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Title: Salthaven
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 "Salthaven" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                              *SALTHAVEN*

                                  _By_

                              W. W. JACOBS


                                  1908

                                  ————



CONTENTS


    ILLUSTRATIONS
    CHAPTER I
    CHAPTER II
    CHAPTER III
    CHAPTER IV
    CHAPTER V
    CHAPTER VI
    CHAPTER VII
    CHAPTER VIII
    CHAPTER IX
    CHAPTER X
    CHAPTER XI
    CHAPTER XII
    CHAPTER XIII
    CHAPTER XIV
    CHAPTER XV
    CHAPTER XVI
    CHAPTER XVII
    CHAPTER XVIII
    CHAPTER XIX
    CHAPTER XX
    CHAPTER XXI
    CHAPTER XXII
    CHAPTER XXIII
    CHAPTER XXIV
    CHAPTER XXV
    CHAPTER XXVI

                                  ————



ILLUSTRATIONS


    I Thought I Heard a Man’s Voice
    The Office Boy Caught the Junior Partner
    Best and Prettiest Girl in Salthaven
    It Was a Comfortable Position
    Immersed in a Bundle of Papers
    A Fine Show of Indignation
    Were Regulating Their Pace by Hers
    Nothing Loath, Gave a Tug
    Presented Him With the Bananas
    Proceeded With Almost Equal Care to Assist Her Mother
    Mrs. Willett and Mrs. Chinnery Confronted Each Other
    She Placed It Between his Lips With a Little Jab
    To Bassett, the Best of Boys
    I’m Choking
    No Wonder I Thought You Was a Lady
    I Came to Ask Your Advice
    Holding a Handkerchief to his Bleeding Face
    I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With You
    She Said, ’Nonsense’ he Replied, Softly
    He Leaned Back in his Chair
    I Heard You Come In, he Said, in a Stealthy Whisper
    Think I’m the Most Forgetful Man in Salthaven
    I’ve Got to Go, Too, Said the Captain
    She Seated Herself on a Pile of Timber
    I Don’t Like Leaving Him Here
    Corner of the Bank Of England
    Mind, I Haven’t Promised
    Cut Short in his Expressions of Pleasure
    C-ck! he Said, Waggishly
    She Drew the Ring from Her Finger
    It’s to Make You Leave off Loving Me
    Time! Cried Captain Sellers
    Don’t You Think Captain Trimblett is Lucky
    Snatching his Hat from Its Peg
    You Look Very Nice, Dear
    You Can Have a Little Drop Yourself
    Marvellous Piece of Jugglery
    Don’t Go, he Said, Hastily
    Wedged Under a Dressing-table
    Brought the Curtains Down With Him
    Waved Herself off the Fence on to The Stones
    His Cigar Fell Unheeded to the Floor
    An Enormous Fist Held Just Beneath his Nose



CHAPTER I



MR. JOHN VYNER, ship-owner, pushed his chair back from his writing-table
and gazed with kindly condescension at the chief clerk as he stood
before it with a handful of papers.

"We shall be able to relieve you of some of your work soon, Hartley," he
said, slowly. "Mr. Robert will come into the firm next week." The chief
clerk bowed.

"Three years at Cambridge," resumed Mr. Vyner, meditatively, "and two
years spent up and down the world studying the business methods of other
nations ought to render him invaluable to us."

"No doubt, sir," said Hartley. "It is an excellent training."

"For a time," said the ship-owner, leaning back and placing the tips of
his fingers together, "for a time I am afraid that he will have to have
your room. Later on—ha—if a room should—ha—fall vacant in the building,
we might consider taking it."

"Yes, sir," said the other.

"And, of course," resumed Mr. Vyner, "there is one great advantage in
your being in the general office which must not be overlooked; you can
keep an eye on the juniors better."

"It is cheerful, too, sir," suggested the chief clerk; "the only thing—"

"Yes?" said Mr. Vyner, somewhat loudly.

Mr. Hartley shrank a little. "I was going to say that it is rather a
small room for Mr. Robert," he said, quickly.

"It will do for a time," said the other.

"And—and I think I told you, sir, that there is an unpleasant sm—odour."

Mr. Vyner knitted his brows. "I offered to have that seen to, but you
said that you didn’t mind it," he remarked.

"Just so, sir," said Hartley; "but I was thinking of Mr. Robert. He
might not like it; it’s very strong at times—very strong indeed."

"You ought to have had it attended to before," said Mr. Vyner, with some
severity. "You had better call at Gillows’ on your way home and ask them
to send a man up first thing to-morrow morning."

He drew his chair to the table again, and Hartley, after lingering a
moment, withdrew to his own room.

Ten out of his thirty-five years of service had been passed there, and
he stifled a sigh as he looked at the neat array of drawers and
pigeon-holes, the window overlooking the bridge and harbour, and the
stationer’s almanac which hung over the fireplace. The japanned
letter-rack and the gum-bottle on the small mantelpiece were old
friends.

The day’s work completed, he walked home in sober thought. It was a
pleasant afternoon in May, but he was too preoccupied to pay any heed to
the weather, and, after informing a man who stopped him to tell him that
he had lost a wife, six children, and a right leg, that it was just five
minutes past six, resumed his way with a hazy idea of having been useful
to a fellow-creature.

He brightened a little as he left the bustle of the town behind, and
from sheer force of habit glanced at the trim front-gardens as he
passed. The cloud lifted still more as he reached his own garden and
mentally compared his flowers with those he had just passed.

His daughter was out, and tea for one was laid in the front room. He
drew his chair to the table, and taking up the tea-pot, which the maid
had just brought in, poured himself out a cup of tea.

He looked round the comfortable room with pleasure. After all, nobody
could take that from him. He stirred his tea and had just raised the cup
to his lips when he set it down untasted and sat staring blankly before
him. A low rumble of voices from the kitchen fell unpleasantly on his
ear; and his daughter Joan had left instructions too specific to be
misunderstood as to his behaviour in the event of Rosa entertaining male
company during her absence. He coughed twice, loudly, and was glad to
note the disappearance of the rumble. Pleased with his success he
coughed a third time, a sonorous cough charged with importance. A
whispered rumble, possibly a suggestion of withdrawal, came from the
kitchen.

"Only his tea gone the wrong way," he heard, reassuringly, from Rosa.

The rumble, thus encouraged, deepened again. It became confident and was
heard to laugh. Mr. Hartley rose and, standing on the hearthrug with
legs apart, resolved to play the man. He leaned over and rang the bell.
The voices stopped. Then he heard Rosa say, "Not him! you stay where you
are."

She came slowly in response to the bell, and thrusting a yellow head in
at the door gazed at him inquiringly.

"I—I want a little more hot water," said her master, mildly.

"More?" repeated Rosa. "Why, I brought you over a pint."

"I want some more," said Mr. Hartley. Then a bright thought struck him.
"I am expecting Miss Joan home every minute," he added, significantly.

Rosa tossed her head. "She ain’t coming home till nine," she remarked,
"so if it’s only for her you want the hot water, you won’t want it."

"I—I thought I heard a man’s voice," he said at last.

"Very good," said her master, with an attempt at dignity; "you can go."

Rosa went, whistling. Mr. Hartley, feeling that he had done all that
could be expected of a man, sat down and resumed his tea. The rumbling
from the kitchen, as though in an endeavour to make up for lost time,
became continuous. It also became louder and more hilarious. Pale and
determined Mr. Hartley rose a second time and, seizing the bell-pull,
rang violently.

"Does anybody want to see me?" he inquired, as Rosa’s head appeared.

"You? No," was the reply.

"I thought," said her master, gazing steadily at the window, "I thought
somebody was inquiring for me."

"Well, there hasn’t been," said Rosa.

Mr. Hartley, with a magisterial knitting of the brows, which had
occasionally been found effective with junior clerks, affected to
ponder.

"I—I thought I heard a man’s voice," he said at last.

"Nobody’s been inquiring for you," said Rosa calmly. "If they did I
should come in and let you know. Nobody’s been for you that I’ve heard
of, and I don’t see how they could come without me knowing it."

"Just so," said Mr. Hartley. "Just so."

He turned to the mantelpiece for his tobacco-jar, and Rosa, after
standing for some time at the "ready" with a hostile stare, cleared her
throat noisily and withdrew. The voices in the kitchen broke out with
renewed vehemence; Mr. Hartley coughed again—a cough lacking in
spirit—and, going out at the front door, passed through the
side-entrance to the garden and tended his plants with his back to the
kitchen window.

Hard at work at the healthful pastime of weeding, his troubles slipped
from him. The path became littered with little tufts of grass, and he
Was just considering the possibility of outflanking the birch-broom,
which had taken up an advantageous position by the kitchen window, when
a young man came down the side-entrance and greeted him with respectful
enthusiasm.

"I brought you these," he said, opening a brown leather bag and
extracting a few dried roots. "I saw an advertisement. I forget the name
of them, but they have beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers. They are free
growers, and grow yards and yards the first year."

"And miles and miles the second," said Mr. Hartley, regarding them with
extraordinary ferocity. "Bindweed is the name, and once get it in your
garden and you’ll never get rid of it."

"That wasn’t the name in the advertisement," said the other, dubiously.

"I don’t suppose it was," said Hartley. "You’ve got a lot to learn in
gardening yet, Saunders."

"Yes, sir," said the other; "I’ve got a good teacher, though."

Mr. Hartley almost blushed. "And how is your garden getting on?" he
inquired.

"It’s—it’s getting on," said Mr. Saunders, vaguely.

"I must come and have a look at it," said Hartley.

"Not yet," said the young man, hastily. "Not yet. I shouldn’t like you
to see it just yet. Is Miss Hartley well?"

Mr. Hartley said she was, and, in an abstracted fashion, led the way
down the garden to where an enormous patch of land—or so it seemed to
Mr. Saunders—awaited digging. The latter removed his coat and, hanging
it with great care on an apple tree, turned back his cuffs and seized
the fork.

"It’s grand exercise," said Mr. Hartley, after watching him for some
time.

"Grand," said Mr. Saunders, briefly.

"As a young man I couldn’t dig enough," continued the other, "but
nowadays it gives me a crick in the back."

"Always?" inquired Mr. Saunders, with a slight huskiness.

"Always," said Mr. Hartley. "But I never do it now; Joan won’t let me."

Mr. Saunders sighed at the name and resumed his digging. "Miss Hartley
out?" he asked presently, in a casual voice.

"Yes; she won’t be home till late," said the other. "We can have a fine
evening’s work free of interruptions. I’ll go and get on with my
weeding."

He moved off and resumed his task; Mr. Saunders, with a suppressed
groan, went on with his digging. The ground got harder and harder and
his back seemed almost at breaking-point. At intervals he had what
gardeners term a "straight-up," and with his face turned toward the
house listened intently for any sounds that might indicate the return of
its mistress.

"Half-past eight," said Hartley at last; "time to knock off. I’ve put a
few small plants in your bag for you; better put them in in the morning
before you start off."

Mr. Saunders thanked him, and reaching down his coat put it on and
followed Mr. Hartley to the house. The latter, steering him round by the
side-entrance, accompanied him to the front gate.

"If you would like to borrow my roller or lawn-mower at any time," he
said, cordially, "I should be very pleased to lend them to you. It isn’t
very far."

Mr. Saunders, who would sooner have died than have been seen dragging a
roller through the streets, thanked him warmly. With an idea of
prolonging his stay, he suggested looking at them.

"They’re locked up now," said Mr. Hartley. "See them another time.
Good-night."

"Good-night," said Mr. Saunders. "I’ll look in to-morrow evening, if I
may."

"No use to-morrow," Mr. Hartley called after him; "there will be nobody
at home but Joan."



CHAPTER II



MR. ROBERT VYNER entered upon his new duties with enthusiasm. The second
day he was at the office half an hour before anybody else; on the third
day the staff competed among themselves for the honour of arriving
first, and greeted him as respectfully as their feelings would permit
when he strolled in at a quarter to eleven. The arrival of the senior
partner on the day following at a phenomenally early hour, for the sake
of setting an example to the junior, filled them with despair. Their
spirits did not revive until Mr. John had given up the task as
inconvenient and useless.

A slight fillip was given to Robert’s waning enthusiasm by the arrival
of new furniture for his room. A large mahogany writing-table, full of
drawers and pigeon-holes, gave him a pleasant sense of importance, and
the revolving chair which went with it afforded a welcome relief to a
young and ardent nature. Twice the office-boy had caught the junior
partner, with his legs tucked up to avoid collisions, whirling wildly
around, and had waited respectfully at the door for the conclusion of
the performance.

"It goes a bit stiff, Bassett," said the junior partner.

"Yessir," said Bassett.

"I’m trying to ease it a bit," explained Mr. Robert.

"Yessir," said Bassett again.

Mr. Robert regarded him closely. An undersized boy in spectacles, with a
large head and an air of gravity and old age on his young features,
which the junior thought somewhat ill-placed for such an occasion.

"I suppose you never twizzle round on your chair, Bassett?" he said,
slowly.

Bassett shivered at the idea. "No, sir," he said, solemnly; "I’ve got my
work to do."

Mr. Robert sought for other explanations. "And, of course, you have a
stool," he remarked; "you couldn’t swing round on that."

"Not even if I wanted to, sir," said the unbending Bassett.

Mr. Robert nodded, and taking some papers from his table held them
before his face and surveyed the youth over the top. Bassett stood
patiently to attention.

"That’s all right," said the other; "thank you."

"Thank you, sir," said Bassett, turning to the door.

"By the way," said Mr. Robert, eying him curiously as he turned the
handle, "what exercise do you take?"

"Exercise, sir?" said Bassett.

Mr. Robert nodded. "What do you do of an evening for amusement after the
arduous toils of the day are past? Marbles?"

"No, sir," said the outraged one. "If I have any time to spare I amuse
myself with a little shorthand."

"Amuse!" exclaimed the other. He threw himself back in his chair and,
sternly checking its inclination to twirl again, sought for a flaw in
the armour of this paragon. "And what else do you do in the way of
recreation?"

"I’ve got a vivarium, sir."

Mr. Robert hesitated, but curiosity got the better of his dignity.
"What’s that?" he inquired.

"A thing I keep frogs and toads in, sir," was the reply.

Mr. Robert, staring hard at him, did his honest best to check the next
question, but it came despite himself. "Are you—are you married,
Bassett?" he inquired.

Bassett regarded him calmly. "No, sir," he said, with perfect gravity.
"I live at home with my mother."

The junior partner gave him a nod of dismissal, and for some time sat
gazing round the somewhat severely furnished office, wondering with some
uneasiness what effect such surroundings might have on a noble but
impressionable temperament. He brought round a few sketches the next day
to brighten the walls, and replated the gum-bottle and other useful
ornaments by some German beer-mugs.

Even with these aids to industry he found the confinement of office
somewhat irksome, and, taking a broad view of his duties, gradually
relieved Bassett of his errands to the docks. It was necessary, he told
himself, to get a thorough grasp of the whole business of ship-owning.
In the stokeholds of Vyner and Son’s’ steamships he talked learnedly on
coal with the firemen, and, quite unaided, hit on several schemes for
the saving of coal—all admirable except for the fact: that several knots
per hour would be lost.

"The thing is to take an all-round view," he said to Captain. Trimblett,
of the SS. Indian Chief, as he strolled back with that elderly mariner
from the ship to the office one day.

"That’s it, sir," said the captain.

"Don’t waste, and, at the same time, don’t pinch," continued Mr. Robert,
oracularly.

"That’s business in a nutshell," commented the captain. "Don’t spoil the
ship for a ha’porth of tar, and, on the other hand, don’t get leaving
the tar about for other people to sit on."

"But you got it off," said Robert, flushing. "You told me you had."

"As far as tar ever can be got off," asserted the captain, gloomily.
"Yes. Why I put my best trousers on this morning," he continued, in a
tone of vague wonder, "I’m sure I don’t know. It was meant to be, I
suppose; it’s all for some wise purpose: that we don’t know of."

"Wise fiddlesticks!" exclaimed Robert, shortly—"Your particular brand of
fatalism is the most extraordinary nonsense I ever heard of. What it
means: is that thousands of years ago, or millions, perhaps, was decided
that I should be born on purpose to tar your blessed trousers."

"That and other things," said the immovable captain. "It’s all laid down
for us, everything we do, and we can’t help doing it. When I put on
those trousers this morning—"

"Oh, hang your trousers," said Robert. "You said it didn’t matter, and
you’ve been talking about nothing else ever since."

"I won’t say another word about it," said the captain. "I remember the
last pair I had done; a pair o’ white ducks. My steward it was; one o’
those silly, fat-headed, staring-eyed, garping—"

"Go on," said the other, grimly.

"Nice, bright young fellows," concluded the captain, hastily; "he got on
very well, I believe."

"After he left you, I suppose?" said Mr. Vyner, smoothly.

"Yes," said the innocent captain. He caught a glance of the other’s face
and ruminated. "After I had broken him of his silly habits," he added.

He walked along smiling, and, raising his cap with a flourish, beamed in
a fatherly manner on a girl who was just passing. Robert replaced his
hat and glanced over his left shoulder.

"Who is that?" he inquired. "I saw her the other day; her face seems
familiar to me."

"Joan Hartley," replied the captain. "Nathaniel Hartley’s daughter. To
my mind, the best and prettiest girl in Salthaven."

"Eh?" said the other, staring. "Hartley’s daughter? Why, I should have
thought—"

The best and prettiest girl in Salthaven

"Yes, sir?" said Captain Trimblett, after a pause.

"Nothing," concluded Robert, lamely. "She doesn’t look like it; that’s
all."

"She’s got his nose," maintained the captain, with the obstinate air of
a man prepared to go to the stake for his opinions. "Like as two peas
their noses are; you’d know them for father and daughter anywhere by
that alone."

Mr. Vyner assented absently. He was wondering where the daughter of the
chief clerk got her high looks from.

"Very clever girl," continued the captain. "She got a scholarship and
went to college, and then, when her poor mother died, Hartley was so
lonely that she gave it all up and came home to keep house for him."

"Quite a blue-stocking," suggested Robert.

"There’s nothing of the blue-stocking about her," said the captain,
warmly. "In fact, I shouldn’t be surprised if she became engaged soon."

Mr. Vyner became interested. "Oh!" he said, with an instinctive glance
over his left shoulder.

Captain Trimblett nodded sagely. "Young fellow of the name of Saunders,"
he said slowly.

"Oh!" said the other again.

"You might have seen him at Wilson’s, the ship-broker’s," pursued the
captain. "Bert Saunders his name is. Rather a dressy youngster, perhaps.
Generally wears a pink shirt and a very high stand-up collar—one o’
those collars that you have to get used to."

Mr. Vyner nodded.

"He’s not good enough for her," said the captain, shaking his head. "But
then, nobody is. Looked at that way it’s all right."

"You seem to take a great interest in it," said Robert.

"He came to me with his troubles," said Captain Trimblett, bunching up
his gray beard in his hand reflectively. "Leastways, he made a remark or
two which I took up. Acting under my advice he is taking up gardening."

Mr. Vyner glanced at him in mystification.

"Hartley is a great gardener," explained the other with a satisfied
smile. "What is the result? He can go there when he likes, so to speak.
No awkwardness or anything of that sort. He can turn up there bold as
brass to borrow a trowel, and take three or four hours doing it."

"You’re a danger to society," said Robert, shaking his head.

"People ought to marry while they’re young," said the captain. "If they
don’t, like as not they’re crazy to marry in their old age. There’s my
landlord here at Tranquil Vale, fifty-two next birthday, and over his
ears in love. He has got it about as bad as a man can have it."

"And the lady?" inquired Robert.

"She’s all right," said the captain. He lowered his voice
confidentially. "It’s Peter’s sister, that’s the trouble. He’s afraid to
let her know. All we can do is to drop a little hint here and a little
hint there, so as to prepare her for the news when it’s broken to her."

"Is she married?" inquired Robert, pausing as they reached the office.

"No," said Captain Trimblett; "widow."

Mr. Vyner gave a low whistle. "When do you sail, cap’n?" he inquired, in
a voice oily with solicitude.

"Soon as my engine-room repairs are finished, I suppose," said the
other, staring.

"And you—you are giving her hints about courtship and marriage?"
inquired Mr. Vyner, in tones of carefully-modulated surprise.

"She’s a sensible woman," said the captain, reddening, "and she’s no
more likely to marry again than I am."

"Just what I was thinking," said Mr. Vyner.

He shook his head, and, apparently deep in thought, turned and walked
slowly up the stairs. He was pleased to notice as he reached the first
landing that the captain was still standing where he had left him,
staring up the stairs.



CHAPTER III



IN a somewhat ruffled state of mind Captain Trimblett pursued his way
toward Tranquil Vale, a. row of neat cottages situated about a mile and
a half from the town, and inhabited principally by retired mariners. The
gardens, which ran down to the river, boasted a particularly fine strain
of flag-staffs; battered figure-heads in swan-like attitudes lent a
pleasing touch of colour, and old boats sawn in halves made convenient
arbours in which to sit and watch the passing pageant of the sea.

At No. 5 the captain paused to pass a perfectly dry boot over a scraper
of huge dimensions which guarded the entrance, and, opening the door,
finished off on the mat. Mrs. Susanna Chinnery, who was setting tea,
looked up at his entrance, and then looked at the clock.

"Kettle’s just on the boil," she remarked.

"Your kettle always is," said the captain, taking a chair—"when it’s
time for it to be, I mean," he added, hastily, as Mrs. Chinnery showed
signs of correcting him.

"It’s as easy to be punctual as otherwise," said Mrs. Chinnery; "easier,
if people did but know it."

"So it is," murmured the captain, and sat gazing, with a sudden wooden
expression, at a picture opposite of the eruption of Vesuvius.

"Peter’s late again," said Mrs. Chinnery, in tones of hopeless
resignation.

"Business, perhaps," suggested Captain Trimblett, still intent on
Vesuvius.

"For years and years you could have set the clock by him," continued
Mrs. Chinnery, bustling out to the kitchen and bustling back again with
the kettle; "now I never know when to expect him. He was late
yesterday."

Captain Trimblett cleared his throat. "He saw a man nearly run over," he
reminded her.

"Yes; but how long would that take him?" retorted Mrs. Chinnery. "If the
man had been run over I could have understood it."

The captain murmured something about shock.

"On Friday he was thirty-three minutes late," continued the other.

"Friday," said the faithful captain. "Friday he stopped to listen to a
man playing the bagpipes—a Scotchman."

"That was Thursday," said Mrs. Chinnery.

The captain affected to ponder. "So it was," he said, heartily. "What a
memory you have got! Of course, Friday he walked back to the office for
his pipe."

"Well, we won’t wait for him," said Mrs. Chinnery, taking the head of
the table and making the tea. "If he can’t come in to time he must put
up with his tea being cold. That’s the way we were brought up."

"A very good way, too," said the captain. He put a radish into his mouth
and, munching slowly, fell to gazing at Vesuvius again. It was not until
he had passed his cup up for the second time that a short, red-faced man
came quickly into the room and, taking a chair from its place against
the wall, brought it to the table and took a seat opposite the captain.

"Late again, Peter," said his sister.

"Been listening to a man playing the cornet," said Mr. Truefitt,
briefly.

Captain Trimblett, taking the largest radish he could find, pushed it
into his mouth and sat gazing at him in consternation. He had used up
two musical instruments in less than a week.

"You’re getting fond of music in your old age," said Mrs. Chinnery,
tartly. "But you always are late nowadays. When it isn’t music it’s
something else. What’s come over you lately I can’t think."

Mr. Truefitt cleared his throat for speech, and then, thinking better of
it, helped himself to some bread and butter and went on with his meal.
His eyes met those of Captain Trimblett and then wandered away to the
window. The captain sprang into the breach.

"He wants a wife to keep him in order," he said, with a boldness that
took Mr. Truefitt’s breath away.

"Wife!" exclaimed Mrs. Chinnery. "Peter!"

She put down her cup and laughed—a laugh so free from disquietude that
Mr. Truefitt groaned in spirit.

"He’ll go off one of these days." said the captain with affected
joviality. "You see if he don’t."

Mrs. Chinnery laughed again. "He’s a born bachelor," she declared. "Why,
he’d sooner walk a mile out of his way any day than meet a woman. He’s
been like it ever since he was a boy. When I was a girl and brought
friends of mine home to tea, Peter would sit like a stuffed dummy and
never say a word."

"I’ve known older bachelors than him to get married," said the captain.
"I’ve known ’em down with it as sudden as heart disease. In a way, it is
heart disease, I suppose."

"Peter’s heart’s all right," said Mrs. Chinnery.

"He might drop down any moment," declared the captain.

Mr. Truefitt, painfully conscious of their regards, passed his cup up
for some more tea and made a noble effort to appear amused, as the
captain cited instance after instance of confirmed bachelors being led
to the altar.

"I broke the ice for you to-day," he said, as they sat after tea in the
little summer-house at the bottom of the garden, smoking.

Mr. Truefitt’s gaze wandered across the river. "Yes," he said, slowly,
"yes."

"I was surprised at myself," said the captain.

"I was surprised at you," said Mr. Truefitt, with some energy. "So far
as I can see, you made it worse."

The captain started. "I did it for the best, my lad," he said,
reproachfully. "She has got to know some day. You can’t be made late by
cornets and bagpipes every day."

Mr. Truefitt rumpled his short gray hair. "You see, I promised her," he
said, suddenly.

"I know," said the captain, nodding. "And now you’ve promised Miss
Willett."

"When they brought him home dead," said Mr. Truefitt, blowing out a
cloud of smoke, "she was just twenty-five. Pretty she was then, cap’n,
as pretty a maid as you’d wish to see. As long as I live, Susanna, and
have a home, you shall share it’; that’s what I said to her."

The captain nodded again.

"And she’s kept house for me for twenty-five years," continued Mr.
Truefitt; "and the surprising thing to me is the way the years have
gone. I didn’t realize it until I found an old photograph of hers the
other day taken when she was twenty. Men don’t change much."

The captain looked at him—at the close-clipped gray whiskers, the bluish
lips, and the wrinkles round the eyes. "No," he said, stoutly. "But she
could live with you just the same."

The other shook his head. "Susanna would never stand another woman in
the house," he said, slowly. "She would go out and earn her own living;
that’s her pride. And she wouldn’t take anything from me. It’s turning
her out of house and home."

"She’d be turning herself out," said the captain.

"Of course, there is the chance she might marry again," said the other,
slowly. "She’s had several chances, but she refused ’em all."

"From what she said one day," said the captain, "I got the idea that she
has kept from marrying all these years for your sake."

Mr. Truefitt put his pipe down on the table and stared blankly before
him. "That’s the worst of it," he said, forlornly; "but something will
have to be done. I’ve been engaged three weeks now, and every time I
spend a few minutes with Cecilia—Miss Willett—I have to tell a lie about
it."

"You do it very well," said his friend. "Very well indeed."

"And Susanna regards me as the most truthful man that ever breathed,"
continued Mr. Truefitt.

"You’ve got a truthful look about you," said the captain. "If I didn’t
know you so well I should have thought the same."

Unconscious of Mr. Truefitt’s regards he rose and, leaning his arm on
the fence at the bottom of the garden, watched the river.

"Miss Willett thinks she might marry again," said Mr. Truefitt, picking
up his pipe and joining him. "She’d make an excellent wife for
anybody—anybody."

The captain assented with a nod.

"Nobody could have a better wife," said Mr. Truefitt.

The captain, who was watching an outward-bound barque, nodded again,
absently.

"She’s affectionate," pursued Mr. Truefitt, "a wonderful housekeeper, a
good conversationalist, a good cook, always punctual, always at home,
always—"

The captain, surprised at a fluency so unusual, turned and eyed him in
surprise. Mr. Truefitt broke off abruptly, and, somewhat red in the
face, expressed his fear that the barque would take the mud if she were
not careful. Captain Trimblett agreed and, to his friend’s relief,
turned his back on him to watch her more closely. It was a comfortable
position, with his arms on the fence, and he retained it until Mr.
Truefitt had returned to the summer-house.



CHAPTER IV



MR. ROBERT VYNER had been busy all the afternoon, and the clock still
indicated fifteen minutes short of the time at which he had intended to
leave. He leaned back in his chair, and, yielding to the slight rotatory
movement of that active piece of furniture, indulged in the first twirl
for three days. Bassett or no Bassett, it was exhilarating, and, having
gone to the limit in one direction, he obtained impetus by a clutch at
the table and whirled back again. A smothered exclamation from the door
arrested his attention, and putting on the break with some suddenness he
found himself looking into the pretty, astonished eyes of Joan Hartley.

"I beg your pardon," she said, in confusion. "I thought it was my
father."

"It—it got stuck," said Mr. Vyner, springing up and regarding the chair
with great disfavour. "I was trying to loosen it. I shall have to send
it back, I’m afraid; it’s badly made. There’s no cabinet-making
nowadays."

Miss Hartley retreated to the doorway.

"I am sorry; I expected to find my father here," she said. "It used to
be his room."

"Yes, it was his room," said the young man. "If you will come in and sit
down I will send for him."

"It doesn’t matter, thank you," said Joan, still standing by the door.
"If you will tell me where his room is now, I will go to him."

"He—he is in the general office," said Robert Vyner, slowly.

Miss Hartley bit her lip and her eyes grew sombre.

"Don’t go," said Mr. Vyner, eagerly. "I’ll go and fetch him. He is
expecting you."

"Expecting me?" said the girl. "Why, he didn’t know I was coming."

"Perhaps I misunderstood him," murmured Mr. Vyner. "Pressure of
business," he said, vaguely, indicating a pile of papers on his table.
"Hardly know what people do say to me."

He pushed a comfortable easy-chair to the window, and the girl, after a
moment’s hesitation, seated herself and became interested in the life
outside. Robert Vyner, resuming his seat, leaned back and gazed at her
in frank admiration.

"Nice view down the harbour, isn’t it?" he said, after a long pause.

Miss Hartley agreed—and sat admiring it.

"Salthaven is a pretty place altogether, I think," continued Robert. "I
was quite glad to come back to it. I like the town and I like the
people. Except for holidays I haven’t been in the place since I was
ten."

Miss Hartley, feeling that some comment was expected, said, "Indeed!"

"You have lived here all your life, I suppose?" said the persevering
Robert.

"Practically," said Miss Hartley.

Mr. Vyner stole a look at her as she sat sideways by the window.
Conscience and his visitor’s manner told him that he ought to go for her
father; personal inclination told him that there was no hurry. For the
first time in his experience the office became most desirable place in
the world. He wanted to sit still and look at her, and for some time,
despite her restlessness, obeyed his inclinations. She turned at last to
ask for her father, and in the fraction of a second he was immersed in a
bundle of papers. Knitted brows and pursed lips testified to his
absorption. He seized a pen and made an endorsement; looked at it with
his head on one side and struck it out again.

"My father?" said Miss Hartley, in a small but determined voice.

Mr. Vyner gazed at her in a preoccupied fashion. Suddenly his face
changed.

"Good gracious! yes," he said, springing up and going to the door. "How
stupid of me!"

He stepped into the corridor and stood reflecting. In some circumstances
he could be business-like enough. After reflecting for three minutes he
came back into the room.

"He will be in soon," he said, resuming his seat. Inwardly he resolved
to go and fetch him later on—when the conversation flagged, for
instance. Meantime he took up his papers and shook his head over them.

"I wish I had got your father’s head for business," he said, ruefully.

Miss Hartley turned on him a face from which all primness had vanished.
The corners of her mouth broke and her eyes grew soft. She smiled at Mr.
Vyner, and Mr. Vyner, pluming himself upon his address, smiled back.

"If I knew half as much as he does," he continued, "I’d—I’d——"

Miss Hartley waited, her eyes bright with expectation.

"I’d," repeated Mr. Vyner, who had rashly embarked on a sentence before
he had seen the end of it, "have a jolly easy time of it," he concluded,
breathlessly.

Miss Hartley surveyed him in pained surprise. "I thought my father
worked very hard," she said, with a little reproach in her voice.

"So he does," said the young man, hastily, "but he wouldn’t if he only
had my work to do; that’s what I meant. As far as he is concerned he
works far too hard. He sets an example that is a trouble to all of us
except the office-boy. Do you know Bassett?"

Miss Hartley smiled. "My father tells me he is a very good boy," she
said.

"A treasure!" said Robert. "’Good’ doesn’t describe Bassett. He is the
sort of boy who would get off a ’bus after paying his fare to kick a
piece of orange peel off the pavement. He has been nourished on
copy-book headings and ’Sanford and Merton.’ Ever read ’Sanford and
Merton’?"

"I—I tried to once," said Joan.

"There was no ’trying’ with Bassett," said Mr. Vyner, rather severely.
"He took to it as a duck takes to water. By modelling his life on its
teaching he won a silver medal for never missing an attendance at
school."

"Father has seen it," said Joan, with a smile.

"Even the measles failed to stop him," continued Robert. "Day by day, a
little more flushed than usual, perhaps, he sat in his accustomed place
until the whole school was down with it and had to be closed in
consequence. Then, and not till then, did Bassett feel that he had saved
the situation."

"I don’t suppose he knew it, poor boy," said Joan.

"Anyway, he got the medal," said Robert, "and he has a row of prizes for
good conduct. I never had one; not even a little one. I suppose you had
a lot?"

Miss Hartley maintained a discreet silence.

"Nobody ever seemed to notice my good conduct," continued Mr. Vyner,
still bent on making conversation. "They always seemed to notice the
other kind fast enough; but the ’good’ seemed to escape them."

He sighed faintly, and glancing at the girl, who was looking out of the
window again, took up his pen and signed his blotting-paper.

"I suppose you know the view from that window pretty well?" he said,
putting the paper aside with great care.

"Ever since I was a small girl," said Joan, looking round. "I used to
come here sometimes and wait for father. Not so much lately; and now, of
course—"

Mr. Vyner looked uncomfortable. "I hope you will come to this room
whenever you want to see him," he said, earnestly. "He—he seemed to
prefer being in the general office."

Miss Hartley busied herself with the window again. "Seemed to prefer,"
she said, impatiently, under her breath. "Yes."

There was a long silence, which Mr. Vyner, gazing in mute consternation
at the vision of indignant prettiness by the window, felt quite unable
to break. He felt that the time had at last arrived at which he might
safely fetch Mr. Hartley without any self-upbraidings later on, and was
just about to rise when the faint tap at the door by which Bassett
always justified his entrance stopped him, and Bassett entered the room
with some cheques for signature. Despite his habits, the youth started
slightly as he saw the visitor, and then, placing the cheques before Mr.
Vyner, stood patiently by the table while he signed them.

"That will do," said the latter, as he finished. "Thank you."

"Thank you, sir," said Bassett. He gave a slow glance at the window,
and, arranging the cheques neatly, turned toward the door.

"Will Mr. Hartley be long?" inquired Joan, turning round.

"Mr. Hartley, miss?" said Bassett, pausing, with his hand on the knob.
"Mr. Hartley left half an hour ago."

Mr. Vyner, who felt the eyes of Miss Hartley fixed upon him, resisted by
a supreme effort the impulse to look at her in return.

"Bassett!" he said, sharply.

"Sir?" said the other.. "Didn’t you," said Mr. Vyner, with a fine and
growing note of indignation in his voice—"didn’t you tell Mr. Hartley
that Miss Hartley was here waiting for him?"

"No, sir," said Bassett, gazing at certain mysterious workings of the
junior partner’s face with undisguised amazement. "I—"

"Do you mean to tell me," demanded Mr. Vyner, looking at him with great
significance, "that you forgot?"

"No, sir," said Bassett; "I didn’t—"

"That will do," broke in Mr. Vyner, imperiously. "That will do. You can
go."

"But," said the amazed youth, "how could I tell—"

"That—will—do," said Mr. Vyner, very distinctly.

