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Safety Match
by [?]

Mr. Boom, late of the mercantile marine, had the last word, but only by the cowardly expedient of getting out of earshot of his daughter first, and then hurling it at her with a voice trained to compete with hurricanes. Miss Boom avoided a complete defeat by leaning forward with her head on one side in the attitude of an eager but unsuccessful listener, a pose which she abandoned for one of innocent joy when her sire, having been deluded into twice repeating his remarks, was fain to relieve his overstrained muscles by a fit of violent coughing.

“I b’lieve she heard it all along,” said Mr. Boom sourly, as he continued his way down the winding lane to the little harbour below. “The only way to live at peace with wimmen is to always be at sea; then they make a fuss of you when you come home–if you don’t stay too long, that is.”

He reached the quay, with its few tiny cottages, and brown nets spread about to dry in the sun, and walking up and down, grumbling, regarded with jaundiced eye a few small smacks which lay in the harbour, and two or three crusted amphibians lounging aimlessly about.

“Mornin’, Mr. Boom,” said a stalwart youth in sea-boots, appearing suddenly over the edge of the quay from his boat.

“Mornin’, Dick,” said Mr. Boom affably; “just goin’ off?”

“‘Bout an hour’s time,” said the other: “Miss Boom well, sir?”

“She’s a’ right,” said Mr. Boom; “me an’ her ‘ve just had a few words. She picked up something off the floor what she said was a cake o’ mud off my heel. Said she wouldn’t have it,” continued Mr. Boom, his voice rising. “My own floor too. Swep’ it up off the floor with a dustpan and brush, and held it in front of me to look at.”

Dick Tarrell gave a grunt which might mean anything–Mr. Boom took it for sympathy.

“I called her old maid,” he said with gusto; “‘you’re a fidgety old maid,’ I said. You should ha’ seen her look. Do you know what I think, Dick?”

“Not exactly,” said Tarrell cautiously.

“I b’leeve she’s that savage that she’d take the first man that asked her,” said the other triumphantly; “she’s sitting up there at the door of the cottage, all by herself.”

Tarrell sighed.

“With not a soul to speak to,” said Mr. Boom pointedly.

The other kicked at a small crab which was passing, and returned it to its native element in sections.

“I’ll walk up there with you if you’re going that way,” he said at length.

“No, I’m just having a look round,” said Mr. Boom, “but there’s nothing to hinder you going, Dick, if you’ve a mind to.”

“There’s no little thing you want, as I’m going there, I s’pose?” suggested Tarrell. “It’s awkward when you go there and say, ‘Good-morning,’ and the girl says, ‘Good-morning,’ and then you don’t say any more and she don’t say any more. If there was anything you wanted that I could help her look for, it ‘ud make talk easier.”

“Well–go for my baccy pouch,” said Mr. Boom, after a minute’s thought, “it’ll take you a long time to find that.”

“Why?” inquired the other.

“‘Cos I’ve got it here,” said the unscrupulous Mr. Boom, producing it, and placidly filling his pipe.

“You might spend–ah–the best part of an hour looking for that.”

He turned away with a nod, and Tarrell, after looking about him in a hesitating fashion to make sure that his movements were not attracting the attention his conscience told him they deserved, set off in the hang-dog fashion peculiar to nervous lovers up the road to the cottage. Kate Boom was sitting at the door as her father had described, and, in apparent unconsciousness of his approach, did not raise her eyes from her book. “Good-morning,” said Tarrell, in a husky voice.

Miss Boom returned the salutation, and, marking the place in her book with her forefinger, looked over the hedge on the other side of the road to the sea beyond.