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Once Aboard the Lugger-- The History of George and his Mary By A. S. M. Hutchinson Characters: 11336

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Agony In Meath Street.

I.

Silent, gloom-ridden, my sniffing Mary, my black-browed George laboured to the station. Silent they sat upon a bench waiting the London train.

George bought his Mary a piece of chocolate from the automatic machine; she was a forlorn picture as with tiny nibbles she ate it, tears in her pretty eyes. In the restaurant George bought himself a huge cigar. This man was a desperate spectacle as with huge puffs he smoked, hands deep in pockets, legs thrust straight, brows horribly knitted.

They had no words.

The train came in. George found an empty compartment; helped his poor Mary to a corner; roughly dumped the cat-basket upon the rack; moodily plumped opposite his Mary.

They had no words.

It was as the train moved from the third stop that Mary, putting a giant sniff upon her emotions, asked her George: "Wher-where are we going, dear?"

It was not until the fifth stop that George made answer. "Those Battersea digs," he told her.

They had no words.

At Queen's Road station gloomily they alighted; silently laboured to the house of Mrs. Pinking.

George answered her surprise. "Miss Humfray will have these rooms again, Mrs. Pinking, if you will be so kind; and I-" He checked. "Could you let us have some tea, Mrs. Pinking? Afterwards I'll have a talk with you. We've got into a-We're very tired. If you could just let us have some tea, then I'll explain."

In silence they ate and drank. George was half turned from the table, gloomily gazing from the window. Tiny sniffs came from his Mary; he had no words for her; looked away.

But presently there was a most dreadful choking sound. He sprang around. Most painfully his Mary was spluttering over a cup of tea. With trembling hands she put down the cup; her face was red, convulsively working.

George half rose to her. "Don't cry, darling Mary-kins. Don't cry."

She set down the cup; swallowed; gasped, "I'm not crying-I'm la-laughing," and into a pipe of gayest mirth she went.

Gloom gathered its sackcloth skirts; scuttled from the room.

George roared with laughter; rocked and roared again. When he could get a catch upon his mirth there was the clear pipe of his Mary's glee, clear, compelling, setting him off again. When she would gasp for breath there was her dear George, head in those brown hands, shaking with tremendous laughter-and she must start again.

She gasped: "George! If you could have seen yourself standing there telling those awful stories-!"

He gasped: "When I mistook the cats-!"

She gasped: "Mr. Marrapit's face-!"

He gasped: "Mrs. Major's-!"

The exhaustion of their mirth gave them pause at last. George wiped his running eyes; Mary tremendously blew her little nose, patted her gold hair where it eagerly straggled.

"I feel better after that," George said.

She told him, "So do I-heaps. It's no good being miserable over what is past, is it, dear?"

"Not a bit; not the slightest. Come and sit on the sofa and let's see where we are." She put that golden head upon his manly shoulder; he fetched his right arm about her; she nursed her hands upon the brown fist that came into her lap; that other brown hand he set upon the three.

Together they viewed their prospects-gloomy pictures.

"But we're fairly in the cart," George summed up. "We are, you know."

His ridiculous Mary gave him that lovers' ridiculous specific. "We've got each other," she told him, snuggling to him.

George kissed her. He fumbled in his pockets. "I've got just about three pounds-over from what Marrapit gave me for the clue-hunting. I say, Mary, it's pretty awful."

She snuggled the closer.

Early evening, tip-toeing through the window, was drawing her dusky hangings about the room when at length George withdrew the brown hands; stirred.

II.

Upon a little sigh Mary let go the string that held the dreams she had been dreaming. Like a great gay bundle of many-coloured toy balloons suddenly released, they soared away. She came to the desperate present; noted her George filling his pipe.

He got upon his legs; paced the floor, puffing.

It was his characteristic pose when he was most tremendous. She watched this tremendous fellow adoringly.

He told her: "I've settled it all, Marykins. I've fixed it all up. We'll pull through right as rain." He caught the admiring glance in his Mary's eye; inhaled and gusted forth a huge breath of smoke; repeated the fine sentence. "We'll pull through right as rain."

"Dear George!" she softly applauded.

He pushed ahead. "There's this locum tenens I was going to take up in the North. I haven't offed that yet-haven't refused it, I mean. Well, I shall take it. The screw's pretty rotten, but up in the North-in the North, you know-well, it's not like London. It's cheap-frightfully cheap. You can live on next to nothing-"

She pushed out the irritating, practical, womanish side of her. "Can you? How do you know, Georgie?"

We men hate these pokes at our knowledge; women will not understand generalisations. George jerked back: "How do I know? Oh, don't interrupt like that, Mary. Everybody knows that living is cheap in the North-in the North."

"Of course," she excused herself. "Of course, dear, I see."

"Well, where was I? Frightfully cheap, so the screw won't matter. I'll take the job, dearest. I'll take it for next month. And-listen-we'll marry and go up there together and live in some ripping little rooms. There!"

She was flaming pink; could only breathe: "Georgie, dear!"

