MoboReader> Literature > Once Aboard the Lugger-- The History of George and his Mary

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Once Aboard the Lugger-- The History of George and his Mary By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 22092

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mrs. Major Bids For Paradise.

I.

Impossible to tell how far will spread the ripples from the lightest action that we may toss into the sea of life.

Life is a game of consequences. A throws a stone, and the widening ripples wreck the little boats of X and Y and Z who never have even heard of A. Every day and every night, every hour of every day and night, ripples from unknown splashes are setting towards us-perhaps to swamp us, perhaps to bear us into some pleasant stream. One calls it luck, another fate. "This is my just punishment," cries one. "By my good works I have merited this," exclaims another; but it is merely the ripple from some distant splash-merely consequences. Consequences.

A sleepy maid in Mr. City Merchant's suburban mansion leaves the dust-pan on the stairs after sweeping. That is the little action she has tossed into the sea of life, and the ripples will wreck a boat or two now snug and safe in a cheap and happy home many miles away. Mr. City Merchant trips over the dustpan, starts for office fuming with rage, vents his spleen upon Mr. City Clerk-dismisses him.

Mr. City Clerk seeks work in vain; the cheap but happy home he shares with pretty little Mrs. City Clerk and plump young Master City Clerk is abandoned for a dingy lodging. Grade by grade the lodging they must seek grows dingier. Now there is no food. Now they are getting desperate. Now pneumonia lays erstwhile plump Master City Clerk by the heels and carries him off-consequences, consequences; that is one boat wrecked. Now Mr. City Clerk is growing mad with despair; Mrs. City Clerk is well upon the road that Master City Clerk has followed. Mr. City Clerk steals, is caught, is imprisoned-consequences, consequences; another boat wrecked. Mrs. City Clerk does not hold out long, follows Master City Clerk-consequences, consequences. Three innocent craft smashed up because the housemaid left the dustpan on the stairs.

II.

Impossible to tell how far will speed the ripples from the lightest action that we may toss into the sea of life. Solely and wholly because George abducted the Rose of Sharon, Miss Pridham, who keeps the general drapery in Angel Street, Marylebone Road, sold a pair of green knitted slippers, each decorated with a red knitted blob, that had gazed melancholy from her shop window for close upon two years.

It was Mrs. Major who purchased them.

Since that terrible morning on which, throat and mouth parched, head painfully throbbing through the overnight entertainment of Old Tom, Mrs. Major had been driven from Mr. Marrapit's door, this doubly distressed gentlewoman had lived in retirement in a bed-sitting-room in Angel Street. She did not purpose immediately taking another situation. This woman had sipped the delights of Herons' Holt; her heart was there, and for a month or two, as, sighing over her lot, she determined, she would brood in solitude upon the paradise she had lost before challenging new fortunes.

The ripples of the abduction of the Rose reached her. This was a masterly woman, and instanter she took the tide upon the flood.

Mrs. Major was not a newspaper reader. The most important sheet of the Daily, however, she one day carried into her bed-sitting-room wrapped about a quartern of Old Tom. It was the day when first "Country House Outrage" shouted from the Daily's columns.

Idly scanning the report her eye chanced upon familiar names. A common mind would have been struck astonished and for some hours been left fluttering. Your masterly mind grasps at once and together a solution and its possibilities. Without pause for thought, without even sniff of the new quartern of Old Tom, Mrs. Major sought pen and paper; wrote with inspired pen to Mr. Marrapit:

"I do not even dare begin 'Dear Mr. Marrapit.' I have forfeited the right even to address you; but in the moment of your great tribulation something stronger than myself makes me take up my pen-"

Here Mrs. Major paused; read what she had written; without so much as a sigh tore the sheet and started afresh. That "something stronger than myself makes me" she felt to be a mistake. Something decidedly stronger than herself sat in the quartern bottle a few inches from her nose, and it occurred to her that a cruel mind might thus interpret her meaning. She tore the sheet. This was a masterly woman.

"I dare not even begin 'Dear Mr. Marrapit.' I have forfeited the right even to address you; but in the moment of your tribulation I feel that I must come forward with my sympathy. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, may I say with my aid? I feel I could help you if only I might come to dear, dear Herons' Holt. When I think of my angel darling Rose of Sharon straying far from the fold my heart bleeds. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, I cannot rest, I cannot live, while my darling is wandering on the hillside, or is stolen, and I am unable to search for her. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, think of me, I implore you, not as Mrs. Major, but as one whom your sweet darling Rose loved. If the Rose is anywhere near Herons' Holt, she would come to me if I called her, I feel sure, more readily than she would come to anyone else except yourself, and you are not strong enough to search as I would search. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, let me come to Herons' Holt in this terrible hour. Do not speak to me, do not look at me, Mr. Marrapit. I do not ask that. I only beg on my bended knees that you will let me lay myself at night even in the gardener's shed, so that I may be there to tend my lamb when she is found, and by day will be able to search for her. That is all I ask.