"I don’t want any excuses. You can go at once. And the next time you are
told to deliver a message, please don’t forget. Now go."

With a fine show of indignation he thrust the gasping Bassett from the
room.

He rose from his chair and, with a fine show of indignation, thrust the
gasping Bassett from the room, and then turned to face the girl.

"I am so sorry," he began. "That stupid boy—you see how stupid he is—"

"It doesn’t matter, thank you," said Joan. "It—it wasn’t very
important."

"He doesn’t usually forget things," murmured Mr. Vyner. "I wish now," he
added, truthfully, "that I had told Mr. Hartley myself."

He held the door open for her, and, still expressing his regret,
accompanied her down-stairs to the door. Miss Hartley, somewhat
embarrassed, and a prey to suspicions which maidenly modesty forbade her
to voice, listened in silence.

"Next time you come," said Mr. Vyner, pausing just outside the door, "I
hope—"

Something dropped between them, and fell with a little tinkling crash on
to the pavement. Mr. Vyner stooped, and, picking up a pair of clumsily
fashioned spectacles, looked swiftly up at the office window.

"Bassett," he said, involuntarily.

He stood looking at the girl, and trying in vain to think of something
to say. Miss Hartley, with somewhat more colour than usual, gave him a
little bow and hurried off.



CHAPTER V



SMILING despite herself as she thought over the events of the afternoon,
Joan Hartley walked thoughtfully homeward. Indignation at Mr. Vyner’s
presumption was mingled with regret that a young man of undeniably good
looks and somewhat engaging manners should stoop to deceit. The fact
that people are considered innocent until proved guilty did not concern
her. With scarcely any hesitation she summed up against him, the only
thing that troubled her being what sentence to inflict, and how to
inflict it. She wondered what excuse he could make for such behaviour,
and then blushed hotly as she thought of the one he would probably
advance. Confused at her own thoughts, she quickened her pace, in happy
ignorance of the fact that fifty yards behind her Captain Trimblett and
her father, who had witnessed with great surprise her leave-taking of
Mr. Vyner, were regulating their pace by hers.

"She’s a fine girl," said the captain, after a silence that had endured
long enough to be almost embarrassing. "A fine girl, but—"

He broke off, and completed his sentence by a shake of the head.

"She must have come for me," said Hartley, "and he happened to be
standing there and told her I had gone."

"No doubt," said the captain, dryly. "That’s why she went scurrying off
as though she had got a train to catch, and he stood there all that time
looking after her. And, besides, every time he sees me, in some odd
fashion your name crops up."

"My name?" said the other, in surprise.

"Your name," repeated the captain, firmly, "Same as Joan’s, ain’t it?
The after-part of it, anyway. That’s the attraction. Talk all round
you—and I talk all round you, too. Nobody’d dream you’d got a daughter
to hear the two of us talk—sometimes. Other times, if I bring her name
in, they’d think you’d got nothing else."

Mr. Hartley glanced at him uneasily. "Perhaps—" he began.

"There’s no ’perhaps’ about it," said the masterful captain. "If you’re
not very careful there’ll be trouble. You know what Mr. John is—he’s got
big ideas, and the youngster is as obstinate as a mule."

"It’s all very well," said Hartley, "but how can I be careful? What can
I do? Besides, I dare say you are making mountains of mole-heaps; she
probably hurried off thinking to catch me up."

Captain Trimblett gave a little dry cough. "Ask her," he said,
impressively.

"I’m not going to put any such ideas into her head," said his friend.

"Sound her, then," said the captain. "This is the way I look at it. We
all think he is a very nice fellow, don’t we?"

"He is," said Hartley, decidedly.

"And we all think she’s a splendid girl, don’t we?" continued the other.

"Something of the sort," said Hartley, smiling.

"There you are, then," said the captain, triumphantly. "What is more
likely than that they should think the same of each other? Besides, I
know what he thinks; I can read him like a book."

"You can’t read Joan, though," said the other. "Why, she often puzzles
me."

"I can try," said the captain. "I haven’t known her all these years for
nothing. Now, don’t tell her we saw her. You leave her to me—and
listen."

"Better leave her alone," said Hartley.

The captain, who was deep in thought, waved the suggestion aside. He
walked the remainder of the way in silence, and even after they were in
the house was so absorbed in his self-appointed task, and so vague in
his replies, that Joan, after offering him the proverbial penny for his
thoughts, suggested to her father in a loud whisper that he had got
something in mind.

"Thinking of the ships he has lost," she said, in a still louder
whisper.

The captain smiled and shook his head at her.

"Couldn’t lose a ship if I tried," he said, nudging Hartley to call his
attention to what was to follow. "I was saying so to Mr. Robert only
yesterday!"

His voice was so deliberate, and his manner so significant, that Miss
Hartley looked up in surprise. Then she coloured furiously as she saw
both gentlemen eying her with the air of physicians on the lookout for
unfavourable symptoms. Anger only deepened her colour, and an unladylike
and unfilial yearning to bang their two foolish heads together possessed
her. Explanations were impossible, and despite her annoyance she almost
smiled as she saw the concern in the eye the captain turned on her
father.

"Saying so only yesterday," repeated the former, "to Mr. Robert."

"I saw him this afternoon," said Joan, with forced composure. "I went up
to father’s room and found him there. Why didn’t you tell me you had
given up your room, father?"

Mr. Hartley pleaded in excuse that he thought he had told her, and was
surprised at the vehemence of her denial. With a slightly offended air
he pointed out that it was a very small matter after all.

"There is nothing to be annoyed about," he said.

"You went there to see me, and, not finding me there, came down again."

"Ye-es," said Joan, thoughtfully.

"Just put her head in at the door and fled," explained the captain,
still watching her closely.

Miss Hartley appeared not to have heard him.

"Came down three stairs at a time," he continued, with a poor attempt at
a chuckle.

"I was there about half an hour waiting for father," said Joan, eying
him very steadily. "I thought that he was in the other office. Is there
anything else I can tell you?"

The captain collapsed suddenly, and, turning a red face upon Hartley,
appealed to him mutely for succour.

"Me?" he spluttered, feebly. "I—I don’t want to know anything. Your
father thought—"

"I didn’t think anything," said Hartley, with some haste.

The captain eyed him reproachfully. "I thought your father thought—" he
began, and, drawing out a large handkerchief, blew his nose violently.

"Yes?" said Joan, still very erect.

"That is all," said the captain, with an air of dignity.

He brushed some imaginary atoms from his beard, and, finding the girl’s
gaze still somewhat embarrassing, sought to relieve the tension.

"I’ve known you since you were five," he said, with inconsequent pathos.

"I know," said Joan, smiling, and putting her hand on his broad
shoulder. "You’re a dear old stupid; that is all."

"Always was," said the relieved captain, "from a child."

He began, with a cheerful countenance, to narrate anecdotes of his
stupidity until, being interrupted by Hartley with one or two choice
examples that he had forgotten, he rose and muttered something about
seeing the garden. His progress was stayed by a knock at the front door
and an intimation from Rosa that he was wanted.

"My bo’sun," he said, reentering the room with a letter. "Excuse me."

He broke the seal, and turned to Hartley with a short laugh. "Peter
Truefitt," he said, "wants me to meet him at nine o’clock and go home
together, pretending that he has been here with me. Peter is improving."

"But he can’t go on like this forever," said his scandalized friend.

"He’s all right," said the captain, with a satisfied wink. "I’m looking
after him. I’m stage-manager. I’ll see——"

His voice faltered, and then died away as he caught Miss Hartley’s eye
and noticed the air of artless astonishment with which she was regarding
him.

"Always was from a child," she quoted.

The captain ignored her.

"I’ll just give Walters a note," he said, turning to Hartley with some
dignity. "You don’t mind his waiting?"

He turned to a small writing-table, and with an air of preoccupation,
assumed for Miss Hartley’s benefit, began to try a pen on his
thumb-nail. Hartley, going to the door, sent the boatswain off to the
kitchen for a glass of ale.

"Or perhaps you prefer tea?" he added, thoughtfully.

"Ale will do, sir," said Mr. Walters, humbly.

He walked to the kitchen, and, pushing the door open softly, went in.
Rosa Jelks, who was sitting down reading, put aside her book and smiled
welcome.

"Sit down," she said, patronizingly; "sit down."

"I was going to," said Mr. Walters. "I’m to ’ave a glass of ale."

"Say ’please,’" said Rosa, shaking her yellow locks at him, and rising
to take a glass from the dresser.

She walked into the scullery humming a tune, and the pleasant sound of
beer falling into a glass fell on the boatswain’s ears. He stroked his
small black moustache and smiled.

"Would you like me to take a sip at the glass first?" inquired Rosa,
coming back carefully with a brimming glass, "just to give it a
flavour?"

Mr. Walters stared at her in honest amazement. After a moment he
remarked gruffly that the flavour of the ale itself was good enough for
him. Rosa’s eyes sparkled.

"Just a sip," she pleaded.

"Go on, then," said Mr. Walters, grudgingly.

"Chin, chin!" said Rosa.

The boatswain’s face relaxed. Then it hardened suddenly and a dazed look
crept into his eyes as Rosa, drinking about two-thirds of the ale,
handed him the remainder.

"That’s for your impudence," she said, sharply. "I don’t like beer."

Mr. Walters, still dazed, finished the beer without a word and placed
the glass on the table. A faint sigh escaped him, but that was all.

"Bear!" said Rosa, making a face at him.

She looked at his strong, lean face and powerful figure approvingly, but
the bereaved boatswain took no notice.

"Bear!" said Rosa again.

She patted her hair into place, and, in adjusting a hair-pin, permitted
a long, thick tress to escape to her shoulder. She uttered a little
squeal of dismay.

"False, ain’t it?" inquired Mr. Walters, regarding her antics with some
amazement.

"False!" exclaimed Rosa. "Certainly not. Here! Tug!"

She presented her shoulder to the boatswain, and he, nothing loath, gave
a tug, animated by the loss of two-thirds of a glass of beer. The next
instant a loud slap rang through the kitchen.

"And I’d do it again for two pins," said the outraged damsel, as she
regarded him with watering eyes. "Brute!"

She turned away, and, pink with annoyance, proceeded to arrange her hair
in a small cracked glass that hung by the mantel-piece.

"I ’ad a cousin once," said Mr. Walters, thoughtfully, "that used to let
her ’air down and sit on it. Tall gal, too, she was."

"So can I," snapped Rosa, rolling the tress up on her finger, holding it
in place, and transfixing it with a hair-pin.

"H’m," said the boatswain.

"What d’ye mean by that?" demanded Rosa, sharply. "Do you mean to say I
can’t?"

"You might if you cut it off first," conceded Mr. Walters.

"Cut it off?" said Rosa, scornfully. "Here! Look here!"

She dragged out her hair-pins and with a toss of her head sent the
coarse yellow locks flying. Then, straightening them slightly, she
pulled out a chair and confronted him triumphantly. And at that moment
the front-room bell rang.

"That’s for you," said Mr. Walters, pointedly.

Rosa, who was already back at the glass, working with feverish haste,
made no reply. The bell rang again, and a third time, Rosa finally
answering it in a coiffure that looked like a hastily constructed bird’s
nest.

"There’s your letter," she said, returning with a face still flushed.
"Take it and go."

"Thankee," said the boatswain. "Was they very frightened?"

"Take it and go," repeated Rosa, with cold dignity. "Your young woman
might be expecting you; pity to keep her waiting."

"I ain’t got a young woman," said Mr. Walters, slowly.

"You surprise me!" said Rosa, with false astonishment.

"I never would ’ave one," said the boatswain, rising, and placing the
letter in his breast-pocket. "I’ve got along all right for thirty years
without ’em, and I ain’t going to begin now."

"You must have broke a lot of hearts with disappointment," said Rosa.

"I never could see anything in young wimmen," said the boatswain,
musingly. "Silly things, most of ’em. Always thinking about their looks;
especially them as haven’t got none."

He took up the empty glass and toyed with it thoughtfully.

"It’s no good waiting," said Rosa; "you won’t get no more beer; not if
you stay here all night."

"So long!" said the boatswain, still playing with the glass. "So long! I
know one or two that’ll ’ave a fit pretty near when I tell ’em about you
sitting on your ’air."

He put up his left arm instinctively, but Miss Jelks by a supreme effort
maintained her calmness. Her eyes and colour were beyond her control,
but her voice remained steady.

"So long!" she said, quietly. She took the glass from him and smiled.
"If you like to wait a moment, I’ll get you a little drop more," she
said, graciously.

"Here’s luck!" said Mr. Walters, as she returned with the glass. He
drank it slowly and then, wiping his lips with the back of his hand,
stood regarding her critically.

"Well, so long!" he said again, and, before the astonished maiden could
resist, placed a huge arm about her neck and kissed her.

"You do that again, if you dare!" she gasped, indignantly, as she broke
loose and confronted him. "The idea!"

"I don’t want to do it agin," said the boatswain. "I’ve ’ad a glass of
ale, and you’ve ’ad a kiss. Now we’re quits."

He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand again and walked off with the
air of a man who has just discharged an obligation. He went out the back
way, and Rosa, to whom this sort of man was an absolutely new
experience, stood gazing after him dumbly. Recovering herself, she
followed him to the gate, and, with a countenance on which amazement
still lingered, stood watching his tall figure up the road.



CHAPTER VI



WORK!" said Mr. Robert Vyner, severely, as he reclined in a deck-chair
on the poop of the Indian Chief and surveyed his surroundings through
half-closed eyes. "Work! It’s no good sitting here idling while the
world’s work awaits my attention."

Captain Trimblett, who was in a similar posture a yard away, assented.
He also added that there was "nothing like it."

"There’s no play without work," continued Mr. Vyner, in a spirit of
self-admonition.

The captain assented again. "You said something about work half an hour
ago," he remarked.

"And I meant it," said Mr. Vyner; "only in unconscious imitation I dozed
off. What I really want is for somebody to take my legs, somebody else
my shoulders, and waft me gently ashore."

"I had a cook o’ mine put ashore like that once," said Captain
Trimblett, in a reminiscent voice; "only I don’t know that I would have
called it ’wafting,’ and, so far as my memory goes, he didn’t either. He
had a lot to say about it, too."

Mr. Vyner, with a noisy yawn, struggled out of his chair and stood
adjusting his collar and waistcoat.

"If I couldn’t be a chrysalis," he said, slowly, as he looked down at
the recumbent figure of the captain, "do you know what I would like to
be?"

"I’ve had a very hard day’s work," said the other, defensively, as he
struggled into a sitting posture—"very hard. And I was awake half the
night with the toothache."

"That isn’t an answer to my question," said Mr. Vyner, gently. "But
never mind; try and get a little sleep now; try and check that feverish
desire for work, which is slowly, very, very slowly, wearing you to skin
and bone. Think how grieved the firm would be if the toothache carried
you off one night. Why not go below and turn in now? It’s nearly five
o’clock."

"Couldn’t sleep if I did," replied the captain, gravely. "Besides, I’ve
got somebody coming aboard to have tea with me this afternoon."

"All right, I’m going," said Robert, reassuringly. "Nobody I know, I
suppose?"

"No," said the captain. "Not exactly," he added, with a desire of being
strictly accurate.

Mr. Vyner became thoughtful. The captain’s reticence, coupled with the
fact that he had made two or three attempts to get rid of him that
afternoon, was suspicious. He wondered whether Joan Hartley was the
expected guest; the captain’s unwillingness to talk whenever her name
came up having by no means escaped him. And once or twice the captain
had, with unmistakable meaning, dropped hints as to the progress made by
Mr. Saunders in horticulture and other pursuits. At the idea of this
elderly mariner indulging in matrimonial schemes with which he had no
sympathy, he became possessed with a spirit of vindictive emulation.

"It seems like a riddle; you’ve excited my curiosity," he said, as he
threw himself back in the chair again and looked at the gulls wheeling
lazily overhead. "Let me see whether I can guess—I’ll go as soon as I
have."

"’Tisn’t worth guessing," said Captain Trimblett, with a touch of
brusqueness.

"Don’t make it too easy," pleaded Mr. Vyner. "Guess number one: a lady?"

The captain grunted.

"A widow," continued Mr. Vyner, in the slow, rapt tones of a
clairvoyant. "The widow!"

"What do you mean by the widow?" demanded the aroused captain.

"The one you are always talking about," replied Mr. Vyner, winking at
the sky.

"Me!" said the captain, purpling. "I don’t talk about her. You don’t
hear me talk about her. I’m not always talking about anybody. I might
just have mentioned her name when talking about Truefitt’s troubles;
that’s all."

"That’s what I meant," said Robert Vyner, with an air of mild surprise.

"Well, it’s not her," said the captain, shortly.

"Somebody I know, but not exactly," mused Robert. "Somebody I know,
but—Let me think."

He closed his eyes in an effort of memory, and kept them shut so long
that the captain, anxious to get him away before his visitor’s arrival,
indulged in a loud and painful fit of coughing. Mr. Vyner’s eyes
remained closed.

"Any more guesses?" inquired the captain, loudly.

Mr. Vyner, slept on. Gulls mewed overhead; a rattle of cranes sounded
from the quays, and a conversation—mostly in hoarse roars—took place
between the boatswain in the bows and an elderly man ashore, but he
remained undisturbed. Then he sprang up so suddenly that he nearly
knocked his chair over, and the captain, turning his head after him in
amaze, saw Joan Hartley standing at the edge of the quay.

Before he could interfere Mr. Vyner, holding her hand with anxious
solicitude, was helping her aboard. Poised for a moment on the side of
the ship, she sprang lightly to the deck, and the young man,
relinquishing her hand with some reluctance, followed her slowly toward
the captain.

Ten minutes later, by far the calmest of the three, he sat at tea in the
small but comfortable saloon. How he got there Captain Trimblett could
not exactly remember. Mr. Vyner had murmured something about a slight
headache, due in his opinion to the want of a cup of tea, and, even
while talking about going home to get it, had in an abstracted fashion
drifted down the companion-way.

"I feel better already," he remarked, as he passed his cup up to Miss
Hartley to be refilled. "It’s wonderful what a cup of tea will do."

"It has its uses," said the captain, darkly.

He took another cup himself and sat silent and watchful, listening to
the conversation of his guests. A slight appearance of reserve on Miss
Hartley’s part, assumed to remind Mr. Vyner of his bad behaviour on the
occasion of their last meeting, was dispelled almost immediately.
Modesty, tinged with respectful admiration, was in every glance and
every note of his voice. When she discovered that a man who had asked
for his tea without sugar had drunk without remark a cup containing
three lumps, she became thoughtful.

"Why didn’t you tell me?" she asked, in concern.

Modesty and Mr. Vyner—never boon companions—parted company.

"I thought you had given me the wrong cup," he said, simply.

The explanation seemed to Captain Trimblett quite inadequate. He sat
turning it over in his mind, and even the rising colour in Miss
Hartley’s cheek did not serve to enlighten him. But he was glad to
notice that she was becoming reserved again. Mr. Vyner noticed it, too,
and, raging inwardly against a tongue which was always striving after
his undoing, began with a chastened air to criticise the architecture of
the new chapel in Porter Street. Architecture being a subject of which
the captain knew nothing, he discussed it at great length, somewhat
pleased to find that both his listeners were giving him their undivided
attention.

He was glad to notice, when they went up on deck again, that his guests
had but little to say to each other, and, with a view to keeping them
apart as much as possible, made no attempt to detain her when Joan rose
and said that she must be going. She shook hands and then turned to Mr.
Vyner.

"Oh, I must be going, too," said that gentleman.

He helped her ashore and, with a wave of his hand to Captain Trimblett,
set off by her side. At the bridge, where their ways homeward diverged,
Joan half stopped, but Mr. Vyner, gazing straight ahead, kept on.

"Fine chap, Captain Trimblett," he said, suddenly.

"He is the kindest man I know," said Joan, warmly.

Mr. Vyner sang his praises for three hundred yards, secretly conscious
that his companion was thinking of ways and means of getting rid of him.
The window of a confectioner’s shop at last furnished the necessary
excuse.

"I have got a little shopping to do," she said, diving in suddenly.
"Good-by."

"The ’good-by’ was so faint that it was apparent to her as she stood in
the shop and gave a modest order for chocolates that he had not heard
it. She bit her lip, and after a glance at the figure outside, added to
her order a large one for buns. She came out of the shop with a bag
overflowing with them.

"Let me," said Mr. Vyner, hastily.

Miss Hartley handed them over at once, and, walking by his side, strove
hard to repress malicious smiles. She walked slowly and gave appraising
glances at shop windows, pausing finally at a greengrocer’s to purchase
some bananas. Mr. Vyner, with the buns held in the hollow of his arm,
watched her anxiously, and his face fell as she agreed with the
greengrocer as to the pity of spoiling a noble bunch he was displaying.
Insufficiently draped in a brown-paper bag, it took Mr. Vyner’s other
arm.

"You are quite useful," said Miss Hartley, with a bright smile.

Mr. Vyner returned the smile, and in bowing to an acquaintance nearly
lost a bun. He saved it by sheer sleight of hand, and noting that his
companion was still intent on the shops, wondered darkly what further
burdens were in store for him. He tried to quicken the pace, but Miss
Hartley was not to be hurried.

"I must go in here, I think," she said, stopping in front of a draper’s.
"I sha’n’t be long."

Mr. Vyner took his stand by the window with his back to the passers-by,
and waited. At the expiration of ten minutes he peeped in at the door,
and saw Miss Hartley at the extreme end of the shop thoughtfully
fingering bales of cloth. He sighed, and, catching sight of a small boy
regarding him, had a sudden inspiration.

"Here! Would you like some buns, old chap?" he cried.

The child’s eyes glistened.

"Take ’em," said Mr. Vyner, thankfully. "Don’t drop ’em."

He handed them over and stood smiling benevolently as the small boy,
with both arms clasped round the bag, went off hugging it to his bosom.
Another urchin, who had been regarding the transaction with speechless
envy, caught his eye. He beckoned him to him and, with a few kind words
and a fatherly admonition not to make himself ill, presented him with
the bananas. Then he drew a deep breath, and with a few kind words he
presented him with the bananas assuming an expression of gravity
befitting the occasion, braced himself for the inevitable encounter.

Five minutes later Miss Hartley, bearing a large and badly-tied parcel,
came smiling out to him. The smile faded suddenly, and she stood
regarding him in consternation.

"Why—!" she began. "Where—?"

Mr. Vyner eyed her carefully. "I gave ’em away," he said, slowly. "Two
poor, hungry little chaps stood looking at me. I am awfully fond of
children, and before I knew what I was doing—"

"I’ve no doubt," said Joan, bitterly, as she realized her defeat. "I’ve
no doubt."

Mr. Vyner leaned toward the parcel. "Allow me," he murmured, politely.

"Thank you, Til carry it myself," said Joan, sharply.

Her taste for shopping had evaporated, and clutching her parcel she
walked rapidly homeward. An occasional glance at her companion did not
quite satisfy her that he was keeping his sense of humour under proper
control. There was a twitching of his lips which might, she felt, in a
little time become contagious. She averted her head.

"That’s all right," said Mr. Vyner, with a sigh of relief. "I was half
afraid that I had offended you."



CHAPTER VII



TO the great relief of Mr. Truefitt’s imagination, his sister suddenly
ceased from all comment upon the irregularity of his hours. Unprepared,
by the suddenness of the change, he recited mechanically, for the first
day or two, the reasons he had invented for his lateness, but their
reception was of so chilling a nature that his voice was scarcely
audible at the finish. Indeed, when he came home one evening with a
perfectly true story of a seaman stabbed down by the harbour, Mrs.
Chinnery yawned three times during the narration, and Captain Trimblett
shook his head at him.

"True or not," said the latter, after Mrs. Chinnery had left the room,
"it doesn’t matter. It isn’t worth while explaining when explanations
are not asked for."

"Do you think she knows?" inquired Mr. Truefitt, with bated voice.

"She knows something," replied the captain. "I believe she knows all
about it, else she wouldn’t keep so quiet. Why not tell her straight
out? Tell her when she comes in, and get it over. She’s got to know some
day."

"Poor Susan!" said Mr. Truefitt, with feeling. "I’m afraid she’ll feel
it. It’s not nice to have to leave home to make room for somebody else.
And she won’t stay in it with another woman, I’m certain."

"Here she comes," said the captain, getting up. "I’ll go out for a
little stroll, and when I come back I shall expect to find you’ve made a
clean breast of it."

Mr. Truefitt put out a hand as though to detain him, and then, thinking
better of it, nodded at him with an air of great resolution, and puffed
furiously at his pipe. Under cover of clouds of smoke he prepared for
the encounter.

Closing the door gently behind him, the captain, after a moment’s
indecision, drifted down the road. A shower of rain had brought out
sweet odours from the hedgerow opposite, and a touch of salt freshened
the breeze that blew up the river. Most of the inhabitants of the Vale
were in bed, and the wet road was lonely under the stars. He walked as
far as a little bridge spanning a brook that ran into the river, and
seating himself on the low parapet smoked thoughtfully. His mind went
back to his own marriage many years before, and to his children, whom he
had placed, on his wife’s death, with a second cousin in London. An
unusual feeling of loneliness possessed him. He smoked a second pipe and
then, knocking the ashes out on the bridge, walked slowly homeward.

Mr. Truefitt, who was sitting alone, looked up as he entered and smiled
vaguely.

"All right?" queried the captain, closing the door and crossing to a
chair.

"Right as ninepence," said Mr. Truefitt. "I’ve been worrying myself all
this time for nothing. Judging by her manner, she seemed to think it was
the most natural and proper thing in the world."

"So it is," said the captain, warmly.

"She talked about it as calmly as though she had a brother married every
week," continued Mr. Truefitt. "I don’t suppose she has quite realized
it yet."

"I don’t know that I have," said the captain. "This has been the only
home I’ve had for the last ten years; and I feel leaving it, what must
it be for her?"

Mr. Truefitt shook his head.

"I’m beginning to feel old," said the captain, "old and lonely. Changes
like this bring it home to one."

He took out his pouch, and shaking his head solemnly began to fill his
pipe again.

"You ought to follow my example," said Mr. Truefitt, eagerly.

"Too old," said the captain.

"Nonsense!" said the other. "And the older you get, the lonelier you’ll
feel. Mind that!"

"I shall go and live with my boys and girls when I leave the sea," said
the captain.

"They’ll probably be married themselves by that time," said his
comforter.

He rose, and, going to an old corner cupboard, took out a bottle of
whiskey and a couple of glasses and put them on the table. The captain,
helping himself liberally, emptied his glass to Miss Willett.

"She’s coming to tea on Friday, with her mother," said Mr. Truefitt.

Captain Trimblett took some more whiskey and solemnly toasted Mrs.
Willett. He put his glass down, and lighting his pipe, which had gone
out, beamed over at his friend.

"Are there any more in the family?" he inquired.

"There’s an uncle," said Mr. Truefitt, slowly, "and——"

"One at a time," said the captain, stopping him with one hand raised,
while he helped himself to some more whiskey with the other. "The
uncle!"

He drank the third glass slowly, and, sinking back in his chair, turned
to his friend with a countenance somewhat flushed and wreathed in
smiles.

"Who else?" he inquired.

"No more to-night," said Mr. Truefitt, firmly, as he got up and put the
bottle back in the cupboard. He came back slowly, and, resuming his
seat, gazed in a meditative fashion at his friend.

"Talking about your loneliness—" he began.

"My loneliness?" repeated the captain, staring at "You were talking
about feeling lonely," Mr. Truett reminded him.

He proceeded with almost equal care to assist her mother

"So I was," said the captain. "So I was. You’re quite right; but it’s
all gone now. It’s wonderful what a little whiskey will do."

"Wonderful what a lot will do," said Mr. Truefitt, with sudden asperity.
"You were talking about your loneliness, and I was advising you to get
married."

"So you were," said the captain, nodding at him. "Good-night."

He went off to bed with a suddenness that was almost disconcerting. Thus
deserted, Mr. Truefitt finished his whiskey and water and, his head full
of plans for the betterment of everybody connected with him, blew out
the lamp and went upstairs.

Owing possibly to his efforts in this direction Captain Trimblett and
Mrs. Chinnery scarcely saw him until Friday afternoon, when he drove up
in a fly, and, after handing out Miss Willett with great tenderness,
proceeded with almost equal care to assist her mother. The latter, a
fragile little old lady, was at once conducted to a chair and, having
been comfortably seated was introduced to Mrs. Chinnery.

"It’s a long way," she said, as her daughter divested her of her bonnet
and shawl, "but Cissie would insist on my coming, and I suppose, after
all, it’s only right I should."

"Of course, mother," said Miss Willett, hurriedly.

"Right is right," continued the old lady, "after all is said and done.
And I’m sure Mr. Truefitt has been to ours often enough."

Mr. Truefitt coughed, and the captain—a loyal friend—assisted him.

"Night after night," said the old lady, during a brief interval.

Mr. Truefitt, still coughing slightly, began to place chairs at a table
on which, as the captain presently-proved to his own dissatisfaction,
there was not even; room for a pair of elbows. At the last moment the
seating arrangements had to be altered owing to a leg of the table which
got in the way of Mrs. Willett’s. The captain, in his anxiety to be of
service, lowered a leaf of the table too far, and an avalanche of food
descended to the floor.

"It don’t matter," said Mrs. Chinnery, in a voice that belied her words.
"Captain Trimblett is always doing something like that. The last time we
had visitors he—"

"Kept on eating the cake after she had shaken her head at me,"
interrupted the captain, who was busy picking up the provisions.

"Nothing of the kind," cried Mrs. Chinnery, who was in no mood for
frivolity. "I shouldn’t think of doing such a thing," she added, turning
to Mrs. Willett, as the lady allowed herself to be placed in a more
convenient position. "It’s all Captain Trimblett’s nonsense."

Mrs. Willett listened politely, "It is annoying, though," she remarked.

"He might eat all the cake in the house for what I care," said Mrs.
Chinnery, turning very red, and raising her voice a little.

"As a matter of fact I don’t like cake," said the captain, who was
becoming uncomfortable.

"Perhaps it was something else," said the excellent Mrs. Willett, with
the air of one assisting to unravel a mystery.

Mrs. Chinnery, who was pouring out tea, glared at her in silence. She
also spared a glance for Captain Trimblett, which made that gentleman
seriously uneasy. With an idea of turning the conversation into safer
and more agreeable channels, he called the old lady’s attention to a
pencil drawing of a ruined castle which adorned the opposite wall. Mrs.
Willett’s first remark was that it had no roof.

"It’s a ruin," said the captain; "done by Mrs. Chinnery."

The faded blue eyes behind the gold-rimmed spectacles inspected it
carefully. "Done when she was a child—of course?" said Mrs. Willett.

"Eighteen," said Mrs. Chinnery, in a deep voice.

"I’m no judge of such things," said the old lady, shaking her head. "I
only know what I like; but I dare say it’s very clever."

She turned to help herself from a plate that the captain was offering
her, and, finding that it contained cake, said that she would prefer
bread and butter.

"Not that I don’t like cake," she said. "As a rule I am rather partial
to it."

"Well, have some now," said the unfortunate captain, trying to avoid
Mrs. Chinnery’s eye.

"Bread and butter, please," said Mrs. Willett, with quiet decision.

The captain passed it, and after a hopeless glance at Mr. Truefitt and
Miss Willett, who were deep in the enjoyment of each other’s society,
returned to the subject of art.

"If I could draw like that, ma’am," he said, with a jerk of his head
toward the ruined castle, "I should give up the sea."

Mrs. Willett inspected it again, even going to the length of taking off
her glasses and polishing them, with a view to doing perfect justice to
the subject. "Would you really?" she said, when she had finished.

The captain made no reply. He sat appalled at the way in which the old
lady was using him to pay off some of the debt that she fancied was due
to Mrs. Chinnery.

"You must see some of my daughter’s pictures," she said, turning to him.
"Fruit and birds mostly, in oil colours. But then, of course, she had
good masters. There’s one picture—let me see!"

She sat considering, and began to reel off the items on her fingers as
she enumerated them. "There’s a plate of oranges, with a knife and fork,
a glass, a bottle, two and a half walnuts and bits of shell,
three-quarters of an apple, a pipe, a cigar, a bunch of grapes, and a
green parrot looking at it all with his head on one side."

"And very natural of him, too," murmured Mrs. Chinnery.

"It’s coming here," interposed Mr. Truefitt, suddenly. "It belongs to
Mrs. Willett, but she has given it to us. I wonder which will be the
best place for it?"

The old lady looked round the room. "It will have to hang there," she
said, pointing to the "Eruption of Vesuvius," "where that beehive is."

"Bee—!" exclaimed the startled captain. He bent toward her and
explained.

"Oh, well, it don’t matter," said the old lady. "I thought it was a
beehive—it looks like one; and I can’t see what’s written under it from
here. But that’s where Cecilia’s picture must go."

She made one or two other suggestions with regard to the rearrangement
of the pictures, and then, having put her hand to the plough, proceeded
to refurnish the room. And for her own private purposes she affected to
think that Mr. Truefitt’s taste was responsible for the window-curtains.

"Mother has got wonderful taste," said Miss Willett, looking round. "All
over Salthaven her taste has become a—a—"

"Byword," suggested Mrs. Chinnery.

"Proverb," said Miss Willett. "Are you feeling too warm, mother?" she
asked, eying the old lady with sudden concern.

"A little," said Mrs. Willett. "I suppose it’s being used to big rooms.
I always was one for plenty of space. It doesn’t matter—don’t trouble."

"It’s no trouble," said Captain Trimblett, who was struggling with the
window. "How is that?" he inquired, opening it a little at the top and
returning to his seat.

"There is a draught down the back of my neck," said Mrs. Willett; "but
don’t trouble about me if the others like it. If I get a stiff neck
Cecilia can rub it for me when I get home with a little oil of camphor."

"Yes, mother," said Miss Willett.

"I once had a stiff neck for three weeks," said Mrs. Willett.

The captain rose again and, with a compassionate glance at Mr. Truefitt,
closed the window.

"One can’t have everything in this world," said the old lady; "it ought
to be a very cosey room in winter, You can’t get too far away from the
fire, I mean."

"It has done for us for a good many years now," said Mrs. Chinnery.
"I’ve never heard Peter complain."

"He’d never complain," said Mrs. Willett, with a fond smile at her
prospective son-in-law. "Why, he wouldn’t know he was uncomfortable
unless somebody told him."

Mrs. Chinnery pushed back her chair with a grating noise, strangely in
harmony with her feelings, and, after a moment’s pause to control her
voice, suggested that the gentlemen should take the visitors round the
garden while she cleared away—a proposal accepted by all but Mrs.
Willett.

"I’ll stay here and watch you," she said.

Captain Trimblett accompanied Mr. Truefitt and Miss Willett into the
garden, and after pointing out the missing beauties of a figure-head in
the next garden but one, and calling attention to the geraniums next
door, left the couple to themselves. Side by side in the little arbour
they sat gazing on to the river and conversing in low tones of their
future happiness.

For some time the captain idled about the garden, keeping as far away
from the arbour as possible, and doing his best to suppress a decayed
but lively mariner named Captain Sellers, who lived two doors off. Among
other infirmities the latter was nearly stone-deaf, and, after giving up
as hopeless the attempt to make him understand that Mr. Truefitt and
Miss Willett were not, the captain at last sought shelter in the house.

He found the table clear and a bowl of flowers placed in the exact
centre. On opposite sides of the room, each with her hands folded in her
lap, and both sitting bolt upright, Mrs. Willett and Mrs. Chinnery
confronted each other. With a muttered reference to his ship, the
captain took up his stick and fled.

He spent the evening in the billiard-room of the Golden Fleece, and did
not return until late. A light in the room up-stairs and a shadow on the
blind informed him that Mrs. Chinnery had retired. He stepped in
quietly, and closed the door behind him. Mr. Truefitt, a picture of woe,
was sitting in his usual place at the corner of the stove, and a
supper-table, loaded with food, was untouched.

