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- Once Aboard The Lugger - 50/75 -
him at four pounds a week. He does not know exactly what he is. Not a sub-editor. Not a reporter. He thinks they will put him on to what he calls 'special jobs,' or he may have to do what he calls 'ferret round' and find jobs for himself. The understanding is that he is only on probation. If he does anything very good they will put him on the permanent staff; if not, he is liable to go at a week's notice. Then he says, 'Tell all this to George, and give him my love. He was up for his exam--'"
Professor Wyvern broke off. "Dear me!" he cried; "oh, dear me, I have forgotten! You have been up for your examination?"
Kindly old Professor Wyvern misinterpreted the lack of enthusiasm. "When I was a medical student," he said, "I failed dozens of times in my final examination--dozens. It's no criterion of knowledge, you know: it is just luck. Never let examination failure dishearten you. Go along happily, George, and take your chance when it comes."
"It's come," George said, beaming; recollection of his splendid success temporarily overshadowed recollection of his tragic failure.
"You have qualified?"
The Professor's sky-blue eyes danced with glee. He struggled on to his tottery old legs; before George could save him the exertion, had hobbled over the hearth-rug and was wringing his hand in tremendous pleasure.
"Well done, George!" he bubbled. "Well done! Well done! It is the most splendid news. I have not had such a happy day for a long time. Qualified! Well, that is splendid! Splendid!"
He fell back into his chair, panting with his excitement. "Ring that bell, George. We must celebrate this."
A maid appeared. "Susan," said the Professor, "bring up a small bottle of champagne and two glasses. Mr. George has passed his examination. Be very quick, Susan."
Susan was very quick. The cork popped; the glasses foamed and fizzed. "Now we will have one glass each," the Professor said. "I think, it will kill me at this hour, and if my wife catches me she will send me to bed; so we must be very quick. Now, this is your health, George. God bless you and good luck!"
He drained his glass like the brave old boy that he was; and when his eyes had done streaming, and he had finished gasping and choking, bade Susan hurry away the signs of the dreadful deed before her mistress should catch her.
"And now tell me your plans, George. Which road to Harley Street, eh?"
Then George poured into those kindly old ears all the tragic story-- the girl he was going to marry; the practice he was going to buy; the wrecker who had wrecked his fair ships ere ever he had put to sea.
There were in the Professor's nature no sympathies that enabled him even to comprehend miserliness in any degree. Made aware of the taint in Mr. Marrapit, he became red and furious in his abhorrence of it. With snorts and fumes he punctuated the recital; when it closed, burst out: "Why, but it is yours! the money is yours. It is misappropriation." "That's just what I say." "Well, he must be made to give it you." George laughed grimly. "I say that, too. But how?"
"Are you certain of your facts, George?" "I've been to Somerset house and seen my mother's will."
"Legally, then--we'll get it out of him by law." "I've thought of that," George said. "I don't think it is possible. Look, the passage runs like this. I have it word for word. 'To my brother Christopher Marrapit 4000 pounds, and I desire him to educate in the medical profession my son George.' Not even 'with which I desire him,' you see. I don't think there's any legal way of getting the money I want-- the five hundred."
For full ten minutes Professor Wyvern made no answer. He stared in the fire, and every now and again one of his little chuckles set his bent old shoulders bobbing. Upon a longer chuckle they waggled for a space; then he turned to George. "Not legally; well, then, what about illegally, George?"
George did not comprehend.
"A very bad notion has come into my head," the Professor continued. "I ought to be ashamed of it, but I am not. I think it would be very funny. I think your uncle would deserve it. I am sure it would be very funny, and I think it would be proper and justifiable."
"Go on," George said. "Tell me."
The Professor's old shoulders bobbed about again. "No, I will not tell you," he said. "I will not be a party to it; because if my wife found out she would send me to bed and keep me there. But I will tell you a little story, George. If it sets up a train of action that you like to follow--well, I think it will be very funny. Only, don't tell me."
"I say, this is mysterious. Tell me the story."
