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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLittle Miss Grouch - Chapter 8
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Little Miss Grouch - Chapter 8 Post by :Bruce_McCormick Category :Long Stories Author :Samuel Hopkins Adams Date :May 2012 Read :1047

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Little Miss Grouch - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

Eighth day out.

Glorious sunshine, a tingling wind,
and the ship just "inchin'
along like a poor inch-worm."

Everything's wrong with the ship;--
Everything's right with the world.

Perfectly satisfied with the Macgregor
hospitality. She may take all the
time she wants, so far as I'm
concerned--

SMITH'S LOG.


Out of the blue void of a fleckless sky, came whooping at dawn a boisterous wind. All the little waves jumped from their slow-swinging cradles to play with it, and, as they played, became big waves, with all the sportiveness of children and all the power of giants. The Clan Macgregor was their toy.

At first she pretended indifference, and strove to keep the even tenor of her way, regardless of them. But they were too much and too many for her. She began to cripple and jig most painfully for one of her size and dignity. She limped, she wobbled, she squattered, she splashed and sploshed, she reeled hither and thither like an intoxicated old rounder buffeted by a crowd of practical jokers, and she lost time hand over fist, to the vast approval of Mr. Alexander Forsyth Smith. Time was now just so much capital to his hopes.

The tonic seduction of the gale was too much for Little Miss Grouch. This was no day for a proven sailor to be keeping between decks. Moreover, the maiden panic was now somewhat allayed. The girl's emotions, after the first shock of the surprise and the resentment of the hitherto untouched spirit, had come under control. She could now face a Daddleskink or a regiment of Daddleskinks, unmoved, so she felt--with proper support. Hence, like the Tyro, she was on deck early.

So they met. As in the mild and innocent poem of Victorian days, "'twas in a crowd." Little Miss Grouch had provided the crowd, and the Tyro simply added one to it. He was fain if not wholly content to stay in the background and bide his chance.

Now Little Miss Grouch, ignorant of the fact that her high-priced counsel had betrayed her cause, marveled and was disturbed when the Tyro approached, greeted her, and straightway dropped into the fringe of Society as constituted by herself for the occasion. Was he deliberately, in the face of his own belief that imprisonment would be the penalty of any communication between her and himself, willing to risk her liberty? If so, he was not the man she had taken him for. Little Miss Grouch's ideal was rocking a bit on his pedestal.

Patience was not one of the young lady's virtues. On the other hand, the compensating quality of directness was. "Do It Now" was her prevailing motto. She wanted to know what her slave meant by his abrupt change of attitude, and she wanted to know at once. But her methods, though prompt, were not wholly lacking in finesse. Out of her surrounding court she appointed Judge Enderby and Lord Guenn escorts for the morning promenade, and picked up Dr. Alderson on the way.

Be it duly set down to the credit of the Joyous Vision's solider qualities, that old men found her as interesting a companion, though in a different way, as did young men. By skillful management, she led the conversation to the house on the Battery, with the anticipated result that Judge Enderby (all innocent, wily old fox though he was, that he was playing her game) suggested the inclusion of the other claimant in the conference. The Tyro was summoned and came.

"The charge against you," explained the judge, "is contumaciousness in that you still insist on coveting a property which is claimed by royalty, under the divine right of queens."

"I'd be glad to surrender it," said the Tyro meekly, "but there seems to be a species of family obligation about it."

"Obligation or no obligation, you know you can't have it," declared the lady.

"I rather expect to, though."

"When papa says he'll get a thing, he always gets it," she informed him with lofty confidence, "and he has promised me that house."

"Then I'm afraid that this is the time his promise goes unfulfilled," said Judge Enderby.

She turned to him with incredulously raised brows.

"Alderson knows the old records; he's seen the option--it's a queer old document, by the way, but sound legally--and can swear to it."

"The only loose joint is the exact plan of the original property," observed the archaeologist.

"And that is in the picture at Guenn Oaks," contributed Lord Guenn.

"Why are you all against me?" cried Little Miss Grouch in grieved amazement.

"Not against you at all," said Judge Enderby. "It's simply a matter of the best claim. Besides, you, who have everything in the world, would you turn this poor homeless young wanderer out of a house that he's never been in?"

"Except by ancestral proxy," qualified Dr. Alderson.

"How _mean of you!" She turned the fire of denunciatory eyes upon the archaeologist. "You told me with your own lips that no family named Daddleskink was ever connected in the remotest degree with the house. You said the idea was as absurd as the name."

"So it is."

"Yet you turn around and declare that Mr. Daddleskink's claim is good."