"Of myself I will say nothing. I will not force upon you the explanations of that dreadful night which you would not take from my trembling lips. I will not tell you that, maddened by the toothache, I was advised to hold a little drop of spirit in the tooth, and that, never having touched anything but water since I and my dear little brother promised my dying mother we would not, the spirit went to my head and made me as you saw me. I will not write any of those things, Mr. Marrapit; only, oh, Mr. Marrapit, I implore you to let me come and look for my Rose. Nor will I tell you how fondly, since I left you, I have thought of all your nobility of character and of your goodness to me, Mr. Marrapit. Wronged, I bear no resentment. I have received too much kindness at your hands. Ever since I left you I have thought of none but the Rose and you. Shall I prove that? I will, Mr. Marrapit-"

Here again Mrs. Major paused; thoughtfully scratched her head with her penholder. Like authors more experienced, her emotions had driven her pen to a point demanding a special solution which was not immediately forthcoming. She had galloped into a wood. How to get out of it?

Mrs. Major scratched thoughtfully; gazed at Old Tom; gazed round the room; on a happy inspiration gazed from the window. Miss Pridham's general drapery was immediately opposite. A bright patch of green in the window caught Mrs. Major's eye. She recognised it as the knitted slippers she had once or twice noticed in passing.

The very thing! Laying down her pen the masterly woman popped across to Miss Pridham's; in two minutes, leaving that lady delighted and one-and-eleven-three the richer, was back with the green knitted slippers with the red knitted blobs.

She took up her pen and continued:

"Ever since I left I have thought of none but the Rose and you. Shall I prove that? I will, Mr. Marrapit. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, I make so bold as to send you in a little parcel a pair of woollen slippers that I have knitted for you."

Mrs. Major examined them. Such sun as creeps into Angel Street, Marylebone Road, jealous of rival brightness had filched their first delicate tint of green, had stolen the first passionate scarlet of the red blobs. She continued:

"They are a little faded because on every stitch a bitter tear has fallen. Yes, Mr. Marrapit, my tears of sorrow have rained upon these slippers as I worked. Oh, Mr. Marrapit, they are not damp, however. Every evening since they were finished I have had my little fire lighted and have stood the slippers up against the fender; and then, sitting on the opposite side of the hearth, just as I used to sit for a few minutes with you after we had brought in the darling cats, I have imagined that your feet were in the slippers and have imagined that I am back where I have left my bleeding heart. I never meant to dare send them to you, Mr. Marrapit, but in this moment of your tribulation I make bold to do so. Do not open the parcel, Mr. Marrapit, if you would rather not. Hurl it on the fire and let the burning fiery furnace consume them, tears and all. But I feel I must send them, whatever their fate.

"Oh, Mr. Marrapit, let me come to Herons' Holt to find my darling Rose!-then without a word I will creep away and die.-LUCY MAJOR."

III.

Upon the following morning there sped to Mrs. Major from Herons' Holt a telegram bearing the message "Come."

Frantic to clutch at any straw that might bring to him this Rose, Mr. Marrapit eagerly clutched at Mrs. Major. He felt there to be much truth, in her contention that his Rose, if secreted near by, would come quicker at her call than at the call of another. His Rose had known and loved her for a full year. His Rose, refined cat, did not take quickly to strangers, and had not-he had noticed it-given herself to Miss Humfray. Therefore Mr. Marrapit eagerly clutched at Mrs. Major.

As to the remainder of her letter-it considerably perturbed him. Had he misjudged this woman, whom once he had held estimable? All the delectable peace of his household during her reign, as contrasted with the turmoil that now had taken its place, came back to him and smote his heart. He opened the slippers, noted the tear-stains. Had he misjudged her? What more likely than her story of the racking tooth that must be lulled with a little drop of spirit? Had he misjudged her? But as against that little drop of spirit, how account for the vast and empty bottle of Old Tom found in her room? Had he misjudged her?

In much conflict of mind this man paced the breakfast room, a green knitted slipper with red knitted blob in either hand.

It was thus that Margaret, entering, found him.

With a soft little laugh, "Oh, father!" she cried, "what have you got there?"

Mr. Marrapit raised the green knitted slippers with the red knitted blobs. "A contrite heart," he answered. "A stricken and a contrite heart."

He resumed his pacing. Margaret squeezed round the door which happily she had left ajar; fled breakfastless. Quick at poetic image though she was, the symbol of a contrite heart in a pair of green knitted slippers with red knitted blobs was not clear to this girl. In her father it alarmed her. This great sorrow was perchance turning his brain.

