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V Jim Mcgrath

NEXT morning I said to my master, “Jack, Dogs have to be confirmed.”

He glanced at me suspiciously. “Who's bin tellin' yer?” he demanded.

“Judith Kelly.”

He frowned. “What does she know about it?”

“I don't know, but at all events more than I do. I thought you had completed my instruction; how much more have I to learn?”

“I must see the king,” said Jack Robin.

“Won't you tell me?”

“Not till I see your uncle. I haven't the right. This looks serious; looks as if one of the boys had been talking to that girl. What exactly did she tell you?”

“She wants to marry me, but says my uncle won't let us until I am confirmed.”

“Did you tell your uncle about it?”

“No.”

The boiler-maker looked perplexed. He tied on his dirty leather apron and rolled up his shirt sleeves. I watched him in deep envy of his great muscle-knotted arms. Suddenly the fierce clangour of the hammers commenced in the workshop without. I cannot describe that noise; it was utterly bewildering, almost deafening, and it lasted without intermission from nine till five. The boiler-makers all had to have their ears stuffed with cotton wool to preserve their hearing; and, even so, many of them, especially those who worked inside the boilers, had gone stone deaf in spite of


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all precautions. Jack always wore a woollen pad right round his head when he went to work; the walls of the office were duplicated, and lined with felt between, so that business might be comfortably transacted there. I quickly shut the door to deaden the hateful sound, but even then the vibrating echoes penetrated the partition and beat upon our tympanums with painful persistency.

My master presently shook his head. “You'd better wait, Lucas,” he advised; “you'll know soon enough.”

The mystery irritated me. “It's all wait, wait!” I cried, angrily. “Anyone would think I was not to be trusted.”

The boiler-maker shrugged his shoulders. “You'd better not know till you're obliged; it won't be long, it might be any time—the trap's laid,” he said, and immediately fastened his pad about his ears. It was no use protesting, he could no longer hear me; so I turned sullenly to my day book.

Before an hour had passed the door opened, and in came Judith Kelly, leading Jim McGrath by the hand. She locked the door behind her; there was a light of battle in her eyes. “You see!” she cried, looking at me defiantly.

I remembered her threat of the previous night, and determined to force her to its consummation. It would, I reflected, give me an excuse to refuse or postpone the marriage. Somehow I detested the thought of marriage, without, however, properly knowing why. I think I was afraid of tyranny, and I knew that, once bound to Judith, the Push would take care that I should never shake off my shackles. I said to her, “You'd better take care, Judy.”

She was in a flame on instant.

“Take care yourself. I said I'd do it, and I'll do it, 'less you apologise.”

“For what?”

“For threatening me.”

I smiled satirically, and turned to regard the foreman. He was watching Judith as though she were his dearest treasure. I had never seen such admiration, such fierce desire, in any man's eyes. I saw that he loved her. I liked and was still grateful to Jim McGrath for the help he had given me on the night of my initiation. I determined to help him win


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Judith Kelly. I did not want her; he did. Well, if I could bring it about, he should have her.

“Judy is dying to kiss you, Jim,” I said, quietly, “but she doubts if you would like it.”

“He lies!” cried Judith. “He dared me to kiss you; that's why I brought you here—to show him.”

“Is—is he your bloke?” stuttered the foreman, staring at Judith, but pointing to me with his grimy thumb.

“He's going to marry me,” she replied.

Jim McGrath's face went ashen white; he glanced at me with hatred in his eyes, and clenched his hands.

“You'll have to fight me for her first,” he growled.

The idea appalled me; more than ever I resolved that Jim McGrath was the proper mate for Judith Kelly, but it was necessary to decline the proferred contest in such a way as to retain my prestige, and not lose an atom of my dignity.

“Let the girl decide,” I said, with as much unconcern as I could command. “She said she would kiss you before me; well, if she does, if she dares to do such a thing—dares (I raised my voice). Do you hear, Judith?” I paused.

Judith's eyes glittered and snapped. I saw that I had struck the right key.

“Well,” she cried, “what'll happen?”

“Nothing. Jim can have you, so far as I'm concerned, that's all.”