"Gone?" inquired the captain, scenting disaster.

"Some time ago," said Mr. Truefitt. "They wouldn’t stay to supper. I
wish you had been here to persuade them."

"I wish I had," said the captain, untruthfully.

He gave utterance to a faint sigh in token of sympathy with Mr.
Truefitt’s evident distress, and drew a chair to the table. He shook his
head, and with marvellous accuracy, considering that his gaze was
fastened on a piece of cold beef, helped himself to a wedge of
steak-pie. He ate with an appetite, and after pouring out and drinking a
glass of ale gazed again at the forlorn figure of Mr. Truefitt.

"Words?" he breathed, in a conspirator’s whisper.

The other shook his head. "No; they were very polite," he replied,
slowly.

The captain nearly emitted a groan. He checked it with two square inches
of pie-crust.

"A misunderstanding," said Mr. Truefitt.

The captain said "Ah!" It was all he could say for the moment.

"A misunderstanding," said the other. "I misled Mrs. Willett," he added,
in a tense whisper.

"Good heavens!" said the captain.

"She had always understood—from me," continued Mr. Truefitt, "that when
I married Susanna would go. I always thought she would. Anybody who knew
Susanna would have thought so. You would—wouldn’t you?"

"In the ordinary way—yes," said the captain; "but circumstances alter
cases."

"It came out—in conversation," said the hapless Mr. Truefitt, "that
Susanna wouldn’t dream of leaving me. It also came out that Mrs. Willett
wouldn’t dream of letting Cecilia marry me till she does. What’s to be
done?"

The captain took a slice of beef to assist thought. "You must have
patience," he said, sagely.

"Patience!" said Mr. Truefitt, with unusual heat. "Patience be d—d! I’m
fifty-two! And Cecilia’s thirty-nine!"

"Time flies!" said the captain, who could think of nothing else to say.

Mr. Truefitt looked at him almost savagely. Then he sank back in his
chair.

"It’s a pity Susanna doesn’t get married again," he said, slowly. "So
far as I can see, that’s the only way out of it. Cecilia said so to me
just as she was leaving."

"Did she?" said the captain. He looked thoughtful, and Mr. Truefitt
watched him anxiously. For some time he seemed undecided, and then, with
the resolute air of a man throwing appearances to the winds, he drew an
uncut tongue toward him and cut off a large slice.



CHAPTER VIII



NEARLY a week had elapsed since Robert Vyner’s failure to give
satisfaction as a light porter, and in all that time, despite his utmost
efforts, he had failed to set eyes on Joan Hartley. In the hope of a
chance encounter he divided his spare time between the narrow, crooked
streets of Salthaven and the deck of the Indian Chief, but in vain. In a
mysterious and highly unsatisfactory fashion Miss Hartley seemed to have
vanished from the face of the earth.

In these circumstances he manifested a partiality for the company of Mr.
Hartley that was a source of great embarrassment to that gentleman,
whose work rapidly accumulated while he sat in his old office discussing
a wide range of subjects, on all of which the junior partner seemed
equally at home and inclined to air views of the most unorthodox
description. He passed from topic to topic with bewildering facility,
and one afternoon glided easily and naturally from death duties to
insect powder, and from that to maggots in rose-buds, almost before his
bewildered listener could take breath. From rose-buds he discoursed on
gardening—a hobby to which he professed himself desirous of devoting
such few hours as could be spared from his arduous work as a member of
the firm.

"I hear that your garden is the talk of Salthaven," he remarked.

Mr. Hartley, justly surprised, protested warmly.

"That’s what I heard," said Mr. Vyner, doggedly.

Mr. Hartley admitted that his borders were good. He also gave favourable
mention to his roses.

"My favourite flower," said Mr. Vyner, with enthusiasm.

"I’ll bring you a bunch to-morrow, if you will let me," said Mr.
Hartley, rising and turning toward the door.

The other stopped him with outstretched hand. "No, don’t do that," he
said, earnestly. "I hate cutting flowers. It seems such
a—a—desecration."

Mr. Hartley, quite unprepared for so much feeling on the subject, gazed
at him in astonishment.

"I should like to see them, too," said Robert, musingly, "very much."

The chief clerk, with a little deprecatory cough, got close to the door
as a dim idea that there might be something after all in Captain
Trimblett’s warnings occurred to him.

"Yours are mostly standard roses, aren’t they?" said the persevering
Robert.

"Mostly," was the reply.

Mr. Vyner regarded him thoughtfully. "I suppose you don’t care to let
people see them for fear they should learn your methods?" he said, at
last.

Mr. Hartley, coming away from the door, almost stuttered in his haste to
disclaim such ungenerous sentiments. "I am always glad to show them," he
said, emphatically, "and to give any information I can."

"I should like to see them some time," murmured Robert.

The other threw caution to the winds. "Any time," he said, heartily.

Mr. Vyner thanked him warmly, and, having got what he wanted, placed no
further obstacles in the way of his withdrawal. He bought a book
entitled "Roses and How to Grow Them" the same afternoon and the next
evening called to compare his knowledge with Mr. Hartley’s.

Mr. Hartley was out; Miss Hartley was out; but at Rosa’s invitation he
went in to await their return. At her further suggestion—due to a habit
she had of keeping her ears open and a conversation between her master
and Captain Trimblett on the previous evening—he went into the garden to
see the flowers.

"The other one’s there," said Rosa, simply, as she showed him the way.

Mr. Vyner started, but a glance at Rosa satisfied him that there was all
to lose and nothing to gain by demanding an explanation which she would
be only too ready to furnish. With an air of cold dignity he strolled
down the garden.

A young man squatting in a painful attitude at the edge of a flower-bed
paused with his trowel in the air and eyed him with mingled
consternation and disapproval. After allowing nearly a week to elapse
since his last visit, Mr. Saunders, having mustered up sufficient
courage to come round for another lesson in horticulture, had discovered
to his dismay that both Mr. Hartley and his daughter had engagements
elsewhere. That his evening should not be given over to disappointment
entirely, however, the former had set him a long and arduous task before
taking his departure.

"Don’t let me interrupt you," said Mr. Vyner, politely, as the other
rose and straightened himself. "What are you doing—besides decapitating
worms?"

"Putting in these plants," said Mr. Saunders, resentfully.

Mr. Vyner eyed them with the eye of a connoisseur, and turning one over
with his stick shook his head disparagingly. For some time he amused
himself by walking up and down the garden inspecting the roses, and
then, lighting a cigarette, threw himself at full length on to a garden
bench that stood near Mr. Saunders and watched him at work.

"Fascinating pursuit," he remarked, affably.

Mr. Saunders grunted; Mr. Vyner blew out a thin thread of smoke toward
the sky and pondered.

"Fine exercise; I wish I could get fond of it," he remarked.

"Perhaps you could if you tried," said the other, without looking round.

"After all," said Mr. Vyner, thoughtfully; "after all, perhaps it does
one just as much good to watch other people at it. My back aches with
watching you, and my knees are stiff with cramp. I suppose yours are,
too?"

Mr. Saunders made no reply. He went on stolidly with his work until,
reaching over too far with the trowel, he lost his balance and pitched
forward on to his hands. Somewhat red in the face he righted himself,
and knocking the mould off his hands, started once more.

"Try, try, try again," quoted the admiring onlooker.

"Perhaps you’d like to take a turn," said Mr. Saunders, looking round
and speaking with forced politeness.

Mr. Vyner shook his head, and, helping himself to another cigarette,
proffered the case to the worker, and, on that gentleman calling
attention to the grimy condition of his hands, stuck one in his mouth
and lit it for him. Considerably mollified by these attentions, the
amateur gardener resumed his labours with a lighter heart.

Joan Hartley, returning half an hour later, watched them for some time
from an upper window, and then, with a vague desire to compel the
sprawling figure on the bench to get up and do a little work, came
slowly down the garden.

"You are working too hard, Mr. Saunders," she remarked, after Mr. Vyner
had shaken hands and the former had pleaded the condition of his.

"He likes it," said Mr. Vyner.

"At any rate, it has got to be finished," said Mr. Saunders.

Miss Hartley looked at them, and then at the work done and the heap of
plants still to go in. She stood tapping the ground thoughtfully with
her foot.

"I expect that we are only interrupting him by standing here talking to
him," said Robert Vyner, considerately. "No doubt he is wishing us
anywhere but here; only he is too polite to say so."

Ignoring Mr. Saunders’s fervent protestations, he took a tentative step
forward, as though inviting Miss Hartley to join him; but she stood
firm.

"Will you give me the trowel, please?" she said, with sudden decision.

Before Mr. Saunders could offer any resistance she took it from him, and
stooping gracefully prepared to dig. Mr. Vyner interposed with some
haste.

"Allow me," he said.

Miss Hartley placed the trowel in his hands at once, and with her lips
curved in a slight smile stood watching his efforts. By almost
imperceptible degrees she drew away from him and, attended by the
devoted Mr. Saunders, sauntered slowly about the garden. The worker,
glaring sideways, watched them as they roamed from flower to flower. The
low murmur of their voices floated on the still air, and once or twice
he heard Miss Hartley laugh with great distinctness.

Apparently engrossed with his task, Mr. Vyner worked cheerfully for ten
minutes. The hand that held the trowel was so far fairly clean, and he
was about to use it to take out a cigarette when he paused, and a broad
smile spread slowly over his features. He put down the trowel, and,
burrowing in the wet earth with both hands, regarded the result with
smiling satisfaction. The couple came toward him slowly, and Mr.
Saunders smiled in his turn as he saw the state of the other’s hands.

"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Vyner, standing up as Miss Hartley came
close; "I wish you would do something for me."

"Yes?" said Joan.

"I want a cigarette."

The girl looked puzzled. "Yes?" she said again.

Mr. Vyner, grave as a judge, held up his disgraceful hands. "They are in
a case in the inside pocket of my coat," he said, calmly.

Miss Hartley drew back a pace. "Perhaps Mr. Saunders could help you,"
she said, hastily.

Mr. Vyner shook his head. "His hands are worse than mine," he said,
mournfully.

He held up his arm so that his coat opened a little more, and Miss
Hartley, after a moment’s hesitation, thrust a small hand into his
pocket and drew out the case.

"To open it you press the catch," said Mr. Vyner.

Miss Hartley pressed, and the case flew open. She stood holding it
before him, and Mr. Vyner, with a helpless gesture, again exhibited his
hands.

"If you would complete your kindness by putting one in my mouth," he
murmured.

For a few moments she stood in a state of dazed indecision; then, slowly
extracting a cigarette from the case, she placed it between his lips
with a little jab that made it a failure, as a smoke, from the first.
Mr. Saunders, who had been watching events with a brooding eye, hastily
struck a match and gave him a light, and Mr. Vyner, with an
ill-concealed smile, bent down to his work again. He was pleased to
notice that though the conversation between the others still proceeded,
after a fitful fashion, Miss Hartley laughed no more.

He worked on steadily, and trampled ground and broken plants bore
witness to his industry. He was just beginning to feel that he had done
enough gardening for that day, when the return of Mr. Hartley brought
welcome relief. The astonishment of the latter at finding this new and
unlooked-for assistance was at first almost beyond words. When he could
speak he thanked him brokenly for his trouble and, depriving him of his
tools, took him indoors to wash.

"He means well," he said, slowly, after Mr. Vyner had at last taken his
departure; "he means well, but I am afraid Mr. John wouldn’t like it."

Miss Hartley flushed. "We didn’t ask him to come," she said, with
spirit.

"No," said her father, plucking at his beard, and regarding her with a
troubled expression. "No; I’m afraid that he is one of those young men
that don’t want much asking."



CHAPTER IX



OWING possibly to the unaccustomed exercise, but probably to more
sentimental reasons, Robert Vyner slept but poorly the night after his
labours. He had explained his absence at the dinner-table by an airy
reference to a long walk and a disquisition on the charms of the river
by evening, an explanation which both Mr. Vyner and his wife had
received with the silence it merited. It was evident that his absence
had been the subject of some comment, but his father made no reference
to it as they smoked a cigar together before retiring.

He awoke early in the morning and, after a vain attempt to get to sleep
again, rose and dressed. Nobody else was stirring, and going quietly
downstairs he took up a cap and went out.

Except for a labouring man or two tramping stolidly to work, the streets
were deserted. The craft anchored in the river seemed asleep, and he
stood for some time on the bridge idly watching the incoming tide. He
lit his pipe and then, with a feeble endeavour to feel a little surprise
at the fact, discovered that he was walking in the direction of Mr.
Hartley’s house.

His pace slackened as he neared it, and he went by gazing furtively at
the drawn blinds of the front windows. A feeling of regret that Joan
Hartley should be missing such a delightful morning would not be denied;
in imagination he saw himself strolling by her side and pointing out to
her the beauties of the most unfrequented portions of the river bank. A
sudden superstitious trust in fate—caught possibly from Captain
Trimblett—made him turn and walk slowly past the house again. With an
idea of giving fate another chance he repeated the performance. In all
he passed eight times, and was about to enter upon the ninth, when he
happened to look across the road and saw, to his annoyance, the small
figure of Bassett speeding toward him.

"He is not down yet, sir," said Bassett, respectfully.

Mr. Vyner suppressed his choler by an effort.

"Oh!" he said, stiffly. "Well?"

Bassett drew back in confusion. "I—I saw you walk up and down several
times looking at the house, sir, and I thought it my duty to come and
tell you," he replied.

Mr. Vyner regarded him steadfastly. "Thank you," he said, at last. "And
how is it that you are out at such an early hour, prowling about like a
raging lion looking for its breakfast?"

"I wasn’t, sir," said Bassett; "I shall have my breakfast when I get
home, at eight o’clock. I always get up at six; then I make sure of two
hours in the fresh air."

"And what time do you close your eyes on the world and its vanities?"
inquired Mr. Vyner, with an appearance of great interest.

"I always go to bed as the clock strikes ten, sir," said the youth.

"And suppose—suppose the clock should be wrong one day?" suggested the
other, "would you apprehend any lasting injury to your constitution?"

"It couldn’t be, sir," said Bassett; "I wind it myself."

Mr. Vyner regarded him more thoughtfully than before. "I can foresee,"
he said, slowly, "that you will grow up a great and good and wise man,
unless—"

"Yes, sir," said Bassett, anxiously.

"Unless somebody kills you in the meantime," concluded Mr. Vyner. "It is
not fair to tempt people beyond their strength, Bassett. Even a verdict
of ’Justifiable homicide’ might not quite ease the slayer’s conscience."

"No, sir," said the perplexed youth.

Mr. Vyner suddenly dropped his bantering air.

"How was it I didn’t see you?" he demanded, sternly.

"I don’t think you looked my side of the road, sir," said Bassett. "You
were watching Mr. Hartley’s windows all the time; and, besides, I was
behind that hedge."

He pointed to a well-trimmed privet hedge in a front garden opposite.

"Behind the hedge?" repeated the other, sharply. "What were you there
for?"

"Watching a snail, sir," replied Bassett.

"A what?" inquired Mr. Vyner, raising his voice.

"A snail, sir," repeated the youth. "I’ve got a book on natural history,
and I’ve just been reading about them. I saw this one as I was passing,
and I went inside to study its habits. They are very interesting little
things to watch—very."

Fortified by the approval of a conscience that never found fault, he met
the searchlight gaze that the junior partner turned upon him without
flinching. Quite calm, although somewhat puzzled by the other’s manner,
he stood awaiting his pleasure.

"Yes," said Robert Vyner, at last; "very interesting indeed, I should
think; but you have forgotten one thing, Bassett. When secreted behind a
hedge watching one of these diverting little—er——"

"Gasteropodous molluscs, sir," interjected Bassett, respectfully.

"Exactly," said the other. "Just the word I was trying to think of. When
behind a hedge watching them it is always advisable to whistle as loudly
and as clearly as you can."

"I never heard that, sir," said Bassett, more and more perplexed. "It’s
not in my book, but I remember once reading, when I was at school, that
spiders are sometimes attracted by the sound of a flute."

"A flute would do," said Mr. Vyner, still watching him closely; "but a
cornet would be better still. Good-morning."

He left Bassett gazing after him round-eyed, and, carefully refraining
from looking at Hartley’s windows, walked on at a smart pace. As he
walked he began to wish that he had not talked so much; a vision of
Bassett retailing the conversation of the morning to longer heads than
his own in the office recurring to him with tiresome persistency. And,
on the other hand, he regretted that he had not crossed the road and
made sure that there was a snail.

Busy with his thoughts he tramped on mechanically, until, pausing on a
piece of high ground to admire the view, he was surprised to see that
the town lay so far behind. At the same time sudden urgent promptings
from within bore eloquent testimony to the virtues of early rising and
exercise as aids to appetite. With ready obedience he began to retrace
his steps.

The business of the day was just beginning as he entered the outskirts
of the town again. Blinds were drawn aside and maid-servants busy at
front doors. By the time he drew near Laurel Lodge—the name was the
choice of a former tenant—the work of the day had begun in real earnest.
Instinctively slackening his pace, he went by the house with his eyes
fastened on the hedge opposite, being so intent on what might, perhaps,
be described as a visual alibi for Bassett’s benefit, in case the lad
still happened to be there, that he almost failed to notice that Hartley
was busy in his front garden and that Joan was standing by him. He
stopped short and bade them "Good-morning."

Mr. Hartley dropped his tools and hastened to the gate. "Good-morning,"
he said, nervously; "I hope that there is nothing wrong. I went a little
way to try and find you."

"Find me?" echoed Mr. Vyner, reddening, as a suspicion of the truth
occurred to him.

"Bassett told me that you had been walking up and down waiting to see
me," continued Hartley.

"I dressed as fast as I could, but by that time you were out of sight."

Facial contortions, in sympathy with the epithets he was mentally
heaping upon the head of Bassett, disturbed for a moment the serenity of
Mr. Vyner’s countenance. A rapid glance at Miss Hartley helped him to
regain his composure.

"I don’t know why the boy should have been so officious," he said,
slowly; "I didn’t want to see you. I certainly passed the house on my
way. Oh, yes, and then I thought of going back—I did go a little way
back—then I altered my mind again. I suppose I must have passed three
times."

"I was afraid there was something wrong," said Hartley. "I am very glad
it is all right. I’ll give that lad a talking to. He knocked us all up
and said that you had been walking up and down for twenty-three
minutes."

The generous colour in Mr. Vyner’s cheeks was suddenly reflected in Miss
Hartley’s. Their eyes met, and, feeling exceedingly foolish, he resolved
to put a bold face on the matter.

"Bassett is unendurable," he said, with a faint laugh, "and I suspect
his watch. Still, I must admit that I did look out for you, because I
thought if you were stirring I should like to come in and see what sort
of a mess I made last night. Was it very bad?"

"N-no," said Hartley; "no; it perhaps requires a little attention. Half
an hour or so will put it right."

"I should like to see my handiwork by daylight," said Robert.

Hartley opened the garden-gate and admitted him, and all three, passing
down the garden, stood gravely inspecting the previous night’s
performance. It is to be recorded to Mr. Vyner’s credit that he coughed
disparagingly as he eyed it.

"Father says that they only want taking up and replanting," said Joan,
softly, "and the footmarks caked over, and the mould cleared away from
the path. Except for that your assistance was invaluable."

"I—I didn’t quite say that," said Hartley, mildly.

"You ought to have, then," said Robert, severely. "I had no idea it was
so bad. You’ll have to give me some lessons and see whether I do better
next time. Or perhaps Miss Hartley will; she seems to be all right, so
far as the theory of the thing goes."

Hartley smiled uneasily, and to avoid replying, moved off a little way
and became busy over a rosebush.

"Will you?" inquired Mr. Vyner, very softly. "I believe that I could
learn better from you than from anybody; I should take more interest in
the work. One wants sympathy from a teacher."

Miss Hartley shook her head. "You had better try a three months’ course
at Dale’s Nurseries," she said, with a smile. "You would get more
sympathy from them than from me."

"I would sooner learn from you," persisted Robert.

"I could teach you all I know in half an hour," said the girl.

Mr. Vyner drew a little nearer to her. "You overestimate my powers," he
said, in a low voice. "You have no idea how dull I can be; I am sure it
would take at least six months."

"That settles it, then," said Joan. "I shouldn’t like a dull pupil."

Mr. Vyner drew a little nearer still. "Perhaps—perhaps ’dull’ isn’t
quite the word," he said, musingly.

"It’s not the word I should—" began Joan, and stopped suddenly.

"Thank you," murmured Mr. Vyner. "It’s nice to be understood. What word
would you use?"

Miss Hartley, apparently interested in her father’s movements, made no
reply.

"Painstaking?" suggested Mr. Vyner; "assiduous? attentive? devoted?"

Miss Hartley, walking toward the house, affected not to hear. ’A
fragrant smell of coffee, delicately blended with odour of grilled
bacon, came from the open door and turned his thoughts to more mundane
things. Mr. Hartley joined them just as the figure of Rosa appeared at
the door. "Breakfast is quite ready, miss," she announced.

She stood looking at them, and Mr. Vyner noticed an odd, strained
appearance about her left eye which he attributed to a cast. A closer
inspection made him almost certain that she was doing her best to wink.

"I laid for three, miss," she said, with great simplicity. "You didn’t
say whether the gentleman was going to stop or not; and there’s no harm
done if he don’t."

Mr. Hartley started, and in a confused fashion murmured something that
sounded like an invitation; Mr. Vyner, in return murmuring something
about "goodness" and "not troubling them," promptly followed Joan
through the French windows of the small dining-room.

"It’s awfully kind of you," he said, heartily, as he seated himself
opposite his host; "as a matter of fact I’m half famished."

He made a breakfast which bore ample witness to the truth of his
statement; a meal with long intervals of conversation. To Hartley, who
usually breakfasted in a quarter of an hour, and was anxious to start
for the office, it became tedious in the extreme, and his eyes
repeatedly sought the clock. He almost sighed with relief as the visitor
took the last piece of toast in the rack, only to be plunged again into
depression as his daughter rang the bell for more. Unable to endure it
any longer he rose and, murmuring something about getting ready, quitted
the room.

"I’m afraid I’m delaying things," remarked Mr. Vyner, looking after him
apologetically.

Miss Hartley said, "Not at all," and, as a mere piece of convention,
considering that he had already had four cups, offered him some more
coffee. To her surprise he at once passed his cup up. She looked at the
coffee-pot and for a moment thought enviously of the widow’s cruse.

"Only a little, please," he said. "I want it for a toast."

"A toast?" said the girl.

Mr. Vyner nodded mysteriously. "It is a solemn duty," he said,
impressively, "and I want you to drink it with me. Are you ready?
’Bassett, the best of boys!’"

Joan Hartley, looking rather puzzled, laughed, and put the cup to her
lips. Robert Vyner put his cup down and regarded her intently.

"Do you know why we drank his health?" he inquired.

"No."

"Because," said Robert, pausing for a moment to steady his voice,
"because, if it hadn’t been for his officiousness, I should not be
sitting here with you."

He leaned toward her. "Do you wish that you had not drunk it?" he asked.

Joan Hartley raised her eyes and looked at him so gravely that the
mischief, with which he was trying to disguise his nervousness, died out
of his face and left it as serious as her own. For a moment her eyes,
clear and truthful, met his.

"No," she said, in a low voice.

And at that moment Rosa burst into the room with two pieces of scorched
bread and placed them upon the table. Unasked, she proffered evidence on
her own behalf, and with great relish divided the blame between the coal
merchant, the baker, and the stove. Mr. Hartley entered the room before
she had done herself full justice, and Vyner, obeying a glance from
Joan, rose to depart.



CHAPTER X



MR. VYNER spent the remainder of the morning in a state of dreamy
exaltation. He leaned back in his chair devising plans for a future in
which care and sorrow bore no part, and neglected the pile of work on
his table in favour of writing the name "Joan Vyner" on pieces of paper,
which he afterward burnt in the grate. At intervals he jumped up and
went to the window, in the faint hope that Joan might be passing, and
once, in the highest of high spirits, vaulted over his table. Removing
ink from his carpet afterward by means of blotting-paper was only an
agreeable diversion.

By mid-day his mood had changed to one of extreme tenderness and
humility, and he began to entertain unusual misgivings as to his
worthiness. He went home to lunch depressed by a sense of his
shortcomings; but, on his return, his soaring spirits got the better of
him again. Filled with a vast charity, his bosom overflowing with love
for all mankind, he looked about to see whom he could benefit; and
Bassett entering the room at that moment was sacrificed without delay.
Robert Vyner was ashamed to think that he should have left the lad’s
valuable services unrewarded for so long.

"It’s a fine afternoon, Bassett," he said, leaning back and regarding
him with a benevolent smile.

"Beautiful, sir," said the youth.

"Too fine to sit in a stuffy office," continued the other. "Put on you
hat and go out and enjoy yourself."

"Sir?" said the amazed Bassett.

"Take a half holiday," said Vyner, still smiling.

"Thank you, sir," said Bassett, "but I don’t care for holidays; and,
besides, I’ve got a lot of work to do."

"Do it to-morrow," said Vyner. "Go on—out you go!"

"It can’t be done to-morrow, sir," said the youth, almost tearfully.
"I’ve got all the letters to copy, and a pile of other work. And besides
I shouldn’t know what to do with myself if I went."

Mr. Vyner eyed him in astonishment. "I’m sorry to find a tendency to
disobedience in you, Bassett," he said, at last. "I’ve noticed it
before. And as to saying that you wouldn’t know what to do with
yourself, it’s a mere idle excuse."

"What time have I got to go, sir?" asked Bassett, resignedly.

"Time?" exclaimed the other. "Now, at once. Avaunt!"

The boy stood for a moment gazing at him in mute appeal, and then,
moving with laggard steps to the door, closed it gently behind him. A
sudden outbreak of four or five voices, all speaking at once, that
filtered through the wall, satisfied Mr. Vyner that his orders were
being obeyed.

Horrified at the grave charge of disobedience, Bassett distributed his
work and left with what the junior clerk—whom he had constituted
residuary legatee—considered unnecessary and indecent haste. The latter
gentleman, indeed, to the youth’s discomfiture, accompanied him as far
as the entrance, and spoke eloquently upon the subject all the way
downstairs. His peroration consisted almost entirely of a repetition of
the words "lazy fat-head."

With this hostile voice still ringing in his ears Bas-sett strolled
aimlessly about the streets of his native town. He spent some time at a
stall in front of a second-hand bookshop, and was just deep in an
enthralling romance, entitled "Story of a Lump of Coal," when a huge
hand was laid upon his shoulder, and he turned to meet the admiring gaze
of Mr. Walters.

"More book-larning," said the boatswain, in tones of deep respect. "It’s
a wonder to me that that head of yours don’t bust."

"Heads don’t burst," said Bassett. "The brain enlarges with use the same
as muscles with exercise. They can’t burst."

"I only wish I had arf your laming," said Mr. Walters; "just arf, and I
should be a very different man to wot I am now. Well, so long."

"Where are you going?" inquired the youth, replacing the book.

"Seven Trees," replied the other, displaying a small parcel. "I’ve got
to take this over there for the skipper. How far do you make it?"

"Four miles," said Bassett. "I’ll come with you, if you like."

"Wot about the office?" inquired the boatswain, in surprise.

Bassett, explained, and a troubled expression appeared on the seaman’s
face as he listened. He was thinking of the last conversation he had had
with the youth, and the hearty way in which he had agreed with him as to
the pernicious action of malt and other agreeable liquors on the human
frame. He remembered that he had committed himself to the statement that
wild horses could not make him drink before six in the evening, and then
not more than one half-pint.

"It’s a long walk for a ’ot day," he said, slowly. "It might be too much
for you."

"Oh, no; I’m a good walker," said Bassett.

"Might be too much for that head of yours," said Mr. Walters,
considerately.

"I often walk farther than that," was the reply.

Mr. Walters drew the back of his hand across a mouth which was already
dry, and resigned himself to his fate. He had lied quite voluntarily,
and pride told him that he must abide by the consequences. And eight
miles of dusty road lay between him and relief. He strode along stoutly,
and tried to turn an attentive ear to a dissertation on field-mice. At
the end of the first mile he saw the sign of the Fox and Hounds peeping
through the trees, and almost unconsciously slackened his pace as he
remembered that it was the last inn on the road to Seven Trees.

"It’s very ’ot," he murmured, mopping his brow with his sleeve, "and I’m
as dry as a bone."

"I’m thirsty, too," said Bassett; "but you know the cure for it, don’t
you?"

"O’ course I do," said the boatswain, and nearly smacked his lips.

"Soldiers do it on the march," said Bassett.

"I’ve seen ’em," said Mr. Walters, grinning.

"A leaden bullet is the best thing," said Bassett, stooping and picking
up a pebble, which he polished on his trousers, "but this will do as
well. Suck that and you won’t be troubled with thirst."

The boatswain took it mechanically, and, after giving it another wipe on
his own trousers, placed it with great care in his mouth. Bassett found
another pebble and they marched on sucking.

"My thirst has quite disappeared," he said, presently. "How’s yours?"

"Worse and worse," said Mr. Walters, gruffly.

"It’ll be all right in a minute," said Bassett. "Perhaps I had the best
pebble. If it isn’t, perhaps we could get a glass of water at a cottage;
athough it isn’t good to drink when you are heated."

Mr. Walters made no reply, but marched on, marvelling at his lack of
moral courage. Bassett, quite refreshed, took out his pebble, and after
a grateful tribute to its properties placed it in his waistcoat pocket
for future emergencies.

By the time they had reached Seven Trees and delivered the parcel Mr.
Walters was desperate. The flattering comments that Bassett had made
upon his common-sense and virtue were forgotten. Pleading fatigue he sat
down by the roadside and, with his eyes glued to the open door of the
Pedlar’s Rest, began to hatch schemes of deliverance.

A faint smell of beer and sawdust, perceptible even at that distance,
set his nostrils aquiver. Then he saw an old labourer walk from the bar
to a table, bearing a mug of foaming ale. Human nature could endure no
more, and he was just about to throw away a hard-earned character for
truth and sobriety when better thoughts intervened. With his eyes fixed
on the small figure by his side, he furtively removed the pebble from
his mouth, and then with a wild cry threw out his arms and clutched at
his throat.

"What’s the matter?" cried Bassett, as the boatswain sprang to his feet.

"The stone," cried Mr. Walters, in a strangulated voice; "it’s stuck in
my throat."

Bassett thumped him on the back like one possessed. "Cough it up!" he
cried. "Put your finger down! Cough!"

The boatswain waved his arms and gurgled. "I’m choking!" he moaned, and
dashed blindly into the inn, followed by the alarmed boy.

"Pot—six ale!" he gasped, banging on the little counter.

The landlord eyed him in speechless amazement.

"Six ale!" repeated the boatswain. "Pot! Quick! G-r-r."

"You be off," said the landlord, putting down a glass he was wiping, and
eying him wrathfully. "How dare you come into my place like that? What
do you mean by it?"

"He has swallowed a pebble!" said Bassett, hastily.

"If he’d swallowed a brick I shouldn’t be surprised," said the landlord,
"seeing the state he’s in. I don’t want drunken sailors in my place;
and, what’s more, I won’t have ’em."

"Drunk?" said the unfortunate boatswain, raising his voice. "Me? Why, I
ain’t—"

"Out you go!" said the landlord, in a peremptory voice, "and be quick
about it; I don’t want people to say you got it here."

"Got it?" wailed Mr. Walters. "Got it? I tell you I ain’t had it. I
swallowed a stone."

"If you don’t go out," said the landlord, as Mr. Walters, in token of
good faith, stood making weird noises in his throat and rolling his
eyes, "I’ll have you put out. How dare you make them noises in my bar!
Will—you—go?"

Mr. Walters looked at him, looked at the polished nickel taps, and the
neat row of mugs on the shelves. Then, without a word, he turned and
walked out.

"Has it gone down?" inquired Bassett presently, as they walked along.

"Wot?" said the boatswain, thoughtlessly.

"The pebble."

"I s’pose so," said the other, sourly.

"I should think it would be all right, then," said the boy; "foreign
bodies, even of considerable size, are often swallowed with impunity.
How is your thirst now?"

The boatswain stopped dead in the middle of the road and stood eying him
suspiciously, but the mild eyes behind the glasses only betrayed
friendly solicitude. He grunted and walked on.

By the time the Fox and Hounds came in sight again he had resolved not
to lose a reputation which entailed suffering. He clapped the boy on the
back, and after referring to a clasp-knive which he remembered to have
left on the grass opposite the Pedlar’s Rest, announced his intention of
going back for it. He did go back as far as a bend in the road, and,
after watching Bassett out of sight, hastened with expectant steps into
the inn.

He rested there for an hour, and, much refreshed, walked slowly into
Salthaven. It was past seven o’clock, and somewhat at a loss how to
spend the evening he was bending his steps toward the Lobster Pot, a
small inn by the quay, when in turning a corner he came into violent
collision with a fashionably attired lady.

"I beg pardon, ma’am," he stammered. "I’m very sorry. I didn’t see where
I was—Why! Halloa, yaller wig!"

Miss Jelks drew back and, rubbing, her arm, eyed him haughtily.

"Fancy you in a ’at like that," pursued the astonished boatswain. "No
wonder I thought you was a lady. Well, and ’ow are you?"

"My health is very well, I thank you," returned Miss Jelks, stiffly.

"That’s right," said the boatswain, heartily.

Conversation came suddenly to a standstill, and they stood eying each
other awkwardly.

"It’s a fine evening," said Mr. Walters, at last.

"Beautiful," said Rosa.

They eyed each other again, thoughtfully.

"You hurt my arm just now," said Rosa, rubbing it coquettishly. "You’re
very strong, aren’t you?"

"Middling," said the boatswain.

"Very strong, I should say," said Rosa. "You’ve got such a broad chest
and shoulders."

The boatswain inflated himself.

"And arms," continued Miss Jelks, admiringly. "Arms like—like—"

"Blocks o’ wood," suggested the modest Mr. Walters, squinting at them
complacently.

"Or iron," said Rosa. "Well, good-by; it’s my evening out, and I mustn’t
waste it."

"Where are you going?" inquired the boatswain.

Miss Jelks shook her head. "I don’t know," she said, softly.

"You can come with me if you like," said Mr. Walters, weighing his words
carefully. "A little way. I ain’t got nothing better to do."

Miss Jelks’s eyes flashed, then with a demure smile she turned and
walked by his side. They walked slowly up the street, and Mr. Walters’s
brows grew black as a series of troublesome coughs broke out behind. A
glance over his shoulder showed him three tavern acquaintances roguishly
shaking their heads at him.

"Arf a second," he said, stopping. "I’ll give ’em something to cough
about."

Rosa clutched his arm. "Not now; not while you are with me," she said,
primly.

"Just one smack," urged the boatswain.

He looked round again and clenched his fists, as his friends, with their
arms fondly encircling each other’s waists, walked mincingly across the
road. He shook off the girl’s arm and stepped off the pavement as with
little squeals, fondly believed to be feminine, they sought sanctuary in
the Red Lion.

"They’re not worth taking notice of," said Rosa.

She put a detaining hand through his arm again and gave it a little
gentle squeeze. A huge feather almost rested on his shoulder, and the
scent of eau-de-Cologne assailed his nostrils. He walked on in silent
amazement at finding himself in such a position.

"It’s nice to be out," said Rosa, ignoring a feeble attempt on his part
to release his arm. "You’ve no idea how fresh the air smells after
you’ve been shut up all day."

"You’ve got a comfortable berth, though, haven’t you?" said Mr. Walters.

"Fairish," said Rosa. "There’s plenty of work; but I like
work—housework."

The boatswain said "Oh!"

"Some girls can’t bear it," said Rosa, "but then, as I often say, what
are they going to do when they get married?"

