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´╗┐Title: At Sunwich Port, Complete
Author: Jacobs, W. W. (William Wymark), 1863-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "At Sunwich Port, Complete" ***

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AT SUNWICH PORT

BY

W. W. JACOBS


ILLUSTRATIONS

From Drawings by Will Owen



CHAPTER I

The ancient port of Sunwich was basking in the sunshine of a July
afternoon.  A rattle of cranes and winches sounded from the shipping in
the harbour, but the town itself was half asleep.  Somnolent shopkeepers
in dim back parlours coyly veiled their faces in red handkerchiefs from
the too ardent flies, while small boys left in charge noticed listlessly
the slow passing of time as recorded by the church clock.

It is a fine church, and Sunwich is proud of it.  The tall grey tower is
a landmark at sea, but from the narrow streets of the little town itself
it has a disquieting appearance of rising suddenly above the roofs
huddled beneath it for the purpose of displaying a black-faced clock with
gilt numerals whose mellow chimes have recorded the passing hours for
many generations of Sunwich men.

Regardless of the heat, which indeed was mild compared with that which
raged in his own bosom, Captain Nugent, fresh from the inquiry of the
collision of his ship _Conqueror_ with the German barque _Hans Muller_,
strode rapidly up the High Street in the direction of home.  An honest
seafaring smell, compounded of tar, rope, and fish, known to the educated
of Sunwich as ozone, set his thoughts upon the sea.  He longed to be
aboard ship again, with the Court of Inquiry to form part of his crew.
In all his fifty years of life he had never met such a collection of
fools.  His hard blue eyes blazed as he thought of them, and the mouth
hidden by his well-kept beard was set with anger.

Mr. Samson Wilks, his steward, who had been with him to London to give
evidence, had had a time upon which he looked back in later years with
much satisfaction at his powers of endurance.  He was with the captain,
and yet not with him.  When they got out of the train at Sunwich he
hesitated as to whether he should follow the captain or leave him.  His
excuse for following was the bag, his reason for leaving the volcanic
condition of its owner's temper, coupled with the fact that he appeared
to be sublimely ignorant that the most devoted steward in the world was
tagging faithfully along a yard or two in the rear.

The few passers-by glanced at the couple with interest.  Mr. Wilks had
what is called an expressive face, and he had worked his sandy eyebrows,
his weak blue eyes, and large, tremulous mouth into such an expression of
surprise at the finding of the Court, that he had all the appearance of a
beholder of visions.  He changed the bag to his other hand as they left
the town behind them, and regarded with gratitude the approaching end of
his labours.

At the garden-gate of a fair-sized house some half-mile along the road
the captain stopped, and after an impatient fumbling at the latch strode
up the path, followed by Mr. Wilks, and knocked at the door.  As he
paused on the step he half turned, and for the first time noticed the
facial expression of his faithful follower.

"What the dickens are you looking like that for?" he demanded.

"I've been surprised, sir," conceded Mr. Wilks; "surprised and
astonished."

Wrath blazed again in the captain's eyes and set lines in his forehead.
He was being pitied by a steward!

"You've been drinking," he said, crisply; "put that bag down."

"Arsking your pardon, sir," said the steward, twisting his unusually dry
lips into a smile, "but I've 'ad no opportunity, sir--I've been follerin'
you all day, sir."

A servant opened the door.  "You've been soaking in it for a month,"
declared the captain as he entered the hall.  "Why the blazes don't you
bring that bag in?  Are you so drunk you don't know what you are doing?"

Mr. Wilks picked the bag up and followed humbly into the house.  Then he
lost his head altogether, and gave some colour to his superior officer's
charges by first cannoning into the servant and then wedging the captain
firmly in the doorway of the sitting-room with the bag.

"Steward!" rasped the captain.

"Yessir," said the unhappy Mr. Wilks.

"Go and sit down in the kitchen, and don't leave this house till you're
sober."

Mr. Wilks disappeared.  He was not in his first lustre, but he was an
ardent admirer of the sex, and in an absent-minded way he passed his arm
round the handmaiden's waist, and sustained a buffet which made his head
ring.

"A man o' your age, and drunk, too," explained the damsel.

Mr. Wilks denied both charges.  It appeared that he was much younger than
he looked, while, as for drink, he had forgotten the taste of it.  A
question as to the reception Ann would have accorded a boyish teetotaler
remained unanswered.

In the sitting-room Mrs. Kingdom, the captain's widowed sister, put down
her crochet-work as her brother entered, and turned to him expectantly.
There was an expression of loving sympathy on her mild and rather foolish
face, and the captain stiffened at once.

"I was in the wrong," he said, harshly, as he dropped into a chair; "my
certificate has been suspended for six months, and my first officer has
been commended."

"Suspended?" gasped Mrs. Kingdom, pushing back the white streamer to the
cap which she wore in memory of the late Mr. Kingdom, and sitting
upright.  "You?"

"I think that's what I said," replied her brother.

Mrs. Kingdom gazed at him mournfully, and, putting her hand behind her,
began a wriggling search in her pocket for a handkerchief, with the idea
of paying a wholesome tribute of tears.  She was a past-master in the art
of grief, and, pending its extraction, a docile tear hung on her eyelid
and waited.  The captain eyed her preparations with silent anger.

"I am not surprised," said Mrs. Kingdom, dabbing her eyes; "I expected it
somehow.  I seemed to have a warning of it.  Something seemed to tell me;
I couldn't explain, but I seemed to know."

She sniffed gently, and, wiping one eye at a time, kept the disengaged
one charged with sisterly solicitude upon her brother.  The captain, with
steadily rising anger, endured this game of one-eyed bo-peep for five
minutes; then he rose and, muttering strange things in his beard, stalked
upstairs to his room.

Mrs. Kingdom, thus forsaken, dried her eyes and resumed her work.  The
remainder of the family were in the kitchen ministering to the wants of a
misunderstood steward, and, in return, extracting information which
should render them independent of the captain's version.

"Was it very solemn, Sam?" inquired Miss Nugent, aged nine, who was
sitting on the kitchen table.

Mr. Wilks used his hands and eyebrows to indicate the solemnity of the
occasion.

"They even made the cap'n leave off speaking," he said, in an awed voice.

"I should have liked to have been there," said Master Nugent, dutifully.

"Ann," said Miss Nugent, "go and draw Sam a jug of beer."

"Beer, Miss?" said Ann.

"A jug of beer," repeated Miss Nugent, peremptorily.

Ann took a jug from the dresser, and Mr. Wilks, who was watching her,
coughed helplessly.  His perturbation attracted the attention of his
hostess, and, looking round for the cause, she was just in time to see
Ann disappearing into the larder with a cream jug.

[Illustration: "His perturbation attracted the attention of his
hostess."]

"The big jug, Ann," she said, impatiently; "you ought to know Sam would
like a big one."

Ann changed the jugs, and, ignoring a mild triumph in Mr. Wilks's eye,
returned to the larder, whence ensued a musical trickling.  Then Miss
Nugent, raising the jug with some difficulty, poured out a tumbler for
the steward with her own fair hands.

"Sam likes beer," she said, speaking generally.

"I knew that the first time I see him, Miss," re-marked the vindictive
Ann.

Mr. Wilks drained his glass and set it down on the table again, making a
feeble gesture of repulse as Miss Nugent refilled it.

"Go on, Sam," she said, with kindly encouragement; "how much does this
jug hold, Jack?"

"Quart," replied her brother.

"How many quarts are there in a gallon?"

"Four."

Miss Nugent looked troubled.  "I heard father say he drinks gallons a
day," she remarked; "you'd better fill all the jugs, Ann."

"It was only 'is way o' speaking," said Mr. Wilks, hurriedly; "the cap'n
is like that sometimes."

"I knew a man once, Miss," said Ann, "as used to prefer to 'ave it in a
wash-hand basin.  Odd, ugly-looking man 'e was; like Mr. Wilks in the
face, only better-looking."

Mr. Wilks sat upright and, in the mental struggle involved in taking in
this insult in all its ramifications, did not notice until too late that
Miss Nugent had filled his glass again.

"It must ha' been nice for the captain to 'ave you with 'im to-day,"
remarked Ann, carelessly.

"It was," said Mr. Wilks, pausing with the glass at his lips and eyeing
her sternly.  "Eighteen years I've bin with 'im--ever since 'e 'ad a
ship.  'E took a fancy to me the fust time 'e set eyes on me."

"Were you better-looking then, Sam?" inquired Miss Nugent, shuffling
closer to him on the table and regarding him affectionately.

"Much as I am now, Miss," replied Mr. Wilks, setting down his glass and
regarding Ann's giggles with a cold eye.

Miss Nugent sighed.  "I love you, Sam," she said, simply.  "Will you have
some more beer?"

Mr. Wilks declined gracefully.  "Eighteen years I've bin with the cap'n,"
he remarked, softly; "through calms and storms, fair weather and foul,
Samson Wilks 'as been by 'is side, always ready in a quiet and 'umble way
to do 'is best for 'im, and now--now that 'e is on his beam-ends and lost
'is ship, Samson Wilks'll sit down and starve ashore till he gets
another."

At these touching words Miss Nugent was undisguisedly affected, and
wiping her bright eyes with her pinafore, gave her small, well-shaped
nose a slight touch _en passant_ with the same useful garment, and
squeezed his arm affectionately.

"It's a lively look-out for me if father is going to be at home for
long," remarked Master Nugent.  "Who'll get his ship, Sam?"

"Shouldn't wonder if the fust officer, Mr. Hardy, got it," replied the
steward.  "He was going dead-slow in the fog afore he sent down to rouse
your father, and as soon as your father came on deck 'e went at
'arfspeed.  Mr. Hardy was commended, and your father's certifikit was
suspended for six months."

Master Nugent whistled thoughtfully, and quitting the kitchen proceeded
upstairs to his room, and first washing himself with unusual care for a
boy of thirteen, put on a clean collar and brushed his hair.  He was not
going to provide a suspended master-mariner with any obvious reasons for
fault-finding.  While he was thus occupied the sitting-room bell rang,
and Ann, answering it, left Mr. Wilks in the kitchen listening with some
trepidation to the conversation.

"Is that steward of mine still in the kitchen?" demanded the captain,
gruffly.

"Yessir," said Ann.

"What's he doing?"

Mr. Wilks's ears quivered anxiously, and he eyed with unwonted disfavour
the evidences of his late debauch.

"Sitting down, sir," replied Ann.

"Give him a glass of ale and send him off," commanded the captain; "and
if that was Miss Kate I heard talking, send her in to me."

Ann took the message back to the kitchen and, with the air of a martyr
engaged upon an unpleasant task, drew Mr. Wilks another glass of ale and
stood over him with well-affected wonder while he drank it.  Miss Nugent
walked into the sitting-room, and listening in a perfunctory fashion to a
shipmaster's platitude on kitchen-company, took a seat on his knee and
kissed his ear.



CHAPTER II

The downfall of Captain Nugent was for some time a welcome subject of
conversation in marine circles at Sunwich.  At The Goblets, a rambling
old inn with paved courtyard and wooden galleries, which almost backed on
to the churchyard, brother-captains attributed it to an error of
judgment; at the Two Schooners on the quay the profanest of sailormen
readily attributed it to an all-seeing Providence with a dislike of
over-bearing ship-masters.

[Illustration: "A welcome subject of conversation in marine circles."]

The captain's cup was filled to the brim by the promotion of his first
officer to the command of the _Conqueror_.  It was by far the largest
craft which sailed from the port of Sunwich, and its master held a
corresponding dignity amongst the captains of lesser vessels.  Their
allegiance was now transferred to Captain Hardy, and the master of a brig
which was in the last stages of senile decay, meeting Nugent in The
Goblets, actually showed him by means of two lucifer matches how the
collision might have been avoided.

A touching feature in the business, and a source of much gratification to
Mr. Wilks by the sentimental applause evoked by it, was his renunciation
of the post of steward on the ss. _Conqueror_.  Sunwich buzzed with the
tidings that after eighteen years' service with Captain Nugent he
preferred starvation ashore to serving under another master.  Although
comfortable in pocket and known to be living with his mother, who kept a
small general shop, he was regarded as a man on the brink of starvation.
Pints were thrust upon him, and the tale of his nobility increased with
much narration.  It was considered that the whole race of stewards had
acquired fresh lustre from his action.

His only unfavourable critic was the erring captain himself.  He sent
a peremptory summons to Mr. Wilks to attend at Equator Lodge, and the
moment he set eyes upon that piece of probity embarked upon such a
vilification of his personal defects and character as Mr. Wilks had never
even dreamt of.  He wound up by ordering him to rejoin the ship
forthwith.

"Arsking your pardon, sir," said Mr. Wilks, with tender reproach, "but I
couldn't."

"Are you going to live on your mother, you hulking rascal?" quoth the
incensed captain.

"No, sir," said Mr. Wilks.  "I've got a little money, sir; enough for my
few wants till we sail again."

"When I sail again you won't come with me," said the captain, grimly.
"I suppose you want an excuse for a soak ashore for six months!"

Mr. Wilks twiddled his cap in his hands and smiled weakly.

"I thought p'r'aps as you'd like me to come round and wait at table, and
help with the knives and boots and such-like," he said, softly.  "Ann is
agreeable."

"Get out of the house," said the captain in quiet, measured tones.

Mr. Wilks went, but on his way to the gate he picked up three pieces of
paper which had blown into the garden, weeded two pieces of grass from
the path, and carefully removed a dead branch from a laurel facing the
window.  He would have done more but for an imperative knocking on the
glass, and he left the premises sadly, putting his collection of rubbish
over the next garden fence as he passed it.

But the next day the captain's boots bore such a polish that he was able
to view his own startled face in them, and at dinner-time the brightness
of the knives was so conspicuous that Mrs. Kingdom called Ann in for the
purpose of asking her why she didn't always do them like that.  Her
brother ate his meal in silence, and going to his room afterwards
discovered every pair of boots he possessed, headed by the tall
sea-boots, standing in a nicely graduated line by the wall, and all
shining their hardest.

For two days did Mr. Wilks do good by stealth, leaving Ann to blush to
find it fame; but on the third day at dinner, as the captain took up his
knife and fork to carve, he became aware of a shadow standing behind his
chair.  A shadow in a blue coat with metal buttons, which, whipping up
the first plate carved, carried it to Mrs. Kingdom, and then leaned
against her with the vegetable dishes.

The dishes clattered a little on his arm as he helped the captain, but
the latter, after an impressive pause and a vain attempt to catch the eye
of Mr. Wilks, which was intent upon things afar off, took up the spoon
and helped himself.  From the unwonted silence of Miss Nugent in the
presence of anything unusual it was clear to him that the whole thing had
been carefully arranged.  He ate in silence, and a resolution to kick Mr.
Wilks off the premises vanished before the comfort, to say nothing of the
dignity, afforded by his presence.  Mr. Wilks, somewhat reassured,
favoured Miss Nugent with a wink to which, although she had devoted much
time in trying to acquire the art, she endeavoured in vain to respond.

It was on the day following this that Jack Nugent, at his sister's
instigation, made an attempt to avenge the family honour.  Miss Nugent,
although she treated him with scant courtesy herself, had a touching
faith in his prowess, a faith partly due to her brother occasionally
showing her his bicep muscles in moments of exaltation.

"There's that horrid Jem Hardy," she said, suddenly, as they walked along
the road.

"So it is," said Master Nugent, but without any display of enthusiasm.

"Halloa, Jack," shouted Master Hardy across the road.

"The suspense became painful."

"Halloa," responded the other.

"He's going to fight you," shrilled Miss Nugent, who thought these
amenities ill-timed; "he said so."

Master Hardy crossed the road.  "What for?" he demanded, with surprise.

"Because you're a nasty, horrid boy," replied Miss Nugent, drawing
herself up.

"Oh," said Master Hardy, blankly.

The two gentlemen stood regarding each other with uneasy grins; the lady
stood by in breathless expectation.  The suspense became painful.

[Illustration: "The suspense became painful."]

"Who are you staring at?"  demanded Master Nugent, at last.

"You," replied the other; "who are you staring at?"

"You," said Master Nugent, defiantly.

There was a long interval, both gentlemen experiencing some difficulty in
working up sufficient heat for the engagement.

"You hit me and see what you'll get," said Master Hardy, at length.

"You hit me," said the other.

"Cowardy, cowardy custard," chanted the well-bred Miss Nugent, "ate his
mother's mustard.  Cowardy, cowardy cus--"

"Why don't you send that kid home?" demanded Master Hardy, eyeing the
fair songstress with strong disfavour.

"You leave my sister alone," said the other, giving him a light tap on
the shoulder.  "There's your coward's blow."

Master Hardy made a ceremonious return.  "There's yours," he said.
"Let's go behind the church."

His foe assented, and they proceeded in grave silence to a piece of grass
screened by trees, which stood between the church and the beach.  Here
they removed their coats and rolled up their shirt-sleeves.  Things look
different out of doors, and to Miss Nugent the arms of both gentlemen
seemed somewhat stick-like in their proportions.

The preliminaries were awful, both combatants prancing round each other
with their faces just peering above their bent right arms, while their
trusty lefts dealt vicious blows at the air.  Miss Nugent turned pale and
caught her breath at each blow, then she suddenly reddened with wrath as
James Philip Hardy, having paid his tribute to science, began to hammer
John Augustus Nugent about the face in a most painful and workmanlike
fashion.

She hid her face for a moment, and when she looked again Jack was on the
ground, and Master Hardy just rising from his prostrate body.  Then Jack
rose slowly and, crossing over to her, borrowed her handkerchief and
applied it with great tenderness to his nose.

"Does it hurt, Jack?" she inquired, anxiously.  "No," growled her
brother.

He threw down the handkerchief and turned to his opponent again; Miss
Nugent, who was careful about her property, stooped to recover it, and
immediately found herself involved in a twisting tangle of legs, from
which she escaped by a miracle to see Master Hardy cuddling her brother
round the neck with one hand and punching him as hard and as fast as he
could with the other.  The unfairness of it maddened her, and the next
moment Master Hardy's head was drawn forcibly backwards by the hair.  The
pain was so excruciating that he released his victim at once, and Miss
Nugent, emitting a series of terrified yelps, dashed off in the direction
of home, her hair bobbing up and down on her shoulders, and her small
black legs in an ecstasy of motion.

Master Hardy, with no very well-defined ideas of what he was going to do
if he caught her, started in pursuit.  His scalp was still smarting and
his eyes watering with the pain as he pounded behind her.  Panting wildly
she heard him coming closer and closer, and she was just about to give up
when, to her joy, she saw her father coming towards them.

Master Hardy, intent on his quarry, saw him just in time, and, swerving
into the road, passed in safety as Miss Nugent flung herself with some
violence at her father's waistcoat and, clinging to him convulsively,
fought for breath.  It was some time before she could furnish the
astonished captain with full details, and she was pleased to find that
his indignation led him to ignore the hair-grabbing episode, on which,
to do her justice, she touched but lightly.

That evening, for the first time in his life, Captain Nugent, after some
deliberation, called upon his late mate.  The old servant who, since Mrs.
Hardy's death the year before, had looked after the house, was out, and
Hardy, unaware of the honour intended him, was scandalized by the manner
in which his son received the visitor.  The door opened, there was an
involuntary grunt from Master Hardy, and the next moment he sped along
the narrow passage and darted upstairs.  His father, after waiting in
vain for his return, went to the door himself.

"Good evening, cap'n," he said, in surprise.

Nugent responded gruffly, and followed him into the sitting-room.  To an
invitation to sit, he responded more gruffly still that he preferred to
stand.  He then demanded instant and sufficient punishment of Master
Hardy for frightening his daughter.

Even as he spoke he noticed with strong disfavour the change which had
taken place in his late first officer.  The change which takes place when
a man is promoted from that rank to that of master is subtle, but
unmistakable--sometimes, as in the present instance, more unmistakable
than subtle.  Captain Hardy coiled his long, sinewy form in an arm-chair
and, eyeing him calmly, lit his pipe before replying.

[Illustration: "Captain Hardy lit his pipe before replying."]

"Boys will fight," he said, briefly.

"I'm speaking of his running after my daughter," said Nugent, sternly.

Hardy's eyes twinkled.  "Young dog," he said, genially; "at his age,
too."

Captain Nugent's face was suffused with wrath at the pleasantry, and he
regarded him with a fixed stare.  On board the _Conqueror_ there was a
witchery in that glance more potent than the spoken word, but in his own
parlour the new captain met it calmly.

"I didn't come here to listen to your foolery," said Nugent; "I came to
tell you to punish that boy of yours."

"And I sha'n't do it," replied the other.  "I have got something better
to do than interfere in children's quarrels.  I haven't got your spare
time, you know."

Captain Nugent turned purple.  Such language from his late first officer
was a revelation to him.

"I also came to warn you," he said, furiously, "that I shall take the law
into my own hands if you refuse."

"Aye, aye," said Hardy, with careless contempt; "I'll tell him to keep
out of your way.  But I should advise you to wait until I have sailed."

Captain Nugent, who was moving towards the door, swung round and
confronted him savagely.

"What do you mean?" he demanded.

"What I say," retorted Captain Hardy.  "I don't want to indulge Sunwich
with the spectacle of two middle-aged ship-masters at fisticuffs, but
that's what'll happen if you touch my boy.  It would probably please the
spectators more than it would us."

"I'll cane him the first time I lay hands on him," roared Captain Nugent.

Captain Hardy's stock of patience was at an end, and there was, moreover,
a long and undischarged account between himself and his late skipper.  He
rose and crossed to the door.

"Jem," he cried, "come downstairs and show Captain Nugent out."

There was a breathless pause.  Captain Nugent ground his teeth with fury
as he saw the challenge, and realized the ridiculous position into which
his temper had led him; and the other, who was also careful of
appearances, repented the order the moment he had given it.  Matters had
now, however, passed out of their hands, and both men cast appraising
glances at each other's form.  The only one who kept his head was Master
Hardy, and it was a source of considerable relief to both of them when,
from the top of the stairs, the voice of that youthful Solomon was heard
declining in the most positive terms to do anything of the kind.

Captain Hardy repeated his command.  The only reply was the violent
closing of a door at the top of the house, and after waiting a short time
he led the way to the front door himself.

"You will regret your insolence before I have done with you," said his
visitor, as he paused on the step.  "It's the old story of a beggar on
horseback."

"It's a good story," said Captain Hardy, "but to my mind it doesn't come
up to the one about Humpty-Dumpty.  Good-night."



CHAPTER III

If anything was wanted to convince Captain Nugent that his action had
been foolish and his language intemperate it was borne in upon him by the
subsequent behaviour of Master Hardy.  Generosity is seldom an attribute
of youth, while egotism, on the other hand, is seldom absent.  So far
from realizing that the captain would have scorned such lowly game,
Master Hardy believed that he lived for little else, and his
Jack-in-the-box ubiquity was a constant marvel and discomfort to that
irritable mariner.  Did he approach a seat on the beach, it was Master
Hardy who rose (at the last moment) to make room for him.  Did he stroll
down to the harbour, it was in the wake of a small boy looking coyly at
him over his shoulder.  Every small alley as he passed seemed to contain
a Jem Hardy, who whizzed out like a human firework in front of him, and
then followed dancing on his toes a pace or two in his rear.

This was on week-days; on the Sabbath Master Hardy's daring ingenuity led
him to still further flights.  All the seats at the parish church were
free, but Captain Nugent, whose admirable practice it was to take his
entire family to church, never thoroughly realized how free they were
until Master Hardy squeezed his way in and, taking a seat next to him,
prayed with unwonted fervour into the interior of a new hat, and then
sitting back watched with polite composure the efforts of Miss Nugent's
family to re-strain her growing excitement.

Charmed with the experiment, he repeated it the following Sunday.  This
time he boarded the seat from the other end, and seeing no place by the
captain, took one, or more correctly speaking made one, between Miss
Nugent and Jack, and despite the former's elbow began to feel almost like
one of the family.  Hostile feelings vanished, and with an amiable smile
at the half-frantic Miss Nugent he placed a "bull's-eye" of great
strength in his cheek, and leaning forward for a hymn-book left one on
the ledge in front of jack.  A double-distilled perfume at once assailed
the atmosphere.

Miss Nugent sat dazed at his impudence, and for the first time in her
life doubts as to her father's capacity stirred within her.  She
attempted the poor consolation of an "acid tablet," and it was at
once impounded by the watchful Mrs. Kingdom.  Mean-time the reek of
"bull's-eyes" was insufferable.

The service seemed interminable, and all that time the indignant damsel,
wedged in between her aunt and the openly exultant enemy of her House,
was compelled to endure in silence.  She did indeed attempt one remark,
and Master Hardy, with a horrified expression of outraged piety, said
"H'sh," and shook his head at her.  It was almost more than flesh and
blood could bear, and when the unobservant Mrs. Kingdom asked her for the
text on the way home her reply nearly cost her the loss of her dinner.

The _Conqueror,_ under its new commander, sailed on the day following.
Mr. Wilks watched it from the quay, and the new steward observing him
came to the side, and holding aloft an old pantry-cloth between his
finger and thumb until he had attracted his attention, dropped it
overboard with every circumstance of exaggerated horror.  By the time a
suitable retort had occurred to the ex-steward the steamer was half a
mile distant, and the extraordinary and unnatural pantomime in which he
indulged on the edge of the quay was grievously misinterpreted by a
nervous man in a sailing boat.

[Illustration: "Mr. Wilks watched it from the quay."]

Master Hardy had also seen the ship out, and, perched on the extreme end
of the breakwater, he remained watching until she was hull down on the
horizon.  Then he made his way back to the town and the nearest
confectioner, and started for home just as Miss Nugent, who was about
to pay a call with her aunt, waited, beautifully dressed, in the front
garden while that lady completed her preparations.

Feeling very spic and span, and still a trifle uncomfortable from the
vigorous attentions of Ann, who cleansed her as though she had been a
doorstep, she paced slowly up and down the path.  Upon these occasions of
high dress a spirit of Sabbath calm was wont to descend upon her and save
her from escapades to which in a less severe garb she was somewhat prone.

She stopped at the gate and looked up the road.  Then her face flushed,
and she cast her eyes behind her to make sure that the hall-door stood
open.  The hated scion of the house of Hardy was coming down the road,
and, in view of that fact, she forgot all else--even her manners.

The boy, still fresh from the loss of his natural protector, kept a wary
eye on the house as he approached.  Then all expression died out of his
face, and he passed the gate, blankly ignoring the small girl who was
leaning over it and apparently suffering from elephantiasis of the
tongue.  He went by quietly, and Miss Nugent, raging inwardly that she
had misbehaved to no purpose, withdrew her tongue for more legitimate
uses.

"Boo," she cried; "who had his hair pulled?"

Master Hardy pursued the even tenor of his way.

"Who's afraid to answer me for fear my father will thrash him?" cried the
disappointed lady, raising her voice.

This was too much.  The enemy retraced his steps and came up to the gate.

"You're a rude little girl," he said, with an insufferably grown-up air.

"Who had his hair pulled?" demanded Miss Nugent, capering wildly; "who
had his hair pulled?"

"Don't be silly," said Master Hardy.  "Here."  He put his hand in his
pocket, and producing some nuts offered them over the gate.  At this Miss
Nugent ceased her capering, and wrath possessed her that the enemy should
thus misunderstand the gravity of the situation.

"Well, give 'em to Jack, then," pursued the boy; "he won't say no."

This was a distinct reflection on Jack's loyalty, and her indignation was
not lessened by the fact that she knew it was true.

"Go away from our gate," she stormed.  "If my father catches you, you'll
suffer."

"Pooh!" said the dare-devil.  He looked up at the house and then, opening
the gate, strode boldly into the front garden.  Before this intrusion
Miss Nugent retreated in alarm, and gaining the door-step gazed at him in
dismay.  Then her face cleared suddenly, and Master Hardy looking over
his shoulder saw that his retreat was cut off by Mr. Wilks.

"Don't let him hurt me, Sam," entreated Miss Nugent, piteously.

Mr. Wilks came into the garden and closed the gate behind him.

"I wasn't going to hurt her," cried Master Hardy, anxiously; "as if I
should hurt a girl!

"Wot are you doing in our front garden, then?" demanded Mr. Wilks.

He sprang forward suddenly and, catching the boy by the collar with one
huge hand, dragged him, struggling violently, down the side-entrance into
the back garden.  Miss Nugent, following close behind, sought to improve
the occasion.

"See what you get by coming into our garden," she said.

The victim made no reply.  He was writhing strenuously in order to
frustrate Mr. Wilks's evident desire to arrange him comfortably for the
administration of the stick he was carrying.  Satisfied at last, the
ex-steward raised his weapon, and for some seconds plied it briskly.
Miss Nugent trembled, but sternly repressing sympathy for the sufferer,
was pleased that the long arm of justice had at last over-taken him.

"Let him go now, Sam," she said; "he's crying."

"I'm not," yelled Master Hardy, frantically.

"I can see the tears," declared Miss Nugent, bending.

Mr. Wilks plied the rod again until his victim, with a sudden turn,
fetched him a violent kick on the shin and broke loose.  The ex-steward
set off in pursuit, somewhat handicapped by the fact that he dare not go
over flower-beds, whilst Master Hardy was singularly free from such
prejudices.  Miss Nugent ran to the side-entrance to cut off his retreat.
She was willing for him to be released, but not to escape, and so it fell
out that the boy, dodging beneath Mr. Wilks's outspread arms, charged
blindly up the side-entrance and bowled the young lady over.

There was a shrill squeal, a flutter of white, and a neat pair of button
boots waving in the air.  Then Miss Nugent, sobbing piteously, rose from
the puddle into which she had fallen and surveyed her garments.  Mr.
Wilks surveyed them, too, and a very cursory glance was sufficient to
show him that the case was beyond his powers.  He took the outraged
damsel by the hand, and led her, howling lustily, in to the horrified
Ann.

"My word," said she, gasping.  "Look at your gloves!  Look at your
frock!"

But Miss Nugent was looking at her knees.  There was only a slight
redness about the left, but from the right a piece of skin was
indubitably missing.  This knee she gave Ann instructions to foment with
fair water of a comfortable temperature, indulging in satisfied
prognostications as to the fate of Master Hardy when her father should
see the damage.

The news, when the captain came home, was broken to him by degrees.
He was first shown the flower-beds by Ann, then Mrs. Kingdom brought in
various soiled garments, and at the psychological moment his daughter
bared her knees.

"What will you do to him, father?" she inquired.

The captain ignored the question in favour of a few remarks on the
subject of his daughter's behaviour, coupled with stern inquiries as to
where she learnt such tricks.  In reply Miss Nugent sheltered herself
behind a list which contained the names of all the young gentlemen who
attended her kindergarten class and many of the young ladies, and again
inquired as to the fate of her assailant.

Jack came in soon after, and the indefatigable Miss Nugent produced her
knees again.  She had to describe the injury to the left, but the right
spoke for itself.  Jack gazed at it with indignation, and then, without
waiting for his tea, put on his cap and sallied out again.

He returned an hour later, and instead of entering the sitting-room
went straight upstairs to bed, from whence he sent down word by the
sympathetic Ann that he was suffering from a bad headache, which he
proposed to treat with raw meat applied to the left eye.  His nose, which
was apparently suffering from sympathetic inflammation, he left to take
care of itself, that organ bitterly resenting any treatment whatsoever.

He described the battle to Kate and Ann the next day, darkly ascribing
his defeat to a mysterious compound which Jem Hardy was believed to rub
into his arms; to a foolish error of judgment at the beginning of the
fray, and to the sun which shone persistently in his eyes all the time.
His audience received the explanations in chilly silence.

"And he said it was an accident he knocked you down," he concluded; "he
said he hoped you weren't hurt, and he gave me some toffee for you."

"What did you do with it?"  demanded Miss Nugent.

"I knew you wouldn't have it," replied her brother, inconsequently, "and
there wasn't much of it."

His sister regarded him sharply.

"You don't mean to say you ate it?" she screamed.

"Why not?" demanded her brother.  "I wanted comforting, I can tell you."

"I wonder you were not too--too proud," said Miss Nugent, bitterly.

"I'm never too proud to eat toffee," retorted Jack, simply.

He stalked off in dudgeon at the lack of sympathy displayed by his
audience, and being still in need of comforting sought it amid the
raspberry-canes.

His father noted his son's honourable scars, but made no comment.  As to
any action on his own part, he realized to the full the impotence of a
law-abiding and dignified citizen when confronted by lawless youth.  But
Master Hardy came to church no more.  Indeed, the following Sunday he was
fully occupied on the beach, enacting the part of David, after first
impressing the raving Mr. Wilks into that of Goliath.

[Illustration: "Master Hardy on the beach enacting the part of David."]



CHAPTER IV

For the next month or two Master Hardy's existence was brightened by the
efforts of an elderly steward who made no secret of his intentions of
putting an end to it.  Mr. Wilks at first placed great reliance on the
saw that "it is the early bird that catches the worm," but lost faith in
it when he found that it made no provision for cases in which the worm
leaning from its bedroom window addressed spirited remonstrances to the
bird on the subject of its personal appearance.

To the anxious inquiries of Miss Nugent, Mr. Wilks replied that he was
biding his time.  Every delay, he hinted, made it worse for Master Hardy
when the day of retribution should dawn, and although she pleaded
earnestly for a little on account he was unable to meet her wishes.
Before that day came, however, Captain Nugent heard of the proceedings,
and after a painful interview with the steward, during which the latter's
failings by no means escaped attention, confined him to the house.

[Illustration: "Mr. Wilks replied that he was biding his time."]

An excellent reason for absenting himself from school was thus denied to
Master Hardy; but it has been well said that when one door closes another
opens, and to his great satisfaction the old servant, who had been in
poor health for some time, suddenly took to her bed and required his
undivided attention.

He treated her at first with patent medicines purchased at the chemist's,
a doctor being regarded by both of them as a piece of unnecessary
extravagance; but in spite of four infallible remedies she got steadily
worse.  Then a doctor was called in, and by the time Captain Hardy
returned home she had made a partial recovery, but was clearly incapable
of further work.  She left in a cab to accept a home with a niece,
leaving the captain confronted with a problem which he had seen growing
for some time past.

"I can't make up my mind what to do with you," he observed, regarding his
son.

"I'm very comfortable," was the reply.

"You're too comfortable," said his father.

"You're running wild.  It's just as well poor old Martha has gone; it has
brought things to a head."

"We could have somebody else," suggested his son.

The captain shook his head.  "I'll give up the house and send you to
London to your Aunt Mary," he said, slowly; "she doesn't know you, and
once I'm at sea and the house given up, she won't be able to send you
back."

Master Hardy, who was much averse to leaving Sunwich and had heard
accounts of the lady in question which referred principally to her
strength of mind, made tender inquiries concerning his father's comfort
while ashore.

"I'll take rooms," was the reply, "and I shall spend as much time as I
can with you in London.  You want looking after, my son; I've heard all
about you."

His son, without inquiring as to the nature of the information, denied it
at once upon principle; he also alluded darkly to his education, and
shook his head over the effects of a change at such a critical period of
his existence.

"And you talk too much for your age," was his father's comment when he
had finished.  "A year or two with your aunt ought to make a nice boy of
you; there's plenty of room for improvement."

He put his plans in hand at once, and a week before he sailed again had
disposed of the house.  Some of the furniture he kept for himself; but
the bulk of it went to his sister as conscience-money.

Master Hardy, in very low spirits, watched it taken away.  Big men in
hob-nailed boots ran noisily up the bare stairs, and came down slowly,
steering large pieces of furniture through narrow passages, and using
much vain repetition when they found their hands acting as fenders.  The
wardrobe, a piece of furniture which had been built for larger premises,
was a particularly hard nut to crack, but they succeeded at last--in
three places.

[Illustration: "A particularly hard nut to crack."]

A few of his intimates came down to see the last of him, and Miss Nugent,
who in some feminine fashion regarded the move as a triumph for her
family, passed by several times.  It might have been chance, it might
have been design, but the boy could not help noticing that when the
piano, the wardrobe, and other fine pieces were being placed in the van,
she was at the other end of the road a position from which such curios as
a broken washstand or a two-legged chair never failed to entice her.

It was over at last.  The second van had disappeared, and nothing was
left but a litter of straw and paper.  The front door stood open and
revealed desolation.  Miss Nugent came to the gate and stared in
superciliously.

"I'm glad you're going," she said, frankly.

Master Hardy scarcely noticed her.  One of his friends who concealed
strong business instincts beneath a sentimental exterior had suggested
souvenirs and given him a spectacle-glass said to have belonged to Henry
VIII., and he was busy searching his pockets for an adequate return.
Then Captain Hardy came up, and first going over the empty house, came
out and bade his son accompany him to the station.  A minute or two later
and they were out of sight; the sentimentalist stood on the curb gloating
over a newly acquired penknife, and Miss Nugent, after being strongly
reproved by him for curiosity, paced slowly home with her head in the
air.

Sunwich made no stir over the departure of one of its youthful citizens.
Indeed, it lacked not those who would have cheerfully parted with two or
three hundred more.  The boy was quite chilled by the tameness of his
exit, and for years afterwards the desolate appearance of the platform as
the train steamed out occurred to him with an odd sense of discomfort.
In all Sunwich there was only one person who grieved over his departure,
and he, after keeping his memory green for two years, wrote off fivepence
as a bad debt and dismissed him from his thoughts.

Two months after the _Conqueror_ had sailed again Captain Nugent obtained
command of a steamer sailing between London and the Chinese ports.  From
the gratified lips of Mr. Wilks, Sunwich heard of this new craft, the
particular glory of which appeared to be the luxurious appointments of
the steward's quarters.  Language indeed failed Mr. Wilks in describing
it, and, pressed for details, he could only murmur disjointedly of
satin-wood, polished brass, and crimson velvet.

Jack Nugent hailed his father's departure with joy.  They had seen a
great deal of each other during the latter's prolonged stay ashore, and
neither had risen in the other's estimation in consequence.  He became
enthusiastic over the sea as a profession for fathers, and gave himself
some airs over acquaintances less fortunately placed.  In the first flush
of liberty he took to staying away from school, the education thus lost
being only partially atoned for by a grown-up style of composition
engendered by dictating excuses to the easy-going Mrs. Kingdom.

At seventeen he learnt, somewhat to his surprise, that his education was
finished.  His father provided the information and, simply as a matter of
form, consulted him as to his views for the future.  It was an important
thing to decide upon at short notice, but he was equal to it, and, having
suggested gold-digging as the only profession he cared for, was promptly
provided by the incensed captain with a stool in the local bank.

[Illustration: "A stool in the local bank."]

He occupied it for three weeks, a period of time which coincided to a day
with his father's leave ashore.  He left behind him his initials cut
deeply in the lid of his desk, a miscellaneous collection of cheap
fiction, and a few experiments in book-keeping which the manager
ultimately solved with red ink and a ruler.

A slight uneasiness as to the wisdom of his proceedings occurred to him
just before his father's return, but he comforted himself and Kate with
the undeniable truth that after all the captain couldn't eat him.  He was
afraid, however, that the latter would be displeased, and, with a
constitutional objection to unpleasantness, he contrived to be out when
he returned, leaving to Mrs. Kingdom the task of breaking the news.

