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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 30/75 -


Unversed in these homely recipes, this simple Mary had at least the wit not to cry "Oh!" in pain and move her hand. They found a seat, and for good five minutes this turbulent George sat and threshed in his wrath like a hooked shark--this little hand the rope that held him. Soon its influence was felt. His tuggings and boundings grew weaker. The venom oozed out of him.

He uncovered the crushed fingers; raising, pressed them to his lips.

He groaned. "Now you know me at last."

She patted those brown hands; did not speak.

"You know the awful temper I've got," he went on. "Uncontrollable-- angry even with you--foul brute--"

"But I annoyed you, Georgie."

He flung out an accusatory hand against himself. "How? By being sweet and loving! Why, what a brute I must be!"

She told him: "You shan't call yourself names. In fact, you mustn't. Because that is calling me names too. We belong, Georgie."

The pretty sentiment tickled him. Gloom flew from his brow before sunshine that took its place. He laughed. "You're a dear, dear old thing."

She gave a whimsical look at him. "I ought to have said at once what I am going to say now: Did you hurt him much?"

"I bashed him!" George said, revelling in it. "I fairly bashed him!"

She snuggled against this tremendous fellow.

II.

It was a park-keeper who, from that opium drug of sweet silence with which lovers love to dull their senses, recalled them to the urgency for action.

The park-keeper led David by one hand, Angela by the other, whence he had found them wandering. Disappointment that their owner was a protected lady instead of a nicely-shaped nursemaid whom by this introduction he might add to his recreations, delivered him of stern reproof at the carelessness which had let these children go astray.

"I would very much like to know," he concluded, "what their ma would say."

"My plump gentleman," said George pleasantly, "meet me at this trysting-place at noon to-morrow, and your desire shall be gratified."

The park-keeper eyed him; thought better of the bitter words he had contemplated; contented himself with: "Funny, ain't yer?"

"Screaming," said George. "One long roar of mirth. Hundreds turned away nightly. Early doors threepence extra. Bring the wife."

The park-keeper withdrew with a morose air.

III.

And now my George and his Mary turned upon the immediate future. Conning the map of ways and means and roads of action, a desolate and almost horrifying country presented itself. No path that might be followed offered pleasant prospects. All led past that ogre's castle at 14 Palace Gardens; at the head of each stood the ogress shape of Mrs. Chater, gnashing for blood and bones over the disaster to her first-born. She must be faced.

George flared a torch to light the gloom: "But why should you go near her, dearest? Let me do it. I'll take the children back. I'll see her. I'll get your boxes."

Even the sweetest women trudge through life handicapped by the preposterous burden of wishing to do what their sad little minds hold right. It is a load which, too firmly strapped, makes them dull companions on the highway.

Mary said: "It wouldn't be _right_, dear. The children are in my charge; how could I send them back to their mother in the care of a strange man? And it wouldn't be right to myself, either. It would look as if I admitted myself in the wrong. No; I must, must face her."

George's torch guttered; gave gloom again. He tried a second: "Well, I'll come with you. That's a great idea. She won't dare say much while I'm there."

"Oh, it wouldn't be _right_, Georgie. You oughtn't to come to the house--to see her--after what you've done to the detestable Bob. No, I'll go alone and I'll go now. You shall come as far as the top of the road and there wait."

"And then?" George asked.

This was to research the map for rest-houses and for fortunes that might be won after the ogre castle had been passed.

Mary conned and peered until the strain squeezed a little moisture in her eyes. "I don't know," she said faintly.

Her bold George had to know. "It won't be for very long, dear old girl. You must find another situation. Till then a lodging. I know a place where a man I know used to have digs. A jolly old landlady. I'll raise some money--I'll borrow it."

Mary tried to brighten. "Yes, and I'll go to that agency again. I must, because I shall have no character, you see. I'll tell her everything quite truthfully, and I think she'll be nice."

"It's no good waiting," George said. His voice had the sound of a funeral bell.

Mary arose slowly, white. She said: "Come along."

With a tumbril rumble in their ears, the children dancing ahead, they started for Palace Gardens.

IV.

The groans and curses of her adored Bob, his bulgy mouth and shutting eyes, his tender nose and the encrimsoned water where he had layed his wounds--these had so acted upon Mrs. Chater's nerves, plunged her into such vortex of hysteria, that the manner of her reception of Mary was true reflection of her fears, nothing dissembled.

Withdrawing her agitated face from the dining-room window as Mary and the children approached, she bounded heavily to the door; flung it ajar; collapsed to her knees upon the mat; clasped David and Angela to that heaving bosom.

"Safe!" she wailed. "Safe! Thank God, my little lambs are safe!"

Distraught she swayed and hugged; kissed and moaned again.

David pressed away. "You smell like whisky, mummie," he said.

It was a dash of icy water on a fainting fit; wonderfully it strung the demented woman's senses. She pushed her little lambs from her; fixed Mary with awful eye.

"So you've come back--_Miss?_"

Mary quivered.

"I wonder you dared. I wonder you had the boldness to face me after your wicked behaviour. You've got nothing to say for yourself. I'm not surprised--"

Mary began: "Mrs. Chater, I--"

"Oh, how can you? How can you dare defend yourself? Never, never in all my born days have I met with such ingratitude; never have I been deceived like this. I took you in. I felt sorry for you. I fed you, clothed you, cared for you, treated you as one of my own family; and this is my reward. There you stand, unable to say a word--"

"If you think, Mrs. Chater--"

"Don't _speak_! I won't hear you. Here have I day after day been entrusting my beloved lambs to your care, and heaven alone knows what risks they have run. My boy--my Bob, who would die rather than get a living soul into trouble--sees you with this man you have been going about with. He does his duty to me, his mother, and to my precious lambs, his brother and sister, by reproving you, and you set this man --this low hired bully--upon him to murder him. I'll have the law on the coward. I'll punish him and I'll punish you, miss. No wonder you were frightened when my Bob caught you. No wonder."

"That is untrue, Mrs. Chater."

"Don't _speak!_"

"I will speak. I shall speak. It is untrue."

"You dare--"

"It is a lie. Yes, I don't mind what I say when you speak to me like that. It is a wicked lie."

"Girl--!"

"If your son told you he caught me with the man who thrashed him as he deserved, he told you a lie. He never saw me with him. He followed me into the Park this morning and tried to repeat what he did on Friday night. He is a coward and a cad. The man to whom I am engaged caught him at it and thrashed him as he deserved. There! Now you know the truth!"

Very white, my ridiculous Mary pressed her hand to her panting breast; stopped, choked by the wild words that came tumbling up into her mouth.


Once Aboard The Lugger - 30/75

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