"Ah!" said the boatswain, with an alarmed grunt, and made another
attempt to release his arm.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Rosa, making a pretence of freeing him.
"I’m afraid I’m leaning on you; but I sprained my ankle yesterday, and I
thought—"

"All right," said Mr. Walters, gruffly.

"Thank you," said Rosa, and leaned on him heavily. "Housework is the
proper thing for girls," she continued, with some severity. "Every girl
ought to know how to keep her husband’s house clean and cook nicely for
him. But there—all they think about is love. What did you say?"

"Nothing," said Mr. Walters, hastily. "I didn’t say a word."

"I don’t understand it myself," said Rosa, takings an appraising glance
at him from under the brim of her hat; "I can’t think why people want to
get married when they’re comfortable."

"Me neither," said the boatswain.

"Being friends is all right," said Rosa, meditatively, "but falling in
love and getting married always seemed absurd to me."

"Me too," said Mr. Walters, heartily.

With a mind suddenly at ease he gave himself over to calm enjoyment of
the situation. He sniffed approvingly at the eau-de-Cologne, and leaned
heavily toward the feather. Apparently without either of them knowing
it, his arm began to afford support to Miss Jelks’s waist. They walked
on for a long time in silence.

"Some men haven’t got your sense," said Rosa, at last, with a sigh.
"There’s a young fellow that brings the milk—nice young fellow I thought
he was—and all because I’ve had a word with him now and again, he tried
to make love to me."

"Oh, did he?" said Mr. Walters, grimly. "What’s his name?"

"It don’t matter," said Rosa. "I don’t think he’ll try it again."

"Still, I might as well learn ’im a lesson," said the boatswain. "I like
a bit of a scrap."

"If you are going to fight everybody that tries to take notice of me
you’ll have your work cut out," said Miss Jelks, in tones of melancholy
resignation, "and I’m sure it’s not because I give them any
encouragement. And as for the number that ask me to walk out with
them—well, there!"

Mr. Walters showed his sympathy with such a state of affairs by a
pressure that nearly took her breath away. They sat for an hour and a
half on a bench by the river discussing the foolishness of young men.

"If any of them chaps trouble you again," he said, as they shook hands
at the gate of Laurel Lodge, "you let me know. Do you have Sunday
evening out too?"



CHAPTER XI



I HAVE been knocking for the last ten minutes," said Hartley, as he
stood one evening at the open door of No. 5, Tranquil Vale, and looked
up at Captain Trimblett.

"I was in the summer-house," said the captain, standing aside to let him
enter.

"Alone?" queried the visitor.

"Alone? Yes, of course," said the captain, sharply. "Why shouldn’t I be?
Peter’s courting—as usual."

"And Mrs. Chinnery?" inquired the other.

"She’s away for a day or two," replied the captain; "friends at
Marsham."

He stopped in the small kitchen to get some beer and glasses, and, with
the bottle gripped under his arm and a glass in each hand, led the way
to the summer-house.

"I came to ask your advice," said Hartley, as he slowly filled his pipe
from the pouch the captain pushed toward him.

"Joan?" inquired the captain, who was carefully decanting the beer.

Mr. Hartley nodded.

"Robert Vyner?" pursued the captain.

Hartley nodded again.

"What did I tell you?" inquired the other, placing a full tumbler before
him. "I warned you from the first. I told you how it would be. I——"

"It’s no good talking like that," said Hartley, with feeble irritation.
"You’re as bad as my poor old grandmother; she always knew everything
before it happened—at least, she said so afterward. What I want to know
is: how is it to be stopped? He has been round three nights running."

"Your grandmother is dead, I suppose?" said the offended captain, gazing
at the river. "Else she might have known what to do."

"I’m sorry," said Hartley, apologetically; "but I am so worried that I
hardly know what I’m saying."

"That’s all right," said the captain, amiably. He drank some beer and,
leaning back on the seat, knitted his brows thoughtfully.

"He admired her from the first," he said, slowly. "I saw that. Does she
like him, I wonder?"

"It looks like it," was the reply.

The captain shook his head. "They’d make a fine couple," he said,
slowly. "As fine as you’d see anywhere. It’s fate again. Perhaps he was
meant to admire her; perhaps millions of years ago——"

"Yes, yes, I know," said Hartley, hastily; "but to prevent it."

"Fate can’t be prevented," said the captain, who was now on his
favourite theme. "Think of the millions of things that had to happen to
make it possible for those two young people to meet and cause this
trouble. That’s what I mean. If only one little thing had been missing,
one little circumstance out of millions, Joan wouldn’t have been born;
you wouldn’t have been born."

Mr. Hartley attempted to speak, but the captain, laying down his pipe,
extended an admonitory finger.

"To go back only a little way," he said, solemnly, "your father had the
measles, hadn’t he?"

"I don’t know—I believe so," said Hartley.

"Good," said the captain; "and he pulled through ’em, else you wouldn’t
have been here. Again, he happened to go up North to see a friend who
was taken ill while on a journey, and met your mother there, didn’t he?"

Hartley groaned.

"If your father’s friend hadn’t been taken ill," said the captain, with
tremendous solemnity, as he laid his forefinger on his friend’s knee,
"where would you have been?"

"I don’t know," said Hartley, restlessly, "and I don’t care."

"Nobody knows," said the other, shaking his head. "The thing is, as you
are here, it seems to me that things couldn’t have been otherwise. They
were all arranged. When your father went up North in that light-hearted
fashion, I don’t suppose he thought for a moment that you’d be sitting
here to-day worrying over one of the results of his journey."

"Of course he didn’t," exclaimed Hartley, impatiently; "how could he?
Look here, Trimblett, when you talk like that I don’t know where I am.
If my father hadn’t married my mother I suppose he would have married
somebody else."

"My idea is that he couldn’t," said the captain, obstinately. "If a
thing has got to be it will be, and there’s no good worrying about it.
Take a simple example. Some time you are going to die of a certain
disease—you can only die once—and you’re going to be buried in a certain
grave—you can only be buried in one grave. Try and think that in front
of you there is that one particular disease told off to kill you at a
certain date, and in one particular spot of all this earth there is a
grave waiting to be dug for you. At present we don’t know the date, or
the disease, or the grave, but there they are, all waiting for you. That
is fate. What is the matter? Where are you going?"

"Home," said Hartley, bitterly, as he paused at the door. "I came round
to you for a little help, and you go on in a way that makes my flesh
creep. Good-by."

"Wait a bit," said the captain, detaining him. "Wait a bit; let’s see
what can be done."

He pulled the other back into his seat again and, fetching another
bottle of beer from the house to stimulate invention, sat evolving
schemes for his friend’s relief, the nature of which reflected more
credit upon his ingenuity than his wisdom.

"But, after all," he said, as Hartley made a third attempt to depart,
"what is the good? The very steps we take to avoid disaster may be the
ones to bring it on. While you are round here getting advice from me,
Robert Vyner may be availing himself of the opportunity to propose."

Hartley made no reply. He went out and walked’ up and down the garden,
inspecting it. The captain, who was no gardener, hoped that the
expression of his face was due to his opinion of the flowers.

"You must miss Mrs. Chinnery," said Hartley, at last.

"No," said the captain, almost explosively; "not at all. Why should I?"

"It can’t be so homelike without her," said Hartley, stooping to pull up
a weed or two.

"Just the same," said the other, emphatically. "We have a woman in to do
the work, and it doesn’t make the slightest difference to me—not the
slightest."

"How is Truefitt?" inquired Hartley.

The captain’s face darkened. "Peter’s all right," he said, slowly. "He’s
not treated me—quite well," he added, after a little hesitation.

"It’s natural he should neglect you a bit, as things are," said his
friend.

"Neglect?" said the captain, bitterly. "I wish he would neglect me. He’s
turning out a perfect busybody, and he’s getting as artful as they make
’em. I never would have believed it of Peter. Never."

Hartley waited.

"I met Cap’n Walsh the other night," said Trimblett; "we hadn’t seen
each other for years, and we went into the Golden Fleece to have a
drink. You know what Walsh is when he’s ashore. And he’s a man that
won’t be beaten. He had had four tries to get a ’cocktail’ right that he
had tasted in New York, and while he was superintending the mixing of
the fifth I slipped out. The others were all right as far as I could
judge; but that’s Walsh all over."

"Well?" said Hartley.

"I came home and found Peter sitting all alone in the dumps," continued
the captain. "He has been very down of late, and, what was worse, he had
got a bottle of whiskey on the table. That’s a fatal thing to begin; and
partly to keep him company, but mainly to prevent him drinking more than
was good for him, I helped him finish the bottle—there wasn’t much in
it."

"Well?" said Hartley again, as the captain paused.

"He got talking about his troubles," said the captain, slowly. "You know
how things are, and, like a fool, I tried to cheer him up by agreeing
with him that Mrs. Chinnery would very likely make things easy for him
by marrying again. In fact, so far as I remember, I even helped him to
think of the names of one or two likely men. He said she’d make anybody
as good a wife as a man could wish."

"So she would," said Hartley, looking at him with sudden interest. "In
fact, I have often wondered—"

"He went on talking like that," continued the captain, hastily, "and out
of politeness and good feeling I agreed with him. What else could I do?
Then—I didn’t take much notice of it because, as I said, he was drinking
whiskey—he—he sort of wondered why—why—"

"Why you didn’t offer to marry her?" interrupted Hartley.

The captain nodded. "It took my breath away," he said, impressively,
"and I lost my presence of mind. Instead of speaking out plain I tried
to laugh it off—just to spare his feelings—and said I wasn’t worthy of
her."

"What did he say?" inquired Hartley, curiously, after another long
pause.

"Nothing," replied the captain. "Not a single word. He just gave me a
strange look, shook my hand hard, and went off to bed. I’ve been uneasy
in my mind ever since. I hardly slept a wink last night; and Peter
behaves as though there is some mysterious secret between us. What would
you do?"

Mr. Hartley took his friend’s arm and paced thoughtfully up and down the
garden.

"Why not marry her?" he said, at last.

"Because I don’t want to," said the captain, almost violently.

"You’d be safer at sea, then," said the other.

"The ship won’t be ready for sea for weeks yet," said Captain Trimblett,
dolefully. "She’s going on a time-charter, and before she is taken over
she has got to be thoroughly overhauled. As fast as they put one thing
right something else is found to be wrong."

"Go to London and stay with your children for a bit, then," said
Hartley. "Give out that you are only going for a day or two, and then
don’t turn up till the ship sails."

The captain’s face brightened. "I believe Vyner would let me go," he
replied. "I could go in a few days’ time, at any rate. And, by the
way—Joan!"

"Eh?" said Hartley.

"Write to your brother-in-law at Highgate, and send her there for a
time," said the captain. "Write and ask him to invite her. Keep her and
young Vyner apart before things go too far."

"I’ll see how things go for a bit," said Hartley, slowly. "It’s awkward
to write and ask for an invitation. And where do your ideas of fate come
in?". "They come in all the time," said the captain, with great
seriousness. "Very likely my difficulty was made on purpose for us to
think of a way of getting you out of yours. Or it might be Joan’s fate
to meet somebody in London at her uncle’s and marry him. If she goes we
might arrange to go up together, so that I could look after her."

"I’ll think it over," said his friend, holding out his hand. "I must be
going."

"I’ll come a little way with you," said the captain, leading the way
into the house. "I don’t suppose Peter will be in yet, but he might; and
I’ve had more of him lately than I want."

He took up his hat and, opening the door, followed Hartley out into the
road. The evening was warm, and they walked slowly, the captain still
discoursing on fate and citing various instances of its working which
had come under his own observation. He mentioned, among others, the case
of a mate of his who found a wife by losing a leg, the unfortunate
seaman falling an easy victim to the nurse who attended him.

"He always put it down to the effects of the chloroform," concluded the
captain; "but my opinion is, it was to be."

He paused at Hartley’s gate, and was just indulging in the usual
argument as to whether he should go indoors for a minute or not, when a
man holding a handkerchief to his bleeding face appeared suddenly round
the corner of the house and, making a wild dash for the gate, nearly
overturned the owner.

"It looks like our milkman!" said Hartley, recovering his balance and
gazing in astonishment after the swiftly retreating figure. "I wonder
what was the matter with him?"

"He would soon know what was the matter with him if I got hold of him,"
said the wrathful captain.

Hartley opened the door with his key, and the captain, still muttering
under his breath, passed in. Rosa’s voice, raised in expostulation,
sounded loudly from the kitchen, and a man’s voice, also raised, was
heard in response.

"Sounds like my bo’sun," said the captain, staring as he passed into the
front room. "What’s he doing here?"

Hartley shook his head.

"Seems to be making himself at home," said the captain, fidgeting. "He’s
as noisy as if he was in his own house."

"I don’t suppose he knows you are here," said his friend, mildly.

Captain Trimblett still fidgeted. "Well, it’s your house," he said at
last. "If you don’t mind that lanky son of a gun making free, I suppose
it’s no business of mine. If he made that noise aboard my ship—"

Red of face he marched to the window and stood looking out. Fortified by
his presence, Hartley rang the bell.

"Is there anybody in the kitchen?" he inquired, as Rosa answered it. "I
fancied I heard a man’s voice."

"The milkman was here just now," said Rosa, and, eying him calmly,
departed.

The captain swung round in wrathful amazement.

"By—," he spluttered; "I’ve seen—well—by—b-r-r-r——— Can I ring for that
d——d bo’sun o’ mine?

"Certainly," said Hartley.

The captain crossed to the fireplace and, seizing the bell-handle, gave
a pull that made the kitchen resound with wild music. After a decent
interval, apparently devoted to the allaying of masculine fears, Rosa
appeared again.

"Did you ring, sir?" she inquired, gazing at her master.

"Send that bo’sun o’ mine here at once!" said the captain, gruffly.

Rosa permitted herself a slight expression of surprise. "Bo’sun, sir?"
she asked, politely.

"Yes."

The girl affected to think. "Oh, you mean Mr. Walters?" she said, at
last.

"Send him here," said the captain.

Rosa retired slowly, and shortly afterward something was heard brushing
softly against the wall of the passage. It ceased for a time, and just
as the captain’s patience was nearly at an end there was a sharp
exclamation, and Mr. Walters burst suddenly into the room and looked
threateningly over his shoulder at somebody in the passage.

"What are you doing here?" demanded Captain Trimblett, loudly.

Mr. Walters eyed him uneasily, and with his cap firmly gripped in his
left hand saluted him with the right. Then he turned his head sideways
toward the passage. The captain repeated his question in a voice, if
anything, louder than before.

The strained appearance of Mr. Walters’s countenance relaxed.

"Come here for my baccy-box, wot I left here the other day," he said,
glibly, "when you sent me."

"What were you making that infernal row about, then?" demanded the
captain.

Mr. Walters cast an appealing glance toward the passage and listened
acutely. "I was—grumbling because—I couldn’t—find it," he said, with
painstaking precision.

"Grumbling?" repeated the captain. "That ugly voice of yours was enough
to bring the ceiling down. What was the matter with that man that burst
out of the gate as we came in, eh?"

The boatswain’s face took on a wooden expression.

"He—his nose was bleeding," he said, at last.

"I know that," said the captain, grimly; "but what made it bleed?"

For a moment Mr. Walters looked like a man who has been given a riddle
too difficult for human solution. Then his face cleared again.

"He—he told me—he was object—subject to it," he stammered. "Been like it
since he was a baby."

He shifted his weight to his other foot and shrugged eloquently the
shoulder near the passage.

"What did you do to him?" demanded the captain, in a low, stern voice.

"Me, sir?" said Mr. Walters, with clumsy surprise. "Me, sir? I—I—all I
done—all I done—was ta put a door-key down his back."

"Door-key?" roared the captain.

"To—to stop the bleeding, sir," said Mr. Walters, looking at the floor
and nervously twisting his cap in his hands. "It’s a old-fashioned—"

"That’ll do," exclaimed the captain, in a choking voice, "that’ll do. I
don’t want any more of your lies. How dare you come to Mr. Hartley’s
house and knock his milkman about, eh? How dare you? What do you mean by
it?"

Mr. Walters fumbled with his cap again. "I was sitting in the kitchen,"
he said at last, "sitting in the kitchen—hunting ’igh and low for my
baccy-box—when this ’ere miserable, insulting chap shoves his head in at
the door and calls the young lady names."

"Names?" said the captain, frowning, and waving an interruption from
Hartley aside. "What names?"

Mr. Walters hesitated again, and his brow grew almost as black as the
captain’s.

"’Rosy-lips,’" he said, at last; "and I give ’im such a wipe acrost—"

"Out you go," cried the wrathful captain. "Out you go, and if I hear
your pretty little voice in this house again you’ll remember it, I can
tell you. D’ye hear? Scoot!"

Mr. Walters said "Thank you," and, retiring with an air of great
deference, closed the door softly behind him.

"There’s another of them," said Captain Trimblett subsiding into a
chair. "And from little things I had heard here and there I thought he
regarded women as poison. Fate again, I suppose; he was made to regard
them as poison all these years for the sake of being caught by that
tow-headed wench in your kitchen."



CHAPTER XII



BY no means insensible to the difficulties in the way, Joan Hartley had
given no encouragement to Mr. Robert Vyner to follow up the advantage
afforded him by her admission at the breakfast-table. Her father’s
uneasiness, coupled with the broad hints which Captain Trimblett mistook
for tactfulness, only confirmed her in her resolution; and Mr. Vyner, in
his calmer moments, had to admit to himself that she was right—for the
present, at any rate. Meantime, they were both young, and, with the
confidence of youth, he looked forward to a future in which his father’s
well-known views on social distinctions and fitting matrimonial
alliances should have undergone a complete change. As to his mother, she
merely seconded his father’s opinions, and, with admiration born of love
and her marriage vows, filed them for reference in a memory which had on
more than one occasion been a source of great embarrassment to a man who
had not lived for over fifty years without changing some of them.

Deeply conscious of his own moderation, it was, therefore, with a sense
of annoyance that Mr. Robert Vyner discovered that Captain Trimblett was
actually attempting to tackle him upon the subject which he considered
least suitable for discussion. They were sitting in his office, and the
captain, in pursuance of a promise to Hartley, after two or three
references to the weather, and a long account of an uninteresting
conversation with a policeman, began to get on to dangerous ground.

"I’ve been in the firm’s service a good many years now," he began.

"I hope you’ll be in as many more," said Vyner, regarding him almost
affectionately.

"Hartley has been with you a long time, too," continued Trimblett,
slowly. "We became chums the first time we met, and we’ve been friends
ever since. Not just fair-weather friends, but close and hearty; else I
wouldn’t venture to speak to you as I’m going to speak."

Mr. Vyner looked up at him suddenly, his face hard and forbidding. Then,
as he saw the embarrassment in the kindly old face before him, his anger
vanished and he bent his head to hide a smile.

"Fire away," he said, cordially.

"I’m an old man," began the captain, solemnly.

"Nonsense," interrupted Robert, breezily. "Old man indeed! A man is as
old as he feels, and I saw you the other night, outside the Golden
Fleece, with Captain Walsh—"

"I couldn’t get away from him," said the captain, hastily.

"So far as I could see you were not trying," continued the remorseless
Robert. "You were instructing him in the more difficult and subtle
movements of a hornpipe, and I must say I thought your elasticity was
wonderful—wonderful."

"It was just the result of an argument I had with him," said the
captain, looking very confused, "and I ought to have known better. But,
as I was saying, I am an old man, and—"

"But you look so young," protested Mr. Vyner.

"Old man," repeated the captain, ignoring the remark. "Old age has its
privileges, and one of them is to give a word in season before it is too
late."

"’A stitch in time saves nine," quoted Robert, with an encouraging nod.

"And I was speaking to Hartley the other day," continued the captain.
"He hasn’t been looking very well of late, and, as far as I can make
out, he is a little bit worried over the matter I want to speak to you
about."

Robert Vyner’s face hardened again for a moment. He leaned back in his
chair and, playing with his watch-chain, regarded the other intently.
Then he smiled maliciously.

"He told me," he said, nodding.

"Told you?" repeated the captain, in astonishment.

Mr. Vyner nodded again, and bending down pretended to glance at some
papers on his table.

"Green-fly," he said, gravely. "He told me that he syringes early and
late. He will clear a tree, as he thinks, and while he has gone to mix
another bucket of the stuff there are several generations born. Bassett
informs me that a green-fly is a grandfather before it is half an hour
old. So you see it is hopeless. Quite."

Captain Trimblett listened with ill-concealed impatience. "I was
thinking of something more important than green-flies," he said,
emphatically.

"Yes?" said Vyner, thoughtfully.

It was evident that the old sailor was impervious to hints. Rendered
unscrupulous by the other’s interference, and at the same time unwilling
to hurt his feelings, Mr. Vyner bethought himself of a tale to which he
had turned an unbelieving ear only an hour or two before.

"Of course, I quite forgot," he said, apologetically. "How stupid of me!
I hope that you’ll accept my warmest congratulations and be very, very
happy. I can’t tell you how pleased I am. But for the life of me I can’t
see why it should worry Hartley."

"Congratulations?" said the captain, eying him in surprise. "What
about?"

"Your marriage," replied Robert. "I only heard of it on my way to the
office, and your talking put it out of my head."

"Me?" said Captain Trimblett, going purple with suppressed emotion. "My
marriage? I’m not going to be married. Not at all."

"What do you mean by ’not at all?" inquired Mr. Vyner, looking puzzled.
"It isn’t a thing you can do by halves."

"I’m not going to be married at all," said the captain, raising his
voice. "I never thought of such a thing. Who—who told you?"

"A little bird," said Robert, with a simpering air.

Captain Trimblett took out a handkerchief, and after blowing his nose
violently and wiping his heated face expressed an overpowering desire to
wring the little bird’s neck.

"Who was it?" he repeated.

"A little bird of the name of Sellers—Captain Sellers," replied Robert.
"I met him on my way here, hopping about in the street, simply brimming
over with the news."

"There isn’t a word of truth in it," said the agitated captain. "I never
thought of such a thing. That old mischief-making mummy must be
mad—stark, starin’ mad."

"Dear me!" said Robert, regretfully. "He seems such a dear old chap, and
I thought it was so nice to see a man of his age so keenly interested in
the love-affairs of a younger generation. Anybody might have thought you
were his own son from the way he talked of you."

"I’ll ’son’ him!" said the unhappy captain, vaguely.

"He is very deaf," said Robert, gently, "and perhaps he may have
misunderstood somebody. Perhaps somebody told him you were not going to
be married. Funny he shouts so, isn’t it? Most deaf people speak in a
very low voice."

"Did he shout that?" inquired Captain Trimblett, in a quivering voice.

"Bawled it," replied Mr. Vyner, cheerfully; "but as it isn’t true, I
really think that you ought to go and tell Captain Sellers at once.
There is no knowing what hopes he may be raising. He is a fine old man;
but perhaps, after all, he is a wee bit talkative."

Captain Trimblett, who had risen, stood waiting impatiently until the
other had finished, and then, forgetting all about the errand that had
brought him there, departed in haste. Mr. Vyner went to the window, and
a broad smile lit up his face as he watched the captain hurrying across
the bridge. With a blessing on the head of the most notorious old gossip
in Salthaven, he returned to his work.

Possessed by a single idea, Captain Trimblett sped on his way at a pace
against which both his age and his figure protested in vain. By the time
he reached Tranquil Vale he was breathless, and hardly able to gasp his
inquiry for Captain Sellers to the old housekeeper who attended the
door.

"He’s a-sitting in the garden looking at his flowers," she replied.
"Will you go through?"

Captain Trimblett went through. His head was erect and his face and eyes
blazing. A little old gentleman, endowed with the far sight peculiar to
men who have followed the sea, who was sitting in a deck-chair at the
bottom of the garden, glimpsed him and at once collapsed. By the time
the captain reached the chair he discovered a weasel-faced, shrunken old
figure in a snuff-coloured suit of clothes sunk in a profound slumber.
He took him by the arms and shook him roughly.

"Yes? Halloa! What’s matter?" inquired Captain Sellers, half waking.

Captain Trimblett arched his hand over his mouth and bent to an ear
apparently made of yellow parchment.

"Cap’n Sellers," he said, in a stern, thrilling voice, "I’ve got a bone
to pick with you."

The old man opened his eyes wide and sat blinking at him. "I’ve been
asleep," he said, with a senile chuckle. "How do, Cap’n Trimblett?"

"I’ve got a bone to pick with you," repeated the other.

"Eh?" said Captain Sellers, putting his hand to his ear.

"A—bone—to—pick—with—you," said the incensed Trimblett, raising his
voice. "What do you mean by it?"

"Eh?" said Captain Sellers, freshly.

"What do you mean by saying things about me?" bawled Trimblett. "How
dare you go spreading false reports about me? I’ll have the law of you."

Captain Sellers smiled vaguely and shook his head.

"I’ll prosecute you," bellowed Captain Trimblett. "You’re shamming, you
old fox. You can hear what I say plain enough. You’ve been spreading
reports that I’m going to—"

He stopped and looked round just in time. Attracted by the volume of his
voice, the housekeeper had come to the back door, two faces appeared at
the next-door windows, and the back of Mr. Peter Truefitt was just
disappearing inside his summer-house.

"I know you are talking," said Captain Sellers, plaintively, "because I
can see your lips moving. It’s a great affliction—deafness."

He fell back in his chair again, and, with a crafty old eye cocked on
the windows next door, fingered a scanty tuft of white hair on his chin
and smiled weakly. Captain Trimblett controlled himself by an effort,
and, selecting a piece of paper from a bundle of letters in his pocket,
made signs for a pencil. Captain Sellers shook his head; then he glanced
round uneasily as Trimblett, with an exclamation of satisfaction, found
an inch in his waistcoat-pocket and began to write. He nodded sternly at
the paper when he had finished, and handed it to Captain Sellers.

The old gentleman received it with a pleasant smile, and, extricating
himself from his chair in a remarkable fashion considering his age,
began to fumble in his pockets. He went through them twice, and his
countenance, now lighted by hope and now darkened by despair, conveyed
to Captain Trimblett as accurately as speech could have done the
feelings of a man to whom all reading matter, without his spectacles, is
mere dross.

"I can’t find my glasses," said Captain Sellers, at last, lowering
himself into the chair. Then he put his hand to his ear and turned
toward his visitor. "Try again," he said, encouragingly.

Captain Trimblett eyed him for a moment in helpless wrath, and then,
turning on his heel, marched back through the house, and after standing
irresolute for a second or two entered his own. The front room was
empty, and from the silence he gathered that Mrs. Chinnery was out. He
filled his pipe, and throwing himself into an easy-chair sought to calm
his nerves with tobacco, while he tried to think out his position. His
meditations were interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Truefitt, and
something in the furtive way that gentleman eyed him as he came into the
room only served to increase his uneasiness.

"Very warm," said Truefitt.

The captain assented, and with his eyes fixed on the mantelpiece smoked
in silence.

"I saw you... talking... to Captain Sellers just now," said Mr.
Truefitt, after a long pause.

"Aye," said the captain. "You did."

His eyes came from the mantelpiece and fixed themselves on those of his
friend. Mr. Truefitt in a flurried fashion struck a match and applied it
to his empty pipe.

"I’ll have the law of him," said the captain, fiercely; "he has been
spreading false reports about me."

"Reports?" repeated Mr. Truefitt, in a husky voice.

"He has been telling everybody that I am about to be married," thundered
the captain.

Mr. Truefitt scratched the little bit of gray whisker that grew by his
ear.

"I told him," he said at last.

"You?" exclaimed the amazed captain. "But it isn’t true."

Mr. Truefitt turned to him with a smile intended to be arch and
reassuring. The result, owing to his nervousness, was so hideous that
the captain drew back in dismay.

"It’s—it’s all right," said Mr. Truefitt at last. "Ah! If it hadn’t been
for me you might have gone on hoping for years and years, without
knowing the true state of her feelings toward you."

"What do you mean?" demanded the captain, gripping the arms of his
chair.

"Sellers is a little bit premature," said Mr. Truefitt, coughing. "There
is nothing settled yet, of course. I told him so. Perhaps I oughtn’t to
have mentioned it at all just yet, but I was so pleased to find that it
was all right I had to tell somebody."

"What are you—talking about?" gasped the captain.

Mr. Truefitt looked up, and by a strong effort managed to meet the
burning gaze before him.

"I told Susanna," he said, with a gulp.

"Told her? Told her what?" roared the captain.

"Told her that you said you were not worthy of her," replied Mr.
Truefitt, very slowly and distinctly.

The captain took his pipe out of his mouth, and laying it on the table
with extreme care listened mechanically while the clock struck five.

"What did she say?" he inquired, hoarsely, after the clock had finished.

Mr. Truefitt leaned over, and with a trembling hand patted him on the
shoulder.

"She said, ’Nonsense’" he replied, softly.

The captain rose and, putting on his cap—mostly over one eye—put out his
hands like a blind man for the door, and blundered out into the street.



CHAPTER XIII



MR. VYNER wants to see you, sir," said Bassett, as Hartley, coming in
from a visit to the harbour, hung his hat on a peg and began to change
into the old coat he wore in the office. "Mr. John; he has rung three
times."

The chief clerk changed his coat again, and after adjusting his hair in
the little piece of unframed glass which he had bought in the street for
a penny thirty years before, hastened to the senior partner’s room.

Mr. Vyner, who was rinsing his hands in a little office washstand that
stood in the corner, looked round at his entrance and, after carefully
drying his hands on a soft towel, seated himself at his big writing
table, and, leaning back, sat thoughtfully regarding his finger-nails.
His large, white, freckled hands were redolent of scented soap, and,
together with his too regular teeth, his bald head, and white
side-whiskers, gave him an appearance of almost aggressive cleanliness.

"I rang for you several times," he said, looking up with a frown.

"I have just come back from Wilson’s," said Hartley; "you told me to see
them to-day."

Mr. Vyner said "Yes," and, caressing his shaven chin in his hand,
appeared to forget the other’s existence.

"How long have you been with us?" he inquired at last.

"Thirty-five years, sir," said Hartley, studying his face with sudden
anxiety.

"A long time," said the senior partner, dryly. "A long time."

"A pleasant time, sir," ventured the other, in a low voice.

Mr. Vyner’s features relaxed, and took on—after some trouble—an
appearance of benevolence.

"I hope so," he said, in patronizing tones. "I hope so. Vyner and Son
have the name for being good masters. I have never heard any
complaints."

He pushed his chair back and, throwing one leg over the other, looked
down at his patent-leather boots. The benevolent expression had
disappeared.

"Thirty-five years," he said, slowly. "H’m! I had no idea it was so
long. You have—ha—no family, worth mentioning?"

"One daughter," said Hartley, his lips going suddenly dry.

"Just so. Just so," said the senior partner. He looked at his boots
again. "And she is old enough to earn her own living. Or she might
marry. You are in a fortunate position."

Hartley, still watching him anxiously, bowed.

"In the event, for instance," continued Mr. Vyner, in careless tones—
"in the event of your retiring from the service of Vyner and Son, there
is nobody that would suffer much. That is a great consideration—a very
great consideration."

Hartley, unable to speak, bowed again.

"Change," continued Mr. Vyner, with the air of one uttering a new but
indisputable fact—"change is good for us all. So long as you retain your
present position there is, of course, a little stagnation in the office;
the juniors see their way barred."

He took up a paper-knife and, balancing it between his fingers, tapped
lightly with it on the table.

"Is your daughter likely to be married soon?" he inquired, looking up
suddenly.

Hartley shook his head. "N-no; I don’t think so," he said, thickly.

The senior partner resumed his tapping.

"That is a pity," he said at last, with a frown. "Of course, you
understand that Vyner and Son are not anxious to dispense with your
services—not at all. In certain circumstances you might remain with us
another ten or fifteen years, and then go with a good retiring
allowance. At your present age there would be no allowance. Do you
understand me?"

The chief clerk tried to summon a little courage, little dignity.

"I am afraid I don’t," he said, in a low voice. "It is all so sudden.
I—I am rather bewildered." Mr. Vyner looked at him impatiently.

He leaned back in his chair, and watched his chief clerk closely

"I said just now," he continued, in a hard voice, "that Vyner and Son
are not anxious to dispense with your services. That is, in a way, a
figure of speech. Mr. Robert knows nothing of this, and I may tell
you—as an old and trusted servant of the firm—that his share as a
partner is at present but nominal, and were he to do anything seriously
opposed to my wishes, such as, for instance—such as a—ha—matrimonial
alliance of which I could not approve, the results for him would be
disastrous. Do you understand?"

In a slow, troubled fashion Hartley intimated that he did. He began to
enter into explanations, and was stopped by the senior partner’s
uplifted hand.

"That will do," said the latter, stiffly. "I have no doubt I know all
that you could tell me. It is—ha—only out of consideration for your long
and faithful service that I have—ha—permitted you a glimpse into my
affairs—our affairs. I hope, now, that I have made myself quite clear."

He leaned back in his chair and, twisting the paper-knife idly between
his fingers, watched his chief clerk closely.

"Wouldn’t it be advisable—" began Hartley, and stopped abruptly at the
expression on the other’s face. "I was thinking that if you mentioned
this to Mr. Robert—"

"Certainly not!" said Mr. Vyner, with great sharpness. "Certainly not!"

Anger at having to explain affairs to his clerk, and the task of
selecting words which should cause the least loss of dignity, almost
deprived him of utterance.

"This is a private matter," he said at last, "strictly between
ourselves. I am master here, and any alteration in the staff is a matter
for myself alone. I do not wish—in fact, I forbid you to mention the
matter to him. Unfortunately, we do not always see eye to eye. He is
young, and perhaps hardly as worldly wise as I could wish."

He leaned forward to replace the paper-knife on the table, and, after
blowing his nose with some emphasis, put the handkerchief back in his
pocket and sat listening with a judicial air for anything that his chief
clerk might wish to put before him.

"It would be a great blow to me to leave the firm," said Hartley, after
two ineffectual attempts to speak. "I have been in it all my life—all my
life. At my age I could scarcely hope to get any other employment worth
having. I have always tried to do my best. I have never—"

"Yes, yes," said the other, interrupting with a wave of his hand; "that
has been recognized. Your remuneration has, I believe, been in
accordance with your—ha—services. And I suppose you have made some
provision?"

Hartley shook his head. "Very little," he said, slowly. "My wife was ill
for years before she died, and I have had other expenses. My life is
insured, so that in case of anything happening to me there would be
something for my daughter, but that is about all."

"And in case of dismissal," said the senior partner, with some
cheerfulness, "the insurance premium would, of course, only be an extra
responsibility. It is your business, of course; but if I were—ha—in your
place I should—ha—marry my daughter off as soon as possible. If you
could come to me in three months and tell me—"

He broke off abruptly and, sitting upright, eyed his clerk steadily.

"That is all, I think," he said at last. "Oh, no mention of this, of
course, in the office—I have no desire to raise hopes of promotion in
the staff that may not be justified; I may say that I hope will not be
justified."

He drew his chair to the table, and with a nod of dismissal took up his
pen. Hartley went back to his work with his head in a whirl, and for the
first time in twenty years cast a column of figures incorrectly, thereby
putting a great strain on the diplomacy of the junior who made the
discovery.

He left at his usual hour, and, free from the bustle of the office,
tried to realize the full meaning of his interview with Mr. Vyner. He
thought of his pleasant house and garden, and the absence of demand in
Salthaven for dismissed clerks of over fifty. His thoughts turned to
London, but he had grown up with Vyner and Son and had but little to
sell in the open market. Walking with bent head he cannoned against a
passer-by, and, looking up to apologize, caught sight of Captain
Trimblett across the way, standing in front of a jeweller’s window.