The captain's reply was brief and to the point.  He asked his son whether
he would like to go to sea, and upon receiving a decided answer in the
negative, at once took steps to send him there.  In two days he had
procured him an outfit, and within a week Jack Nugent, greatly to his own
surprise, was on the way to Melbourne as apprentice on the barque _Silver
Stream_.

He liked it even less than the bank.  The monotony of the sea was
appalling to a youth of his tastes, and the fact that the skipper, a man
who never spoke except to find fault, was almost loquacious with him
failed to afford him any satisfaction.  He liked the mates no better than
the skipper, and having said as much one day to the second officer, had
no reason afterwards to modify his opinions.  He lived a life apart, and
except for the cook, another martyr to fault-finding, had no society.

In these uncongenial circumstances the new apprentice worked for four
months as he had never believed it possible he could work.  He was
annoyed both at the extent and the variety of his tasks, the work of an
A.B. being gratuitously included in his curriculum.  The end of the
voyage found him desperate, and after a hasty consultation with the cook
they deserted together and went up-country.

Letters, dealing mainly with the ideas and adventures of the cook,
reached Sunwich at irregular intervals, and were eagerly perused by Mrs.
Kingdom and Kate, but the captain forbade all mention of him.  Then they
ceased altogether, and after a year or two of unbroken silence Mrs.
Kingdom asserted herself, and a photograph in her possession, the only
one extant, exposing the missing Jack in petticoats and sash, suddenly
appeared on the drawing-room mantelpiece.

The captain stared, but made no comment.  Disappointed in his son, he
turned for consolation to his daughter, noting with some concern the
unaccountable changes which that young lady underwent during his
absences.  He noticed a difference after every voyage.  He left behind
him on one occasion a nice trim little girl, and returned to find a
creature all legs and arms.  He returned again and found the arms less
obnoxious and the legs hidden by a long skirt; and as he complained in
secret astonishment to his sister, she had developed a motherly manner
in her dealings with him which was almost unbearable.

"She'll grow out of it soon," said Mrs. Kingdom; "you wait and see."

The captain growled and waited, and found his sister's prognostications
partly fulfilled.  The exuberance of Miss Nugent's manner was certainly
modified by time, but she developed instead a quiet, unassuming habit of
authority which he liked as little.

"She gets made such a fuss of, it's no wonder," said Mrs. Kingdom, with a
satisfied smile.  "I never heard of a girl getting as much attention as
she does; it's a wonder her head isn't turned."

"Eh!" said the startled captain; "she'd better not let me see anything of
it."

"Just so," said Mrs. Kingdom.

The captain dwelt on these words and kept his eyes open, and, owing to
his daughter's benevolent efforts on his behalf, had them fully occupied.
He went to sea firmly convinced that she would do something foolish in
the matrimonial line, the glowing terms in which he had overheard her
describing the charms of the new postman to Mrs. Kingdom filling him with
the direst forebodings.

It was his last voyage.  An unexpected windfall from an almost forgotten
uncle and his own investments had placed him in a position of modest
comfort, and just before Miss Nugent reached her twentieth birthday he
resolved to spend his declining days ashore and give her those advantages
of parental attention from which she had been so long debarred.

Mr. Wilks, to the inconsolable grief of his ship-mates, left with him.
He had been for nearly a couple of years in receipt of an annuity
purchased for him under the will of his mother, and his defection left a
gap never to be filled among comrades who had for some time regarded him
in the light of an improved drinking fountain.



CHAPTER V

On a fine afternoon, some two months after his release from the toils
of the sea, Captain Nugent sat in the special parlour of The Goblets.
The old inn offers hospitality to all, but one parlour has by ancient
tradition and the exercise of self-restraint and proper feeling been
from time immemorial reserved for the elite of the town.

The captain, confident in the security of these unwritten regulations,
conversed freely with his peers.  He had been moved to speech by the
utter absence of discipline ashore, and from that had wandered to the
growing evil of revolutionary ideas at sea.  His remarks were much
applauded, and two brother-captains listened with grave respect to a
disquisition on the wrongs of shipmasters ensuing on the fancied
rights of sailor men, the only discordant note being struck by the
harbour-master, a man whose ideas had probably been insidiously sapped
by a long residence ashore.

"A man before the mast," said the latter, fortifying his moral courage
with whisky, "is a human being."

"Nobody denies it," said Captain Nugent, looking round.

One captain agreed with him.

"Why don't they act like it, then?" demanded the other.

Nugent and the first captain, struck by the re-mark, thought they had
perhaps been too hasty in their admission, and waited for number two to
continue.  They eyed him with silent encouragement.

"Why don't they act like it, then?"  repeated number two, who, being a
man of few ideas, was not disposed to waste them.

Captain Nugent and his friend turned to the harbour-master to see how he
would meet this poser.

"They mostly do," he replied, sturdily.  "Treat a seaman well, and he'll
treat you well."

This was rank heresy, and moreover seemed to imply something.  Captain
Nugent wondered dismally whether life ashore would infect him with the
same opinions.

"What about that man of mine who threw a belaying-pin at me?"

The harbour-master quailed at the challenge.  The obvious retort was
offensive.

"I shall carry the mark with me to my grave," added the captain, as a
further inducement to him to reply.

"I hope that you'll carry it a long time," said the harbour-master,
gracefully.

"Here, look here, Hall!" expostulated captain number two, starting up.

"It's all right, Cooper," said Nugent.

"It's all right," said captain number one, and in a rash moment undertook
to explain.  In five minutes he had clouded Captain Cooper's intellect
for the afternoon.

He was still busy with his self-imposed task when a diversion was created
by the entrance of a new arrival.  A short, stout man stood for a moment
with the handle of the door in his hand, and then came in, carefully
bearing before him a glass of gin and water.  It was the first time that
he had set foot there, and all understood that by this intrusion Mr.
Daniel Kybird sought to place sea-captains and other dignitaries on a
footing with the keepers of slop-shops and dealers in old clothes.  In
the midst of an impressive silence he set his glass upon the table and,
taking a chair, drew a small clay pipe from his pocket.

[Illustration: "A diversion was created by the entrance of a new
arrival."]

Aghast at the intrusion, the quartette conferred with their eyes, a
language which is perhaps only successful in love.  Captain Cooper, who
was usually moved to speech by externals, was the first to speak.

"You've got a sty coming on your eye, Hall," he remarked.

"I daresay."

"If anybody's got a needle," said the captain, who loved minor
operations.

Nobody heeded him except the harbour-master, and he muttered something
about beams and motes, which the captain failed to understand.  The
others were glaring darkly at Mr. Kybird, who had taken up a newspaper
and was busy perusing it.

"Are you looking for anybody?" demanded Captain Nugent, at last.

"No," said Mr. Kybird, looking at him over the top of his paper.

"What have you come here for, then?" inquired the captain.

"I come 'ere to drink two o' gin cold," returned Mr. Kybird, with a
dignity befitting the occupation.

"Well, suppose you drink it somewhere else," suggested the captain.

Mr. Kybird had another supposition to offer.  "Suppose I don't?" he
remarked.  "I'm a respect-able British tradesman, and my money is as good
as yours.  I've as much right to be here as you 'ave.  I've never done
anything I'm ashamed of!"

"And you never will," said Captain Cooper's friend, grimly, "not if you
live to be a hundred."

Mr. Kybird looked surprised at the tribute.  "Thankee," he said,
gratefully.

"Well, we don't want you here," said Captain Nugent.  "We prefer your
room to your company."

Mr. Kybird leaned back in his chair and twisted his blunt features into
an expression of withering contempt.  Then he took up a glass and drank,
and discovered too late that in the excitement of the moment he had made
free with the speaker's whisky.

"Don't apologize," interrupted the captain; "it's soon remedied."

He took the glass up gingerly and flung it with a crash into the
fireplace.  Then he rang the bell.

"I've smashed a dirty glass," he said, as the bar-man entered.  "How
much?"

The man told him, and the captain, after a few stern remarks about
privacy and harpies, left the room with his friends, leaving the
speechless Mr. Kybird gazing at the broken glass and returning evasive
replies to the inquiries of the curious Charles.

He finished his gin and water slowly.  For months he had been screwing up
his courage to carry that room by assault, and this was the result.  He
had been insulted almost in the very face of Charles, a youth whose
reputation as a gossip was second to none in Sunwich.

"Do you know what I should do if I was you?" said that worthy, as he
entered the room again and swept up the broken glass.

"I do not," said Mr. Kybird, with lofty indifference.

"I shouldn't come 'ere again, that's what I should do," said Charles,
frankly.  "Next time he'll throw you in the fireplace."

"Ho," said the heated Mr. Kybird.  "Ho, will he?  I'd like to see 'im.
I'll make 'im sorry for this afore I've done with 'im.  I'll learn 'im to
insult a respectable British tradesman.  I'll show him who's who."

"What'll you do?" inquired the other.

"Never you mind," said Mr. Kybird, who was not in a position to satisfy
his curiosity--"never you mind.  You go and get on with your work,
Charles, and p'r'aps by the time your moustache 'as grown big enough to
be seen, you'll 'ear something."

"I 'eard something the other day," said the bar-man, musingly; "about you
it was, but I wouldn't believe it."

"Wot was it?" demanded the other.

"Nothing much," replied Charles, standing with his hand on the door-knob,
"but I wouldn't believe it of you; I said I couldn't."

"Wot--was--it?" insisted Mr. Kybird.

"Why, they said you once gave a man a fair price for a pair of trousers,"
said the barman, indignantly.

He closed the door behind him softly, and Mr. Kybird, after a brief
pause, opened it again and, more softly still, quitted the precincts of
The Goblets, and stepped across the road to his emporium.

[Illustration: "He stepped across the road to his emporium."]

Captain Nugent, in happy ignorance of the dark designs of the wardrobe
dealer, had also gone home.  He was only just beginning to realize the
comparative unimportance of a retired shipmaster, and the knowledge was
a source of considerable annoyance to him.  No deferential mates listened
respectfully to his instructions, no sturdy seaman ran to execute his
commands or trembled mutinously at his wrath.  The only person in the
wide world who stood in awe of him was the general servant Bella, and she
made no attempt to conceal her satisfaction at the attention excited by
her shortcomings.

He paused a moment at the gate and then, walking slowly up to the door,
gave it the knock of a master.  A full minute passing, he knocked again,
remembering with some misgivings his stern instructions of the day before
that the door was to be attended by the servant and by nobody else.  He
had seen Miss Nugent sitting at the window as he passed it, but in the
circumstances the fact gave him no comfort.  A third knock was followed
by a fourth, and then a distressed voice upstairs was heard calling
wildly upon the name of Bella.

At the fifth knock the house shook, and a red-faced maid with her
shoulders veiled in a large damp towel passed hastily down the staircase
and, slipping the catch, passed more hastily still upstairs again,
affording the indignant captain a glimpse of a short striped skirt as it
turned the landing.

"Is there any management at all in this house?" he inquired, as he
entered the room.

"Bella was dressing," said Miss Nugent, calmly, "and you gave orders
yesterday that nobody else was to open the door."

"Nobody else when she's available," qualified her father, eyeing her
sharply.  "When I give orders I expect people to use their common sense.
Why isn't my tea ready?  It's five o'clock."

"The clock's twenty minutes fast," said Kate.  "Who's been meddling with
it?" demanded her father, verifying the fact by his watch.

Miss Nugent shook her head.  "It's gained that since you regulated it
last night," she said, with a smile.

The captain threw himself into an easy-chair, and with one eye on the
clock, waited until, at five minutes to the hour by the right time, a
clatter of crockery sounded from the kitchen, and Bella, still damp, came
in with the tray.  Her eye was also on the clock, and she smirked weakly
in the captain's direction as she saw that she was at least two minutes
ahead of time.  At a minute to the hour the teapot itself was on the
tray, and the heavy breathing of the handmaiden in the kitchen was
audible to all.

"Punctual to the minute, John," said Mrs. Kingdom, as she took her seat
at the tray.  "It's wonderful how that girl has improved since you've
been at home.  She isn't like the same girl."

She raised the teapot and, after pouring out a little of the contents,
put it down again and gave it another two minutes.  At the end of that
time, the colour being of the same unsatisfactory paleness, she set the
pot down and was about to raise the lid when an avalanche burst into the
room and, emptying some tea into the pot from a canister-lid, beat a
hasty re-treat.

"Good tea and well-trained servants," muttered the captain to his plate.
"What more can a man want?"

Mrs. Kingdom coughed and passed his cup; Miss Nugent, who possessed a
healthy appetite, serenely attacked her bread and butter; conversation
languished.

"I suppose you've heard the news, John?" said his sister.

"I daresay I have," was the reply.

"Strange he should come back after all these years," said Mrs. Kingdom;
"though, to be sure, I don't know why he shouldn't.  It's his native
place, and his father lives here."

"Who are you talking about?" inquired the captain.

"Why, James Hardy," replied his sister.  "I thought you said you had
heard.  He's coming back to Sunwich and going into partnership with old
Swann, the shipbroker.  A very good thing for him, I should think."

"I'm not interested in the doings of the Hardys," said the captain,
gruffly.

"I'm sure I'm not," said his sister, defensively.

Captain Nugent proceeded with his meal in silence.  His hatred of Hardy
had not been lessened by the success which had attended that gentleman's
career, and was not likely to be improved by the well-being of Hardy
junior.  He passed his cup for some more tea, and, with a furtive glance
at the photograph on the mantelpiece, wondered what had happened to his
own son.

"I don't suppose I should know him if I saw him," continued Mrs. Kingdom,
addressing a respectable old arm-chair; "London is sure to have changed
him."

"Is this water-cress?" inquired the captain, looking up from his plate.

"Yes.  Why?" said Mrs. Kingdom.

"I only wanted information," said her brother, as he deposited the salad
in question in the slop-basin.

Mrs. Kingdom, with a resigned expression, tried to catch her niece's eye
and caught the captain's instead.  Miss Nugent happening to glance up saw
her fascinated by the basilisk glare of the master of the house.

"Some more tea, please," she said.

Her aunt took her cup, and in gratitude for the diversion picked out the
largest lumps of sugar in the basin.

"London changes so many people," mused the persevering lady, stirring her
tea.  "I've noticed it before.  Why it is I can't say, but the fact
remains.  It seems to improve them altogether.  I dare say that young
Hardy--"

"Will you understand that I won't have the Hardys mentiond in my house?"
said the captain, looking up.  "I'm not interested in their business, and
I will not have it discussed here."

"As you please, John," said his sister, drawing herself up.  "It's your
house and you are master here.  I'm sure I don't want to discuss them.
Nothing was farther from my thoughts.  You understand what your father
says, Kate?"

"Perfectly," said Miss Nugent.  "When the desire to talk about the Hardys
becomes irresistible we must go for a walk."

The captain turned in his chair and regarded his daughter steadily.  She
met his gaze with calm affection.

"I wish you were a boy," he growled.

"You're the only man in Sunwich who wishes that," said Miss Nugent,
complacently, "and I don't believe you mean it.  If you'll come a little
closer I'll put my head on your shoulder and convert you."

"Kate!" said Mrs. Kingdom, reprovingly.

"And, talking about heads," said Miss Nugent, briskly, "reminds me that I
want a new hat.  You needn't look like that; good-looking daughters
always come expensive."

She moved her chair a couple of inches in his direction and smiled
alluringly.  The captain shifted uneasily; prudence counselled flight,
but dignity forbade it.  He stared hard at Mrs. Kingdom, and a smile of
rare appreciation on that lady's face endeavoured to fade slowly and
naturally into another expression.  The chair came nearer.

"Don't be foolish," said the captain, gruffly.

The chair came still nearer until at last it touched his, and then Miss
Nugent, with a sigh of exaggerated content, allowed her head to sink
gracefully on his shoulder.

"Most comfortable shoulder in Sunwich," she murmured; "come and try the
other, aunt, and perhaps you'll get a new bonnet."

[Illustration: "'Most comfortable shoulder in Sunwich,' she murmured."]

Mrs. Kingdom hastened to reassure her brother.  She would almost as soon
have thought of putting her head on the block.  At the same time it was
quite evident that she was taking a mild joy in his discomfiture and
eagerly awaiting further developments.

"When you are tired of this childish behaviour, miss," said the captain,
stiffly----

There was a pause.  "Kate!" said Mrs. Kingdom, in tones of mild reproof,
"how can you?"

"Very good," said the captain, we'll see who gets tired of it first.  "I'm
in no hurry."

A delicate but unmistakable snore rose from his shoulder in reply.



CHAPTER VI

For the first few days after his return Sunwich was full of surprises to
Jem Hardy.  The town itself had changed but little, and the older
inhabitants were for the most part easily recognisable, but time had
wrought wonders among the younger members of the population: small boys
had attained to whiskered manhood, and small girls passing into
well-grown young women had in some cases even changed their names.

The most astounding and gratifying instance of the wonders effected by
time was that of Miss Nugent.  He saw her first at the window, and with a
ready recognition of the enchantment lent by distance took the first
possible opportunity of a closer observation.  He then realized the
enchantment afforded by proximity.  The second opportunity led him
impetuously into a draper's shop, where a magnificent shop-walker, after
first ceremoniously handing him a high cane chair, passed on his order
for pins in a deep and thrilling baritone, and retired in good order.

[Illustration: "The most astounding and gratifying instance of the
wonders effected by time was that of Miss Nugent."]

By the end of a week his observations were completed, and Kate Nugent,
securely enthroned in his mind as the incarnation of feminine grace and
beauty, left but little room for other matters.  On his second Sunday at
home, to his father's great surprise, he attended church, and after
contemplating Miss Nugent's back hair for an hour and a half came home
and spoke eloquently and nobly on "burying hatchets," "healing old
sores," "letting bygones be bygones," and kindred topics.

"I never take much notice of sermons myself," said the captain,
misunderstanding.

"Sermon?" said his son.  "I wasn't thinking of the sermon, but I saw
Captain Nugent there, and I remembered the stupid quarrel between you.
It's absurd that it should go on indefinitely."

"Why, what does it matter?" inquired the other, staring.  "Why shouldn't
it?  Perhaps it's the music that's affected you; some of those old
hymns--"

"It wasn't the sermon and it wasn't the hymns," said his son,
disdainfully; "it's just common sense.  It seems to me that the enmity
between you has lasted long enough."

"I don't see that it matters," said the captain; "it doesn't hurt me.
Nugent goes his way and I go mine, but if I ever get a chance at the old
man, he'd better look out.  He wants a little of the starch taken out of
him."

"Mere mannerism," said his son.

"He's as proud as Lucifer, and his girl takes after him," said the
innocent captain.  "By the way, she's grown up a very good-looking girl.
You take a look at her the next time you see her."

His son stared at him.

"She'll get married soon, I should think," continued the other.  "Young
Murchison, the new doctor here, seems to be the favourite.  Nugent is
backing him, so they say; I wish him joy of his father-in-law."

Jem Hardy took his pipe into the garden, and, pacing slowly up and down
the narrow paths, determined, at any costs, to save Dr. Murchison from
such a father-in-law and Kate Nugent from any husband except of his
choosing.  He took a seat under an old apple tree, and, musing in the
twilight, tried in vain to think of ways and means of making her
acquaintance.

Meantime they passed each other as strangers, and the difficulty of
approaching her only made the task more alluring.  In the second week he
reckoned up that he had seen her nine times.  It was a satisfactory
total, but at the same time he could not shut his eyes to the fact that
five times out of that number he had seen Dr. Murchison as well, and
neither of them appeared to have seen him.

He sat thinking it over in the office one hot afternoon.  Mr. Adolphus
Swann, his partner, had just returned from lunch, and for about the fifth
time that day was arranging his white hair and short, neatly pointed
beard in a small looking-glass.  Over the top of it he glanced at Hardy,
who, leaning back in his chair, bit his pen and stared hard at a paper
before him.

"Is that the manifest of the North Star?" he inquired.

"No," was the reply.

Mr. Swann put his looking-glass away and watched the other as he crossed
over to the window and gazed through the small, dirty panes at the
bustling life of the harbour below.  For a short time Hardy stood gazing
in silence, and then, suddenly crossing the room, took his hat from a peg
and went out.

"Restless," said the senior partner, wiping his folders with great care
and putting them on.  "Wonder where he's put that manifest."

He went over to the other's desk and opened a drawer to search for it.
Just inside was a sheet of foolscap, and Mr. Swann with growing
astonishment slowly mastered the contents.

[Illustration: "Mr. Swann with growing astonishment slowly mastered the
contents."]

"See her as often as possible."

"Get to know some of her friends."

"Try and get hold of the old lady."

"Find out her tastes and ideas."

"Show my hand before Murchison has it all his own way."

"It seems to me," said the bewildered shipbroker, carefully replacing the
paper, "that my young friend is looking out for another partner.  He
hasn't lost much time."

He went back to his seat and resumed his work.  It occurred to him that
he ought to let his partner know what he had seen, and when Hardy
returned he had barely seated himself before Mr. Swann with a mysterious
smile crossed over to him, bearing a sheet of foolscap.

"Try and dress as well as my partner," read the astonished Hardy.
"What's the matter with my clothes?  What do you mean?"

Mr. Swann, in place of answering, returned to his desk and, taking up
another sheet of foolscap, began to write again, holding up his hand for
silence as Hardy repeated his question.  When he had finished his task he
brought it over and placed it in the other's hand.

"Take her little brother out for walks."

Hardy crumpled the paper up and flung it aside.  Then, with his face
crimson, he stared wrathfully at the benevolent Swann.

"It's the safest card in the pack," said the latter.  "You please
everybody; especially the little brother.  You should always hold his
hand--it looks well for one thing, and if you shut your eyes--"

"I don't want any of your nonsense," said the maddened Jem.  "What do you
mean by reading my private papers?"

"I came over to look for the manifest," said Mr. Swann, "and I read it
before I could make out what it was.  You must admit it's a bit cryptic.
I thought it was a new game at first.  Getting hold of the old lady
sounds like a sort of blind-man's buff.  But why not get hold of the
young one?  Why waste time over--"

"Go to the devil," said the junior partner.

"Any more suggestions I can give you, you are heartily welcome to," said
Mr. Swann, going back to his seat.  "All my vast experience is at your
service, and the best and sweetest and prettiest girls in Sunwich regard
me as a sort of second father."

"What's a second father?" inquired Jim, looking up--"a grandfather?"

"Go your own way," said the other; "I wash my hands of you.  You're not
in earnest, or you'd clutch at any straw.  But let me give you one word
of advice.  Be careful how you get hold of the old lady; let her
understand from the commencement that it isn't her."

Mr. Hardy went on with his work.  There was a pile of it in front of him
and an accumulation in his drawers.  For some time he wrote assiduously,
but work was dry after the subject they had been discussing.  He looked
over at his partner and, seeing that that gentleman was gravely busy,
reopened the matter with a jeer.

"Old maids always know most about rearing children," he remarked; "so I
suppose old bachelors, looking down on life from the top shelf, think
they know most about marriage."

"I wash my hands of you," repeated the senior, placidly.  "I am not to be
taunted into rendering first aid to the wounded."

The conscience-stricken junior lost his presence of mind.  "Who's trying
to taunt you?" he demanded, hotly.  "Why, you'd do more harm than good."

"Put a bandage round the head instead of the heart, I expect," assented
the chuckling Swann.  "Top shelf, I think you said; well, I climbed there
for safety."

"You must have been much run after," said his partner.

"I was," said the other.  "I suppose that's why it is I am always so
interested in these affairs.  I have helped to marry so many people in
this place, that I'm almost afraid to stir out after dark."

Hardy's reply was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Edward Silk, a young
man of forlorn aspect, who combined in his person the offices of
messenger, cleaner, and office-boy to the firm.  He brought in some
letters, and placing them on Mr. Swann's desk retired.

"There's another," said the latter, as the door closed.  "His complaint
is Amelia Kybird, and he's got it badly.  She's big enough to eat him,
but I believe that they are engaged.  Perseverance has done it in his
case.  He used to go about like a blighted flower--"

"I am rather busy," his partner reminded him.

Mr. Swann sighed and resumed his own labours.  For some time both men
wrote in silence.  Then the elder suddenly put his pen down and hit his
desk a noisy thump with his fist.

"I've got it," he said, briskly; "apologize humbly for all your candour,
and I will give you a piece of information which shall brighten your dull
eyes, raise the corners of your drooping mouth, and renew once more the
pink and cream in your youthful cheeks."

"Look here--" said the overwrought Hardy.

"Samson Wilks," interrupted Mr. Swann, "number three, Fullalove Alley,
at home Fridays, seven to nine, to the daughter of his late skipper, who
always visits him on that day.  Don't thank me, Hardy, in case you break
down.  She's a very nice girl, and if she had been born twenty years
earlier, or I had been born twenty years later, or you hadn't been born
at all, there's no saying what might not have happened."

"When I want you to interfere in my business," said Hardy, working
sedulously, "I'll let you know."

"Very good," replied Swann; "still, remember Thursdays, seven to nine."

"Thursdays," said Hardy, incautiously; "why, you said Fridays just now."

Mr. Swann made no reply.  His nose was immersed in the folds of a large
handkerchief, and his eyes watered profusely behind his glasses.  It was
some minutes before he had regained his normal composure, and even then
the sensitive nerves of his partner were offended by an occasional
belated chuckle.

Although by dint of casual and cautious inquiries Mr. Hardy found that
his partner's information was correct, he was by no means guilty of any
feelings of gratitude towards him; and he only glared scornfully when
that excellent but frivolous man mounted a chair on Friday afternoon, and
putting the clock on a couple of hours or so, urged him to be in time.

The evening, however, found him starting slowly in the direction of
Fullalove Alley.  His father had gone to sea again, and the house was
very dull; moreover, he felt a mild curiosity to see the changes wrought
by time in Mr. Wilks.  He walked along by the sea, and as the church
clock struck the three-quarters turned into the alley and looked eagerly
round for the old steward.

The labours of the day were over, and the inhabitants were for the most
part out of doors taking the air.  Shirt-sleeved householders, leaning
against their door-posts smoking, exchanged ideas across the narrow space
paved with cobble-stones which separated their small and ancient houses,
while the matrons, more gregariously inclined, bunched in little groups
and discussed subjects which in higher circles would have inundated the
land with libel actions.  Up and down the alley a tiny boy all ready for
bed, with the exception of his nightgown, mechanically avoided friendly
palms as he sought anxiously for his mother.

[Illustration: "Fullalove Alley."]

The object of Mr. Hardy's search sat at the door of his front room, which
opened on to the alley, smoking an evening pipe, and noting with an
interested eye the doings of his neighbours.  He was just preparing to
draw himself up in his chair as the intruder passed, when to his utter
astonishment that gentleman stopped in front of him, and taking
possession of his hand shook it fervently.

"How do you do?" he said, smiling.

Mr. Wilks eyed him stupidly and, releasing his hand, coyly placed it in
his trouser-pocket and breathed hard.

"I meant to come before," said Hardy, "but I've been so busy.  How are
you?"

Mr. Wilks, still dazed, muttered that he was very well.  Then he sat bolt
upright in his chair and eyed his visitor suspiciously.

"I've been longing for a chat with you about old times," said Hardy; "of
all my old friends you seem to have changed the least.  You don't look a
day older."

"I'm getting on," said Mr. Wilks, trying to speak coldly, but observing
with some gratification the effect produced upon his neighbours by the
appearance of this well-dressed acquaintance.

"I wanted to ask your advice," said the unscrupulous Hardy, speaking in
low tones.  "I daresay you know I've just gone into partnership in
Sunwich, and I'm told there's no man knows more about the business and
the ins and outs of this town than you do."

Mr. Wilks thawed despite himself.  His face glistened and his huge mouth
broke into tremulous smiles.  For a moment he hesitated, and then
noticing that a little group near them had suspended their conversation
to listen to his he drew his chair back and, in a kind voice, invited the
searcher after wisdom to step inside.

Hardy thanked him, and, following him in, took a chair behind the door,
and with an air of youthful deference bent his ear to catch the pearls
which fell from the lips of his host.  Since he was a babe on his
mother's knee sixty years before Mr. Wilks had never had such an
attentive and admiring listener.  Hardy sat as though glued to his chair,
one eye on Mr. Wilks and the other on the clock, and it was not until
that ancient timepiece struck the hour that the ex-steward suddenly
realized the awkward state of affairs.

"Any more 'elp I can give you I shall always be pleased to," he said,
looking at the clock.

Hardy thanked him at great length, wondering, as he spoke, whether Miss
Nugent was of punctual habits.  He leaned back in his chair and, folding
his arms, gazed thoughtfully at the perturbed Mr. Wilks.

"You must come round and smoke a pipe with me sometimes," he said,
casually.

Mr. Wilks flushed with gratified pride.  He had a vision of himself
walking up to the front door of the Hardys, smoking a pipe in a
well-appointed room, and telling an incredulous and envious Fullalove
Alley about it afterwards.

"I shall be very pleased, sir," he said, impressively.

"Come round on Tuesday," said his visitor.  "I shall be at home then."

Mr. Wilks thanked him and, spurred on to hospitality, murmured something
about a glass of ale, and retired to the back to draw it.  He came back
with a jug and a couple of glasses, and draining his own at a draught,
hoped that the example would not be lost upon his visitor.  That astute
person, however, after a modest draught, sat still, anchored to the
half-empty glass.

"I'm expecting somebody to-night," said the ex-steward, at last.

"No doubt you have a lot of visitors," said the other, admiringly.

Mr. Wilks did not deny it.  He eyed his guest's glass and fidgeted.

"Miss Nugent is coming," he said.

Instead of any signs of disorder and preparations for rapid flight, Mr.
Wilks saw that the other was quite composed.  He began to entertain a
poor idea of Mr. Hardy's memory.

"She generally comes for a little quiet chat," he said.

"Indeed!"

"Just between the two of us," said the other.

His visitor said "Indeed," and, as though some chord of memory had been
touched, sat gazing dreamily at Mr. Wilks's horticultural collection in
the window.  Then he changed colour a little as a smart hat and a pretty
face crossed the tiny panes.  Mr. Wilks changed colour too, and in an
awkward fashion rose to receive Miss Nugent.

"Late as usual, Sam," said the girl, sinking into a chair.  Then she
caught sight of Hardy, who was standing by the door.

[Illustration: "She caught sight of Hardy."]

"It's a long time since you and I met, Miss Nugent," he said, bowing.

"Mr. Hardy?" said the girl, doubtfully.

"Yes, miss," interposed Mr. Wilks, anxious to explain his position.  "He
called in to see me; quite a surprise to me it was.  I 'ardly knowed
him."

"The last time we three met," said Hardy, who to his host's discomfort
had resumed his chair, "Wilks was thrashing me and you were urging him
on."

Kate Nugent eyed him carefully.  It was preposterous that this young man
should take advantage of a boy and girl acquaintance of eleven years
before--and such an acquaintance!--in this manner.  Her eyes expressed a
little surprise, not unmixed with hauteur, but Hardy was too pleased to
have them turned in his direction at all to quarrel with their
expression.

"You were a bit of a trial in them days," said Mr. Wilks, shaking his
head.  "If I live to be ninety I shall never forget seeing Miss Kate
capsized the way she was.  The way she----"

"How is your cold?" inquired Miss Nugent, hastily.

"Better, miss, thankee," said Mr. Wilks.

"Miss Nugent has forgotten and forgiven all that long ago," said Hardy.

"Quite," assented the girl, coldly; "one cannot remember all the boys and
girls one knew as a child."

"Certainly not," said Hardy.  "I find that many have slipped from my own
memory, but I have a most vivid recollection of you."

Miss Nugent looked at him again, and an idea, strange and incredible,
dawned slowly upon her.  Childish impressions are lasting, and Jem Hardy
had remained in her mind as a sort of youthful ogre.  He sat before her
now a frank, determined-looking young Englishman, in whose honest eyes
admiration of herself could not be concealed.  Indignation and surprise
struggled for supremacy.

"It's odd," remarked Mr. Wilks, who had a happy knack at times of saying
the wrong thing, "it's odd you should 'ave 'appened to come just at the
same time as Miss Kate did."

"It's my good fortune," said Hardy, with a slight bow.  Then he cocked a
malignant eye at the innocent Mr. Wilks, and wondered at what age men
discarded the useless habit of blushing.  Opposite him sat Miss Nugent,
calmly observant, the slightest suggestion of disdain in her expression.
Framed in the queer, high-backed old chair which had belonged to Mr.
Wilks's grandfather, she made a picture at which Jem Hardy continued to
gaze with respectful ardour.  A hopeless sense of self-depreciation
possessed him, but the idea that Murchison should aspire to so much
goodness and beauty made him almost despair of his sex.  His reverie was
broken by the voice of Mr. Wilks.

"A quarter to eight?" said that gentleman in-credulously; "it can't be."

"I thought it was later than that," said Hardy, simply.

Mr. Wilks gasped, and with a faint shake of his head at the floor
abandoned the thankless task of giving hints to a young man who was too
obtuse to see them; and it was not until some time later that Mr. Hardy,
sorely against his inclinations, gave his host a hearty handshake and,
with a respectful bow to Miss Nugent, took his departure.

"Fine young man he's growed," said Mr. Wilks, deferentially, turning to
his remaining visitor; "greatly improved, I think."

Miss Nugent looked him over critically before replying.  "He seems to
have taken a great fancy to you," she remarked.

Mr. Wilks smiled a satisfied smile.  "He came to ask my advice about
business," he said, softly.  "He's 'eard two or three speak o' me as
knowing a thing or two, and being young, and just starting, 'e came to
talk it over with me.  I never see a young man so pleased and ready to
take advice as wot he is."

"He is coming again for more, I suppose?" said Miss Nugent, carelessly.

Mr. Wilks acquiesced.  "And he asked me to go over to his 'ouse to smoke
a pipe with 'im on Tuesday," he added, in the casual manner in which men
allude to their aristocratic connections.  "He's a bit lonely, all by
himself."

Miss Nugent said, "Indeed," and then, lapsing into silence, gave little
occasional side-glances at Mr. Wilks, as though in search of any hidden
charms about him which might hitherto have escaped her.

At the same time Mr. James Hardy, walking slowly home by the edge of the
sea, pondered on further ways and means of ensnaring the affection of the
ex-steward.



CHAPTER VII

The anticipations of Mr. Wilks were more than realized on the following
Tuesday.  From the time a trim maid showed him into the smoking-room
until late at night, when he left, a feted and honoured guest, with one
of his host's best cigars between his teeth, nothing that could yield him
any comfort was left undone.  In the easiest of easy chairs he sat in the
garden beneath the leafy branches of apple trees, and undiluted wisdom
and advice flowed from his lips in a stream as he beamed delightedly upon
his entertainer.

[Illustration: "Undiluted wisdom and advice flowed from his lips."]

Their talk was mainly of Sunwich and Sunwich people, and it was an easy
step from these to Equator Lodge.  On that subject most people would have
found the ex-steward somewhat garrulous, but Jem Hardy listened with
great content, and even brought him back to it when he showed signs of
wandering.  Altogether Mr. Wilks spent one of the pleasantest evenings of
his life, and, returning home in a slight state of mental exhilaration,
severely exercised the tongues of Fullalove Alley by a bearing considered
incompatible with his station.

Jem Hardy paid a return call on the following Friday, and had no cause to
complain of any lack of warmth in his reception.  The ex-steward was
delighted to see him, and after showing him various curios picked up
during his voyages, took him to the small yard in the rear festooned with
scarlet-runner beans, and gave him a chair in full view of the
neighbours.

"I'm the only visitor to-night?" said Hardy, after an hour's patient
listening and waiting.

Mr. Wilks nodded casually.  "Miss Kate came last night," he said.
"Friday is her night, but she came yesterday instead."

Mr. Hardy said, "Oh, indeed," and fell straight-way into a dismal reverie
from which the most spirited efforts of his host only partially aroused
him.

Without giving way to undue egotism it was pretty clear that Miss Nugent
had changed her plans on his account, and a long vista of pleasant Friday
evenings suddenly vanished.  He, too, resolved to vary his visits, and,
starting with a basis of two a week, sat trying to solve the mathematical
chances of selecting the same as Kate Nugent; calculations which were not
facilitated by a long-winded account from Mr. Wilks of certain
interesting amours of his youthful prime.

Before he saw Kate Nugent again, however, another old acquaintance turned
up safe and sound in Sunwich.  Captain Nugent walking into the town saw
him first: a tall, well-knit young man in shabby clothing, whose bearing
even in the distance was oddly familiar.  As he came closer the captain's
misgivings were confirmed, and in the sunburnt fellow in tattered clothes
who advanced upon him with out-stretched hand he reluctantly recognized
his son.

"What have you come home for?" he inquired, ignoring the hand and eyeing
him from head to foot.

"Change," said Jack Nugent, laconically, as the smile left his face.

The captain shrugged his shoulders and stood silent.  His son looked
first up the road and then down.

"All well at home?" he inquired.

"Yes."

Jack Nugent looked up the road again.

"Not much change in the town," he said, at length.

"No," said his father.

"Well, I'm glad to have seen you," said his son.  "Good-bye."

"Good-bye," said the captain.

His son nodded and, turning on his heel, walked back towards the town.
Despite his forlorn appearance his step was jaunty and he carried his
head high.  The captain watched him until he was hidden by a bend in the
road, and then, ashamed of himself for displaying so much emotion, turned
his own steps in the direction of home.

"Well, he didn't whine," he said, slowly.  "He's got a bit of pride
left."

Meantime the prodigal had reached the town again, and stood ruefully
considering his position.

He looked up the street, and then, the well-known shop of Mr. Kybird
catching his eye, walked over and inspected the contents of the window.
Sheath-knives, belts, tobacco-boxes, and watches were displayed
alluringly behind the glass, sheltered from the sun by a row of cheap
clothing dangling from short poles over the shop front.  All the goods
were marked in plain figures in reduced circumstances, Mr. Kybird giving
a soaring imagination play in the first marking, and a good business
faculty in the second.

At these valuables Jack Nugent, with a view of obtaining some idea of
prices, gazed for some time.  Then passing between two suits of oilskins
which stood as sentinels in the doorway, he entered the shop and smiled
affably at Miss Kybird, who was in charge.  At his entrance she put down
a piece of fancy-work, which Mr. Kybird called his sock, and with a
casual glance at his clothes regarded him with a prejudiced eye.

"Beautiful day," said the customer; "makes one feel quite young again."

"What do you want?" inquired Miss Kybird.

[Illustration: "'What do you want?' inquired Miss Kybird."]

Mr. Nugent turned to a broken cane-chair which stood by the counter, and,
after applying severe tests, regardless of the lady's feelings, sat down
upon it and gave a sigh of relief.

"I've walked from London," he said, in explanation.  "I could sit here
for hours."

"Look here----" began the indignant Miss Kybird.

"Only people would be sure to couple our names together," continued Mr.
Nugent, mournfully.

"When a handsome young man and a good-looking girl----"

"Do you want to buy anything or not?"  demanded Miss Kybird, with an
impatient toss of her head.

"No," said Jack, "I want to sell."

"You've come to the wrong shop, then," said Miss Kybird; "the warehouse
is full of rubbish now."

The other turned in his chair and looked hard at the window.  "So it is,"
he assented.  "It's a good job I've brought you something decent to put
there."

