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Monkey Nuts
by [?]

“Who’s M. S. ?” he asked, looking shrewdly at Joe.

“You know as well as I do,” said Joe, non-commital.

“M. S. ,”repeated Albert.”Blamed if I know, boy. Is it a woman?”

The conversation was carried on in tiny voices, for fear of disturbing the householders.

“I don’t know,” said Joe, turning. He looked full at Albert, the two men looked straight into each other’s eyes. There was a lurking grin in each of them.

“Well I’m—blamed!” said Albert at last, throwing the telegram down emphatically on the bed.

“Wha-at?” said Joe, grinning rather sheepishly, his eyes clouded none the less.

Albert sat on the bed and proceeded to undress, nodding his head with mock gravity all the while. Joe watched him foolishly.

“What?” he repeated faintly.

Albert looked at him with a knowing look.

“If that isn’t coming it quick [coming it quick: Being provocative (colloquial). ], boy!” he said.”What the blazes—what ha’ you bin doing?”

“Nothing!” said Joe.

Albert slowly shook his head as he sat on the side of the bed.

“Don’t happen to me when I’vebin doin’ nothing,” he said. And he proceeded to pull off his stockings.

Joe turned away, looking at himself in the mirror as he unbuttoned his tunic.

“You didn’t want to keep the appointment?” Albert asked, in a changed voice, from the bedside.

Joe did not answer for a moment. Then he said:

“I made no appointment.”

“I’m not saying you did, boy. Don’t be nasty about it. I mean you didn’t want to answer the—unknown person’s summons—shall I put it that way?”

“No,” said Joe.

“What was the deterring motive?” asked Albert, who was now lying on his back in bed.

“Oh,” said Joe, suddenly looking round rather haughtily, “I didn’t want to.” He had a well-balanced head, and could take on a sudden distant bearing.

“Didn’t want to—didn’t cotton on, like. Well—they be artful, the women—” he mimicked his landlord.”Come on into bed, boy. Don’t loiter about as if you’d lost something.”

Albert turned over, to sleep.

On Monday Miss Stokes turned up as usual, striding beside her team. Her “whoa!” was resonant and challenging, she looked up at the truck as her steeds came to a standstill. Joe had turned aside, and had his face averted from her. She glanced him over—save for his slender succulent tenderness she would have despised him. She sized him up in a steady look. Then she turned to Albert, who was looking down at her and smiling in his mischievous turn. She knew his aspects by now. She looked straight back at him, though her eyes were hot. He saluted her.

“Beautiful morning, Miss Stokes.”

“Very!” she replied.

“Handsome is as handsome looks,” said Albert.

Which produced no response.

“Now Joe, come on here,” said the corporal.”Don’t keep the ladies waiting—it’s the sign of a weak heart.”

Joe turned, and the work began. Nothing more was said for the time being. As the week went on, all parties became more comfortable. Joe remained silent, averted, neutral, a little on his dignity. Miss Stokes was off-hand and masterfull. Albert was full of mischief.”

The great theme was a circus, which was coming to the market town on the following Saturday.

“You’ll go to the circus, Miss Stokes?” said Albert.

“I may do. Are you going?”

“Certainly. Give us the pleasure of escorting you.”

“No thanks.”

“That’s what I call a flat refusal—what, Joe? You don’t mean that you have no liking for our company, Miss Stokes?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Miss Stokes.”How many are there of you?”

“Only me and Joe.”

“Oh, is that all?” she said satirically.

Albert was a little nonplussed.

“Isn’t that enough for you?” he asked.

“Too many by half,” blurted out Joe, jeeringly, in a sudden fit of uncouth rudeness that made both of the others stare.