A tall, sinewy man in a serge suit, whom Hartley recognized as Captain
Walsh, was standing by him. His attitude was that of an indulgent
policeman with a refractory prisoner, and twice Hartley saw him lay hold
of the captain by the coat-sleeve, and call his attention to something
in the window. Anxious to discuss his affairs with Trimblett, Hartley
crossed the road.

"Ah! here’s Hartley," said the tall captain, with an air of relief, as
Captain Trimblett turned and revealed a hot face mottled and streaked
with red. "Make him listen to reason. He won’t do it for me.

"What’s the matter?" inquired Hartley, listlessly.

"A friend o’ mine," said Captain Walsh, favouring him with a hideous
wink, "a great friend o’ mine, is going to be married, and I want to
give him a wedding present before I go. I sail to-morrow."

"Well, ask him what he’d like," said Trimblett, making another
ineffectual attempt to escape. "Don’t bother me."

"I can’t do that," said Walsh, with another wink; "it’s awkward; besides
which, his modesty, would probably make him swear that he wasn’t going
to be married at all. In fact, he has told me that already. I want you
to choose for him. Tell me what you’d like, and no doubt it’ll please
him. What do you say to that cruet-stand?"

"D———m the cruet-stand!" said Trimblett, wiping his hot face.

"All right," said the unmoved Walsh, with his arm firmly linked in that
of his friend. "What about a toast-rack? That one!"

"I don’t believe in wedding-presents," said Trimblett, thickly. "Never
did. I think it’s an absurd custom. And if your friend says he isn’t
going to be married, surely he ought to know."

"Shyness," rejoined Captain Walsh—"pure shyness. He’s one of the best. I
know his idea. His idea is to be married on the quiet and without any
fuss. But it isn’t coming off. No, sir. Now, suppose it was you—don’t be
violent; I only said suppose—how would that pickle-jar strike you?"

"I know nothing about it," said Captain Trimblett, raising his voice.
"Besides, I can’t take the responsibility of choosing for another man. I
told you so before."

Captain Walsh paid no heed. His glance roved over the contents of the
window.

"Trimblett’s a terror," he said in a serene voice, turning to Hartley.
"I don’t know what it’s like walking down the High Street looking into
shop-windows with a fretful porcupine; but I can make a pretty good
guess."

"You should leave me alone, then," said Trimblett, wrenching his arm
free. "Wedding-presents have no interest for me."

"That’s what he keeps saying," said Walsh, turning to Hartley again;
"and when I referred just now—in the most delicate manner—to love’s
young dream, I thought he’d ha’ bust his boilers."

As far as Hartley could see, Captain Trimblett was again within
measurable distance of such a catastrophe. For a moment he struggled
wildly for speech, and then, coming to the conclusion that nothing he
could say would do him any good, he swung on his heel and walked off.
Hartley, with a nod to Walsh, followed.

"That idiot has been pestering me for the last half-hour," said Captain
Trimblett, after walking for some distance in wrathful silence. "I
wonder whether it would be brought in murder if I wrung old Sellers’s
neck? I’ve had four people this morning come up and talk to me about
getting married. At least, they started talking."

"Turn a deaf ear," said Hartley.

"Deaf ear?" repeated the captain. "I wish I could. The last few days
I’ve been wishing that I hadn’t got ears. It’s all Truefitt’s doing.
He’s hinting now that I’m too bashful to speak up, and that weak-headed
Cecilia Willett believes him. If you could only see her fussing round
and trying to make things easy for me, as she considers, you’d wonder I
don’t go crazy."

"We’ve all got our troubles," said Hartley, shaking his head.

The indignant-captain turned and regarded him fiercely.

"I am likely to leave Vyner and Son," said the other, slowly, "after
thirty-five years."

The wrath died out of the captain’s face, and he regarded his old friend
with looks of affectionate concern. In grim silence he listened to an
account of the interview with Mr. Vyner.

"You know what it all means," he said, savagely, as Hartley finished.

"I—I think so," was the reply.

"It means," said the captain, biting his words—"it means that unless
Joan is married within three months, so as to be out of Robert Vyner’s
way, you will be dismissed the firm. It saves the old man’s pride a bit
putting it that way, and it’s safer, too. And if Robert Vyner marries
her he will have to earn his own living. With luck he might get thirty
shillings a week."

"I know," said the other.

"Get her to town as soon as possible," continued the captain,
impressively. He paused a moment, and added with some feeling, "That’s
what I’m going to do; I spoke to Mr. Vyner about it to-day. We will go
up together, and I’ll look after her."

"I’ll write to-night," said Hartley. "Not that it will make any
difference, so far as I can see."

"It’s a step in the right direction, at any rate," retorted the captain.
"It keeps her out of young Vyner’s way, and it shows John Vyner that you
are doing your best to meet his views, and it might make him realize
that you have got a little pride, too."

Partly to cheer Hartley up, and partly to avoid returning to Tranquil
Vale, he spent the evening with him, and, being deterred by the presence
of Miss Hartley from expressing his opinion of John Vyner, indulged
instead in a violent tirade against the tyranny of wealth. Lured on by
the highly interested Joan, he went still further, and in impassioned
words committed himself to the statement that all men were equal, and
should have equal rights, only hesitating when he discovered that she
had been an unwilling listener on an occasion when he had pointed out to
an offending seaman certain blemishes in his family tree. He then
changed the subject to the baneful practice of eavesdropping.

By the time he reached home it was quite late. There was no moon, but
the heavens were bright with stars. He stood outside for a few moments
listening to the sound of voices within, and then, moved perhaps by the
quiet beauty of the night, strolled down to the river and stood watching
the lights of passing craft. Midnight sounded in the distance as he
walked back.

The lamp was still burning, but the room was empty. He closed the door
softly behind him, and stood eying, with some uneasiness, a large and
untidy brown-paper parcel that stood in the centre of the table. From
the crumpled appearance of the paper and the clumsily tied knots it had
the appearance of having been opened and fastened up again by unskilled
hands. The sense of uneasiness deepened as he approached the table and
stood, with his head on one side, looking at it.

He turned at the sound of a light shuffling step in the kitchen. The
door opened gently and the head of Mr. Truefitt was slowly inserted.
Glimpses of a shirt and trousers, and the rumpled condition of the
intruder’s hair, suggested that he had newly risen from bed.

"I heard you come in," he said, in a stealthy whisper.

"Yes?" said the captain.

"There was no address on it," said Mr. Truefitt, indicating the parcel
by a nod; "it was left by somebody while we were out, and on opening it
we found it was for you. At least, partly. I thought I ought to tell
you."

"It don’t matter," said the captain, with an effort.

Mr. Truefitt nodded again. "I only wanted to explain how it was," he
said. "Good-night."

He closed the door behind him, and the captain, after eying the parcel
for some time, drew a clasp-knife from his pocket and with trembling
fingers cut the string and stripped off the paper. The glistening metal
of the largest electro-plated salad-bowl he had ever seen met his
horrified gaze. In a hypnotized fashion he took out the fork and spoon
and balanced them in his fingers. A small card at the bottom of the bowl
caught his eye, and he bent over and read it:—

"With Hearty Congratulations and Best Wishes to Captain and Mrs.
Trimblett from Captain Michael Walsh."

For a long time he stood motionless; then, crumpling the card up and
placing it in his pocket, he took the bowl in his arms and bore it to
his bedroom. Wrapped again in its coverings, it was left to languish on
the top of the cupboard behind a carefully constructed rampart of old
cardboard boxes and worn-out books.



CHAPTER XIV



MR. HARTLEY’S idea, warmly approved by Captain Trimblett, was to divulge
the state of affairs to his daughter in much the same circuitous fashion
that Mr. Vyner had revealed it to him. He had not taken into account,
however, the difference in temper of the listeners, and one or two
leading questions from Joan brought the matter to an abrupt conclusion.
She sat divided between wrath and dismay.

"You—you must have misunderstood him," she said at last, with a little
gasp. "He could not be so mean, and tyrannical, and ridiculous."

Her father shook his head. "There is no room for misunderstanding," he
said, quietly. "Still, I have got three months to look about me, and I
don’t suppose we shall starve."

Miss Hartley expressed the wish—as old as woman—to give the offender a
piece of her mind. She also indulged in a few general remarks concerning
the obtuseness of people who were unable to see when they were not
wanted, by which her father understood her to refer to Vyner junior.

"I was afraid you cared for him," he said, awkwardly.

"I?" exclaimed Joan, in the voice of one unable to believe her ears.
"Oh, father, I am surprised at you; I never thought you would say such a
thing."

Mr. Hartley eyed her uneasily.

"Why should you think anything so absurd?" continued his daughter, with
some severity.

Mr. Hartley, with much concern, began to cite a long list of things
responsible for what he freely admitted was an unfortunate mistake on
his part. His daughter listened with growing impatience and confusion,
and, as he showed no signs of nearing the end, rose in a dignified
fashion and quitted the room. She was back, however, in a minute or two,
and, putting her arm on his shoulder, bent down and kissed him.

"I had no idea you were so observant," she remarked, softly.

"I don’t think I am really," said the conscientious man. "If it hadn’t
been for Trimblett—"

Miss Hartley, interrupting with spirit, paid a tribute to the captain
that ought to have made his ears burn.

"I ought to have been more careful all these years," said her father
presently. "If I had, this would not have mattered so much. Prodigality
never pays—"

Joan placed her arm about his neck again. "Prodigality!" she said, with
a choking laugh. "You don’t know the meaning of the word. And you have
had to help other people all your life. After all, perhaps you and
Captain Trimblett are wrong; Mr. Vyner can’t be in earnest, it is too
absurd."

"Yes, he is," said Hartley, sitting up, with a sudden air of
determination. "But then, so am I. I am not going to be dictated to in
this fashion. My private affairs are nothing to do with him. I—I shall
have to tell him so."

"Don’t do anything yet," said Joan, softly, as she resumed her seat. "By
the way—"

"Well?" said her father, after a pause.

"That invitation from Uncle William was your doing," continued Joan,
levelling an incriminating finger at him.

"Trimblett’s idea," said her father, anxious to give credit where it was
due. "His idea was that if you were to go away for a time Robert Vyner
would very likely forget all about you."

"I’m not afraid of that," said Joan, with a slight smile. "I mean—I
mean—what business has Captain Trimblett to concern himself about my
affairs?"

"I know what you mean," said Hartley, in a low voice.

He got up, and crossing to the window stood looking out on his beloved
garden. His thoughts went back to the time, over twenty years ago, when
he and his young wife had planted it. He remembered that in those
far-off days she had looked forward with confidence to the time when he
would be offered a share in the firm. For a moment he felt almost glad——

"I suppose that Captain Trimblett is right," said Joan, who had been
watching him closely; "and I’ll go when you like."

Her father came from the window. "Yes," he said, and stood looking at
her.

"I am going out a little way," said Joan, suddenly.

Hartley started, and glanced instinctively at the clock. "Yes," he said
again.

His daughter went upstairs to dress, and did her best to work up a
little resentment against being turned out of her home to avoid a caller
whom she told herself repeatedly she had no wish to see. Her reflections
were cut short by remembering that time was passing, and that Mr.
Vyner’s punctuality, in the matter of these calls, was of a nature to
which the office was a stranger.

She put on her hat and, running downstairs, opened the door and went
out. At the gate she paused, and, glancing right and left, saw Robert
Vyner approaching. He bowed and quickened his pace.

"Father is indoors," she said with a friendly smile, as she shook hands.

"It’s a sin to be indoors an evening like this," said Robert, readily.
"Are you going for a walk?"

"A little way; I am going to see a friend," said Joan. "Good-by."

"Good-by," said Mr. Vyner, and turned in at the gate, while Joan, a
little surprised at his docility, proceeded on her way. She walked
slowly, trying, in the interests of truth, to think of some acquaintance
to call upon. Then she heard footsteps behind, gradually gaining upon
her.

"I really think I’m the most forgetful man in Salt-haven," said Mr.
Robert Vyner, in tones of grave annoyance, as he ranged alongside. "I
came all this way to show your father a book on dahlias, and now I find
I’ve left it at the office. What’s a good thing for a bad memory?"

"Punish yourself by running all the way, I should think," replied Joan.
"It might make you less forgetful next time."

Mr. Vyner became thoughtful, not to say grave. "I don’t know so much
about running," he said, slowly. "I’ve had an idea for some time past
that my heart is a little bit affected."

Joan turned to him swiftly. "I’m so sorry," she faltered. "I had no
idea; and the other night you were rolling the grass. Why didn’t you
speak of it before?"

Her anxiety was so genuine that Mr. Vyner had the grace to feel a little
bit ashamed of himself.

"When I say that my heart is affected, I don’t mean in the way of—of
disease," he murmured.

"Is it weak?" inquired the girl.

Mr. Vyner shook his head.

"Well, what is the matter with it?"

Mr. Vyner sighed. "I don’t know," he said, slowly. "It is not of long
standing; I only noticed it a little while ago. The first time I had an
attack I was sitting in my office—working. Let me see. I think it was
the day you came in there to see your father. Yes, I am sure it was."

Miss Hartley walked on, looking straight before her.

"Since then," pursued Mr. Vyner, in the mournful tones suited to the
subject, "it has got gradually worse. Sometimes it is in my mouth;
sometimes—if I feel that I have offended anybody—it is in my boots."

Miss Hartley paid no heed.

"It is in my boots now," said the invalid, plaintively; "tight boots,
too. Do you know what I was thinking just now when you looked at me in
that alarmed, compassionate way?"

"Not alarmed," muttered Miss Hartley.

"I was thinking," pursued Mr. Vyner, in a rapt voice, "I was thinking
what a fine nurse you would make. Talking of heart troubles put it in my
mind, I suppose. Fancy being down for a month or two with a complaint
that didn’t hurt or take one’s appetite away, and having you for a
nurse!"

"I think that if you are going to talk nonsense—" began Joan, half
stopping.

"I’m not," said the other, in alarm, "I’ve quite finished; I have,
indeed."

He stole a glance at the prim young, figure by his side, and his voice
again developed a plaintive note. "If you only knew what it was like,"
he continued, "to be mewed up in an office all day, with not a soul to
speak to, and the sun shining, perhaps you’d make allowances."

"I saw you down by the harbour this morning," said the girl.

"Harbour?" said the other, pretending to reflect—"this morning?"

Joan nodded. "Yes; you were lounging about—in the sunshine—smoking a
cigarette. Then you went on to the Indian Chief and stood talking for,
oh, quite a long time to Captain Trimblett. Then—"

"Yes?" breathed Mr. Vyner, as she paused in sudden confusion. "What did
I do next?"

Miss Hartley shook her head. "I only saw you for a moment," she said.

Mr. Vyner did not press the matter; he talked instead on other subjects,
but there was a tenderness in his voice for which Miss Hartley told
herself her own thoughtlessness was largely responsible. She trembled
and walked a little faster. Then, with a sense of relief, she saw
Captain Trimblett approaching them. His head was bent in thought, and
his usual smile was missing as he looked up and saw them.

"I wanted to see you," he said to Joan. "I’m off to London to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" repeated the girl, in surprise.

"Twelve-thirty train," said the captain, looking shrewdly from one to
the other. "I’m just off home; there are one or two matters I must
attend to before I go, and I wanted to talk to you."

"I will come with you," said Joan, quickly. "I haven’t seen Mrs.
Chinnery for a long time." She nodded to Mr. Vyner and held out her
hand. "Good-by."

"Good-by," said that gentleman. He shook hands reluctantly, and his
amiable features took on a new expression as he glanced at the captain.

"Try and cheer him up," he said, with an air of false concern. "It’s
only for a little while, cap’n; you’ll soon be back and—you know the old
adage?"

"Yes," said the captain, guardedly.

"Although, of course, there are several," said Mr. Vyner, thoughtfully.
"I wonder whether we were thinking of the same one?"

"I dare say," said the other, hastily.

"I was thinking of ’Absence makes the heart grow fonder’—of the Indian
Chief" said the ingenuous Robert. "Was that the one you were thinking
of?"

The captain’s reply was inaudible as he turned and bore off Miss
Hartley. The young man stood for some time watching them, and, as Joan
and her burly companion disappeared round the corner, shook his head and
set off home.

"He’ll sober down as he gets older," said the captain, after they had
proceeded some way in silence. "I’m glad I met you. Your father told me
you were going to London, and I was thinking we might go up together.
It’s odd we should both be going. Quite a coincidence."

"In more ways than one," said Joan. "Father told me you had arranged it
together. I quite know why I am going."

The captain coughed.

"I know why you are going, too," said Joan.

The captain coughed again, and muttered something about "children" and
"business."

"And if I’m going to-morrow I had better get back and pack," continued
the girl.

"Plenty of time in the morning," said the captain. "It’ll make the time
pass. It’s a mistake to stow your things away too soon—a great mistake."

"I would sooner do it, though," said Joan, pausing. 170

"You come along to Tranquil Vale," said Captain Trimblett, with forced
joviality. "Never mind about your packing. Stay to supper, and I’ll see
you home afterward."

Miss Hartley eyed him thoughtfully.

"Why?" she inquired.

"Pleasure of your company," said the captain.

"Why?" said Miss Hartley again.

The captain eyed her thoughtfully in his turn.

"I—I haven’t told ’em I’m going yet," he said, slowly. "It’ll be a
little surprise to them, perhaps. Miss Willett will be there. She’s a
silly thing. She and Peter might make a duet about it If you are
there——"

"I’ll take care of you," said Joan, with a benevolent smile. "You’ll be
safe with me. What a pity you didn’t bring your little troubles to me at
first!"

The captain turned a lurid eye upon her, and then, realizing that
silence was more dignified and certainly safer than speech, said
nothing. He walked on with head erect and turned a deaf ear to the faint
sounds which Miss Hartley was endeavouring to convert into coughs.

Mrs. Chinnery, who was sitting alone in the front room, rose and greeted
her with some warmth as she entered, and, the usual reproachful question
put and answered as to the length of time since her last visit, took her
hat from her and went upstairs with it. An arch smile from Miss Hartley
during her absence was met by the ungrateful captain with a stony stare.

"I came to bid you good-by," said Joan, as Mrs. Chinnery returned. "I am
off to London to-morrow."

"London!" said Mrs. Chinnery.

"I am going to stay with an uncle," replied Joan.

"Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?" said the captain, averting his gaze
from the smiling face of Miss Hartley, and trying to keep his voice
level.

"Coincidence!" said Mrs. Chinnery, staring at him.

"I’ve got to go, too," said the captain, with what he fondly imagined
was a casual smile. "Got to run up and see my boys and girls. Just a
flying visit there and back. So we are going together."

"You!" said the astonished Mrs. Chinnery. "Why didn’t you tell me? Why,
I’ve got nothing ready. Serves me right for putting things off."

The captain began to murmur something about an urgent letter, but Mrs.
Chinnery, who had opened the cupboard and brought out a work-basket
containing several pairs of the thick woollen socks that formed the
captain’s usual wear, was almost too busy to listen. She threaded a
needle, and, drawing a sock over her left hand, set to work on a gaping
wound that most women would have regarded as mortal.

Mr. Truefitt and Mrs. Willett entered from the garden just as the
Captain was explaining for the third time.

"Children are not ill, I hope," said Mr. Truefitt with ill concealed
anxiety.

"No," said the Captain.

Mrs. Willett had seated herself by the side of Mrs. Chinnery, ventured
to pat that lady’s busy hand.

"He will soon be back," she murmured.

"He will look after that," said Mr. Truefitt, with a boisterous laugh.
"Won’t you, cap’n?"

Miss Willett sat regarding Captain Trimblett with a pensive air. She was
beginning to regard his diffidence and shyness as something abnormal.
Hints of the most helpful nature only seemed to add to his discomfort,
and she began to doubt whether he would ever muster up sufficient
resolution to put an end to a situation that was fast becoming
embarrassing to all concerned.

"Of course," she said, suddenly, "it is only right that you should run
up and see your children first. I hadn’t thought of that."

"First?" repeated the captain, his face flooding with colour as he
realized the inward meaning of the remark. "What do you mean by first?"

His voice was so loud that Miss Willett sat up with a start and looked
round nervously.

"Miss Willett means before you sail," said Joan, gently, before that
lady could speak. "How pleased they will be to see you!"

"Aye, aye," said the captain, regaining his composure by an effort.

"What a lot of things he will have to tell them!" murmured the
persevering Miss Willett. "Have you ever seen them?" she inquired,
turning to Mrs. Chinnery.

"No," was the reply.

"How strange!" said Miss Willett, with a reproachful glance at the
captain. "I expect you’ll like them very much when you do."

"Sure to," chimed in Mr. Truefitt. "Susanna was always partial to
children."

"I’m sure she is," said Miss Willett, regarding the industrious Mrs.
Chinnery affectionately. "How fortunate!"

She rose as she spoke, and, screwing her face up at Joan with great
significance, asked her whether she wouldn’t care to see the garden.

"Very much," said Joan. "Come along," she added, turning to the captain.
"Now come and show me that rose-bush you have been talking about so
much."

Captain Trimblett rose with an alacrity that mystified Miss Willett more
than ever, and, having gained the garden, found so many things to show
Miss Hartley, and so much to talk about, that supper was on the table
before he had finished. Fearful of being left alone with Miss Willett,
he stuck to his young protector so closely that in going in at the door
he trod on her heel. Miss Hartley entered the room limping, and, having
gained her seat, sat eying him with an expression in which pain and
reproachful mirth struggled for the mastery.

"What a delightful evening!" she said, in an affected voice, as the
captain walked home with her about an hour later; "I have enjoyed myself
tremendously."

The captain uttered an impatient exclamation.

"It reminded me of the old fable of the lion and the mouse," continued
Joan.

The captain grunted again, and, in a voice that he vainly endeavoured to
render polite, said that he did not know what she was talking about.



CHAPTER XV



MR. ROBERT VYNER received the news of Miss Hartley’s sudden departure
with an air of polite interest. The secrecy of the affair and the fact
that she had gone with Captain Trimblett convinced him that it was no
casual visit, and he mused bitterly on the strange tendency of seafaring
people to meddle with the affairs of others. An attempt to ascertain
from Hartley the probable duration of her visit, and other interesting
particulars, as they sat together in the young man’s office, yielded no
satisfaction.

"She made up her mind to go rather suddenly, didn’t she?" he inquired.

Hartley said "Yes," and murmured something about taking advantage of the
opportunity of going up with Captain Trimblett. "She is very fond of the
captain," he added.

"Is she staying near him?" asked Vyner, without looking up from his
work.

The chief clerk, who was anxious to get away, said "No," and eyed him
uneasily.

"I hope that London will agree with her," continued Robert, politely.
"Is she staying in a healthy part?"

"Very," said the other.

Mr. Vyner bent over his work again, and scowled diabolically at an
innocent letter which said that his instructions should have immediate
attention. "Which do you consider a healthy part?" he said presently.

Mr. Hartley, after some reflection, said there were many districts which
merited that description. He mentioned eleven, and was discoursing
somewhat learnedly on drainage and soils when he noticed that the young
man’s attention was wandering. With a muttered reference to his work, he
rose and quitted the room.

Day succeeded day in tiresome waiting, and Mr. Robert Vyner, leaning
back in his chair, regarded with a hostile eye the pile of work that
accumulated on his table as he sat dreaming of Joan Hartley. In a
species of waking nightmare he would see her beset by hordes of
respectful but persistent admirers. He manifested a craving for Mr.
Hartley’s society, and, discovering by actual experience that,
melancholy as the house was without its mistress, all other places were
more melancholy still, contrived, to its owner’s great discomfort, to
spend a considerable number of his evenings there.

"He’s a pattern to all of you," said Rosa to Mr. Walters, who sat in the
kitchen one evening, cautiously watching Mr. Vyner through a small hole
in the muslin blind.

Mr. Walters grunted.

"I believe he worships the ground she treads on," said Rosa, in exalted
tones.

Mr. Walters grunted again, and her colour rose. For nearly a fortnight
she had not spoken to any other man—at least, to the boatswain’s
knowledge—and she fully realized the cloying effect of security upon a
man of his temperament.

"Last night I saw him standing for half an hour looking into a shop,"
she said, softly. "What shop do you think it was?"

Mr. Walters’s face took on an obstinate expression. "Butcher’s?" he
hazarded, at last.

"Butcher’s!" repeated Rosa, with scorn. "What should he want to look in
a butcher’s for? It was Hickman’s, the jeweller’s."

The boatswain said "Oh!" and devoted himself with renewed interest to
his task of watching Mr. Vyner. Miss Jelks’s conversation for some time
past had circled round engagement-rings, a subject which brought him
face to face with the disagreeable side of flirtation.

"More fool him," he said, without looking round.

Rosa gazed fixedly at the back of his head. She was far too sensible not
to have noticed the gradual waning of his passion, and she chided
herself severely for having dropped her usual tactics. At the same time
she realized that she was not alone to blame in the matter, the gilded
youth of Salthaven, after one or two encounters with Mr. Walters, having
come to the conclusion that a flirtation with her was a temptation to be
avoided.

"Most men are fools," she said, calmly. "A young fellow I met the other
evening—the night you couldn’t come out—went on like a madman just
because I wouldn’t promise to meet him again."

"Pity I didn’t see ’im," said Mr. Walters, grimly.

"Oh!" said Rosa, losing her head. "Why?"

"I’d ha’ give ’im something to make a fuss about," said the boatswain,
"that’s all."

"It’s not his fault," said Rosa, softly. "He couldn’t help himself. He
told me so. Quite the gentleman—quite. You ought to see the way he
raises his hat. And his head is covered all over with little short
curls."

"Like a nigger," said Mr. Walters, with disappointing calmness.

He removed his eye from the window and, taking out his pipe, began to
fill it from a small metal box. Rosa, compressing her lips, watched him
with a sardonic smile.

"Got anything to do this evening?" she inquired.

"No," said the other.

"Well, I have," said Rosa, with a bright smile, "so I’ll say
good-evening."

Mr. Walters rose and, replacing a box of matches in his pocket, stood
watching her with his mouth open.

"Don’t hurry," she said, at last.

The boatswain sat down again.

"I mean when you get outside," explained the girl.

Mr. Walters gazed at her in slow perplexity, and then, breathing
heavily, walked out of the kitchen like a man in a dream. His suspicions
were aroused, and with an idea that a little blood-letting would give
him relief, he wasted the entire evening lying in wait for a
good-looking, gentlemanly young man with curly hair.

Miss Jelks waited for his appearance the following evening in vain.
Several evenings passed, but no boatswain, and it became apparent at
last that he had realized the perils of his position. Anger at his
defection was mingled with admiration for his strength of mind every
time she looked in the glass.

She forged her weapons slowly. A new hat was ready, but a skirt and coat
still languished at the dressmaker’s. She waited until they came home,
and then, dressing her hair in a style which owed something to a
fashion-paper and something to her lack of skill, sallied out to put
matters on a more satisfactory footing.

It was early evening, and the street fairly full, but for some time she
wandered about aimlessly. Twice she smiled at young men of her
acquaintance, and they smiled back and went on their way. The third she
met with a smile so inviting that against his better sense he stopped,
and after a nervous glance round made a remark about the weather.

"Beautiful," said Rosa. "Have you been ill, Mr. Filer?"

"Ill?" said the young man, staring. "No. Why?"

"Haven’t seen you for such a long time," said Miss Jelks, swinging her
parasol. "I’ve been wondering what had become of you. I was afraid you
were ill."

Mr. Filer caressed his moustache. "I haven’t seen you about," he
retorted.

"I haven’t been out lately," said the girl; "it’s so lonely walking
about by yourself that I’d sooner sit indoors and mope."

Mr. Filer stood blinking thoughtfully. "I s’pose you’re going to meet a
friend?" he said, at last.

"No," said Rosa. "I s’pose you are?"

Mr. Filer said "No" in his turn.

Two minutes later, in a state of mind pretty evenly divided between
trepidation and joy, he found himself walking by her side.

They chose at first the quietest streets, but under Miss Jelks’s
guidance drifted slowly back to the town.

To her annoyance the boatswain was nowhere to be seen, and the idea of
wasting the evening in the society of Mr. Filer annoyed her beyond
measure. She became moody, and vague in her replies to his sallies,
seated herself on a pile of timber, and motioned the young man to join
her and finally, with the forlorn hope that Mr. Walters might be
spending the evening aboard ship, strolled on to the quay.

Work was over and they had the place to themselves.

She seated herself on a pile of timber and, motioning the young man to
join her, experienced a sudden thrill as she saw the head of Mr. Walters
protruding tortoise-like over the side of the Indian Chief, which lay a
little way below them. Fearful that Mr. Filer should see it, she
directed his attention to two small boys who were disporting themselves
in a ship’s boat, and, with her head almost on his shoulder, blotted out
the steamer with three feathers and a bunch of roses.

It was a beautiful evening, but Mr. Filer failed to understand why she
should slap his hand when he said so. He could hardly open his mouth
without being requested to behave himself and getting another tiny slap.
Greatly encouraged by this treatment he ventured to pass his left arm
round her waist, and, in full view of the choking boatswain, imprison
both her hands in his.

Miss Jelks endured it for two minutes, and then, breaking away, gave him
a playful little prod with her parasol and fled behind a warehouse
uttering faint shrieks. Mr. Filer gave chase at once, in happy ignorance
that his rival had nearly fallen overboard in a hopeless attempt to see
round the corner. Flesh and blood could stand it no longer, and when the
couple emerged and began to walk in a more sober fashion toward the town
an infuriated boatswain followed a little in the rear.

Mr. Filer saw him first and, with a sudden sinking at his heart, dropped
his light banter and began to discourse on more serious subjects. He
attempted to widen the distance between them, but in vain. A second
glance showed him Mr. Walters close behind, with a face like that of two
destroying angels rolled into one. Trembling with fright he quickened
his pace and looked round eagerly for means of escape. His glance fell
on a confectioner’s window, and muttering the word "Ice" he dashed in,
followed in a more leisurely fashion by Miss Jelks.

"I was just feeling like an ice," she said, as she took a seat at a
little marble-topped table. She put her hat straight in a mirror
opposite, and removing her gloves prepared for action.

Mr. Filer ate his ice mechanically, quite unaware of its flavour; then
as nothing happened he plucked up courage and began to talk. His voice
shook a little at first, but was gradually getting stronger, when he
broke off suddenly with his spoon in mid-air and gazed in fascinated
horror at a disc of greenish-yellow nose that pressed against the
shop-window. The eyes behind it looked as though they might melt the
glass.

He put his spoon down on the table and tried to think. Miss Jelks
finished her ice and sat smiling at him.

"Could you—could you eat another?" he faltered.

Miss Jelks said that she could try, and remarked, casually, that she had
once eaten thirteen, and had shared the usual superstition concerning
that number ever since.

"Aren’t you going to have one, too?" she inquired, when the fresh ice
arrived.

Mr. Filer shook his head, and, trying hard to ignore the face at the
window, said that he was not hungry. He sat trembling with agitation,
and, desirous of postponing the encounter with the boatswain as long as
possible, kept ordering ices for Miss Jelks until that lady, in justice
to herself, declined to eat any more.

"I can’t finish this," she said. "You’ll have to help me."

She took up a generous spoonful, and in full view of the face at the
window leaned across the table and put it into Mr. Filer’s unwilling
mouth. With a violent shudder he saw the boatswain leave the window and
take up a position in front of the door. Miss Jelks drew on her gloves
and, with another glance in the mirror as she rose, turned to leave. Mr.
Filer made no attempt to follow.

"Ain’t you ready?" said Miss Jelks, pausing.

"I’m not feeling very well," said the young man, desperately, as he
passed his hand across his forehead. "It’s the ice, I think—I’m not used
to ’em."

"Perhaps the air will do you good," said Rosa.

Mr. Filer shook his head. Whatever good the air might do him would, he
felt certain, be counteracted by the treatment of the boatswain.

"Don’t wait for me," he said, with a faint sad smile. "I might be here
for hours; I’ve been like it before."

"I can’t leave you like this," said Rosa. "Why"—she turned suddenly, and
her face lit up with a smile—"here’s Mr. Walters! How fortunate! He’ll
be able to help you home."

"No—don’t trouble," gasped Mr. Filer, as the boatswain came into the
shop and prepared to render first aid by moistening his palms and
rubbing them together. "It’s very kind of you, but I shall be all right
if I’m left alone. I’d rather be left alone—I would indeed."

"You’d better let the gentleman help you home," urged the shopkeeper.
"He looks strong."

Mr. Filer shuddered.

"And you can lean on me," said Rosa, softly.

Mr. Filer shuddered again, and with surprising energy, considering his
invalid condition, gripped the iron frame of the table with his legs and
clutched the top with his hands.

"I don’t like leaving him here," said Rosa, hesitating.

"Neither don’t I," growled the boatswain. "’Ow-ever, I s’pose I’ll run
against ’im sooner or later."

He escorted Rosa to the door and, after a yearning glance at Mr. Filer,
followed her out and walked by her side in silence.

"Poor fellow," said Rosa, at last. "How generous he is! I believe he’d
give me anything I asked for."

Mr. Walters started and, bending his brows, muttered something about
giving Mr. Filer more than he asked for.

"Oh, yes; I dare say," retorted Rosa, turning on him with sudden heat.
"I’m not to speak to anybody to please you. You leave my friends alone.
What’s it got to do with you?"

"I see you," said Mr. Walters, darkly; "I see you from the ship. You
little thought as ’ow I was a watching your little games."

Miss Jelks stopped and, drawing herself up, regarded him haughtily.

"I didn’t ask you for your company, Mr. Walters," she said, sharply, "so
you can take yourself off as soon as you like."

She turned and walked off in the opposite direction, and Mr. Walters,
after a moment’s hesitation, turned and followed. They walked in this
fashion for some distance; then the boatswain, quickening his pace,
caught her roughly by the arm.

"I want to show you something," he growled.

Miss Jelks eyed him disdainfully.

"In ’ere," said the other, pointing to the same jeweller’s window that
had been the cause of so much discomfort to Captain Trimblett.

"Well?" said the girl, her eyes sparkling.

For answer the gentle swain took her by the elbows and propelled her
into the shop, and approaching the counter gazed disagreeably at the
shopman.

"I want a ring for this young lady," he said, reddening despite himself.
"A good ’un—one o’ the best."

The man turned to the window and, after a little careful groping,
unhooked a velvet card studded with rings. Rosa’s eyes shone, but she
drew off her glove with a fine show of unwillingness at the boatswain’s
command.

"Try that on," he said, pointing to a ring.

Miss Jelks placed it on the third finger of her left hand, and holding
it up to the light gazed at it entranced.

"’Ow much?" said the boatswain, jerking his head.

"That’s a very nice ring," said the assistant.

"Twenty—" he referred to a tiny label on the card, "twenty-five pounds."

The boatswain’s jaw dropped, and both listeners made noble efforts to
appear unconscious that his breathing was anything out of the ordinary.

"Take it off," he said, as soon as he could speak; "take it off at
once."

"It’s too large," said Rosa, with a sigh.

She drew it off, and, turning to a case the jeweller placed before her,
tried on several more. Suited at last, she held up her hand with the
ring on it for Mr. Walters’s inspection.

"It fits beautifully," she said, softly, as the boatswain scratched the
back of his neck.

"A very nice ring, that," said the assistant. "A queen might wear it."

"Take it off," cried Mr. Walters, hastily.

"Seventeen shillings and sixpence," said the jeweller, almost as
quickly.

"I like it better than the other," said Rosa.

"It is better," said the boatswain, in a relieved voice.

He counted out the money and, turning a deaf but blushing ear to the
jeweller’s glowing description of his wedding-rings, led the way
outside. Rosa took his arm and leaned on it heavily.

"Fancy! We are engaged now," she said, squeezing his arm and looking up
at him.

Mr. Walters, who seemed to be in a state of considerable perturbation,
made no reply.

"Fancy you being in such a hurry!" continued Rosa, with another squeeze.

"It’s a failing of mine," said the boatswain, still staring straight
before him. "Always was."



