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- An Outback Marriage - 4/39 -

"Nothing very dazzling about this," he said. "I'm afraid we can't show you anything very exciting here. Better go back to the club, eh?"

Just then the band (piano and violin) struck up a slow, laboured waltz, "Bid me Good-bye and go," and each black-coated male, with languid self-possession, strolled across the room, seized a lady by the arm, jerked her to her feet without saying a syllable, and commenced to dance in slow, convulsive movements, making a great many revolutions for very little progress. Two or three girls were left sitting, as their partners were talking in a little knot at the far end of the room; one among them was conspicuously pretty, and she began to ogle Carew in a very pronounced way.

"There's one hasn't got a partner," said Gordon. "Good-looking Tottie, too. Go and ask her to dance. See what she says."

The Englishman hesitated for a second. "I don't like asking a perfect stranger to dance," he said.

"Go on," said Gordon, "it's all right. She'll like it."

Carew drew down his cuffs, squared his shoulders, assumed his most absolutely stolid drawing-room manner, and walked across the room, a gleaming vision of splendour in his immaculate evening dress.

"May I--er--have the pleasure of this dance?" he said, with elaborate politeness.

The girl giggled a little, but said nothing, then rose and took his arm.

As she did so, a youth among the talkers at the other end of the room looked round, and stared for a second. Then he moistened his fingers with his tongue, smoothed the hair on his temples, and with elbows held out from his sides, shoulders hunched up, and under-jaw stuck well out, bore down on Carew and the girl, who were getting under way when he came up. Taking not the slightest notice of Carew, he touched the girl on the shoulder with a sharp peremptory tap, and brought their dance to a stop.

"'Ere," he said, in commanding tones. "'Oo are you darncin' with?"

"I'm darncin' with 'im," answered the girl, pertly, indicating the Englishman with a jerk of her head.

"Ho, you're darncin' with 'im, are you? 'E brought you 'ere, p'r'aps?"

"No, he didn't," she said.

"No," said he. "You know well enough 'e didn't."

While this conversation was going on, the English-man maintained an attitude of dignified reserve, leaving it to the lady to decide who was to be the favoured man. At last he felt it was hardly right for an Oxford man, and a triple blue at that, to be discussed in this contemptuous way by a larrikin and his "donah," so he broke into the discussion, perhaps a little abruptly, but using his most polished style.

"I--ah--asked this lady to dance, and if she--er--will do me the honour," he said, "I--"

"Oh! you arst 'er to darnce? And what right 'ad you to arst 'er to darnce, you lop-eared rabbit?" interrupted the larrikin, raising his voice as he warmed to his subject. "I brought 'er 'ere. I paid the shillin'. Now then, you take your 'ook," he went on, pointing sternly to the door, and talking as he would to a disobedient dog. "Go on, now. Take your 'ook."

The Englishman said nothing, but his jaw set ominously. The girl giggled, delighted at being the centre of so much observation. The band stopped playing, and the dancers crowded round. Word was passed down that it was a "toff darncin' with Nugget's donah," and from various parts of the room black-coated duplicates of Nugget hurried swiftly to the scene.

The doorkeeper turned to Gordon. "You 'd best get your mate out o' this," he said. "These are the Rocks Push, and they'll deal with him all right."

"Deal with him, will they?" said Gordon, looking at the gesticulating Nugget. "They'll bite off more than they can chew if they interfere with him. This is just his form, a row like this. He's a bit of a champion in a rough-and-tumble, I believe."

"Is he?" said the doorkeeper, sardonically. "Well, look 'ere, now, you take it from me, if there's a row Nugget will spread him out as flat as a newspaper. They've all been in the ring in their time, these coves. There's Nugget, and Ginger, and Brummy--all red 'ot. You get him away!"

Meanwhile the Englishman's ire was gradually rising. He was past the stage of considering whether it was worth while to have a fight over a factory girl in a shilling dancing saloon, and the desire for battle blazed up in his eyes. He turned and confronted Nugget.

