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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 4/75 -
he had writhed and twisted in fretful protest; she shackled him to her desire by tearful and unceasing entreaty. Vainly he urged that his means were not what she thought; she assured him--and by her will bore out the assurance--that with her George should go her money.
And the will, when read, in some degree consoled Mr. Marrapit for the sniffling encumbrance he took back with him to Herons' Holt after the funeral. It was a simple and trustful will--commended George into the keeping of her brother Christopher Marrapit; desired that George should be entered in her late husband's--the medical--profession; and for that purpose bequeathed her all to the said brother.
George was eighteen when Mr. Marrapit entered him at St. Peter's Hospital in mild pursuit of the qualification of the Conjoint Board of Surgeons and Physicians. "I am entering you," Mr. Marrapit had said, consulting notes he had prepared against the interview--"I am entering you at enormous cost upon a noble career which involves, however, a prolonged and highly expensive professional training. Your mother wished it."
Mr. Marrapit did not add that George's mother had expressly paid for it. This man had the knowledge that Youth would lose such veneration for Authority as it may possess were Authority to disclose the motives that prompt its actions.
He continued: "For me this involves considerable self-denial and patience. I do not flinch. From you it demands unceasing devotion to your books, your studies, your researches. You are no longer a boy: you are a man. The idle sports of youth must be placed behind you. Stern life must be sternly faced."
"I do not flinch," George had replied.
"For your personal expenses I shall make you a small allowance. You will live in my house. Your wants should be insignificant."
In a faint voice George squeezed in: "I have heard that one can work far better by living near the hospital in digs."
"Digs--lodgings. I have heard that one can work far better by living near the hospital in lodgings."
"Adjust that impression," Mr. Marrapit had told him. "You are misinformed."
George struggled: "I should have the constant companionship of men absorbed in the same work as myself. We could exchange views and notes in the evenings."
"In your books seek that companionship. With them compare your views. Let your notes by them be checked. They are infallible."
George said no more. At that moment the freedom of hospital as against the restraint of school, was a gallant steed upon which he outrid all other desires. The prospect of new and strange books in exchange for those he so completely abhorred, was an alluring delight. It is not until the bargain is complete that we discover how much easier to polish, and more comfortable to handle, are old lamps than new.
Mr. Marrapit had referred to his notes: "In regard to the allowance I shall make you. I earnestly pray no spur may be necessary to urge you at your tasks. Yet, salutary it is that spur should exist. I arrange, therefore, that in the deplorable event of your failing to pass any examination your allowance shall be diminished."
"Will it be correspondingly increased when I pass first shot?"
The fearful possibilities of this suggestion Mr. Marrapit had hesitated to accept. Speculation was abhorrent to this man. Visions of success upon success demanding increase upon increase considerably agitated him. Upon the other hand, the sooner these successes were won, the sooner, he reflected, would he be rid of this incubus, and, in the long-run, the cheaper. He nerved himself to the decision. "I agree to that," he had said. "The compact is affirmed."
It was a wretched compact for George.
But the sum had not yet been fixed. George, standing opposite his uncle, twisted one leg about the other; twined his clammy hands; put the awful question: "By how much will the allowance be increased or cut down?"
"By two pounds a quarter."
George plunged: "So if I fail in my first exam. I shall get eleven pounds at the quarter? if I pass, fifteen?"
Horror widened Mr. Marrapit's eyes; shrilled his voice: "What is the colossal sum you anticipate?"
"I thought you said fifty-two pounds a year-a pound a week."
"A monstrous impression. Adjust it. Four pounds a quarter is the sum. You will have no needs. It errs upon the side of liberality--I desire to be liberal."
George twisted his legs into a yet firmer knot: "But two failures would wipe it bang out."
"Look you to that," Mr. Marrapit told him. "The matter is settled."
But it was further pursued by George when outside the door.
"Simply to spite that stingy brute," vowed he, "I'll pass all my exams, with such a rush that I'll be hooking sixteen quid a quarter out of him before he knows where he is. I swear I will."
It was a rash oath. When Youth selects as weapon against Authority some implement that requires sweat in the forging Authority may go unarmed. The task of contriving such weapons is early abandoned. In three months George's hot resolve was cooled; in six it was forgotten; at the end of three years, after considerable fluctuation, his allowance stood at minus two pounds for the ensuing quarter.
Mr. Marrapit, appealed to for advance, had raved about his study with waving arms.
"The continued strain of renewing examination fees consequent on your callous failures," he had said, "terrifies me. I am haunted by the spectre of ruin. The Bank of England could not stand it."
Still George argued.
With a whirlwind of words Mr. Marrapit drove him from the study: "Precious moments fly even as you stand here. To your books, sir. In them seek solace. By application to them refresh your shattered pocket."
Shamefully was the advice construed. George sought and found solace in his books by selling his Kirke, his Quain and his Stone to Mr. Schoole of the Charing Cross Road; his microscope he temporarily lodged with Mr. Maughan in the Strand; to the science of bridge he applied himself with a skill that served to supply his petty needs.
Notwithstanding, his career at St. Peter's was of average merit. George was now in the sixth year of his studies; and by the third part of his final examination, was alone delayed from the qualification which would bring him freedom from his uncle's irksome rule.
His attempt at this last examination had been concluded upon this July day that opens our history, and thus we return to Mr. Marrapit, to George, and to the line of smoke uprising from the tobacco.
Mr. Marrapit indicated the smouldering wedge.
George bent forward. "Tobacco," he announced.
"My nose informed me. My eyes affirm. Yours?"
"I am afraid so."
"My simple rule. In the vegetable garden you may smoke; here you may not. Is it so hard to observe?"
"I quite forgot myself."
Mr. Marrapit cried: "Adjust that impression. You forgot me. Consistently you forget me. My desires, my interests are nothing to you."
"It's a rotten thing to make a fuss about."
"That is why I make a fuss. It _is_ a rotten thing. A disgusting and a noisome thing. Bury it."
Into a bed of soft mould George struck a sullen heel; kicked the tobacco towards the pit. Mr. Marrapit chanted over the obsequies: "I provide you with the enormous expanse of my vegetable garden in which to smoke. Yet upon my little acre you intrude. I am Naboth."
Ahab straightened his back; sighed heavily. Naboth started against the prick of a sudden recollection:
"I had forgotten. Your examination?"
George half turned away. The bitterest moment of a sad day was come. He growled:
Mr. Marrapit put his hands to his head: "I shall go mad. My brain reels beneath these conundrums. I implore English."
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