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: 18575

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Of Twin Cats: Of Ananias And Of Sapphira.

I.

The maid who opened the door told George that the master awaited him in the study.

Nothing of George's excitement had left him during the rush down to the house. His right arm tucked about the cat he carried, with his left hand impulsively he pushed open the door; with a spring eagerly entered.

Even as he stepped over the threshold the bubbling words that filled his mouth melted; did not shape. In the atmosphere of the apartment there was that sinister element of some unseen force which we detect by medium of the almost atrophied sense that in dogs we call instinct. As dogs will check and grow suspicious in the presence of death that they cannot see, but feel, so my George checked and was struck apprehensive by the sudden sensation of an invisible calamity.

The quick glance he gave increased the sudden chill of his spirits. He saw Mr. Marrapit standing against the mantelshelf-dressing-gowned, hands behind back, face most intensely grim; his glance shifted and he froze, for it rested upon Mrs. Major-hidden by a table from the waist downwards, prim, bolt upright in a chair, face most intensely grim; his eyes passed her and now goggled in new bewilderment, for they took in his Mary-seated upon the extreme edge of the sofa, a white tooth upon lower lip, face most intensely woebegone.

George stood perfectly still.

Like the full, deep note of a huge bell, Mr. Marrapit's voice came booming through the fearful atmosphere.

"Well?" boomed Mr. Marrapit.

The cat beneath George's arm wriggled.

Boom and wriggle touched George back to action from the fear into which the invisible something and the fearful panorama of faces had struck him.

After all-let have happened what might have happened-he had the cat!

He swung the creature round into his hands; outstretched it. He took a step forward. "Uncle!" he cried, "uncle, I have found the Rose!"

"Hem!" said Mrs. Major on a short jerk.

From Mary there came a violent double sniff.

George stood perfectly still; the unseen horror he felt to be rushing upon him, but it remained invisible. With considerably less confidence he repeated:

"The Rose, uncle."

"Hem!" said Mrs. Major on a yet shorter jerk; from Mary a double sniff yet more violent.

Mr. Marrapit raised a white hand.

"Hark!" said Mr. Marrapit.

Alarmed, his nerves unstrung, with straining ears George listened. The tense atmosphere made him ajump for outward sounds.

"Hark!" boomed Mr. Marrapit; lowered the warning hand; at George directed a long finger. "Are you not afraid that you will hear upon the threshold the footsteps of the young men who will come in, wind you up, and carry you out?"

"What on earth-?" George asked.

Mr. Marrapit poked the extended finger towards him. "Ananias!" he boomed. He poked at my quivering Mary. "Sapphira!"

"Hem!" said Mrs. Major. "Hem!"

George recovered. "Is this a joke?" he asked. "I tell you-look for yourself-I have found the Rose."

Mr. Marrapit stooped to Mrs. Major's lap, hidden by the table. With a most queenly creature in his arms he stood upright. "Here is the Rose," said he.

Instantly George forgot all that had immediately passed. Instantly he remembered that a bogus Rose was what he fully expected to see. Instantly fear fled. Instantly assurance returned.

In a full and confident note, "Uncle," he said, "you have been deceived!"

His words let loose a torrent upon him.

Mr. Marrapit with one arm clasped to his breast the cat he had raised from Mrs. Major's lap. Alternately raising and lowering the other hand, his white hair seeming to stream, his eyes flashing, he took on, to George's eyes, the appearance of an enraged prophet bellowing over the cities of the Plain.

"I have been deceived!" he cried. "You are right. Though you have the forked tongue of an adder, yet you speak truly. I have been deceived. Woe is me for I have been most wickedly deceived by those who eat of my bread, who lie beneath my roof. I have cherished vipers in my bosom, and they have stung me. Bitterly have I been deceived."

He paused. A low moan from Mrs. Major, handkerchief to eyes, voiced the effect of his speech upon her; in racking sniffs Mary's emotion found vent. But upon George the outburst had a cooling result-he was certain of his ground.

He said solidly: "That's all rot."

"Rot!" cried Mr. Marrapit.

"Yes, rot. You work yourself up into such a state when you get like this, that you don't know what you're talking about-vipers and all that kind of thing. When you've calmed down and understand things, perhaps you'll be sorry. I tell you you've been deceived. That's not the Rose you've got hold of. This is the Rose. Someone has made a fool of you. Someone-"

Between two violent sniffs, "Oh, George, don't, don't!" came from his Mary.