Mr. Marrapit laid the slippers upon his dressing-table; that afternoon greeted Mrs. Major with a circumspect reserve. Combining the vast and empty bottle of Old Tom with the fact that never had

his judgment of man or matter failed him, he determined that Mrs. Major was guilty. But not wilfully guilty. Tempted to drown pain, she had succumbed; but the slippers were the sign of a contrite heart.

The masterly possessor of the contrite heart betrayed no signs of its flutterings and its exultant boundings at being once more in paradise. This was a masterly woman, and, masterly, she grasped at once her position-without hesitation started to play her part.

In Mr. Marrapit's study she stood humbly before him with bowed head; did not speak. Her only sounds were those of repressed emotion as Mr. Marrapit recited the history of the abduction. The white handkerchief she kept pressed against her chin punctuated the story with sudden little dabs first to one eye then the other. Little sniffs escaped her; little catches of the breath; tiny little moans.

She choked when he had finished: "Let me see-my darling's-bed."

Mr Marrapit led the way. Above the silk-lined box whence George had snatched the Rose, the masterly woman knelt. She fondled the silken coverlet; her lips moved. Suddenly she dashed her handkerchief to her eyes; with beautiful moans fled hurriedly to the bedroom that had been allotted her.

It was an exquisitely touching sight. Mr. Marrapit, greatly moved, went to his room; took out the green knitted slippers with the red knitted blobs. Had he misjudged this woman?

Ten minutes later he again encountered Mrs. Major. Now she was girt against the weather and against exercise. Beneath her chin were firmly knotted the strings of her sober bonnet; a short skirt hid nothing of the stout boots she had donned; her hand grasped the knob of a bludgeon-like umbrella.

The masterly woman had removed all traces of her emotion. In a voice humble yet strong, "I start to search, Mr. Marrapit," she said. "I will find the Rose if she is to be found."

So deep sincerity was in her speech, so strong she seemed, so restful in this crisis, that Mr. Marrapit, watching her stride the drive, again fell to pacing and cogitation-had he misjudged her? Almost unconsciously he moved upstairs to his room; drew those green slippers with red blobs from their drawer.

IV.

Had Mr. Marrapit doubted the sincerity of Mrs. Major's search, assuredly he would have misjudged her. In her diary that night the masterly woman inscribed:

"Am here; must stick."

Her best chance of sticking, as well she knew, lay in finding the Rose. Could she but place that creature's exquisite form in Mr. Marrapit's arms, she felt that her reward would be to win back to the paradise from which Old Tom had driven her.

Therefore most strenuously she scoured the countryside; pried into houses; popped her head into stable doors. This woman nothing spared herself; in the result, at the end of two days, was considerably dejected. For it was clear to her that the Rose had not strayed, but had been stolen; was not concealed in the vicinity of Herons' Holt, but had been spirited to the safety of many miles. She was driven to accept Mr. Brunger's opinion-the Rose had been stolen by some eager and unscrupulous breeder to be used for gross purposes.

It was upon the evening of the second day in paradise that this woman settled upon this gloomy conclusion. Gloomy it was, and desperately, sitting in her bedroom that night, the masterly woman battled for some way to circumvent it. To that entry made in her diary on the night of her arrival she had added two further sentences:

"Hate that baby-faced Humfray chit."

"Certain cannot stick unless find cat."

Opening her diary now she gazed upon these entries; chewed them. They were bitter to the taste. To agony at what she had lost was added mortification at seeing another in her place; and rankling in this huge wound was the poison of the knowledge that she could not win back. Circumstances were too strong. The cat was not to be found, and-stabbing thought-"certain cannot stick unless find cat."

This way and that the masterly woman twisted in search of a means to circumvent her position. It might be done by accomplishing the overthrow of this baby-faced chit. If the baby-faced chit could be made to displease Mr. Marrapit and be turned out, it would surely be possible, being ready at hand, to take her place. But how could the baby-faced chit be made to err?

This way and that Mrs. Major twisted and could find no means. Always she was forced back to the brick-wall fact-salvation lay only in finding the cat. That would accomplish everything. She would have succeeded where the baby-faced chit had failed; she would have proved her devotion; she, would have earned, not a doubt of it, the reward of re-entry into paradise that Mr. Marrapit in his gratitude would more than offer-would press upon her.

But the cat was not to be found.

Beating up against the desperate barrier of that thought, Mrs. Major groaned aloud as she paced the room, threw up her arms in her despair. The action caused her to swerve; with hideous violence she crashed her stockinged foot against the leg of the wash-stand.

Impossible to tell how far will spread the ripples of the lightest action we may toss upon the sea of life. The stunning agony in this woman's toes, as, hopping to the bed, she sat and nursed them, with the swiftness of thought presented to her a solution of her difficulty that struck her staring with excitement.

