Page:Court Royal.djvu/290

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trial between our snails for double or quits. Mine started right enough, but became lazy, and I touched her. When I did that, the snail, instead of running the faster, retreated within her shell. I was frightened, and applied the lighted end of my cigar to the shell. She ought to have rushed out, but, instead, went into sulks. She has not put out her horns since. Joe, you ought to sympathise with me and help me; I had christened my racer after you.’

‘My name is not Joe.’

‘My snail was called Joanna.’

‘Why did you name a snail after me? It was no compliment.’

‘I called her after the jolliest girl I knew. I had to give her a name, and I could think only of you at the time. I can’t tell my governor the story of the snail, can I? Invent me something to take its place.’

Joanna shook her head. ‘I cannot do that,’ she said gravely; ‘I never tell a lie to Lazarus. If ever I see my mother again, I will be true to her in every word I utter. You must be true to your father. Whom can we be true to except our own parents? As for the public’—her lips curled with scorn—‘there is no sin in lying to them. They love lies as rats love aniseed. Put your snail in water, and she’ll put out her head.’

‘I never thought of that. Give me a saucer and water, and we will try. I dare say she is as dry as a sermon.’

Joanna complied with his request. No customer came into the shop just then; had one come, he would have seen two young heads bowed over a saucer with a little water in it, watching a snail. The one head was fair, the other dark; the one face good-natured, feeble, the other full of character and intelligence. Both pleasant in appearance; the young man good-looking, the girl beautiful; he with almost boyish simplicity, she with womanly shrewdness.

‘She is stirring, by Jove!’ exclaimed Charlie Cheek.

‘I said she would. I am never mistaken.’

‘It was a case of double or quits,’ explained the young man; ‘that is how I came to lose so much. There was a matter of fifty pounds between us, so when Finch proposed double or quits on a snail race, I said “Done!”’

‘And done you are,’ said Joanna. ‘The snail was wiser than you. When burnt, she retired from the contest, and you persevered.’