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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLittle Miss Grouch - Chapter 2
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Little Miss Grouch - Chapter 2 Post by :Bruce_McCormick Category :Long Stories Author :Samuel Hopkins Adams Date :May 2012 Read :871

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Little Miss Grouch - Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

Second day out.
A good deal of weather of one kind and another.
Might be called a what-next sort of day.
I think I am going to like this old ocean pretty well.

SMITH'S LOG.


Where beauty is not, constancy is not. This perspicuous proverb from the Persian (which I made up myself for the occasion) is cited in mitigation of the Tyro's regrettable fickleness, he--to his shame be it chronicled--having practically forgotten the woe-begone damsel's very existence within eighteen short hours after his adventure in knight-errantry. Her tear-ravaged and untidy plainness had, in that brief time, been exorcised from memory by a more potent interest, that of Beauty on her imperial throne. Setting forth the facts in their due order, it befell in this wise:--

At or about one bell, to be quite nautical, the Tyro awoke from a somewhat agitated sleep.

"Hold on a minute!" protested he, addressing whatever Powers might be within hearing. "Stop the swing. I want to get out!"

He lifted his head and the wall leaned over and bumped it back upon the pillow. Incidentally it bumped him awake.

"Must be morning," he yawned. A pocket-knife and two keys rolled off the stand almost into the yawn. "Some weather," deduced the Tyro. "Now, if I'm ever going to be seasick I suppose this is the time to begin." He gave the matter one minute's fair and honorable consideration. "I think I'll be breakfasting," he decided, and dismissed it.

Having satisfied an admirable appetite in an extensive area of solitude, he weaved and wobbled up the broad stairs and emerged into the open, where he stood looking out upon a sea of flecked green and a sky of mottled gray. Alderson bore down upon him, triangulating the deck like a surveyor.

"Trying out my sea-legs," he explained. "How does this strike you as an anti-breakfast roll?"

"Hasn't struck me that way at all," said the Tyro. "I feel fine."

"Welcome to the Society of Seaworthy Salts! These are the times that try men's stomachs, if not their souls. Come along."

The pair marched back and forth past a row of sparsely inhabited deck-chairs, meeting in their promenade a sprinkling of the hardier spirits of the ship community.

"Have you seen Miss Melancholia this morning?" asked Alderson.

"No, thank Heaven! I didn't dare go in to breakfast till I'd peeked around the corner to make sure she wasn't there."

"Wait. She'll cross your bows early and often."

"Don't! You make me nervous. What a beast she must think me!"

"Here comes a girl now," said his friend maliciously. "Prepare to emulate the startled fawn."

The Tyro turned hastily. "Oh, that's all right," he said, reassured. "She's wholly surrounded by a masculine bodyguard. No fear of its being Little Miss Grouch."

A sudden roll of the ship opened up the phalanx, and there stood, poised, a Wondrous Vision; a spectacle of delight for gods and men, and particularly for the Tyro, who then and there forgot Little Miss Grouch, forgot Alderson, forgot his family, his home, his altars and his fires, and particularly his manners, and, staring until his eyes protruded, offered up an audible and fervent prayer to Neptune that the Clan Macgregor might break down in mid-ocean and not get to port for six months.

"Hello!" said Alderson. "Why this sudden passion for a life on the ocean wave?"

"Did you see her?"

"See whom? Oh!" he added, in enlightenment, as the escort surged past them. "That's it, is it, my impressionable young friend? Well, if you're planning to enter those lists you won't be without competition."

The Tyro closed his eyes to recall that flashing vision of youth and loveliness. He saw again the deliciously modeled face tinted to warmest pink, a figure blent of curves and gracious contours, a mouth of delicate mirth, and eyes, wide, eager, soft, and slanted quaintly at an angle to madden the heart of man.

"Is there such an angel as the Angel of Laughter?" asked the Tyro.

"Not in any hierarchy that I know," replied Alderson.

"Then there ought to be. Do you know her?"

"Who? The Angel of--"

"Don't guy me, Dr. Alderson. This is serious."

"Oh, these sudden seizures are seldom fatal."

"Do you know her?" persisted the Tyro.

"No."