"_Whose claim?"

"Mr. Daddleskink's." She indicated the Tyro with a scornful gesture. "Oh," she added, noting the other's obvious bewilderment, "I see you didn't know his real name."

"I? I've known him and his name all his life."

"And it isn't Daddleskink?"

The learned archaeologist lapsed against the rail and gave way to wild mirth. "Wh--where on earth d-d-did you gu-gu-get such a notion?" he quavered, when he could speak.

"He told me, himself."

"I? Never!" The Tyro's face was as that of a babe for innocence.

"_You--didn't--tell--me--your--name--was--Daddleskink?_"

"Certainly not. I simply asked if you didn't think it a misfortune to be named Daddleskink, and you jumped to the conclusion that it was my name and my misfortune."

"Perhaps you didn't tell me, either, that your friends called you 'Smith,'" she said ominously.

"So they do."

"Why should they call you 'Smith' if your name isn't Daddleskink?" she demanded, with an effect of unanswerable logic.

"Because my name _is Smith."

"Permit me to present," said Lord Guenn, who had been quietly but joyously appreciative of the duel, "my ancestral friend, Mr. Alexander Forsyth Smith."

"Why didn't you tell me your real name?" Little Miss Grouch's offended regard was fixed upon the Tyro.

"Well, you remember, you made fun of the honorable cognomen of Smith when we first met."

"That is no excuse."

"And you were mysterious as an owl about your own identity."

"I could see no occasion for revealing it." The delicately modeled nose was now quite far in the air.

"So I thought I'd furnish a really interesting name for you to amuse yourself with. I'm sorry you don't care for it."

Little Miss Grouch's limpid and lofty consideration passed from the anxious physiognomy of the speaker to the mirthful countenances of the other three.

"I'm not sure that I shall ever speak to any of you again," she stated, and, turning her back, marched away from them with lively resentment expressed in every supple line of her figure.

"Young man," said Judge Enderby to his client, as the male quartette, thus cavalierly dismissed, passed on, "will you take the advice of an old man?"

"Have I paid for it?" inquired the Tyro.

"You have not. Gratis advice, this. The most valuable kind."

"Shoot, sir."

"Don't let two blades of grass grow under your feet where one grew before."

"But--"

"--me no buts. Half an hour I give you. If you haven't found the young lady in that time I discard you."

Opportunity for successful concealment on shipboard is all but limitless. Hence the impartial recorder must infer that the efforts of Little Miss Grouch to elude pursuit were in no way excessive. A quarter of an hour sufficed for the searcher to locate his object in a sunny nook on the boat-deck. He approached and stood at attention. For several moments she ignored his presence. In point of fact she pretended not to see him. He shifted his position. She turned her head in the reverse direction and pensively studied the sea.

The Tyro sighed.

Little Miss Grouch frowned.

The Tyro coughed gently.

Little Miss Grouch scowled.

The Tyro lapsed to the deck and curled his legs under him.

Little Miss Grouch turned upon him a baleful eye. But her glance wavered: at least, it twinkled. Her little jaw was set, it is true. At the corner of her mouth, however, dimpled a suspicious and delicious quiver. Perhaps the faintest hint of it crept into her voice to mollify the rigor of the tone in which she announced:

"I came here to be alone."

"We are," said the Tyro. "At last!" he added with placid satisfaction.

"Well, really!" For the moment it was all that came to her, as offset to this superb impudence. "Go away, at once," she commanded presently.

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I'm lame," he said plaintively. "Pity the poor cripple."

"A little while ago you were deaf; then dumb. And now--By the way," she cried, struck with a sudden reminiscence, "what has become of your dumbness?"

"Cured."

"A miracle. Listen then. And stop looking at that crack in the deck as if you'd lost your last remaining idea down it."

"To look up is dangerous."

"Where's the danger?"

"Dangerous to my principles," he explained. "You see, you are somewhat less painful to the accustomed eye than usual to-day, and if I should so far forget my principles as to mention that fact--"

"You haven't a principle to your name! You're untruthful--"

"Ah, come, Little Miss Grouch!"

"Deceitful--"

"As to that Smith matter--"

"And most selfishly inconsiderate of me."

"Of you!" cried the Tyro, roused to protest.

"Certainly. Or you wouldn't be exposing me to imprisonment in my cabin by talking to me."

"Nothing doing," said he comfortably. "That little joke is played out."

"How did you know?"

Loyalty forbade the Tyro to betray his ally. "That you were of age, you mean, and couldn't be treated like a child?" he fenced.

