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Caught in a Trap   By:

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Volume 1, Chapter I.

AMONGST THE PLUNGERS.

"Hullo! Markworth. How lucky! Why you are just the man I want; you're ubiquitous, who'd have thought of seeing you in town?" said Tom Hartshorne, of the th Dragoons, cheerily, as he sauntered late one summer afternoon into a private billiard room in Oxford street, where a tall, dark complexioned, and strikingly handsome man, was knocking the balls about in his shirt sleeves, and trying all sorts of fancy shots against the cushions The sole occupant of the room was he, with the exception of the marker, who was looking on in a desultory sort of way at the strokes of the player from his thronelike chair underneath the scoring board.

"Hullo! Tom, by all that's holy! And what brings you to Babylon? I left Boulogne last week, and ran up to see what the `boys' were after; so here I am, quite at your service. What can I do for you, Tom? Are you hard up, in a row, or run away with your neighbour's wife? Unbosom yourself, caro mio ."

"No, I'm all right, old chap; but nothing could be better. By Jove! it's the very thing!"

"Who? Why? What? Enlighten me, Tom."

"Well, you see, Markworth, I've got to go down to morrow for my annual week to my mother's place in Sussex. It will be so awfully slow; just fancy, old chap, a whole week in that dreary old country house, with no company, no shooting, no fishing, no anything! Why, it's enough to kill a fellow!"

"Poor Tom," observed Markworth, sympathisingly.

"Yes; but that's not the worst either, old chap. My mother is very cranky, you know, and the house itself is as dull as ditch water. You have to go to bed and get up by clockwork; and if one should be late at dinner, or in turning in, why, it is thought more of by the ruling powers than the worst sin in the decalogue. Besides, I have to keep straight and humour the old lady for I am quite dependent on her until I come of age; and, though she's very fond of me in her sort of way, she cuts up rough sometimes, and would stop supplies in a moment if I should offend her."

"Dutiful infant! I pity your sorrows, Tom; but what can I do to help you?"

"I'm just coming to that; but we may as well have a game by the way, while we're talking."

"Certainly; how many points shall I give you? The usual number, eh? Score up, fifteen to spot, marker," he said, turning to the little man, who, with a face of dull impassiveness, was sitting bolt upright, like Neptune with his trident, holding the billiard rest in a perpendicular position, apparently hearing nothing, although his eyes twinkled every now and then. "You lead, Tom, of course."

"All right, here goes; but, to return to what we were speaking about. You can help me very much, Markworth."

"Can I? That's a good cannon, you mustn't play all through like that, Tom, or you'll beat me easily; but, go on, and tell me what you want."

"Ha! yes you see I've got one saving clause in my predicament. My mother says I may bring some one down with me, and I don't know who the deuce to take for any of our fellows would ruin me in half a day with the old lady, by talking slang, or flirting with the maids, or something else."

"And you want me to go and victimise myself for a week? Much obliged, I'm sure."

"Nonsense, Markworth. By Jove! that's a ripping hazard in the middle pocket; you've got the red in baulk, too, and the game's all in your hands. You are really the only fellow I'd ask, and it would be a perfect godsend to have you. It won't be so dull for the two of us together, and I'm sure you'll be able to pull me out of many a scrape with the old lady, for she's just your sort, and you can tackle her like one o'clock; only talk to her about the `Ologies' old country families, and the peerage, and you'll be all right. She never speaks of anything else. Besides, there's a Miss Kingscott down there a governess, or companion, or something of the sort to my sister whom I've never yet seen, as she only came there this year... Continue reading book >>




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