He stopped his pacing to give her a squeezing hug, a kiss upon the top of the gold hair. Then he went through the steps of a w

ild dance. "Marry!" he cried. "Marry, old girl, and let everybody go hang! We'll have to work it through a registrar. I'm not quite sure how it's done, but I'll find out tomorrow. I know you both have to have been resident in the place for a week or so-I'll fix all that. Then we'll peg along up in the North; and we'll look out for whatever turns up, and we'll save, and in time we'll buy a practice just like Runnygate."

Now he sat beside his Mary again; with a tremendous brush painted in more details of this entrancing picture. Every doubt, every difficulty he threw to tomorrow-that glad sea in which youth casts its every trouble. Was he sure he still had the refusal of this locum?-rather! but he would make certain, tomorrow. Was he sure they both could live upon the salary?-rather! he would prove it to-morrow. Could they really get married at a registrar's within a few days?-rather! he'd fix that up to-morrow. As to the money necessary for the marriage, necessary to tide over the days till the locum was taken up, why, he knew he could borrow that-from the Dean or from Professor Wyvern-to-morrow.

They were upon the very crest and flood of their delight when George noted the gathering dusk.

"I say, it's getting late!" he exclaimed. "I must fix it up with Mrs. Pinking. We've made no arrangement with her yet."

Mary agreed: "Yes, dear." She went on, pretty eyes shining, face aglow: "Oh, Georgie, think of the last time you brought me here! I had nothing to expect but going out to work again; and you weren't qualified. And now-now, although we've lost our little Runnygate home" (she could not stop a tiny sigh), "we're actually going to be married in a few days! Georgie, I shan't sleep for hoping everything will turn out all right to-morrow."

"It will," George told her. "It will. Right as rain, old girl."

Her great sigh of contentment advertised the drink she took of that sparkling future. "Think of us being together always in a week or so-belonging! Where will you stay till then? Quite close. Get a room quite close, Georgie?"

He stared at her. "Why, you old goose, I'm not going."

She echoed him: "Not going?"

"Of course not. I'm going to get a bedroom here, and we'll have all our meals and everything in here. We're not going to part again, Marykins. Not much!"

That maddening handicap beneath which the sweetest women trudge shackled Mary, deluged this joy.

"Oh, Georgie!" she said; and again trembled, "Oh, Georgie!"

My impulsive George scented the damp. "Well?" he asked. "Well? Whatever's-?"

"Oh, Georgie, you can't have a room here. We can't have all our meals together here?"

He realised the trouble. He broke out: "Why ever not? Why ever-?"

"It wouldn't be right! Georgie, it wouldn't be right!"

Her impulsive George choked for words. "Not right! 'Pon my soul, Mary, I simply don't understand you sometimes. Not right! Why isn't it right?"

It was so difficult to tell. "You don't understand, dear-"

"No, I'm damned if I do. I'm sorry, Mary, but you are so funny, you women. It's so exasperating after the-the devil of a day I've had. Just when I've fixed up everything you turn round and"-he threw out an angry hand-"Why isn't it right?"

This poor little Mary clung to her little principles. "Don't you see? we're engaged, dear; and being engaged, we oughtn't to live alone like this. People would-"

He began to rave. Certainly he had had a devil of a day; and this was a maddening buffet.

"People!" he cried. "People! People! You're always thinking of people, you women! Who's to know? Who on earth's to know?"

The instinct of generations of training gave her the instinctive reply in the instinctive sweet little tone: "We should know, Georgie," she said.

He flung up his arms: "Oh, good God!"

He swallowed his boiling irritation; laughed 'spite himself; went to his Mary. "Mary, don't be such an utter, utter goose. It's too, too ridiculous."

She took his kiss; but she held her stupid little ground.

"It wouldn't be right, Georgie, really!"

Her George clanged the bell with a furious stroke that brought Mrs. Pinking in panic up the stairs. Holding himself very straight, speaking in sentences short and hard, paying to his Mary no smallest attention, he made the arrangements. Miss Humfray would take on her bedroom again. By the week. If Mrs. Pinking would be so kind as to allow them the same terms. He thanked her. That was settled, then. He would look in in the morning. He would say good night, Mrs. Pinking.

Mrs. Pinking gave him good night; busied herself with the tea-things.

Her presence enabled this brutal George to preserve his stony bearing; denied his pretty Mary opportunity to melt him with her tears.

Hard as flint, "Well, good night," he said to her. "I'll look in to-morrow morning."

Upon a little sniff, "Good night," she whispered; strangled an "Oh, George! George!"

She followed him to the door. He was down the stairs before she could command her voice for: "Where shall you go, George?"

With the reckless fury of one who sets forth to plunge into the river, he called back, "I? I? Oh, anywhere-anywhere. Who cares where I go?"

The hall door slammed.

* * *

Late into that night while a young woman sobbed her pretty eyes out upon a pillow in a back room of Meath Street, Battersea, a young man, who furiously had been pacing London, paced and repaced the street from end to end, gazing the windows of the house where she lay. This young man muttered, gesticulated, groaned. "Oh, damn!" was his song. "Oh, Mary! Oh, what a cursed brute I am!"

It was a bitter ending to a fearful day.

* * *

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