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One day a hue and cry was raised and word was quickly passed thatNumber 3126 was missing. He had planned his escape craftily. A newshop building was at that time in process of erection, and each day agang of "trusties" went outside to haul stone. Of course, thesafe-blower was not included in this outside gang, but one dark andrainy morning he included himself by the simple process of hog-tyingand gagging one of the trusties detailed for the job, exchangingnumbered jackets with him, and taking the man's place in the ranks ofthe stone-loaders, where he contrived to pass unnoticed by the guards.
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At that the whole story came out with a rush. Boodles could hold nothingback that morning. She told Weevil about the fairy-tale, from the "onceupon a time" up to the contents of that letter; and she begged him toplay the part of good genie, and with his enchantments causeblissfulness to happen.
Weevil unmeshed himself and shuffled away, pelting imaginary foes withbits of milk-jug, blinking his eyes like a cat in the sunshine. He couldnot destroy the child's happiness. As well expect the painter who hasexpended the best years of his life on a picture to cut and slash thecanvas. Boodles was his own. He had made and fashioned her. He could notextinguish his own little sun. He must let her linger in fairyland, andallow destiny, or human nature, or something else equally brutal, tofinish the story. Elementary forces of nature, like Pendoggat, might becruel, but Weevil was not a force, neither was he cruel. He was only aneccentric old man, and he wanted it to be well with the child. She wouldhave her eyes opened soon enough. She would discover that innocentsthrust out on the moor to perish cannot by the great law of proprietytake that place in life which beauty and goodness deserve. They must goback; like Undine, coming out with brave love to seek a soul, succeedingat first, but failing in the end, and going back at last to the statethat was hers. Poor little bastard Boodles! How mad she was thatmorning! Weevil hardly noticed that his eggs were hard-boiled.
The tenants of Lewside Cottage had become tired of the endless comedy.So, on that morning when Boodles had her letter, it was the most naturalthing in the world for Weevil to suggest that she should go and reclaimtheir property; and as the girl was longing for the open moor and thesight of Tavy Cleave, which was on the way to fairyland, she went,running part of the way for sheer joy, singing and laughing all thetime.
Lewside Cottage was infested with mice, very much as Hamelin town wasonce overrun with rats, and as Weevil could not pipe them into the Tavyhe had invested in a humane trap which caught the little victims alive.Then the difficulty of disposing of them arose. Weevil solved it in asimple fashion. He caught a mouse every night and let it go in themorning. In spite of these methods of extermination the creaturescontinued to increase and multiply.
"Don't, Mary," cried Boodles, almost passionately; for she dared notthink of Aubrey as a lover. Their love-days had become so impossible andunreal. She had written to him, but had said nothing of Weevil's death,afraid he might think she was appealing to him for help; neither had shesigned herself Titania Lascelles, nor told him of her aristocraticrelations. The story had appeared unreal somehow the morning after, andthe old man's manner and audible whispers had aroused her suspicions.She thought it would be best to wait a little before telling Aubrey.
In the morning there was a letter from Mr. Bellamie, not for Boodles,but for the old man who was dead, and the girl opened it, not knowingwho it was from, and learnt a little more of the truth about herself. Itwas lucky for old Weevil that he was well out of the way. He wouldprobably just as soon have been dead as called upon to answer thatletter, though it was kindly enough and delicately expressed and full ofartistic touches. Mr. Bellamie adopted a gentle cynicism which wouldhave been too subtle for Weevil's comprehension. He slapped him on theshoulder as it were, chaffing him, reproving him mildly, and saying ineffect: "You old rogue, to think that you could fool me with yourfairy-tales." He professed to regard the matter as a joke, and thenbecoming serious, suggested that Weevil would surely see the necessityof keeping Boodles and Aubrey apart in the future. He didn't believe inyoung men, and Aubrey was a mere boy, entangling themselves with anengagement, and altogether apart from that Boodles, though a pretty andcharming girl, was not the partner that he would wish his son to choose.Writing still more plainly, if Aubrey insisted upon marrying the girl itwould have to be without his consent. He could not receive Boodles athis house while the mystery of her birth remained unexplained. There wasa mystery, he knew, as he had made inquiries. He did not credit what hehad been told, but the fact remained that Weevil had increased hissuspicions by withholding what he knew. The whole affair wasunsatisfactory, and the only satisfactory way out of it would be to keepthe young people definitely apart until they had found other interests.Mr. Bellamie concluded by hoping that Weevil was not being troubled bythe wild weather and tempestuous winds.
She ran indoors, singing for the first time since Weevil's death, andsat down to answer the wonderful letter as primly as she could. "I willbe at the gate of the wood Friday morning," she wrote. Shall I sayweather permitting or God willing? she thought. No, I shall be thereanyhow. "I will come whatever happens," she went on, in defiance of godsand thunderbolts. "I am rather a small girl with lots of golden hair,and like you I am quite young. I feel certain I shall like you." Thisnote she fastened up, and addressed to Miss Y. Eimalleb, againexclaiming: "What a name!" at the Post Office, Devonport.
Life at eighteen is glorious and imaginative; sorrows cannot quench itsflame. One hour of real happiness makes the young soul sing again, asone burst of sunshine purges a haunted house of all its horror. Boodleswas down by Tavy side to bathe in the flowers and wash off the past andthe beastly origin of things; the black time of winter, the awfulloneliness, the windy nights. She was going to meet a friend, acompanion, somebody who would frighten the dark hours away. The past wasto vanish, not as if it had never been, but because it really never hadbeen. The story was to begin all over again, as the other one had beenconceived so badly that nobody could stand it. The once upon a timestage had come again, and the ogres had agreed not to interfere thistime. Boodles baptised herself in dew, and rose from the ceremony only afew hours old. The child's name was Flora; no connection of the poorlittle thing which had been flung out to perish because nobody wanted itexcept silly old Weevil, who hated to see animals hurt. Weevil belongedto the other story too, the rejected story, and therefore he had neverexisted. Nobody had wanted Boodles, which was natural enough, as she wasmerely a wretched illegitimate brat; but every one wanted Flora. Theworld would be a dreary place without its flowers. Flora could laugh Mr.Bellamie to scorn; for the sun was her father and the warm earth hermother; and nobody would stop to look at the flowers while she was goingby with them all upon her face.