He felt in his pockets and, producing a silver-mounted briar-pipe, a
battered watch, a knife, and a few other small articles, deposited them
with reverent care upon the counter.

"No use to us," declared Miss Kybird, anxious to hit back; "we burn coal
here."

"These'll burn better than the coal you buy," said the unmoved customer.

"Well, we don't want them," retorted Miss Kybird, raising her voice, "and
I don't want any of your impudence.  Get up out of our chair."

Her heightened tones penetrated to the small and untidy room behind the
shop.  The door opened, and Mr. Kybird in his shirt-sleeves appeared at
the opening.

"Wot's the row?" he demanded, his little black eyes glancing from one to
the other.

"Only a lovers' quarrel," replied Jack.  "You go away; we don't want
you."

"Look 'ere, we don't want none o' your nonsense," said the shopkeeper,
sharply; "and, wot's more, we won't 'ave it.  Who put that rubbish on my
counter?"

He bustled forward, and taking the articles in his hands examined them
closely.

"Three shillings for the lot--cash," he remarked.  "Done," said the
other.

"Did I say three?" inquired Mr. Kybird, startled at this ready
acceptance.

"Five you said," replied Mr. Nugent, "but I'll take three, if you throw
in a smile."

Mr. Kybird, much against his inclinations, threw in a faint grin, and
opening a drawer produced three shillings and flung them separately on
the counter.  Miss Kybird thawed somewhat, and glancing from the
customer's clothes to his face saw that he had a pleasant eye and a good
moustache, together with a general air of recklessness much appreciated
by the sex.

"Don't spend it on drink," she remarked, not unkindly.

"I won't," said the other, solemnly; "I'm going to buy house property with
it."

"Why, darn my eyes," said Mr. Kybird, who had been regarding him closely;
"darn my old eyes, if it ain't young Nugent.  Well, well!"

"That's me," said young Nugent, cheerfully; "I should have known you
anywhere, Kybird: same old face, same old voice, same old shirt-sleeves."

"'Ere, come now," objected the shopkeeper, shortening his arm and
squinting along it.

"I should have known you anywhere," continued the other, mournfully; "and
here I've thrown up a splendid berth and come all the way from Australia
just for one glimpse of Miss Kybird, and she doesn't know me.  When I
die, Kybird, you will find the word 'Calais' engraven upon my heart."

Mr. Kybird said, "Oh, indeed."  His daughter tossed her head and bade Mr.
Nugent take his nonsense to people who might like it.

"Last time I see you," said Mr. Kybird, pursing up his lips and gazing at
the counter in an effort of memory; "last time I see you was one fifth o'
November when you an' another bright young party was going about in two
suits o' oilskins wot I'd been 'unting for 'igh and low all day long."

Jack Nugent sighed.  "They were happy times, Kybird."

"Might ha' been for you," retorted the other, his temper rising a little
at the remembrance of his wrongs.

"Have you come home for good? inquired Miss Kybird, curiously.  Have you
seen your father?  He passed here a little while ago."

"I saw him," said Jack, with a brevity which was not lost upon the astute
Mr. Kybird.  "I may stay in Sunwich, and I may not--it all depends."

"You're not going 'ome?" said Mr. Kybird.

"No."

The shopkeeper stood considering.  He had a small room to let at the top
of his house, and he stood divided between the fear of not getting his
rent and the joy to a man fond of simple pleasures, to be obtained by
dunning the arrogant Captain Nugent for his son's debts.  Before he could
arrive at a decision his meditations were interrupted by the entrance of
a stout, sandy-haired lady from the back parlour, who, having conquered
his scruples against matrimony some thirty years before, had kept a
particularly wide-awake eye upon him ever since.

"Your tea's a-gettin' cold," she remarked, severely.

Her husband received the news with calmness.  He was by no means an
enthusiast where that liquid was concerned, the admiration evoked by its
non-inebriating qualities having been always something in the nature of a
mystery to him.

"I'm coming," he retorted; "I'm just 'aving a word with Mr. Nugent 'ere."

"Well, I never did," said the stout lady, coming farther into the shop
and regarding the visitor.  "I shouldn't 'ave knowed 'im.  If you'd asked
me who 'e was I couldn't ha' told you--I shouldn't 'ave knowed 'im from
Adam."

Jack shook his head.  "It's hard to be forgotten like this," he said,
sadly.  "Even Miss Kybird had forgotten me, after all that had passed
between us."

"Eh?" said Mr. Kybird.

"Oh, don't take any notice of him," said his daughter.  "I'd like to see
myself."

Mr. Kybird paid no heed.  He was still thinking of the son of Captain
Nugent being indebted to him for lodging, and the more he thought of the
idea the better he liked it.

"Well, now you're 'ere," he said, with a great assumption of cordiality,
"why not come in and 'ave a cup o' tea?"

The other hesitated a moment and then, with a light laugh, accepted the
offer.  He followed them into the small and untidy back parlour, and
being requested by his hostess to squeeze in next to 'Melia at the small
round table, complied so literally with the order that that young lady
complained bitterly of his encroachments.

"And where do you think of sleeping to-night?" inquired Mr. Kybird after
his daughter had, to use her own expressive phrase, shown the guest "his
place."

Mr. Nugent shook his head.  "I shall get a lodging somewhere," he said,
airily.

"There's a room upstairs as you might 'ave if you liked," said Mr. Kybird,
slowly.  "It's been let to a very respectable, clean young man for half a
crown a week.  Really it ought to be three shillings, but if you like to
'ave it at the old price, you can."

"Done with you," said the other.

"No doubt you'll soon get something to do," continued Mr. Kybird, more in
answer to his wife's inquiring glances than anything else.  "Half a crown
every Saturday and the room's yours."

Mr. Nugent thanked him, and after making a tea which caused Mr. Kybird to
congratulate himself upon the fact that he hadn't offered to board him,
sat regaling Mrs. Kybird and daughter with a recital of his adventures in
Australia, receiving in return a full and true account of Sunwich and its
people up to date.

"There's no pride about 'im, that's what I like," said Mrs. Kybird to her
lord and master as they sat alone after closing time over a glass of gin
and water.  "He's a nice young feller, but bisness is bisness, and s'pose
you don't get your rent?"

"I shall get it sooner or later," said Mr. Kybird.  "That stuck-up father
of 'is 'll be in a fine way at 'im living here.  That's wot I'm thinking
of."

"I don't see why," said Mrs. Kybird, bridling.  "Who's Captain Nugent, I
should like to know?  We're as good as what 'e is, if not better.  And as
for the gell, if she'd got 'all Amelia's looks she'd do."

"'Melia's a fine-looking gal," assented Mr. Kybird.  "I wonder----"

He laid his pipe down on the table and stared at the mantelpiece.  "He
seems very struck with 'er," he concluded.  "I see that directly."

"Not afore I did," said his wife, sharply.

"See it afore you come into the shop," said Mr. Kybird, triumphantly.
"It 'ud be a strange thing to marry into that family, Emma."

"She's keeping company with young Teddy Silk," his wife reminded him,
coldly; "and if she wasn't she could do better than a young man without
a penny in 'is pocket.  Pride's a fine thing, Dan'l, but you can't live
on it."

"I know what I'm talking about," said Mr. Kybird, impatiently.  "I know
she's keeping company with Teddy as well as wot you do.  Still, as far as
money goes, young Nugent 'll be all right."

"'Ow?" inquired his wife.

Mr. Kybird hesitated and took a sip of his gin and water.  Then he
regarded the wife of his bosom with a calculating glance which at once
excited that lady's easily kindled wrath.

[Illustration: "He regarded the wife of his bosom with a calculating
glance."]

"You know I never tell secrets," she cried.

"Not often," corrected Mr. Kybird, "but then I don't often tell you any.
Wot would you say to young Nugent coming into five 'undred pounds 'is
mother left 'im when he's twenty-five?  He don't know it, but I do."

"Five 'undred," repeated his wife, "sure?"

"No," said the other, "I'm not sure, but I know.  I 'ad it from young
Roberts when 'e was at Stone and Dartnell's.  Five 'undred pounds!  I
shall get my money all right some time, and, if 'e wants a little bit to
go on with, 'e can have it.  He's honest enough; I can see that by his
manner."

Upstairs in the tiny room under the tiles Mr. Jack Nugent, in blissful
ignorance of his landlord's generous sentiments towards him, slept the
sound, dreamless sleep of the man free from monetary cares.  In the
sanctity of her chamber Miss Kybird, gazing approvingly at the reflection
of her yellow hair and fine eyes in the little cracked looking-glass, was
already comparing him very favourably with the somewhat pessimistic Mr.
Silk.



CHAPTER VIII

Mr. Nugent's return caused a sensation in several quarters, the feeling
at Equator Lodge bordering close upon open mutiny.  Even Mrs. Kingdom
plucked up spirit and read the astonished captain a homily upon the first
duties of a parent--a homily which she backed up by reading the story of
the Prodigal Son through to the bitter end.  At the conclusion she broke
down entirely and was led up to bed by Kate and Bella, the sympathy of
the latter taking an acute form, and consisting mainly of innuendoes
which could only refer to one person in the house.

Kate Nugent, who was not prone to tears, took a different line, but with
no better success.  The captain declined to discuss the subject, and,
after listening to a description of himself in which Nero and other
celebrities figured for the purpose of having their characters
whitewashed, took up his hat and went out.

Jem Hardy heard of the new arrival from his partner, and, ignoring that
gentleman's urgent advice to make hay while the sun shone and take Master
Nugent for a walk forthwith sat thoughtfully considering how to turn the
affair to the best advantage.  A slight outbreak of diphtheria at
Fullalove Alley had, for a time, closed that thoroughfare to Miss Nugent,
and he was inclined to regard the opportune arrival of her brother as an
effort of Providence on his behalf.

For some days, however, he looked for Jack Nugent in vain, that gentleman
either being out of doors engaged in an earnest search for work, or
snugly seated in the back parlour of the Kybirds, indulging in the
somewhat perilous pastime of paying compliments to Amelia Kybird.
Remittances which had reached him from his sister and aunt had been
promptly returned, and he was indebted to the amiable Mr. Kybird for the
bare necessaries of life.  In these circumstances a warm feeling of
gratitude towards the family closed his eyes to their obvious
shortcomings.

He even obtained work down at the harbour through a friend of Mr.
Kybird's.  It was not of a very exalted nature, and caused more strain
upon the back than the intellect, but seven years of roughing it had left
him singularly free from caste prejudices, a freedom which he soon
discovered was not shared by his old acquaintances at Sunwich.  The
discovery made him somewhat bitter, and when Hardy stopped him one
afternoon as he was on his way home from work he tried to ignore his
outstretched hand and continued on his way.

[Illustration: "He even obtained work down at the harbor."]

"It is a long time since we met," said Hardy, placing himself in front
of him.

"Good heavens," said Jack, regarding him closely, "it's Jemmy Hardy--
grown up spick and span like the industrious little boys in the
school-books. I heard you were back here."

"I came back just before you did," said Hardy. "Brass band playing you in
and all that sort of thing, I suppose," said the other.  "Alas, how the
wicked prosper--and you were wicked.  Do you remember how you used to
knock me about?"

"Come round to my place and have a chat," said Hardy.

Jack shook his head.  "They're expecting me in to tea," he said, with a
nod in the direction of Mr. Kybird's, "and honest waterside labourers who
earn their bread by the sweat of their brow--when the foreman is looking
--do not frequent the society of the upper classes."

"Don't be a fool," said Hardy, politely.

"Well, I'm not very tidy," retorted Mr. Nugent, glancing at his clothes.
"I don't mind it myself; I'm a philosopher, and nothing hurts me so long
as I have enough to eat and drink; but I don't inflict myself on my
friends, and I must say most of them meet me more than half-way."

"Imagination," said Hardy.

"All except Kate and my aunt," said Jack, firmly.  "Poor Kate; I tried to
cut her the other day."

"Cut her?" echoed Hardy.

Nugent nodded.  "To save her feelings," he replied; "but she wouldn't be
cut, bless her, and on the distinct understanding that it wasn't to form
a precedent, I let her kiss me behind a waggon.  Do you know, I fancy
she's grown up rather good-looking, Jem?"

"You are observant," said Mr. Hardy, admiringly.

"Of course, it may be my partiality," said Mr. Nugent, with judicial
fairness.  "I was always a bit fond of Kate.  I don't suppose anybody
else would see anything in her.  Where are you living now?"

"Fort Road," said Hardy; "come round any evening you can, if you won't
come now."

Nugent promised, and, catching sight of Miss Kybird standing in the
doorway of the shop, bade him good-bye and crossed the road.  It was
becoming quite a regular thing for her to wait and have her tea with him
now, an arrangement which was provocative of many sly remarks on the part
of Mrs. Kybird.

[Illustration: "Miss Kybird standing in the doorway of the shop."]

"Thought you were never coming," said Miss Kybird, tartly, as she led the
way to the back room and took her seat at the untidy tea-tray.

"And you've been crying your eyes out, I suppose," remarked Mr. Nugent,
as he groped in the depths of a tall jar for black-currant jam.  "Well,
you're not the first, and I don't suppose you'll be the last.  How's
Teddy?"

"Get your tea," retorted Miss Kybird, "and don't make that scraping noise
on the bottom of the jar with your knife.  It puts my teeth on edge."

"So it does mine," said Mr. Nugent, "but there's a black currant down
there, and I mean to have it.  'Waste not, want not.'"

"Make him put that knife down," said Miss Kybird, as her mother entered
the room.  Mrs. Kybird shook her head at him.  "You two are always
quarrelling," she said, archly, "just like a couple of--couple of----"

"Love-birds," suggested Mr. Nugent.

Mrs. Kybird in great glee squeezed round to him and smote him playfully
with her large, fat hand, and then, being somewhat out of breath with the
exertion, sat down to enjoy the jest in comfort.

"That's how you encourage him," said her daughter; "no wonder he doesn't
behave.  No wonder he acts as if the whole place belongs to him."

The remark was certainly descriptive of Mr. Nugent's behaviour.  His easy
assurance and affability had already made him a prime favourite with Mrs.
Kybird, and had not been without its effect upon her daughter.  The
constrained and severe company manners of Mr. Edward Silk showed up but
poorly beside those of the paying guest, and Miss Kybird had on several
occasions drawn comparisons which would have rendered both gentlemen
uneasy if they had known of them.

Mr. Nugent carried the same easy good-fellowship with him the following
week when, neatly attired in a second-hand suit from Mr. Kybird's
extensive stock, he paid a visit to Jem Hardy to talk over old times and
discuss the future.

"You ought to make friends with your father," said the latter; "it only
wants a little common sense and mutual forbearance."

"That's all," said Nugent; "sounds easy enough, doesn't it?  No, all he
wants is for me to clear out of Sunwich, and I'm not going to--until it
pleases me, at any rate.  It's poison to him for me to be living at the
Kybirds' and pushing a trolley down on the quay.  Talk about love
sweetening toil, that does."

Hardy changed the subject, and Nugent, nothing loath, discoursed on his
wanderings and took him on a personally conducted tour through the
continent of Australia.  "And I've come back to lay my bones in Sunwich
Churchyard," he concluded, pathetically; "that is, when I've done with
'em."

"A lot of things'll happen before then," said Hardy.

"I hope so," rejoined Mr. Nugent, piously; "my desire is to be buried by
my weeping great-grandchildren.  In fact, I've left instructions to that
effect in my will--all I have left, by the way."

"You're not going to keep on at this water-side work, I suppose?" said
Hardy, making another effort to give the conversation a serious turn.

"The foreman doesn't think so," replied the other, as he helped himself
to some whisky; "he has made several remarks to that effect lately."

He leaned back in his chair and smoked thoughtfully, by no means
insensible to the comfort of his surroundings.  He had not been in such
comfortable quarters since he left home seven years before.  He thought
of the untidy litter of the Kybirds' back parlour, with the forlorn view
of the yard in the rear.  Something of his reflections he confided to
Hardy as he rose to leave.

"But my market value is about a pound a week," he concluded, ruefully,
"so I must cut my coat to suit my cloth.  Good-night."

He walked home somewhat soberly at first, but the air was cool and fresh
and a glorious moon was riding in the sky.  He whistled cheerfully, and
his spirits rose as various chimerical plans of making money occurred to
him.  By the time he reached the High Street, the shops of which were all
closed for the night, he was earning five hundred a year and spending a
thousand.  He turned the handle of the door and, walking in, discovered
Miss Kybird entertaining company in the person of Mr. Edward Silk.

"Halloa," he said, airily, as he took a seat.  "Don't mind me, young
people.  Go on just as you would if I were not here."

Mr. Edward Silk grumbled something under his breath; Miss Kybird, turning
to the intruder with a smile of welcome, remarked that she had just
thought of going to sleep.

"Going to sleep?" repeated Mr. Silk, thunder-struck.

"Yes," said Miss Kybird, yawning.

Mr. Silk gazed at her, open-mouthed.  "What, with me 'ere?" he inquired,
in trembling tones.

"You're not very lively company," said Miss Kybird, bending over her
sewing.  "I don't think you've spoken a word for the last quarter of an
hour, and before that you were talking of death-warnings.  Made my flesh
creep, you did."

"Shame!" said Mr. Nugent.

"You didn't say anything to me about your flesh creeping," muttered Mr.
Silk.

"You ought to have seen it creep," interposed Mr. Nugent, severely.

"I'm not talking to you," said Mr. Silk, turning on him; "when I want the
favour of remarks from you I'll let you know."

"Don't you talk to my gentlemen friends like that, Teddy," said Miss
Kybird, sharply, "because I won't have it.  Why don't you try and be
bright and cheerful like Mr. Nugent?"

Mr. Silk turned and regarded that gentleman steadfastly; Mr. Nugent
meeting his gaze with a pleasant smile and a low-voiced offer to give him
lessons at half a crown an hour.

"I wouldn't be like 'im for worlds," said Mr. Silk, with a scornful
laugh.  "I'd sooner be like anybody."

"What have you been saying to him?" inquired Nugent.

"Nothing," replied Miss Kybird; "he's often like that.  He's got a nasty,
miserable, jealous disposition.  Not that I mind what he thinks."

Mr. Silk breathed hard and looked from one to the other.

"Perhaps he'll grow out of it," said Nugent, hopefully.  "Cheer up,
Teddy.  You're young yet."

"Might I arsk," said the solemnly enraged Mr. Silk, "might I arsk you not
to be so free with my Christian name?"

"He doesn't like his name now," said Nugent, drawing his chair closer to
Miss Kybird's, "and I don't wonder at it.  What shall we call him?  Job?
What's that work you're doing?  Why don't you get on with that fancy
waistcoat you are doing for me?"

Before Miss Kybird could deny all knowledge of the article in question
her sorely tried swain created a diversion by rising.  To that simple act
he imparted an emphasis which commanded the attention of both beholders,
and, drawing over to Miss Kybird, he stood over her in an attitude at
once terrifying and reproachful.

"Take your choice, Amelia," he said, in a thrilling voice.  "Me or 'im--
which is it to be?"

[Illustration: "Me or 'im--which is it to be?"]

"Here, steady, old man," cried the startled Nugent.  "Go easy."

"Me or 'im?" repeated Mr. Silk, in stern but broken accents.

Miss Kybird giggled and, avoiding his gaze, looked pensively at the faded
hearthrug.

"You're making her blush," said Mr. Nugent, sternly.  "Sit down, Teddy;
I'm ashamed of you.  We're both ashamed of you.  You're confusing us
dreadfully proposing to us both in this way."

Mr. Silk regarded him with a scornful eye, but Miss Kybird, bidding him
not to be foolish, punctuated her remarks with the needle, and a
struggle, which Mr. Silk regarded as unseemly in the highest degree, took
place between them for its possession.

Mr. Nugent secured it at last, and brandishing it fiercely extorted
feminine screams from Miss Kybird by threatening her with it.  Nor was
her mind relieved until Mr. Nugent, remarking that he would put it back
in the pincushion, placed it in the leg of Mr. Edward Silk.

Mr. Kybird and his wife, entering through the shop, were just in time to
witness a spirited performance on the part of Mr. Silk, the cherished
purpose of which was to deprive them of a lodger.  He drew back as they
entered and, raising his voice above Miss Kybird's, began to explain his
action.

"Teddy, I'm ashamed of you," said Mr. Kybird, shaking his head.
"A little joke like that; a little innercent joke."

"If it 'ad been a darning-needle now--" began Mrs. Kybird.

"All right," said the desperate Mr. Silk, "'ave it your own way.  Let
'Melia marry 'im--I don't care---I give 'er up."

"Teddy!" said Mr. Kybird, in a shocked voice.  "Teddy!"

Mr. Silk thrust him fiercely to one side and passed raging through the
shop.  The sound of articles falling in all directions attested to his
blind haste, and the force with which he slammed the shop-door was
sufficient evidence of his state of mind.

"Well, upon my word," said the staring Mr. Kybird; "of all the
outrageyous--"

"Never mind 'im," said his wife, who was sitting in the easy chair,
distributing affectionate smiles between her daughter and the startled
Mr. Nugent.  "Make 'er happy, Jack, that's all I arsk.  She's been a good
gal, and she'll make a good wife.  I've seen how it was between you for
some time."

"So 'ave I," said Mr. Kybird.  He shook hands warmly with Mr. Nugent,
and, patting that perturbed man on the back, surveyed him with eyes
glistening with approval.

"It's a bit rough on Teddy, isn't it?" inquired Mr. Nugent, anxiously;
"besides--"

"Don't you worry about 'im," said Mr. Kybird, affectionately.  "He ain't
worth it."

"I wasn't," said Mr. Nugent, truthfully.  The situation had developed so
rapidly that it had caught him at a disadvantage.  He had a dim feeling
that, having been the cause of Miss Kybird's losing one young man, the
most elementary notions of chivalry demanded that he should furnish her
with another.  And this idea was clearly uppermost in the minds of her
parents.  He looked over at Amelia and with characteristic philosophy
accepted the position.

"We shall be the handsomest couple in Sunwich," he said, simply.

"Bar none," said Mr. Kybird, emphatically.

The stout lady in the chair gazed ax the couple fondly.  "It reminds me
of our wedding," she said, softly.  "What was it Tom Fletcher said,
father?  Can you remember?"

"'Arry Smith, you mean," corrected Mr. Kybird.

"Tom Fletcher said something, I'm sure," persisted his wife.

"He did," said Mr. Kybird, grimly, "and I pretty near broke 'is 'ead for
it.  'Arry Smith is the one you're thinking of."

Mrs. Kybird after a moment's reflection admitted that he was right, and,
the chain of memory being touched, waxed discursive about her own wedding
and the somewhat exciting details which accompanied it.  After which she
produced a bottle labelled "Port wine" from the cupboard, and, filling
four glasses, celebrated the occasion in a befitting but sober fashion.

"This," said Mr. Nugent, as he sat on his bed that night to take his
boots off, "this is what comes of trying to make everybody happy and
comfortable with a little fun.  I wonder what the governor'll say."

[Illustration: "I wonder what the governor'll say."]



CHAPTER IX

The news of his only son's engagement took Captain Nugent's breath away,
which, all things considered, was perhaps the best thing it could have
done.  He sat at home in silent rage, only exploding when the
well-meaning Mrs. Kingdom sought to minimize his troubles by comparing them
with those of Job.  Her reminder that to the best of her remembrance he
had never had a boil in his life put the finishing touch to his patience,
and, despairing of drawing-room synonyms for the words which trembled on
his lips, he beat a precipitate retreat to the garden.

His son bore his new honours bravely.  To an appealing and indignant
letter from his sister he wrote gravely, reminding her of the difference
in their years, and also that he had never interfered in her flirtations,
however sorely his brotherly heart might have been wrung by them.  He
urged her to forsake such diversions for the future, and to look for an
alliance with some noble, open-handed man with a large banking account
and a fondness for his wife's relatives.

To Jem Hardy, who ventured on a delicate re-monstrance one evening, he
was less patient, and displayed a newly acquired dignity which was a
source of considerable embarrassment to that well-meaning gentleman.  He
even got up to search for his hat, and was only induced to resume his
seat by the physical exertions of his host.

"I didn't mean to be offensive," said the latter.  "But you were," said
the aggrieved man.  Hardy apologized.

"Talk of that kind is a slight to my future wife," said Nugent, firmly.
"Besides, what business is it of yours?"

Hardy regarded him thoughtfully.  It was some time since he had seen Miss
Nugent, and he felt that he was losing valuable time.  He had hoped great
things from the advent of her brother, and now his intimacy seemed worse
than useless.  He resolved to take him into his confidence.

"I spoke from selfish motives," he said, at last.  "I wanted you to make
friends with your father again."

"What for?" inquired the other, staring.

"To pave the way for me," said Hardy, raising his voice as he thought of
his wrongs; "and now, owing to your confounded matrimonial business,
that's all knocked on the head.  I wouldn't care whom you married if it
didn't interfere with my affairs so."

"Do you mean," inquired the astonished Mr. Nugent, "that you want to be
on friendly terms with my father?"

"Yes."

Mr. Nugent gazed at him round-eyed.  "You haven't had a blow on the head
or anything of that sort at any time, have you?" he inquired.

Hardy shook his head impatiently.  "You don't seem to suffer from an
excess of intellect yourself," he retorted.  "I don't want to be
offensive again, still, I should think it is pretty plain there is only
one reason why I should go out of my way to seek the society of your
father."

"Say what you like about my intellect," replied the dutiful son, "but I
can't think of even one--not even a small one.  Not--Good gracious!  You
don't mean--you can't mean--"

Hardy looked at him.

"Not that," said Mr. Nugent, whose intellect had suddenly become
painfully acute--"not her?"

"Why not?" inquired the other.

Mr. Nugent leaned back in his chair and regarded him with an air of
kindly interest.  "Well, there's no need for you to worry about my father
for that," he said; "he would raise no objection."

"Eh?" said Hardy, starting up from his chair.

"He would welcome it," said Mr. Nugent, positively.  "There is nothing
that he would like better; and I don't mind telling you a secret--she
likes you."

Hardy reddened.  "How do you know?" he stammered.

"I know it for a fact," said the other, impressively.  "I have heard her
say so.  But you've been very plain-spoken about me, Jem, so that I shall
say what I think."

"Do," said his bewildered friend.

"I think you'd be throwing yourself away," said Nugent; "to my mind it's
a most unsuitable match in every way.  She's got no money, no looks, no
style.  Nothing but a good kind heart rather the worse for wear.  I
suppose you know she's been married once?"

"_What!_" shouted the other.  "_Married?_"

Mr. Nugent nodded.  His face was perfectly grave, but the joke was
beginning to prey upon his vitals in a manner which brooked no delay.

"I thought everybody knew it," he said.  "We have never disguised the
fact.  Her husband died twenty years ago last----"

"Twenty" said his suddenly enlightened listener.  "Who?--What?"

Mr. Nugent, incapable of reply, put his head on the table and beat the
air frantically with his hand, while gasping sobs rent his tortured
frame.

"Dear--aunt," he choked, "how pleas--pleased she'd be if--she knew.
Don't look like that, Hardy.  You'll kill me."

"You seem amused," said Hardy, between his teeth.

"And you'll be Kate's uncle," said Mr. Nugent, sitting up and wiping his
eyes.  "Poor little Kate."

He put his head on the table again.  "And mine," he wailed.  "_Uncle
jemmy!_--will you tip us half-crowns, nunky?"

Mr. Hardy's expression of lofty scorn only served to retard his recovery,
but he sat up at last and, giving his eyes a final wipe, beamed kindly
upon his victim.

"Well, I'll do what I can for you," he observed, "but I suppose you know
Kate's off for a three months' visit to London to-morrow?"

The other observed that he didn't know it, and, taught by his recent
experience, eyed him suspiciously.

"It's quite true," said Nugent; "she's going to stay with some relatives
of ours.  She used to be very fond of one of the boys--her cousin
Herbert--so you mustn't be surprised if she comes back engaged.  But I
daresay you'll have forgotten all about her in three months.  And,
anyway, I don't suppose she'd look at you if you were the last man in the
world.  If you'll walk part of the way home with me I'll regale you with
anecdotes of her chilhood which will probably cause you to change your
views altogether."

In Fullalove Alley Mr. Edward Silk, his forebodings fulfilled, received
the news of Amelia Kybird's faithlessness in a spirit of' quiet despair,
and turned a deaf ear to the voluble sympathy of his neighbours.  Similar
things had happened to young men living there before, but their behaviour
had been widely different to Mr. Silk's.  Bob Crump, for instance, had
been jilted on the very morning he had arranged for his wedding, but
instead of going about in a state of gentle melancholy he went round and
fought his beloved's father--merely because it was her father--and wound
up an exciting day by selling off his household goods to the highest
bidders.  Henry Jones in similar circumstances relieved his great grief
by walking up and down the alley smashing every window within reach of
his stick.

[Illustration: "A spirit of quiet despair."]

But these were men of spirit; Mr. Silk was cast in a different mould, and
his fair neighbours sympathized heartily with him in his bereavement,
while utterly failing to understand any man breaking his heart over
Amelia Kybird.

His mother, a widow of uncertain age, shook her head over him and hinted
darkly at consumption, an idea which was very pleasing to her son, and
gave him an increased interest in a slight cold from which he was
suffering.

"He wants taking out of 'imself," said Mr. Wilks, who had stepped across
the alley to discuss the subject with his neighbour; "cheerful society
and 'obbies--that's what 'e wants."

"He's got a faithful 'eart," sighed Mrs. Silk.  "It's in the family; 'e
can't 'elp it."

"But 'e might be lifted out of it," urged Mr. Wilks.  "I 'ad several
disappointments in my young days.  One time I 'ad a fresh gal every
v'y'ge a'most."

Mrs. Silk sniffed and looked up the alley, whereat two neighbours who
happened to be at their doors glanced up and down casually, and retreated
inside to continue their vigil from the windows.

"Silk courted me for fifteen years before I would say 'yes,'" she said,
severely.

"Fifteen years!"  responded the other.  He cast his eyes upwards and his
lips twitched.  The most casual observer could have seen that he was
engaged in calculations of an abstruse and elusive nature.

"I was on'y seven when 'e started," said Mrs. Silk, sharply.

Mr. Wilks brought his eyes to a level again.  "Oh, seven," he remarked.

"And we was married two days before my nineteenth birthday," added Mrs.
Silk, whose own arithmetic had always been her weak point.

"Just so," said Mr. Wilks.  He glanced at the sharp white face and
shapeless figure before him.  "It's hard to believe you can 'ave a son
Teddy's age," he added, gallantly.

"It makes you feel as if you're getting on," said the widow.

The ex-steward agreed, and after standing a minute or two in silence made
a preliminary motion of withdrawal.

"Beautiful your plants are looking," said Mrs. Silk, glancing over at his
window; "I can't think what you do to 'em."

The gratified Mr. Wilks began to explain.  It appeared that plants wanted
almost as much looking after as daughters.

"I should like to see 'em close," said Mrs. Silk.  "Come in and 'ave a
look at 'em," responded her neighbour.

Mrs. Silk hesitated and displayed a maidenly coyness far in excess of the
needs of the situation.  Then she stepped across, and five seconds later
the two matrons, with consternation writ large upon their faces, appeared
at their doors again and, exchanging glances across the alley, met in the
centre.

They were more surprised an evening or two later to see Mr. Wilks leave
his house to pay a return visit, bearing in his hand a small bunch of his
cherished blooms.  That they were blooms which would have paid the debt
of Nature in a few hours at most in no way detracted from the widow's
expressions of pleasure at receiving them, and Mr. Wilks, who had been
invited over to cheer up Mr. Silk, who was in a particularly black mood,
sat and smiled like a detected philanthropist as she placed them in
water.

[Illustration: "A return visit."]

"Good evenin', Teddy," he said, breezily, with a side-glance at his
hostess.  "What a lovely day we've 'ad."

"So bright," said Mrs. Silk, nodding with spirit.

Mr. Wilks sat down and gave vent to such a cheerful laugh that the
ornaments on the mantelpiece shook with it.  "It's good to be alive,"
he declared.

"Ah, you enjoy your life, Mr. Wilks," said the widow.

"Enjoy it!" roared Mr. Wilks; "enjoy it!  Why shouldn't I?  Why shouldn't
everybody enjoy their lives?  It was what they was given to us for."

"So they was," affirmed Mrs. Silk; "nobody can deny that; not if they
try."

"Nobody wants to deny it, ma'am," retorted Mr. Wilks, in the high voice
he kept for cheering-up purposes.  "I enjoy every day o' my life."

He filled his pipe, chuckling serenely, and having lit it sat and enjoyed
that.  Mrs. Silk retired for a space, and returning with a jug of ale
poured him out a glass and set it by his elbow.

"Here's your good 'ealth, ma'am," said Mr. Wilks, raising it.  "Here's
yours, Teddy--a long life and a 'appy one."

Mr. Silk turned listlessly.  "I don't want a long life," he remarked.

His mother and her visitor exchanged glances.

"That's 'ow 'e goes on," remarked the former, in an audible whisper.  Mr.
Wilks nodded, reassuringly.

"I 'ad them ideas once," he said, "but they go off.  If you could only
live to see Teddy at the age o' ninety-five, 'e wouldn't want to go then.
'E'd say it was crool hard, being cut off in the flower of 'is youth."

Mrs. Silk laughed gaily and Mr. Wilks bellowed a gruff accompaniment.
Mr. Edward Silk eyed them pityingly.

"That's the 'ardship of it," he said, slowly, as he looked round from his
seat by the fireplace; "that's where the 'ollowness of things comes in.
That's where I envy Mr. Wilks."

"Envy me?" said the smiling visitor; "what for?"

"Because you're so near the grave," said Mr. Silk.

Mr. Wilks, who was taking another draught of beer, put the glass down and
eyed him fixedly.

"That's why I envy you," continued the other.

"I don't want to live, and you do, and yet I dessay I shall be walking
about forty and fifty years after you're dead and forgotten."

"Wot d'ye mean--near the grave?"  inquired

Mr. Wilks, somewhat shortly.

"I was referring to your age," replied the other; "it's strange to see
'ow the aged 'ang on to life.  You can't 'ave much pleasure at your time
o' life.  And you're all alone; the last withered branch left."

"Withered branch!" began Mr. Wilks; "'ere, look 'ere, Teddy----"

"All the others 'ave gone," pursued Mr. Silk, "and they're beckoning to
you."

"Let 'em beckon," said Mr. Wilks, coldly.  "I'm not going yet."

"You're not young," said Mr. Silk, gazing meditatively at the grate, "and
I envy you that.  It can only be a matter of a year or two at most before
you are sleeping your last long sleep."

"Teddy!" protested Mrs. Silk.

"It's true, mother," said the melancholy youth.  "Mr. Wilks is old.  Why
should 'e mind being told of it?  If 'e had 'ad the trouble I've 'ad 'e'd
be glad to go.  But he'll 'ave to go, whether 'e likes it or not.  It
might be to-night.  Who can tell?"

Mr. Wilks, unasked, poured himself out another glass of ale, and drank it
off with the air of a man who intended to make sure of that.  It seemed a
trifle more flat than the last.

"So many men o' your age and thereabouts," continued Mr. Silk, "think
that they're going to live on to eighty or ninety, but there's very few
of 'em do.  It's only a short while, Mr. Wilks, and the little
children'll be running about over your grave and picking daisies off
of it."

"Ho, will they?" said the irritated Mr. Wilks; "they'd better not let me
catch 'em at it, that's all."

"He's always talking like that now," said Mrs. Silk, not without a
certain pride in her tones; "that's why I asked you in to cheer 'im up."

"All your troubles'll be over then," continued the warning voice, "and in
a month or two even your name'll be forgotten.  That's the way of the
world.  Think 'ow soon the last five years of your life 'ave passed; the
next five'll pass ten times as fast even if you live as long, which ain't
likely."

"He talks like a clergyman," said Mrs. Silk, in a stage whisper.

Mr. Wilks nodded, and despite his hostess's protests rose to go.  He
shook hands with her and, after a short but sharp inward struggle, shook
hands with her son.  It was late in the evening as he left, but the
houses had not yet been lit up.  Dim figures sat in doorways or stood
about the alley, and there was an air of peace and rest strangely and
uncomfortably in keeping with the conversation to which he had just been
listening.  He looked in at his own door; the furniture seemed stiffer
than usual and the tick of the clock more deliberate.  He closed the door
again and, taking a deep breath, set off towards the life and bustle of
the Two Schooners.

[Illustration: "He set off towards the life and bustle of the Two
Schooners."]



CHAPTER X

Time failed to soften the captain's ideas concerning his son's
engagement, and all mention of the subject in the house was strictly
forbidden.  Occasionally he was favoured with a glimpse of his son and
Miss Kybird out together, a sight which imparted such a flavour to his
temper and ordinary intercourse that Mrs. Kingdom, in unconscious
imitation of Mr. James Hardy, began to count the days which must elapse
before her niece's return from London.  His ill-temper even infected the
other members of the household, and Mrs. Kingdom sat brooding in her
bedroom all one afternoon, because Bella had called her an "overbearing
dish-pot."

The finishing touch to his patience was supplied by a little
misunderstanding between Mr. Kybird and the police.  For the second time
in his career the shopkeeper appeared before the magistrates to explain
the circumstances in which he had purchased stolen property, and for the
second time he left the court without a stain on his character, but with
a significant magisterial caution not to appear there again.

[Illustration: "For the second time he left the court without a stain on
his character."]

Jack Nugent gave evidence in the case, and some of his replies were
deemed worthy of reproduction in the Sunwich Herald, a circumstance which
lost the proprietors a subscriber of many years' standing.

One by one various schemes for preventing his son's projected alliance
were dismissed as impracticable.  A cherished design of confining him in
an asylum for the mentally afflicted until such time as he should have
regained his senses was spoilt by the refusal of Dr. Murchison to arrange
for the necessary certificate; a refusal which was like to have been
fraught with serious consequences to that gentleman's hopes of entering
the captain's family.

Brooding over his wrongs the captain, a day or two after his daughter's
return, strolled slowly down towards the harbour.  It was afternoon, and
the short winter day was already drawing towards a close.  The shipping
looked cold and desolate in the greyness, but a bustle of work prevailed
on the Conqueror, which was nearly ready for sea again.  The captain's
gaze wandered from his old craft to the small vessels dotted about the
harbour and finally dwelt admiringly on the lines of the whaler Seabird,
which had put in a few days before as the result of a slight collision
with a fishing-boat.  She was high out of the water and beautifully
rigged.  A dog ran up and down her decks barking, and a couple of squat
figures leaned over the bulwarks gazing stolidly ashore.

There was something about the vessel which took his fancy, and he stood
for some time on the edge of the quay, looking at her.  In a day or two
she would sail for a voyage the length of which would depend upon her
success; a voyage which would for a long period keep all on board of her
out of the mischief which so easily happens ashore.  If only Jack----

He started and stared more intently than before.  He was not an
imaginative man, but he had in his mind's eye a sudden vision of his only
son waving farewells from the deck of the whaler as she emerged from the
harbour into the open sea, while Amelia Kybird tore her yellow locks
ashore.  It was a vision to cheer any self-respecting father's heart, and
he brought his mind back with some regret to the reality of the anchored
ship.

