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Once Aboard the Lugger-- The History of George and his Mary By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 9593

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mrs. Major Finds The Lock.

I.

By six o'clock Mrs. Major had all ready for her adventure. In the little room at Angel Street she deposited a newly purchased basket; at eight o'clock started for Sussex Gardens.

Twice, while passing down the terrace at about nine, she had seen the cat she now pursued let out for what was doubtless its nightly run.

On each occasion she had observed the same order of events, and she judged them to be of regular occurrence. Out from No. 506 had stepped a tall man, long-haired, soft-hatted, poetically bearded. Behind him had followed the cat. The cat had trotted across the road to the gardens; the tall man had walked slowly round the enclosure. Returning, he had called. The cat had walked soberly forth from the railings and the pair had re-entered the house.

II.

Matters fell this night precisely as the sapient woman had conjectured. Shortly before nine she took up position against the railings in a dark patch that marked the middle point between two lamps, some doors above 506. No tremor agitated her form; in action this woman was most masterly.

A church clock struck a full clear note, another and another. The after-humming of the ninth had scarcely died when the blackness that lay beneath the fanlight of 506 was split by a thin rod of yellow light. Instantly this widened, served for a moment to silhouette a tall figure, then vanished as the door slammed. The tall figure stepped on to the pavement; a cat at its feet trod sedately across the road. The tall figure turned; in a moment was meditatively pacing the pavement opposite where Mrs. Major stood.

Mrs. Major gave him twenty yards. Then she hurried along the railings to where the cat had tripped. Six feet inwards, delicately scratching the soil beneath a bush, she espied it.

The masterly woman pressed her face between the rails; stretched a snapping finger and thumb; in an intense voice murmured, "Tweetikins puss!"

Tweetikins puss continued thoughtfully to turn the soil. This was a nicely mannered cat.

"Tweety little puss!" cooed Mrs. Major. "Tweety pussikins! puss, puss!"

Tweety pussikins turned to regard her. Mrs. Major moistened her finger and thumb; snapped frantically. "Puss, puss-tweety pussy!"

Tweety pussy advanced till the snapping fingers were within an inch of its nose.

"Pussikins, pussikins!" implored Mrs. Major.

Pussikins very deliberately seated itself; coiled its fine tail about its feet; regarded Mrs. Major with a sphinx-like air.

Mrs. Major pressed till the iron railings cut her shoulders. She stretched the forefinger of her extended arm; at great peril of slipping forward and rasping her nose along the rails effected to scratch the top of the sphinx's head.

"Puss, puss! Tweety, tweety puss!"

By not so much as a blink did tweety puss stir a muscle.

Mrs. Major was in considerable pain. Her bent legs were cramped; the railings bit her shoulder; her neck ached: "Tweety little puss! Tweety puss! Puss! Drat the beast!"

In great physical agony and in heightening mental distress-since time was fleeting and the cat as statuesque as ever,-Mrs. Major again dratted it twice with marked sincerity and a third time as a sharp sound advertised the splitting of a secret portion of her wear against the tremendous strain her unnatural position placed upon it. Unable longer to endure the pain of her outstretched arm, she dropped her hand to earth; with a masterly effort resumed her smiling face and silky tone. Repeating her endearing cooings, she scratched the soil, enticing to some hidden mystery.

The demon of curiosity impelled this cat's doom. For a moment it eyed the scratching fingers; then stretched forward its head to investigation.

The time for gentle methods was gone. Mrs. Major gripped the downy scruff of the doomed creature's neck; dragged the surprised animal forward; rudely urged it through the railings; tucked it beneath her cloak; sped down the road in the same direction that the tall figure had taken.

But where the tall figure had turned round the gardens Mrs. Major kept straight. Along a main street, into a by-street, round a turning, across a square, up a terrace, over the Edgware Road-so into the bed-sitting-room at Angel Street.

III.

Speeding by train to Herons' Holt upon the following morning, beside her the basket wherein lay the key that was to open paradise, Mrs. Major slightly altered her plans. It had been her intention at once to burst upon Mr. Marrapit with her prize-at once to put to desperate test whether or no he would accept it as the Rose. But before Paltley Hill was reached the masterly woman had modified this order. The cat she had abducted was so much the facsimile of the Rose that for the first time it occurred to her tha

t, like the Rose, it might be valuable, and that a noisy hue and cry might be raised upon its loss.