“A crab for you!” said Judith, and in a whirl of rage she threw herself into the foreman's arms. I wish him joy of that kiss, poor man. He must have extracted, however, some pleasure from it. When Judith fell back his face was brick red, he appeared embarrassed and inexpressibly sheepish. Judith was flushed and triumphant. But I was master of the situation.

“See!” she cried, bristling like an angry kitten. “See! Mr. Gold medal!”

“Quite well,” I responded, coolly. “I'd do it again if I were you.”

“Bah!”

I turned to the humpback. “Turn about is fair play, Jim,” I suggested.

He waited no second bidding, but caught the vixen in his


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arms, and ate her face with kisses. She fought, struggled, spat, and bit at him, but she was a baby in his grasp, and he did not set her down until he had levied full toll. What a queer thing passion is! From the agitation of a moment the burly foreman was a trembling, nerveless hulk; his face was paper-white, he tottered on his legs, and looked ready to fall from sheer exhaustion, and yet he was capable of doing a strong man's work for toilsome hours on stretch without experiencing a tremor of fatigue.

Judith flew at him like a wild cat, and soundly boxed his ears.

I laughed mockingly. She rushed at me, but I held her with my eyes. She stopped suddenly, and faltered, staring at me—dumbly. I watched in her regard, rage being smothered by regret, and the dawn of fear.

“Well,” I asked, calmly, “satisfied?”

She made no reply, but her bosom heaved tumultuously.

“Feel proud of yourself?” I pursued.

“I hate you!” she muttered, suddenly, and, bursting into a storm of tears, ran to the door, through which she passed out, slamming it violently behind her.

I caught McGrath sharply by the shoulder, and shook him, but he was still senseless and stupid. “You'd better go after her!” I advised.

“Haw, haw!” he guffawed, looking at me with disdain; “she hates you—she said she did!”

“All the better for you,” I responded, cheerfully; the disdain of a dolt did not disturb my vanity at all. “Follow her; strike while the iron's hot, Jim, and you'll get her for your girl.”

But the idiot would not go; he stood rubbing his ears, which no doubt still tingled from the hearty clouts they had received.

“You love her,” he said, and repeated in a vague enquiring voice, “you love her.”

“Not a bit,” I answered, briskly. “You can have her with my blessing; go in and win, boy.”

But he was still suspicious. “Anyone that wants her must fight me for her!” he declared, defiantly.

I wished the man not to think me a coward. I looked


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him firmly in the eyes. “My dear McGrath!” I said, contemptuously, “if I wanted the girl I would not ask your permission on the matter, and if you got in my way I'd break your neck with all the cheerfulness in life.”

To my amaze, the foreman backed away from me, visibly cowed. I had overawed him with words—mere words. He made no reply, but slunk out of the office, all the fight taken out of him. Oh, the joy I felt! I was released from the girl, and I believed myself strong enough to cope with her future importunities. But above and beyond that I had made a marvellous, glorious, and invaluable discovery. I had sounded the true value of hypocrisy, the tremendous potency of words. By assuming a resolute demeanour, by the use of bold words, I had victimised a man who could quite easily have broken me with a blow—a man of whom I had secretly for ten minutes stood in mortal fear!

I was by nature weak and cowardly, but from that moment I no longer experienced any terror of my associates. They were all more physically powerful than myself, but such was their dense ignorance that apparently they did not know it. I was armed with a command of feature and a fluency of tongue which they could not compete against. I resolved that for the future, should ever occasion arise, I would so comport myself that they would believe me gifted with superhuman courage. It would, of course, be merely an assumed virtue, with nothing substantial to support it. I would despise myself, perhaps, for the pretence, but what mattered that, so long as I could deceive the Push, and through that deception secure a very real advantage?

At lunch Judith did not put in an appearance. I enquired after her with my usual amiability.

“She's ill,” said Mrs. Rowe, eyeing me with open suspicion; “lying down with a bad headache. What have you been doing to her?”

“I?—nothing.” I knew how to look as innocent as a lamb.

Mrs. Rowe sniffed. “She says she wouldn't marry you if you was the only man alive,” she observed, sourly.

“What's that?” growled my uncle. “Have you two been rowing?”




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I shrugged my shoulders. “Not rowing, uncle; we had a slight difference of opinion.” I leaned forward confidentially. “If I were you, uncle, I wouldn't attempt to force Judith's inclinations. I should dearly like to have her for my wife, but not while she is in love with another man.”

