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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 40/75 -
rare beauty: "Oh, sir, I do beg your forgiveness; I do implore you let me make amends by helping you in your next choice."
Mr. Marrapit wiped moist eyes. "I had not suspected in you this profundity of feeling."
George said brokenly: "I have given you no reason."
Mr. Marrapit replied on a grim tone: "Assuredly you have not."
George glanced at Note 6; fled from the danger zone.
"Where I fear the mistake was made in Mrs. Major," he hurried, "was that she was not a perfect lady. Our--forgive me for saying 'our'--our cats are refined cats, cats of gentle birth, of inherent delicacy. Their attendant should be of like breeding. She should be refined, her birth should be gentle, her feelings delicate. She should be a lady."
"You are right," Mr. Marrapit said. "As sea calleth to sea, as like calleth to like, so would an ebb and flow of sympathy be set in motion between my cats and an attendant delicately born. Is that your meaning?"
George murmured in admiration: "In beautiful words that is my meaning." He paused. Now the bolt was to be shot, and he nerved himself against the strain. He fired: "I have a suggestion."
No further need for notes. George pushed back his cuffs; gulped the agitation that swelled dry and suffocating in his mouth. "This is my suggestion. Because I have had experience in the reading of faces; because I wish to make recompense for my share in the catastrophe of Mrs. Major's presence; because--"
"You are drowning beneath reasons. Cease bubbling. Strike to the surface."
George had not been drowning. He had been creeping gingerly from stepping-stone to stepping-stone. The endeavour had been to come as close as possible to the big rock upon which he intended to spring. The less the distance of the leap the more remote the chance of slipping down the rock and being whirled off in swift water. It is a method of progression by which, in the race of existence, many lives are lost. The timid will hobble from stone to stone, landing at each forward point more and yet more shaky in the knees. The torrent roars about them. Sick they grow and giddy; stepping-stones are green and slimy; the effort of balancing cannot be unduly prolonged.
Ere ever they feel themselves ready for the leap they slip, go whirling and drowning downstream past the stepping-stones that are called Infirmity of Purpose. Or they may creep close enough the rock, only to find they have delayed over their hobbling progression until the rock is already so crowded by others who have been bolder over the stones as to show no foothold remaining. They leap and fall back.
We are all gifted with strength sufficient for that spring; but disaster awaits him who scatters his energies in a hundred hesitating little scrambles.
Now George sprang; poised upon that last "because."
"And because--I wish--" He sprang--"Therefore I suggest that I should go to town to-day and search every agency until I find you a lady I think suitable."
The thud of his landing knocked the breath out of him. In terror he lay lest Mr. Marrapit's answering words should have the form of desperate fellows who would hurl him from his hold, throw him back.
"I agree," Mr. Marrapit said.
George was drawn to his feet. He could have whooped for joy.
"I agree. I have misjudged you. In this matter I lay my trust in you. Take it, tend it, nurse it; cherish it so that it may not be returned to me cold and dead. Speed forth."
"Have I a free hand?" George asked.
"Emphatically no. Every effort must be made to keep down expenses. Here are two shillings. Render account. As to salary--"
George burst out: "Oh, she'll come for anything."
Mr. Marrapit started. "She? Whom?"
George threw a blanket to hide the hideous blunder. "Told of such a home as this is," he explained, "a true lady would come for anything."
The blunder sank, covered. "I earnestly pray that may be so," Mr. Marrapit said. "I doubt. Rapacity and greed stalk the land. Mrs. Major had five-and-twenty pounds per annum. I will not go above that figure."
George told him: "Rely upon me. But, by a free hand I meant a free hand as to engaging what I may think a suitable person."
"Emphatically no. You are the lower court. Sift sheep from goats. Send sheep here to me. I am the tribunal. I will finally select."
The refusal placed a last obstacle in the path of George's scheme, but he did not demur. Primarily he dared not. To demur might raise again that blunder he had let escape when he had said, "She'll come for anything"; this time it might rage around and not be captured. All might be wrecked. Secondly he felt there to be no great need for protest. The confidence of having won thus far gave him courage against this final difficulty.
"Trust me, sir," he said.
Very soberly he paced from the room; gently closed the door; with the tread of one bearing a full heart heavily moved up the stairs.
He reached his room; ripped off sobriety. "Oh, Mary!" he exultantly cried, "if I can get you down here, old girl!"
Mr. Marrapit, meanwhile, stepped to the room where his cats lived; lovingly toyed with his pets; took the Rose of Sharon a walk in the garden. He was in pleasant mood. Great had been the distress of the night, but this man had enjoyed a luxurious warm bath--in crocodile's tears.
Miss Porter Swallows A Particularly Large Sweet.
Mary in the little Battersea lodgings was at breakfast when her George's telegram arrived. She puckered over its mystery; shaped events this way and that, but could make of them no keyhole that the message would fit and unlock.
She flew among the higher improbabilities: George, she conjectured, had misrepresented this stony-hearted uncle; last night had told all to Mr. Marrapit, and Mr. Marrapit had warmed to her and bade him fetch her to Herons' Holt. She ripped George's description of his uncle from about the old man; dressed Mr. Marrapit in snowy locks and a benign smile; pictured him coming down the steps with outstretched hand to greet her. She heard him say, "My daughter"; she saw him draw George to her, lock their hands; she heard him murmur, "Bless you, my children."
This was a romantic young woman. A poached egg was allowed to grow cold as she trembled over her delectable fancies.
But a glance at the telegram pulled her from these delicious flights; bumped her to earth. "_Think can get you situation here._" "Situation" drove the fatherly air from Mr. Marrapit; once more rehabilitated him as her George presented him--grim and masterly.
Further conjecture altogether drove Mr. Marrapit from the picture. What situation could be offered her in the Marrapit household? Why should "here" mean Herons' Holt? It must mean at a house in the district.
Upon the magic carpet of this new thought my Mary was whirled again in an imaged paradise. She would be near her George.
High in these clouds she ran to her bedroom for her hat; but with it there descended upon her head a new thought that again sent her toppling earthwards. Characterless, and worse than characterless, how was she to get any such delightful post? My Mary started up the street for the Agency, blinking tears.
At Battersea Bridge a new thought came sweeping. She clutched on to it; held it fast. Into her tread it put a spring; to her chin gave a brave tilt. If everything failed, if of the telegram nothing came, why, at least she had the telegram!--was making for the Agency under a direct command from her George. The thought swelled her with confidence and comfort. How warm a thing it was to feel that she did not face the world alone! Her George's arm was striking for her, her George's hand was pointing a terse command. "Go to Agency." She was obeying him; she belonged to him.
Mary had intended to wait outside the Agency until her George should arrive and explain his mysterious message. But she was scarcely at the building when Miss Ram, also arriving, accosted her--took her upstairs. Miss Ram quite naturally regarded the meeting as evidence that Mary had come for help. Mary, in a flutter as to George's intentions, could but meekly follow.
In the room marked "Private," settled at her table, Miss Ram icily opened the interview. "I have heard from Mrs. Chater. I did not expect to see you again."
Mary began: "I don't know what you have heard--"
Miss Ram stretched for a letter.
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