Startled, George checked.

"Monster, be careful," said Mr. Marrapit. "Beware how much deeper you enmire yourself in the morass of your evil. Put down that miserable creature you hold. I place Mrs. Major's Rose beside it. Look upon them."

George looked. With staring eyes he gazed upon the two cats. With arched tails they advanced to exchange compliments, and the nearer they stood together the less Rose-like became the cat he had brought into the room. For the cat that Mr. Marrapit had produced-Mrs. Major's cat, as he called it-was the Rose herself; could be none other, and none other (when thus placed alongside) could be she.

Struck unconscious to his surroundings by this appalling spectacle, George slowly stooped towards the cats as though hypnotised by the orange coats. His eyes goggled further from his head; the blood went thumping in his temples. He was aghast and horror-struck with the stupefaction that comes of effort to disbelieve the eyes. But he did disbelieve his eyes. How possibly trust them when from the Rose's very bed he had taken the Rose herself and held her till now when he produced her? He did disbelieve his eyes.

He gave Mrs. Major's cat a careless pat. By an effort throwing a careless tone into his voice, "A very good imitation," he said. "Not at all unlike the Rose!"

Mr. Marrapit became an alarming sight. He intook an enormous breath that swelled him dangerously. He opened his lips and the air rushed out with roaring sound. Again he inspired, raised his clenched hands above his head, stood like some great tottering image upon the brink of internal explosion.

As upon a sudden thought, he checked the bursting words that threatened from his lips; allowed his pent-up breath to escape inarticulate; to his normal size and appearance shrank back when it was gone.

With an air of ebbing doubt, "Not at all unlike?" he questioned.

George replied briskly. He forced himself to take confidence, though every moment made yet more difficult the struggle to disbelieve what his eyes told him. "Not at all unlike," he affirmed. "Very similar, in fact. Yes, I should say very similar indeed."

Still in the same tone of one who is being reluctantly convinced, Mr. Marrapit again played Echo's part: "Very similar indeed? You grant that?"

"Certainly," George admitted frankly. "Certainly. I do not wonder you were mistaken."

"Nor I," Mr. Marrapit smoothly replied. "Indeed, in Mrs. Major's cat I detect certain signs which my Rose has long borne but which she has no longer, if the cat you bring is she?"

"Eh?" said George.

"Certain signs," Mr. Marrapit repeated, with the smoothness of flowing oil, "which I recollect in my Rose. The mark, for example, where her left ear was abrased by Mr. Wyvern's blood-thirsty bull-terrier."

George stooped to the cats. Pointing, he cried triumphantly: "Yes, and there is the mark!"

"Yes," Mr. Marrapit pronounced mildly. "Yes, but you are now looking at Mrs. Major's cat."

"Hem!" said Mrs. Major. "Hem!"

Like one who has stepped upon hot iron George started back, stared aghast. A further "hem," with which a chuckle was mixed, came from Mrs. Major; from my collapsed Mary upon the edge of the sofa a sniff that was mingled groan and sob.

George put a hand to his head. This young man's senses were ajostle and awhirl. Well he remembered that mark which by disastrous blunder he had indicated on Mrs. Major's cat; vainly he sought it on his own. Yet his was the Rose. Was this a nightmare, then, and no true thing? He put his hand to his head.

"Looking at Mrs. Major's cat," repeated Mr. Marrapit, his tone smooth as the trickle of oil.

George fought on. "Quite so. Quite so. I know that. That is what makes it so extraordinary-that this cat which you call Mrs. Major's and think is the Rose should have the very mark that our Rose had."

"But our Rose has not-if that is she."

"Ah! not now," George said impressively. "Not now. It healed. Healed months ago. Don't you remember my saying one morning, 'The Rose's ear is quite healed now'?"

"I do not, sir," snapped Mr. Marrapit, with alarming sharpness.

"Oh!" said George. "Oh!"

"Hem!" fired Mrs. Major. "Hem! Hem!"

"That tail," spoke Mr. Marrapit, a sinister hardness now behind the oiliness. "Mark those tails."

George marked. To this young man's disordered mind the room took on the appearance of a forest of waving t

ails.

