now, the _Daily_ is young,” Mr. Bitt earnestly continued. “The
_Daily_ has yet to make its way. If your ‘Amy Martin’ starts in normal
circumstances a week hence, it will mean that this contribution to our
highest literature will fall only to a comparatively small circle
of people. But if--but if, as I had hoped, we had morning by morning
attracted more and more readers by the great interest taken in your
loss, ‘Amy Martin’ would then have introduced our best fiction to a
public twice or thrice as large as our present circulation represents.”

“You mean--?” the great author inquired.

“I mean,” Mr. Bitt told him, “that for this reason I cannot but
regret that the excitement aroused should disappear with our issue of
to-morrow. I mean, Mr. Howard, that for the reason I have named I
do think it is almost our _duty_--our _duty_, for the reason I have
named--to conceal the cat’s recovery for--er--for a day or so.”

Mr. Bitt blew his nose violently to conceal his agitation. This man was
now in the precise centre of the delicate ground; was in considerable
fear that it might open and swallow him.

But Mr. Vivian Howard’s reply made that ground of rock-like solidity.

“As you put the matter, Mr. Bitt, I must say I agree. It would be false
modesty on my part to pretend I do not recognise the worth of ‘Amy
Martin,’ and the desirability of introducing it as widely as possible.
Certainly that could best have been accomplished by Abishag not having
been recovered so soon. But as it is--I do not see what can be done. You
do not, of course, suggest deliberate deception of the public?”

“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.



CHAPTER X.

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!”

“Margaret! However--?”

“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.”


THE END.





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