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- The Holiday Round - 5/53 -


explained Thomas. "Long-short, short-short-long, short-long. You're spelling out the most awful things, if you only knew."

"Be careful how you insult me, Thomas. A little more and I shall tell them what happened to you on the ornamental waters in Regent's Park that rough day."

"Really?" asked Simpson with interest.

"Yes; I fancy he had been rather overdoing it at Swedish drill that morning."

We gave her ten in silence, and then by mutual consent rested on our oars.

"There's a long way yet," said Myra. "Dahlia and I will row if you're tired."

"This is an insult, Thomas. Shall we sit down under it?"

"Yes," said Thomas, getting up; "only in another part of the boat."

We gave up our seats to the ladies (even in a boat one should be polite) and from a position in the stern waited with turned-up coat-collars for the water to come on board.

"We might have sailed up a little higher," remarked Simpson. "It's all right, I'm not a bit wet, thanks."

"It's too shallow, except at high tide," said Myra. "The Armadillo would have gone aground and lost all her--her shell. Do armadilloes have shells, or what?"

"Feathers."

"Well, we're a pretty good bank-holiday crowd for the dinghy," said Archie. "Simpson, if we upset, save the milk and the sandwiches; my wife can swim."

The woods were now beginning to come down to the river on both sides, but on the right a grassy slope broke them at the water's edge for some fifty yards. Thither we rowed, and after a little complicated manoeuvring landed suddenly, Simpson, who was standing in the bows with the boat-hook, being easily the first to reach the shore. He got up quickly, however, apologized, and helped the ladies and the hampers out. Thereafter he was busy for some time, making the dinghy fast with a knot peculiarly his own.

"The first thing to do is to build a palisade to keep the savages off," said Archie, and he stuck the boat-hook into the ground. "After which you are requested to light fires to frighten the wild beasts. The woodbines are very wild at this time of the year."

"We shall have to light a fire anyhow for the tea, so that will be very useful," said the thoughtful Dahlia.

"I myself," I said, "will swim out to the wreck for the musket and the bag of nails."

"As you're going," said Myra, unpacking, "you might get the sugar as well. We've forgotten it."

"Now you've spoilt my whole holiday. It was bad enough with the cake last week, but this is far, far worse. I shall go into the wood and eat berries."

"It's all right, here it is. Now you're happy again. I wish, if you aren't too busy, you'd go into the wood and collect sticks for the fire."

"I am unusually busy," I said, "and there is a long queue of clients waiting for me in the ante-room. An extremely long queue--almost a half-butt in fact."

I wandered into the wood alone. Archie and Dahlia had gone arm-in-arm up the hill to look at a view, Simpson was helping Myra with the hampers, and Thomas, the latest arrival from town, was lying on his back, telling them what he alleged to be a good story now going round London. Myra told it to me afterwards, and we agreed that as a boy it had gone round the world several times first. Yet I heard her laugh unaffectedly--what angels women are!

Ten minutes later I returned with my spoil, and laid it before them.

"A piece of brown bread from the bread-fruit tree, a piece of indiarubber from the mango tree, a chutney from the banana grove, and an omelet from the turtle run, I missed the chutney with my first barrel, and brought it down rather luckily with the ricochet."

"But how funny; they all look just like sticks of wood."

"That is Nature's plan of protective colouring. In the same way apricots have often escaped with their lives by sitting in the cream and pretending to be poached eggs."

"The same instinct of self-preservation," added Archie, "has led many a pill called Beauchamp to pronounce its name Cholmondeley."

Simpson begged to be allowed to show us how to light a fire, and we hadn't the heart to refuse him. It was, he said, the way they lit fires on the veldt (and other places where they wanted fires), and it went out the first time because the wind must have changed round after he had begun to lay the wood. He got the draught in the right place the next time, and for a moment we thought we should have to take to the boats; but the captain averted a panic, and the fire was got under. Then the kettle was put on, and of all the boiled water I have ever tasted this was the best.

"You know," said Archie, "in Simpson the nation has lost a wonderful scoutmaster."

"Oh, Samuel," cried Myra, "tell us how you tracked the mules that afternoon, and knew they were wounded because of the blood."

"Tell us about that time when you bribed the regimental anchovy of Troop B to betray the secret password to you."

"I ignore you because you're jealous. May I have some more tea, Miss Mannering?"

"Call me Myra, Scoutmaster Simpson of The Spectator troop, and you shall."

"I blush for my unblushing sex," said Dahlia.

"I blush for my family," said Archie. "That a young girl of gentle birth, nurtured in a peaceful English home, brought up in an atmosphere of old-world courtesy, should so far forget herself as to attempt to wheedle a promising young scoutmaster, who can light a fire, practically speaking, backwards--this, I repeat, is too much."

It was Thomas who changed the subject so abruptly.

"I suppose the tide comes as far as this?" he said.

"It does, captain."

"Then that would account for the boat having gone."

"That and Simpson's special knot," I said, keeping calm for the sake of the women and children.

Archie jumped up with a shout. The boat was about twenty yards from the shore, going very slowly upstream.

"It's very bad to bathe just after a heavy meal," I reminded him.

"I'm not sure that I'm going to, but I'm quite sure that one of us will have to."

"Walk up the river with it," said Myra, "while Dahlia and I pack, and the one who's first digested goes in."

We walked up. I felt that in my own case the process of assimilation would be a lengthy one.

VI.--A LITTLE CRICKET FOR AN ENDING

We came back from a "Men Only" sail to find Myra bubbling over with excitement.

"I've got some news for you," she said, "but I'm not going to tell you till dinner. Be quick and change."

"Bother, she's going to get married," I murmured.

Myra gurgled and drove us off.

"Put on all your medals and orders, Thomas," she called up the stairs; "and, Archie, it's a champagne night."

"I believe, old fellow," said Simpson, "she's married already."

Half an hour later we were all ready for the news.

"Just a moment, Myra," said Archie. "I'd better warn you that we're expecting a good deal, and that if you don't live up to the excitement you've created, you'll be stood in the corner for the rest of dinner."

"She's quite safe," said Dahlia.

"Of course I am. Well, now I'm going to begin. This morning, about eleven, I went and had a bathe, and I met another girl in the sea."

"Horribly crowded the sea is getting nowadays," commented Archie.

"And she began to talk about what a jolly day it was and so on, and I gave her my card--I mean I said, 'I'm Myra Mannering.' And she said, 'I'm sure you're keen on cricket.'"


The Holiday Round - 5/53

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