"Well?" rapped Mr. Marrapit. "You note those tails? Mrs. Major's cat has a verdant tail, a bush-like tail. Yours has a rat tail. Do you recollect my pride in the luxuriousness of the Rose's tail?"

George blundered along the path he had chosen. "Formerly," he said, "not latterly. Latterly, if you remember, there was a remarkable falling off in the Rose's tail. Her tail moulted. It shed hairs. I remember worrying over it. I remember-"

A voice from the sofa froze him. "Oh, George, don't, don't!" moaned his Mary.

Recovering his horror, he turned stiffly upon her. "If you mean me, Miss Humfray, you forget yourself. I do not understand you. Kindly recollect that I have another name."

The hideous frown he bent upon his Mary might well have advertised the sincerity of his rebuke. He faced Mr. Marrapit, blundered on. "I remember noticing how thin the Rose's tail was getting." He gathered confidence, pushed ahead. "You have forgotten those little points, sir. Upset by your loss you have jumped at the first cat like the Rose that you have seen." He took new courage, became impressive. "You are making a fearful mistake, sir-an awful mistake. A mistake at which you will shudder when you look back-"

"Incredible!"

Mr. Marrapit, swelling as a few moments earlier he had swollen, this time burst to speech. He raised his clenched fists; in immense volume of sound exploded. "Incredible!"

George misinterpreted; was shaken, but hurried on. "It is. I admit it. It is an incredible likeness. But look again, sir."

Mr. Marrapit gave instead a confused scream.

Alarmed, George made as if to plunge on with further protests. "George! George!" from his Mary checked him. Furious, he turned upon her; and in that moment Mr. Marrapit, recovering words, turned to Mrs. Major.

"As you have restored my treasure to my house, Mrs. Major, so now silence this iniquitous man by telling him what you have told me. I implore speed. Silence him. Utterly confound him. Stop him from further perjury before an outraged Creator rains thunderbolts upon this roof."

With a telling "Hem!" the masterly woman cleared for action. "I will, Mr. Marrapit," she bowed. She murmured "Rosie, Rosie, ickle Rosie!" The cat Mr. Marrapit had lifted from her lap sprang back to that enticing cushion.

Gently stroking its queenly back, to the soft accompaniment of its majestic purr, in acid-tipped accents she began to speak.

She pointed at the cat that now sat at George's crime-steeped boots. "When I was out this morning I found that cat in a little copse on the Shipley Road. At first I thought it was our darling Rose. Suddenly I heard voices. I did not wish to be seen, because, dear Mr. Marrapit, if it was the Rose I had found, I wanted to bring it to you alone-to be the first to make you happy. So I slipped into a disused hut that stands there. Footsteps approached the door and I went into an inner room."

Mrs. Major paused; shot a stabbing smile at George.

And now my miserable George realised. Now, visible at last, there rushed upon him, grappled him, strangled him, the sinister something whose presence he had scented on entering the apartment. No sound came from this stricken man. He could not speak, nor move, nor think. Rooted he remained; dully gazed at the thin lips whence poured the flood that engulfed and that was utterly to wreck him.

The masterly woman continued. She indicated the rooted figure in the middle of the room, the collapsed heap upon the sofa's edge. "Those two entered. He had a basket. Oh, what were my feelings when out of it he took our darling Rose!"

For the space of two minutes the masterly woman advertised the emotions she had suffered by burying her face in the Rose's coat; rocking gently.

Emerging, she gulped her agitation; proceeded. "I need not repeat again all the dreadful story I heard, Mr. Marrapit? Surely I need not?"

"You need not," Mr. Marrapit told her. "You need not."

With a masterly half-smile, expressive of gratitude through great suffering, Mrs. Major thanked him. "Indeed," she went on, "I did not hear the whole of it. It was so dreadful, I was so horrified, that I think I fainted. Yes, I fainted. But I heard them discuss how he had stolen the Rose so they might marry on the reward when it was big enough. He had kept the darling till then; now it was her turn to take charge of it-"

Mrs. Major ceased with a jerk, drew in her legs preparatory to flight.

For the rooted figure had sprung alarmingly to life. George would not have his darling Mary blackened. He took a stride to Mrs. Major; his pose threatened her. "That's untrue!" he thundered.

"Ho!" exclaimed Mrs. Major. "Ho! A liar to my face! Ho!"

"And you are a liar," George stormed, "when you say-"

"Silence!" commanded Mr. Marrapit. "Do not anger heaven yet further. Can you still deny-?"

