Impotent their seething! The overwhelming Crooper pursued his conquering way. He leaned more and more toward the magnetic girl, his growing tenderness having that effect upon him, and his head inclining so far that his bedewed brow now and then touched the fluffy hat. He was constitutionally restless, but his movements never ended by placing a greater distance between himself and Miss Pratt, though they sometimes discommoded Miss Parcher, who sat at the other side of him—a side of him which appeared to be without consciousness. He played naively with Miss Pratt’s locket and with the filmy border of her collar; he flicked his nose for some time with her little handkerchief, loudly sniffing its scent; and finally he became interested in a ring she wore, removed it, and tried unsuccessfully to place it upon one of his own fingers.
“I’ve worn lots o’ girls’ rings on my watch-fob. I’d let ’em wear mine on a chain or something. I guess they like to do that with me,” he said. “I dunno why it is.”
At this subtle hint the three unfortunates held their breath, and then lost it as the lovely girl acquiesced in the horrible exchange. As for William, life was of no more use to him. Out of the blue heaven of that bright morning’s promise had fallen a pall, draping his soul in black and purple. He had been horror-stricken when first the pudgy finger of George Crooper had touched the fluffy edge of that sacred little hat; then, during George’s subsequent pawings and leanings, William felt that he must either rise and murder or go mad. But when the exchange of rings was accomplished, his spirit broke and even resentment oozed away. For a time there was no room in him for anything except misery.
Dully, William’s eyes watched the fat shoulders hitching and twitching, while the heavy arms flourished in gesture and in further pawings. Again and again were William’s ears afflicted with, “I dunno why it is,” following upon tribute after tribute paid by Mr. Crooper to himself, and received with little cries of admiration and sweet child-words on the part of Miss Pratt. It was a long and accursed ride.
At the farm-house where the party were to dine, Miss Pratt with joy discovered a harmonium in the parlor, and, seating herself, with all the girls, Flopit, and Mr. George Crooper gathered around her, she played an accompaniment, while George, in a thin tenor of detestable sweetness, sang “I’m Falling in Love with Some One.”
His performance was rapturously greeted, especially by the accompanist. “Oh, wunnerfulest Untle Georgiecums!” she cried, for that was now the gentleman’s name. “If Johnnie McCormack hear Untle Georgiecums he go shoot umself dead—Bang!” She looked round to where three figures hovered morosely in the rear. “Tum on, sin’ chorus, Big Bruvva Josie-Joe, Johnny Jump-up, an’ Ickle Boy Baxter. All over adain, Untle Georgiecums! Boys an’ dirls all sin’ chorus. Tummence!”