CHAPTER XVI



JOAN HARTLEY’S ideas of London, gathered from books and illustrated
papers, were those of a town to which her uncle and aunt were utter
strangers. Mr. William Carr knew Cornhill and the adjacent district
thoroughly, and thirty or forty years before had made periodical
descents upon the West-end. He left home at half-past eight every
morning and returned every evening at five minutes to six, except on
Saturdays, when he returned at ten minutes past three, and spent his
half holiday in the dining-room reading an early edition of the evening
paper. Any paragraphs relating to Royalty were read aloud to his wife,
who knew not only all the members of the English Royal Family by name,
but also those dignitaries abroad who had the happiness to be connected
with it in marriage. She could in all probability have given the King
himself much useful information as to the ages and fourth and fifth
Christian names of some of the later and more remote members of his
family.

Her day was as regular and methodical as her husband’s. The morning was
devoted to assisting and superintending the general servant for the time
being; after dinner, at one o’clock, she retired upstairs to dress and
went down to the shops to make a few purchases, returning in good time
to give her husband tea. The early part of the evening was devoted to
waiting for supper; the latter part to waiting for bed.

During the first week of Joan’s visit an agreeable thrill was
communicated to the household by preparations for an evening, or perhaps
an afternoon and evening, in town. The event came off—in the third week
of her stay—on a wet Thursday afternoon, Mrs. Carr and Joan got wet
walking to the omnibus, and wetter still waiting at one corner of the
Bank of England for Mr. Carr, who was getting wet at another.

Mr. Carr, who was in holiday attire, was smoking a large cigar in honour
of the occasion, which he extinguished upon entering an omnibus and
re-lighted at the Zoological Gardens. By the aid of careful manipulation
and the rain it lasted him until evening. They wound up an eventful day
at a theatre, and Mr. Carr, being anxious to do the thing well, took
them all the way home in a four-wheeler. A little sum in mental
arithmetic, which he worked on the way and submitted to the cabman at
the end of the journey, was found to be wrong.

The outing was not repeated. Mrs. Carr went about for a day or two with
the air of one who had returned from a long and fatiguing expedition;
and her husband, when he returned from business the day following and
changed into his slippers, paid such a warm tribute to the joys and
comforts of home that his niece abandoned all ideas of any further
jaunts. Wearied by the dulness and the monotony of the streets, she
began to count the days till her return. Her father’s letters made no
mention of it; but the Salthaven news in them only increased her
eagerness.

She returned one day from a solitary ramble on Hampstead Heath to find
that Salthaven, or a whiff of it, had come to her. A deep voice, too
well known to be mistaken, fell on her ears as she entered the front
door, and hastening to the drawing-room she found her aunt entertaining
Captain Trimblett to afternoon tea. One large hand balanced a cup and
saucer; the other held a plate. His method of putting both articles in
one hand while he ate or drank might have excited the envy of a
practised juggler. When Joan entered the room she found her aunt, with
her eyes riveted on a piece of the captain’s buttered toast that was
lying face downward on the carpet, carrying on a disjointed
conversation.

"I just looked in," said the captain, as Joan almost embraced him. "Mind
the tea!"

"Looked in?" echoed Joan.

"One tram, three buses—one of ’em a mistake—and my own legs," said the
captain. "I had no idea it was so far."

"People have no idea how far out we really are," said Mrs. Carr, looking
round with a satisfied smile. "I’ve noticed it before. Did you find the
air different, Captain Trimblett?"

"Very," said the captain with a sudden gasp, as he caught sight of the
piece of toast. "Very fine air. Very fine. Very—quite strong."

He shifted his feet restlessly and the toast disappeared. For a moment
Mrs. Carr thought that the floor had opened and swallowed it up.
Realizing that the day of useful miracles had passed, she gazed fixedly
at his left foot.

"Well," said the captain, turning a relieved face to Joan, "how is the
round of gayety? Are you tired of being a butterfly yet? I suppose after
this Salt-haven won’t be good enough for you?"

"There’s nothing like life for young people," said Mrs. Carr. "Give them
plenty of life and that’s all they want."

Miss Hartley, whose back was toward her aunt, made a grimace.

"It’s very natural," said the captain.

Miss Hartley made a further effort—one that she had relinquished at the
age of ten—but the captain, intent upon a bite, missed it.

"In my young days all I thought of was gadding about," said Mrs. Carr,
smiling. "I wasn’t very strong either; it was just my spirits kept me
up. But I used to suffer for it afterward."

"We all do," said the captain, politely.

By a feat of absolute legerdemain he took out his handkerchief and
brushed some crumbs from his beard. His cup slid to the edge of the
saucer and peeped over, but, throwing the spoon overboard, righted
itself just in time. Somewhat pleased with himself he replaced the
handkerchief and, drinking the remainder of his tea, thankfully handed
the crockery to Joan. After which, with a mind relieved, he-sat and spun
his marvelling hostess a few tales of the sea.

He left under plea of business, before Mr. Carr’s return, and with a
reference to the family likeness obtaining between omnibuses, asked Joan
to see him safe aboard. He accompanied the request with such a
distortion of visage that she rightly concluded that he wished for an
opportunity to speak to her alone.

"You’re looking better," he said, when they got outside. "A year or two
in London will be the making of you."

"A year or two!" echoed the startled Joan. "I’ve had quite enough of it
already, thank you. I’ve never been so dull."

"You haven’t got used to the change yet," said the captain, indulgently.
"That’s natural; but in another month I expect you’ll have quite a
different tale to tell."

"I am going home next weak," said Miss Hartley, in a decided voice.

Captain Trimblett coughed.

"Why shouldn’t I?" inquired the girl, in reply.

The captain coughed again.

"I should think the Carrs would be glad to have you," he replied,
becoming suddenly busy with his handkerchief, "especially as they have
got no children. And a year or two with them in town would give you a—a
sort of finish."

"You have heard something from my father?" exclaimed Joan, turning on
him.

"He—he wrote," said the captain.

"Did he suggest my staying here?"

"No," said the captain, putting his handkerchief away with great care.
"No, I can’t say he did. But he has had another interview with Mr. John
Vyner, and it seems that the old gentleman is quite taking it for
granted that you have left Salthaven for good. He was quite genial to
your father."

"Did father undeceive him?" inquired the girl.

"He didn’t say," rejoined the other. "My idea is he didn’t; but it’s
only my idea, mind."

For some time Miss Hartley walked on in disdainful silence. She broke it
at last in favour of Mr. Vyner, senior.

"Talking won’t alter facts, though," said the admiring captain, shaking
his head.

The girl paid no heed.

"Now, if you only stayed here for a little while," said the captain,
persuasively, "say a couple of years, no doubt things would right
themselves. Anything might happen in two years. Mind, it’s not your
father’s idea, it’s mine. I’d do anything for him; he has done me many a
good turn in his time, and I want to pay him back."

Miss Hartley, softening somewhat, thanked him.

"And what is two years at your time of life?" continued the captain,
brightly. "Nothing. Why, I’m going away for that time as a matter of
course."

"I want to go home," said Joan. "I feel that I can’t breathe in this
dreary place. You wouldn’t like me to die, would you?"

"Certainly not," said the captain, promptly.

"You would sooner die yourself, wouldn’t you?" said Joan, with a sly
glance at him.

The captain said "Yes," with all the comfortable assurance of a healthy
man living in a civilized country. Then he started as Miss Hartley
turned suddenly and pinched his arm.

"Eh?" cried the captain, rubbing it.

"I don’t want you to die for me," said Joan with a little laugh, "but I
was thinking over things the other day, and I got an idea of how you
could help me if you would. I gave it up, however. I felt sure you
wouldn’t do it, but if you say you would die for me—

"When I said ’die’—" began the captain, uneasily.

"I’m not going to ask you to do anything as dreadful as that," continued
Joan; "at least, I don’t think it is; but the beauty of it is it is
something you can do. I am going back to Salthaven, but to make
everybody comfortable and happy I thought of going back under a new
name. That’s the idea."

"New name?" repeated the puzzled captain.

Joan nodded and turned a somewhat flushed face in his direction.

"A new name," she repeated. "My father will be left undisturbed, Mr.
John Vyner will be satisfied, and Mr. Robert—"

"Yes?" said the captain, after a pause.

"Nothing," said the girl.

"But I don’t understand," said the captain, "What good will changing
your name do?"

"Wait till you hear it," retorted the girl, with an amused glance at
him.

"I am waiting," said the other, somewhat shortly.

"You’ll see at once when I tell you," said Joan; "and I’m sure you won’t
mind. I am going back to Salthaven under the name of Mrs. Trimblett."

The captain stopped suddenly in his stride, and with a bewildered air
strove to rally his disordered faculties. Alarm and consternation choked
his utterance.

"Poor dear!" said Joan, with another giggle. "Don’t be alarmed. It’s the
best thing that could happen to you; it will prevent all other attempts
on your freedom."

"I can take a joke," said the captain, finding his speech at last; "I
can take a joke as well as most men, but this is going a trifle too
far."

"But I’m not joking," said the girl. "I’m going back as Mrs. Trimblett;
I am, indeed. Don’t look so frightened; I’m not going to marry you,
really. Only pretend, as the children say."

"You don’t know what you’re talking about!" exclaimed the astonished
captain.

"Putting aside your feelings—and mine," said Joan, "it’s a good thing
for everybody else, isn’t it? We mustn’t consider ourselves—that would
be selfish."

The captain shook his head in angry amazement.

"I suppose, when you said just now that you would do anything for
father, you didn’t mean it, then?" said Joan. "And when you said you’d
die for me, you—"

"I tell you," interrupted the captain, violently, "it’s impossible. I
never heard of such a thing."

"It’s quite possible," declared the girl. "I shall go back home, and you
must get back to Salthaven just in time to sail. Mr. Vyner will be so
pleased at the news, he will let you stay away as long as you like, I am
sure."

"And what about when I come back?" demanded the captain.

"When you come back," said Joan, slowly—"just before, in fact—I shall
tell the truth and give people to understand that I did it to oblige
you—to prevent somebody else marrying you against your will."

"Oh!" said the captain, struggling nobly with his feelings. "Oh, you
will!"

"To-morrow," continued Joan, "I will buy the wedding-ring. I know that
that ought to be your business, but I’ll get it, because I know where I
can get one cheap. I saw some the other day. Rolled gold they are
called. Eighteenpence each."

The captain choked.

"Have you considered," he said, loftily, as soon as he was capable of
speech, "that it would be a lie?"

Joan nodded, carelessly.

"A lie!" repeated Captain Trimblett, in a thrilling voice.

"Yes," said Joan. "I remember I heard you tell father once that if you
had a sovereign for every lie you had told you would be able to give up
the sea. So you had better do it. You can do it better than I can."

Captain Trimblett threw his hands apart with a sudden supreme gesture.

"I won’t listen to another word!" he said, hotly. "I should never hear
the end of it. Where are those omnibuses?"

"We are not near them yet," was the reply. "We have been walking away
from them. When you have listened to reason I will take you to them."

The captain closed his lips obstinately. He would have closed his ears,
too, if he could, but, unable to do that, quickened his pace in a
forlorn attempt to outdistance her. She plied him with arguments and
entreaties, but in vain. He was immovable. Finally, in a trembling
voice, she said that it didn’t matter, and apologized for troubling him
with her concerns.

"I would do anything in reason, my dear," said the mollified captain.

"It doesn’t matter," repeated the girl.

"It’s quite impossible," said the captain, gently. "It’s really an
outrageous idea. You’ll see it yourself by and by."

Miss Hartley thanked him, and taking out a handkerchief dabbed her eyes
gently and made a pathetic attempt to smile.

"Don’t say any more about it," she pleaded. "I have no doubt you are
right. Only when you said you would do anything for us I—I thought you
meant it. I see how uncomfortable it might be for you. I ought to have
thought of that before."

The unfortunate captain turned crimson, but, glancing at the spectacle
of resignation by his side, managed to keep his temper under restraint.

"I’m not thinking of myself at all," he growled.

"Perhaps you are without knowing it," suggested Miss Hartley, in a voice
free from all trace of personal feeling. "I thought that you would have
done a little thing like that for me—and father. I’m sorry I was
mistaken. However, I shall go back to Salthaven in any case."

She dabbed a perfectly dry eye again, and watched the captain closely
with the other.

"I suppose there will be trouble," she continued, meditatively; "still,
that will be your fault. I have done all I could do."

She walked on in pained silence and paid no heed to the explanations and
arguments by which the captain sought to justify his refusal. He began
to get confused and rambling in his defence, and finally, to terminate
an embarrassing interview, grunted out something about thinking it over.
A moment later a radiant and admiring young woman was flattering him up
to the skies.

"Mind, I only said I would think it over," said the captain, regarding
her indignantly.

"Of course," said Joan, "I quite understand that; and you will write and
break the news to father, won’t you?"

"No, I’m hanged if I do," answered the captain.

"Never mind, then; I’ll do it," said the girl, hastily. "I shall just
write and tell him that I have changed my name to Trimblett. People have
a right to change their name if they like. Lots of them do it. Make
haste, you’ll lose your omnibus. I shall never forget your
kindness—never."

"Mind!" panted the captain, as she hurried him along, "it—isn’t—settled.
I am only going to think it over."

"I don’t know what we should have done without you," continued Joan.
"There isn’t another man in the world would be so kind, I am sure. If
you were only thirty or forty years younger I would marry you in
reality."

"Mind!" said the captain, grasping the rail of the omnibus and pausing
with his foot on the step, "I haven’t—promised."

"I’ll write and tell you when I’ve done it," said Joan. "I’ll take all
the responsibility. Good-by! Good-by!"

The conductor hoisted him aboard and he slowly mounted the stairs. He
paused at the top to wave a feeble hand, and then, subsiding heavily
into a seat, sat thinking out a long and polite letter of refusal.



CHAPTER XVII



JOAN HARTLEY’S letter to her father was not so easy to write as she had
imagined. She tore up draft after draft, and at last, in despair, wrote
him a brief and dutiful epistle, informing him that she had changed her
name to Tremblett. She added—in a postscript—that she expected he would
be surprised; and, having finished her task, sat trying to decide
whether to commit it to the post or the flames.

It was a question that occupied her all the evening, and the following
morning found her still undecided. It was not until the afternoon, when
a letter came from Captain Trimblett, declining in violent terms and at
great length to be a party to her scheme, that she made up her mind. The
information that he had been recalled to Salthaven on the day following
only served to strengthen her resolution, and it was with a feeling of
almost pious thankfulness that she realized the advantages of such an
arrangement. She went out and posted her letter to her father, and then,
with a mind at ease, wrote a nice letter to Captain Trimblett, full of
apologies for her precipitancy, and regretting that he had not informed
her before of what she called his change of mind. She added that, after
mature deliberation, she had decided not to return to Salthaven until
after he had sailed.

Captain Trimblett got the letter next morning and, hurrying off to the
nearest post-office, filled up a telegraph-form with a few incisive
words dashed off at white heat. He destroyed six forms before he had
arrived at what he considered a happy mean between strength and
propriety, and then at the lady clerk’s earnest request altered one of
the words of the seventh. A few hours later he was on his way to
Salthaven.

It was late when he arrived and the office of Vyner and Son was closed.
He went on to Laurel Lodge, and, after knocking and ringing for some
time in vain, walked back to the town and went on board his ship. The
new crew had not yet been signed on, and Mr. Walters, the only man
aboard, was cut short in his expressions of pleasure at the captain’s
return and sent ashore for provisions.

"Time you went to sea again," said the captain a little later as the
boatswain went on his hands and knees to recover the pieces of a plate
he had dropped.

"I wish I’d gone a month ago, sir," said Mr. Walters. "Shore’s no place
for a sailorman."

The captain grunted, and turning suddenly surprised the eye of Mr.
Walters fixed upon him with an odd, puzzled expression that he had
noticed before that evening. Mr. Walters, caught in the act, ducked from
sight, and recovered a crumb that was trying to pass itself off as a
piece of china.

"What are you staring at me for?" demanded the captain.

"Me, sir?" said the boatswain. "I wasn’t staring."

He rose with his hands full of pieces and retreated to the door. Almost
against his will he stole another glance at the captain and blinked
hastily at the gaze that met his own.

"If I’ve got a smut on my nose—" began the captain, ferociously.

"No, sir," said Mr. Walters, disappearing.

"Come here!" roared the other.

The boatswain came back reluctantly.

"If I catch you making those faces at me again," said the captain, whom
the events of the last day or two had reduced to a state of chronic
ill-temper, "I’ll—I’ll——"

"Yessir," said Mr. Walters, cheerfully. "I——"

He disappeared again, but his voice came floating down the
companion-ladder. "I ’ope—you’ll accept—my good—wishes."

Captain Trimblett started as though he had been stung, and his
temperature rose to as near boiling point as science and the human
mechanism will allow. Twice he opened his mouth to bellow the boatswain
back again, and twice his courage failed him. He sat a picture of
wrathful consternation until, his gaze falling on a bottle of beer, he
emptied it with great rapidity, and pushing his plate away and lighting
his pipe sat trying to read a harmless meaning into Mr. Walters’s
infernal congratulations.

He rose early next morning and set off for Laurel Lodge, a prey to
gloom, which the furtive glances of Mr. Walters had done nothing to
dissipate. Hartley was still in his bedroom when he arrived, but Rosa
showed him into the dining-room, and, having placed a chair, sped
lightly upstairs.

"I’ve told him," she said, returning in a breathless condition and
smiling at him.

The captain scowled at her.

"And he says he’ll be down in a minute."

"Very good," said the captain, with a nod of dismissal.

Miss Jelks went as far as the sideboard, and, taking out a tablecloth,
proceeded to set the breakfast, regarding the captain with unaffected
interest as she worked.

"He ain’t been very well the last day or two," she said, blandly.

The captain ignored her.

"Seems to have something on his mind," continued Miss Jelks, with a toss
of her head, as she placed the sugar-bowl and other articles on the
table.

The captain regarded her steadily for a moment, and then, turning, took
up a newspaper.

"I should think he never was what you’d call a strong man," murmured
Miss Jelks. "He ain’t got the look of it."

The captain’s temper got the better of him. "Who are you talking about?"
he demanded, turning sharply.

Miss Jelks’s eyes shone, but there was no hurry, and she smoothed down a
corner of the tablecloth before replying.

"Your father-in-law, sir," she said, with a faint air of surprise.

Captain Trimblett turned hastily to his paper again, but despite his
utmost efforts a faint wheezing noise escaped him and fell like soft
music on the ears of Miss Jelks. In the hope that it might be repeated,
or that manifestations more gratifying still might be vouchsafed to her,
she lingered over her task and coughed in an aggressive fashion at
intervals.

She was still busy when Hartley came downstairs, and, stopping for a
moment at the doorway, stood regarding the captain with a look of timid
disapproval. The latter rose and, with a significant glance in the
direction of Rosa, shook hands and made a remark about the weather.

"When did you return?" inquired Hartley, trying to speak easily.

"Last night," said the other. "I came on here, but you were out."

Hartley nodded, and they sat eying each other uneasily and waiting for
the industrious Rosa to go. The captain got tired first, and throwing
open the French windows slipped out into the garden and motioned to
Hartley to follow.

"Joan wrote to you," he said, abruptly, as soon as they were out of
earshot.

"Yes," said the other, stiffly.

"Understand, it wasn’t my fault," said the captain, warmly. "I wash my
hands of it. I told her not to."

"Indeed!" said Hartley, with a faint attempt at sarcasm. "It was no
concern of mine, of course."

The captain turned on him sharply, and for a moment scathing words hung
trembling on his lips. He controlled himself by an effort.

"She wrote to you," he said, slowly, "and instead of waiting to see me,
or communicating with me, you spread the news all over the place."

"Nothing of the kind," said Hartley. "As a matter of fact, it’s not a
thing I am anxious to talk about. Up to the present I have only told
Rosa."

"Only!" repeated the choking captain. "Only! Only told Rosa! Where was
the town-crier? What in the name of common-sense did you want to tell
her for?"

"She would have to be told sooner or later," said Hartley, staring at
him, "and it seemed to me better to tell her before Joan came home. I
thought Joan would prefer it; and if you had heard Rosa’s comments I
think that you’d agree I was right."

The captain scarcely listened. "Well, it’s all over Salthaven by now,"
he said, resignedly.

He seated himself on the bench with his hands hanging loosely between
his knees, and tried to think. In any case he saw himself held up to
ridicule, and he had a strong feeling that to tell the truth now would
precipitate a crisis between Vyner and his chief clerk. The former would
probably make a fairly accurate guess at the circumstances responsible
for the rumour, and act accordingly. He glanced at Hartley standing
awkwardly before him, and, not without a sense of self-sacrifice,
resolved to accept the situation.

"Yes; Rosa had to be told," he said, philosophically. "Fate again; you
can’t avoid it."

Hartley took a turn or two up and down the path.

"The news came on me like a—like a thunderbolt," he said, pausing in
front of the captain. "I hadn’t the slightest idea of such a thing, and
if I say what I think—"

"Don’t!" interrupted the captain, warmly. "What’s the good?"

"When were you married?" inquired the other. "Where were you married?"

"Joan made all the arrangements," said the captain, rising hastily. "Ask
her."

"But—" said the astonished Hartley.

"Ask her," repeated the captain, walking toward the house and flinging
the words over his shoulder. "I’m sick of it."

He led the way into the dining-room and, at the other’s invitation, took
a seat at the breakfast-table, and sat wondering darkly how he was to
get through the two days before he sailed. Hartley, ill at ease, poured
him out a cup of coffee and called his attention to the bacon-dish.

"I can’t help thinking," he said, as the captain helped himself and then
pushed the dish toward him—"I can’t help thinking that there is
something behind all this; that there is some reason for it that I don’t
quite understand."

The captain started. "Never mind," he said, with gruff kindness.

"But I do mind," persisted the other. "I have got an idea that it has
been done for the benefit—if you can call it that—of a third person."

The captain eyed him with benevolent concern. "Nonsense," he said,
uneasily. "Nothing of the kind. We never thought of you."

"I wasn’t thinking of myself," said Hartley, staring; "but I know that
Joan was uneasy about you, although she pretended to laugh at it. I feel
sure in my own mind that she has done this to save you from Mrs.
Chinnery. If it hadn’t—"

He stopped suddenly as the captain, uttering a strange gasping noise,
rose and stood over him. For a second or two the captain stood
struggling for speech, then, stepping back with a suddenness that
overturned his chair, he grabbed his cap from the sideboard and dashed
out of the house. The amazed Mr. Hartley ran to the window and, with
some uneasiness, saw his old friend pelting along at the rate of a good
five miles an hour.

Breathing somewhat rapidly from his exertions, the captain moderated his
pace after the first hundred yards, and went on his way in a state of
mind pretty evenly divided between wrath and self-pity. He walked in
thought with his eyes fixed on the ground, and glancing up, too late to
avoid him, saw the harbour-master approaching.

Captain Trimblett, composing his features to something as near his
normal expression as the time at his disposal would allow, gave a brief
nod and would have passed on. He found his way, however, blocked by
sixteen stone of harbour-master, while a big, red, clean-shaven face
smiled at him reproachfully.

"How are you?" said Trimblett, jerkily.

The harbour-master, who was a man of few words, made no reply. He drew
back a little and, regarding the captain with smiling interest, rolled
his head slowly from side to side.

"Well! Well! Well!" he said at last.

Captain Trimblett drew himself up and regarded him with a glance the
austerity of which would have made most men quail. It affected the
harbourmaster otherwise.

"C—ck!" he said, waggishly, and drove a forefinger like a petrified
sausage into the other’s ribs.

The assault was almost painful, and, before the captain could recover,
the harbour-master, having exhausted his stock of witticisms, both
verbal and physical, passed on highly pleased with himself.

It was only a sample of what the day held in store for the captain, and
before it was half over he was reduced to a condition of raging
impotence. The staff of Vyner and Son turned on their stools as one man
as he entered the room, and regarded him open-eyed for the short time
that he remained there. Mr. Vyner, senior, greeted him almost with
cordiality, and, for the second time in his experience, extended a big
white hand for him to shake.

"I have heard the news, captain," he said, in extenuation.

Captain Trimblett bowed, and in response to an expression of good wishes
for his future welfare managed to thank him. He made his escape as soon
as possible, and, meeting Robert Vyner on the stairs, got a fleeting
glance and a nod which just admitted the fact of his existence.

The most popular man in Salthaven for the time being, he spent the best
part of the day on board his ship, heedless of the fact that numerous
acquaintances were scouring the town in quest of him. One or two hardy
spirits even ventured on board, and, leaving with some haste, bemoaned,
as they went, the change wrought by matrimony in a hitherto amiable and
civil-spoken mariner.

The one drop of sweetness in his cup was the news that Mrs. Chinnery was
away from home for a few days, and after carefully reconnoitring from
the bridge of the Indian Chief that evening he set off to visit his
lodgings. He reached Tranquil Vale unmolested, and, entering the house
with a rather exaggerated air of unconcern, nodded to Mr. Truefitt, who
was standing on the hearthrug smoking, and hung up his cap. Mr.
Truefitt, after a short pause, shook hands with him.

"She’s away," he said, in a deep voice.

"She? Who?" faltered the captain.

"Susanna," replied Mr. Truefitt, in a deeper voice still.

The captain coughed and, selecting a chair with great care, slowly
seated himself.

"She left you her best wishes," continued Mr. Truefitt, still standing,
and still regarding him with an air of severe disapproval.

"Much obliged," murmured the captain.

"She would do it," added Mr. Truefitt, crossing to the window and
staring out at the road with his back to the captain. "And she said
something about a silver-plated butter-dish; but in the circumstances I
said ’No.’ Miss Willett thought so too."

"How is Miss Willett?" inquired the captain, anxious to change the
subject.

"All things considered, she’s better than might be expected," replied
Mr. Truefitt, darkly.

Captain Trimblett said that he was glad to hear it, and, finding the
silence becoming oppressive, inquired affectionately concerning the
health of Mrs. Willett, and learned to his discomfort that she was in
the same enigmatical condition as her daughter.

"And my marriage is as far off as ever," concluded Mr. Truefitt. "Some
people seem to be able to get married as often as they please, and
others can’t get married at all."

"It’s all fate," said the captain, slowly; "it’s all arranged for us."

Mr. Truefitt turned and his colour rose.

"Your little affair was arranged for you, I suppose?" he said, sharply.

"It was," said the captain, with startling vehemence.

Mr. Truefitt, who was lighting his pipe, looked up at him from lowered
brows, and then, crossing to the door, took his pipe down the garden to
the summer-house.



CHAPTER XVIII



THIS time to-morrow night," said Mr. Walters, as he slowly paced a
country lane with Miss Jelks clinging to his arm, "I shall be at sea."

Miss Jelks squeezed his arm and gave vent to a gentle sigh. "Two
years’ll soon slip away," she remarked. "It’s wonderful how time flies.
How much is twice three hundred and sixty-five?"

"And you mind you behave yourself," said the boatswain, hastily.
"Remember your promise, mind."

"Of course I will," said Rosa, carelessly.

"You’ve promised not to ’ave your evening out till I come back," the
boatswain reminded her; "week-days and Sundays both. And it oughtn’t to
be no ’ardship to you. Gals wot’s going to be married don’t want to go
gadding about."

"Of course they don’t," said Rosa. "I shouldn’t enjoy being out without
you neither. And I can get all the fresh air I want in the garden."

"And cleaning the winders," said the thoughtful boatswain.

Miss Jelks, who held to a firm and convenient belief in the likeness
between promises and piecrusts, smiled cheerfully.

"Unless I happen to be sent on an errand I sha’n’t put my nose outside
the front gate," she declared.

"You’ve passed your word," said Mr. Walters, slowly, "and that’s good
enough for me; besides which I’ve got a certain party wot’s promised to
keep ’is eye on you and let me know if you don’t keep to it."

"Eh?" said the startled Rosa. "Who is it?"

"Never you mind who it is," said Mr. Walters, judicially. "It’s better
for you not to know, then you can’t dodge ’im. He can keep his eye on
you, but there’s no necessity for you to keep your eye on ’im. I don’t
mind wot he does."

Miss Jelks maintained her temper with some difficulty; but the absolute
necessity of discovering the identity of the person referred to by Mr.
Walters, if she was to have any recreation at all during the next two
years, helped her.

"He’ll have an easy job of it," she said, at last, with a toss of her
head.

"That’s just wot I told ’im," said the boatswain. "He didn’t want to
take the job on at first, but I p’inted out that if you behaved yourself
and kept your promise he’d ’ave nothing to do; and likewise, if you
didn’t, it was only right as ’ow I should know. Besides which I gave ’im
a couple o’ carved peach stones and a war-club that used to belong to a
Sandwich Islander, and took me pretty near a week to make."

Miss Jelks looked up at him sideways. "Be a bit of all right if he comes
making up to me himself," she said, with a giggle. "I wonder whether
he’d tell you that?"

"He won’t do that," said the boatswain, with a confident smile. "He’s
much too well-behaved, ’sides which he ain’t old enough."

Miss Jelks tore her arm away. "You’ve never been and set that
old-fashioned little shrimp Bassett on to watch me?" she said, shrilly.

"Never you mind who it is," growled the discomfited boatswain. "It’s got
nothing to do with you. All you’ve got to know is this: any time ’e sees
you out—this party I’m talking of—he’s going to log it. He calls it
keeping a dairy, but it comes to the same thing."

"I know what I call it," said the offended maiden, "and if I catch that
little horror spying on me he’ll remember it."

"He can’t spy on you if you ain’t out," said the boatswain. "That’s wot
I told ’im; and when I said as you’d promised he saw as ’ow it would be
all right. I’m going to try and bring him ’ome a shark’s tooth."

"Goin’ to make it?" inquired Rosa, with a sniff.

"And might I ask," she inquired, as the amorous boatswain took her arm
again, "might I ask who is going to watch you?"

"Me?" said the boatswain, regarding her with honest amazement. "I don’t
want no watching. Men don’t."

"In—deed!" said Miss Jelks, "and why not?"

"They don’t like it," said Mr. Walters, simply.

Miss Jelks released her arm again, and for some time they walked on
opposite sides of the lane Her temper rose rapidly, and at last, tearing
off her glove, she drew the ring from her finger and handed it to the
boatswain.

"There you are!" she exclaimed. "Take it!"

Mr. Walters took it, and, after a vain attempt to place it on his little
finger, put it in his waistcoat-pocket and walked on whistling.

"We’re not engaged now," explained Rosa.

"Aye, aye," said the boatswain, cheerfully. "Only walking out."

"Nothing of the kind," said Rosa. "I sha’n’t have nothing more to do
with you. You’d better tell Bassett."

"What for?" demanded the other.

"What for?" repeated Rosa. "Why, there’s no use him watching me now."

"Why not?" demanded Mr. Walters.

Miss Jelks caught her breath impatiently. "Because it’s got nothing to
do with you what I do now," she said, sharply. "I can go out with who I
like."

"Ho!" said the glaring Mr. Walters. "Ho! Can you? So that’s your little
game, is it? Here—"

He fumbled in his pocket and, producing the ring, caught Miss Jelks’s
hand in a grip that made her wince, and proceeded to push it on her
little finger. "Now you behave yourself, else next time I’ll take it
back for good."

Miss Jelks remonstrated, but in vain. The boatswain passed his left arm
about her waist, and when she became too fluent increased the pressure
until she gasped for breath. Much impressed by these signs of affection
she began to yield, and, leaning her head against his shoulder,
voluntarily renewed her vows of seclusion.

She went down to the harbour next day to see him off, and stood watching
with much interest the bustle on deck and the prominent share borne by
her masterful admirer. To her thinking, Captain Trimblett, stiff and
sturdy on the bridge, played but a secondary part. She sent the
boatswain little signals of approval and regard, a proceeding which was
the cause of much subsequent trouble to a newly joined A.B. who
misunderstood their destination. The warps were thrown off, a bell
clanged in the engine-room, the screw revolved, and a gradually widening
piece of water appeared between the steamer and the quay. Men on board
suspended work for a moment for a last gaze ashore, and no fewer than
six unfortunates responded ardently to the fluttering of her
handkerchief. She stood watching until the steamer had disappeared round
a bend in the river, and then, with a sense of desolation and a holiday
feeling for which there was no outlet, walked slowly home.

She broke her promise to the boatswain the following evening. For one
thing, it was her "evening out," and for another she felt that the
sooner the Bassett nuisance was stopped, the better it would be for all
concerned. If the youth failed to see her she was the gainer to the
extent of an evening in the open air, and if he did not she had an idea
that the emergency would not find her unprepared.

She walked down to the town first and spent some time in front of the
shop-windows. Tiring of this, she proceeded to the harbour and inspected
the shipping, and then with the feeling strong upon her that it would be
better to settle with Bassett at her own convenience, she walked slowly
to the small street in which he lived, and taking up a position nearly
opposite his house paced slowly to and fro with the air of one keeping
an appointment. She was pleased to observe, after a time, a slight
movement of the curtains opposite, and, satisfied that she had attained
her ends, walked off. The sound of a street door closing saved her the
necessity of looking round.

At first she strolled slowly through the streets, but presently,
increasing her pace, resolved to take the lad for a country walk. At
Tranquil Vale she paused to tie up her boot-lace, and, satisfying
herself that Bassett was still in pursuit, set off again.

She went on a couple of miles farther, until turning the sharp corner of
a lane she took a seat on the trunk of a tree that lay by the side and
waited for him to come up. She heard his footsteps coming nearer and
nearer, and with a satisfied smile noted that he had quickened his pace.
He came round the corner at the rate of over four miles an hour, and,
coming suddenly upon her, was unable to repress a slight exclamation of
surprise. The check was but momentary, and he was already passing on
when the voice of Miss Jelks, uplifted in sorrow, brought him to a
standstill.

"Oh, Master Bassett," she cried, "I am surprised! I couldn’t have
believed it of you."

Bassett, squeezing his hands together, stood eying her nervously.

"And you so quiet, too," continued Rosa; "but there, you quiet ones are
always the worst."

The boy, peering at her through his spectacles, made no reply.

"The idea of a boy your age falling in love with me," said Rosa,
modestly lowering her gaze.

"What!" squeaked the astonished Bassett, hardly able to believe his
ears.

"Falling in love and dogging my footsteps," said Rosa, with relish, "and
standing there looking at me as though you could eat me."

"You must be mad," said Bassett, in a trembling voice. "Stark staring
mad."

"It’s to make you leave off loving me," she explained

"Don’t make it worse," said Rosa kindly. "I suppose you can’t help it,
and ought to be pitied for it really. Now I know why it was you winked
at me when you came to the house the other day."

"Winked!" gasped the horrified youth. "Me?"

"I thought it was weakness of sight, at the time," said the girl, "but I
see my mistake now. I am sorry for you, but it can never be. I am
another’s."

Bassett, utterly bereft of speech, stood eying her helplessly.

"Don’t stand there making those sheep’s eyes at me," said Rosa. "Try and
forget me. Was it love at first sight, or did it come on gradual like?"

Bassett, moistening his tongue, shook his head.

"Am I the first girl you ever loved?" inquired Rosa, softly.

"No," said the boy. "I mean—I have never been in—love. I don’t know what
you are talking about."

"Do you mean to say you are not in love with me?" demanded Rosa,
springing up suddenly.

"I do," said Bassett, blushing hotly.

"Then what did you follow me all round the town for, and then down
here?"

Bassett, who was under a pledge of secrecy to the boatswain, and,
moreover, had his own ideas as to the reception the truth might meet
with, preserved an agonized silence.

"It’s no good," said Rosa, eying him mournfully. "You can’t deceive me.
You are head over heels, and the kindest thing I can do is to be cruel
to you—for your own sake."