He walked home slowly.  At the Kybirds' door the proprietor, smoking a
short clay pipe, eyed him with furtive glee as he passed.  Farther along
the road the Hardys, father and son, stepped briskly together.
Altogether a trying walk, and calculated to make him more dissatisfied
than ever with the present state of affairs.  When his daughter shook her
head at him and accused him of going off on a solitary frolic his stock
of patience gave out entirely.

[Illustration: "The proprietor eyed him with furtive glee as he passed."]

A thoughtful night led to a visit to Mr. Wilks the following evening.  It
required a great deal of deliberation on his part before he could make up
his mind to the step, but he needed his old steward's assistance in a
little plan he had conceived for his son's benefit, and for the first
time in his life he paid him the supreme honour of a call.

The honour was so unexpected that Mr. Wilks, coming into the parlour in
response to the tapping of the captain's stick on the floor, stood for a
short time eyeing him in dismay.  Only two minutes before he had taken
Mr. James Hardy into the kitchen to point out the interior beauties of
an ancient clock, and the situation simply appalled him.  The captain
greeted him almost politely and bade him sit down.  Mr. Wilks smiled
faintly and caught his breath.

"Sit down," repeated the captain.

"I've left something in the kitchen, sir," said Mr. Wilks.  "I'll be back
in half a minute."

The captain nodded.  In the kitchen Mr. Wilks rapidly and incoherently
explained the situation to Mr. Hardy.

"I'll sit here," said the latter, drawing up a comfortable oak chair to
the stove.

"You see, he don't know that we know each other," explained the
apologetic steward, "but I don't like leaving you in the kitchen."

"I'm all right," said Hardy; "don't you trouble about me."

He waved him away, and Mr. Wilks, still pale, closed the door behind him
and, rejoining the captain, sat down on the extreme edge of a chair and
waited.

"I've come to see you on a little matter of business," said his visitor.

Mr. Wilks smiled; then, feeling that perhaps that was not quite the right
thing to do, looked serious again.

"I came to see you about my--my son," continued the captain.

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Wilks.  "Master Jack, you mean?"

"I've only got one son," said the other, unpleasantly, "unless you happen
to know of any more."

Mr. Wilks almost fell off the edge of the chair in his haste to disclaim
any such knowledge.  His ideas were in a ferment, and the guilty
knowledge of what he had left in the kitchen added to his confusion.
And just at that moment the door opened and Miss Nugent came briskly in.

Her surprise at seeing her father ensconced in a chair by the fire led to
a rapid volley of questions.  The captain, in lieu of answering them,
asked another.

"What do you want here?"

"I have come to see Sam," said Miss Nugent.  "Fancy seeing you here!  How
are you, Sam?"

"Pretty well, miss, thank'ee," replied Mr. Wilks, "considering," he
added, truthfully, after a moment's reflection.

Miss Nugent dropped into a chair and put her feet on the fender.  Her
father eyed her restlessly.

"I came here to speak to Sam about a private matter," he said, abruptly.

"Private matter," said his daughter, looking round in surprise.  "What
about?"

"A private matter," repeated Captain Nugent.  "Suppose you come in some
other time."

Kate Nugent sighed and took her feet from the fender.  "I'll go and wait
in the kitchen," she said, crossing to the door.

Both men protested.  The captain because it ill-assorted with his dignity
for his daughter to sit in the kitchen, and Mr. Wilks because of the
visitor already there.  The face of the steward, indeed, took on such
extraordinary expressions in his endeavour to convey private information
to the girl that she gazed at him in silent amazement.  Then she turned
the handle of the door and, passing through, closed it with a bang which
was final.

Mr. Wilks stood spellbound, but nothing happened.  There was no cry of
surprise; no hasty reappearance of an indignant Kate Nugent.  His
features working nervously he resumed his seat and gazed dutifully at his
superior officer.

"I suppose you've heard that my son is going to get married?" said the
latter.

"I couldn't help hearing of it, sir," said the steward in self defence--
"nobody could."

"He's going to marry that yellow-headed Jezebel of Kybird's," said the
captain, staring at the fire.

Mr. Wilks murmured that he couldn't understand anybody liking yellow
hair, and, more than that, the general opinion of the ladies in Fullalove
Alley was that it was dyed.

"I'm going to ship him on the Seabird," continued the captain.  "She'll
probably be away for a year or two, and, in the meantime, this girl will
probably marry somebody else.  Especially if she doesn't know what has
become of him.  He can't get into mischief aboard ship."

"No, sir," said the wondering Mr. Wilks.  "Is Master Jack agreeable to
going, sir?"

"That's nothing to do with it," said the captain, sharply.

"No, sir," said Mr. Wilks, "o' course not.  I was only a sort o'
wondering how he was going to be persuaded to go if 'e ain't."

"That's what I came here about," said the other.  "I want you to go and
fix it up with Nathan Smith."

"Do you want 'im to be _crimped,_ sir?"  stammered Mr. Wilks.

"I want him shipped aboard the _Seabird,_" returned the other, "and
Smith's the man to do it."

"It's a very hard thing to do in these days, sir," said Mr. Wilks,
shaking his head.  "What with signing on aboard the day before the ship
sails, and before the Board o' Trade officers, I'm sure it's a wonder
that anybody goes to sea at all."

"You leave that to Smith," said the captain, impatiently.  "The Seabird
sails on Friday morning's tide.  Tell Smith I'll arrange to meet my son
here on Thursday night, and that he must have some liquor for us and a
fly waiting on the beach."

Mr. Wilks wriggled: "But what about signing on, sir?" he inquired.

"He won't sign on," said the captain, "he'll be a stowaway.  Smith must
get him smuggled aboard, and bribe the hands to let him lie hidden in the
fo'c's'le.  The Seabird won't put back to put him ashore.  Here is five
pounds; give Smith two or three now, and the remainder when the job is
done."

The steward took the money reluctantly and, plucking up his courage,
looked his old master in the face.

"It's a 'ard life afore the mast, sir," he said, slowly.

"Rubbish!" was the reply.  "It'll make a man of him.  Besides, what's it
got to do with you?"

"I don't care about the job, sir," said Mr. Wilks, bravely.

"What's that got to do with it?" demanded the other, frowning.  "You go
and fix it up with Nathan Smith as soon as possible."

Mr. Wilks shuffled his feet and strove to remind himself that he was a
gentleman of independent means, and could please himself.

"I've known 'im since he was a baby," he murmured, defiantly.

"I don't want to hear anything more from you, Wilks," said the captain,
in a hard voice.  "Those are my orders, and you had better see that they
are carried out.  My son will be one of the first to thank you later on
for getting him out of such a mess."

Mr. Wilks's brow cleared somewhat.  "I s'pose Miss Kate 'ud be pleased
too," he remarked, hope-fully.

"Of course she will," said the captain.  "Now I look to you, Wilks, to
manage this thing properly.  I wouldn't trust anybody else, and you've
never disappointed me yet."

The steward gasped and, doubting whether he had heard aright, looked
towards his old master, but in vain, for the confirmation of further
compliments.  In all his long years of service he had never been praised
by him before.  He leaned forward eagerly and began to discuss ways and
means.

In the next room conversation was also proceeding, but fitfully.  Miss
Nugent's consternation when she closed the door behind her and found
herself face to face with Mr. Hardy was difficult of concealment.  Too
late she understood the facial contortions of Mr. Wilks, and, resigning
herself to the inevitable, accepted the chair placed for her by the
highly pleased Jem, and sat regarding him calmly from the other side of
the fender.

[Illustration: "Miss Nugent's consternation was difficult of
concealment."]

"I am waiting here for my father," she said, in explanation.

"In deference to Wilks's terrors I am waiting here until he has gone,"
said Hardy, with a half smile.

There was a pause.  "I hope that he will not be long," said the girl.

"Thank you," returned Hardy, wilfully misunderstanding, "but I am in no
hurry."

He gazed at her with admiration.  The cold air had heightened her colour,
and the brightness of her eyes shamed the solitary candle which lit up
the array of burnished metal on the mantelpiece.

"I hope you enjoyed your visit to London," he said.

Before replying Miss Nugent favoured him with a glance designed to
express surprise at least at his knowledge of her movements.  "Very much,
thank you," she said, at last.

Mr. Hardy, still looking at her with much comfort to himself, felt an
insane desire to tell her how much she had been missed by one person at
least in Sunwich.  Saved from this suicidal folly by the little common
sense which had survived the shock of her sudden appearance, he gave the
information indirectly.

"Quite a long stay," he murmured; "three months and three days; no, three
months and two days."

A sudden wave of colour swept over the girl's face at the ingenuity of
this mode of attack.  She was used to attention and took compliments as
her due, but the significant audacity of this one baffled her.  She sat
with downcast eyes looking at the fender occasionally glancing from the
corner of her eye to see whether he was preparing to renew the assault.
He had certainly changed from the Jem Hardy of olden days.  She had a
faint idea that his taste had improved.

"Wilks keeps his house in good order," said Hardy, looking round.

"Yes," said the girl.

"Wonder why he never married," said Hardy, musingly; "for my part I can't
understand a man remaining single all his life; can you?"

"I never think of such things," said Miss Nugent, coldly--and
untruthfully.

"If it was only to have somebody to wait on him and keep his house
clean," pursued Hardy, with malice.

Miss Nugent grew restless, and the wrongs of her sex stirred within her.
"You have very lofty ideas on the subject," she said, scornfully, "but I
believe they are not uncommon."

"Still, you have never thought about such things, you know," he reminded
her.

"And no doubt you have devoted a great deal of time to the subject."

Hardy admitted it frankly.  "But only since I returned to Sunwich," he
said.

"Caused by the spectacle of Sam's forlorn condition, I suppose," said
Miss Nugent.

"No, it wasn't that," he replied.

Miss Nugent, indignant at having been drawn into such a discussion,
lapsed into silence.  It was safer and far more dignified, but at the
same time she yearned for an opportunity of teaching this presumptuous
young man a lesson.  So far he had had it all his own way.  A way strewn
with ambiguities which a modest maiden had to ignore despite herself.

"Of course, Wilks may have had a disappointment," said Hardy, with the
air of one willing to make allowances.

"I believe he had about fifty," said the girl, carelessly.

Hardy shook his head in strong disapproval.  "No man should have more
than one," he said, firmly; "a man of any strength of will wouldn't have
that."

"Strength of will?" repeated the astonished Miss Nugent.

Their eyes met; hers sparkling with indignation; his full of cold
calculation.  If he had had any doubts before, he was quite sure now that
he had gone the right way to work to attract her attention; she was
almost quivering with excitement.

"Your ideas will probably change with age--and disappointment," she said,
sweetly.

"I shall not be disappointed," said Hardy, coolly.  "I'll take care of
that."

Miss Nugent eyed him wistfully and racked her brains for an appropriate
and crushing rejoinder.  In all her experience--and it was considerable
considering her years--she had never met with such carefully constructed
audacity, and she longed, with a great longing, to lure him into the open
and destroy him.  She was still considering ways and means of doing this
when the door opened and revealed the surprised and angry form of her
father and behind it the pallid countenance of Mr. Wilks.  For a moment
anger deprived the captain of utterance.

"Who----" he stammered.  "What----"

"What a long time you've been, father," said Miss Nugent, in a reproving
voice.  "I began to be afraid you were never going."

"You come home with me," said the captain, recovering.

The command was given in his most imperious manner, and his daughter
dropped her muff in some resentment as she rose, in order to let him have
the pleasure of seeing Mr. Hardy pick it up.  It rolled, however, in his
direction, and he stooped for it just as Hardy darted forward.  Their
heads met with a crash, and Miss Nugent forgot her own consternation in
the joy of beholding the pitiable exhibition which terror made of Mr.
Wilks.

"I'm very sorry," said Hardy, as he reverently dusted the muff on his
coat-sleeve before returning it.  "I'm afraid it was my fault."

"It was," said the infuriated captain, as he held the door open for his
daughter.  "Now, Kate."

Miss Nugent passed through, followed by her father, and escorted to the
front door by the steward, whose faint "Good-night" was utterly ignored
by his injured commander.  He stood at the door until they had turned the
corner, and, returning to the kitchen, found his remaining guest holding
his aching head beneath the tap.

[Illustration: "He found his remaining guest holding his aching head
beneath the tap."]

"And now," said the captain, sternly, to his daughter, "how dare you sit
and talk to that young cub?  Eh?  How dare you?"

"He was there when I went in," said his daughter.  "Why didn't you come
out, then?" demanded her father.

"I was afraid of disturbing you and Sam," said Miss Nugent.  "Besides,
why shouldn't I speak to him?"

"Why?" shouted the captain.  "Why?  Because I won't have it."

"I thought you liked him," said Miss Nugent, in affected surprise.  "You
patted him on the head."

The captain, hardly able to believe his ears, came to an impressive stop
in the roadway, but Miss Nugent walked on.  She felt instinctively that
the joke was thrown away on him, and, in the absence of any other
audience, wanted to enjoy it without interruption.  Convulsive and
half-suppressed sounds, which she ascribed to a slight cold caught while
waiting in the kitchen, escaped her at intervals for the remainder of the
journey home.



CHAPTER XI

Jack Nugent's first idea on seeing a letter from his father asking him to
meet him at Samson Wilks's was to send as impolite a refusal as a strong
sense of undutifulness and a not inapt pen could arrange, but the united
remonstrances of the Kybird family made him waver.

"You go," said Mr. Kybird, solemnly; "take the advice of a man wot's seen
life, and go.  Who knows but wot he's a thinking of doing something for
you?"

"Startin' of you in business or somethin'," said Mrs. Kybird.  "But if 'e
tries to break it off between you and 'Melia I hope you know what to
say."

"He won't do that," said her husband.

"If he wants to see me," said Mr. Nugent, "let him come here."

"I wouldn't 'ave 'im in my house," retorted Mr. Kybird, quickly.  "An
Englishman's 'ouse is his castle, and I won't 'ave him in mine."

"Why not, Dan'l," asked his wife, "if the two families is to be
connected?"

Mr. Kybird shook his head, and, catching her eye, winked at her with much
significance.

"'Ave it your own way," said Mrs. Kybird, who was always inclined to make
concessions in minor matters.  "'Ave it your own way, but don't blame me,
that's all I ask."

Urged on by his friends Mr. Nugent at last consented, and, in a reply to
his father, agreed to meet him at the house of Mr. Wilks on Thursday
evening.  He was not free him-self from a slight curiosity as to the
reasons which had made the captain unbend in so unusual a fashion.

Mr. Nathan Smith put in an appearance at six o'clock on the fatal
evening. He was a short, slight man, with a clean-shaven face mapped with
tiny wrinkles, and a pair of colourless eyes the blankness of whose
expression defied research.  In conversation, especially conversation of
a diplomatic nature, Mr. Smith seemed to be looking through his opponent
at something beyond, an uncomfortable habit which was a source of much
discomfort to his victims.

"Here we are, then, Mr. Wilks," he said, putting his head in the door and
smiling at the agitated steward.

"Come in," said Mr. Wilks, shortly.

Mr. Smith obliged.  "Nice night outside," he said, taking a chair; "clear
over'ead.  Wot a morning it 'ud be for a sail if we was only young
enough.  Is that terbacker in that canister there?"

The other pushed it towards him.

"If I was only young enough--and silly enough," said the boarding-house
master, producing a pipe with an unusually large bowl and slowly filling
it, "there's nothing I should enjoy more than a three years' cruise.
Nothing to do and everything of the best."

"'Ave you made all the arrangements?" inquired Mr. Wilks, in a tone of
cold superiority.

Mr. Smith glanced affectionately at a fish-bag of bulky appearance which
stood on the floor between his feet.  "All ready," he said, cheerfully,
"an' if you'd like a v'y'ge yourself I can manage it for you in two twos.
You've on'y got to say the word."

"I don't want one," said the steward, fiercely; "don't you try none o'
your larks on me, Nathan Smith, cos I won't have it."

[Illustration: "Mr. Nathan Smith."]

"Lord love your 'art," said the boarding-master, "I wouldn't 'urt you.
I'm on'y acting under your orders now; yours and the captin's.  It ain't
in my reg'lar way o' business at all, but I'm so good-natured I can't say
'no.'"

"Can't say 'no' to five pounds, you mean," retorted Mr. Wilks, who by no
means relished these remarks.

"If I was getting as much out of it as you are I'd be a 'appy man,"
sighed Mr. Smith.

"Me!" cried the other; "do you think I'd take money for this--why, I'd
sooner starve, I'd sooner.  Wot are you a-tapping your nose for?"

"Was I tapping it?" demanded Mr. Smith, in surprise.  "Well, I didn't
know it.  I'm glad you told me."

"You're quite welcome," said the steward, sharply.  "Crimping ain't in my
line; I'd sooner sweep the roads."

"'Ear, 'ear," exclaimed Mr. Smith, approvingly.  "Ah! wot a thing it is
to come acrost an honest man.  Wot a good thing it is for the eyesight."

He stared stonily somewhere in the direction of Mr. Wilks, and then
blinking rapidly shielded his eyes with his hand as though overcome by
the sight of so much goodness.  The steward's wrath rose at the
performance, and he glowered back at him until his eyes watered.

"Twenty past six," said Mr. Smith, suddenly, as he fumbled in his
waistcoat-pocket and drew out a small folded paper.  "It's time I made a
start.  I s'pose you've got some salt in the house?"

"Plenty," said Mr. Wilks.

"And beer?" inquired the other.

"Yes, there is some beer," said the steward.

"Bring me a quart of it," said the boarding-master, slowly and
impressively.  "I want it drawed in a china mug, with a nice foaming 'ead
on it."

"Wot do you want it for?" inquired Mr. Wilks, eyeing him very closely.

"Bisness purposes," said Mr. Smith.  "If you're very good you shall see
'ow I do it."

Still the steward made no move.  "I thought you brought the stuff with
you," he remarked.

Mr. Smith looked at him with mild reproach.  "Are you managing this
affair or am I?" he inquired.

The steward went out reluctantly, and drawing a quart mug of beer set it
down on the table and stood watching his visitor.

"And now I want a spoonful o' sugar, a spoonful o' salt, and a spoonful
o' vinegar," said Mr. Smith.  "Make haste afore the 'ead goes off of it."

Mr. Wilks withdrew grumbling, and came back in a wonderfully short space
of time considering, with the articles required.

"Thankee," said the other; "you 'ave been quick.  I wish I could move as
quick as you do.  But you can take 'em back now, I find I can do without
'em."

"Where's the beer?" demanded the incensed Mr. Wilks; "where's the beer,
you underhanded swab?"

"I altered my mind," said Mr. Smith, "and not liking waste, and seeing by
your manner that you've 'ad more than enough already to-night, I drunk
it.  There isn't another man in Sunwich I could ha' played that trick on,
no, nor a boy neither."

Mr. Wilks was about to speak, but, thinking better of it, threw the three
spoons in the kitchen, and resuming his seat by the fire sat with his
back half turned to his visitor.

"Bright, cheerful young chap, 'e is," said Mr. Smith; "you've knowed 'im
ever since he was a baby, haven't you?"

Mr. Wilks made no reply.

"The Conqueror's sailing to-morrow morning, too," continued his
tormentor; "his father's old ship.  'Ow strange it'll seem to 'im
following it out aboard a whaler.  Life is full o' surprises, Mr. Wilks,
and wot a big surprise it would be to you if you could 'ear wot he says
about you when he comes to 'is senses."

"I'm obeying orders," growled the other.

"Quite right," said Mr. Smith, approvingly, as he drew a bottle of whisky
from his bag and placed it on the table.  "Two glasses and there we are.
We don't want any salt and vinegar this time."

Mr. Wilks turned a deaf ear.  "But 'ow are you going to manage so as to
make one silly and not the other?" he inquired.

"It's a trade secret," said the other; "but I don't mind telling you I
sent the cap'n something to take afore he comes, and I shall be in your
kitchen looking arter things."

"I s'pose you know wot you're about?"  said Mr. Wilks, doubtfully.

"I s'pose so," rejoined the other.  "Young Nu-gent trusts you, and, of
course, he'll take anything from your 'ouse.  That's the beauty of 'aving
a character, Mr. Wilks; a good character and a face like a baby with grey
whiskers."

Mr. Wilks bent down and, taking up a small brush, carefully tidied up the
hearth.

"Like as not, if my part in it gets to be known," pursued Mr. Smith,
mournfully, "I'll 'ave that gal of Kybird's scratching my eyes out or
p'r'aps sticking a hat-pin into me.  I had that once; the longest hat-pin
that ever was made, I should think."

He shook his head over the perils of his calling, and then, after another
glance at the clock, withdrew to the kitchen with his bag, leaving Mr.
Wilks waiting in a state of intense nervousness for the arrival of the
others.

Captain Nugent was the first to put in an appearance, and by way of
setting a good example poured a little of the whisky in his glass and sat
there waiting.  Then Jack Nugent came in, fresh and glowing, and Mr.
Wilks, after standing about helplessly for a few moments, obeyed the
captain's significant nod and joined Mr. Smith in the kitchen.

"You'd better go for a walk," said that gentle-man, regarding him kindly;
"that's wot the cap'n thought."

Mr. Wilks acquiesced eagerly, and tapping at the door passed through the
room again into the street.  A glance as he went through showed him that
Jack Nugent was drinking, and he set off in a panic to get away from the
scene which he had contrived.

He slackened after a time and began to pace the streets at a rate which
was less noticeable.  As he passed the Kybirds' he shivered, and it was
not until he had consumed a pint or two of the strongest brew procurable
at the _Two Schooners_ that he began to regain some of his old
self-esteem.  He felt almost maudlin at the sacrifice of character he was
enduring for the sake of his old master, and the fact that he could not
narrate it to sympathetic friends was not the least of his troubles.

[Illustration: "It was not until he had consumed a pint or two of the
strongest brew that he began to regain some of his old self-esteem."]

The shops had closed by the time he got into the street again, and he
walked down and watched with much solemnity the reflection of the quay
lamps in the dark water of the harbour.  The air was keen and the various
craft distinct in the starlight.  Perfect quiet reigned aboard the
Seabird, and after a vain attempt to screw up his courage to see the
victim taken aboard he gave it up and walked back along the beach.

By the time he turned his steps homewards it was nearly eleven o'clock.
Fullalove Alley was quiet, and after listening for some time at his
window he turned the handle of the door and passed in.  The nearly empty
bottle stood on the table, and an over-turned tumbler accounted for a
large, dark patch on the table-cloth.  As he entered the room the kitchen
door opened and Mr. Nathan Smith, with a broad smile on his face, stepped
briskly in.

"All over," he said, rubbing his hands; "he went off like a lamb, no
trouble nor fighting.  He was a example to all of us."

"Did the cap'n see 'im aboard?" inquired Mr. Wilks.

"Certainly not," said the other.  "As a matter o' fact the cap'n took a
little more than I told 'im to take, and I 'ad to help 'im up to your
bed.  Accidents will 'appen, but he'll be all right in the morning if
nobody goes near 'im.  Leave 'im perfectly quiet, and when 'e comes
downstairs give 'im a strong cup o' tea."

"In my bed?" repeated the staring Mr. Wilks.

"He's as right as rain," said the boarding master.  "I brought down a
pillow and blankets for you and put 'em in the kitchen.  And now I'll
take the other two pound ten and be getting off 'ome.  It ought to be ten
pounds really with the trouble I've 'ad."

Mr. Wilks laid the desired amount on the table, and Mr. Nathan Smith
placing it in his pocket rose to go.

"Don't disturb 'im till he's 'ad 'is sleep out, mind," he said, pausing
at the door, "else I can't answer for the consequences.  If 'e should get
up in the night and come down raving mad, try and soothe 'im.  Good-night
and pleasant dreams."

He closed the door after him quietly, and the horrified steward, after
fetching the bed-clothes on tiptoe from the kitchen, locked the door
which led to the staircase, and after making up a bed on the floor lay
down in his clothes and tried to get to sleep.

He dozed off at last, but woke up several times during the night with the
cold.  The lamp burnt itself out, and in the dark he listened intently
for any sounds of life in the room above.  Then he fell asleep again,
until at about half-past seven in the morning a loud crash overhead awoke
him with a start.

In a moment he was sitting up with every faculty on the alert.  Footsteps
blundered about in the room above, and a large and rapidly widening patch
of damp showed on the ceiling.  It was evident that the sleeper, in his
haste to quench an abnormal thirst, had broken the water jug.

Mr. Wilks, shivering with dread, sprang to his feet and stood irresolute.
Judging by the noise, the captain was evidently in a fine temper, and Mr.
Smith's remarks about insanity occurred to him with redoubled interest.
Then he heard a hoarse shout, the latch of the bedroom door clicked, and
the prisoner stumbled heavily downstairs and began to fumble at the
handle of the door at the bottom.  Trembling with excitement Mr. Wilks
dashed forward and turned the key, and then retreating to the street door
prepared for instant flight.

He opened the door so suddenly that the man on the other side, with a
sudden cry, fell on all fours into the room, and raising his face stared
stupidly at the steward.  Mr. Wilks's hands dropped to his sides and his
tongue refused its office, for in some strange fashion, quite in keeping
with the lawless proceedings of the previous night, Captain Nugent had
changed into a most excellent likeness of his own son.

[Illustration: "The man on the other side fell on all fours into the
room."]



CHAPTER XII

For some time Mr. Wilks stood gazing at this unexpected apparition and
trying to collect his scattered senses.  Its face was pale and flabby,
while its glassy eyes, set in rims of red eyelids, were beginning to
express unmistakable signs of suspicion and wrath.  The shock was so
sudden that the steward could not even think coherently.  Was the captain
upstairs?  And if so, what was his condition?  Where was Nathan Smith?
And where was the five pounds?

A voice, a husky and discordant voice, broke in upon his meditations;
Jack Nugent was also curious.

"What does all this mean?"  he demanded, angrily.  "How did I get here?"

"You--you came downstairs," stammered Mr. Wilks, still racking his brains
in the vain effort to discover how matters stood.

Mr. Nugent was about to speak, but, thinking better of it, turned and
blundered into the kitchen.  Sounds of splashing and puffing ensued, and
the steward going to the door saw him with his head under the tap.  He
followed him in and at the right time handed him a towel.  Despite the
disordered appearance of his hair the improvement in Mr. Nugent's
condition was so manifest that the steward, hoping for similar results,
turned the tap on again and followed his example.

"Your head wants cooling, I should think," said the young man, returning
him the towel.  "What's it all about?"

Mr. Wilks hesitated; a bright thought occurred to him, and murmuring
something about a dry towel he sped up the narrow stairs to his bedroom.
The captain was not there.  He pushed open the small lattice window and
peered out into the alley; no sign of either the captain or the ingenious
Mr. Nathan Smith.  With a heavy heart he descended the stairs again.

[Illustration: "He pushed open the small lattice window and peered out
into the alley."]

"Now," said Mr. Nugent, who was sitting down with his hands in his
pockets, "perhaps you'll be good enough to explain what all this means."

"You were 'ere last night," said Mr. Wilks, "you and the cap'n."

"I know that," said Nugent.  "How is it I didn't go home?  I didn't
understand that it was an all-night invitation.  Where is my father?"

The steward shook his head helplessly.  "He was 'ere when I went out
last night," he said, slowly.  "When I came back the room was empty and I
was told as 'e was upstairs in my bed."

"Told he was in your bed?" repeated the other.  "Who told you?"

He pushed open the small lattice window and peered out into the alley.

Mr. Wilks caught his breath.  "I mean I told myself 'e was in my bed," he
stammered, "because when I came in I see these bed-clothes on the floor,
an' I thought as the cap'n 'ad put them there for me and taken my bed
'imself."

Mr. Nugent regarded the litter of bed-clothes as though hoping that they
would throw a little light on the affair, and then shot a puzzled glance
at Mr. Wilks.

"Why should you think my father wanted your bed?" he inquired.

"I don't know," was the reply.  "I thought p'r'aps 'e'd maybe taken a
little more than 'e ought to have taken.  But it's all a myst'ry to me.
I'm more astonished than wot you are."

"Well, I can't make head or tail of it," said Nugent, rising and pacing
the room.  "I came here to meet my father.  So far as I remember I had
one drink of whisky--your whisky--and then I woke up in your bedroom with
a splitting headache and a tongue like a piece of leather.  Can you
account for it?"

Mr. Wilks shook his head again.  "I wasn't here," he said, plucking up
courage.  "Why not go an' see your father?  Seems to me 'e is the one
that would know most about it."

Mr. Nugent stood for a minute considering, and then raising the latch of
the door opened it slowly and inhaled the cold morning air.  A subtle and
delicate aroma of coffee and herrings which had escaped from neighbouring
breakfast-tables invaded the room and reminded him of an appetite.  He
turned to go, but had barely quitted the step before he saw Mrs. Kingdom
and his sister enter the alley.

Mr. Wilks saw them too, and, turning if anything a shade paler, supported
himself by the door-pest.  Kate Nugent quickened her pace as she saw
them, and, after a surprised greeting to her brother, breathlessly
informed him that the captain was missing.

"Hasn't been home all night," panted Mrs. Kingdom, joining them.  "I
don't know what to think."

They formed an excited little group round the steward's door, and Mr.
Wilks, with an instinctive feeling that the matter was one to be
discussed in private, led the way indoors.  He began to apologize for the
disordered condition of the room, but Jack Nugent, interrupting him
brusquely, began to relate his own adventures of the past few hours.

Mrs. Kingdom listened to the narrative with unexpected calmness.  She
knew the cause of her nephew's discomfiture.  It was the glass of whisky
acting on a system unaccustomed to alcohol, and she gave a vivid and
moving account of the effects of a stiff glass of hot rum which she had
once taken for a cold.  It was quite clear to her that the captain had
put his son to bed; the thing to discover now was where he had put
himself.

"Sam knows something about it," said her nephew, darkly; "there's
something wrong."

"I know no more than a babe unborn," declared Mr. Wilks.  "The last I see
of the cap'n 'e was a-sitting at this table opposite you."

"Sam wouldn't hurt a fly," said Miss Nugent, with a kind glance at her
favourite.

"Well, where is the governor, then?" inquired her brother.  "Why didn't
he go home last night?  He has never stayed out before."

"Yes, he has," said Mrs. Kingdom, folding her hands in her lap.  "When
you were children.  He came home at half-past eleven next morning, and
when I asked him where he'd been he nearly bit my head off.  I'd been
walking the floor all night, and I shall never forget his remarks when he
opened the door to the police, who'd come to say they couldn't find him.
Never."

A ghostly grin flitted across the features of Mr. Wilks, but he passed
the back of his hand across his mouth and became serious again as he
thought of his position.  He was almost dancing with anxiety to get away
to Mr. Nathan Smith and ask for an explanation of the proceedings of the
night before.

"I'll go and have a look round for the cap'n," he said, eagerly; "he
can't be far."

"I'll come with you," said Nugent.  "I should like to see him too.  There
are one or two little things that want explaining.  You take aunt home,
Kate, and I'll follow on as soon as there is any news."

As he spoke the door opened a little way and a head appeared, only to be
instantly withdrawn at the sight of so many people.  Mr. Wilks stepped
forward hastily, and throwing the door wide open revealed the interesting
features of Mr. Nathan Smith.

"How do you do, Mr. Wilks?" said that gentleman, softly.  "I just walked
round to see whether you was in.  I've got a message for you.  I didn't
know you'd got company."

He stepped into the room and, tapping the steward on the chest with a
confidential finger, backed him into a corner, and having got him there
gave an expressive wink with one eye and gazed into space with the other.

[Illustration: "Tapping the steward on the chest with a confidential
finger, he backed him into a corner."]

"I thought you'd be alone," he said, looking round, "but p'r'aps it's
just as well as it is.  They've got to know, so they may as well know now
as later on."

"Know what?" inquired Jack Nugent, abruptly.  "What are you making that
face for, Sam?"

Mr. Wilks mumbled something about a decayed tooth, and to give colour to
the statement continued a series of contortions which made his face ache.

"You should take something for that tooth," said the boarding-master,
with great solicitude.  "Wot do you say to a glass o' whisky?"

He motioned to the fatal bottle, which still stood on the table; the
steward caught his breath, and then, rising to the occasion, said that he
had already had a couple of glasses, and they had done no good.

"What's your message?" inquired Jack Nugent, impatiently.

"I'm just going to tell you," said Mr. Smith.  "I was out early this
morning, strolling down by the harbour to get a little appetite for
breakfast, when who should I see coming along, looking as though 'e 'ad
just come from a funeral, but Cap'n Nugent!  I was going to pass 'im, but
he stopped me and asked me to take a message from 'im to 'is old and
faithful steward, Mr. Wilks."

"Why, has he gone away?" exclaimed Mrs. Kingdom.

"His old and faithful steward," repeated Mr. Smith, motioning her to
silence.  "'Tell 'im,' he says, 'that I am heartily ashamed of myself for
wot took place last night--and him, too.  Tell 'im that, after my
father's 'art proved too much for me, I walked the streets all night, and
now I can't face may injured son and family yet awhile, and I'm off to
London till it has blown over.'"

"But what's it all about?"  demanded Nugent.  "Why don't you get to the
point?"

"So far as I could make out," replied Mr. Smith, with the studious care
of one who desires to give exact information, "Cap'n Nugent and Mr. Wilks
'ad a little plan for giving you a sea blow."

"Me?" interrupted the unfortunate steward.  "Now, look 'ere, Nathan
Smith----"

"Them was the cap'n's words," said the boarding-master, giving him a
glance of great significance; "are you going to take away or add to wot
the cap'n says?"

Mr. Wilks collapsed, and avoiding the indignant eyes of the Nugent family
tried to think out his position.

"It seems from wot the cap'n told me," continued Mr. Smith, "that there
was some objection to your marrying old--Mr. Kybird's gal, so 'e and Mr.
Wilks, after putting their 'eads together, decided to get you 'ere and
after giving you a little whisky that Mr. Wilks knows the trick of--"

"Me?" interrupted the unfortunate steward, again.

"Them was the cap'n's words," said Mr. Smith, coldly.  "After you'd 'ad
it they was going to stow you away in the Seabird, which sailed this
morning.  However, when the cap'n see you overcome, his 'art melted, and
instead o' putting you aboard the whaler he took your feet and Mr. Wilks
your 'ead, and after a great deal o' trouble got you upstairs and put you
to bed."

"You miserable scoundrel," said the astonished Mr. Nugent, addressing the
shrinking steward; "you infernal old reprobate--you--you--I didn't think
you'd got it in you."

"So far as I could make out," said Mr. Smith, kindly, "Mr. Wilks was only
obeying orders.  It was the cap'n's plan, and Mr. Wilks was aboard ship
with 'im for a very long time.  O' course, he oughtn't to ha' done it,
but the cap'n's a masterful man, an' I can quite understand Mr. Wilks
givin' way; I dessay I should myself if I'd been in 'is place--he's all
'art, is Mr. Wilks--no 'ead."

"It's a good job for you you're an old man, Sam," said Mr. Nugent.

"I can hardly believe it of you, Sam," said Miss Nugent.  "I can hardly
think you could have been so deceitful.  Why, we've trusted you all our
lives."

The unfortunate steward quailed beneath the severity of her glance.  Even
if he gave a full account of the affair it would not make his position
better.  It was he who had made all the arrangements with Mr. Smith, and
after an indignant glance at that gentleman he lowered his gaze and
remained silent.

"It is rather odd that my father should take you into his confidence,"
said Miss Nugent, turning to the boarding-master.

"Just wot I thought, miss," said the complaisant Mr. Smith; "but I s'pose
there was nobody else, and he wanted 'is message to go for fear you
should get worrying the police about 'im or something.  He wants it kep'
quiet, and 'is last words to me as 'e left me was, 'If this affair gets
known I shall never come back.  Tell 'em to keep it quiet.'"

"I don't think anybody will want to go bragging about it," said Jack
Nugent, rising, "unless it is Sam Wilks.  Come along, Kate."

Miss Nugent followed him obediently, only pausing at the door to give a
last glance of mingled surprise and reproach at Mr. Wilks.  Then they
were outside and the door closed behind them.

"Well, that's all right," said Mr. Smith, easily.

"All right!" vociferated the steward.  "Wot did you put it all on to me
for?  Why didn't you tell 'em your part in it?"

"Wouldn't ha' done any good," said Mr. Smith; "wouldn't ha' done you any
good.  Besides, I did just wot the cap'n told me."

"When's he coming back?" inquired the steward.

Mr. Smith shook his head.  "Couldn't say," he returned.  "He couldn't say
'imself.  Between you an' me, I expect 'e's gone up to have a reg'lar
fair spree."

"Why did you tell me last night he was up-stairs?" inquired the other.

"Cap'n's orders," repeated Mr. Smith, with relish.  "Ask 'im, not me.  As
a matter o' fact, he spent the night at my place and went off this
morning."

"An' wot about the five pounds?" inquired Mr. Wilks, spitefully.  "You
ain't earned it."

"I know I ain't," said Mr. Smith, mournfully.  "That's wot's worrying me.
It's like a gnawing pain in my side.  D'you think it's conscience biting
of me?  I never felt it before.  Or d'ye think it's sorrow to think that
I've done the whole job too cheap  You think it out and let me know later
on.  So long."

He waved his hand cheerily to the steward and departed.  Mr. Wilks threw
himself into a chair and, ignoring the cold and the general air of
desolation of his best room, gave way to a fit of melancholy which would
have made Mr. Edward Silk green with envy.



CHAPTER XIII

Days passed, but no word came from the missing captain, and only the
determined opposition of Kate Nugent kept her aunt from advertising in
the "Agony" columns of the London Press.  Miss Nugent was quite as
desirous of secrecy in the affair as her father, and it was a source of
great annoyance to her when, in some mysterious manner, it leaked out.
In a very short time the news was common property, and Mr. Wilks,
appearing to his neighbours in an entirely new character, was besieged
for information.

His own friends were the most tiresome, their open admiration of his
lawlessness and their readiness to trace other mysterious disappearances
to his agency being particularly galling to a man whose respectability
formed his most cherished possession.  Other people regarded the affair
as a joke, and he sat gazing round-eyed one evening at the Two Schooners
at the insensible figures of three men who had each had a modest
half-pint at his expense.  It was a pretty conceit and well played, but
the steward, owing to the frenzied efforts of one of the sleeper whom he
had awakened with a quart pot, did not stay to admire it.  He finished
up the evening at the Chequers, and after getting wet through on the way
home fell asleep in his wet clothes before the dying fire.

[Illustration: "He finished up the evening at the Chequers."]

He awoke with a bad cold and pains in the limbs.  A headache was not
unexpected, but the other symptoms were.  With trembling hands he managed
to light a fire and prepare a breakfast, which he left untouched.  This
last symptom was the most alarming of all, and going to the door he
bribed a small boy with a penny to go for Dr. Murchison, and sat cowering
over the fire until he came.

"Well, you've got a bad cold," said the doctor, after examining him.
"You'd better get to bed for the present.  You'll be safe there."

"Is it dangerous?" faltered the steward.

"And keep yourself warm," said the doctor, who was not in the habit of
taking his patients into his confidence.  "I'll send round some
medicine."

"I should like Miss Nugent to know I'm bad," said Mr. Wilks, in a weak
voice.

"She knows that," replied Murchison.  "She was telling me about you the
other day."

He put his hand up to his neat black moustache to hide a smile, and met
the steward's indignant gaze without flinching.