"No!" George said very loudly. "No! No! I deny nothing. But that woman's a liar when she says Miss Humfray discussed the business with me, or that it was Miss Humfray's turn to take the damned cat. Miss Humfray knew nothing about it till I told her. When she heard she said it was wrong and tried to make me take the cat back to you."

In his wrath George had advanced close to Mrs. Major. He stretched a violent finger to an inch from her nose. "That's true, isn't it? Have the grace to admit that."

Indomitable of purpose, the masterly woman pressed back her head as far as the chair would allow, tightened her lips.

The violent finger followed. "Say it's true!" George boiled.

His Mary implored: "Oh, George, don't, don't!"

The furious young man flamed on to her. "Be quiet!"

Mr. Marrapit began a sound. The furious young man flamed to him: "You be quiet, too!" He thrust the dreadful finger at Mrs. Major. "Now speak the truth. Had Miss Humfray anything to do with it?"

This tremendous George had temporary command of the room. The masterly woman for once quailed. "I didn't hear that part," she said.

George drew in the fearful finger. "That's as good as the truth-from you." He rounded upon Mr. Marrapit. "You understand that. This has been my show."

"A blackguard show," pronounced Mr. Marrapit. "A monstrous and an impious show. A-"

"I don't want to hear that. Whatever it is you are the cause of it. If you had done your duty with my mother's money-"

A figure passed the open French windows along the path. Mr. Marrapit shouted "Fletcher!" The gardener entered.

"But you've betrayed your trust," George shouted. He liked the fine phrase and repeated it. "You've betrayed your trust!"

Mr. Marrapit assumed his most collected air. "Silence. Silence, man of sin. Leave the house. Return thanks where thanks are due if I do not hound the law upon you. Take that girl. That miserable cat take. Hence!"

Mary got to her feet, put a hand on her George's arm. "Do come, dear."

The wild young man shook her off. "I'll go when it pleases me!" he shouted at Mr. Marrapit.

"You shall be arrested," Mr. Marrapit returned. He addressed Mary. "Place that cat in that basket Carry it away."

George stood, heaving, panting, boiling for effective words, while his Mary did as bade. Awful visions of her George, fettered between policemen, trembled her pretty fingers. At last she had the basket strapped, raised it.

"Come, George," she said; and to Mr. Marrapit, "I'm so sorry, Mr. Marrapit. I-"

It gave her furious George a vent. "Sorry! What are you sorry about? What have you done?" He roared over to Mrs. Major: "What other lies have you been telling?" He lashed himself at Mr. Marrapit. "Set the law on me? I jolly well hope you will. It will all come out then how you've behaved-how you've treated me. How you've betrayed-"

"Fletcher," Mr. Marrapit interrupted, "remove that man. Take him out. Thrust him from the house."

"Me?" said Mr. Fletcher. "Me thrust him? I'm a gardener, I am; not a-"

"Duty or dismissal," pronounced Mr. Marrapit. "Take choice." He turned to the window. "Come, Mrs. Major."

George dashed for him. "You're not going till I've done with you!"

Violence was in his tone, passion in his face.

Alarmed, "Beware how you touch me!" called Mr. Marrapit; caught Mr. Fletcher, thrust him forward. "Grapple him!" cried Mr. Marrapit.

Mr. Fletcher was violently impelled against George; to save a fall clutched him. "Don't make a scene, Mr. George," he implored.

George pushed him away. Mr. Fletcher trod back heavily upon Mr. Marrapit's foot. Mr. Marrapit screamed shrilly, plunged backwards into a cabinet, overturned it, sat heavily upon its debris.

A laugh overcame George's fury. He swung on his heel; called "Come" to his Mary; stalked from the house.

As they passed through the gate, "Oh, Georgie!" his Mary breathed. "Oh, Georgie!"

He raged on to her: "What on earth made you say you were sorry? You've no spirit, Mary! No spirit!"

The tremendous young man stalked ahead with huge strides.

* * *

In deep melancholy, sore beneath the correction Mr. Marrapit had heaped upon him, Mr. Fletcher wandered from the study; turned as he reached the path. "Me grapple him!" said Mr. Fletcher. "Me a craven! Me thrust him from the house! It's 'ard-damn 'ard. I'm a gardener, I am; not a Ju-jitsu."

* * *

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