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PAGE 4

Monkey Nuts
by [?]

“Oh, I’ll stand out of the way, boy, if that’s it,” said Albert to Joe. Then he turned mischievously to Miss Stokes.”He wants to know what M. stands for,” he said confidentially.

“Monkeys,” she replied, turning to her horses.

“What’s M. S. ?” said Albert.

“Monkey nuts,” she retorted, leading off her team.

Albert looked after her a little discomfitted. Joe had flushed dark, and cursed Albert in his heart.

On the Saturday afternoon the two soldiers took the train into town. They would have to walk home. They had tea at six o’clock, and lounged about till half-past seven. The circus was in a meadow near the river—a great red-and-white striped tent. Caravans stood at the side. A great crowd of people was gathered round the ticket caravan.

Inside the tent the lamps were lighted, shining on a ring of faces, a great circular bank of faces round the green grassy centre. Along with some comrades, the two soldiers packed themselves on a thin plank seat, rather high. They were delighted with the flaring lights, the wild effect. But the circus performance did not affect them deeply. They admired the lady in black velvet with rose-purple legs, who leapt so neatly on to the galloping horse, they watched the feats of stength and laughed at the clown. But they felt a little patronising, they missed the sensational drama of the cinema.

Half-way through the performance Joe was electrified to see the face of Miss Stokes not very far from him. There she was, in her khaki and her felt hat, as usual; he pretended not to see her. She was laughing at the clown; she also pretended not see him. It was a blow to him, and it made him angry. He would not even mention it to Albert. Least said, soonest mended. He liked to believe she had not seen him. But he knew, fatally, that she had.

When they came out it was nearly eleven o’clock; a lovely night, with a moon and tall, dark noble trees: a magnificent May night. Joe and Albert laughed and chaffed with the boys. Joe looked round frequently to see if he were safe from Miss Stokes. It seemed so.

But there were six miles to walk home. At last the two soldiers set off, swinging their canes. The road was white between tall hedges, other stragglers were passing out of the town towards the villages, the air was full of pleasant excitement.

They were drawing near to the village, when they saw a dark figure ahead. Joe’s heart sank with pure fear. It was a figure wheeling a bicycle—a land-girl—Miss Stokes. Albert was ready with his nonsense. Miss Stokes had a puncture.

“Let me wheel the rattler,” [rattler: Bicycle (slang). ]said Albert.

“Thank you,” said Miss Stokes.”You areso kind.”

“Oh I’d be kinder than that, if you’d show me how,” said Albert.

“Are you sure?” said Miss Stokes.

“Doubt my words?” said Albert.”That’s what I call cruel, now, Miss Stokes.”

Miss Stokes walked between them, close to Joe.

“Have you been to the circus?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he replied mildly.

“Have youbeen?” Albert asked her.

“Yes. I didn’t see you,” she replied.

“What!—you say so! Didn’t see us! Didn’t think us worth looking at,” began Albert.”Aren’t I as handsome as the clown, now?” And you didn’t as much as glance in our direction? I call it downright oversight.”

“I never sawyou,” reiterated Miss Stokes.”I didn’t know you saw me.”

“That makes it worse,” said Albert.

The road passed through a belt of dark pine wood. The village, and the branch road, was very near. Miss Stokes put out her fingers and felt for Joe’s hand, as it swung at his side. To say he was staggered is to put it mildly. Yet he allowed her softly to clasp his fingers for a few moments. But he was a mortified youth.