"I mean ill," said the latter, sharply.

"Oh, yes," said the other.  "Well, you get to bed now.  Good morning."

He took up his hat and stick and departed.  Mr. Wilks sat for a little
while over the fire, and then, rising, hobbled slowly upstairs to bed and
forgot his troubles in sleep.

He slept until the afternoon, and then, raising himself in bed, listened
to the sounds of stealthy sweeping in the room below.  Chairs were being
moved about, and the tinkle of ornaments on the mantelpiece announced
that dusting operations were in progress.  He lay down again with a
satisfied smile; it was like a tale in a story-book: the faithful old
servant and his master's daughter.  He closed his eyes as he heard her
coming upstairs.

"Ah, pore dear," said a voice.

Mr. Wilks opened his eyes sharply and beheld the meagre figure of Mrs.
Silk.  In one hand she held a medicine-bottle and a glass and in the
other paper and firewood.

[Illustration: "The meagre figure of Mrs. Silk."]

"I only 'eard of it half an hour ago," she said, reproachfully.  "I saw
the doctor's boy, and I left my work and came over at once.  Why didn't
you let me know?"

Mr. Wilks muttered that he didn't know, and lay crossly regarding his
attentive neighbour as she knelt down and daintily lit the fire.  This
task finished, she proceeded to make the room tidy, and then set about
making beef-tea in a little saucepan.

"You lay still and get well," she remarked, with tender playfulness.
"That's all you've got to do.  Me and Teddy'll look after you."

"I couldn't think of troubling you," said the steward, earnestly.

"It's no trouble," was the reply.  "You don't think I'd leave you here
alone helpless, do you?"

"I was going to send for old Mrs. Jackson if I didn't get well to-day,"
said Mr. Wilks.

Mrs. Silk shook her head at him, and, after punching up his pillow, took
an easy chair by the fire and sat there musing.  Mr. Edward Silk came in
to tea, and, after remarking that Mr. Wilks was very flushed and had got
a nasty look about the eyes and a cough which he didn't like, fell to
discoursing on death-beds.

"Good nursing is the principal thing," said his mother.  "I nursed my
pore dear 'usband all through his last illness.  He couldn't bear me to
be out of the room.  I nursed my mother right up to the last, and your
pore Aunt Jane went off in my arms."

Mr. Wilks raised himself on his elbow and his eyes shone feverishly in
the lamplight.  "I think I'll get a 'ospital nurse to-morrow," he said,
decidedly.

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Silk.  "It's no trouble to me at all.  I like
nursing; always did."

Mr. Wilks lay back again and, closing his eyes, determined to ask the
doctor to provide a duly qualified nurse on the morrow.  To his
disappointment, however, the doctor failed to come, and although he felt
much better Mrs. Silk sternly negatived a desire on his part to get up.

"Not till the doctor's been," she said, firmly.  "I couldn't think of
it."

"I don't believe there's anything the matter with me now," he declared.

"'Ow odd--'ow very odd that you should say that!" said Mrs. Silk,
clasping her hands.

"Odd!" repeated the steward, somewhat crustily.  "How do you mean--odd?"

"They was the very last words my Uncle Benjamin ever uttered in this
life," said Mrs. Silk, with dramatic impressiveness.

The steward was silent, then, with the ominous precedent of Uncle
Benjamin before him, he began to talk until scores of words stood between
himself and a similar ending.

"Teddy asked to be remembered to you as 'e went off this morning," said
Mrs. Silk, pausing in her labours at the grate.

"I'm much obliged," muttered the invalid.

"He didn't 'ave time to come in," pursued the widow.  "You can 'ardly
believe what a lot 'e thinks of you, Mr. Wilks.  The last words he said
to me was, 'Let me know at once if there's any change.'"

Mr. Wilks distinctly felt a cold, clammy sensation down his spine and
little quivering thrills ran up and down his legs.  He glared indignantly
at the back of the industrious Mrs. Silk.

"Teddy's very fond of you," continued the unconscious woman.  "I s'pose
it's not 'aving a father, but he seems to me to think more of you than
any-body else in the wide, wide world.  I get quite jealous sometimes.
Only the other day I said to 'im, joking like, 'Well, you'd better go and
live with 'im if you're so fond of 'im,' I said."

"Ha, ha!" laughed Mr. Wilks, uneasily.

"You'll never guess what 'e said then," said Mrs. Silk dropping her
dustpan and brush and gazing at the hearth.

"Said 'e couldn't leave you, I s'pose," guessed the steward, gruffly.

"Well, now," exclaimed Mrs. Silk, clapping her hands, "if you 'aven't
nearly guessed it.  Well, there!  I never did!  I wouldn't 'ave told you
for anything if you 'adn't said that.  The exact words what 'e did say
was, 'Not without you, mother.'"

Mr. Wilks closed his eyes with a snap and his heart turned to water.  He
held his breath and ran-sacked his brain in vain for a reply which should
ignore the inner meaning of the fatal words.  Something careless and
jocular he wanted, combined with a voice which should be perfectly under
control.  Failing these things, he kept his eyes closed, and, very
wide-awake indeed, feigned sleep.  He slept straight away from eleven
o'clock in the morning until Edward Silk came in at seven o'clock in the
evening.

"I feel like a new man," he said, rubbing his eyes and yawning.

"I don't see no change in your appearance," said the comforting youth.

"'E's much better," declared his mother.  "That's what comes o' good
nursing; some nurses would 'ave woke 'im up to take food, but I just let
'im sleep on.  People don't feel hunger while they're asleep."

She busied herself over the preparation of a basin of arrowroot, and the
steward, despite his distaste for this dish, devoured it in a twinkling.
Beef-tea and a glass of milk in addition failed to take more than the
edge off his appetite.

"We shall pull 'im through," said Mrs. Silk, smiling, as she put down the
empty glass.  "In a fortnight he'll be on 'is feet."

It is a matter of history that Mr. Wilks was on his feet at five o'clock
the next morning, and not only on his feet but dressed and ready for a
journey after such a breakfast as he had not made for many a day.  The
discourtesy involved in the disregard of the doctor's instructions did
not trouble him, and he smirked with some satisfaction as he noiselessly
closed his door behind him and looked at the drawn blinds opposite.  The
stars were paling as he quitted the alley and made his way to the railway
station.  A note on his tumbled pillow, after thanking Mrs. Silk for her
care of him, informed her that he was quite well and had gone to London
in search of the missing captain.

Hardy, who had heard from Edward Silk of the steward's indisposition and
had been intending to pay him a visit, learnt of his departure later on
in the morning, and, being ignorant of the particulars, discoursed
somewhat eloquently to his partner on the old man's devotion.

"H'm, may be," said Swann, taking off his glasses and looking at him.
"But you don't think Captain Nugent is in London, do you?"

"Why not?" inquired Hardy, somewhat startled.  "If what Wilks told you is
true, Nathan Smith knows," said the other.  "I'll ask him."

"You don't expect to get the truth out of him, do you?" inquired Hardy,
superciliously.

"I do," said his partner, serenely; "and when I've got it I shall go and
tell them at Equator Lodge.  It will be doing those two poor ladies a
service to let them know what has really happened to the captain."

"I'll walk round to Nathan Smith's with you," said Hardy.  "I should like
to hear what the fellow has to say."

"No, I'll go alone," said his partner; "Smith's a very shy man--painfully
shy.  I've run across him once or twice before.  He's almost as bashful
and retiring as you are."

Hardy grunted.  "If the captain isn't in London, where is he?" he
inquired.

The other shook his head.  "I've got an idea," he replied, "but I want to
make sure.  Kybird and Smith are old friends, as Nugent might have known,
only he was always too high and mighty to take any interest in his
inferiors.  There's something for you to go on."

He bent over his desk again and worked steadily until one o'clock--his
hour for lunching.  Then he put on his hat and coat, and after a
comfortable meal sallied out in search of Mr. Smith.

[Illustration: "In search of Mr. Smith."]

The boarding-house, an old and dilapidated building, was in a bystreet
convenient to the harbour.  The front door stood open, and a couple of
seamen lounging on the broken steps made way for him civilly as he
entered and rapped on the bare boards with his stick.  Mr. Smith,
clattering down the stairs in response, had some difficulty in concealing
his surprise at the visit, but entered genially into a conversation about
the weather, a subject in which he was much interested.  When the
ship-broker began to discuss the object of his visit he led him to a
small sitting-room at the back of the house and repeated the information
he had given to Mr. Wilks.

"That's all there is to tell," he concluded, artlessly; "the cap'n was
that ashamed of hisself, he's laying low for a bit.  We all make mistakes
sometimes; I do myself."

"I am much obliged to you," said Mr. Swann, gratefully.

"You're quite welcome, sir," said the boarding-master.

"And now," said the visitor, musingly--"now for the police."

"Police!" repeated Mr. Smith, almost hastily.  "What for?"

"Why, to find the captain," said Mr. Swann, in a surprised voice.

Mr. Smith shook his head.  "You'll offend the cap'n bitter if you go to
the police about 'im, sir," he declared.  "His last words to me was,
'Smith, 'ave this kept quiet.'"

"It'll be a little job for the police," urged the shipbroker.  "They
don't have much to do down here; they'll be as pleased as possible."

"They'll worry your life out of you, sir," said the other.  "You don't
know what they are."

"I like a little excitement," returned Mr. Swann.  "I don't suppose
they'll trouble me much, but they'll turn your place topsy-turvy, I
expect.  Still, that can't be helped.  You know what fools the police
are; they'll think you've murdered the captain and hidden his body under
the boards.  They'll have all the floors up.  Ha, ha, ha!"

"'Aving floors up don't seem to me to be so amusing as wot it does to
you," remarked Mr. Smith, coldly.

"They may find all sorts of treasure for you," continued his visitor.
"It's a very old house, Smith, and there may be bags of guineas hidden
away under the flooring.  You may be able to retire."

"You're a gentleman as is fond of his joke, Mr. Swann," returned the
boarding-master, lugubriously.  "I wish I'd got that 'appy way of looking
at things you 'ave."

"I'm not joking, Smith," said the other, quietly.

Mr. Smith pondered and, stealing a side-glance at him, stood scraping his
foot along the floor.

"There ain't nothing much to tell," he grumbled, "and, mind, the worst
favour you could do to the cap'n would be to put it about how he was
done.  He's gone for a little trip instead of 'is son, that's all."

"Little trip!" repeated the other; "you call a whaling cruise a little
trip?"

"No, no, sir," said Mr. Smith, in a shocked voice, "I ain't so bad as
that; I've got some 'art, I hope.  He's just gone for a little trip with
'is old pal Hardy on the _Conqueror_.  Kybird's idea it was."

"Don't you know it's punishable?" demanded the shipbroker, recovering.

Mr. Smith shook his head and became serious.  "The cap'n fell into 'is
own trap," he said, slowly.  "There's no lor for 'im!  He'd only get
laughed at.  The idea of trying to get me to put little Amelia Kybird's
young man away.  Why, I was 'er god-father."

Mr. Swann stared at him, and then with a friendly "good morning"
departed.  Half-way along the passage he stopped, and retracing his steps
produced his cigar-case and offered the astonished boarding-master a
cigar.

"I s'pose," said that gentleman as he watched the other's retreating
figure and dubiously smelt the cigar; "I s'pose it's all right; but he's
a larky sort, and I 'ave heard of 'em exploding.  I'll give it to Kybird,
in case."

[Illustration: "I 'ave heard of 'em exploding."]

To Mr. Smith's great surprise his visitor sat down suddenly and began to
laugh.  Tears of honest mirth suffused his eyes and dimmed his glasses.
Mr. Smith, regarding him with an air of kindly interest, began to laugh
to keep him company.



CHAPTER XIV

Captain Nugent awoke the morning after his attempt to crimp his son with
a bad headache.  Not an ordinary headache, to disappear with a little
cold water and fresh air; but a splitting, racking affair, which made him
feel all head and dulness.  Weights pressed upon his eye-lids and the
back of his head seemed glued to his pillow.

He groaned faintly and, raising himself upon his elbow, opened his eyes
and sat up with a sharp exclamation.  His bed was higher from the floor
than usual and, moreover, the floor was different.  In the dim light he
distinctly saw a ship's forecastle, untidy bunks with frouzy bedclothes,
and shiny oil-skins hanging from the bulkhead.

For a few moments he stared about in mystification; he was certainly ill,
and no doubt the forecastle was an hallucination.  It was a strange
symptom, and the odd part of it was that everything was so distinct.
Even the smell.  He stared harder, in the hope that his surroundings
would give place to the usual ones, and, leaning a little bit more on his
elbow, nearly rolled out of the bunk.  Resolved to probe this mystery to
the bottom he lowered himself to the floor and felt distinctly the motion
of a ship at sea.

There was no doubt about it.  He staggered to the door and, holding by
the side, looked on to the deck.  The steamer was rolling in a fresh sea
and a sweet strong wind blew refreshingly into his face.  Funnels,
bridge, and masts swung with a rhythmical motion; loose gear rattled, and
every now and then a distant tinkle sounded faintly from the steward's
pantry.

He stood bewildered, trying to piece together the events of the preceding
night, and to try and understand by what miracle he was back on board his
old ship the _Conqueror_.  There was no doubt as to her identity.  He
knew every inch of her, and any further confirmation that might be
required was fully supplied by the appearance of the long, lean figure of
Captain Hardy on the bridge.

Captain Nugent took his breath sharply and began to realize the
situation.  He stepped to the side and looked over; the harbour was only
a little way astern, and Sunwich itself, looking cold and cheerless
beyond the dirty, tumbling seas, little more than a mile distant.

At the sight his spirits revived, and with a hoarse cry he ran shouting
towards the bridge.  Captain Hardy turned sharply at the noise, and
recognizing the intruder stood peering down at him in undisguised
amazement.

[Illustration: "He stepped to the side and looked over."]

"Put back," cried Nugent, waving up at him.  "Put back."

"What on earth are you doing on my ship?" inquired the astonished Hardy.

"Put me ashore," cried Nugent, imperiously; "don't waste time talking.
D'ye hear?  Put me ashore."

The amazement died out of Hardy's face and gave way to an expression of
anger.  For a time he regarded the red and threatening visage of Captain
Nugent in silence, then he turned to the second officer.

"This man is not one of the crew, Mr. Prowle?" he said, in a puzzled
voice.

"No, sir," said Mr. Prowle.

"How did he get aboard here?"

Captain Nugent answered the question himself.  "I was crimped by you and
your drunken bullies," he said, sternly.

"How did this man get aboard here?  repeated Captain Hardy, ignoring him.

"He must have concealed 'imself somewhere, sir," said the mate; "this is
the first I've seen of him."

"A stowaway?" said the captain, bending his brows.  "He must have got
some of the crew to hide him aboard.  You'd better make a clean breast of
it, my lad.  Who are your confederates?"

Captain Nugent shook with fury.  The second mate had turned away, with
his hand over his mouth and a suspicious hunching of his shoulders, while
the steward, who had been standing by, beat a hasty retreat and collapsed
behind the chart-room.

"If you don't put me ashore," said Nugent, restraining his passion by a
strong effort, "I'll take proceedings against you for crimping me, the
moment I reach port.  Get a boat out and put me aboard that smack."

He pointed as he spoke to a smack which was just on their beam, making
slowly for the harbour.

"When you've done issuing orders," said the captain, in an indifferent
voice, "perhaps you'll explain what you are doing aboard my crag."

Captain Nugent gazed at the stern of the fast-receding smack; Sunwich was
getting dim in the distance and there was no other sail near.  He began
to realize that he was in for a long voyage.

"I awoke this morning and found myself in a bunk in vow fo'c's'le," he
said, regarding Hardy steadily.  "However I got there is probably best
known to yourself.  I hold you responsible for the affair."

"Look here my lad," said Captain Hardy, in patronizing tones, "I don't
know how you got aboard my ship and I don't care.  I am willing to
believe that it was not intentional on your part, but either the outcome
of a drunken freak or else a means of escaping from some scrape you have
got into ashore.  That being so, I shall take a merciful view of it, and
if you behave yourself and make yourself useful you will not hear
anything more of it.  He has something the look of a seafaring man, Mr.
Prowle.  See what you can make of him."

"Come along with me, my lad," said the grinning Mr. Prowle, tapping him
on the shoulder.

The captain turned with a snarl, and, clenching his huge, horny fist, let
drive full in the other's face and knocked him off his feet.

"Take that man for'ard," cried Captain Hardy, sharply.  "Take him
for'ard."

Half-a-dozen willing men sprang forward.  Captain Nugent's views
concerning sailormen were well known in Sunwich, and two of the men
present had served under him.  He went forward, the centre of an
attentive and rotating circle, and, sadly out of breath, was bestowed in
the forecastle and urged to listen to reason.

For the remainder of the morning he made no sign.  The land was almost
out of sight, and he sat down quietly to consider his course of action
for the next few weeks.  Dinner-time found him still engrossed in
thought, and the way in which he received an intimation from a
good-natured seaman that his dinner was getting cold showed that his
spirits were still unquelled.

By the time afternoon came he was faint with hunger, and, having
determined upon his course of action, he sent a fairly polite message to
Captain Hardy and asked for an interview.

The captain, who was resting from his labours in the chart-room, received
him with the same air of cold severity which had so endeared Captain
Nugent himself to his subordinates.

"You have come to explain your extraordinary behaviour of this morning, I
suppose?" he said, curtly.

"I have come to secure a berth aft," said Captain Nugent.  "I will pay a
small deposit now, and you will, of course, have the balance as soon as
we get back.  This is without prejudice to any action I may bring against
you later on."

"Oh, indeed," said the other, raising his eyebrows.  "We don't take
passengers."

"I am here against my will," said Captain Nu-gent, "and I demand the
treatment due to my position."

"If I had treated you properly," said Captain Hardy, "I should have put
you in irons for knocking down my second officer.  I know nothing about
you or your position.  You're a stowaway, and you must do the best you
can in the circumstances."

"Are you going to give me a cabin?" demanded the other, menacingly.

"Certainly not," said Captain Hardy.  "I have been making inquiries, and
I find that you have only yourself to thank for the position in which you
find yourself.  I am sorry to be harsh with you."

"Harsh?" repeated the other, hardly able to believe his ears.  "You--
harsh to me?"

"But it is for your own good," pursued Captain Hardy; "it is no pleasure
to me to punish you.  I shall keep an eye on you while you're aboard, and
if I see that your conduct is improving you will find that I am not a
hard man to get on with."

Captain Nugent stared at him with his lips parted.  Three times he
essayed to speak and failed; then he turned sharply and, gaining the open
air, stood for some time trying to regain his composure before going
forward again.  The first mate, who was on the bridge, regarded him
curiously, and then, with an insufferable air of authority, ordered him
away.

The captain obeyed mechanically and, turning a deaf ear to the inquiries
of the men, prepared to make the best of an intolerable situation, and
began to cleanse his bunk.  First of all he took out the bedding and
shook it thoroughly, and then, pro-curing soap and a bucket of water,
began to scrub with a will.  Hostile comments followed the action.

"We ain't clean enough for 'im," said one voice.

"Partikler old party, ain't he, Bill?" said another.

"You leave 'im alone," said the man addressed, surveying the captain's
efforts with a smile of approval.  "You keep on, Nugent, don't you mind
'im.  There's a little bit there you ain't done."

[Illustration: "You keep on, Nugent, don't you mind 'im."]

"Keep your head out of the way, unless you want it knocked off," said the
incensed captain.

"Ho!" said the aggrieved Bill.  "Ho, indeed!  D'ye 'ear that, mates?  A
man musn't look at 'is own bunk now."

The captain turned as though he had been stung.  "This is my bunk," he
said, sharply.

"Ho, is it?" said Bill.  "Beggin' of your pardon, an' apologizing for
a-contradictin' of you, but it's mine.  You haven't got no bunk."

"I slept in it last night," said the captain, conclusively.

"I know you did," said Bill, "but that was all my kind-'artedness."

"And 'arf a quid, Bill," a voice reminded him.

"And 'arf a quid," assented Bill, graciously, "and I'm very much obliged
to you, mate, for the careful and tidy way in which you've cleaned up
arter your-self."

The captain eyed him.  Many years of command at sea had given him a fine
manner, and force of habit was for a moment almost too much for Bill and
his friends.  But only for a moment.

"I'm going to keep this bunk," said the captain, deliberately.

"No, you ain't, mate," said Bill, shaking his head, "don't you believe
it.  You're nobody down here; not even a ordinary seaman.  I'm afraid
you'll 'ave to clean a place for yourself on the carpet.  There's a nice
corner over there."

"When I get back," said the furious captain, "some of you will go to gaol
for last night's work."

"Don't be hard on us," said a mocking voice, "we did our best.  It ain't
our fault that you look so ridikerlously young, that we took you for your
own son."

"And you was in that state that you couldn't contradict us," said another
man.

"If it is your bunk," said the captain, sternly, "I suppose you have a
right to it.  But perhaps you'll sell it to me?  How much?"

"Now you're talking bisness," said the highly gratified Bill, turning
with a threatening gesture upon a speculator opposite.  "Wot do you say
to a couple o' pounds?"

The captain nodded.

"Couple o' pounds, money down," said Bill, holding out his hand.

The captain examined the contents of his pocket, and after considerable
friction bought the bunk for a pound cash and an I O U for the balance.

A more humane man would have shown a little concern as to his
benefactor's sleeping-place; but the captain never gave the matter a
thought.  In fact, it was not until three days later that he discovered
there was a spare bunk in the forecastle, and that the unscrupulous
seaman was occupying it.

It was only one of many annoyances, but the captain realizing his
impotence made no sign.  From certain remarks let fall in his hearing he
had no difficulty in connecting Mr. Kybird with his discomfiture and, of
his own desire, he freely included the unfortunate Mr. Wilks.

He passed his time in devising schemes of vengeance, and when Captain
Hardy, relenting, offered him a cabin aft, he sent back such a message
of refusal that the steward spent half an hour preparing a paraphrase.
The offer was not repeated, and the captain, despite the strong
representations of Bill and his friends, continued to eat the bread of
idleness before the mast.



CHAPTER XV

Mr. Adolphus Swann spent a very agreeable afternoon after his interview
with Nathan Smith in refusing to satisfy what he termed the idle
curiosity of his partner.  The secret of Captain Nugent's whereabouts,
he declared, was not to be told to everybody, but was to be confided by a
man of insinuating address and appearance--here he looked at himself in a
hand-glass--to Miss Nugent.  To be broken to her by a man with no
ulterior motives for his visit; a man in the prime of life, but not too
old for a little tender sympathy.

"I had hoped to have gone this afternoon," he said, with a glance at the
clock; "but I'm afraid I can't get away.  Have you got much to do,
Hardy?"

"No," said his partner, briskly.  "I've finished."

"Then perhaps you wouldn't mind doing my work for me, so that I can go?"
said Mr. Swann, mildly.

Hardy played with his pen.  The senior partner had been amusing himself
at his expense for some time, and in the hope of a favour at his hands he
had endured it with unusual patience.

"Four o'clock," murmured the senior partner; "hadn't you better see about
making yourself presentable, Hardy?"

[Illustration: "Hadn't you better see about making yourself presentable,
Hardy?"]

"Thanks," said the other, with alacrity, as he took off his coat and
crossed over to the little washstand.  In five minutes he had finished
his toilet and, giving his partner a little friendly pat on the shoulder,
locked up his desk.

"Well?" he said, at last.

"Well?" repeated Mr. Swann, with a little surprise.

"What am I to tell them?" inquired Hardy, struggling to keep his temper.

"Tell them?" repeated the innocent Swann.  "Lor' bless my soul, how you
do jump at conclusions, Hardy.  I only asked you to tidy yourself for my
sake.  I have an artistic eye.  I thought you had done it to please me."

"When you're tired of this nonsense," said the indignant Hardy, "I shall
be glad."

Mr. Swann looked him over carefully and, coming to the conclusion that
his patience was exhausted, told him the result of his inquiries.  His
immediate reward was the utter incredulity of Mr. Hardy, together with
some pungent criticisms of his veracity.  When the young man did realize
at last that he was speaking the truth he fell to wondering blankly what
was happening aboard the _Conqueror_.

"Never mind about that," said the older man.  "For a few weeks you have
got a clear field.  It is quite a bond between you: both your fathers on
the same ship.  But whatever you do, don't remind her of the fate of the
Kilkenny cats.  Draw a fancy picture of the two fathers sitting with
their arms about each other's waists and wondering whether their
children----"

Hardy left hurriedly, in fear that his indignation at such frivolity
should overcome his gratitude, and he regretted as he walked briskly
along that the diffidence peculiar to young men in his circumstances had
prevented him from acquainting his father with the state of his feelings
towards Kate Nugent.

The idea of taking advantage of the captain's enforced absence had
occurred to other people besides Mr. James Hardy.  Dr. Murchison, who had
found the captain, despite his bias in his favour, a particularly
tiresome third, was taking the fullest advantage of it; and Mrs. Kybird
had also judged it an admirable opportunity for paying a first call.
Mr. Kybird, who had not taken her into his confidence in the affair,
protested in vain; the lady was determined, and, moreover, had the warm
support of her daughter.

"I know what I'm doing, Dan'l," she said to her husband.

Mr. Kybird doubted it, but held his peace; and the objections of Jack
Nugent, who found to his dismay that he was to be of the party, were
deemed too trivial to be worthy of serious consideration.

They started shortly after Jem Hardy had left his office, despite the
fact that Mrs. Kybird, who was troubled with asthma, was suffering untold
agonies in a black satin dress which had been originally made for a much
smaller woman, and had come into her husband's hands in the way of
business.  It got into hers in what the defrauded Mr. Kybird considered
an extremely unbusinesslike manner, and it was not without a certain
amount of satisfaction that he regarded her discomfiture as the party
sallied out.

[Illustration: "It was not without a certain amount of satisfaction that
he regarded her discomfiture."]

Mr. Nugent was not happy.  Mrs. Kybird in the snug seclusion of the back
parlour was one thing; Mrs. Kybird in black satin at its utmost tension
and a circular hat set with sable ostrich plumes nodding in the breeze
was another.  He felt that the public eye was upon them and that it
twinkled.  His gaze wandered from mother to daughter.

"What are you staring at?" demanded Miss Kybird, pertly.

"I was thinking how well you are looking," was the reply.

Miss Kybird smiled.  She had hoisted some daring colours, but she was of
a bold type and carried them fairly well.

"If I 'ad the woman what made this dress 'ere," gasped Mrs. Kybird, as
she stopped with her hand on her side, "I'd give her a bit o' my mind."

"I never saw you look so well in anything before, ma," said her daughter.

Mrs. Kybird smiled faintly and continued her pilgrimage.  Jem Hardy
coming up rapidly behind composed his amused features and stepped into
the road to pass.

"Halloa, Hardy," said Nugent.  "Going home?"

"I am calling on your sister," said Hardy, bowing.

"By Jove, so are we," said Nugent, relieved to find this friend in need.
"We'll go together.  You know Mrs. Kybird and Miss Kybird?  That is Mrs.
Kybird."

Mrs. Kybird bade him "Go along, do," and acknowledged the introduction
with as stately a bow as the black satin would permit, and before the
dazed Jem quite knew how it all happened he was leading the way with Mrs.
Kybird, while the young people, as she called them, followed behind.

"We ain't looking at you," she said, playfully, over her shoulder.

"And we're trying to shut our eyes to your goings on," retorted Nugent.

Mrs. Kybird stopped and, with a half-turn, play-fully reached for him
with her umbrella.  The exertion and the joke combined took the remnant
of her breath away, and she stood still, panting.

"You had better take Hardy's arm, I think," said Nugent, with affected
solicitude.

"It's my breath," explained Mrs. Kybird, turning to the fuming young man
by her side.  "I can 'ardly get along for it--I'm much obliged to you,
I'm sure."

Mr. Hardy, with a vain attempt to catch Jack Nugent's eye, resigned
himself to his fate, and with his fair burden on his arm walked with
painful slowness towards Equator Lodge.  A ribald voice from the other
side of the road, addressing his companion as "Mother Kybird," told her
not to hug the man, and a small boy whom they met loudly asseverated his
firm intention of going straight off to tell Mr. Kybird.

[Illustration: "Mr. Hardy resigned himself to his fate."]

By the time they reached the house Mr. Hardy entertained views on
homicide which would have appeared impossible to him half an hour before.
He flushed crimson as he saw the astonished face of Kate Nugent at the
window, and, pausing at the gate to wait for the others, discovered that
they had disappeared.  A rooted dislike to scenes of any kind, together
with a keen eye for the ludicrous, had prompted Jack Nugent to suggest a
pleasant stroll to Amelia and put in an appearance later on.

"We won't wait for 'im," said Mrs. Kybird, with decision; "if I don't get
a sit down soon I shall drop."

Still clinging to the reluctant Hardy she walked up the path; farther
back in the darkness of the room the unfortunate young gentleman saw the
faces of Dr. Murchison and Mrs. Kingdom.

"And 'ow are you, Bella?" inquired Mrs. Kybird with kindly condescension.
"Is Mrs. Kingdom at 'ome?"

She pushed her way past the astonished Bella and, followed by Mr. Hardy,
entered the room.  Mrs. Kingdom, with a red spot on each cheek, rose to
receive them.

"I ought to 'ave come before," said Mrs. Kybird, subsiding thankfully
into a chair, "but I'm such a bad walker.  I 'ope I see you well."

"We are very well, thank you," said Mrs. Kingdom, stiffly.

"That's right," said her visitor, cordially; "what a blessing 'ealth is.
What should we do without it, I wonder?"

She leaned back in her chair and shook her head at the prospect.  There
was an awkward lull, and in the offended gaze of Miss Nugent Mr. Hardy
saw only too plainly that he was held responsible for the appearance of
the unwelcome visitor.

"I was coming to see you," he said, leaving his chair and taking one near
her, "I met your brother coming along, and he introduced me to Mrs.
Kybird and her daughter and suggested we should come together."

Miss Nugent received the information with a civil bow, and renewed
her conversation with Dr. Murchison, whose face showed such a keen
appreciation of the situation that Hardy had some difficulty in masking
his feelings.

"They're a long time a-coming," said Mrs. Kybird, smiling archly; "but
there, when young people are keeping company they forget everything and
everybody.  They didn't trouble about me; if it 'adn't been for Mr. 'Ardy
giving me 'is arm I should never 'ave got here."

There was a prolonged silence.  Dr. Murchison gave a whimsical glance at
Miss Nugent, and meeting no response in that lady's indignant eyes,
stroked his moustache and awaited events.

"It looks as though your brother is not coming," said Hardy to Miss
Nugent.

"He'll turn up by-and-by," interposed Mrs. Kybird, looking somewhat
morosely at the company.  "They don't notice 'ow the time flies, that's
all."

"Time does go," murmured Mrs. Kingdom, with a glance at the clock.

Mrs. Kybird started.  "Ah, and we notice it too, ma'am, at our age," she
said, sweetly, as she settled herself in her chair and clasped her hands
in her lap "I can't 'elp looking at you, my dear," she continued, looking
over at Miss Nugent.  "There's such a wonderful likeness between Jack and
you.  Don't you think so, ma'am?"

Mrs. Kingdom in a freezing voice said that she had not noticed it.

"Of course," said Mrs. Kybird, glancing at her from the corner of her
eye, "Jack has 'ad to rough it, pore feller, and that's left its mark on
'im.  I'm sure, when we took 'im in, he was quite done up, so to speak.
He'd only got what 'e stood up in, and the only pair of socks he'd got to
his feet was in such a state of 'oles that they had to be throwed away.
I throwed 'em away myself."

"Dear me," said Mrs. Kingdom.

"He don't look like the same feller now," continued the amiable Mrs.
Kybird; "good living and good clothes 'ave worked wonders in 'im.  I'm
sure if he'd been my own son I couldn't 'ave done more for 'im, and, as
for Kybird, he's like a father to him."

"Dear me," said Mrs. Kingdom, again.

Mrs. Kybird looked at her.  It was on the tip of her tongue to call her a
poll parrot.  She was a free-spoken woman as a rule, and it was terrible
to have to sit still and waste all the good things she could have said to
her in favour of unsatisfying pin-pricks.  She sat smouldering.

"I s'pose you miss the capt'in very much?" she said, at last.

"Very much," was the reply.

"And I should think 'e misses you," retorted Mrs. Kybird, unable to
restrain herself; "'e must miss your conversation and what I might call
your liveliness."

Mrs. Kingdom turned and regarded her, and the red stole back to her
cheeks again.  She smoothed down her dress and her hands trembled.  Both
ladies were now regarding each other in a fashion which caused serious
apprehension to the rest of the company.

"I am not a great talker, but I am very careful whom I converse with,"
said Mrs. Kingdom, in her most stately manner.

"I knew a lady like that once," said Mrs. Kybird; "leastways, she wasn't
a lady," she added, meditatively.

Mrs. Kingdom fidgeted, and looked over piteously at her niece; Mrs.
Kybird, with a satisfied sniff, sat bolt upright and meditated further
assaults.  There were at least a score of things she could have said
about her adversary's cap alone: plain, straightforward remarks which
would have torn it to shreds.  The cap fascinated her, and her fingers
itched as she gazed at it.  In more congenial surroundings she might have
snatched at it, but, being a woman of strong character, she suppressed
her natural instincts, and confined herself to more polite methods of
attack.

"Your nephew don't seem to be in no hurry," she remarked, at length;
"but, there, direckly 'e gets along o' my daughter 'e forgits everything
and everybody."

"I really don't think he is coming," said Hardy, moved to speech by the
glances of Miss Nugent.

"I shall give him a little longer," said Mrs. Kybird.  "I only came 'ere
to please 'im, and to get 'ome alone is more than I can do."

Miss Nugent looked at Mr. Hardy, and her eyes were soft and expressive.
As plainly as eyes could speak they asked him to take Mrs. Kybird home,
lest worse things should happen.

"Would it be far out of your way?" she asked, in a low voice.

"Quite the opposite direction," returned Mr. Hardy, firmly.

"How I got 'ere I don't know," said Mrs. Kybird, addressing the room in
general; "it's a wonder to me.  Well, once is enough in a lifetime."

"Mr. Hardy," said Kate Nugent, again, in a low voice, "I should be so
much obliged if you would take Mrs. Kybird away.  She seems bent on
quarrelling with my aunt.  It is very awkward."

It was difficult to resist the entreaty, but Mr. Hardy had a very fair
idea of the duration of Miss Nugent's gratitude; and, besides that,
Murchison was only too plainly enjoying his discomfiture.

"She can get home alone all right," he whispered.

Miss Nugent drew herself up disdainfully; Dr. Murchison, looking
scandalized at his brusqueness, hastened to the rescue.

"As a medical man," he said, with a considerable appearance of gravity,
"I don't think that Mrs. Kybird ought to go home alone."

"Think not?" inquired Hardy, grimly.

"Certain of it," breathed the doctor.

"Well, why don't you take her?" retorted Hardy; "it's all on your way.
I have some news for Miss Nugent."

Miss Nugent looked from one to the other, and mischievous lights appeared
in her eyes as she gazed at the carefully groomed and fastidious
Murchison.  From them she looked to the other side of the room, where
Mrs. Kybird was stolidly eyeing Mrs. Kingdom, who was trying in vain to
appear ignorant of the fact.

[Illustration: "The carefully groomed and fastidious Murchison."]

"Thank you very much," said Miss Nugent, turning to the doctor.

"I'm sorry," began Murchison, with an indignant glance at his rival.

"Oh, as you please," said the girl, coldly.  "Pray forgive me for asking
you."

"If you really wish it," said the doctor, rising.  Miss Nugent smiled
upon him, and Hardy also gave him a smile of kindly encouragement, but
this he ignored.  He crossed the room and bade Mrs. Kingdom good-bye; and
then in a few disjointed words asked Mrs. Kybird whether he could be of
any assistance in seeing her home.

"I'm sure I'm much obliged to you," said that lady, as she rose.  "It
don't seem much use for me waiting for my future son-in-law.  I wish you
good afternoon, ma'am.  I can understand now why Jack didn't come."

With this parting shot she quitted the room and, leaning on the doctor's
arm, sailed majestically down the path to the gate, every feather on her
hat trembling in response to the excitement below.

"Good-natured of him," said Hardy, glancing from the window, with a
triumphant smile.

"Very," said Miss Nugent, coldly, as she took a seat by her aunt.  "What
is the news to which you referred just now?  Is it about my father?"



CHAPTER XVI

The two ladies received Mr. Hardy's information with something akin to
consternation, the idea of the autocrat of Equator Lodge as a stowaway on
board the ship of his ancient enemy proving too serious for ordinary
comment.  Mrs. Kingdom's usual expressions of surprise, "Well, I never
did!" and "Good gracious alive!" died on her lips, and she sat gazing
helpless and round-eyed at her niece.

"I wonder what he said," she gasped, at last.

Miss Nugent, who was trying to imagine her father in his new role aboard
the Conqueror, paid no heed.  It was not a pleasant idea, and her eyes
flashed with temper as she thought of it.  Sooner or later the whole
affair would be public property.

"I had an idea all along that he wasn't in London," murmured Mrs.
Kingdom.  "Fancy that Nathan Smith standing in Sam's room telling us
falsehoods like that!  He never even blushed."

"But you said that you kept picturing father walking about the streets of
London, wrestling with his pride and trying to make up his mind to come
home again," said her niece, maliciously.

Mrs. Kingdom fidgeted, but before she could think of a satisfactory reply
Bella came to the door and asked to speak to her for a moment.  Profiting
by her absence, Mr. Hardy leaned towards Miss Nugent, and in a low voice
expressed his sorrow at the mishap to her father and his firm conviction
that everything that could be thought of for that unfortunate mariner's
comfort would be done.  "Our fathers will probably come back good
friends," he concluded.  "There is nothing would give me more pleasure
than that, and I think that we had better begin and set them a good
example."

"It is no good setting an example to people who are hundreds of miles
away," said the matter-of-fact Miss Nugent.  "Besides, if they have made
friends, they don't want an example set them."

"But in that case they have set us an example which we ought to follow,"
urged Hardy.

Miss Nugent raised her eyes to his.  "Why do you wish to be on friendly
terms?" she asked, with disconcerting composure.

[Illustration: "'Why do you wish to be on friendly terms?' she asked."]

"I should like to know your father," returned Hardy, with perfect
gravity; "and Mrs. Kingdom--and you."

He eyed her steadily as he spoke, and Miss Nugent, despite her utmost
efforts, realized with some indignation that a faint tinge of colour was
creeping into her cheeks.  She remembered his covert challenge at their
last interview at Mr. Wilks's, and the necessity of reading this
persistent young man a stern lesson came to her with all the force of a
public duty.

"Why?" she inquired, softly, as she lowered her eyes and assumed a
pensive expression.

"I admire him, for one thing, as a fine seaman," said Hardy.

"Yes," said Miss Nugent, "and--"

"And I've always had a great liking for Mrs. Kingdom," he continued; "she
was very good-natured to me when I was a very small boy, I remember.  She
is very kind and amiable."

The baffled Miss Nugent stole a glance at him.  "And--" she said again,
very softly.

"And very motherly," said Hardy, without moving a muscle.