“What!” thundered my uncle.

“A rat!” cried Mrs. Rowe.

“Excuse me, aunt,” I said, turning politely to the woman; “you are in error. She is in love with a Dog—his name is Jim McGrath. She brought him to my office this morning, and kissed him before me, presumably so that there should be no possible doubt in my mind as to the state of her affections.”

My uncle sprang to his feet. I had anticipated what must occur, and was perfectly prepared.

“Judith,” he roared, “come down here at once!”

Mrs. Rowe's face was pale with passion. I had cut her on the raw.

“I'm sick!” replied Judith.

“Sick or not, come down sharp, if you don't want me to go up and fetch you!” yelled my uncle.

We heard the noise of a sudden stir and bustle, and Judith, arrayed in a dressing-gown and with a bandaged head, presently made her appearance. She looked defiant and resentful, but she did not glance in my direction. “What's the matter?” she asked, her lips pursed out insolently.

“Did you kiss Jim McGrath?” shouted my uncle.

Judith turned a livid face to me. “Sneak!” she hissed.

“Tell him he lies,” muttered Mrs. Rowe.

“I loathe and despise him,” said Judith; her eyes were simply blazing.

“I'll break every bone in your body,” cried my uncle, wrathfully.

“Uncle,” said I, “please don't make a fuss about the matter. It's true I'm fond of Judith, but I'll get over it.”

He sat down staring at me helplessly; he was utterly out of his depth, poor man.

“It was a mistake,” I pursued, presently. “Judy would


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have done your bidding obediently enough; but how could I marry her, she caring for another fellow? it wouldn't be fair to her or him, and he is a good sort is Jim McGrath.”

Judith gasped, she was almost choked with rage, but she was slow-witted, and all she could find to say was—“He's a better man than you!”

She wanted to hurt me, but she did not know how. She was not aware that she simply played into my hands.

“You're a fool!” shouted my uncle.

I waved my hand, and muttered soothingly, “When a girl loves a man, she thinks he's the best on earth, even if he has a hump on his back. She's not to be blamed, uncle!”

Judith darted to the table, and seized a knife, with which she rushed at me. But Mrs. Rowe intercepted her daughter, and, no doubt in fear of my uncle's rage, dragged her shrieking wildly from the room.

The king of the Dogs gazed at me in ludicrous dismay, too shocked for a while to speak. At last he gasped out, “I'll be hanged.”

I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders, muttering, “I hope not, uncle!” He did not hear.

“Females is devils!” he declared. “Would you believe it, Lucas, yesterday that she-cat came and asked me to let you two be married. I thought it all fixed; she seemed mad on you!”

“They never know their minds two hours together!” I replied, with a pathetic smile. “I don't mind telling you, it was a blow to me, uncle—a cruel blow!”

“Don't you go taking to drink on top of it!” he said, anxiously.

I was near bursting with suppressed laughter. “Don't fear!” I stammered. “I flatter myself I'm not such a fool as that.”

My uncle was much reassured from observing that I disposed of an excellent supper, in spite of the sorrow he imagined gnawed at my heart; but some anxiety remained nevertheless.

“There's one thing,” he suggested, hopefully, as we left the table, “any other girl in the district would rush ye—if you dropped a hint.”




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“Thanks,” I replied, drily. “One experience is enough for me. I guess I shall remain a bachelor.”

When I reached the privacy of my chamber, I chuckled, or rather tried to chuckle, for my hilarious mood had passed, and the fact was that I was not overpleased with myself. It was true that I had slipped out of a nauseous entanglement; true that I had paid off a long score long owing to Judith and Mrs. Rowe. But I did not find vengeance quite as satisfying a morsel to the taste as I had anticipated. I could not help being sorry for the girl! I had treated her abominably. Her “sneak!” too, had cut me to the quick. I did not think I had behaved like a gentleman. I wondered how my dead father would have regarded my behaviour. I decided after a while that he would have condemned me as an unchivalrous young cad. I could not take my usual interest in reading that night, and—yes, I am not ashamed to confess it—I felt that I had fallen so far beneath my ideal of conduct, that in very misery and contrition I cried myself to sleep.

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