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Monkey Nuts
by [?]

“Oh, make it a certainty!” said Albert.

She did not make a reply. She turned and looked over the two men coolly. She was pretty, moderately blonde, with crisp hair, a good skin, and large blue eyes. She was strong too, and the work went on leisurely and easily.

“Now,” said the corporal, stopping as usual to look around, “pleasant company makes work a pleasure—don’t hurry it, boys.” He stood on the truck surveying the world. That was one of his great and absorbing occupations: to stand and look out on things in general. Joe, also standing on the truck, also turned round to look what was to be seen. But he could not become blankly absorbed as Albert could.

Miss Stokes watched the two men from under her broad felt hat. She had seen hundreds of Alberts, khaki soldiers standing in loose attitudes absorbed in watchingnothing in particular. She had seen also a good many Joes, quiet, good-looking young soldiers with half-averted faces. But there was something in the turn of Joe’s head, and something in his quiet, tender-looking form, young and fresh—which attracted her eye. As she watched him closely from below, he turned as if he felt her, and his dark-blue eye met her straight, light-blue gaze. He faltered and turned aside again and looked as if he were going to fall off the truck. A slight flush mounted under the girl’s full, ruddy face. She liked him.

Always after this when she came into the sidings with her team it was Joe she looked for. She acknowledged to herself that she was sweet on him. But Albert did all the talking. He was so full of fun and nonsense. Miss Stokes was driven to indulge in repartee with Albert, but she fixed her magnetic attention on the younger fellow. Joe would talk to Albert, and laugh at his jokes but Miss Stokes could get little out of him. She had to depend on her silent forces. They were more effective than might be imagined.

Suddenly, on a Saturday afternoon at about two o’clock, Joe received a bolt from the blue—a telegram:

“Meet me Belbury Station 6 p. m. to-day. —M. S.”

He knew at once who M. S. was. His heart melted, he felt weak as if he had had a blow.

“What’s the trouble, boy?” asked Albert anxiously.

“No—no trouble—it’s to meet somebody.” Joe lifted his dark-blue eyes in confusion towards his corporal.

“Meet sombody!” repeated the corporal, watching his younger pal with keen blue eyes.”It’s all right, then, nothing wrong?”

“No—nothing wrong. I’m not going,” said Joe.

Albert was old and shrewd enough to see that nothing more should be said before the housewife. He also saw that Joe did not want to take him into confidence. So he held his peace, though he was piqued.

The two soldiers went into town, smartened up. Albert knew a fair number of the boys round about; there would be plenty of gossip in the market-place, plenty of lounging in groups on the Bath Road, watching the Saturday evening shoppers. Then a modest drink or two, and the pictures. They passed an agreeable, casual, nothing-in-particular evening, with which Joe was quite satisfied. He thought of Belbury Station, and of M. S. waiting there. He had not the faintest intention of meeting her. And he had not the faintest intention of telling Albert.

And yet, when the two men were in their bedroom, half undressed, Joe suddenly held out the telegram to his corporal, saying: “What do you think of that?”

Albert was just unbuttoning his braces. He desisted, took the telegram form, and turned towards the candle to read it.

“Meet me Belbury Station 6 p. m. to-day. M. S.”he read, soto voce. His face took on its fun-and-nonsense look.