Miss Nugent pondered and stole another glance at him.  The expression of
his face was ingenuous, not to say simple.  She resolved to risk it.  So
far he had always won in their brief encounters, and monotony was always
distasteful to her, especially monotony of that kind.

"And what about me?" she said, with a friendly smile.

"You," said Hardy, with a gravity of voice belied by the amusement in his
eye; "you are the daughter of the fine seaman and the niece of the
good-natured and motherly Mrs. Kingdom."

Miss Nugent looked down again hastily, and all the shrew within her
clamoured for vengeance.  It was the same masterful Jem Hardy that had
forced his way into their seat at church as a boy.  If he went on in
this way he would become unbearable; she resolved, at the cost of much
personal inconvenience, to give him a much-needed fall.  But she realized
quite clearly that it would be a matter of time.

"Of course, you and Jack are already good friends?" she said, softly.

"Very," assented Hardy.  "Such good friends that I have been devoting a
lot of time lately to considering ways and means of getting him out of
the snares of the Kybirds."

"I should have thought that that was his affair," said Miss Nugent,
haughtily.

"Mine, too," said Hardy.  "I don't want him to marry Miss Kybird."

For the first time since the engagement Miss Nugent almost approved of
it.  "Why not let him know your wishes?" she said, gently.  "Surely that
would be sufficient."

"But you don't want them to marry?" said Hardy, ignoring the remark.

"I don't want my brother to do anything shabby," replied the girl; "but I
shouldn't be sorry, of course, if they did not."

"Very good," said Hardy.  "Armed with your consent I shall leave no stone
unturned.  Nugent was let in for this, and I am going to get him out if I
can.  All's fair in love and war.  You don't mind my doing anything
shabby?"

"Not in the least," replied Miss Nugent, promptly.

The reappearance of Mrs. Kingdom at this moment saved Mr. Hardy the
necessity of a reply.

Conversation reverted to the missing captain, and Hardy and Mrs. Kingdom
together drew such a picture of the two captains fraternizing that Miss
Nugent felt that the millennium itself could have no surprises for her.

"He has improved very much," said Mrs. Kingdom, after the door had closed
behind their visitor; "so thoughtful."

"He's thoughtful enough," agreed her niece.

"He is what I call extremely considerate," pursued the elder lady, "but
I'm afraid he is weak; anybody could turn him round their little finger."

"I believe they could," said Miss Nugent, gazing at her with admiration,
"if he wanted to be turned."

The ice thus broken, Mr. Hardy spent the following day or two in devising
plausible reasons for another visit.  He found one in the person of Mr.
Wilks, who, having been unsuccessful in finding his beloved master at a
small tavern down by the London docks, had returned to Sunwich, by no
means benefited by his change of air, to learn the terrible truth as to
his disappearance from Hardy.

"I wish they'd Shanghaid me instead," he said to that sympathetic
listener, "or Mrs. Silk."

"Eh?" said the other, staring.

"Wot'll be the end of it I don't know," said Mr. Wilks, laying a hand,
which still trembled, on the other' knee.  "It's got about that she saved
my life by 'er careful nussing, and the way she shakes 'er 'ead at me for
risking my valuable life, as she calls it, going up to London, gives me
the shivers."

"Nonsense," said Hardy; "she can't marry you against your will.  Just be
distantly civil to her."

"'Ow can you be distantly civil when she lives just opposite?" inquired
the steward, querulously.  "She sent Teddy over at ten o'clock last night
to rub my chest with a bottle o' liniment, and it's no good me saying I'm
all right when she's been spending eighteen-pence o' good money over the
stuff."

"She can't marry you unless you ask her," said the comforter.

Mr. Wilks shook his head.  "People in the alley are beginning to talk,"
he said, dolefully.  "Just as I came in this afternoon old George Lee
screwed up one eye at two or three women wot was gossiping near, and when
I asked 'im wot 'e'd got to wink about he said that a bit o' wedding-cake
'ad blowed in his eye as I passed.  It sent them silly creeturs into fits
a'most."

[Illustration: "He said that a bit o' wedding-cake 'ad blowed in his
eye."]

"They'll soon get tired of it," said Hardy.

Mr. Wilks, still gloomy, ventured to doubt it, but cheered up and became
almost bright when his visitor announced his intention of trying to
smooth over matters for him at Equator Lodge.  He became quite voluble in
his defence, and attached much importance to the fact that he had nursed
Miss Nugent when she was in long clothes and had taught her to whistle
like an angel at the age of five.

"I've felt being cut adrift by her more than anything," he said,
brokenly.  "Nine-an'-twenty years I sailed with the cap'n and served 'im
faithful, and this is my reward."

Hardy pleaded his case next day.  Miss Nugent was alone when he called,
and, moved by the vivid picture he drew of the old man's loneliness,
accorded her full forgiveness, and decided to pay him a visit at once.
The fact that Hardy had not been in the house five minutes she appeared
to have overlooked.

"I'll go upstairs and put my hat and jacket on and go now," she said,
brightly.

"That's very kind of you," said Hardy.  His voice expressed admiring
gratitude; but he made no sign of leaving his seat.

"You don't mind?" said Miss Nugent, pausing in front of him and slightly
extending her hand.

"Not in the least," was the reply; "but I want to see Wilks myself.
Perhaps you'll let me walk down with you?"

The request was so unexpected that the girl had no refusal ready.  She
hesitated and was lost.  Finally, she expressed a fear that she might
keep him waiting too long while she got ready--a fear which he politely
declined to consider.

"Well, we'll see," said the marvelling Miss Nugent to herself as she went
slowly upstairs.  "He's got impudence enough for forty."

She commenced her preparations for seeing Mr. Wilks by wrapping a shawl
round her shoulders and reclining in an easy-chair with a novel.  It was
a good story, but the room was very cold, and even the pleasure of
snubbing an intrusive young man did not make amends for the lack of
warmth.  She read and shivered for an hour, and then with chilled fingers
lit the gas and proceeded to array herself for the journey.

Her temper was not improved by seeing Mr. Hardy sitting in the dark over
a good fire when she got downstairs.

"I'm afraid I've kept you waiting," she said, crisply.

"Not at all," said Hardy.  "I've been very comfortable."

Miss Nugent repressed a shiver and, crossing to the fire, thoughtlessly
extended her fingers over the blaze.

"I'm afraid you're cold," said Hardy.

The girl looked round sharply.  His face, or as much of it as she could
see in the firelight, bore a look of honest concern somewhat at variance
with the quality of his voice.  If it had not been for the absurdity of
altering her plans on his account she would have postponed her visit to
the steward until another day.

The walk to Fullalove Alley was all too short for Jem Hardy.  Miss Nugent
stepped along with the air of a martyr anxious to get to the stake and
have it over, and she answered in monosyllables when her companion
pointed out the beauties of the night.

A bitter east wind blew up the road and set her yearning for the joys of
Mr. Wilks's best room.  "It's very cold," she said, shivering.

Hardy assented, and reluctantly quickened his pace to keep step with
hers.  Miss Nugent with her chin sunk in a fur boa looked neither to the
right nor the left, and turning briskly into the alley, turned the handle
of Mr. Wilks's door and walked in, leaving her companion to follow.

The steward, who was smoking a long pipe over the fire, looked round in
alarm.  Then his expression changed, and he rose and stammered out a
welcome.  Two minutes later Miss Nugent, enthroned in the best chair with
her toes on the fender, gave her faithful subject a free pardon and full
permission to make hot coffee.

"And don't you ever try and deceive me again, Sam," she said, as she
sipped the comforting beverage.

"No, miss," said the steward, humbly.  "I've 'ad a lesson.  I'll never
try and Shanghai anybody else agin as long as I live."

After this virtuous sentiment he sat and smoked placidly, with occasional
curious glances divided between his two visitors.  An idle and ridiculous
idea, which occurred to him in connection with them, was dismissed at
once as too preposterous for a sensible steward to entertain.

"Mrs. Kingdom well?" he inquired.

"Quite well," said the girl.  "If you take me home, Sam, you shall see
her, and be forgiven by her, too."

"Thankee, miss," said the gratified steward.

"And what about your foot, Wilks?" said Hardy, somewhat taken aback by
this arrangement.

"Foot, sir?" said the unconscious Mr. Wilks; "wot foot?"

"Why, the bad one," said Hardy, with a significant glance.

"Ho, that one?" said Mr. Wilks, beating time and waiting further
revelations.

"Do you think you ought to use it much?" inquired Hardy.

Mr. Wilks looked at it, or, to be more exact, looked at both of them, and
smiled weakly.  His previous idea recurred to him with renewed force now,
and several things in the young man's behaviour, hitherto disregarded,
became suddenly charged with significance.  Miss Nugent looked on with an
air of cynical interest.

"Better not run any risk," said Hardy, gravely.  "I shall be very pleased
to see Miss Nugent home, if she will allow me."

"What is the matter with it?" inquired Miss Nugent, looking him full in
the face.

Hardy hesitated.  Diplomacy, he told himself, was one thing; lying
another.  He passed the question on to the rather badly used Mr. Wilks.

"Matter with it?" repeated that gentleman, glaring at him reproachfully.
"It's got shootin' pains right up it.  I suppose it was walking miles and
miles every day in London, looking for the cap'n, was too much for it."

"Is it too bad for you to take me home, Sam?" inquired Miss Nugent,
softly.

The perturbed Mr. Wilks looked from one to the other.  As a sportsman his
sympathies were with Hardy, but his duty lay with the girl.

"I'll do my best, miss," he said; and got up and limped, very well indeed
for a first attempt, round the room.

Then Miss Nugent did a thing which was a puzzle to herself for some time
afterwards.  Having won the victory she deliberately threw away the
fruits of it, and declining to allow the steward to run any risks,
accepted Hardy's escort home.  Mr. Wilks watched them from the door, and
with his head in a whirl caused by the night's proceedings mixed himself
a stiff glass of grog to set it right, and drank to the health of both of
them.

[Illustration: "Mr. Wilks drank to the health of both of them."]

The wind had abated somewhat in violence as they walked home, and,
moreover, they had their backs to it.  The walk was slower and more
enjoyable in many respects than the walk out.  In an unusually soft mood
she replied to his remarks and stole little critical glances up at him.
When they reached the house she stood a little while at the gate gazing
at the starry sky and listening to the crash of the sea on the beach.

"It is a fine night," she said, as she shook hands.

"The best I have ever known," said Hardy.  "Good-bye."



CHAPTER XVII

The weeks passed all too quickly for James Hardy.  He saw Kate Nugent at
her own home; met her, thanks to the able and hearty assistance of Mr.
Wilks, at Fullalove Alley, and on several occasions had the agreeable
task of escorting her back home.

He cabled to his father for news of the illustrious stowaway immediately
the _Conqueror_ was notified as having reached Port Elizabeth.  The
reply--"Left ship"--confirmed his worst fears, but he cheerfully accepted
Mrs. Kingdom's view that the captain, in order to relieve the natural
anxiety of his family, had secured a passage on the first vessel homeward
bound.

Captain Hardy was the first to reach home.  In the early hours of a fine
April morning the _Conqueror_ steamed slowly into Sunwich Harbour, and in
a very short time the town was revelling in a description of Captain
Nugent's first voyage before the mast from lips which were never tired of
repeating it.  Down by the waterside Mr. Nathan Smith found that he had
suddenly attained the rank of a popular hero, and his modesty took alarm
at the publicity afforded to his action.  It was extremely distasteful to
a man who ran a quiet business on old-fashioned lines and disbelieved in
advertisement.  He lost three lodgers the same day.

[Illustration: "A popular hero."]

Jem Hardy was one of the few people in Sunwich for whom the joke had no
charms, and he betrayed such an utter lack of sympathy with his father's
recital that the latter accused him at last of wanting a sense of humour.

"I don't see anything amusing in it," said his son, stiffly.

Captain Hardy recapitulated one or two choice points, and was even at
some pains to explain them.

"I can't see any fun in it," repeated his son.  "Your behaviour seems to
me to have been deplorable."

"What?" shouted the captain, hardly able to believe his ears.

"Captain Nugent was your guest," pursued the other; "he got on your ship
by accident, and he should have been treated decently as a saloon
passenger."

"And been apologized to for coming on board, I suppose?" suggested the
captain.

"It wouldn't have been amiss," was the reply.

The captain leaned back in his chair and regarded him thoughtfully.
"I can't think what's the matter with you, Jem," he said.

"Ordinary decent ideas, that's all," said his son, scathingly.

"There's something more in it than that," said the other, positively.
"I don't like to see this love-your-enemy business with you, Jem; it
ain't natural to you.  Has your health been all right while I've been
away?"

"Of course it has," said his son, curtly.  "If you didn't want Captain
Nugent aboard with you why didn't you put him ashore?  It wouldn't have
delayed you long.  Think of the worry and anxiety you've caused poor Mrs.
Kingdom."

"A holiday for her," growled the captain.

"It has affected her health," continued his son; "and besides, think of
his daughter.  She's a high-spirited girl, and all Sunwich is laughing
over her father's mishap."

"Nugent fell into his own trap," exclaimed the captain, impatiently.
"And it won't do that girl of his any harm to be taken down a peg or two.
Do her good.  Knock some of the nonsense out of her."

"That's not the way to speak of a lady," said Jem, hotly.

The offended captain regarded him somewhat sourly; then his face changed,
and he got up from his chair and stood before his son with consternation
depicted on every feature.

"You don't mean to tell me," he said, slowly; "you don't mean to tell me
that you're thinking anything of Kate Nugent?"

"Why not?"  demanded the other, defiantly; "why shouldn't I?"

Captain Hardy, whistling softly, made no reply, but still stood eyeing
him.

"I thought there was some other reason for your consideration besides
'ordinary decent ideas,'" he said, at last.  "When did it come on?  How
long have you had it?"

Mr. Hardy, jun., in a studiously unfilial speech, intimated that these
pleasantries were not to his taste.

"No, of course not," said the captain, resuming his seat.  "Well, I'm
sorry if it's serious, Jem, but I never dreamt you had any ideas in that
quarter.  If I had I'd have given old Nugent the best bunk on the ship
and sung him to sleep myself.  Has she given you any encouragement?"

"Don't know," said Jem, who found the conversation awkward.

"Extraordinary thing," said the captain, shaking his head,
"extraordinary.  Like a play."

"Play?" said his son, sharply.

"Play," repeated his father, firmly.  "What is the name of it?  I saw it
once at Newcastle.  The lovers take poison and die across each other's
chests because their people won't let 'em marry.  And that reminds me.
I saw some phosphor-paste in the kitchen, Jem.  Whose is it?"

"I'm glad to be the means of affording you amusement," said Jem, grinding
his teeth.

Captain Hardy regarded him affectionately.  "Go easy, my lad," he said,
equably; "go easy.  If I'd known it before, things would have been
different; as I didn't, we must make the best of it.  She's a pretty
girl, and a good one, too, for all her airs, but I'm afraid she's too
fond of her father to overlook this."

"That's where you've made such a mess of things," broke in his son.
"Why on earth you two old men couldn't--"

"Easy," said the startled captain.  "When you are in the early fifties,
my lad, your ideas about age will be more accurate.  Besides, Nugent is
seven or eight years older than I am."

"What became of him?" inquired Jem.

"He was off the moment we berthed," said his father, suppressing a smile.
"I don't mean that he bolted--he'd got enough starch left in him not to
do that--but he didn't trespass on our hospitality a moment longer than
was necessary.  I heard that he got a passage home on the Columbus.  He
knew the master.  She sailed some time before us for London.  I thought
he'd have been home by this."

It was not until two days later, however, that the gossip in Sunwich
received a pleasant fillip by the arrival of the injured captain.  He
came down from London by the midday train, and, disdaining the privacy
of a cab, prepared to run the gauntlet of his fellow-townsmen.

A weaker man would have made a detour, but he held a direct course, and
with a curt nod to acquaintances who would have stopped him walked
swiftly in the direction of home.  Tradesmen ran to their shop-doors to
see him, and smoking amphibians lounging at street corners broke out into
sunny smiles as he passed.  He met these annoyances with a set face and a
cold eye, but his views concerning children were not improved by the
crowd of small creatures which fluttered along the road ahead of him and,
hopeful of developments, clustered round the gate as he passed in.

[Illustration: "He met these annoyances with a set face."]

It is the pride and privilege of most returned wanderers to hold forth
at great length concerning their adventures, but Captain Nugent was
commendably brief.  At first he could hardly be induced to speak of them
at all, but the necessity of contradicting stories which Bella had
gleaned for Mrs. Kingdom from friends in town proved too strong for him.
He ground his teeth with suppressed fury as he listened to some of them.
The truth was bad enough, and his daughter, sitting by his side with her
hand in his, was trembling with indignation.


"Poor father," she said, tenderly; "what a time you must have had."
"It won't bear thinking of," said Mrs. Kingdom, not to be outdone in
sympathy.

"He met these annoyances with a set face."

"Well, don't think of it," said the captain, shortly.

Mrs. Kingdom sighed as though to indicate that her feelings were not to
be suppressed in that simple fashion.

"The anxiety has been very great," she said, shaking her head, "but
everybody's been very kind.  I'm sure all our friends have been most
sympathetic.  I couldn't go outside the house without somebody stopping
me and asking whether there was any news of you.  I'd no idea you were so
popular; even the milkman----"

"I'd like some tea," interrupted the captain, roughly; "that is, when you
have finished your very interesting information."

Mrs. Kingdom pursed her lips together to suppress the words she was
afraid to utter, and rang the bell.

"Your master would like some tea," she said, primly, as Bella appeared.
"He has had a long journey."  The captain started and eyed her fiercely;
Mrs. Kingdom, her good temper quite restored by this little retort,
folded her hands in her lap and gazed at him with renewed sympathy.

"We all missed you very much," said Kate, softly.  "But we had no fears
once we knew that you were at sea."

"And I suppose some of the sailors were kind to you?" suggested the
unfortunate Mrs. Kingdom.  "They are rough fellows, but I suppose some of
them have got their hearts in the right place.  I daresay they were sorry
to see you in such a position."

The captain's reply was of a nature known to Mrs. Kingdom and her circle
as "snapping one's head off."  He drew his chair to the table as Bella
brought in the tray and, accepting a cup of tea, began to discuss with
his daughter the events which had transpired in his absence.

"There is no news," interposed Mrs. Kingdom, during an interval.  "Mr.
Hall's aunt died the other day."

"Never heard of her," said the captain.  "Neither had I, till then," said
his sister.  "What a lot of people there are one never hears of, John."
The captain stared at her offensively and went on with his meal.  A long
silence ensued.

"I suppose you didn't get to hear of the cable that was sent?" said Mrs.
Kingdom, making another effort to arouse interest.

"What cable?" inquired her brother.

"The one Mr. Hardy sent to his father about you," replied Mrs. Kingdom.

The captain pushed his chair back and stared her full in the face.  "What
do you mean?" he demanded.

His sister explained.

"Do you mean to tell me that you've been speaking to young Hardy?"
exclaimed the captain.

"I could hardly help doing so, when he came here," returned his sister,
with dignity.  "He has been very anxious about you."

Captain Nugent rose and strode up and down the room.  Then he stopped and
glanced sharply at his daughter.

"Were you here when he called?" he demanded.

"Yes," was the reply.

"And you--you spoke to him?" roared the captain.

"I had to be civil," said Miss Nugent, calmly; "I'm not a sea-captain."

Her father walked up and down the room again.  Mrs. Kingdom, terrified at
the storm she had evoked, gazed helplessly at her niece.

"What did he come here for?" said the captain.

Miss Nugent glanced down at her plate.  "I can't imagine," she said,
demurely.  "The first time he came to tell us what had become of you."

The captain stopped in his walk and eyed her sternly.  "I am very
fortunate in my children," he said, slowly.  "One is engaged to marry the
daughter of the shadiest rascal in Sunwich, and the other--"

"And the other?" said his daughter, proudly, as he paused.

"The other," said the captain, as he came round the table and put his
hand on her shoulder, "is my dear and obedient daughter."

"Yes," said Miss Nugent; "but that isn't what you were going to say.  You
need not worry about me; I shall not do anything that would displease
you."



CHAPTER XVIII

With a view to avoiding the awkwardness of a chance meeting with any
member of the Nugent family Hardy took the sea road on his way to the
office the morning after the captain's return.  Common sense told him
to leave matters for the present to the healing hand of Time, and to
cultivate habits of self-effacement by no means agreeable to one of his
temperament.

Despite himself his spirits rose as he walked.  It was an ideal spring
morning, cool and sunny.  The short turf by the side of the road was
fragrant under his heel, and a light wind stirred the blueness of the
sea.  On the beach below two grizzled men of restful habit were
endeavouring to make an old boat waterproof with red and green paint.

A long figure approaching slowly from the opposite direction broke into a
pleasant smile as he drew near and quickened his pace to meet him.

"You're out early," said Hardy, as the old man stopped and turned with
him.

"'Ave to be, sir," said Mr. Wilks, darkly; "out early and 'ome late, and
more often than not getting my dinner out.  That's my life nowadays."

"Can't you let her see that her attentions are undesirable?" inquired
Hardy, gravely.

"Can't you let her see that her attentions are undesirable?"

[Illustration: "'Can't you let her see that her attentions are
undesirable?'"]

"I can't be rude to a woman," said the steward, with a melancholy smile;
"if I could, my life would ha' been very different.  She's always
stepping across to ask my advice about Teddy, or something o' that sort.
All last week she kept borrowing my frying-pan, so at last by way of
letting 'er see I didn't like it I went out and bought 'er one for
herself.  What's the result?  Instead o' being offended she went out and
bought me a couple o' neck-ties.  When I didn't wear 'em she pretended it
was because I didn't like the colour, and she went and bought two more.
I'm wearing one now."

He shook his head ruefully, and Hardy glanced at a tie which would have
paled the glories of a rainbow.  For some time they walked along in
silence.

"I'm going to pay my respects to Cap'n Nugent this afternoon," said Mr.
Wilks, suddenly.

"Ah," said the other.

"I knew what it 'ud be with them two on the same ship," continued Mr.
Wilks.  "I didn't say nothing when you was talking to Miss Kate, but I
knew well enough."

"Ah," said Hardy again.  There was no mistaking the significance of the
steward's remarks, and he found them somewhat galling.  It was all very
well to make use of his humble friend, but he had no desire to discuss
his matrimonial projects with him.

"It's a great pity," pursued the unconscious Mr. Wilks, "just as
everything seemed to be going on smoothly; but while there's life there's
'ope."

"That's a smart barge over there," said Hardy, pointing it out.

Mr. Wilks nodded.  "I shall keep my eyes open this afternoon," he said
reassuringly.  "And if I get a chance of putting in a word it'll be put
in.  Twenty-nine years I sailed with the cap'n, and if there's anybody
knows his weak spots it's me."

He stopped as they reached the town and said "good-bye."  He pressed the
young man's hand sympathetically, and a wink of intense artfulness gave
point to his last remark.

"There's always Sam Wilks's cottage," he said, in a husky whisper; "and
if two of 'is friends _should_ 'appen to meet there, who'd be the wiser?"

He gazed benevolently after the young man's retreating figure and
continued his stroll, his own troubles partly forgotten in the desire to
assist his friends.  It would be a notable feat for the humble steward to
be the means of bringing the young people together and thereby bringing
to an end the feud of a dozen years.  He pictured himself eventually as
the trusted friend and adviser of both families, and in one daring flight
of fancy saw himself hobnobbing with the two captains over pipes and
whisky.

Neatly dressed and carrying a small offering of wallflowers, he set out
that afternoon to call on his old master, giving, as he walked, the last
touches to a little speech of welcome which he had prepared during
dinner.  It was a happy effort, albeit a trifle laboured, but Captain
Nugent's speech, the inspiration of the moment, gave it no chance.

He started the moment the bowing Mr. Wilks entered the room, his voice
rising gradually from low, bitter tones to a hurricane note which Bella.
could hear in the kitchen without even leaving her chair.  Mr. Wilks
stood dazed and speechless before him, holding the wallflowers in one
hand and his cap in the other.  In this attitude he listened to a
description of his character drawn with the loving skill of an artist
whose whole heart was in his work, and who seemed never tired of filling
in details.

"If you ever have the hardihood to come to my house again," he concluded,
"I'll break every bone in your misshapen body.  Get!"

Mr. Wilks turned and groped his way to the door.  Then he went a little
way back with some idea of defending himself, but the door of the room
was slammed in his face.  He walked slowly down the path to the road and
stood there for some time in helpless bewilderment.  In all his sixty
years of life his feelings had never been so outraged.  His cap was still
in his hand, and, with a helpless gesture, he put it on and scattered his
floral offering in the road.  Then he made a bee-line for the Two
Schooners.

Though convivial by nature and ever free with his money, he sat there
drinking alone in silent misery.  Men came and went, but he still sat
there noting with mournful pride the attention caused by his unusual
bearing.  To casual inquiries he shook his head; to more direct ones he
only sighed heavily and applied himself to his liquor.  Curiosity
increased with numbers as the day wore on, and the steward, determined to
be miserable, fought manfully against an ever-increasing cheerfulness due
to the warming properties of the ale within.

"I 'ope you ain't lost nobody, Sam?" said a discomfited inquirer at last.

Mr. Wilks shook his head.

"You look as though you'd lost a shilling and found a ha'penny," pursued
the other.

"Found a what?" inquired Mr. Wilks, wrinkling his forehead.

"A ha'penny," said his friend.

"Who did?" said Mr. Wilks.

The other attempted to explain and was ably assisted by two friends,
but without avail; the impression left on Mr. Wilks's mind being that
somebody had got a shilling of his.  He waxed exceeding bitter, and said
that he had been missing shillings for a long time.

"You're labourin' under a mistake, Sam," said the first speaker.

Mr. Wilks laughed scornfully and essayed a sneer, while his friends,
regarding his contortions with some anxiety, expressed a fear that he was
not quite himself.  To this suggestion the steward deigned no reply, and
turning to the landlord bade him replenish his mug.

"You've 'ad enough, Mr. Wilks," said that gentleman, who had been
watching him for some time.

Mr. Wilks, gazing at him mistily, did not at first understand the full
purport of this remark; but when he did, his wrath was so majestic and
his remarks about the quality of the brew so libellous that the landlord
lost all patience.

"You get off home," he said, sharply.

"Listen t' me," said Mr. Wilks, impressively.

"I don't want no words with you," said the land-lord.  "You get off home
while you can."

"That's right, Sam," said one of the company, putting his hand on the
steward's arm.  "You take his advice."

Mr. Wilks shook the hand off and eyed his adviser ferociously.  Then he
took a glass from the counter and smashed it on the floor.  The next
moment the bar was in a ferment, and the landlord, gripping Mr. Wilks
round the middle, skilfully piloted him to the door and thrust him into
the road.

[Illustration: "He took a glass from the counter and smashed it on the
floor."]

The strong air blowing from the sea disordered the steward's faculties
still further.  His treatment inside was forgotten, and, leaning against
the front of the tavern, he stood open-mouthed, gazing at marvels.  Ships
in the harbour suddenly quitted their native element and were drawn up
into the firmament; nobody passed but twins.

"Evening, Mr. Wilks," said a voice.

The steward peered down at the voice.  At first he thought it was another
case of twins, but looking close he saw that it was Mr. Edward Silk
alone.  He saluted him graciously, and then, with a wave of his hand
toward the sky, sought to attract his attention to the ships there.

"Yes," said the unconscious Mr. Silk, sign of a fine day to-morrow.
"Are you going my way?"

Mr. Wilks smiled, and detaching himself from the tavern with some
difficulty just saved Mr. Silk from a terrible fall by clutching him
forcibly round the neck.  The ingratitude of Mr. Silk was a rebuff to a
nature which was at that moment overflowing with good will.  For a moment
the steward was half inclined to let him go home alone, but the
reflection that he would never get there softened him.

"Pull yourself t'gether," he said, gravely, "Now, 'old on me."

The road, as they walked, rose up in imitation of the shipping, but Mr.
Wilks knew now the explanation: Teddy Silk was intoxicated.  Very gently
he leaned towards the erring youth and wagged his head at him.

"Are you going to hold up or aren't you?" demanded Mr. Silk, shortly.

The steward waived the question; he knew from experience the futility of
arguing with men in drink.  The great thing was to get Teddy Silk home,
not to argue with him.  He smiled good-temperedly to himself, and with a
sudden movement pinned him up against the wall in time to arrest another`
fall.

[Illustration: "The great thing was to get Teddy Silk home."]

With frequent halts by the way, during which the shortness of Mr. Silk's
temper furnished Mr. Wilks with the texts of several sermons, none of
which he finished, they at last reached Fullalove Alley, and the steward,
with a brief exhortation to his charge to hold his head up, bore down on
Mrs. Silk, who was sitting in her doorway.

"I've brought 'im 'ome," he said, steadying himself against the doorpost;
"brought 'im 'ome."

"Brought 'im 'ome?" said the bewildered Mrs. Silk.

"Don' say anything to 'im," entreated Mr. Wilks, "my sake.  Thing might
'appen anybody."

"He's been like that all the way," said Mr. Silk, regarding the steward
with much disfavour.  "I don't know why I troubled about him, I'm sure."

"Crowd roun 'im," pursued the imaginative Mr. Wilks.  "'Old up, Teddy."

"I'm sure it's very kind of you, Mr. Wilks," said the widow, as she
glanced at a little knot of neighbours standing near.  "Will you come
inside for a minute or two?"

She moved the chair to let him pass, and Mr. Wilks, still keeping the
restraining hand of age on the shoulder of intemperate youth, passed in
and stood, smiling amiably, while Mrs. Silk lit the lamp and placed it in
the centre of the table, which was laid for supper.  The light shone on a
knuckle of boiled pork, a home-made loaf, and a fresh-cut wedge of
cheese.

"I suppose you won't stay and pick a bit o' sup-per with us?" said Mrs.
Silk.

"Why not?" inquired Mr. Wilks.

"I'm sure, if I had known," said Mrs. Silk, as she piloted him to a seat,
"I'd 'ave 'ad something nice.  There, now!  If I 'aven't been and forgot
the beer."

She left the table and went into the kitchen, and Mr. Wilks's eyes
glistened as she returned with a large brown jug full of foaming ale and
filled his glass.

"Teddy mustn't 'ave any," he said, sharply, as she prepared to fill that
gentleman's glass.

"Just 'alf a glass," she said, winsomely.

"Not a drop," said Mr. Wilks, firmly.

Mrs. Silk hesitated, and screwing up her forehead glanced significantly
at her son.  "'Ave some by-and-by," she whispered.

"Give me the jug," said Mr. Silk, indignantly.  "What are you listening
to 'im for?  Can't you see what's the matter with 'im?"

"Not to 'ave it," said Mr. Wilks; "put it 'ere."

He thumped the table emphatically with his hand, and before her indignant
son could interfere Mrs. Silk had obeyed.  It was the last straw.  Mr.
Edward Silk rose to his feet with tremendous effect and, first thrusting
his plate violently away from him, went out into the night, slamming the
door behind him with such violence that the startled Mr. Wilks was nearly
blown out of his chair.

"He don't mean nothing," said Mrs. Silk, turning a rather scared face to
the steward.  "'E's a bit jealous of you, I s'pose."

Mr. Wilks shook his head.  Truth to tell, he was rather at a loss to know
exactly what had happened.

"And then there's 'is love affair," sighed Mrs. Silk.  "He'll never get
over the loss of Amelia Kybird.  I always know when 'e 'as seen her, he's
that miserable there's no getting a word out of 'im."

Mr. Wilks smiled vaguely and went on with his supper, and, the meal
finished, allowed himself to be installed in an easy-chair, while his
hostess cleared the table.  He sat and smoked in high good humour with
himself, the occasional remarks he made being received with an enthusiasm
which they seldom provoked elsewhere.

"I should like t' sit 'ere all night," he said, at last.

"I don't believe it," said Mrs. Silk, playfully.

"Like t' sit 'ere all night," repeated Mr. Wilks, somewhat sternly.  "All
nex' day, all day after, day after that, day----"

Mrs. Silk eyed him softly.  "Why would you like to sit here all that
time?" she inquired, in a low voice.

"B'cause," said Mr. Wilks, simply, "b'cause I don't feel's if I can
stand.  Goo'-night."

He closed his eyes on the indignant Mrs. Silk and fell fast asleep.  It
was a sound sleep and dreamless, and only troubled by the occasional
ineffectual attempts of his hostess to arouse him.  She gave up the
attempt at last, and taking up a pair of socks sat working thoughtfully
the other side of the fire-place.

The steward awoke an hour or two later, and after what seemed a terrible
struggle found himself standing at the open door with the cold night air
blowing in his face, and a voice which by an effort of memory he
identified as that of Edward Silk inviting him "to go home and lose no
time about it."  Then the door slammed behind him and he stood balancing
himself with some difficulty on the step, wondering what had happened.
By the time he had walked up and down the deserted alley three or four
times light was vouchsafed to him and, shivering slightly, he found his
own door and went to bed.



CHAPTER XIX

Any hopes which Hardy might have entertained as to the attitude of Miss
Nugent were dispelled the first time he saw her, that dutiful daughter of
a strong-willed sire favouring him with a bow which was exactly half an
inch in depth and then promptly bestowing her gaze elsewhere.  He passed
Captain Nugent next day, and for a week afterwards he had only to close
his eyes to see in all its appalling virulence the glare with which that
gentleman had acknowledged his attempt at recognition.

[Illustration: "Captain Nugent."]

He fared no better in Fullalove Alley, a visit to Mr. Wilks eliciting the
fact that that delectable thoroughfare had been put out of bounds for
Miss Nugent.  Moreover, Mr. Wilks was full of his own troubles and
anxious for any comfort and advice that could be given to him.  All the
alley knew that Mrs. Silk had quarrelled with her son over the steward,
and, without knowing the facts, spoke their mind with painful freedom
concerning them.

"She and Teddy don't speak to each other now," said Mr. Wilks, gloomily,
"and to 'ear people talk you'd think it was my fault."

Hardy gave him what comfort he could.  He even went the length of saying
that Mrs. Silk was a fine woman.

"She acts like a suffering martyr," exclaimed Mr. Wilks.  "She comes over
'ere dropping hints that people are talking about us, and that they ask
'er awkward questions.  Pretending to misunderstand 'er every time is
enough to send me crazy; and she's so sudden in what she says there's no
being up to 'er.  On'y this morning she asked me if I should be sorry if
she died."

"What did you say?"  inquired his listener.

"I said 'yes,'" admitted Mr. Wilks, reluctantly.  "I couldn't say
anything else; but I said that she wasn't to let my feelings interfere
with 'er in any way."

Hardy's father sailed a day or two later, and after that nothing
happened.  Equator Lodge was an impregnable fortress, and the only member
of the garrison he saw in a fortnight was Bella.

His depression did not escape the notice of his partner, who, after first
advising love-philtres and then a visit to a well-known specialist for
diseases of the heart, finally recommended more work, and put a generous
portion of his own on to the young man's desk.  Hardy, who was in an evil
temper, pitched it on to the floor and, with a few incisive remarks on
levity unbecoming to age, pursued his duties in gloomy silence.

A short time afterwards, however, he had to grapple with his partner's
work in real earnest.  For the first time in his life the genial
shipbroker was laid up with a rather serious illness.  A chill caught
while bathing was going the round of certain unsuspected weak spots, and
the patient, who was of an inquiring turn of mind, was taking a greater
interest in medical works than his doctor deemed advisable.

"Most interesting study," he said, faintly, to Hardy, as the latter sat
by his bedside one evening and tried to cheer him in the usual way by
telling him that there was nothing the matter with him.  "There are
dozens of different forms of liver complaint alone, and I've got 'em
all."

"Liver isn't much," said his visitor, with the confidence of youth.

"Mine is," retorted the invalid; "it's twice its proper size and still
growing.  Base of the left lung is solidifying, or I'm much mistaken; the
heart, instead of waltzing as is suitable to my time of life, is doing a
galop, and everything else is as wrong as it can be."

"When are you coming back?" inquired the other.

"Back?" repeated Swann.  "Back?  You haven't been listening.  I'm a
wreck.  All through violating man's primeval instinct by messing about in
cold water.  What is the news?"

Hardy pondered and shook his head.  "Nugent is going to be married in
July," he said, at last.

"He'd better have had that trip on the whaler," commented Mr. Swann; "but
that is not news.  Nathan Smith told it me this morning."

"Nathan Smith?" repeated the other, in surprise.

"I've done him a little service," said the invalid.  "Got him out of a
mess with Garth and Co.  He's been here two or three times, and I must
confess I find him a most alluring rascal."

"Birds of a feather--" began Hardy, superciliously.

"Don't flatter me," said Swann, putting his hand out of the bed-clothes
with a deprecatory gesture.

"I am not worthy to sit at his feet.  He is the most amusing knave on the
coast.  He is like a sunbeam in a sick room when you can once get him to
talk of his experiences.  Have you seen young Nugent lately?  Does he
seem cheerful?"

"Yes, but he is not," was the reply.

"Well, it's natural for the young to marry," said the other, gravely.
"Murchison will be the next to go, I expect."

"Possibly," returned Hardy, with affected calmness.

"Blaikie was saying something about it this morning," resumed Swann,
regarding him from half-closed lids, "but he was punching and tapping me
all about the ribs while he was talking, and I didn't catch all he said,
but I think it's all arranged.  Murchison is there nearly every day, I
understand; I suppose you meet him there?"

Mr. Hardy, whistling softly, rose and walked round the room, uncorking
medicine bottles and sniffing at their contents.  A smile of unaffected
pleasure lit up his features as he removed the stopper from one
particularly pungent mixture.

[Illustration: "Sniffing at their contents."]

"Two tablespoonfuls three times a day," he read, slowly.  "When did you
have the last, Swann?  Shall I ring for the nurse?"

The invalid shook his head impatiently.  "You're an ungrateful dog," he
muttered, "or you would tell me how your affair is going.  Have you got
any chance?"

"You're getting light-headed now," said Hardy, calmly.  "I'd better go."

"All right, go then," responded the invalid; "but if you lose that girl
just for the want of a little skilled advice from an expert, you'll never
forgive yourself--I'm serious."

"Well, you must be ill then," said the younger man, with anxiety.

"Twice," said Mr. Swann, lying on his back and apparently addressing the
ceiling, "twice I have given this young man invaluable assistance, and
each time he has bungled."

Hardy laughed and, the nurse returning to the room, bade him "good-bye"
and departed.  After the close atmosphere of the sick room the air was
delicious, and he walked along slowly, deep in thought.  From Nathan
Smith his thoughts wandered to Jack Nugent and his unfortunate
engagement, and from that to Kate Nugent.  For months he had been
revolving impossible schemes in his mind to earn her gratitude, and
possibly that of the captain, by extricating Jack.  In the latter
connection he was also reminded of that unhappy victim of unrequited
affection, Edward Silk.

It was early to go indoors, and the house was dull.  He turned and
retraced his steps, and, his thoughts reverting to his sick partner,
smiled as he remembered remarks which that irresponsible person had made
at various times concerning the making of his last will and testament.
Then he came to a sudden standstill as a wild, forlorn-hope kind of idea
suddenly occurred to him.  He stood for some time thinking, then walked a
little way, and then stopped again as various difficulties presented
themselves for solution.  Finally, despite the lateness of the hour, he
walked back in some excitement to the house he had quitted over half an
hour before with the intention of speaking to the invalid concerning a
duty peculiarly incumbent upon elderly men of means.