If this so happened, and especially if Mr. Marrapit were doubtful that the cat was his Rose, it would be dangerous to let him know that she had made her discovery in London. Supposing he heard that a London cat, similar to the Rose in appearance, were missing, and remembered that this cat-of which from the first he had had doubts-was filched from London? That might turn success into failure. The chances of such events were remote, but the masterly woman determined to run no risks. She decided that on arrival at

Paltley Hill she would conceal her cat; on the morrow, starting out from Herons' Hill to renew her search, would find it and with it come bounding to the house.

As to where she should hide it she had no difficulty in determining. She knew of but one place, and she was convinced she could not have known a better. The ruined hut in the copse off the Shipley Road, whither in the dear, dead days beyond recall she had stolen for Old Tommish purposes, was in every way safe and suitable. None visited there at ordinary times; now that the country-side was no longer being searched for the Rose save by herself, it was as safe as ever. She would leave her cat there this day and night.

Upon this determination the remarkable woman acted; before proceeding to Herons' Holt secured her cat in that inner room of the hut where, but a few days previously, the Rose herself had lain.

When she reached the house a maid told her that Mr. Marrapit was closeted with young Mr. Wyvern.

IV.

During the afternoon Mrs. Major visited her cat, taking it milk. That evening, Mary and Margaret being elsewhere together, she was able to enjoy a quiet hour with Mr. Marrapit.

He was heavily depressed: "A week has passed, Mrs. Major. Something tells me I never again will see my Rose. This day I have sent young Mr. Wyvern and Mr. Brunger after my nephew George. The clue he claims to know is my last chance. I have no faith in it. Put not your trust-" Mr. Marrapit allowed a melancholy sigh to conclude his sentence. This man had suffered much.

Mrs. Major clasped her hands. "Oh, do not give up hope, Mr. Marrapit. Something tells me you will see her-soon, very soon."

Mr. Marrapit sighed. "You are always encouraging, Mrs. Major."

"Something tells me that I have reason to be, Mr. Marrapit. Last night I dreamed that the Rose was found." The encouraging woman leaned forward; said impressively, "I dreamed that I found her."

Mr. Marrapit did not respond to her tone. Melancholy had this man in leaden grip. "I lose hope," he said. "Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward. Do not trust in dreams."

"Oh, but I do!" Mrs. Major said with girlish impulsiveness. "I do. I always have. My dreams so often come true. Do not lose hope, Mr. Marrapit." She continued with a beautiful air of timidity: "Oh, Mr. Marrapit, I know I am only here on sufferance, but your careworn air emboldens me to suggest-it might keep your poor mind from thinking-a game of backgammon such as we used to play before-" She sighed.

"I should like it," Mr. Marrapit answered.

Mrs. Major arranged the board; drew Mr. Marrapit's favourite chair to the table; rattled the dice. After a few moves, "Oh, you're not beating me as you used to," she said archly.

"I am out of practice," Mr. Marrapit confessed.

Mrs. Major paused in the act of throwing her dice. "Out of practice! But surely Miss Humfray plays with you?"

"She does not."

Mrs. Major gave a sigh that suggested more than she dared say.

She sighed again when the game was concluded. Mr. Marrapit sat on. "Quite like old times," Mrs. Major murmured. "Good night, Mr. Marrapit; and don't lose hope. Remember my dream."

"Quite like old times," Mr. Marrapit murmured.

The masterly woman ascended the stairs rubbing her hands.

V.

Mrs. Major ate an excellent breakfast upon the following morning. She was upon the very threshold of winning into paradise, but not a tremor of nervousness did she betray or feel. This was a superb woman.

At eleven she left the house and took a walk-rehearsing the manner in which she had arranged to burst in upon Mr. Marrapit with the cat, checking again the arguments with which she would counter and lull any doubts he might raise.

At twelve she entered the hut.

Mrs. Major was in the very act of leaving the building, the cat beneath her arm, when a sound of voices and footsteps held her upon the threshold. She listened; the sounds drew near. She closed the door; the sounds, now loud, approached the hut. She ran to the inner room; a hand was laid upon the outer latch. She closed the door; applied her eye to a crack; George and Mary entered.

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