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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 20/75 -
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."
"Because mother'll say No."
"Because she _always_ says No, stupid."
"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."
"They always _do_, stupid."
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.
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.
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?"
"Of a happy event, I trust?"
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