"Yes, I will. This is the story. When I was a student in Germany we had a professor called Meyer. He wore a wig because he was quite bald. He was very sensitive about his baldness and would have no one know-- but we knew. Upon one afternoon there was a great violinist who was coming to play at our town. All the professors announced that for this occasion they would postpone the lectures they should then have given, so that their classes might attend the concert. But this Professor Meyer said that he would not postpone his lecture. It was a link in a series, you understand--not to be missed,--so his class, of which I was one; were very furious. We told him that we were entitled to a holiday this day since all had it, but he would not hear us. We were very angry, for this holiday was our right. Now, also, one week before the concert the burgomaster of our town was to give a great banquet to the celebration of the centenary of a famous citizen. Here our Professor Meyer was to make a speech. Well, when he remained adamant, determined to give us no holiday, we had a great meeting, and thus we arranged to procure the holiday that was ours by right. Our plot was justified by his mulishness. He should lose the thing he most cherished--he should lose his wig two days before his banquet with the burgomaster. One of us would take his wig, seizing him as by night he walked to his rooms. Before his distress we should be most sympathetic, offering every aid. Perchance he would encourage our efforts by offer of the prize we most desired. The plot worked, with no misadventure, to a brilliant triumph. We took the wig. We enveloped him in our sympathy. 'Search out and restore my wig,' said he, 'and you shall have your holiday.' Then we found his wig and we enjoyed the holiday that was our right. That is the story," Professor Wyvern ended.
Mystification clouded George's face. He pushed out a leg, stared at the toe. He stared at the fire; at the Professor, chuckling and rubbing his hands, he stared. His brain twisted the story this way and that, striving to dovetail it into his own circumstances.
In such a process the eyes are the mouth of the machine whence the completed manufacture sends forth its sparkling. But while the mechanism twists and turns the fabrics there is no sparkle--the eyes are clouded in thought, as we say.
The eyes that George turned upon toe, upon fire, and upon Professor Wyvern, were dull and lack-lustre. The machine worked unproductive; there was a cog that required adjustment, a lever that wanted a pull.
George sought the foreman machinist; said slowly: "But I don't see how the story helps me?"
"Well, you must think over it," Professor Wyvern told him. "I dare not tell you any more. I must be no party to the inference that can be drawn. But do you not see that the thing our Professor cherished most was his wig? Now, Bill has told me that the thing your uncle cherishes above all price is--"
Click went the machine; round buzzed the wheels; out from George's eyes shot the sparkles. He jumped to his feet, his face red. "Is his cat!" he cried. "His Rose of Sharon! I see it! I see it! By Gad, I'll do it! Look here now--"
"No, I will not," the Professor said. "I do not wish to know anything about it. I hear my wife's step."
"I understand. All right. But don't tell a soul--not even Bill."
"I cannot tell, because I do not know. But I suspect it is something very funny," and the Professor burst into a very deep "Ho! ho! ho!"
"My dearest," said Mrs. Wyvern at the door, "whatever can you be laughing at so loudly?"
"Ho! ho! ho! ho!" boomed the Professor, belling like a bloodhound. "It is something very funny."
Mrs. Wyvern kissed the thin hairs on the top of his mighty head. "Dear William, I do trust it was not one of those painful stories of your young days."
George stayed to dinner. By nine he left the house. He did not make for home. Striking through lanes he climbed an ascending field, mounted a stile, and here, with an unseeing eye upon Herons' Holt twinkling its bedroom lights in the valley below, he smoked many pipes, brooding upon his scheme.
It was not a melancholy process. Every now and again a crack of laughter jerked him; once he took his pipe from his mouth and put up a ringing peal of mirth that sent a brace of bunnies, flirting near his feet, wildly scampering for safety. Long he brooded....
A church clock gave him eleven. At ten he had been too deeply buried. Now his head was pushed clear from the burrow in which he had been working, and the sound caught his attention. No light now pricked Herons' Holt upon the dusky chart stretched beneath him. Its occupants
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