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´╗┐Title: At Sunwich Port, Part 1. - Contents: Chapters 1-5
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, Part 1. - Contents: Chapters 1-5" ***

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AT SUNWICH PORT

BY

W. W. JACOBS


Part 1.



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.





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