The nurse, who came out of the sick room, gently closing the door after
her, demurred a little to this second visit, but, receiving a promise
from the visitor not to excite the invalid, left them together.  The
odour of the abominable physic was upon the air.

"Well?" said the invalid.

"I have been thinking that I was rather uncivil a little while ago," said
Hardy.

"Ah!" said the other.  "What do you want?"

"A little of that skilled assistance you were speaking of."

Mr. Swann made an alarming noise in his throat.  Hardy sprang forward in
alarm, but he motioned him back.

"I was only laughing," he explained.

Hardy repressed his annoyance by an effort, and endeavoured, but with
scant success, to return the other's smile.

"Go on," said the shipbroker, presently.

"I have thought of a scheme for upsetting Nugent's marriage," said Hardy,
slowly.

"It is just a forlorn hope which depends for its success on you and
Nathan Smith."

"He's a friend of Kybird's," said the other, drily.

"That is the most important thing of all," rejoined Hardy.  "That is,
next to your shrewdness and tact; everything depends upon you, really,
and whether you can fool Smith.  It is a great thing in our favour that
you have been taking him up lately."

"Are you coming to the point or are you not?" demanded the shipbroker.

Hardy looked cautiously round the room, and then, drawing his chair close
to the bed, leaned over the prostrate man and spoke rapidly into his ear.

"What?" cried the astounded Mr. Swann, suddenly sitting up in his bed.
"You--you scoundrel!"

"It's to be done," said Hardy.

"You ghoul!" said the invalid, glaring at him.  "Is that the way to talk
to a sick man?  You unscrupulous rascal!"

"It'll be amusement for you," pleaded the other, "and if we are
successful it will be the best thing in the end for everybody.  Think of
the good you'll do."

"Where you get such rascally ideas from, I can't think," mused the
invalid.  "Your father is a straightforward, honest man, and your
partner's uprightness is the talk of Sunwich."

"It doesn't take much to make Sunwich talk," retorted Hardy.

"A preposterous suggestion to make to a man of my standing," said the
shipbroker, ignoring the remark.  "If the affair ever leaked out I should
never hear the end of it."

"It can't leak out," said Hardy, "and if it does there is no direct
evidence.  They will never really know until you die; they can only
suspect."

"Very well," said the shipbroker, with a half-indulgent, half-humorous
glance.  "Anything to get rid of you.  It's a crack-brained scheme, and
could only originate with a young man whose affections have weakened his
head--I consent."

"Bravo!" said Hardy and patted him on the back; Mr. Swann referred to the
base of his left lung, and he apologized.

"I'll have to fix it up with Blaikie," said the invalid, lying down
again.  "Murchison got two of his best patients last week, so that it
ought to be easy.  And besides, he is fond of innocent amusement."

"I'm awfully obliged to you," said Hardy.

"It might be as well if we pretended to quarrel," said the invalid,
reflectively, "especially as you are known to be a friend of Nugent's.
We'll have a few words--before my housekeeper if possible, to insure
publicity--and then you had better not come again.  Send Silk instead
with messages."

Hardy thanked him and whispered a caution as a footstep was heard on the
landing.  The door opened and the nurse, followed by the housekeeper
bearing a tray, entered the room.

"And I can't be worried about these things," said Swann, in an
acrimonious voice, as they entered.  "If you are not capable of settling
a simple question like that yourself, ask the office-boy to instruct you.

"It's your work," retorted Hardy, "and a nice mess it's in."

"H'sh!" said the nurse, coming forward hastily.  "You must leave the
room, sir.  I can't have you exciting my patient."

Hardy bestowed an indignant glance at the invalid.

"Get out!"  said that gentleman, with extraordinary fierceness for one in
his weak condition.  "In future, nurse, I won't have this person admitted
to my room."

"Yes, yes; certainly," said the nurse.  "You must go, sir; at once,
please."

"I'm going," said Hardy, almost losing his gravity at the piteous
spectacle afforded by the house-keeper as she stood, still holding the
tray and staring open-mouthed at the combatants.  "When you're tired of
skulking in bed, perhaps you'll come and do your share of the work."

Mr. Swann rose to a sitting position, and his demeanour was so alarming
that the nurse, hastening over to him, entreated him to lie down, and
waved Hardy peremptorily from the room.

"Puppy!" said the invalid, with great relish.  "Blockhead!"

[Illustration: "'Puppy!' said the invalid."]

He gazed fixedly at the young man as he departed and then, catching sight
in his turn of the housekeeper's perplexity, laid himself down and buried
his face in the bed-clothes.  The nurse crossed over to her assistant
and, taking the tray from her, told her in a sharp whisper that if she
ever admitted Mr. Hardy again she would not be answerable for the
consequences.



CHAPTER XX

Charmed at the ease with which he had demolished the objections of Mr.
Adolphus Swann and won that suffering gentleman over to his plans, Hardy
began to cast longing glances at Equator Lodge.  He reminded himself that
the labourer was worthy of his hire, and it seemed moreover an extremely
desirable thing that Captain Nugent should know that he was labouring in
his vineyard with the full expectation of a bounteous harvest.  He
resolved to call.

Kate Nugent, who heard the gate swing behind him as he entered the front
garden, looked up and stood spellbound at his audacity.  As a fairly
courageous young person she was naturally an admirer of boldness in
others, but this seemed sheer recklessness.  Moreover, it was
recklessness in which, if she stayed where she was, she would have to
bear a part or be guilty of rudeness, of which she felt incapable.  She
took a third course, and, raising her eyebrows at the unnecessarily loud
knocking with which the young man announced his arrival, retreated in
good order into the garden, where her father, in a somewhat heated
condition, was laboriously planting geraniums.  She had barely reached
him when Bella, in a state of fearsome glee, came down the garden to tell
the captain of his visitor.

[Illustration: "Bella, in a state of fearsome glee, came down the garden
to tell the captain of his visitor."]

"Who?" said the latter, sharply, as he straightened his aching back.

"Young Mr. Hardy," said Bella, impressively.  "I showed 'im in; I didn't
ask 'im to take a chair, but he took one."

"Young Hardy to see me!" said the captain to his daughter, after Bella
had returned to the house.  "How dare he come to my house?  Infernal
impudence!  I won't see him."

"Shall I go in and see him for you?" inquired Kate, with affected
artlessness.

"You stay where you are, miss," said her father.  "I won't have him
speak to you; I won't have him look at you.  I'll----"

He beat his dirty hands together and strode off towards the house.  Jem
Hardy rose from his chair as the captain entered the room and, ignoring a
look of black inquiry, bade him "Good afternoon."

"What do you want?" asked the captain, gruffly, as he stared him straight
in the eye.

"I came to see you about your son's marriage," said the other.  "Are you
still desirous of preventing it?"

"I'm sorry you've had the trouble," said the captain, in a voice of
suppressed anger; "and now may I ask you to get out of my house?"

Hardy bowed.  "I am sorry I have troubled you," he said, calmly, "but I
have a plan which I think would get your son out of this affair, and, as
a business man, I wanted to make something out of it."

The captain eyed him scornfully, but he was glad to see this
well-looking, successful son of his old enemy tainted with such sordid
views.  Instead of turning him out he spoke to him almost fairly.

"How much do you want?" he inquired.

"All things considered, I am asking a good deal," was the reply.

"How much?" repeated the captain, impatiently.

Hardy hesitated.  "In exchange for the service I want permission to visit
here when I choose," he said, at length; "say twice a week."

Words failed the captain; none with which he was acquainted seemed
forcible enough for the occasion.  He faced his visitor stuttering with
rage, and pointed to the door.

"Get out of my house," he roared.

[Illustration: "'Get out of my house,' he roared.]

"I'm sorry to have intruded," said Hardy, as he crossed the room and
paused at the door; "it is none of my business, of course.  I thought
that I saw an opportunity of doing your son a good turn--he is a friend
of mine--and at the same time paying off old scores against Kybird and
Nathan Smith.  I thought that on that account it might suit you.  Good
afternoon."

He walked out into the hall, and reaching the front door fumbled clumsily
with the catch.  The captain watching his efforts in grim silence began
to experience the twin promptings of curiosity and temptation.

"What is this wonderful plan of yours?" he demanded, with a sneer.

"Just at present that must remain a secret," said the other.  He came
from the door and, unbidden, followed the captain into the room again.

"What do you want to visit at my house for?" inquired the latter, in a
forbidding voice.

"To see your daughter," said Hardy.

The captain had a relapse.  He had not expected a truthful answer,
and, when it came, in the most matter-of-fact tone, it found him quite
unprepared.  His first idea was to sacrifice his dignity and forcibly
eject his visitor, but more sensible thoughts prevailed.

"You are quite sure, I suppose, that your visits would be agreeable to my
daughter?" he said, contemptuously.

Hardy shook his head.  "I should come ostensibly to see you," he said,
cheerfully; "to smoke a pipe with you."

"Smoke!" stuttered the captain, explosively; "smoke a pipe with ME?"

"Why not?" said the other.  "I am offering you my services, and
anything that is worth having is worth paying for.  I suppose we could
both smoke pipes under pleasanter conditions.  What have you got against
me?  It isn't my fault that you and my father have quarrelled."

"I don't want anything more to say to you," said the captain, sternly.
"I've shown you the door once.  Am I to take forcible measures?"

Hardy shrugged his broad shoulders.  "I am sorry," he said, moving to the
door again.

"So am I," said the other.

"It's a pity," said Hardy, regretfully.  "It's the chance of a lifetime.
I had set my heart on fooling Kybird and Smith, and now all my trouble is
wasted.  Nathan Smith would be all the better for a fall."

The captain hesitated.  His visitor seemed to be confident, and he would
have given a great deal to prevent his son's marriage and a great deal to
repay some portion of his debt to the ingenious Mr. Smith.  Moreover,
there seemed to be an excellent opportunity of punishing the presumption
of his visitor by taking him at his word.

"I don't think you'd enjoy your smoking here much," he said, curtly.

"I'll take my chance of that," said the other.  "It will only be a matter
of a few weeks, and then, if I am unsuccessful, my visits cease."

"And if you're successful, am I to have the pleasure of your company for
the rest of my life?" demanded the captain.

"That will be for you to decide," was the reply.  "Is it a bargain?"

The captain looked at him and deliberated.  "All right.  Mondays and
Thursdays," he said, laconically.

Hardy saw through the ruse, and countered.

"Now Swann is ill I can't always get away when I wish," he said, easily.
"I'll just drop in when I can.  Good day."

He opened the door and, fearful lest the other should alter his mind at
the last moment, walked briskly down the path to the gate.  The captain
stood for some time after his departure deep in thought, and then
returned to the garden to be skilfully catechized by Miss Nugent.

"And when my young friend comes with his pipe you'll be in another room,"
he concluded, warningly.

Miss Nugent looked up and patted his cheek tenderly.  "What a talent for
organization you have," she remarked, softly.  "A place for everything
and everything in its place.  The idea of his taking such a fancy to
you!"

The captain coughed and eyed her suspiciously.  He had been careful not
to tell her Hardy's reasons for coming, but he had a shrewd idea that his
caution was wasted.

"Today is Thursday," said Kate, slowly; "he will be here to-morrow and
Saturday.  What shall I wear?"

The captain resumed his gardening operations by no means perturbed at the
prophecy.  Much as he disliked the young man he gave him credit for a
certain amount of decency, and his indignation was proportionately great
the following evening when Bella announced Mr. Hardy.  He made a genial
remark about Shylock and a pound of flesh, but finding that it was only
an excellent conversational opening, the subject of Shakespeare's plays
lapsed into silence.

It was an absurd situation, but he was host and Hardy allowed him to see
pretty plainly that he was a guest.  He answered the latter's remarks
with a very ill grace, and took covert stock of him as one of a species
he had not encountered before.  One result of his stock-taking was that
he was spared any feeling of surprise when his visitor came the following
evening.

"It's the thin end of the wedge," said Miss Nugent, who came into the
room after Hardy had departed; "you don't know him as well as I do."

"Eh?" said her father, sharply.

"I mean that you are not such a judge of character as I am," said Kate;
"and besides, I have made a special study of young men.  The only thing
that puzzles me is why you should have such an extraordinary fascination
for him."

"You talk too much, miss," said the captain, drawing the tobacco jar
towards him and slowly filling his pipe.

Miss Nugent sighed, and after striking a match for him took a seat on the
arm of his chair and placed her hand on his shoulder.  "I can quite
understand him liking you," she said, slowly.

The captain grunted.

"And if he is like other sensible people," continued Miss Nugent, in a
coaxing voice, "the more he sees of you the more he'll like you.  I do
hope he has not come to take you away from me."

[Illustration: "I do hope he has not come to take you away from me."]

The indignant captain edged her off the side of his chair; Miss Nugent,
quite undisturbed, got on again and sat tapping the floor with her foot.
Her arm stole round his neck and she laid her cheek against his head and
smiled wickedly.

"Nice-looking, isn't he?" she said, in a careless voice.

"I don't know anything about his looks," growled her father.

Miss Nugent gave a little exclamation of surprise.  "First thing I
noticed," she said, with commendable gravity.  "He's very good-looking
and very determined.  What are you going to give him if he gets poor Jack
out of this miserable business?"

"Give him?" said her father, staring.

"I met Jack yesterday," said Kate, "and I can see that he is as wretched
as he can be.  He wouldn't say so, of course.  If Mr. Hardy is successful
you ought to recognize it.  I should suggest one of your new photos in an
eighteenpenny frame."

She slipped off the chair and quitted the room before her father could
think of a suitable retort, and he sat smoking silently until the
entrance of Mrs. Kingdom a few minutes later gave him an opportunity of
working off a little accumulated gall.

While the junior partner was thus trying to obtain a footing at Equator
Lodge the gravest rumours of the senior partner's health were prevalent
in the town.  Nathan Smith, who had been to see him again, ostensibly to
thank him for his efforts on his behalf, was of opinion that he was
breaking up, and in conversation with Mr. Kybird shook his head over the
idea that there would soon be one open-handed gentleman the less in a
world which was none too full of them.

"We've all got to go some day," observed Mr. Kybird, philosophically.
"'Ow's that cough o' yours getting on, Nat?"

Mr. Smith met the pleasantry coldly; the ailment referred to was one of
some standing and had been a continual source of expense in the way of
balsams and other remedies.

"He's worried about 'is money," he said, referring to Mr. Swann.

"Ah, we sha'n't 'ave that worry," said Mr. Kybird.

"Nobody to leave it to," continued Mr. Smith.  "Seems a bit 'ard, don't
it?"

"P'r'aps if 'e 'ad 'ad somebody to leave it to 'e wouldn't 'ave 'ad so
much to leave," observed Mr. Kybird, sagely; "it's a rum world."

He shook his head over it and went on with the uncongenial task of
marking down wares which had suffered by being exposed outside too long.
Mr. Smith, who always took an interest in the welfare of his friends,
made suggestions.

"I shouldn't put a ticket marked 'Look at this!' on that coat," he said,
severely.  "It oughtn't to be looked at."

"It's the best out o' three all 'anging together," said Mr. Kybird,
evenly.

"And look 'ere," said Mr. Smith.  "Look what an out-o'-the-way place
you've put this ticket.  Why not put it higher up on the coat?"

"Becos the moth-hole ain't there," said Mr. Kybird.

Mr. Smith apologized and watched his friend without further criticism.

"Gettin' ready for the wedding, I s'pose?" he said, presently.

Mr. Kybird assented, and his brow darkened as he spoke of surreptitious
raids on his stores made by Mrs. Kybird and daughter.

"Their idea of a wedding," he said, bitterly, "is to dress up and make a
show; my idea is a few real good old pals and plenty of licker."

"You'll 'ave to 'ave both," observed Nathan Smith, whose knowledge of the
sex was pretty accurate.

Mr. Kybird nodded gloomily.  "'Melia and Jack don't seem to 'ave been
'itting it off partikler well lately," he said, slowly.  "He's getting
more uppish than wot 'e was when 'e come here first.  But I got 'im to
promise that he'd settle any money that 'e might ever get left him on
'Melia."

Mr. Smith's inscrutable eyes glistened into something as nearly
approaching a twinkle as they were capable.  "That'll settle the five
'undred," he said, warmly.  "Are you goin' to send Cap'n Nugent an invite
for the wedding?"

[Illustration: "Are you goin' to send Cap'n Nugent an invite for the
wedding?"]

"They'll 'ave to be asked, o' course," said Mr. Kybird, with an attempt
at dignity, rendered necessary by a certain lightness in his friend's
manner.  "The old woman don't like the Nugent lot, but she'll do the
proper thing."

"O' course she will," said Mr. Smith, soothingly.  "Come over and 'ave a
drink with me, Dan'l it's your turn to stand."



CHAPTER XXI

Gossip from one or two quarters, which reached Captain Nugent's ears
through the medium of his sister, concerning the preparations for his
son's marriage, prevented him from altering his mind with regard to the
visits of Jem Hardy and showing that painstaking young man the door.
Indeed, the nearness of the approaching nuptials bade fair to eclipse,
for the time being, all other grievances, and when Hardy paid his third
visit he made a determined but ineffectual attempt to obtain from him
some information as to the methods by which he hoped to attain his ends.
His failure made him suspicious, and he hinted pretty plainly that he had
no guarantee that his visitor was not obtaining admittance under false
pretences.

"Well, I'm not getting much out of it," returned Hardy, frankly.

"I wonder you come," said his hospitable host.

"I want you to get used to me," said the other.

The captain started and eyed him uneasily; the remark seemed fraught with
hidden meaning.  "And then?" he inquired, raising his bushy eyebrows.

"Then perhaps I can come oftener."

The captain gave him up.  He sank back in his chair and crossing his legs
smoked, with his eyes fixed on the ceiling.  It was difficult to know
what to do with a young man who was apparently destitute of any feelings
of shame or embarrassment.  He bestowed a puzzled glance in his direction
and saw that he was lolling in the chair with an appearance of the
greatest ease and enjoyment.  Following the direction of his eyes, he saw
that he was gazing with much satisfaction at a photograph of Miss Nugent
which graced the mantelpiece.  With an odd sensation the captain suddenly
identified it as one which usually stood on the chest of drawers in his
bedroom, and he wondered darkly whether charity or mischief was
responsible for its appearance there.

In any case, it disappeared before the occasion of Hardy's next visit,
and the visitor sat with his eyes unoccupied, endeavouring to make
conversation with a host who was if anything more discourteous than
usual.  It was uphill work, but he persevered, and in fifteen minutes had
ranged unchecked from North Pole explorations to poultry farming.  It was
a relief to both of them when the door opened and Bella ushered in Dr.
Murchison.

The captain received the new arrival with marked cordiality, and giving
him a chair near his own observed with some interest the curt greeting of
the young men.  The doctor's manner indicated polite surprise at seeing
the other there, then he turned to the captain and began to talk to him.

For some time they chatted without interruption, and the captain's
replies, when Hardy at last made an attempt to make the conversation
general, enabled the doctor to see, without much difficulty, that the
latter was an unwelcome guest.  Charmed with the discovery he followed
his host's lead, and, with a languid air, replied to his rival in
monosyllables.  The captain watched with quiet satisfaction, and at each
rebuff his opinion of Murchison improved.  It was gratifying to find that
the interloper had met his match.

Hardy sat patient.  "I am glad to have met you to-night," he said, after
a long pause, during which the other two were discussing a former
surgical experience of the captain's on one of his crew.

"Yes?" said Murchison.

"You are just the man I wanted to see."

"Yes?" said the doctor, again.

"Yes," said the other, nodding.  "I've been very busy of late owing to my
partner's illness, and you are attending several people I want to hear
about."

"Indeed," said Murchison, with a half-turn towards him.

"How is Mrs. Paul?" inquired Hardy.

"Dead!" replied the other, briefly.

"Dead!" repeated Mr. Hardy.  "Good Heavens!  I didn't know that there was
much the matter with her."

"There was no hope for her from the first," said Murchison, somewhat
sharply.  "It was merely a question of prolonging her life a little while.
She lived longer than I deemed possible.  She surprised everybody by her
vitality."

"Poor thing," said Hardy.  "How is Joe Banks?"

"Dead," said Murchison again, biting his lip and eyeing him furiously.

"Dear me," said Hardy, shaking his head; "I met him not a month ago.  He
was on his way to see you then."

"The poor fellow had been an invalid nearly all his life," said
Murchison, to the captain, casually.  "Aye, I remember him," was the
reply.

"I am almost afraid to ask you," continued Hardy, "but shut up all day I
hear so little.  How is old Miss Ritherdon?"

Murchison reddened with helpless rage; Captain Nugent, gazing at the
questioner with something almost approaching respect, waited breathlessly
for the invariable answer.

"She died three weeks ago; I'm surprised that you have not heard of it,"
said the doctor, pointedly.

"Of course she was old," said Hardy, with the air of one advancing
extenuating circumstances.

"Very old," replied the doctor, who knew that the other was now at the
end of his obituary list.

"Are there any other of my patients you are anxious to hear about?"

[Illustration: "Are there any other of my patients you are anxious to
hear about?"]

"No, thank you," returned Hardy, with some haste.

The doctor turned to his host again, but the charm was broken.  His talk
was disconnected, owing probably to the fact that he was racking his
brain for facts relative to the seamy side of shipbroking.  And Hardy,
without any encouragement whatever, was interrupting with puerile
anecdotes concerning the late lamented Joe Banks.  The captain came to
the rescue.

"The ladies are in the garden," he said to the doctor; "perhaps you'd
like to join them."

He looked coldly over at Hardy as he spoke to see the effect of his
words.  Their eyes met, and the young man was on his feet as soon as his
rival.

"Thanks," he said, coolly; "it is a trifle close indoors."

Before the dismayed captain could think of any dignified pretext to stay
him he was out of the room.  The doctor followed and the perturbed
captain, left alone, stared blankly at the door and thought of his
daughter's words concerning the thin end of the wedge.

He was a proud man and loth to show discomfiture, so that it was not
until a quarter of an hour later that he followed his guests to the
garden.  The four people were in couples, the paths favouring that
formation, although the doctor, to the detriment of the border, had made
two or three determined attempts to march in fours.  With a feeling akin
to scorn the captain saw that he was walking with Mrs. Kingdom, while
some distance in the rear Jem Hardy followed with Kate.

He stood at the back door for a little while watching; Hardy, upright and
elate, was listening with profound attention to Miss Nugent; the doctor,
sauntering along beside Mrs. Kingdom, was listening with a languid air to
an account of her celebrated escape from measles some forty-three years
before.  As a professional man he would have died rather than have owed
his life to the specific she advocated.

Kate Nugent, catching sight of her father, turned, and as he came slowly
towards them, linked her arm, in his.  Her face was slightly flushed and
her eyes sparkled.

"I was just coming in to fetch you," she observed; "it is so pleasant out
here now."

"Delightful," said Hardy.

"We had to drop behind a little," said Miss Nugent, raising her voice.
"Aunt and Dr. Murchison _will_ talk about their complaints to each other!
They have been exchanging prescriptions."

The captain grunted and eyed her keenly.

"I want you to come in and give us a little music," he said, shortly.

Kate nodded.  "What is your favourite music, Mr. Hardy?" she inquired,
with a smile.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Hardy can't stay," said the captain, in a voice which
there was no mistaking.

Hardy pulled out his watch.  "No; I must be off," he said, with a
well-affected start.  "Thank you for reminding me, Captain Nugent."

"I am glad to have been of service," said the other, looking his
grimmest.

He acknowledged the young man's farewell with a short nod and, forgetting
his sudden desire for music, continued to pace up and down with his
daughter.

"What have you been saying to that--that fellow?" he demanded, turning to
her, suddenly.

Miss Nugent reflected.  "I said it was a fine evening," she replied, at
last.

"No doubt," said her father.  "What else?"

"I think I asked him whether he was fond of gardening," said Miss Nugent,
slowly.  "Yes, I'm sure I did."

"You had no business to speak to him at all," said the fuming captain.

"I don't quite see how I could help doing so," said his daughter.  "You
surely don't expect me to be rude to your visitors?  Besides, I feel
rather sorry for him."

"Sorry?" repeated the captain, sharply.  "What for?"

"Because he hasn't got a nice, kind, soft-spoken father," said Miss
Nugent, squeezing his arm affectionately.

The appearance of the other couple at the head of the path saved the
captain the necessity of a retort.  They stood in a little knot talking,
but Miss Nugent, contrary to her usual habit, said but little.  She was
holding her father's arm and gazing absently at the dim fields stretching
away beyond the garden.

At the same time Mr. James Hardy, feeling, despite his bold front,
somewhat badly snubbed, was sitting on the beach thinking over the
situation.  After a quarter of an hour in the company of Kate Nugent all
else seemed sordid and prosaic; his own conduct in his attempt to save
her brother from the consequences of his folly most sordid of all.  He
wondered, gloomily, what she would think when she heard of it.

[Illustration: "He wondered, gloomily, what she would think when she
heard of it."]

He rose at last and in the pale light of the new moon walked slowly along
towards the town.  In his present state of mind he wanted to talk about
Kate Nugent, and the only person who could be depended upon for doing
that was Samson Wilks.  It was a never-tiring subject of the steward's,
and since his discovery of the state of Hardy's feelings in that quarter
the slightest allusion was sufficient to let loose a flood of
reminiscences.

It was dark by the time Hardy reached the alley, and in most of the
houses the lamps were lit behind drawn blinds.  The steward's house,
however, was in darkness and there was no response when he tapped.  He
turned the handle of the door and looked in.  A dim figure rose with a
start from a chair.

"I hope you were not asleep?" said Hardy.

"No, sir," said the steward, in a relieved voice.  "I thought it was
somebody else."

He placed a chair for his visitor and, having lit the lamp, slowly
lowered the blind and took a seat opposite.

"I've been sitting in the dark to make a certain party think I was out,"
he said, slowly.  "She keeps making a excuse about Teddy to come over and
see me.  Last night 'e talked about making a 'ole in the water to
celebrate 'Melia Kybird's wedding, and she came over and sat in that
chair and cried as if 'er 'art would break.  After she'd gone Teddy comes
over, fierce as a eagle, and wants to know wot I've been saying to 'is
mother to make 'er cry.  Between the two of 'em I 'ave a nice life of
it."

"He is still faithful to Miss Kybird, then?" said Hardy, with a sudden
sense of relief.

"Faithful?" said Mr. Wilks.  "Faithful ain't no word for it.  He's a
sticker, that's wot 'e is, and it's my misfortune that 'is mother takes
after 'im.  I 'ave to go out afore breakfast and stay out till late at
night, and even then like as not she catches me on the doorstep."

"Well, perhaps she will make a hole in the water," suggested Hardy.

Mr. Wilks smiled, but almost instantly became grave again.  "She's not
that sort," he said, bitterly, and went into the kitchen to draw some
beer.

He drank his in a manner which betokened that the occupation afforded him
no enjoyment, and, full of his own troubles, was in no mood to discuss
anything else.  He gave a short biography of Mrs. Silk which would have
furnished abundant material for half-a-dozen libel actions, and alluding
to the demise of the late Mr. Silk, spoke of it as though it were the
supreme act of artfulness in a somewhat adventurous career.

Hardy walked home with a mind more at ease than it had been at any time
since his overtures to Mr. Swann.  The only scruple that had troubled him
was now removed, and in place of it he felt that he was acting the part
of a guardian angel to Mr. Edward Silk.



CHAPTER XXII

Mr. Nathan Smith, usually one of the most matter-of-fact men in the
world, came out of Mr. Swann's house in a semi-dazed condition, and for
some time after the front door had closed behind him stood gaping on the
narrow pavement.

He looked up and down the quiet little street and shook his head sadly.
It was a street of staid and substantial old houses; houses which had
mellowed and blackened with age, but whose quaint windows and
chance-opened doors afforded glimpses of comfort attesting to the
prosperity of those within.  In the usual way Mr. Nathan Smith was of too
philosophical a temperament to experience the pangs of envy, but to-day
these things affected him, and he experienced a strange feeling of
discontent with his lot in life.

"Some people 'ave all the luck," he muttered, and walked slowly down the
road.

[Illustration: "'Some people 'ave all the luck,' he muttered."]

He continued his reflections as he walked through the somewhat squalid
streets of his own quarter.  The afternoon was wet and the houses looked
dingier than usual; dirty, inconvenient little places most of them, with
a few cheap gimcracks making a brave show as near the window as possible.
Mr. Smith observed them with newly opened eyes, and, for perhaps the
first time in his life, thought of the draw-backs and struggles of the
poor.

In his own untidy little den at the back of the house he sat for some
time deep in thought over the events of the afternoon.  He had been
permitted a peep at wealth; at wealth, too, which was changing hands, but
was not coming his way.  He lit his pipe and, producing a bottle of rum
from a cupboard, helped himself liberally.  The potent fluid softened him
somewhat, and a half-formed intention to keep the news from Mr. Kybird
melted away beneath its benign influence.

"After all, we've been pals for pretty near thirty years," said Mr. Smith
to himself.

He took another draught.  "Thirty years is a long time," he mused.

He finished the glass.  "And if 'e don't give me something out of it I'll
do 'im as much 'arm as I can," he continued; and, buttoning up his coat,
he rose and set out in the direction of the High Street.

The rain had ceased and the sun was making faint efforts to break through
watery clouds.  Things seemed brighter, and Mr. Smith's heart beat in
response.  He was going to play the part of a benefactor to Mr. Kybird;
to offer him access, at any rate, to such wealth as he had never dreamed
of.  He paused at the shop window, and, observing through a gap in the
merchandise that Mr. Kybird was be-hind the counter, walked in and
saluted him.

"I've got news for you," he said, slowly; "big news."

"Oh," said Mr. Kybird, with indifference.

"Big news," repeated Mr. Smith, sinking thoughtlessly into the broken
cane-chair and slowly extricating himself.  "Something that'll make your
eyes start out of your 'ed."

The small black eyes in question were turned shrewdly in his direction.
"I've 'ad news of you afore, Nat," remarked Mr. Kybird, with simple
severity.

The philanthropist was chilled; he fixed his eyes in a stony stare on the
opposite wall.  Mr. Kybird, who had ever a wholesome dread of falling a
victim to his friend's cuteness, regarded him with some uncertainty, and
reminded him of one or two pieces of information which had seriously
depleted his till.

"Banns up yet for the wedding?" inquired Mr. Smith, still gazing in front
of him with fathomless eyes.

"They'll be put up next week," said Mr. Kybird.

"Ah!" said his friend, with great emphasis.  "Well, well!"

"Wot d'ye mean by 'well, well'?"  demanded the other, with some heat.

"I was on'y thinking," replied Mr. Smith, mildly.  "P'r'aps it's all for
the best, and I'd better 'old my tongue.  True love is better than money.
After all it ain't my bisness, and I shouldn't get much out of it."

"Out of wot, Nat?" inquired Mr. Kybird, uneasily.

Mr. Smith, still gazing musingly before him, appeared not to hear the
question.  "Nice after the rain, ain't it?" he said, slowly.

"It's all right," said the other, shortly.

"Everything smells so fresh and sweet," continued his nature-loving
friend; "all the little dickey-birds was a-singing as if their little
'arts would break as I come along."

"I don't wonder at it," said the offended Mr. Kybird.

"And the banns go up next week," murmured the boarding-master to himself.
"Well, well."

"'Ave you got anything to say agin it?" demanded Mr. Kybird.

"Cert'nly not," replied the other.  "On'y don't blame me when it's too
late; that's all."

Mr. Kybird, staring at him wrathfully, turned this dark saying over in
his mind.  "Too late for wot?" he inquired.

"Ah!" said Nathan Smith, slowly.  "Nice and fresh after the rain, ain't
it?  As I come along all the little dickey-birds--"

"Drat the little dickey-birds," interrupted Mr. Kybird, with sudden
violence.  "If you've got anything to say, why don't you say it like a
man?"

[Illustration: "If you've got anything to say, why don't you say it like
a man?"]

The parlour door opened suddenly before the other could reply, and
revealed the face of Mrs. Kybird.  "Wot are you two a-quarrelling about?"
she demanded.  "Why don't you come inside and sit down for a bit?"

Mr. Smith accepted the invitation, and following her into the room found
Miss Kybird busy stitching in the midst of a bewildering assortment of
brown paper patterns and pieces of cloth.  Mrs. Kybird gave him a chair,
and, having overheard a portion of his conversation with her husband,
made one or two casual inquiries.

"I've been spending a hour or two at Mr. Swann's," said Mr. Smith.

"And 'ow is 'e?" inquired his hostess, with an appearance of amiable
interest.

The boarding-master shook his head.  "'E's slipping 'is cable," he said,
slowly.  "'E's been making 'is will, and I was one o' the witnesses."

Something in Mr. Smith's manner as he uttered this simple statement made
his listeners anxious to hear more.  Mr. Kybird, who had just entered the
room and was standing with his back to the door holding the handle,
regarded him expectantly.

"It's been worrying 'im some time," pursued Mr. Smith.  "'E 'asn't got
nobody belonging to 'im, and for a long time 'e couldn't think 'ow to
leave it.  Wot with 'ouse property and other things it's a matter of over
ten thousand pounds."

"Good 'eavens!" said Mr. Kybird, who felt that he was expected to say
something.

"Dr. Blaikie was the other witness," continued Mr. Smith, disregarding
the interruption; "and Mr. Swann made us both promise to keep it a dead
secret till 'e's gone, but out o' friendship to you I thought I'd step
round and let you know."

The emphasis on the words was unmistakable; Mrs. Kybird dropped her work
and sat staring at him, while her husband wriggled with excitement.

"'E ain't left it to me, I s'pose?" he said, with a feeble attempt at
jocularity.

"Not a brass farden," replied his friend, cheerfully.  "Not to none of
you.  Why should 'e?

"He ain't left it to Jack, I s'pose?" said Miss Kybird, who had suspended
her work to listen.

"No, my dear," replied the boarding-master.  "E's made 'is will all
ship-shape and proper, and 'e's left everything--all that 'ouse property
and other things, amounting to over ten thousand pounds--to a young man
becos 'e was jilt--crossed in love a few months ago, and becos 'e's been
a good and faithful servant to 'im for years."

"Don't tell me," said Mr. Kybird, desperately; "don't tell me that 'e's
been and left all that money to young Teddy Silk."

"Well, I won't if you don't want me to," said the accommodating Mr.
Smith, "but, mind, it's a dead secret."

Mr. Kybird wiped his brow, and red patches, due to excitement, lent a
little variety to an otherwise commonplace face; Mrs. Kybird's dazed
inquiry.  "Wot are we a-coming to?" fell on deaf ears; while Miss Kybird,
leaning forward with lips parted, fixed her eyes intently on Mr. Smith's
face.

"It's a pity 'e didn't leave it to young Nugent," said that gentleman,
noting with much pleasure the effect of his announcement, "but 'e can't
stand 'in: at no price; 'e told me so 'imself.  I s'pose young Teddy'll
be quite the gentleman now, and 'e'll be able to marry who 'e likes."

Mr. Kybird thrust his handkerchief into his tail-pocket, and all the
father awoke within him.  "Ho, will 'e?" he said, with fierce sarcasm.
"Ho, indeed!  And wot about my daughter?  I 'ave 'eard of such things as
breach o' promise.  Before Mr. Teddy gets married 'e's got to 'ave a few
words with me."

"'E's behaved very bad," said Mrs. Kybird, nodding.

"'E come 'ere night after night," said Mr. Kybird, working himself up
into a fury; "'e walked out with my gal for months and months, and then
'e takes 'imself off as if we wasn't good enough for'im."

"The suppers 'e's 'ad 'ere you wouldn't believe," said Mrs. Kybird,
addressing the visitor.

"Takes 'imself off," repeated her husband; "takes 'imself off as if we
was dirt beneath 'is feet, and never been back to give a explanation from
that day to this."

"I'm not easy surprised," said Mrs. Kybird, "I never was from a gal, but
I must say Teddy's been a surprise to me.  If anybody 'ad told me 'e'd
ha' behaved like that I wouldn't ha' believed it; I couldn't.  I've never
said much about it, becos my pride wouldn't let me.  We all 'ave our
faults, and mine is pride."

"I shall bring a breach o' promise action agin 'im for five thousand
pounds," said Mr. Kybird, with decision.

"Talk sense," said Nathan Smith, shortly.

"Sense!" cried Mr. Kybird.  "Is my gal to be played fast and loose with
like that?  Is my gal to be pitched over when 'e likes?  Is my gal--"

"Wot's the good o' talking like that to me?"  said the indignant Mr.
Smith.  "The best thing you can do is to get 'er married to Teddy at
once, afore 'e knows of 'is luck."

"And when'll that be?" inquired his friend, in a calmer voice.

"Any time," said the boarding-master, shrugging his shoulders.  "The old
gentleman might go out to-night, or again 'e might live on for a week or
more.  'E was so weak 'e couldn't 'ardly sign 'is name."

"I 'ope 'e 'as signed it all right," said Mr. Kybird, starting.

"Safe as 'ouses," said his friend.

"Well, why not wait till Teddy 'as got the money?" suggested Mrs. Kybird,
with a knowing shake of her head.

"Becos," said Mr. Smith, in a grating voice, "be-cos for one thing 'e'd
be a rich man then and could 'ave 'is pick.  Teddy Silk on a pound or
thereabouts a week and Teddy Silk with ten thousand pounds 'ud be two
different people.  Besides that 'e'd think she was marrying 'im for 'is
money."

"If 'e thought that," said Mrs. Kybird, firmly, "I'd never forgive 'im."

"My advice to you," said Nathan Smith, shaking his forefinger
impressively, "is to get 'em married on the quiet and as soon as
possible.  Once they're tied up Teddy can't 'elp 'imself."

"Why on the quiet?" demanded Mr. Kybird, sharply.

The boarding-master uttered an impatient exclamation.  "Becos if Mr.
Swann got to 'ear of it he'd guess I'd been blabbing, for one thing," he
said, sharply, "and for another, 'e left it to 'im partly to make up for
'is disappointment--he'd been disappointed 'imself in 'is younger days,
so 'e told me."

"Suppose 'e managed to get enough strength to alter 'is will?"

Mr. Kybird shivered.  "It takes time to get married, though," he
objected.

"Yes," said Mr. Smith, ironically, "it does.  Get round young Teddy, and
then put the banns up.  Take your time about it, and be sure and let Mr.
Swann know.  D'ye think 'e wouldn't understand wot it meant, and spoil
it, to say nothing of Teddy seeing through it?

"Well, wot's to be done, then?" inquired the staring Mr. Kybird.

"Send 'em up to London and 'ave 'em married by special license," said Mr.
Smith, speaking rapidly--"to-morrow, if possible; if not, the day after.
Go and pitch a tale to Teddy to-night, and make 'im understand it's to be
done on the strict q.t."

"Special licenses cost money," said Mr. Kybird.  "I 'ave 'eard it's a
matter o' thirty pounds or thereabouts."

Mr. Nathan Smith rose, and his eyes were almost expressive.  He nodded
good-night to the ladies and crossed to the door.  Mrs. Kybird suddenly
seized him by the coat and held him.