The Tyro sighed. Meantime there progressed the ceremony of enthroning the queen in one of the most desirable chairs on the deck, while the bodyguard fussed eagerly about, tucking in rugs, handing out candy, flowers, and magazines, and generally making monkeys of itself. (I quote the Tyro's regrettable characterization of these acts of simple courtesy.)

"But I know some of her admirers," continued the other. "The lop-eared youth on the right is young Sperry, son of the famous millionaire philanthropist and tax-dodger, Diedrick Sperry. He'll be worth ten millions one of these days."

"Slug!" said the Tyro viciously.

"That huge youngster at her feet is Journay, guard on last year's Princeton team. He's another gilded youth."

"Unfledged cub," growled the Tyro.

"Very nice boy, on the contrary. The bristly-haired specimen who is ostentatiously making a sketch of her is Castleton Flaunt, the illustrator."

"_Poseur!_"

"The languid, brown man with the mustache is Lord Guenn, the polo-player."

"Cheap sport!"

"You don't seem favorably impressed with the lady's friends."

"Hang her friends! I want to know who she is."

"That also might be done. Do you see the tall man coming down the deck?"

"The old farmer with the wispy hair?"

"Precisely. That 'farmer' is the ablest honest lawyer in New York. Also, he knows everybody. Oh, Judge Enderby," he hailed.

"Howdy, Alderson," responded the iron-gray one. "Glad to see you. Now we shall have some whist."

"Good! Judge, do you know the pretty girl over yonder, in that chair?"

The judge put up an eyeglass. "Yes," he said.

"Tell my young friend here who she is, will you?"

"No."

"Why not?"

A cavernous chuckle issued from between the lawyer's rigid whiskers. "Because I like his looks."

"Well, I like hers, sir," said the Tyro naively.

"Very likely, young man. Very likely. So I'm helping to keep you out of trouble. That child is pretty enough to give even an old, dried-up heart like mine the faint echo of a stir. Think of the devastation to a young one like yours. Steer clear, young man! Steer clear!"

And the iron-gray one, himself an inveterate sentimentalist, passed on, chuckling over his time-worn device for quickening romance in the heart of the young by the judicious interposition of obstacles. He strolled over to the center of attraction, where he was warmly greeted. To the Wondrous Vision he said something which caused her to glance over at the Tyro. That anxious youth interpreted the look as embodying something of surprise, and--could it be?--a glint of mischief.

"Never mind," said Alderson, "I dare say we can find some way, some time to-day or to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" broke in the Tyro fretfully. "Do you realize that this voyage is only a five-day run?"

"Oh, Youth! Youth!" laughed the older man. "Are you often taken this way, Sandy?"

The Tyro turned upon him the candor of an appealing smile. "Never in my life before," he said. "I give you my word of honor."

"In that case," said his friend, with mock seriousness, "the life-saving expedition will try to get a rescue-line to the craft in distress."

With obvious hope the Tyro's frank eyes interrogated Judge Enderby as he returned from his interview.

"Still of the same mind, young man?"

"Yes, sir."

"Want to know her?"

"I do, indeed!"

"Very well. You have your wish."

"You're going to present me?"

"I? No, indeed."

"Then--"

"You say you wish to know her. Well, you do know her. At least, she says she knows you. Not all of us attain our heart's desire so simply."

"Know her!" cried the amazed Tyro. "I swear I don't. Why, I could no more forget that face--"

"Don't tell her that or she'll catch you up on it since she knows you have forgotten."

"What is her name?"

"Ah, that I'm forbidden to tell. 'If he has forgotten me so easily,' said she--and she seemed really hurt--'I think I can dispense with his further acquaintance.'"

"If I should break through that piffling bodyguard now--"

"If you want some rather high-priced advice for nothing," said the old and mischievous lawyer, "don't do it. You might not be well received."

"Are you in the secret, then?"

"Secret? Is there any secret? A very charming girl who says she knows you finds herself forgotten by you. And you've been maladroit enough to betray the fact. Naturally she is not pleased. Nothing very mysterious in that."

Thereupon the pestered youth retired in distress and dudgeon to his cabin to formulate a campaign.

Progress, however, seemed slow. It was a very discontented Tyro who, after luncheon, betook himself to the spray-soaked weather rail and strove to assuage his impatience by a thoughtful contemplation of the many leagues of ocean still remaining to be traversed. From this consideration he was roused by a clear, low-pitched, and extraordinarily silvery voice at his elbow.