"You go about your business," he said, dropping all the laboured politeness out of his tones. "If she likes to dance--"

He got no further. A shrill whistle rang through the room; a voice shouted, "Don't 'it 'im; 'ook 'im!" His arms were seized from behind and pinioned to his sides. The lights were turned out. Somebody in front hit him a terrific crack in the eye at the same moment that someone else administered a violent kick from the rear. He was propelled by an invisible force to the head of the stairs, and then--whizz! down he went in one prodigious leap, clear from the top to the first landing.

Here, in pitch-darkness, he grappled one of his assailants. For a few seconds they swayed and struggled, and then rolled down the rest of the stairs, over and over each other, grappling and clawing, each trying to tear the other's shirt off. When they rolled into the street, Carew discovered that he had hold of Charlie Gordon.

They sat up and looked at each other. Then they made a simultaneous rush for the stairs, but the street door was slammed in their faces. They kicked it violently, but without result, except that a mob of faces looked out of the first-floor window and hooted, and a bucket of water was emptied over them. A crowd collected as if by magic, and the spectacle of two gentlemen in evening dress trying to kick in the door of a shilling dancing saloon afforded it unmitigated delight.

"'Ere's two toffs got done in all right," said one.

"What O! Won't she darnce with you?" said another; and somebody from the back threw banana peel at them.

Charlie recovered his wits first. The Englishman was fairly berserk with rage, and glared round on the bystanders as if he contemplated a rush among them. The cabman put an end to the performance. He was tranquil and unemotional, and he soothed them down and coaxed them into the cab. The band in the room above resumed the dreamy waltz music of "Bid me Good-bye and go!" and they went.

Carew subsided into the corner, breathing hard and feeling his eye. Charlie leant forward and peered out into the darkness. They were nearly at the club before they spoke. Then he said, "Well, I'm blessed! We made a nice mess of that, didn't we?"

"I'd like to have got one fair crack at some of 'em," said the Englishman, with heartfelt earnestness. "Couldn't we go back now?"

"No what's the good? We'd never get in. Let the thing alone. We needn't say anything about it. If once it gets known that we were chucked out, we'll never hear the last of it. Are you marked at all?"

"Got an awful swipe in the eye," replied the other briefly.

"I've got a cut lip, and my head nearly screwed off. You did that. I'll know the place again. Some day we'll get a few of the right sort to come with us, and we'll just go there quietly, as if we didn't mean anything, and then, all of a sudden, we'll turn in and break the whole place up! Come and have a drink now."

They had a silent drink in the deserted club. The mind of each was filled with a sickening sense of defeat, and without much conversation they retired to bed. They thanked heaven that the Bo'sun, Pinnock, and Gillespie had disappeared.

Even then Fate hadn't quite finished with the bushman. A newly-joined member of the club, he had lived a life in which he had to shift for himself, and the ways of luxury were new to him. Consequently, when he awoke next morning and saw a man moving with cat-like tread about his room, absolutely taking the money out of his clothes before his very eyes, he sprang out of bed with a bound and half-throttled the robber. Then, of course, it turned out that it was only the bedroom waiter, who was taking his clothes away to brush them. This contretemps, on top of the overnight mishap, made him determined to get away from town with all speed. When he looked in the glass, he found his lip so much swelled that his moustache stuck out in front like the bowsprit of a ship. At breakfast he joined the Englishman, who had an eye with as many colours as an opal, not to mention a tired look and dusty boots.

"Are you only just up?" asked Charlie, as they contemplated each other.

Carew had resumed his mantle of stolidity, but he coloured a little at the question. "I've been out for a bit of a walk round town," he said. "Fact is," he added in a sudden burst of confidence, "I've been all over town lookin' for that place where we were last night. Couldn't find anything like it at all."

Charlie laughed at his earnestness. "Oh, bother the place," he said. "If you had found it, there wouldn't have been any of them there. Now, about ourselves--we can't show out like this. We'd better be off to-day, and no one need know anything about it. Besides, I half-killed a waiter this morning. I thought he was some chap stealing my money, when he only wanted to take my clothes away to brush 'em. Sooner we're out of town the better. I'll wire to the old man that I've taken you with me."

So saying, they settled down to breakfast, and by tacit agreement avoided the club for the rest of the day.

Before leaving, Charlie had to call and interview Pinnock, and left

An Outback Marriage - 4/39

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