[Illustration: "Mrs. Kybird suddenly seized him by the coat."]

"Don't be in a 'urry, Nat," she pleaded.  "We ain't all as clever as you
are."

"Talk about looking a gift-'orse in the mouth--" began the indignant Mr.
Smith.

"Sit down," urged Mr. Kybird.  "You can't expect us to be as quick in
seeing things as wot you are."

He pushed his partly mollified friend into his chair again, and taking a
seat next him began to view the affair with enthusiasm.  "'Melia shall
turn young Nugent off to-night," he said, firmly.

"That's right," said the other; "go and do a few more silly things like
that and we shall be 'appy.  If you'd got a 'ead instead of wot you 'ave
got, you wouldn't talk of giving the show away like that.  Nobody must
know or guess about anything until young Teddy is married to 'Melia and
got the money."

"It seems something like deceitfulness," said Miss Kybird, who had been
listening to the plans for her future with admirable composure.

"It's for Teddy's own sake," said Nathan Smith.  "Everybody knows 'e's
half crazy after you."

"I don't know that I don't like 'im best, even without the money," said
Miss Kybird, calmly.  "Nobody could 'ave been more attentive than 'im.
I believe that 'e'd marry me if 'e 'ad a hundred thousand, but it looks
better your way."

"Better all round," said Nathan Smith, with at approving nod.  "Now,
Dan'l, 'op round to Teddy and whistle 'im back, and mind 'e's to keep it
a dead secret on account o' trouble with young Nugent.  D'ye twig?"

The admiring Mr. Kybird said that he was a wonder, and, in the discussion
on ways and means which followed, sat listening with growing respect to
the managing abilities both of his friend and his wife.  Difficulties
were only mentioned for the purpose of being satisfactorily solved, and
he noticed with keen appreciation that the prospect of a ten thousand
pound son-in-law was already adding to that lady's dignity.  She sniffed
haughtily as she spoke of "that Nugent lot"; and the manner in which she
promised Mr. Smith that he should not lose by his services would have
graced a duchess.

"I didn't expect to lose by it," said the boarding-master, pointedly.
"Come over and 'ave a glass at the Chequers, Dan, and then you can go
along and see Teddy."



CHAPTER XXIII

The summer evening was well advanced when Mr. Kybird and his old friend
parted.  The former gentleman was in almost a sentimental mood, and the
boarding-master, satisfied that his pupil was in a particularly
appropriate frame of mind for the object of his visit, renewed his
instructions about binding Mr. Silk to secrecy, and departed on business
of his own.

[Illustration: "Mr. Kybird and his old friend parted."]

Mr. Kybird walked slowly towards Fullalove Alley with his head sunk in
meditation.  He was anxious to find Mr. Silk alone, as otherwise the
difficulty of his errand would be considerably increased, Mrs. Silk's
intelligence being by no means obscured by any ungovernable affection for
the Kybird family.  If she was at home she would have to invent some
pretext for luring Teddy into the privacy of the open air.

The lamp was lit in the front room by the time he reached the house, and
the shadows of geraniums which had won through several winters formed a
straggling pattern on the holland blind.  Mr. Kybird, first making an
unsuccessful attempt to peep round the edges of this decoration, tapped
gently on the door, and in response to a command to "Come in," turned the
handle and looked into the room.  To his relief, he saw that Mr. Silk was
alone.

"Good evening, Teddy," he said, with a genial smile, as he entered slowly
and closed the door behind him.  "I 'ope I see you well?"

"I'm quite well," returned Mr. Silk, gazing at him with unconcealed
surprise.

"I'm glad to 'ear it," said Mr. Kybird, in a somewhat reproachful voice,
"for your sake; for every-body's sake, though, p'r'aps, I did expect to
find you looking a little bit down.  Ah! it's the wimmen that 'ave the
'arts after all."

Mr. Silk coughed.  "What d'ye mean?" he inquired, somewhat puzzled.

"I came to see you, Teddy, on a very delikit business," said Mr. Kybird,
taking a seat and gazing diffidently at his hat as he swung it between
his hands; "though, as man to man, I'm on'y doing of my dooty.  But if
you don't want to 'ear wot I've got to say, say so, and Dan'l Kybird'll
darken your door no more."

"How can I know whether I want to 'ear it or not when I don't know wot it
is?" said Mr. Silk, judiciously.

Mr. Kybird sat biting his thumb-nail, then he looked up suddenly.
"'Melia," he said, with an outburst of desperate frankness, "'Melia is
crying 'er eyes out."

Mr. Silk, with a smothered exclamation, started up from his chair and
regarded him eagerly.

"If she knew I'd been 'ere," pursued Mr. Kybird, "she'd  I don't know wot
she wouldn't do.  That's 'er pride; but I've got my pride too; the pride
of a father's 'art."

"What--what's she crying about?" inquired Mr. Silk, in an unsteady voice.

"She's been looking poorly for some time," continued the veracious Mr.
Kybird, "and crying.  When I tell you that part o' the wedding-dress wot
she was making 'ad to be taken away from 'er because o' the tears she
dropped on it, you may 'ave some idea of wot things are like.  She's
never forgot you, Teddy, and it was on'y your quick temper that day that
made 'er take on with young Nugent.  She's got a temper, too, but she
give 'er love once, and, being my daughter, she couldn't give it agin."

He stole a glance at his listener.  Mr. Silk, very pale and upright, was
standing on the hearthrug, shaking all over with nervous excitement.
Twice he tried to speak and failed.

"That's 'ow it is, Teddy," sighed Mr. Kybird, rising as though to depart.
"I've done my dooty.  It was a 'ard thing to do, but I've done it."

"Do you mean," said Mr. Silk, recovering his voice at last, "do you mean
that Amelia would marry me after all?"

"Do I mean?" repeated Mr. Kybird, naturally indignant that his very
plain speaking should be deemed capable of any misconstruction.  "Am I
speaking to a stock or a stone, Teddy?"

Mr. Silk took a deep breath, and buttoned up his coat, as though
preparing to meet Mr. Nugent there and then in deadly encounter for the
person of Miss Kybird.  The colour was back in his cheeks by this time,
and his eyes were unusually bright.  He took a step towards Mr. Kybird
and, pressing his hand warmly, pushed him back into his seat again.

"There's 'er pride to consider, Teddy," said the latter gentleman, with
the whisper of a conspirator.

"She can't stand being talked about all over the town and pointed at."

"Let me see anybody a-pointing at 'er," said the truculent Mr. Silk; "let
me see 'em, that's all."

"That's the way to talk, Teddy," said Mr. Kybird, gazing at him with
admiration.

"Talk!" said the heroic Mr. Silk.  "I'll do more than talk."  He clenched
his fists and paced boldly up and down the hearthrug.

"You leave things to me," said Mr. Kybird, with a confidential wink.
"I'll see that it's all right.  All I ask of you is to keep it a dead
secret; even your mother mustn't know."

"I'll be as secret as the grave," said the overjoyed Mr. Silk.

"There's lots o' things to be taken into consideration," said Mr. Kybird,
truthfully; "it might be as well for you to be married immediate."

"Immediate?" said the astonished Mr. Silk.

"She 'asn't got the nerve to send young Nugent about 'is business,"
explained Mr. Kybird; "she feels sorry for 'im, pore fellow; but 'e's got
a loving and affectionate 'art, and she can't bear 'im making love to
'er.  You can understand what it is, can't you?"

"I can imagine it," said Mr. Silk, gloomily, and he flushed crimson as the
possibilities suggested by the remark occurred to him.

"I've been thinking it over for some time," resumed Mr. Kybird; "twisting
it and turning it all ways, and the only thing I can see for it is for
you to be married on the strict q.t.  Of course, if you don't like--"

"Like!"  repeated the transported Mr. Silk.

"I'll go and be married now, if you like."

Mr. Kybird shook his head at such haste, and then softening a little
observed that it did him credit.  He proceeded to improve the occasion by
anecdotes of his own courting some thirty years before, and was in the
middle of a thrilling account of the manner in which he had bearded the
whose of his future wife's family, when a quick step outside, which
paused at the door, brought him to a sudden halt.

"Mother," announced Mr. Silk, in a whisper.

Mr. Kybird nodded, and the heroic appearance of visage which had
accompanied his tale gave way to an expression of some uneasiness.  He
coughed behind his hand, and sat gazing before him as Mrs. Silk entered
the room and gave vent to an exclamation of astonishment as she saw the
visitor.  She gazed sharply from him to her son.  Mr. Kybird's expression
was now normal, but despite his utmost efforts Mr. Silk could not
entirely banish the smile which trembled on his lips.

"Me and Teddy," said Mr. Kybird, turning to her with a little bob, which
served him for a bow, "'ave just been having a little talk about old
times."

"He was just passing," said Mr. Silk.

"Just passing, and thought I'd look in," said Mr. Kybird, with a careless
little laugh; "the door was open a bit."

"Wide open," corroborated Mr. Silk.

"So I just came in to say ''Ow d'ye do?'" said Mr. Kybird.

Mrs. Silk's sharp, white face turned from one to the other.  "Ave you
said it?" she inquired, blandly.

"I 'ave," said Mr. Kybird, restraining Mr. Silk's evident intention of
hot speech by a warning glance; "and now I'll just toddle off 'ome."

"I'll go a bit o' the way with you," said Edward Silk.  "I feel as if a
bit of a walk would do me good."

Left alone, the astonished Mrs. Silk took the visitor's vacated chair
and, with wrinkled brow, sat putting two and two together until the sum
got beyond her powers of calculation.  Mr. Kybird's affability and
Teddy's cheerfulness were alike incomprehensible.  She mended a hole in
her pocket and darned a pair of socks, and at last, anxious for advice,
or at least a confidant, resolved to see Mr. Wilks.

She opened the door and looked across the alley, and saw with some
satisfaction that his blind was illuminated.  She closed the door behind
her sharply, and then stood gasping on the doorstep.  So simultaneous
were the two happenings that it actually appeared as though the closing
of the door had blown Mr. Wilks's lamp out.  It was a night of surprises,
but after a moment's hesitation she stepped over and tried his door.  It
was fast, and there was no answer to her knuckling.  She knocked louder
and listened.  A door slammed violently at the back of the house, a
distant clatter of what sounded like saucepans came from beyond, and
above it all a tremulous but harsh voice bellowed industriously through
an interminable chant.  By the time the third verse was reached Mr.
Wilks's neighbours on both sides were beating madly upon their walls and
blood-curdling threats strained through the plaster.

She stayed no longer, but regaining her own door sat down again to await
the return of her son.  Mr. Silk was long in coming, and she tried in
vain to occupy herself with various small jobs as she speculated in vain
on the meaning of the events of the night.  She got up and stood by the
open door, and as she waited the clock in the church-tower, which rose
over the roofs hard by, slowly boomed out the hour of eleven.  As the
echoes of the last stroke died away the figure of Mr. Silk turned into
the alley.

"You must 'ave 'ad quite a nice walk," said his mother, as she drew back
into the room and noted the brightness of his eye.

"Yes," was the reply.

"I s'pose 'e's been and asked you to the wedding?" said the sarcastic
Mrs. Silk.

Her son started and, turning his back on her, wound up the clock.  "Yes,
'e has," he said, with a sly grin.

Mrs. Silk's eyes snapped.  "Well, of all the impudence," she said,
breathlessly.

"Well, 'e has," said her son, hugging himself over the joke.  "And,
what's more, I'm going."

He composed his face sufficiently to bid her "good-night," and, turning
a deaf ear to her remonstrances and inquiries, took up a candle and were
off whistling.

[Illustration: "He took up his candle and went off whistling."]



CHAPTER XXIV

The idea in the mind of Mr. James Hardy when he concocted his infamous
plot was that Jack Nugent would be summarily dismissed on some pretext by
Miss Kybird, and that steps would at once be taken by her family to
publish her banns together with those of Mr. Silk.  In thinking thus he
had made no allowance for the workings and fears of such a capable mind
as Nathan Smith's, and as days passed and nothing happened he became a
prey to despair.

He watched Mr. Silk keenly, but that gentleman went about his work in his
usual quiet and gloomy fashion, and, after a day's leave for the purpose
of arranging the affairs of a sick aunt in Camberwell, came back only a
little less gloomy than before.  It was also clear that Mr. Swann's
complaisance was nearly at an end, and a letter, couched in vigorous, not
to say regrettable, terms for a moribund man, expressed such a desire for
fresh air and exercise that Hardy was prepared to see him at any moment.

It was the more unfortunate as he thought that he had of late detected
a slight softening in Captain Nugent's manner towards him.  On two
occasions the captain, who was out when he called, had made no comment
to find upon his return that the visitor was being entertained by his
daughter, going so far, indeed, as to permit the conversation to gain
vastly in interest by that young person remaining in the room.  In face
of this improvement he thought with dismay of having to confess failure
in a scheme which apart from success was inexcusable.

The captain had also unbent in another direction, and Mr. Wilks, to his
great satisfaction, was allowed to renew his visits to Equator Lodge and
assist his old master in the garden.  Here at least the steward was safe
from the designs of Mrs. Silk and the innuendoes of Fullalove Alley.

It was at this time, too, that the widow stood in most need of his
advice, the behaviour of Edward Silk being of a nature to cause
misgivings in any mother's heart.  A strange restlessness possessed him,
varied with occasional outbursts of hilarity and good nature.  Dark hints
emanated from him at these times concerning a surprise in store for her
at no distant date, hints which were at once explained away in a most
unsatisfactory manner when she became too pressing in her inquiries.  He
haunted the High Street, and when the suspicious Mrs. Silk spoke of
Amelia he only laughed and waxed humorous over such unlikely subjects as
broken hearts and broken vows.

It was a week after Mr. Kybird's visit to the alley that he went, as
usual, for a stroll up and down the High Street.  The evening was
deepening, and some of the shops had already lit up, as Mr. Silk, with
his face against the window-pane, tried in vain to penetrate the
obscurity of Mr. Kybird's shop.  He could just make out a dim figure
behind the counter, which he believed to be Amelia, when a match was
struck and a gas jet threw a sudden light in the shop and revealed Mr.
Jack Nugent standing behind the counter with his hand on the lady's
shoulder.

[Illustration: "He could just make out a dim figure behind the counter."]

One glance was sufficient.  The next moment there was a sharp cry from
Miss Kybird and a bewildered stare from Nugent as something, only
comparable to a human cracker, bounced into the shop and commenced to
explode before them.

"Take your 'and off," raved Mr. Silk.  "Leave 'er alone.  'Ow dare you?
D'ye hear me?  'Melia, I won't 'ave it!  I won't 'ave it!"

"Don't be silly, Teddy," remonstrated Mr. Nugent, following up Miss
Kybird, as she edged away from him.

"Leave 'er alone, d'ye 'ear?" yelled Mr. Silk, thumping the counter with
his small fist.  "She's my _wife!_"

"Teddy's mad," said Mr. Nugent, calmly, "stark, staring, raving mad.
Poor Teddy."


He shook his head sadly, and had just begun to recommend a few remedies
when the parlour door opened and the figure of Mr. Kybird, with his wife
standing close behind him, appeared in the doorway.

"Who's making all this noise?"  demanded the former, looking from one to
the other.

"I am," said Mr. Silk, fiercely.  "It's no use your winking at me; I'm
not going to 'ave any more of this nonsense.  'Melia, you go and get your
'at on and come straight off 'ome with me."

Mr. Kybird gave a warning cough.  "Go easy, Teddy," he murmured.

"And don't you cough at me," said the irritated Mr. Silk, "because it
won't do no good."

Mr. Kybird subsided.  He was not going to quarrel with a son-in-law who
might at any moment be worth ten thousand pounds.

"Isn't he mad?" inquired the amazed Mr. Nugent.

"Cert'nly not," replied Mr. Kybird, moving aside to let his daughter
pass; "no madder than you are.  Wot d'ye mean, mad?"

Mr. Nugent looked round in perplexity.  "Do you mean to tell me that
Teddy and Amelia are married?" he said, in a voice trembling with
eagerness.

"I do," said Mr. Kybird.  "It seems they've been fond of one another all
along, and they went up all unbeknown last Friday and got a license and
got married."

"And if I see you putting your 'and on 'er shoulder ag'in" said Mr. Silk,
with alarming vagueness.

"But suppose she asks me to?" said the delighted Mr. Nugent, with much
gravity.

[Illustration: "'But suppose she asks me to?' said the delighted
Mr. Nugent, with much gravity."]

"Look 'ere, we don't want none o' your non-sense," broke in the irate
Mrs. Kybird, pushing her way past her husband and confronting the
speaker.

"I've been deceived," said Mr. Nugent in a thrilling voice; "you've all
been deceiving me.  Kybird, I blush for you (that will save you a lot of
trouble).  Teddy, I wouldn't have believed it of you.  I can't stay here;
my heart is broken."

"Well we don't want you to," retorted the aggressive Mrs. Kybird.  "You
can take yourself off as soon as ever you like.  You can't be too quick
to please me."

Mr. Nugent bowed and walked past the counter.  "And not even a bit of
wedding-cake for me," he said, shaking a reproachful head at the heated
Mr. Silk.  "Why, I'd put you down first on my list."

He paused at the door, and after a brief intimation that he would send
for his effects on the following day, provided that his broken heart had
not proved fatal in the meantime, waved his hand to the company and
departed.  Mr. Kybird followed him to the door as though to see him off
the premises, and gazing after the receding figure swelled with
indignation as he noticed that he favoured a mode of progression which
was something between a walk and a hornpipe.

Mr. Nugent had not been in such spirits since his return to Sunwich, and,
hardly able to believe in his good fortune, he walked on in a state of
growing excitement until he was clear of the town.  Then he stopped to
consider his next move, and after a little deliberation resolved to pay a
visit to Jem Hardy and acquaint him with the joyful tidings.

That gentleman, however, was out, and Mr. Nugent, somewhat irritated at
such thoughtlessness, stood in the road wondering where to go next.  It
was absolutely impossible for him to sleep that night without telling the
good news to somebody, and after some thought he selected Mr. Wilks.  It
was true that relations had been somewhat strained between them since the
latter's attempt at crimping him, but he was never one to bear malice,
and to-night he was full of the kindliest thoughts to all mankind.

He burst into Mr. Wilks's front room suddenly and then pulled up short.
The steward, with a pitiable look of anxiety on his pallid features, was
leaning awkwardly against the mantelpiece, and opposite him Mrs. Silk sat
in an easy-chair, dissolved in tears.

"Busy, Sam?" inquired Mr. Nugent, who had heard of the steward's
difficulties from Hardy.

"No, sir," said Mr. Wilks, hastily; "sit down, sir."

He pushed forward a chair and, almost pulling his visitor into it, stood
over him attentively and took his hat.

"Are you quite sure I'm not interrupting you?" inquired the thoughtful
Mr. Nugent.

"Certain sure, sir," said Mr. Wilks, eagerly.  "I was just 'aving a bit
of a chat with my neighbour, Mrs. Silk, 'ere, that's all."

The lady in question removed her handkerchief from her eyes and gazed at
him with reproachful tenderness.  Mr. Wilks plunged hastily into
conversation.

"She came over 'ere to tell me a bit o' news," he said, eyeing the young
man doubtfully.  "It seems that Teddy----"

Mr. Nugent fetched a mighty sigh and shook his head; Mrs. Silk gazed at
him earnestly.

"Life is full of surprises, sir," she remarked.

"And sadness," added Mr. Nugent.  "I hope that they will be happy."

"It struck me all of a 'eap," said Mrs. Silk, rolling her handkerchief
into a ball and placing it in her lap.  "I was doing a bit of ironing
when in walks Teddy with Amelia Kybird, and says they was married last
Friday.  I was that shaken I didn't know what I did or what I said.  Then
I came over as soon as I could, because I thought Mr. Wilks ought to know
about it."

Mr. Wilks cleared his throat and turned an agonized eye on Mr. Nugent.
He would have liked to have asked why Mrs. Silk should think it necessary
to inform him, but the fear of precipitating a crisis stayed his tongue.

"What I'm to do, I don't know," continued Mrs. Silk, feebly.  "You can't
'ave two queens in one 'ouse, so to speak."

"But she was walking out with Teddy long ago," urged Mr. Wilks.  "It's no
worse now than then."

"But I wouldn't be married by license," said Mrs. Silk, deftly ignoring
the remark.  "If I can't be asked in church in the proper way I won't be
married at all."

"Quite right," said Mr. Nugent; "there's something so sudden about a
license," he added, with feeling.

"Me and Mr. Wilks was talking about marriage only the other day," pursued
Mrs. Silk, with a bashfulness which set every nerve in the steward's body
quivering, "and we both agreed that banns was the proper way.

"You was talking about it," corrected Mr. Wilks, in a hoarse voice.  "You
brought up the subject and I agreed with you--not that it matters to me
'ow people get married.  That's their affair.  Banns or license, it's all
one to me."

"I won't be married by license," said Mrs. Silk, with sudden petulance;
"leastways, I'd rather not be," she added, softening.

Mr. Wilks took his handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose
violently.  Mrs. Silk's methods of attack left him little opportunity for
the plain speaking which was necessary to dispel illusions.  He turned a
watery, appealing eye on to Mr. Nugent, and saw to his surprise that that
gentleman was winking at him with great significance and persistence.  It
would have needed a heart of stone to have been unaffected by such
misery, and to-night Mr. Nugent, thankful for his own escape, was in a
singularly merciful mood.

"All this sounds as though you are going to be married," he said, turning
to Mrs. Silk with a polite smile.

The widow simpered and looked down, thereby affording Mr. Nugent an
opportunity of another signal to the perturbed steward, who sat with such
a look of anxiety on his face lest he should miss his cue that the young
man's composure was tried to the utmost.

"It's been a understood thing for a long time," she said, slowly, "but I
couldn't leave my son while 'e was single and nobody to look after 'im.
A good mother makes a good wife, so they say.  A woman can't always 'ave
'er own way in everything, and if it's not to be by banns, then by
license it must be, I suppose."

"Well, he'll be a fortunate man, whoever he is," said Mr. Nugent, with
another warning glance at Mr. Wilks; "and I only hope that he'll make a
better husband than you do, Sam," he added, in a low but severe voice.

Mrs. Silk gave a violent start.  "Better husband than 'e does?"  she
cried, sharply.  "Mr. Wilks ain't married."

Mr. Nugent's baseless charge took the steward all aback.  He stiffened in
his chair, a picture of consternation, and guilt appeared stamped on
every feature; but he had the presence of mind to look to Mr. Nugent's
eye for guidance and sufficient strength of character to accept this last
bid for liberty.

"That's my business, sir," he quavered, in offended tones.

"But you ain't _married?_" screamed Mrs. Silk.

"Never mind," said Nugent, pacifically.  "Perhaps I ought not to have
mentioned it; it's a sore subject with Sam.  And I daresay there were
faults on both sides.  Weren't there, Sam?"

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Wilks, in a voice which he strove hard to make
distinct; "especially 'ers."

"You--you never told me you were married," said Mrs. Silk, breathlessly.

"I never said I wasn't," retorted the culprit, defiantly.  "If people
liked to think I was a single man, I don't care; it's got nothing to do
with them.  Besides, she lives at Stepney, and I don't 'ear from 'er once
in six months; she don't interfere with me and I don't interfere with
her."

Mrs. Silk got up from her chair and stood confronting him with her hand
grasping the back of it.  Her cold eyes gleamed and her face worked with
spite as she tried in vain to catch his eye.  Of Mr. Nugent and his
ingenuous surprise at her behaviour she took no notice at all.

"You're a deceiver," she gasped; "you've been behaving like a single man
and everybody thought you was a single man."

[Illustration: "'You're a deceiver,' she gasped."]

"I hope you haven't been paying attentions to anybody, Sam," said Mr.
Nugent in a shocked voice.

"A-ah," said Mrs. Silk, shivering with anger.  "Ask 'im; the deceiving
villain.  Ask anybody, and see what they'll tell you.  Oh, you wicked
man, I wonder you can look me in the face!"

Truth to tell, Mr. Wilks was looking in any direction but hers.  His eyes
met Nugent's, but there was a look of such stern disdain on that
gentleman's face that he was fain to look away again.

"Was it a friend of yours?" inquired the artless Mr. Nugent.

"Never mind," said Mrs. Silk, recovering herself.  "Never mind who it
was.  You wait till I go and tell Teddy," she continued, turning to the
trembling Mr. Wilks.  "If 'e's got the 'art of a man in 'im you'll see."

With this dire threat, and turning occasionally to bestow another fierce
glance upon the steward, she walked to the door and, opening it to its
full extent, closed it behind her with a crash and darted across the
alley to her own house.  The two men gazed at each other without
speaking, and then Mr. Wilks, stepping over to the door, turned the key
in the lock.

"You're not afraid of Teddy?" said the staring Nugent.

"Teddy!" said Mr. Wilks, snapping his huge fingers.  "I'm not afraid o'
fifty Teddies; but she might come back with 'im.  If it 'adn't ha' been
for you, sir, I don't know wot wouldn't 'ave happened."

"Go and draw some beer and get me a clean pipe," said Nugent, dropping
into a chair.  "We've both been mercifully preserved, Sam, and the best
thing we can do is to drink to our noble selves and be more careful for
the future."

Mr. Wilks obeyed, and again thanking him warmly for his invaluable
services sat down to compile a few facts about his newly acquired wife,
warranted to stand the severest cross-examination which might be brought
to bear upon them, a task interspersed with malicious reminiscences of
Mrs. Silk's attacks on his liberty.  He also insisted on giving up his
bed to Nugent for the night.

"I suppose," he said later on, as Mr. Nugent, after a faint objection or
two, took his candle--"I suppose this yarn about my being married will
get about?"

"I suppose so," said Nugent, yawning, as he paused with his foot on the
stair.  "What about it?"

"Nothing," said Mr. Wilks, in a somewhat dissatisfied voice.  "Nothing."

"What about it?" repeated Mr. Nugent, sternly.

"Nothing, sir," said Mr. Wilks, with an insufferable simper.  "Nothing,
only it'll make things a little hit slow for me, that's all."

Mr. Nugent eyed him for a space in speechless amazement, and then, with a
few strong remarks on ingratitude and senile vanity, mounted the winding
little stairs and went to bed.



CHAPTER XXV

The day after Mr. Silk's sudden and unexpected assertion of his marital
rights Mr. Kybird stood in the doorway of his shop, basking in the sun.
The High Street was in a state of post-prandial repose, and there was no
likelihood of a customer to interfere with his confidential chat with Mr.
Nathan Smith, who was listening with an aspect of great severity to his
explanations.

"It ought not to 'ave happened," he said, sharply.  "It was Teddy done
it," said Mr. Kybird, humbly.

[Illustration: "'It was Teddy done it,' said Mr. Kybird, humbly."]

Mr. Smith shrugged his shoulders.  "It wouldn't 'ave happened if I'd been
there," he observed, arrogantly.

"I don't see 'ow" began Mr. Kybird.

"No, o' course you don't," said his friend.  "Still, it's no use making a
fuss now.  The thing is done.  One thing is, I don't suppose it'll make
any diff----"

"Difference," suggested Mr. Kybird, after waiting for him to finish.

"Difference," said Mr. Smith, with an obvious effort.  His face had lost
its scornful expression and given way to one almost sheepish in its
mildness.  Mr. Kybird, staring at him in some surprise, even thought that
he detected a faint shade of pink.

"We ain't all as clever as wot you are, Nat," he said, somewhat taken
aback at this phenomenon.  "It wouldn't do."

Mr. Smith made a strange noise in his throat and turned on him sharply.
Mr. Kybird, still staring in surprise at his unwonted behaviour, drew
back a little, and then his lips parted and his eyes grew round as he saw
the cause of his friend's concern.  An elderly gentleman with a neatly
trimmed white beard and a yellow rose in his button-hole was just passing
on the other side of the road.  His tread was elastic, his figure as
upright as a boy's, and he swung a light cane in his hand as he walked.
As Mr. Kybird gazed he bestowed a brisk nod upon the bewildered Mr.
Smith, and crossed the road with the evident intention of speaking to
him.

"How do, Smith?" he said, in a kindly voice.

The boarding-master leaned against the shop-window and regarded him
dumbly.  There was a twinkle in the shipbroker's eyes which irritated him
almost beyond endurance, and in the doorway Mr. Kybird--his face mottled
with the intensity of his emotions--stood an unwelcome and frantic
witness of his shame.

"You're not well, Smith?" said Mr. Swann, shaking his head at him gently.
"You look like a man who has been doing too much brain-work lately.
You've been getting the better of some-body, I know."

Mr. Smith gasped and, eyeing him wickedly, strove hard to recover his
self-possession.

"I'm all right, sir," he said, in a thin voice.  "I'm glad to see you're
looking a trifle better, sir."

"Oh, I'm quite right, now," said the other, with a genial smile at the
fermenting Mr. Kybird.  "I'm as well as ever I was.  Illness is a serious
thing, Smith, but it is not without its little amusements."

Mr. Smith, scratching his smooth-shaven chin and staring blankly in front
of him, said that he was glad to hear it.

"I've had a long bout of it," continued the ship-broker, "longer than I
intended at first.  By the way, Smith, you've never spoken to anybody of
that business, of course?"

"Of course not, sir," said the boarding-master, grinding his teeth.

"One has fancies when one is ill," said Mr. Swann, in low tones, as his
eye dwelt with pleasure on the strained features of Mr. Kybird.  "I burnt
the document five minutes after you had gone."

"Did you, reely?" said Mr. Smith, mechanically.

"I'm glad it was only you and the doctor that saw my foolishness,"
continued the other, still in a low voice.  "Other people might have
talked, but I knew that you were a reliable man, Smith.  And you won't
talk about it in the future, I'm quite certain of that.  Good afternoon."

Mr. Smith managed to say, "Good afternoon," and stood watching the
receding figure as though it belonged to a species hitherto unknown to
him.  Then he turned, in obedience to a passionate tug at his coat sleeve
from Mr. Kybird.

"Wot 'ave you got to say for yourself?" demanded that injured person, in
tones of suppressed passion.  "Wot do you mean by it?  You've made a
pretty mess of it with your cleverness."

"Wonderful old gentleman, ain't he?" said the discomfited Mr. Smith.
"Fancy 'im getting the better o' me.  Fancy me being 'ad.  I took it all
in as innercent as you please."

"Ah, you're a clever fellow, you are," said Mr. Kybird, bitterly.
"'Ere's Amelia lost young Nugent and 'is five 'undred all through you.
It's a got-up thing between old Swann and the Nugent lot, that's wot it
is."

"Looks like it," admitted Mr. Smith; "but fancy 'is picking me out for
'is games.  That's wot gets over me."

"Wot about all that money I paid for the license?"  demanded Mr. Kybird,
in a threatening manner.  "Wot are you going to do about it?"

"You shall 'ave it," said the boarding-master, with sudden blandness,
"and 'Melia shall 'ave 'er five 'undred."

"'Ow?" inquired the other, staring.

"It's as easy as easy," said Mr. Smith, who had been greatly galled by
his friend's manner.  "I'll leave it in my will.  That's the cheapest way
o' giving money I know of.  And while I'm about it I'll leave you a
decent pair o' trousers and a shirt with your own name on it."

While an ancient friendship was thus being dissolved, Mr. Adolphus Swann
was on the way to his office.  He could never remember such a pleasant
air from the water and such a vivid enjoyment in the sight of the
workaday world.  He gazed with delight at the crowd of miscellaneous
shipping in the harbour and the bustling figures on the quay, only
pausing occasionally to answer anxious inquiries concerning his health
from seafaring men in tarry trousers, who had waylaid him with great
pains from a distance.

He reached his office at last, and, having acknowledged the respectful
greetings of Mr. Silk, passed into the private room, and celebrated his
return to work by at once arranging with his partner for a substantial
rise in the wages of that useful individual.

"My conscience is troubling me," he declared, as he hung up his hat and
gazed round the room with much relish.

"Silk is happy enough," said Hardy.  "It is the best thing that could
have happened to him."

"I should like to raise everybody's wages," said the benevolent Mr.
Swann, as he seated himself at his desk.  "Everything is like a holiday
to me after being cooped up in that bedroom; but the rest has done me a
lot of good, so Blaikie says.  And now what is going to happen to you?"

[Illustration: "Pausing occasionally to answer anxious inquiries."]

Hardy shook his head.

"Strike while the iron is hot," said the ship-broker.  "Go and see
Captain Nugent before he has got used to the situation.  And you can give
him to understand, if you like (only be careful how you do it), that I
have got something in view which may suit his son.  If you fail in this
affair after all I've done for you, I'll enter the lists myself."

The advice was good, but unnecessary, Mr. Hardy having already fixed on
that evening as a suitable opportunity to disclose to the captain the
nature of the efforts he had been making on his behalf.  The success
which had attended them had put him into a highly optimistic mood, and he
set off for Equator Lodge with the confident feeling that he had, to say
the least of it, improved his footing there.

Captain Nugent, called away from his labours in the garden, greeted his
visitor in his customary short manner as he entered the room.  "If you've
come to tell me about this marriage, I've heard of it," he said, bluntly.
"Murchison told me this afternoon."

"He didn't tell you how it was brought about, I suppose?" said Hardy.

The captain shook his head.  "I didn't ask him," he said, with affected
indifference, and sat gazing out at the window as Hardy began his
narration.  Two or three times he thought he saw signs of appreciation in
his listener's face, but the mouth under the heavy moustache was firm and
the eyes steady.  Only when he related Swann's interview with Nathan
Smith and Kybird did the captain's features relax.  He gave a chuckling
cough and, feeling for his handkerchief, blew his nose violently.  Then,
with a strange gleam in his eye, he turned to the young man opposite.

"Very smart," he said, shortly.

"It was successful," said the other, modestly.

"Very," said the captain, as he rose and confronted him.  "I am much
obliged, of course, for the trouble you have taken in the affairs of my
family.  And now I will remind you of our agreement."

"Agreement?" repeated the other.

The captain nodded.  "Your visits to me were to cease when this marriage
happened, if I wished it," he said, slowly.

"That was the arrangement," said the dumb-founded Hardy, "but I had
hoped----.  Besides, it has all taken place much sooner than I had
anticipated."

"That was the bargain," said the captain, stiffly.  "And now I'll bid you
good-day."

"I am sorry that my presence should be so distasteful to you," said the
mortified Hardy.

"Distasteful, sir?" said the captain, sternly.  "You have forced yourself
on me for twice a week for some time past.  You have insisted upon
talking on every subject under the sun, whether I liked it or not.  You
have taken every opportunity of evading my wishes that you should not see
my daughter, and you wonder that I object to you.  For absolute
brazenness you beat anything I have ever encountered."

"I am sorry," said Hardy, again.

"Good evening," said the captain

"Good evening."

Crestfallen and angry Hardy moved to the door, pausing with his hand on
it as the captain spoke again.

"One word more," said the older man, gazing at him oddly as he stroked
his grey beard; "if ever you try to come bothering me with your talk
again I'll forbid you the house."

"Forbid me the house?" repeated the astonished Hardy.

"That's what I said," replied the other; "that's plain English, isn't
it?"

Hardy looked at him in bewilderment; then, as the captain's meaning
dawned upon him, he stepped forward impulsively and, seizing his hand,
began to stammer out incoherent thanks.

"You'd better clear before I alter my mind," said Captain Nugent,
roughly.  "I've had more than enough of you.  Try the garden, if you
like."

He took up a paper from the table and resumed his seat, not without
a grim smile at the promptitude with which the other obeyed his
instructions.

Miss Nugent, reclining in a deck-chair at the bottom of the garden,
looked up as she heard Hardy's footstep on the gravel.  It was a
surprising thing to see him walking down the garden; it was still more
surprising to observe the brightness of his eye and the easy confidence
of his bearing.  It was evident that he was highly pleased with himself,
and she was not satisfied until she had ascertained the reason.  Then she
sat silent, reflecting bitterly on the clumsy frankness of the male sex
in general and fathers in particular.  A recent conversation with the
captain, in which she had put in a casual word or two in Hardy's favour,
was suddenly invested with a new significance.

"I shall never be able to repay your father for his kindness," said
Hardy, meaningly, as he took a chair near her.

"I expect he was pleased at this marriage," said Miss Nugent, coldly.
"How did it happen?"

Mr. Hardy shifted uneasily in his chair.  "There isn't much to tell," he
said, reluctantly; "and you--you might not approve of the means by which
the end was gained."

"Still, I want to hear about it," said Miss Nugent.

For the second time that evening Hardy told his story.  It seemed more
discreditable each time he told it, and he scanned the girl's face
anxiously as he proceeded, but, like her father, she sat still and made
no comment until he had finished.  Then she expressed a strong feeling of
gratitude that the Nugent family had not been mixed up in it.

"Why?" inquired Hardy, bluntly.

"I don't think it was a very nice thing to do," said Miss Nugent, with a
superior air.

"It wouldn't have been a very nice thing for you if your brother had
married Miss Kybird," said the indignant Jem.  "And you said, if you
remember, that you didn't mind what I did."

"I don't," said Miss Nugent, noticing with pleasure that the confident
air of a few minutes ago had quite disappeared.

"You think I have been behaving badly?" pursued Hardy.

"I would rather not say what I think," replied Miss Nugent, loftily.
"I have no doubt you meant well, and I should be sorry to hurt your
feelings."

"Thank you," said Hardy, and sat gloomily gazing about him.  For some
time neither of them spoke.

"Where is Jack now?" inquired the girl, at last.  "He is staying with me
for a few days," said Hardy.  "I sincerely hope that the association will
not be injurious to him."

"Are you trying to be rude to me?" inquired Miss Nugent, raising her
clear eyes to his.

"I am sorry," said Hardy, hastily.  "You are quite right, of course.  It
was not a nice thing to do, but I would do a thousand times worse to
please you."

Miss Nugent thanked him warmly; he seemed to understand her so well, she
said.

"I mean," said Hardy, leaning forward and speaking with a vehemence which
made the girl instinctively avert her head--"I mean that to please you
would be the greatest happiness I could know.  I love you."

Miss Nugent sat silent, and a strong sense of the monstrous unfairness of
such a sudden attack possessed her.  Such a declaration she felt ought to
have been led up to by numerous delicate gradations of speech, each a
little more daring than the last, but none so daring that they could not
have been checked at any time by the exercise of a little firmness.

"If you would do anything to please me," she said at length in a low
voice, and without turning her head, "would you promise never to try and
see me or speak to me again if I asked you?"

"No," said Hardy, promptly.

Miss Nugent sat silent again.  She knew that a good woman should be sorry
for a man in such extremity, and should endeavour to spare his feelings
by softening her refusal as much as possible, little as he might deserve
such consideration.  But man is impatient and jumps at conclusions.
Before she was half-way through the first sentence he leaned forward and
took her hand.

"Oh, good-bye," she said, turning to him, with a pleasant smile.

"I am not going," said Hardy, quietly; "I am never going," he added, as
he took her other hand.


Captain Nugent, anxious for his supper, found them there still debating
the point some two hours later.  Kate Nugent, relieved at the appearance
of her natural protector, clung to him with unusual warmth.  Then, in a
kindly, hospitable fashion, she placed her other arm in that of Hardy,
and they walked in grave silence to the house.

[Illustration: "She placed her other arm in that of Hardy."]


THE END





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