"Aren't you going to speak to me?" it said.

The Tyro whirled. For a moment he thought that his heart had struck work permanently, so long did it remain inert in his throat. A sense of the decent formalities of the occasion impelled him to make a hasty catch at his cap. As he removed it, an impish windgust snatched it away from his nerveless grasp and presented it to a large and hungry billow, which straightway swallowed it and retired with a hiss of acknowledgment like a bowing Jap.

The Tyro paid not the slightest heed to his loss. With his eyes fixed firmly upon the bewitching face before him,--these apparitions vanish unless held under determined regard,--he cautiously reached around and pinched himself. The Vision interpreted his action, and signalized her appreciation of it by a sort of beatified chuckle.

"Oh, yes; you're awake," she assured him, "and I'm real."

"Wishes _do come true," he said with the profoundest conviction.

Up went the Vision's quaintly slanted brows in dainty inquiry, with further disastrous results to the young man's cardiac mechanism.

"Have yours come true?"

"You have," he averred.

"Then you're glad to see me again?"

Again? _Again? Here it behooved him to go cautiously. Inwardly he cursed the reticence of Judge Enderby with a fervor which would have caused that aged jurist the keenest delight. Then he made one more despairing call upon the reserve forces of memory. In vain. Still, he mustn't let her see that. Play up and trust to happy chance!

"Glad!" he repeated. "Don't you hear a sound of inner music? That's my heart singing the Doxology."

"Very pretty," the girl approved. "How is the poor foot?"

"Much better, thank you. Did you see that murderous assault?"

"See it? I?" The Vision opened wide eyes of astonishment.

"Yes. I didn't notice you in the crowd."

She gave him a long look of mock-pathetic reproach from under drooped lids. "Oh, false and faithless cavalier. You've forgotten me. Already!"

"Once seeing you, I couldn't forget you in ten thousand years," he cried. "There's some mistake. I don't know you."

Her laughter rippled about him like the play of sunlight made audible.

"Oh, antidote to vanity, look at me," she commanded.

"It's the very easiest task ever man was set to," he asserted with such earnestness that the color rose in her cheeks.

"Before I vanish forever, I'll give you your chance. Come! Who am I? One--two--thuh-ree-ee."

"Wait! You're Titania. You're an Undine of the Atlantic. You're the White Hope, becomingly tinged with pink, of American Womanhood. You're the Queen of Hearts and all the rest of the trumps in the deck. You are also Cleopatra, and, and--Helen of Troy. But above all, of course, to me you are the Sphinx."

"And you," she remarked, "are a Perfect Pig. 'The pig is a praiseworthy character. The pig suffereth--'"

"Little Miss Grouch!" The words burst from him with the propulsive energy of total amazement. The next instant he was submerged in shame.

"I never saw anyone's ears turn scarlet before," she observed, with delicate and malicious appreciation of the phenomenon.

"It's a symptom of the last decay of the mind. But are you really the--the runaway girl?"

"I really am, thanks to your help."

"But you look so totally different."

"Well," she reminded him. "You said you probably wouldn't recognize me when you saw me again."

"I don't wholly believe in you yet. How did you work the miracle?"

"Not a miracle at all. I just took the advice of a chance acquaintance and cheered up."

"Then please stay cheered up and keep this shape. I like it awfully."

"It's very hard to be cheerful when one is forgotten overnight," she complained.

"There's some excuse for me. You didn't have on this--this angel-cloth dress; and you looked so--"

"Dowdy," she put in promptly. "So you said--quite loud."

"Be merciful! I never did really get a good look at you, you know. Just the tip of your nose--"

"Red."

"Help! And a glimpse of your face through a mess of veils--"

"Such a mess of a face."

"Spare my life! How can I apologize properly when you--"

"You're beyond all apology. Couldn't you at least recognize my voice? I'm supposed, in spite of my facial defects, to have rather a pleasant voice."

"But, you see, you didn't do anything but whisper--"

"And blubber. It isn't a pretty word, but I have it on good authority."

"I'll commit suicide by any method you select."

She regarded thoughtfully her downcast victim, and found him good to look at. "So you prefer me in this form, do you?" she taunted.