Her first thought in her throbbing pain was of remedy for the bruise. "Bruise" brought involuntarily to her mind the picture of a chemist's shop in the Edgware Road, not far from Angel Street, whose window she had seen filled with little boxes of "Bruisine," the newest specific for abrasions. Thence her thoughts, by direct passage, jumped to the time when last she had noticed the shop-she had been returning from a stroll by way of Sussex Gardens. And it was while mentally retracing that walk down Sussex Gardens that Mrs. Major lit plump upon the solution of her difficulty. She had noticed, let out for a run from No. 506, an orange cat that was so precisely the image of the Rose of Sharon that she had stopped to stroke it for dear memory's sake. Often since then she had spoken to it; every time had been the more struck by its extraordinary resemblance to the Rose. She had reflected that, seen together, she could not have told them apart.

Mrs. Major forgot the throbbing of her abrased toes. Her brows knitted by concentration of thought, very slowly the masterly woman concluded her disrobing. Each private garment that she stripped and laid aside marked a forward step in the indomitable purpose she had conceived. As her fingers drew the most private from her person, leaving it naked, so from her plan did her masterly mind draw the last veil that filmed it, leaving it clear. When the Jaeger nightdress fell comfortably about her, her purpose too was presentable and warm.

Every day and every night, every hour of every day and night, ripples from unknown splashes are setting towards us. From this masterly woman, in process of toilet, ripples were setting towards a modest and unsuspecting cat lying in sweet slumber at 506 Sussex Gardens, off the Edgware Road.

For the masterly woman had thus determined-she would have that cat that was the Rose's second self. The Rose was in the hands of some villain breeder and would never be returned; small fear of discovery under that head. This cat was the Rose's second self; differences that Mr. Marrapit might discover, lack of affection that he might notice, could be attributed to the adventures through which the Rose had passed since her abduction. Under this head, indeed, Mrs. Major did not anticipate great difficulty. Similar cats are more similar than similar dogs. They have not, as dogs have, the distinguishing marks of character and demonstrativeness. In any event, as the masterly woman assured herself, she ran no peril even if her plot failed. She would say she had found the cat, and if Mr. Marrapit were convinced it was not his Rose-well, she had made a mistake, that was all.

V.

Upon the morrow, playing her hand with masterly skill, Mrs. Major sought interview with Mr. Marrapit. With telling dabs of her pocket handkerchief at her eyes, with telling sniffs of her masterly nose, she expressed the fear that she had outstayed his kindness in receiving her. He had granted her request-he had let her come to Herons' Holt; but two days had passed and she had not found his Rose. True, if she had longer she could more thoroughly search; but as an honest woman she must admit that she had been given her chance, had failed.

Upon a wailing note she ended: "I must go."

"Cancel that intention," Mr. Marrapit told her. Her honesty smote this man. Had he misjudged her?

She smothered a sniff in her handkerchief: "I must go. I must go. I have seen that you regard me with suspicion. Oh, you have reason, I know; but I cannot bear it."

"Remove that impression," spoke Mr. Marrapit. He had misjudged this woman; he was convinced of it.

Mrs. Major gave her answer in the form of two smothered sniffs and a third that, eluding her handkerchief, escaped free and loud-a telling sniff that advertised her distress; wrung Mr. Marrapit's emotions.

He continued: "Mrs. Major, at a future time we will discuss the painful affair to which you make reference. At present I am too preoccupied by the calamity that has desolated my hearth. Meanwhile, I suspend judgment. I place suspicion behind me. I regard you only as she whom my Rose loved."

"Do you wish me to stay a little longer?" asked Mrs. Major, trembling.

"That is my wish. Continue to prosecute your search."

Trembling yet more violently Mrs. Major said: "I will stay. I had not dared to suppose I might stop more than two days. I brought nothing with me. May I go to London to get clothes? I will return to-morrow morning."

"Why not to-night?"

"Early to-morrow would be more convenient. I have other things to do in London."

"To-morrow, then," Mr. Marrapit agreed.

At the door Mrs. Major turned. Her great success at this interview emboldened her to a second stroke. "There is one other thing I would like to say, if I dared."

"Be fearless."

She plunged. "If Heaven should grant that I may find the Rose, I implore you not to distress me by offering me the reward you are holding out. I could not take it. I know you can ill afford it. Further than that, to have the joy of giving you back your Rose would be reward enough for me. And to know that she was safe with you, though I-I should never see her again, that would make me happy till the end of my days."

Her nobility smote Mr. Marrapit. Cruelly, shamefully, he had misjudged her. Her handkerchief pressed to her eyes, very gently Mrs. Major closed the door; very soberly mounted the stairs.

Out of earshot, she walked briskly to her room; drew forth her diary; in a bold hand inscribed:

"Absolutely certain shall stick."

The masterly woman lunched in town.

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