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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 10/75 -


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?"


Once Aboard The Lugger - 10/75

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