She sprang forward suddenly, and, before the astounded youth could
dodge, dealt him a sharp box on the ear. As he reeled under the blow she
boxed the other.

"It’s to make you leave off loving me," she explained; "and if I ever
catch you following me again you’ll get some more; besides which I shall
tell your mother."

She picked up her parasol from the trunk, and after standing regarding
him for a moment with an air of offended maidenhood, walked back to the
town. Bassett, after a long interval, returned by another road.



CHAPTER XIX



JOAN HARTLEY returned to Salthaven a week after Captain Trimblett’s
departure, and, with a lively sense of her inability to satisfy the
curiosity of her friends, spent most of the time indoors. To evade her
father’s inquiries she adopted other measures, and the day after her
return, finding both her knowledge and imagination inadequate to the
task of satisfying him, she first waxed impatient and then tearful.
Finally she said that she was thoroughly tired of the subject, and
expressed a fervent hope that she might hear no more about it. Any
further particulars would be furnished by Captain Trimblett, upon his
return.

"But when I asked him about it he referred me to you," said Hartley.
"The whole affair is most incomprehensible."

"We thought it would be a surprise to you," agreed Joan.

"It was," said her father, gloomily. "But if you are satisfied, I
suppose it is all right."

He returned to the attack next day, but gained little information. Miss
Hartley’s ideas concerning the various marriage ceremonies were of the
vaguest, but by the aid of "Whitaker’s Almanack" she was enabled to
declare that the marriage had taken place by license at a church in the
district where Trimblett was staying. As a help to identification she
added that the church was built of stone, and that the pew-opener had a
cough. Tiresome questions concerning the marriage certificate were
disposed of by leaving it in the captain’s pocket-book. And again she
declared that she was tired of the subject.

"I can’t imagine what your aunt was thinking about," said her father.
"If you had let me write—"

"She knew nothing about it," said Joan, hastily; "and if you had written
to her she would have thought that you were finding fault with her for
not looking after me more. It’s done now, and if I’m satisfied and
Captain Trimblett is satisfied, that is all that matters. You didn’t
want me to be an old maid, did you?"

Mr. Hartley gave up the subject in despair, but Miss Willett, who called
a day or two later, displayed far more perseverance. After the usual
congratulations she sat down to discuss the subject at length, and
subjected Joan to a series of questions which the latter had much
difficulty in evading. For a newly married woman, Miss Willett could
only regard her knowledge of matrimony as hazy in the extreme.

"She don’t want to talk about it," said Mr. Truefitt, the following
evening as he sat side by side with Miss Willett in the little
summer-house overlooking the river. "Perhaps she is repenting it
already."

"It ought to be a tender memory," sighed Miss Willett. "I’m sure—"

She broke off and blushed.

"Yes?" said Mr. Truefitt, pinching her arm tenderly.

"Never mind," breathed Miss Willett. "I mean—I was only going to say
that I don’t think the slightest detail would have escaped me. All she
seems to remember is that it took place in a church."

"It must have been by license, I should think," said Mr. Truefitt,
scowling thoughtfully. "Ordinary license, I should say. I have been
reading up about them lately. One never knows what may happen."

Miss Willett started.

"Trimblett has not behaved well," continued Mr. Truefitt, slowly, "by no
means, but I must say that he has displayed a certain amount of dash; he
didn’t allow anything or anybody to come between him and matrimony. He
just went and did it."

He passed his arm round Miss Willett’s waist and gazed reflectively
across the river.

"And I suppose we shall go on waiting all our lives," he said at last.
"We consider other people far too much."

Miss Willett shook her head. "Mother always keeps to her word," she
said, with an air of mournful pride. "Once she says anything she keeps
to it. That’s her firmness. She won’t let me marry so long as Mrs.
Chinnery stays here. We must be patient."

Mr. Truefitt rumpled his hair irritably and for some time sat silent.
Then he leaned forward and, in a voice trembling with excitement,
whispered in the lady’s ear.

"Peter!" gasped Miss Willett, and drew back and eyed him in trembling
horror.

"Why not?" said Mr. Truefitt, with an effort to speak stoutly. "It’s our
affair."

Miss Willett shivered and, withdrawing from his arm, edged away to the
extreme end of the seat and averted her gaze.

"It’s quite easy," whispered the tempter.

Miss Willett, still looking out at the door, affected not to hear.

"Not a soul would know until afterward," continued Mr. Truefitt, in an
ardent whisper. "It could all be kept as quiet as possible. I’ll have
the license ready, and you could just slip out for a morning walk and
meet me at the church, and there you are. And it’s ridiculous of two
people of our age to go to such trouble."

"Mother would never forgive me," murmured Miss Willett. "Never!"

"She’d come round in time," said Mr. Truefitt.

"Never!" said Miss Willett. "You don’t know mother’s strength of mind.
But I mustn’t stay and listen to such things. It’s wicked!"

She got up and slipped into the garden, and with Mr. Truefitt in
attendance paced up and down the narrow paths.

"Besides," she said, after a long silence, "I shouldn’t like to share
housekeeping with your sister. It would only lead to trouble between us,
I am sure."

Mr. Truefitt came to a halt in the middle of the path, and stood
rumpling his hair again as an aid to thought. Captain Sellers, who was
looking over his fence, waved a cheery salutation.

"Fine evening," he piped.

The other responded with a brief nod.

"What did you say?" inquired Captain Sellers, who was languishing for a
little conversation.

"Didn’t say anything!" bawled Mr. Truefitt.

"You must speak up if you want me to hear you!" cried the captain. "It’s
one o’ my bad days."

Truefitt shook his head, and placing himself by the side of Miss Willett
resumed his walk. Three fences away, Captain Sellers kept pace with
them.

"Nothing fresh about Trimblett, I suppose?" he yelled.

Truefitt shook his head again.

"He’s a deep ’un!" cried Sellers—"wonderful deep! How’s the other one?
Bearing up? I ain’t seen her about the last day or two. I believe that
was all a dodge of Trimblett’s to put us off the scent. It made a fool
of me."

Mr. Truefitt, with a nervous glance at the open windows of his house,
turned and walked hastily down the garden again.

"He quite deceived me," continued Captain Sellers, following—"quite.
What did you say?"

"Nothing," bawled Mr. Truefitt, with sudden ferocity.

"Eh!" yelled the captain, leaning over the fence with his hand to his
ear.

"Nothing!"

"Eh?" said the captain, anxiously. "Speak up! What?"

"Oh, go to—Jericho!" muttered Mr. Truefitt, and, taking Miss Willett by
the arm, disappeared into the summer-house again. "Where were we when
that old idiot interrupted us?" he inquired, tenderly.

Miss Willett told him, and, nestling within his encircling arm, listened
with as forbidding an expression as she could command to further
arguments on the subject of secret marriages.

"It’s no use," she said at last "I mustn’t listen. It’s wicked. I am
surprised at you, Peter. You must never speak to me on the subject
again."

She put her head on his shoulder, and Mr. Truefitt, getting a better
grip with his arm, drew her toward him.

"Think it over," he whispered, and bent and kissed her.

"Never," was the reply.

Mr. Truefitt kissed her again, and was about to repeat the performance
when she started up with a faint scream, and, pushing him away, darted
from the summer-house and fled up the garden. Mr. Truefitt, red with
wrath, stood his ground and stared ferociously at the shrunken figure of
Captain Sellers standing behind the little gate in the fence that gave
on to the foreshore. The captain, with a cheery smile, lifted the latch
and entered the garden.

"I picked a little bunch o’ flowers for Miss Willett," he said,
advancing and placing them on the table.

"Who told you to come into my garden?" shouted the angry Mr. Truefitt.

"Yes, all of ’em," said Captain Sellers, taking up the bunch and looking
at them. "Smell!"

He thrust the bunch into the other’s face, and withdrawing it plunged
his own face into it with rapturous sniffs. Mr. Truefitt, his nose
decorated with pollen ravished from a huge lily, eyed him murderously.

"Get out of my garden," he said, with an imperious wave of his hand.

"I can’t hear what you say," said the captain, following the direction
of the other’s hand and stepping outside. "Sometimes I think my deafness
gets worse. It’s a great deprivation.’’

"Is it?" said Mr. Truefitt. He made a funnel of both hands and bent to
the old man’s willing ear.

"You’re an artful, interfering, prying, inquisitive old busybody," he
bellowed. "Can you hear that?"

"Say it again," said the captain, his old eyes snapping.

Mr. Truefitt complied.

"I didn’t quite catch the last word," said the captain.

"Busybody!" yelled Mr. Truefitt. "Busybody! B—u—s——"

"I heard," said Captain Sellers, with sudden and alarming dignity. "Take
your coat off."

"Get out of my garden," responded Mr. Truefitt, briefly.

"Take your coat off," repeated Captain Sellers, sternly. He removed his
own after a little trouble, and rolling back his shirt sleeves stood
regarding with some pride a pair of yellow, skinny old arms. Then he
clenched his fists, and, with an agility astonishing in a man of his
years, indulged in a series of galvanic little hops in front of the
astounded Peter Truefitt.

"Put your hands up!" he screamed. "Put ’em up, you tailor’s dummy! Put
’em up, you Dutchman!"

"Go out of my garden," repeated the marvelling Mr. Truefitt. "Go home
and have some gruel and go to bed!"

Captain Sellers paid no heed. Still performing marvellous things with
his feet, he ducked his head over one shoulder, feinted with his left at
Mr. Truefitt’s face, and struck with his right somewhere near the centre
of his opponent’s waistcoat. Mr. Truefitt, still gazing at him
open-mouthed, retreated backward, and, just as the captain’s
parchment-like fist struck him a second time, tripped over a water-can
that had been left in the path and fell heavily on his back in a
flower-bed.

"Time!" cried Captain Sellers, breathlessly, and pulled out a big silver
watch to consult, as Miss Willett came hurrying down the garden,
followed by Mrs. Chinnery.

"Peter!" wailed Miss Willett, going on her knees and raising his head.
"Oh, Peter!"

"Has he hurt you?" inquired Mrs. Chinnery, stooping.

"No; I’m a bit shaken," said Mr. Truefitt, crossly. "I fell over that
bla—blessed water-can. Take that old marionette away. I’m afraid to
touch him for fear he’ll fall to pieces."

"Time!" panted Captain Sellers, stowing his watch away and resuming his
prancing. "Come on! Lively with it!"

Miss Willett uttered a faint scream and thrust her hand out.

"Lor’ bless the man!" cried Mrs. Chinnery, regarding the old gentleman’s
antics with much amazement "Go away! Go away at once!"

"Time!" cried Captain Sellers.

She stepped forward, and her attitude was so threatening that Captain
Sellers hesitated. Then he turned, and, picking up his coat, began to
struggle into it.

"I hope it will be a lesson to him," he said, glaring at Mr. Truefitt,
who had risen by this time and was feeling his back. "You see what comes
of insulting an old sea-dog."

He turned and made his way to the gate, refusing with a wave of his hand
Mrs. Chinnery’s offer to help him down the three steps leading to the
shore. With head erect and a springy step he gained his own garden, and
even made a pretence of attending to a flower or two before sitting
down. Then the deck-chair claimed him, and he lay, a limp bundle of
aching old bones, until his housekeeper came down the garden to see what
had happened to him.



CHAPTER XX



FOR the first week or two after Joan Hartley’s return Mr. Robert Vyner
went about in a state of gloomy amazement. Then, the first shock of
surprise over, he began to look about him in search of reasons for a
marriage so undesirable. A few casual words with Hartley at odd times
only served to deepen the mystery, and he learned with growing
astonishment of the chief clerk’s ignorance of the whole affair. A faint
suspicion, which he had at first dismissed as preposterous, persisted in
recurring to him, and grew in strength every time the subject was
mentioned between them. His spirits improved, and he began to speak of
the matter so cheerfully that Hartley became convinced that everybody
concerned had made far too much of ordinary attentions paid by an
ordinary young man to a pretty girl. Misled by his son’s behaviour, Mr.
Vyner, senior, began to entertain the same view of the affair.

"Just a boyish admiration," he said to his wife, as they sat alone one
evening. "All young men go through it at some time or other. It’s a sort
of—ha—vaccination, and the sooner they have it and get over it the
better."

"He has quite got over it, I think," said Mrs. Vyner, slowly.

Mr. Vyner nodded. "Lack of opposition," he said, with a satisfied air.
"Lack of visible opposition, at any rate. These cases require
management. Many a marriage has been caused by the efforts made to
prevent it."

Mrs. Vyner sighed. Her husband had an irritating habit of taking her a
little way into his confidence and then leaving the rest to an
imagination which was utterly inadequate to the task.

"There is nothing like management," she said, safely. "And I am sure
nobody could have had a better son. He has never caused us a day’s
anxiety."

"Not real anxiety," said her husband—"no."

Mrs. Vyner averted her eyes. "When," she said, gently—"when are you
going to give him a proper interest in the firm?"

Mr. Vyner thrust his hands into his trousers pockets and leaned back in
his chair. "I have been thinking about it," he said, slowly. "He would
have had it before but for this nonsense. Nothing was arranged at first,
because I wanted to see how he was going to do. His work is
excellent—excellent."

It was high praise, but it was deserved, and Mr. Robert Vyner would have
been the first to admit it. His monstrous suspicion was daily growing
less monstrous and more plausible. It became almost a conviction, and he
resolved to test it by seeing Joan and surprising her with a few sudden
careless remarks of the kind that a rising K.C. might spring upon a
particularly difficult witness. For various reasons he chose an
afternoon when the senior partner was absent, and, after trying in vain
to think out a few embarrassing questions on the way, arrived at the
house in a condition of mental bankruptcy.

The obvious agitation of Miss Hartley as she shook hands did not tend to
put him at his ease. He stammered something about "congratulations" and
the girl stammered something about "thanks," after which they sat still
and eyed each other nervously.

"Beautiful day," said Mr. Vyner at last, and comforted himself with the
reflection that the most eminent K.C.’s often made inane remarks with
the idea of throwing people off their guard.

Miss Hartley said "Yes."

"I hope you had a nice time in town?" he said, suddenly.

"Very nice," said Joan, eying him demurely.

"But of course you did," said Robert, with an air of sudden remembrance.
"I suppose Captain Trimblett knows London pretty well?"

"Pretty well," repeated the witness.

Mr. Vyner eyed her thoughtfully. "I hope you won’t mind my saying so,"
he said, slowly, "but I was awfully pleased to hear of your marriage. I
think it is always nice to hear of one’s friends marrying each other."

"Yes," said the girl.

"And Trimblett is such a good chap," continued Mr. Vyner. "He is so
sensible for his age."

He paused expectantly, but nothing happened.

"So bright and cheerful," he explained.

Miss Hartley still remaining silent, he broke off and sat watching her
quietly. To his eyes she seemed more charming than ever. There was a
defiant look in her eyes, and a half-smile trembled round the corners of
her mouth. He changed his seat for one nearer to hers, and leaning
forward eyed her gravely. Her colour deepened and she breathed quickly.

"Don’t—don’t you think Captain Trimblett is lucky?" she inquired, with
an attempt at audacity.

Mr. Vyner pondered. "No," he said at last.

Miss Hartley caught her breath.

"How rude!" she said, after a pause, lowering her eyes.

"No, it isn’t," said Robert.

"Really!" remonstrated Miss Hartley.

"I think that I am luckier than he is," said Robert, in a low voice. "At
least, I hope so. Shall I tell you why?"

"No," said Joan, quickly.

Mr. Vyner moistened his lips.

"Perhaps you know," he said, unsteadily.

Joan made no reply.

"You do know," said Robert.

Miss Hartley looked up with a sudden, careless laugh.

"It sounds like a conundrum," she said, gayly. "But it doesn’t matter. I
hope you will be lucky."

"I intend to be," said Robert.

"My hus—husband," said Joan, going very red, "would probably use the
word ’fate’ instead of ’luck.’"

"It is a favourite word of my wife’s," said Robert gravely. "Ah, what a
couple they would have made!"

"Who?" inquired Joan, eying him in bewilderment.

"My wife and your husband," said Robert. "I believe they were made for
each other."

Miss Hartley retreated in good order. "I think you are talking
nonsense," she said, with some dignity.

"Yes," said Robert, with a smile. "Ground-bait."

"What?" said Joan, in a startled voice.

"Ground-bait."

Miss Hartley made an appeal to his better feelings. "You are making my
head ache," she said, pathetically. "I’m sure I don’t know what you are
talking about."

Mr. Vyner apologized, remarking that it was a common fault of young
husbands to talk too much about their wives, and added, as an
interesting fact, that he had only been married that afternoon. Miss
Hartley turned a deaf ear.

He spread a little ground-bait—of a different kind—before Hartley during
the next few days, and in a short time had arrived at a pretty accurate
idea of the state of affairs. It was hazy and lacking in detail, but it
was sufficient to make him give Laurel Lodge a wide berth for the time
being, and to work still harder for that share in the firm which he had
always been given to understand would be his. In the meantime he felt
that Joan’s marriage de convenance was a comfortable arrangement for all
parties concerned.

This was still his view of it as he sat in his office one afternoon
about a couple of months after Captain Trimblett’s departure. He had met
Miss Hartley in the street the day before, and, with all due regard to
appearances, he could not help thinking that she had been somewhat
unnecessarily demure. In return she had gone away with three crushed
fingers and a colour that was only partially due to exercise. He was
leaning back in his chair thinking it over when his father entered.

"Busy?" inquired John Vyner.

"Frightfully," said his son, unclasping his hands from the back of his
head.

"I have just been speaking to Hartley," said the senior partner,
watching him keenly. "I had a letter this morning from the Trimblett
family."

"Eh?" said his son, staring.

"From the eldest child—a girl named Jessie," replied the other. "It
appears that a distant cousin who has been in charge of them has died
suddenly, and she is rather at a loss what to do. She wrote to me about
sending the captain’s pay to her."

"Yes," said his son, nodding; "but what has Hartley got to do with it?"

"Do with it?" repeated Mr. Vyner in surprised tones. "I take it that he
is in a way their grandfather."

"Gran—" began his son, and sat gasping. "Yes, of course," he said,
presently, "of course. I hadn’t thought of that. Of course."

"From his manner at first Hartley appeared to have forgotten it too,"
said Mr. Vyner, "but he soon saw with me that the children ought not to
be left alone. The eldest is only seventeen."

Robert tried to collect his thoughts. "Yes," he said, slowly.

"He has arranged for them to come and live with him," continued Mr.
Vyner.

The upper part of his son’s body disappeared with startling suddenness
over the arm of his chair and a hand began groping blindly in search of
a fallen pen. A dangerous rush of blood to the head was perceptible as
he regained the perpendicular.

"Was—was Hartley agreeable to that?" he inquired, steadying his voice.

His father drew himself up in his chair. "Certainly," he said, stiffly;
"he fell in with the suggestion at once. It ought to have occurred to
him first. Besides the relationship, he and Trimblett are old friends.
The captain is an old servant of the firm and his children must be
looked after; they couldn’t be left alone in London."

"It’s a splendid idea," said Robert—"splendid. By far the best thing
that you could have done."

"I have told him to write to the girl to-night," said Mr. Vyner. "He is
not sure that she knows of her father’s second marriage. And I have told
him to take a day or two off next week and go up to town and fetch them.
It will be a little holiday for him."

"Quite a change for him," agreed Robert. Conscious of his father’s
scrutiny, his face was absolutely unmoved and his voice easy. "How many
children are there?"

"Five," was the reply—"so she says in the letter. The two youngest are
twins."

For the fraction of a second something flickered across the face of
Robert Vyner and was gone.

"Trimblett’s second marriage was rather fortunate for them," he said, in
a matter-of-fact voice.

He restrained his feelings until his father had gone, and then, with a
gasp of relief, put his head on the table and gave way to them.
Convulsive tremours assailed him, and hilarious sobs escaped at
intervals from his tortured frame. Ejaculations of "Joan!" and "Poor
girl!" showed that he was not entirely bereft of proper feeling.

His head was still between his arms upon the table and his body still
shaking, when the door opened and Bassett entered the room and stood
gazing at him in a state of mild alarm. He stood for a minute diagnosing
the case, and then, putting down a handful of papers, crossed softly to
the mantel-piece and filled a tumbler with water. He came back and
touched the junior partner respectfully on the elbow.

"Will you try and drink some of this, sir?" he said, soothingly.

The startled Robert threw up his arm. There was a crash of glass, and
Bassett, with his legs apart and the water streaming down his face,
stood regarding him with owlish consternation. His idea that the junior
partner was suffering from a species of fit was confirmed by the latter
suddenly snatching his hat from its peg and darting wildly from the
room.



CHAPTER XXI



MRS. WILLETT sat in her small and over-furnished living-room in a state
of open-eyed amazement. Only five minutes before she had left the room
to look for a pair of shoes whose easiness was their sole reason for
survival, and as a last hope had looked under Cecilia’s bed, and
discovered the parcels. Three parcels all done up in brown paper and
ready for the post, addressed in Cecilia’s handwriting to:—

Mrs. P. Truefitt,

Findlater’s Private Hotel,

Finsbury Circus, London.

She smoothed her cap-strings down with trembling hands and tried to
think. The autumn evening was closing in, but she made no attempt to
obtain a light. Her mind was becoming active, and the shadows aided
thought. At ten o’clock her daughter, returning from Tranquil Vale, was
surprised to find her still sitting in the dark.

"Why, haven’t you had any supper?" she inquired, lighting the gas.

"I didn’t want any," said her mother, blinking at die sudden light.

Miss Willett turned and pulled down the blinds. Then she came back, and,
standing behind her mother’s chair, placed a hand upon her shoulder.

"It—it will be lonely for you when I’ve gone, mother," she said,
smoothing the old lady’s lace collar.

"Gone?" repeated Mrs. Willett. "Gone? Why, has that woman consented to
go at last?"

Miss Willett shrank back. "No," she said, trembling, "but—"

"You can’t marry till she does," said Mrs. Willett, gripping the arms of
her chair. "Not with my consent, at any rate. Remember that. I’m not
going to give way; she must."

Miss Willett said "Yes, mother," in a dutiful voice, and then, avoiding
her gaze, took a few biscuits from the sideboard.

"There’s a difference between strength of mind and obstinacy," continued
Mrs. Willett. "It’s obstinacy with her—sheer obstinacy; and I am not
going to bow down to it—there’s no reason why I should."

Miss Willett said "No, mother."

"If other people like to bow down to her," said Mrs. Willett, smoothing
her dress over her knees, "that’s their look-out. But she won’t get me
doing it."

She went up to bed and lay awake half the night, and, rising late next
morning in consequence, took advantage of her daughter’s absence to peer
under the bed. The parcels had disappeared. She went downstairs, with
her faded but alert old eyes watching Cecilia’s every movement.

"When does Mr. Truefitt begin his holidays?" she inquired, at last.

Miss Willett, who had been glancing restlessly at the clock, started
violently.

"To—to—to-day," she gasped.

Mrs. Willett said "Oh!"

"I—I was going out with him at eleven—for a little walk," said her
daughter, nervously. "Just a stroll."

Mrs. Willett nodded. "Do you good," she said, slowly. "What are you
going to wear?"

Her daughter, still trembling, looked at her in surprise. "This," she
said, touching her plain brown dress.

Mrs. Willett’s voice began to tremble. "It’s—it’s rather plain," she
said. "I like my daughter to be nicely dressed, especially when she is
going out with her future husband. Go upstairs and put on your light
green."

Miss Willett, paler than ever, gave a hasty and calculating glance at
the clock and disappeared.

"And your new hat," Mrs. Willett called after her.

She looked at the clock too, and then, almost as excited as her
daughter, began to move restlessly about the room. Her hands shook, and
going up to the glass over the mantel-piece she removed her spectacles
and dabbed indignantly at her eyes. By the time Cecilia returned she was
sitting in her favourite chair, a picture of placid and indifferent old
age.

"That’s better," she said, with an approving nod; "much better."

She rose, and going up to her daughter rearranged her dress a little.
"You look very nice, dear," she paid, with a little cough. "Mr. Truefitt
ought to be proud of you. Good-by."

Her daughter kissed her, and then, having got as far as the door, came
back and kissed her again. She made a second attempt to depart, and
then, conscience proving too much for her, uttered a stifled sob and
came back to her mother.

"Oh, I can’t," she wailed; "I can’t."

"You’ll be late," said her mother, pushing her away. "Good-by."

"I can’t," sobbed Miss Willett; "I can’t do it. I’m—I’m deceiving——"

"Yes, yes," said the old lady, hastily; "tell me another time. Good-by."

She half led and half thrust her daughter to the door.

"But," said the conscience-stricken Cecilia, "you don’t under—"

"A walk will do you good," said her mother; "and don’t cry; try and look
your best."

She managed to close the door on her, and her countenance cleared as she
heard her daughter open the hall door and pass out. Standing well back
in the room, she watched her to the gate, uttering a sharp exclamation
of annoyance as Cecilia, with a woebegone shake of the head, turned and
came up the path again. A loud tap at the window and a shake of the head
were necessary to drive her off.

Mrs. Willett gave her a few minutes’ start, and then, in a state of
extraordinary excitement, went upstairs and, with fingers trembling with
haste, put on her bonnet and cape.

"You’re not going out alone at this time o’ the morning, ma’am?" said
the old servant, as she came down again.

"Just as far as the corner, Martha," said the old lady, craftily.

"I’d better come with you," said the other.

"Certainly not," said Mrs. Willett. "I’m quite strong this morning. Go
on with your stoves."

She took up her stick and, opening the door, astonished Martha by her
nimbleness. At the gate she looked right and left, and for the first
time in her life felt that there were too many churches in Salthaven.
For several reasons, the chief being that Cecilia’s father lay in the
churchyard, she decided to try St. Peter’s first, and, having procured a
cab at the end of the road, instructed the cabman to drive to within
fifty yards of the building and wait for her.

The church was open, and a peep through the swing-doors showed her a
small group standing before the altar. With her hand on her side she
hobbled up the stone steps to the gallery, and, helping herself along by
the sides of the pews, entered the end one of them all and sank
exhausted on the cushions.

The service had just commenced, and the voice of the minister sounded
with unusual loudness in the empty church. Mr. Truefitt and Miss Willett
stood before him like culprits, Mr. Truefitt glancing round uneasily
several times as the service proceeded. Twice the old lavender-coloured
bonnet that was projecting over the side of the gallery drew back in
alarm, and twice its owner held her breath and rated herself sternly for
her venturesomeness. She did not look over again until she heard a
little clatter of steps proceeding to the vestry, and then, with a hasty
glance round, slipped out of the pew and made her way downstairs and out
of the church.

Her strength was nearly spent, but the cabman was on the watch, and,
driving up to the entrance, climbed down and bundled her into the cab.
The drive was all too short for her to compose herself as she would have
liked, and she met the accusatory glance of Martha with but little of
her old spirit.

"I went a little too far," she said, feebly, as the servant helped her
to the door.

"What did I tell you?" demanded the other, and placing her in her chair
removed her bonnet and cape, and stood regarding her with sour
disapproval.

"I’m getting better," said the old lady, stoutly.

"I’m getting my breath back again. I—I think I’ll have a glass of wine."

"Yes, ’m," said Martha, moving off. "The red-currant?"

"Red-currant!" said Mrs. Willett, sharply. "Red-currant! Certainly not.
The port."

Martha disappeared, marvelling, to return a minute or two later with the
wine and a glass on a tray. Mrs. Willett filled her glass and,
whispering a toast to herself, half emptied it.

"Martha!" she said, looking round with a smile.

"Ma’am!"

"If you like to go and get a glass you can have a little drop yourself."

She turned and took up her glass again, and, starting nervously, nearly
let it fall as a loud crash sounded outside. The bewildered Martha had
fallen downstairs.



CHAPTER XXII



JOAN HARTLEY did not realize the full consequences of her departure from
the truth until the actual arrival of the Trimblett family, which,
piloted by Mr. Hartley, made a triumphant appearance in a couple of
station cabs. The roofs were piled high with luggage, and the leading
cabman shared his seat with a brass-bound trunk of huge dimensions and
extremely sharp corners.

A short, sturdy girl of seventeen jumped out as soon as the vehicles
came to a halt, and, taking her stand on the curb, proceeded to
superintend the unloading. A succession of hasty directions to the
leading cabman, one of the most docile of men, ended in the performance
of a marvellous piece of jugglery with the big trunk, which he first
balanced for an infinitesimal period of time on his nose, and then
caught with his big toe.

"What did you do that for?" demanded Miss Trimblett, hotly.

There is a limit to the patience of every man, and the cabman was
proceeding to tell her when he was checked by Mr. Hartley.

"He ought to be locked up," said Miss Trimblett flushing.

She took up a band-box and joined the laden procession of boys and girls
that was proceeding up the path to the house. Still red with indignation
she was introduced to Joan, and, putting down the band-box, stood eying
her with frank curiosity.

"I thought you were older," she said at last. "I had no idea father was
married again until I got the letter. I shall call you Joan."

"You had all better call me that," said Miss Hartley, hastily.

"Never more surprised in my life," continued Miss Trimblett. "However—"

She paused and looked about her.

"This is George," she said, pulling forward a heavy-looking youth of
sixteen. "This is Ted; he is fourteen—small for his age—and these are
the twins, Dolly and Gertrude; they’re eleven. Dolly has got red hair
and Gerty has got the sweetest temper."

The family, having been introduced and then summarily dismissed by the
arbitrary Jessie, set out on a tour of inspection, while the elders,
proceeding upstairs, set themselves to solve a problem in sleeping
accommodation that would have daunted the proprietor of a Margate
lodging-house. A scheme was at last arranged by which Hartley gave up
his bedroom to the three Misses Trimblett and retired to a tiny room
under the tiles. Miss Trimblett pointed out that it commanded a fine
view.

"It is the only thing to be done," said Joan, softly.

"It isn’t very big for three," said Miss Trimblett, referring to her own
room, "but the twins won’t be separated. I’ve always been used to a room
to myself, but I suppose it can’t be helped for the present."

She went downstairs and walked into the garden. The other members of the
family were already there, and Hartley, watching them from the
dining-room window, raised his brows in anguish as he noticed the
partiality of the twins for cut flowers.

It was, as he soon discovered, one of the smallest of the troubles that
followed on his sudden increase of family. His taste in easy-chairs met
with the warm approval of George Trimblett, and it was clear that the
latter regarded the tobacco-jar as common property. The twins’
belongings—a joint-stock affair—occupied the most unlikely places in the
house; and their quarrels were only exceeded in offensiveness by their
noisy and uncouth endearments afterwards. Painstaking but hopeless
attempts on the part of Miss Trimblett to "teach Rosa her place" added
to the general confusion.

By the end of a month the Trimblett children were in full possession.
George Trimblett, owing to the good offices of Mr. Vyner, senior, had
obtained a berth in a shipping firm, but the others spent the days at
home, the parties most concerned being unanimously of the opinion that
it would be absurd to go to school before Christmas. They spoke with
great fluency and good feeling of making a fresh start in the New Year.

"Interesting children," said Robert Vyner, who had dropped in one
afternoon on the pretext of seeing how they were getting on. "I wish
they were mine. I should be so proud of them."

Miss Hartley, who was about to offer him some tea, thought better of it,
and, leaning back in her chair, regarded him suspiciously.

"And, after all, what is a garden for?" pursued Mr. Vyner, as a steady
succession of thuds sounded outside, and Ted, hotly pursued by the
twins, appeared abruptly in the front garden and dribbled a football
across the flower-beds.

"They are spoiling the garden," said Joan, flushing. "Father is in
despair."

Mr. Vyner shook his head indulgently. "Girls will be girls," he said,
glancing through the window at Gertrude, who had thrown herself on the
ball and was being dragged round the garden by her heels. "I’m afraid
you spoil them, though."

Miss Hartley did not trouble to reply.

"I saw your eldest boy yesterday, at Marling’s," continued the
industrious Mr. Vyner. "He is getting on pretty well; Marling tells me
he is steady and quiet. I should think that he might be a great comfort
to you in your old age."

In spite of the utmost efforts to prevent it, Miss Hartley began to
laugh. Mr. Vyner regarded her in pained astonishment.

"I didn’t intend to be humorous," he said, with some severity. "I am
fond of children, and, unfortunately, I—I am childless."

He buried his face in his handkerchief, and, removing it after a decent
interval, found that his indignant hostess was preparing to quit the
room.

"Don’t go," he said, hastily. "I haven’t finished yet."

"I haven’t got time to stay and talk nonsense," said Joan.

"I’m not going to," said Robert, "but I want to speak to you. I have a
confession to make."

"Confession?"

Mr. Vyner nodded with sad acquiescence. "I deceived you grossly the
other day," he said, "and it has been worrying me ever since."

"It doesn’t matter," said Joan, with a lively suspicion of his meaning.

"Pardon me," said Mr. Vyner, with solemn politeness, "if I say that it
does. I—I lied to you, and I have been miserable ever since."

Joan waited in indignant silence.

"I told you that I was married," said Mr. Vyner, in thrilling tones. "I
am not."

Miss Hartley, who had seated herself, rose suddenly with a fair show of
temper. "You said you were not going to talk nonsense!" she exclaimed.

"I am not," said the other, in surprise. "I am owning to a fault, making
a clean breast of my sins, not without a faint hope that I am setting an
example that will be beautifully and bountifully followed."

"I have really got too much to do to stay here listening to nonsense,"
said Miss Hartley, vigorously.

"I am a proud man," resumed Mr. Vyner, "and what it has cost me to make
this confession tongue cannot tell; but it is made, and I now, in
perfect confidence—almost perfect confidence—await yours."

"I don’t understand you," said Joan, pausing, with her hand on the door.

"Having repudiated my dear wife," said Mr. Vyner, sternly, "I now ask,
nay, demand, that you repudiate Captain Trimblett—and all his works," he
added, as ear-splitting screams sounded from outside.

"I wish——" began Joan, in a low voice.

"Yes?" said Robert, tenderly.

"That you would go."

Mr. Vyner started, and half rose to his feet. Then he thought better of
it.

"I thought at first that you meant it," he said, with a slight laugh.

"I do mean it," said Joan, breathing quickly.

Robert rose at once. "I am very sorry," he said, with grave concern. "I
did not think that you were taking my foolishness seriously."

"I ought to be amused, I know," said Joan, bitterly. "I ought to be
humbly grateful to your father for having those children sent here. I
ought to be flattered to think that he should remember my existence and
make plans for my future."

"He—he believes that you are married to Captain Trimblett," said Robert.

"Fortunately for us," said Joan, dryly.

"Do you mean," said Robert, regarding her fixedly, "that my father
arranged that marriage?"

Joan bit her lip. "No," she said at last.

"He had something to do with it," persisted Robert. "What was it?"

Joan shook her head.

"Well, I’ll ask him about it," said Mr. Vyner.

"Please don’t," said the girl. "It is my business."

"You have said so much," said Robert, "that you had better say more.
That’s what comes of losing your temper. Sit down and tell me all about
it, please."

Joan shook her head again.

"You are not angry with me?" said Mr. Vyner.

"No."

"That’s all right, then," said Robert, cheerfully. "That encourages me
to go to still further lengths. You’ve got to tell me all about it. I
forgot to tell you, but I’m a real partner in the firm now. I’ve got a
hard and fast share in the profits—had it last Wednesday; since when I
have already grown two inches. In exchange for this confidence I await
yours. You must speak a little louder if you want me to hear."

"I didn’t say anything," said the girl.

"You are wasting time, then," said Robert, shaking his head. "And that
eldest girl of yours may come in at any moment."

Despite her utmost efforts Miss Hartley failed to repress a smile;
greatly encouraged, Mr. Vyner placed a chair for her and took one by her
side.

"Tell me everything, and I shall know where we are," he said, in a low
voice.

"I would rather—" began Miss Hartley.

"Yes, I know," interrupted Mr. Vyner, with great gravity; "but we were
not put into this world to please ourselves. Try again."