"Yes."

"Well, when you spoke of the house on the Battery being deeded over to you, I knew that you must have reached your majority! The rest was simple to figure out."

"Oh, dear!" she mourned. "It was such fun chasing you around the ship!"

"Yes? Well, I've emulated the startled fawn all I'm going to this trip."

"What's your present role?"

"Meditation upon the wonder of existence."

"Do you find it good?"

"Existence? That depends. Am I to come to Guenn Oaks?"

"I'm sure you'd be awfully in the way there," she said petulantly. "You've been a perfect nuisance for the last two days."

"My picturesqueness has gone glimmering, now that I'm only a Smith instead of a Daddleskink. Why, oh, why must these lovely illusions ever perish!"

"_You killed cock-robin," she accused.

"Not at all. It was Dr. Alderson with his misplaced application of the truth."

"Anyway, I don't find you nearly so entertaining, now that you're plain Mr. Smith."

"Nor I you as Miss Cecily Wayne, equally plain if not plainer."

"In that case," she suggested with a mock-mournful glance from beneath the slanted brows, "this acquaintance might as well die a painless death."

"But for one little matter that you've forgotten."

"And that?"

"The Magnificent Manling of the Steerage."

"So I had forgotten! Let's go make our call on him. We must not neglect him a moment longer."

The Tyro leaped to his feet and they ran, hand in hand like two children, down to their point of observation of the less favored passengers. They spent a lively half-hour with the small Teuton, at the end of which Little Miss Grouch issued imperative commands to the Tyro to the effect that he was to wait at the pier when they got in, and see to it that mother and child were safely forwarded to the transfer.

"Yessum," said the Tyro meekly. "Anything further?"

"I'll let you know," she returned, royally. "You may wire me when the commission is executed. Perhaps, if you carry it through very nicely, I'll let you come to Guenn Oaks."

"Salaam, O Empress," returned the Tyro, executing a most elaborate Oriental bow, the concluding spiral of which almost involved him in Mrs. Charlton Denyse's suddenly impending periphery.

Mrs. Denyse retired three haughty paces.

"I wish to speak to Miss Wayne," she announced with a manner which implied that she did not wish and never again would wish to speak to Miss Wayne's companion.

"With me?" asked Little Miss Grouch, bland surprise in her voice.

"Yes. I have a message."

Little Miss Grouch waited.

"A private message," continued the lady.

"Is it very private? You know Mr. Daddleskink-Smith, I believe?"

"I've seen Mr. Daddleskink-Smith," frigidly replied the lady, mistaking the introducer's hesitation for a hyphen, "if that is what he calls himself now."

"It isn't," said the Tyro. "You know, Mrs. Denyse, I've always held that the permutation of names according to the taste of the inheritor, is one of the most interesting phases of social ingenuity."

Mrs. Charlton Denyse, relict of the late Charley Dennis, turned a deep Tyrian purple. "If you would be good enough--" she began, when the girl broke in:--

"Is your message immediate, Mrs. Denyse?"

"It is from my cousin, Mr. Van Dam."

"To me?" cried the girl.

"No. To me. By wireless. But it concerns you."

"In that case I don't think I'm interested," said the girl, her color rising. "You must excuse me." And she walked on.

"Then the gentlemanly spider on the hot griddle loses," murmured the Tyro.

"I don't know whom you mean," said the girl, obstinately.

"I mean that your foot-destroying 'Never-never-never' holds good."

"Yes," she replied. "I did think I _might marry him once. But now," she added pensively and unguardedly, "I know I never could."

The Tyro's heart came into his throat--except that portion of it which looked out of his eyes.

"Why?"

A flame rose in Little Miss Grouch's cheeks, and subsided, leaving her shaking.

"Why?" He had halted her beside the rail, and was trying to look into her face, which was averted toward the sea, and quivering with panic of the peril suddenly become imminent again.

Lord Guenn, approaching along the deck, furnished Little Miss Grouch an inspiration, the final flash of hope of the hard-pressed.

"Shut your eyes," she bade her terrifying slave.

"What for?"

"Obey!"

"They're shut."

"Tight?"

"Under sealed orders."

Little Miss Grouch made a swift signal to the approaching Englishman, and executed a silent maneuver.

"Count three," she directed breathlessly, "before you ask again or open your eyes."

"One--two--three," said the Tyro slowly. "_Why?_"

"Hanged if I know, my dear fellow," replied Lord Guenn, upon whose trim elegance the Tyro's discomfited vision rested.

Little Miss Grouch had vanished.

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