"Infinitely. It couldn't be improved on. So if you've any more lightning changes up your sleeve, don't spring 'em. What does this particular manifestation of your personality call itself?"

"Little Miss Grouch."

"Don't be vengeful."

"Niobe, then."

"That was the changeling."

"At any rate, it isn't Amy, short for amiability. To you I shall continue to be Little Miss Grouch until further notice."

"Is that my punishment?"

"Part of it."

"Well, I can stand it if you can," he declared recklessly. "What's the rest?"

"I think," she said, after deliberating with herself, "that I shall sentence you to slavery. You are to be at my beck and call until you've attained a proper pitch of repentance and are ready to admit that I'm not as hopelessly homely as you told your friend."

"Homely!" cried the harassed youth. "I think you're the most wond--hum!" He broke off, catching himself just in time. "You say this slavery business is to last until I make my recantation?" he inquired cunningly.

"At least."

He assumed a judicial pose. "Calls for consideration. Would you mind tilting the face a little to the left?"

"Gracious! Another artist? Mr. Flaunt has been plaguing me all the morning to sit to him."

"No, I'm not an artist. Simply a connoisseur. Now that I look more closely, your eyebrows are slanted a full degree too much to the north."

"My nurse was a Jap. Do you think Oriental influence could account for it?" she asked anxiously.

"And at the corner of your mouth there is a most reprehensible dimple. Dimples like that simply ought not to be allowed. As for your nose--"

"Never mind my nose," said she with dignity. "It minds its own business."

"No," he continued, with the air of one who sums up to a conclusion. "I cannot approve the _tout ensemble_. It's interesting. And peculiar. And suggestive. But too post-impressionistic."

"That is quite enough about me. Suppose you change the subject now and account for yourself."

"I? Oh, I came along to frustrate the plots of a wicked father."

"He isn't a wicked father! And I didn't ask you why you're here. I want to know who you are!"

"I'm the Perfect Pig."

Little Miss Grouch stamped her little French heel. As it landed the young man was six feet away, having retired with the graceful agility of a trained boxer.

"You're very light on your feet," said she.

"Therein lies my only hope of self-preservation. _You were not very light on my foot yesterday, you know."

"Has it recovered enough to take me for a walk?"

"Quite!"

"Still," she added, ruminating, "ought I to go walking with a man whose very name I don't know?"

"My name? Do you think that's fair, when you won't tell me yours? Besides, I don't believe you'd care about it, anyway."

"Why shouldn't I?"

"Well, it isn't very impressive. People have even been known to jeer at it."

"You're ashamed of it?"

"No-o-o-o," said the Tyro artfully.

"You are! I'd be ashamed to be ashamed of my name--even if it were Smith."

"Hello! What's the matter with Smith?" demanded the young man, startled at this unexpected turn.

"Oh, nothing," said she loftily, "except that it's so awfully common. Why, there are thousands of Smiths!"

"Common? Well, I'll be jig--" At this point, resentment spurred the ingenuity of the Tyro to a prompt and lofty flight. "If you don't like Smith," he said, "I wonder what you'll think when you hear the awful truth."

"Try me."

"Very well," he sighed. "I suppose it's foolish to have any feeling about it. But perhaps you'd be sensitive, too, if you'd been born to the name of Daddleskink."

_"What!"

"Daddleskink," said the Tyro firmly. "Sanders Daddleskink. Suppose you were Mrs. Sanders Daddleskink."

"I shan't suppose any such thing," she retorted indignantly.

"I warned you that you wouldn't like it."

"Like it? I don't even believe it. There ain't no such animile as a Daddleskink."

"Madame," said the Tyro, drawing himself up to his full height, "I would have you understand that, uneuphonious as the name may seem, the Daddleskinks sat in the seats of the mighty when our best-known American families of to-day, such as the Murphys, the Cohens, the Browns, Joneses, and Robinsons, were mere nebulous films of protoplasmic mud."

"Oo-ooh!" said Little Miss Grouch, making a little red rosebud of her mouth. "What magnificent language you use."

"Genealogists claim," continued the young man, warming to his subject, "that the family came from Provence and was originally De Dalesquinc, and that the name became corrupted into its present form. My friends often call me Smith for short," he concluded, in sudden inspiration.

"Very tactful of them," she murmured.

