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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 3/75 -


"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


Once Aboard The Lugger - 3/75

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