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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 5/75 -


The confession of defeat is a thousandfold more bitter when made to unkind ears. George paled a little; spoke very clearly: "I failed. I was referred for three months."

"I am Job," groaned Mr. Marrapit. "I expected this. The strain is unendurable. It is unnatural. The next chance shall be your last. What is the fee for re-examination?"

"Five guineas."

"My God!" said Mr. Marrapit.

He tottered away up the path.

CHAPTER II

Excursions In Melancholy.

I.

Gloom brooded over Herons' Holt that evening. Gloom hung thickly about the rooms: blanketed conversation; veiled eyes that might have sparkled; choked appetites.

Nevertheless this was an atmosphere in which one member of the household felt most comfortable.

Margaret, Mr. Marrapit's only child, was nineteen; of sallow complexion, petite, pretty; with large brown eyes in which sat always a constant quest--an entreaty, a wistful yearning.

Hers was a clinging nature, readily responsive to the attraction of any stouter mind. Enthusiasm was in this girl, but it lay well-like-- not as a spring. To stir it the influence of another was wanted; of itself, spontaneous, it could not leap. Aroused, there was no rush and surge of emotion--it welled, rose deeply; thickly, without ripple; crestless, flinging no intoxicating spume. Waves rush triumphant, hurtling forward the stick they support: the pool swells, leaving the stick quiescent, floating.

Many persons have this order of enthusiasm; it is a clammy thing to attract. A curate with a glimpse at Shelley's mind once roused Margaret's enthusiasm for the poet. It welled so suffocatingly about him that he came near to damning Shelley and all his works; threw up his hat when opportunity put out a beckoning finger and drew him elsewhere.

Margaret walked in considerable fear of her father; but she clung to him despite his oppressive foibles, because this was her nature. She loved church; incense; soft music; a prayer-book tastefully bound. She "wrote poetry."

Warmed by the gloom that lay over Herons' Holt upon this evening, she sat brooding upon her cousin George's failure until a beautiful picture was hatched. He had gone to his room directly after dinner; during the meal had not spoken. She imagined him seated on his bed, hands deep in pockets, chin sunk, brow knitted, wrestling with that old devil despair. She knew that latterly he had worked tremendously hard. He had told her before the examination how confident of success he was, had revealed how much in the immediate prospect of freedom he gloried. She recalled his gay laugh as he had bade her good-bye on the first day, and the recollection stung her just as, she reflected, it must now be stinging him.... Only he must a thousand times more fiercely be feeling the burn of its venom....

Margaret moved impatiently with a desire to shake into herself a profounder sense of her cousin's misfortune. By ten she was plunged in a most pleasing melancholy.

II.

She was of those who are by nature morbid; who deceive themselves if they imagine they have enjoyment from the recreations that provoke lightness of heart in the majority. Only the surface of their spirits ripples under such breezes; to stir the whole, to produce the counterpart of a hearty laugh in your vigorous animal, a feast on melancholy must be provided. This is a quality that is common among the lower classes who find their greatest happiness in funerals. The sombre trappings; white handkerchiefs against black dresses; tears; the mystery of gloom--these trickle with a warm glow through all their senses. They are as aroused by grief, unpleasant to the majority, as the drunkard is quickened by wine, to many abhorrent.

Thus it was with Margaret, and to her the shroud of melancholy in which she was now wrapped brought an added boon--arrayed in it she was best able to make her verses. Not of necessity sad little verses; many of her brightest were conceived in profoundest gloom. With a pang at the heart she could be most merry--tinkling out her laughing little lines just as martyrs could breathe a calm because, rather than spite of, they were devilishly racked.

III.

But this was no hour for tinkling lines. A manuscript returned by the last post emphasised her gloom.

Kissing her father good-night, Margaret crept to her room, aching with desire to write.

She undressed, read a portion of the _Imitation_, then to her table by the open window.

Two hours brought relief. Margaret placed her poem in an envelope against its presentation to George in the morning, then from her window leaned.

From her thoughts at once George sped; they rushed across the sleeping fields to cling about the person of that Mr. William Wyvern who had spoken of Mr. Marrapit as reminding him of a minor prophet--shaved. This was Margaret's nightly practice, but to-night this girl was most exquisitely melancholy, and with melancholy her thoughts of her William were tinged. She had not seen him that day; and now she brooded upon the bitter happening that had forced all her meetings with her lover to be snatched--fugitive, secret.

For Mr. William Wyvern was not allowed at Herons' Holt. When love first sent its herald curiosity into William's heart, the young man had sought to relieve its restlessness by a visit ostensibly on George, really upon Margaret, and extremely ill-advised in that at his heels gambolled his three bull-terriers.

Korah, Dathan, and Abiram these were named, and they were abrupt dogs to a point reaching brusqueness.

At the door, as William had approached, beamed Mr. Marrapit; upon the drive the queenly Rose of Sharon sat; and immediately tragedy swooped.

The dogs sighted the Rose. Red-mouthed the shining pack flew at her. Dignity fell before terror: wildly, with streaming tail, she fled.

Orange was the cat, white the dogs: like some orange and snow-white ribbon magically inspired, thrice at enormous speed they set a belt about the house. With tremendous bounds the Rose kept before her pursuers--heavily labouring, horrid with thirsty glee. Impotent in the doorway moaned Mr. Marrapit, his dirge rushing up to a wail of grief each time the parti-coloured ribbon flashed before his eyes.

With Mr. Fletcher the end had come. Working indoors, aroused by the din, the gardener burst out past his master just as the ribbon fluttered into sight upon the completion of its fourth circuit. Like a great avalanche it poured against his legs; as falls the oak, so pressed he fell.

Each eager jaw snapped once. Korah bit air, Dathan the cat's right ear. She wrenched; freed; sprang high upon the porch to safety, blood on her coat.

Abiram put a steely nip upon Mr. Fletcher's right buttock.

William called off his dogs; stood aghast. Mr. Marrapit stretched entreating arms to his adored. Mr. Fletcher writhed prone.

The torn Rose slipped to Mr. Marrapit's bosom. Clasping her he turned upon William--"You shall pay for this blood!"

William stammered: "I'm very sorry, sir. If--"

"Never again enter my gates. I'll have your curs shot!"

Curs was unfortunate; the evil three were whelped of a mighty strain.

"If your fool of a man hadn't got in the way, the cat would have escaped," William hotly cried. Indignant he turned. Banishment was nothing then; in time it came to be a bitter thing.

Mr. Marrapit had raged on to Mr. Fletcher, yet writhing.

"You hear that?" he had cried. "Dolt! You are responsible for this!" He touched the blood-flecked side, the abrased ear; clasped close the Rose; called for warm water.

Mr. Fletcher clapped a hand to his wound as shakily he rose.

"I go to rescue his cat!" he said; "I'm near worried to death by 'ounds. I'm a dolt. I'm responsible. It's 'ard,--damn 'ard. I'm a gardener, I am; not a dog muzzle."

A dimness clouded Margaret's beautiful eyes as this bitter picture-- she had watched it--was again reviewed. She murmured "Oh, Bill!"; stretched her soft arms to the night; moved her pretty lips in a message to her lover; snuggled between the sheets and made melancholy her bedfellow.

IV.

By seven she was up and in the fresh garden. George was before her.

She cried brightly: "Why, how early you are!" and ran to him--very


Once Aboard The Lugger - 5/75

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