"Yes. You might have had the privilege, yourself, if you hadn't derided the name of Smith. Now, aren't you sorry?"

"I shall _not call you Smith," declared the girl. "I shall call you by your own name, Mr. Sanders Daddle--Oh, it simply can't be true!" she wailed.

Chance sent Alderson along the deck at this moment. "Hello, Dr. Alderson," called the Tyro.

"Hello, Sandy!" said the other.

"You see," said the Tyro in dismal triumph.

Scant enough it was, as corroboration for so outrageous a facture as the cognomen Daddleskink, but it served to convince the doubter.

"At least, you have the satisfaction of being unusual," she consoled him.

"If you regard it as a satisfaction. Can you blame me for denouncing my fate? How will you like introducing such a name to your friends?"

"I'm not going to introduce you to my friends. I'm going to keep you for myself. Solitary confinement."

_"Solitude a deux? That's a mitigation. Oh, beautiful--I mean to say plain but worthy _incognita_, suppose I ferret out the mystery of your identity for myself?"

"I put you on honor. You're to ask no questions of any one. You're not even to listen when anyone speaks to me. Do you promise?"

"May my eyes be blasted out and my hopes wrecked by never seeing you again, if I be not faithful," he said.

But Fate arranges these matters to suit its more subtle purposes.

The Wondrous Vision had dismissed her slave, giving him rendezvous for the next morning,--he had pleaded in vain for that evening,--and he was composing himself to a thoughtful promenade, and to the building of air-castles of which the other occupant was Little Miss Grouch, when he became aware of a prospective head-on collision. He side-stepped. The approaching individual did the same. He sheered off to port. The other followed. In desperation he made a plunge to starboard and was checked at the rail by the pursuer.

"I wish to speak to you," announced a cold and lofty voice.

The Tyro emerged from his glorious abstraction, to find himself confronted by a middle-aged lady with violent pretensions to youth, mainly artificial. Some practitioners of the toilet-table paint in the manner of Sargent; others follow the school of Cecilia Beaux; but this lady's color-scheme was unmistakably that of Turner in his most expansive mood of sunset, burning ships, and volcanic eruptions.

By way of compensation, she wore an air of curdled virtue, and carried her nose at such an angle that one expected to see her at any moment set the handle of her lorgnette on the tip thereof, and oblige the company with a few unparalleled feats of balancing.

Surprise held the Tyro's tongue in leash for the moment. Then he came to. Here was another unexpected lady evidently relying upon that tricky memory of his. Very well: this time it should not betray him!

"How do you do?" he said, seizing her hand and shaking it warmly. "I'm so glad to see you again."

She withdrew the captured member indignantly. "Again? Where have you ever seen me before?" she demanded.

"Just what I was trying to think," murmured the Tyro. "Where _have I seen you?"

The colorful lady lifted her glasses and her nose at one and the same moment. "I am Mrs. Denyse," she informed him. "Mrs. Charlton Denyse. You may know the name."

"I may," admitted the Tyro, unfavorably impressed by the manner in which she was lorgnetting him, "but I don't at the moment recall it."

Exasperation flashed in Mrs. Denyse's cold eyes. She had spent much time and trouble and no small amount of money advertising that name socially in New York, and to find it unknown was a reflection upon the intelligence of her investment. "Where on earth do you come from, then?" she inquired acidly.

"Oh, all over the place," he answered with a vague gesture. "Mainly the West."

"So one would suppose. It doesn't matter. I wish you to read this." She thrust a folded newspaper page into his hand, adding: "It is only fair to you to say that I speak with the authority permissible to kinship."

"Kinship? Do you mean that you're related to me?"

"Certainly not! Be good enough to look at the paper and you will understand."

The Tyro was good enough to look, but, he reflected with regret, he wasn't clever enough to understand.

The first column was given up to a particularly atrocious murder in Harlem. The second was mainly political conjecture. In the center of the page was a totally faceless "Portrait of Cecily Wayne, Spoiled Darling of New York and Newport, whose engagement to Remsen Van Dam has Just Been Announced." Beyond, there was a dispatch about the collapse of the newest airship, and, on the far border, an interview with the owner of the paper, in which he personally declared war on most of Central America and half of Europe because a bandit who had once worked on a ranch of his had been quite properly tried and hanged for several cold-blooded killings.

"You will gain nothing by delay," said the lady impatiently.

"I give it up," confessed the Tyro, returning the paper. "You'll have to tell me."

"Even the most impenetrable stupidity could not overlook the announcement of Remsen Van Dam's engagement."

"Oh, yes; I saw that. But as I don't know Mr. Van Dam personally, it didn't interest me."

"Still, possibly you're not so extremely Western as not to know who he is. He's the sole surviving representative of one of the oldest houses in New York."

"Barns, not houses," corrected the other gently. "His father was the Van Dam coachman. He made his pile in some sort of liniment, and helped himself to the Van Dam name when it died out."

For Mrs. Denyse to redden visibly was manifestly impossible. But her plump cheeks swelled. "How dare you rake up that wretched scandal!" she demanded.

"Scandal? Not at all," replied the Tyro mildly. "You see, I happen to know. My grandmother was a Miss Van Dam."

"It must have been of some other family," said the lady haughtily. "I beg to inform you that Remsen Van Dam is my cousin."

"Really! I'm awfully sorry. Still--you know,--I dare say he's all right. His father--the real name was Doody--was an excellent coachman. I've often heard Grandma Van say so."

Mrs. Denyse after a time recovered speech by a powerful effort, and her first use of it was to make some observations upon the jealousy of poor relations.

"But this is profitless," she said. "You will now appreciate the desirability of guarding your conduct."

"In what respect?"

Mrs. Denyse pointed majestically to the pictorial blur in the paper. "Perhaps you don't recognize that," she said.

"I don't. Nobody could."

"That's true; they couldn't," she granted reluctantly. "But there's the name beneath, Cecily Wayne. I suppose you can read."

"I can. Who is Cecily Wayne?"

"Of all the impudence!" cried the enraged lady. "As you've been making yourself and her conspicuous all the afternoon--"

"Oh!" exclaimed the Tyro, a great light breaking in upon him. "So that's Cecily Wayne. It's a pretty name."

"It's a name that half of the most eligible men in New York have tried their best to change," said the other with emphasis. "Remsen Van Dam is not the only one, I assure you."

"Then the apostle of St. Vitus on the dock was Remsen Van Dam! Well, that's all right. She isn't engaged to him. The paper's wrong."

"Pray, how can you know that?"

"A little bird--No; they don't have little birds at sea, do they? A well-informed fish told me."

"Then I tell you the opposite. Now I trust that you will appreciate that your attentions to Miss Wayne are offensive."

"They don't seem to have offended her."

"Where did you know her? Who are you, anyway?" snapped his inquisitress, her temper quite gone.

The Tyro leaned forward and fixed his gaze midway of the lady's adequate corsage.

"If you want to know," said he, "you're carrying my favor above your heart, or near it, this minute. Look on the under side of your necktie."

The indignant one turned the scarf and read with a baleful eye: "Smitholder: Pat. April 10, 1912." "What does Smitholder mean?" she demanded.

"A holder for neckwear, the merits of which modesty forbids me to descant upon, invented by its namesake, Smith."

"Ah," said she, with a great contempt. "Then your name, I infer, is Smith."

He bowed. "Smith's as good a trade name as any other."

"Very well, Mr. Smith. Take my advice and keep your distance from Miss Wayne. Otherwise--"

"Well, otherwise?" encouraged the Tyro as she paused.

"I shall send a wireless to my cousin. _And to Mr. Wayne. I suppose you know, at least, who Hurry-up Wayne of Wall Street is."

"Never heard of him," said the Tyro cheerfully.

"You're a fool!" said Mrs. Charlton Denyse, and marched away, with the guerdon of Smith heaving above her outraged and ample bosom.

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CHAPTER IFirst day out. Weather horrible, uncertain and squally, but interesting Developments promised Feel fine. SMITH'S LOG.Several tugs were persuasively nudging the Clan Macgregor out from her pier. Beside the towering flanks of the sea-monster, newest and biggest of her species, they seemed absurdly inadequate to the job. But they made up for their insignificance by self-important and fussy puffings and pipings, while, like an elephant harried by terriers, the vast mass slowly swung outward toward the open. From the pier there arose a composite clamor of farewell. The Tyro gazed down upon this lively scene with a feeling of loneliness.
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