Miss Hartley endeavoured to turn the conversation, but in vain. In less
than ten minutes, with a little skilful prompting, she had told him all.

"I didn’t think that it was quite so bad as that," said Robert, going
very red. "I am very sorry—very. I can’t think what my father was about,
and I suppose, in the first place, that it was my fault."

"Yours?" exclaimed Joan.

"For not displaying more patience," said Robert, slowly. "But I was
afraid of—-of being forestalled."

Miss Hartley succeeded in divesting her face of every atom of
expression. Robert Vyner gazed at her admiringly.

"I am glad that you understand me," he murmured. "It makes things easier
for me. I don’t suppose that you have the faintest idea how shy and
sensitive I really am."

Miss Hartley, without even troubling to look at him, said that she was
quite sure she had not.

"Nobody has," said Robert, shaking his head, "but I am going to make a
fight against it. I am going to begin now. In the first place I want you
not to think too hardly of my father. He has been a very good father to
me. We have never had a really nasty word in our lives."

"I hope you never will have," said Joan, with some significance.

"I hope not," said Robert; "but in any case I want to tell you—"

Miss Hartley snatched away the hand he had taken, and with a hasty
glance at the door retreated a pace or two from him.

"What is the matter?" he inquired, in a low voice.

Miss Hartley’s eyes sparkled.

"My eldest daughter has just come in," she said, demurely. "I think you
had better go."



CHAPTER XXIII



MRS. CHINNERY received the news of her brother’s marriage with a
calmness that was a source of considerable disappointment and annoyance
to her friends and neighbours. To begin with, nobody knew how it had
reached her, and several worthy souls who had hastened to her, hot-foot,
with what they had fondly deemed to be exclusive information had some
difficulty in repressing their annoyance. Their astonishment was
increased a week later on learning that she had taken a year’s lease of
No. 9, Tranquil Vale, which had just become vacant, and several men had
to lie awake half the night listening to conjectures as to where she had
got the money.

Most of the furniture at No. 5 was her own, and she moved it in
piecemeal. Captain Sellers, who had his own ideas as to why she was
coming to live next door to him, and was somewhat flattered in
consequence, volunteered to assist, and, being debarred by deafness from
learning that his services were refused, caused intense excitement by
getting wedged under a dressing-table on the stairs.

To inquiries as to how he got there, the captain gave but brief replies,
and those of an extremely sailorly description, the whole of his really
remarkable powers being devoted for the time being to the question of
how he was to get out. He was released at length by a man and a saw, and
Mrs. Chinnery, as soon as she could speak, gave him a pressing
invitation to take home with him any particular piece of the table for
which he might have a fancy.

He was back next morning with a glue-pot, and divided his time between
boiling it up on the kitchen stove and wandering about the house in
search of things to stick. Its unaccountable disappearance during his
absence in another room did much to mar the harmony of an otherwise
perfect day. First of all he searched the house from top to bottom;
then, screwing up his features, he beckoned quietly to Mrs. Chinnery.

"I hadn’t left it ten seconds," he said, mysteriously. "I went into the
front room for a bit of stick, and when I went back it had
gone—vanished. I was never more surprised in my life."

"Don’t bother me," said Mrs. Chinnery. "I’ve got enough to do."

"Eh?"

Mrs. Chinnery, who was hot and flustered, shook her head at him.

"It’s a very odd thing," said Captain Sellers, shaking his head. "I
never lost a glue-pot before in my life—never. Do you know anything
about that charwoman that’s helping you?"

"Yes, of course," said Mrs. Chinnery.

The captain put his hand to his ear.

"Yes, of course."

"I don’t like her expression," said Captain Sellers, firmly. "I’m a very
good judge of faces, and there’s a look, an artful look, about her eyes
that I don’t like. It’s my belief she’s got my glue-pot stowed about her
somewhere; and I’m going to search her."

"You get out of my house," cried the overwrought Mrs. Chinnery.

"Not without my glue-pot," said Captain Sellers, hearing for once. "Take
that woman upstairs and search her. A glue-pot—a hot glue-pot—can’t go
without hands."

Frail in body but indomitable in spirit he confronted the accused, who,
having overheard his remarks, came in and shook her fist in his face and
threatened him with the terrors of the law.

"A glue-pot can’t go without hands," he said, obstinately. "If you had
asked me for a little you could have had it, and welcome; but you had no
business to take it."

"Take it!" vociferated the accused. "What good do you think it would be
to me? I’ve ’ad eleven children and two husbands, and I’ve never been
accused of stealing a glue-pot before. Where do you think I could put
it?"

"I don’t know." said the captain, as soon as he understood. "That’s what
I’m curious about. You go upstairs with Mrs. Chinnery, and if she don’t
find that you’ve got that glue-pot concealed on you, I shall be very
much surprised. Why not own up the truth before you scald yourself?"

Instead of going upstairs the charwoman went to the back door and sat on
the step to get her breath, and, giving way to a sense of humour which
had survived the two husbands and eleven children, wound up with a
strong fit of hysterics. Captain Sellers, who watched through the window
as she was being taken away, said that perhaps it was his fault for
putting temptation in her way.

Mrs. Chinnery tried to keep her door fast next morning, but it was of no
use. The captain was in and out all day, and, having found a tin of
green paint and a brush among his stores, required constant watching.
The day after Mrs. Chinnery saw her only means of escape, and at nine
o’clock in the morning, with fair words and kind smiles, sent him into
Salthaven for some picture-cord. He made four journeys that day. He came
back from the last in a butcher’s cart, and having handed Mrs. Chinnery
the packet of hooks and eyes, for which he had taken a month’s wear out
of his right leg, bade her a hurried good-night and left for home on the
arm of the butcher.

He spent the next day or two in an easy-chair by the fire, but the
arrival of Mrs. Willett to complete the furnishing of No. 5 from her own
surplus stock put him on his legs again. As an old neighbour and
intimate friend of Mr. Truefitt’s he proffered his services, and Mrs.
Willett, who had an old-fashioned belief in "man," accepted them. His
one idea—the pot of paint being to him like a penny in a schoolboy’s
pocket—was to touch things up a bit; Mrs. Willett’s idea was for him to
help hang pictures and curtains.

"The steps are so rickety they are only fit for a man," she screamed in
his ear. "Martha has been over with them twice already."

Captain Sellers again referred to the touching-up properties of green
paint. Mrs. Willett took it from him, apparently for the purpose of
inspection, and he at once set out in search of the glue-pot.

"We’ll do the curtains downstairs first," she said to Martha. "Upstairs
can wait."

The captain spent the morning on the steps, his difficulties being by no
means lessened by the tremolo movement which Martha called steadying
them. Twice he was nearly shaken from his perch like an over-ripe plum,
but all went well until they were hanging the curtains in the best
bed-room, when Martha, stooping to recover a dropped ring, shut the
steps up like a pair of compasses.

The captain, who had hold of the curtains at the time, brought them down
with him, and lay groaning on the floor. With the help of her mistress,
who came hurrying up on hearing the fall, Martha got him on to the bed
and sent for the doctor.

"How do you feel?" inquired Mrs. Willett, eying him anxiously.

"Bad," said the captain, closing his eyes. "Every bone in my body is
broken, I believe. It feels like it."

Mrs. Willett shook her head and sought for words to reassure him. "Keep
your spirits up," she said, encouragingly. "Don’t forget that: ’There’s
a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft to look after the life of poor
Jack.’"

Captain Sellers opened his eyes and regarded her fixedly. "He wouldn’t
ha’ been sitting there long if that fool Martha had been holding the
steps," he said, with extraordinary bitterness.

He closed his eyes again and refused to speak until the doctor came.
Then, having been stripped and put to bed for purposes of examination,
he volunteered information as to his condition which twice caused the
doctor to call him to order.

"You ought to be thankful it’s no worse," he said, severely.

The captain sniffed. "When you’ve done pinching my leg," he said,
disagreeably, "I’ll put it back into bed again."

The doctor relinquished it at once, and, standing by the bed, regarded
him thoughtfully.

"Well, you’ve had a shock," he said at last, "and you had better stay in
bed for a few days."

"Not here," said Mrs. Willett, quickly. "My daughter and her husband
will be home in a day or two."

The doctor looked thoughtful again; then he bent and spoke in the
captain’s ear.

"We are going to move you to your own house," he said.

"No, you’re not," said the other, promptly.

"You’ll be more comfortable there," urged the doctor.

"I’m not going to be moved," said Captain Sellers, firmly. "It might be
fatal. I had a chap once—fell from aloft—and after he’d been in the
saloon for a day or two I had him carried for’ard, and he died on the
way. And he wasn’t nearly as bad as I am."

"Well, we’ll see how you are to-morrow," said the doctor, with a glance
at Mrs. Willett.

"I shall be worse to-morrow," said the captain, cheerfully. "But I don’t
want to give any trouble. Send my housekeeper in to look after me. She
can sleep in the next room."

They argued with him until his growing deafness rendered argument
useless. A certain love of change and excitement would not be denied.
Captain Sellers, attended by his faithful housekeeper, slept that night
at No. 5, and awoke next morning to find his prognostications as to his
condition fully confirmed.

"I’m aching all over," he said to Mrs. Willett. "I can’t bear to be
touched."

"You’ll have to be moved to your own house," said Mrs. Chinnery, who had
come in at Mrs. Willett’s request to see what could be done. "We expect
my brother home in a day or two."

"Let him come," said the captain, feebly. "I sha’n’t bite him."

"But you’re in his bed," said Mrs. Chinnery.

"Eh?"

"In his bed," screamed Mrs. Chinnery.

"I sha’n’t bite him," repeated the captain.

"But he can’t sleep with you," said Mrs. Chinnery, red with loud
speaking.

"I don’t want him to," said Captain Sellers. "I’ve got nothing against
him, and, in a general way of speaking, I’m not what could be called a
particular man—but I draw the line."

Mrs. Chinnery went downstairs hastily and held a council of war with
Mrs. Willett and Martha. It was decided to wait for the doctor, but the
latter, when he came, could give no assistance.

"He’s very sore and stiff," he said, thoughtfully, "but it’s nothing
serious. It’s more vanity than anything else; he likes being made a fuss
of and being a centre of attraction. He’s as tough as leather, and the
most difficult old man I have ever encountered."

"Is he quite right in his head?" demanded Mrs. Chinnery, hotly.

The doctor pondered. "He’s a little bit childish, but his head will give
more trouble to other people than to himself," he said at last. "Be as
patient with him as you can, and if you can once persuade him to get up,
perhaps he will consent to be moved."

Mrs. Chinnery, despite a naturally hot temper, did her best, but in
vain. Mrs. Willett was promptly denounced as a "murderess," and the
captain, holding forth to one or two callers, was moved almost to tears
as he reflected upon the ingratitude and hardness of woman. An account
of the accident in the Salthaven Gazette, which described him as "lying
at death’s door," was not without its effect in confining him to Mr.
Truefitt’s bed.

The latter gentleman and his wife, in blissful ignorance of the
accident, returned home on the following evening. Mrs. Willett and Mrs.
Chinnery, apprised by letter, were both there to receive them, and the
former, after keeping up appearances in a stately fashion for a few
minutes, was finally persuaded to relent and forgive them both. After
which, Mrs. Truefitt was about to proceed upstairs to take off her
things, when she was stopped by Mrs. Chinnery.

"There—there is somebody in your room," said the latter.

"In my room?" said Mrs. Truefitt, in a startled voice.

"We couldn’t write to you," said Mrs. Willett, with a little shade of
reproach in her voice, "because you didn’t give us your address. Captain
Sellers had an accident and is in your bed."

"Who?" said the astounded Mr. Truefitt. "What!"

Mrs. Willett, helped by Mrs. Chinnery, explained the affair to him; Mr.
Truefitt, with the exception of a few startled ejaculations, listened in
sombre silence.

"Well, we must use the next room for to-night," he said at last, "and
I’ll have him out first thing in the morning."

"His housekeeper sleeps there," said Mrs. Willett, shaking her head.

"And a niece of hers, who helps her with him, in the little room," added
Mrs. Chinnery.

Mr. Truefitt got up and walked about the room. Broken remarks about "a
nice home-coming" and "galvanized mummies" escaped him at intervals.
Mrs. Willett endured it for ten minutes, and then, suddenly remembering
what was due to a mother-in-law, made a successful intervention. In a
somewhat subdued mood they sat down to supper.

The Truefitts slept at Mrs. Willett’s that night, but Mr. Truefitt was
back first thing next morning to take possession of his own house. He
found Captain Sellers, propped up with pillows, eating his breakfast,
and more than dubious as to any prospects of an early removal.

"Better wait a week or two and see how I go on," he said, slowly. "I
sha’n’t give any trouble."

"But you are giving trouble," shouted the fuming Mr. Truefitt. "You’re
an absolute nuisance. If it hadn’t been for your officiousness it
wouldn’t have happened."

The captain put his plate aside and drew himself up in the bed.

"Get out of my room," he said, in a high, thin voice.

"You get out of my bed," shouted the incensed Mr. Truefitt. "I’ll give
you ten minutes to dress yourself and get out of my house. If you’re not
out by then, I’ll carry you out."

He waited downstairs for a quarter of an hour, and then, going to the
bed-room again, discovered that the door was locked. Through the keyhole
the housekeeper informed him that it was the captain’s orders, and
begged him to go away as the latter was now having his "morning’s nap."

Captain Sellers left with flags flying and drums beating three days
later. To friends and neighbours generally he confided the interesting
fact that his departure was hastened by a nightly recurring dream of
being bitten by sharks.



CHAPTER XXIV



THE news that Mrs. Chinnery had taken a house of her own and was anxious
to let rooms, gave Robert Vyner an idea which kept him busy the whole of
an evening. First of all he broached it to Hartley, but finding him
divided between joy and nervousness he took the matter into his own
hands and paid a visit to Tranquil Vale; the result of which he
communicated with some pride to Joan Hartley the same afternoon.

"It was my own idea entirely," he said with a feeble attempt to conceal
a little natural pride. "Some people would call it an inspiration.
Directly I heard that Mrs. Chinnery was anxious to let rooms I thought
of your children—I mentioned the idea to your father and escaped an
embrace by a hair’s breadth. I was prepared to remind him that ’Absence
makes the heart grow fonder’ and to follow it up with ’Distance lends
enchantment to the view’; but it was unnecessary. It will be a great
thing for Mrs. Chinnery."

Miss Hartley looked thoughtful.

"And you," said Robert reproachfully.

"If father is satisfied—" began Miss Hartley.

"’Satisfied’ is a cold and inadequate word," said Robert. "He was
delighted. He could not have been more pleased if I had told him that
the entire five had succumbed to an attack of croup. I left my work to
look after itself to come and give you the news."

"You are very kind," said Joan, after some consideration.

"It is a good thing for all concerned," said Robert. "It is a load off
my mind. The last time I was here, I was interrupted at a most critical
moment by the entrance of Miss Trimblett."

"And now, instead of coming here to see them, you will have to go to
Mrs. Chinnery’s," said Joan.

"When I want to," said Mr. Vyner with a forced smile, as the twins came
rushing into the room. "Yes."

The exodus took place three days afterward to the entire satisfaction of
all concerned. Tranquil Vale alone regarded the advent of the newcomers
with a certain amount of uneasiness, the joy of Ted and the twins when
they found that there was a river at the bottom of the garden,
threatening to pass all bounds. In a state of wild excitement they sat
on the fence and waved to passing craft, until in an attempt to do
justice to a larger ship than usual, Miss Gertrude Trimblett waved
herself off the fence on to the stones of the foreshore below.

Captain Sellers, who had been looking on with much interest, at once
descended and rendered first aid. It was the first case he had had since
he had left the sea, but, after a careful examination, he was able to
assure the sufferer that she had broken her right leg in two places. The
discovery was received with howls of lamentation from both girls, until
Dolly blinded with tears, happened to fall over the injured limb and
received in return such hearty kicks from it that the captain was
compelled to reconsider his diagnosis, and after a further examination
discovered that it was only bent. In quite a professional manner he used
a few technical terms that completely covered his discomfiture.

It was the beginning of a friendship which Tranquil Vale did its best to
endure with fortitude, and against which Mrs. Chinnery fought in vain.
In the company of Ted and the twins Captain Sellers renewed his youth.
Together they discovered the muddiest places on the foreshore, and
together they borrowed a neighbour’s boat and sailed down the river in
quest of adventures. With youth at the prow and dim-sighted age at the
helm, they found several. News of their doings made Hartley congratulate
himself warmly on their departure.

"Mrs. Chinnery is just the woman to manage them," he said to Joan, "and
Truefitt tells me that having children to look after has changed her
wonderfully."

Miss Hartley, with a little shiver, said she could quite understand it.

"I mean for the better," said her father, "he said she is getting quite
young and jolly again. And he told me that young Saunders is there a
great deal." Miss Hartley raised her eyebrows in mute interrogation.

"He pretends that he goes to see George," said her father, dropping his
voice, "but Truefitt thinks that it is Jessie. I suppose Trimblett won’t
mind; he always thought a lot of Saunders. I don’t know whether you
ought to interfere."

"Certainly not," said Joan flushing. "What has it got to do with me?"

"Well, I just mentioned it," said Hartley, "although I suppose Mrs.
Chinnery is mostly responsible while they are with her. I am writing to
tell Trimblett that the children are at Tranquil Vale. When he comes
back perhaps, he will make other arrangements."

"Very likely," said his daughter abruptly, "or perhaps he will marry
Mrs. Chinnery."

Mr. Hartley, who was at supper, put down his knife and fork and sat
eying her in very natural amazement. "Marry Mrs. Chinnery?" he gasped,
"but how can he?"

"I mean," said Joan with a sudden remembrance of the state of affairs,
"I mean if anything should happen to me."

Mr. Hartley finished his supper and drawing his chair up to the fire sat
smoking in thoughtful silence.

"And if anything happens to Trimblett perhaps you will marry again," he
said at last.

Miss Hartley shook her head. "I am not afraid," she said ambiguously.

Her confidence was put to the test less than a fortnight later by an
unexpected visit from Mr. Robert Vyner, who, entering the room in a
somewhat breathless condition, accepted a chair and sat gazing at her
with an air of mysterious triumph.

"I’m the bearer of important news," he announced. "Dispatches from the
front. You’ll hear all about it from your father when he comes home, but
I wanted to be the first with it."

"What is the matter?" inquired Joan.

Mr. Vyner looked shocked. "All important news, good or bad, should be
broken gently," he said reproachfully. "Do you know any Scotch?"

"Scotch!" said the mystified Miss Hartley.

Mr. Vyner nodded. "The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang oft
agley," he quoted in a thrilling voice. "Do you understand that?"

"I’ll wait till father comes home," announced Miss Hartley, with some
decision.

"There are other quotations bearing on the matter in hand," said Mr.
Vyner, thoughtfully, "but I have forgotten them. At present I am
thinking of you to the utter exclusion of everything else. Not that that
is anything unusual. Far from it. To cut a long story short, Captain
Trimblett has been left behind at San Francisco with malaria, and the
mate has taken the ship on."

Miss Hartley gave a little cry of concern.

"He has had it before," said Mr. Vyner composedly, "but he seems to have
got it bad this time, and when he is fit enough, he is coming home. Now
what are you going to do?"

"Poor Captain Trimblett," said Joan. "I am so sorry."

"What are you going to do?" repeated Mr. Vyner, impressively. "His
children are at Salthaven, and he will live here because my father and I
had practically decided to give him the berth of ship’s husband after
this voyage. He will have it a little sooner, that’s all. Appropriate
berth for a marrying man like that, isn’t it? Sounds much more romantic
than marine superintendent."

"I made sure that he would be away for at least two years," said Joan,
regarding him helplessly.

"There is nothing certain in this world," said Mr. Vyner, sedately. "You
should have thought of that before. The whole thing is bound to come out
now. There are only two courses open to you. You might marry Captain
Trimblett in reality—"

"What is the other?" inquired Joan, as he paused.

"The other," said Mr. Vyner slowly and lowering his voice, "the other
stands before you. All he can urge in his favour is, that he is younger
than Trimblett, and, as I have said on another occasion, with——"

"If there is nothing more than that in his favour——" said Joan turning
away.

"Nothing," said Robert, humbly, "unless—"

"Unless what?"

"Unless you know of anything."

Joan Hartley, her gaze still averted, shook her head.

"Still," said Mr. Vyner, with an air of great thoughtfulness, "a paragon
would be awful to live with. Awful. Fancy marrying Bassett for instance!
Fancy being married to a man you could never find fault with."

"There is a third course open to me," said Joan, turning round. "I could
go away."

Mr. Vyner got up slowly and took a step toward her. "Would you—would you
sooner go away than stay with me?" he said in a low voice.

"I—I don’t want to go away," said Joan after a long pause.

Mr. Vyner took two more steps.

"I’m so fond of Salthaven," added Joan hastily.

"So am I," said Robert. "It seems to me that we have a lot of ideas in
common. Don’t you think it would simplify matters if you stayed at
Salthaven and married me?"

Joan eyed him gravely. "I don’t think it would simplify matters with
your father," she said, slowly.

Mr. Vyner’s fourth and last step took him to her chair.

"Is that your only objection?" he murmured, bending over her.

"I might think of others—in time," said Joan.

Mr. Vyner bent a little lower, but so slowly that Miss Hartley was
compelled to notice it. She got up suddenly and confronted him. He took
both her hands in his, but so gently that she offered no resistance.

"That is a bargain," he said, trying to steady his voice. "I will soon
arrange matters with my father."

Joan smiled faintly and shook her head.

"You’ll see," said Robert confidently. "I’ve been a good son to him, and
he knows it. And I always have had my own way. I’m not going to alter
now. It wouldn’t be good for him."

"You are holding my hands," said Joan.

"I know," said Mr. Vyner. "I like it."

He released them reluctantly and stood looking at her. Miss Hartley
after a brave attempt to meet his gaze, lowered her eyes. For a time
neither of them spoke.

"I’m as bad as Trimblett," said Robert at last. "I am beginning to
believe in fate. It is my firm opinion that we were intended for each
other. I can’t imagine marrying anybody else, can you?"

Miss Hartley, still looking down, made no reply.



CHAPTER XXV



ROBERT VYNER walked home slowly, trying as he went to evolve a scheme
which should in the first place enable him to have his own way, and, in
the second to cause as little trouble as possible to everybody. As a
result of his deliberations he sought his father, whom he found enjoying
a solitary cup of tea, and told him that he had been to Hartley’s with
the news of Captain Trimblett’s illness. He added casually that Mrs.
Trimblett was looking remarkably well. And he spoke feelingly of the
pleasure afforded to all right-minded people at being able to carry a
little sympathy and consolation into the homes of the afflicted.

Mr. Vyner senior sipped his tea. "She has got her father and the
children if she wants sympathy," he said gruffly.

Robert shook his head. "It’s not quite the same thing," he said gravely.

"The children ought to be with her," said his father. "I never
understood why they should have gone to Mrs. Chinnery; still that’s not
my affair."

"It was to assist Mrs. Chinnery for one thing," said Robert. "And
besides they were awfully in the way."

He heard his father put his tea-cup down and felt, rather than saw, that
he was gazing at him with some intentness. With a pre-occupied air he
rose and left the room.

Satisfied with the impression he had made, he paid another visit to
Hartley’s on the day following and then, despite Joan’s protests, became
an almost daily visitor. His assurance that they were duty visits paid
only with a view to their future happiness only served to mystify her.
The fact that Hartley twice plucked up courage to throw out hints as to
the frequency of his visits, and the odd glances with which his father
favoured him, satisfied him that he was in the right path.

For a fortnight he went his way unchecked, and, apparently blind to the
growing stiffness, of his father every time the subject was mentioned,
spoke freely of Mrs. Trimblett and the beautiful resignation with which
she endured her husband’s misfortunes. His father listened for the most
part in silence, until coming at last to the conclusion, that there was
nothing to be gained by that policy he waited until his wife had left
the dining-room one evening and ventured a solemn protest.

"She is a very nice girl," said the delighted Robert.

"Just so," said his father, leaning toward a candle and lighting his
cigar, "although perhaps that is hardly the way to speak of a married
woman."

"And we have been friends for a long time," said Robert.

Mr. Vyner coughed dryly.

"Just so," he said again.

"Why shouldn’t I go and see her when I like?" said Robert, after a
pause.

"She is another man’s wife," said his father, "and it is a censorious
world."

Robert Vyner looked down at the cloth. "If she were not, I suppose there
would be some other objection?" he said gloomily.

Mr. Vyner laid his cigar on the side of a plate and drew himself up. "My
boy," he said impressively, "I don’t think I deserve that. Both your
mother and myself would—ha—always put your happiness before our own
private inclinations."

He picked up his cigar again and placing it in his mouth looked the
personification of injured fatherhood.

"Do you mean," said Robert, slowly, "do you mean that if she were single
you would be willing for me to marry her?"

"It is no good discussing that," said Mr. Vyner with an air of great
consideration.

"But would you?" persisted his son.

Mr. Vyner was a very truthful man as a rule, but there had been
instances—he added another.

"Yes," he said with a slight gasp.

Robert sprang up with a haste that overturned his coffee, and seizing
his father’s hand shook it with enthusiasm. Mr. Vyner somewhat affected,
responded heartily.

"Anything possible for you, Bob," he said, fervently, "but this is
impossible."

His son looked at him. "I have never known you to go back on your word,"
he said emphatically.

"I never have," said Mr. Vyner.

"Your word is your bond," said Robert smiling at him. "And now I want to
tell you something."

"Well," said the other, regarding him with a little uneasiness.

"She is not married," said Robert, calmly.

Mr. Vyner started up and his cigar fell unheeded to the floor.

"What!" he said, loudly.

"She is not married," repeated his son.

Mr. Vyner sank back in his chair again and looking round mechanically
for his cigar, found it tracing a design on the carpet.

"D———n," he said fervently, as he stooped to remove it. He tossed it in
his plate and leaning back glared at his son.

"Do you mean that she didn’t marry Trimblett?" he inquired in a
trembling voice.

"Yes."

Mr. Vyner drew the cigar-box toward him and selecting a cigar with great
care, nipped off the end and, having lighted it, sat smoking in silence.

"This is very extraordinary," he said at last watching his son’s eyes.

"I suppose she had a reason," said Robert in a matter-of-fact voice.

Mr. Vyner winced. He began to realize the state of affairs and sat
trembling in impotent. Then he rose and paced up and down. He thought of
his veiled threats to Hartley, the idea that his son should know of them
added his anger.

"You are of full age," he said bitterly, "and have your own income—now."

Robert flushed and then turned pale.

"I will give that up if you wish, provided you’ll retain Hartley," he
said, quietly.

Mr. Vyner continued his perambulation smoked furiously and muttered
something "forcing conditions upon him."

"I can’t leave Hartley in the lurch," said he quietly. "It’s not his
fault. I can look to myself."

Mr. Vyner stopped and regarded him. "Don’t be a fool," he said, shortly.
"If it wasn’t for mother—"

His son repressed a smile by an effort and feel more at ease. One of
Mrs. Vyner’s privileges was to serve as an excuse for any display of
weakness of which her husband might be guilty.

"This pretended marriage will be a further scandal," said Mr. Vyner,
frowning. "What are you going to tell people?"

"Nothing," said Robert.

"Do you think it is conducive to discipline to marry the daughter of my
chief clerk?" continued his father.

Robert shook his head.

"No," he said, decidedly. "I have been thinking of that. It would be
better to give him a small interest in the firm—equal to his salary,
say."

Well aware of the uses of physical exercise at moments of mental stress,
Mr. Vyner started on his walk again. He began to wonder whether, after
all, he ought to consider his wife’s feelings in the matter.

"She is a very nice girl," said Robert, after watching him for some
time. "I wish you knew her."

Mr. Vyner waved the remark away with a large impatient hand.

"She declines to marry me against your wishes," continued his son, "but
now that you have given your consent—"

The room suddenly became too small for Mr. Vyner. He passed out into the
hall and a few seconds later his son heard the library door close with
an eloquent bang. He shrugged his shoulders and lighting a cigarette sat
down to wait. He was half-way through his third cigarette when the door
opened and his father came into the room again.

"I have been talking to your mother," said Mr. Vyner, in a stately
fashion. "She is very much upset, of course. Very. She is not strong,
and I—ha—we came to the conclusion that you must do as you please."

He stepped to the table and with a trembling hand helped himself to a
whiskey and soda. Robert took up a glass with a little claret in it.

"Success to the young couple," he said cheerfully.

Mr. Vyner paused with the glass at his lips and eyed him indignantly.
Then with a wooden expression of face—intended possibly to suggest that
he had not heard—took a refreshing drink. He placed the glass on the
table and turned to see his son’s outstretched hand.



CHAPTER XXVI



CAPTAIN TRIMBLETT was back again in his old quarters, and already so
much improved in health that he was able to repel with considerable
vigor the many inquirers who were anxious to be put in possession of the
real facts concerning his pretended marriage. It was a subject on which
the captain was dumb, but in some mysterious fashion it came to be
understood that it was a device on the part of a self-sacrificing and
chivalrous ship-master to save Miss Hartley from the attentions of a
determined admirer she had met in London. It was the version
sanctioned—if not invented—by Mr. Robert Vyner.

It was a source of some little protestation of spirit to Miss Jelks that
the captain had been brought home by his faithful boatswain. Conduct
based on an idea of two years’ absence had to be suddenly and entirely
altered. She had had a glimpse of them both on the day of their arrival,
but the fact that Mr. Walters was with his superior officer, and that
she was with Mr. Filer, prevented her from greeting him.

In the wrath of his dismissal Mr. Filer met him more than half-way.

"Somebody ’ad to look arter ’im," said Mr. Walters, referring to the
captain, as he sat in Rosa’s kitchen the following evening, "and he
always ’ad a liking for me. Besides which I wanted to get ’ome and see
you."

"You have got it bad," said Rosa with a gratified titter.

"Look arter you, I ought to ha’ said," retorted Mr. Walters, glowering
at her, "and from wot I hear from Bassett, it’s about time I did."

"Ho!" said Miss Jelks, taking a deep breath. "Ho, really!"

"I had it out of ’im this morning," continued Mr. Walters, eying her
sternly; "I waited for ’im as he come out of his ’ouse. He didn’t want
to tell me at first, but when he found as ’ow he’d been late for the
office if he didn’t, he thought better of it."

Miss Jelks leaned back in her chair with a ladylike sneer upon her
expressive features.

"I’ll Bassett him," she said slowly.

"And I’ll Filer him," said Mr. Walters, not to be outdone in the coining
of verbs.

"It’s a pity he don’t say them things to my face," said Rosa, "I’d soon
let him know."

"He’s going to," said the boatswain readily. "I said we’d meet him on
Sunday arternoon by Kegg’s boat-house. Then we’ll see wot you’ve got to
say for yourself. Shut that door D’ye want to freeze me!"

"I’ll shut it when you’re gone," said Rosa calmly. "Make haste, else I
shall catch cold. I’ll go with you on Sunday afternoon—just so as you
can beg my pardon—and after that I don’t want anything more to do with
you. You’d try the temper of a saint, you would."

Mr. Walters looked round the warm and comfortable kitchen, and his face
fell. "I ain’t going to judge you till I’ve heard both sides," he said
slowly, and then seeing no signs of relenting in Rosa’s face, passed out
into the black night.

He walked down to the rendezvous on Sunday afternoon with a well-dressed
circle. Miss Jelks only spoke to him once, and that was when he trod on
her dress. A nipping wind stirred the surface of the river, and the
place was deserted except for the small figure of Bassett sheltering
under the lee of the boat-house. He came to meet them and raising a new
bowler hat stood regarding Miss Jelks with an expression in which
compassion and judicial severity were pretty evenly combined.

"Tell me, afore her, wot you told me the other day," said Mr. Walters,
plunging at once into business.

"I would rather not," said Bassett, adjusting his spectacles and looking
from one to the other, "but in pursuance of my promise, I have no
alternative."

"Fire away," commanded the boatswain.

Bassett coughed, and then in a thin but firm voice complied. The list of
Miss Jelks’s misdeeds was a long one, and the day was cold, but he did
not miss a single item. Miss Jelks, eying him with some concern as he
proceeded, began to think he must have eyes at the back of his head. The
boatswain, whose colour was deepening as he listened, regarded her with
a lurid eye.

"And you believe it all," said Rosa, turning to him with a pitying smile
as Bassett concluded his tale. "Why don’t he go on; he ain’t finished
yet."

"Wot!" said Mr. Walters with energy.

"He ain’t told you about making love to me yet," said Rosa.

"I didn’t," said the youth. "I shouldn’t think of doing such a thing. It
was all a mistake of yours."

Miss Jelks uttered a cruel laugh. "Ask him whether he followed me like a
pet dog," she said turning to the astonished boatswain. "Ask him if he
didn’t say he loved the ground my feet trod on. Ask him if he wanted to
take me to Marsham Fair and cried because I wouldn’t go."

"Eh?" gasped the boatswain, staring at the bewildered Bassett

"Ask him if he didn’t go down on his knees to me in Pringle’s Lane one
day—a muddy day—and ask me to be his," continued the unscrupulous Rosa.
"Ask him if he didn’t say I was throwing myself away on a wooden-headed
boatswain with bandy legs."

"Bandy wot?" ejaculated the choking Mr. Walters, as he bestowed an
involuntary glower at the limbs in question.

"I can assure you I never said so," said Bassett; earnestly. "I never
noticed before that they were bandy. And I never—"

An enormous fist held just beneath his nose stopped him in mad career.

"If you was only three foot taller and six or seven stone ’eavier," said
the palpitating boatswain, "I should know wot to do with you.

"I assure you—" began Bassett.

"If you say another word," declared Mr. Walters, in grating accents,
"I’ll take you by the scruff of your little neck and drop you in the
river. And if you tell any more lies about my young woman to a living
soul I’ll tear you limb from limb, and box your ears arter-wards."

With a warning shake of the head at the gasping Bassett he turned to
Miss Jelks, but that injured lady, with her head at an alarming angle,
was already moving away. Even when he reached her side she seemed
unaware of his existence, and it was not until the afternoon was well
advanced that she deigned to take the slightest notice of his abject
apologies.

"It’s being at sea and away from you that does it," he said humbly.

"And a nasty jealous temper," added Miss Jelks.

"I’m going to try for a shore-berth," said her admirer. "I spoke to Mr.
Vyner—the young one—about it yesterday, and he’s going to see wot he can
do for me. If I get that I shall be a different man."

"He’d do anything for Miss Joan," said the mollified Rosa thoughtfully,
"and if you behave yourself and conquer your wicked jealous nature I
might put in a word for you with her myself."

Mr. Walters thanked her warmly and with a natural anxiety regarding his
future prospects, paid frequent visits to learn what progress she was
making. He haunted the kitchen with the persistency of a blackbeetle,
and became such a nuisance at last that Miss Hartley espoused his cause
almost with enthusiasm.

"He is very much attached to Rosa, but he takes up a lot of her time,"
she said to Robert Vyner as they were on their way one evening to
Tranquil Vale to pay a visit to Captain Trimblett.

"I’ll get him something for Rosa’s sake," said Robert, softly. "I shall
never forget that she invited me to breakfast when her mistress would
have let me go empty away. Do you remember?"

"I remember wondering whether you were going to stay all day," said
Joan.

"It never occurred to me," said Mr. Vyner in tones of regret. "I’m
afraid you must have thought me very neglectful."

They walked on happily through the dark, cold night until the lighted
windows of Tranquil Vale showed softly in the blackness. There was a
light in the front room of No. 5, and the sound of somebody moving
hurriedly about followed immediately upon Mr. Vyner’s knock. Then the
door opened and Captain Trimblett stood before them.

"Come in," he said heartily. "Come in, I’m all alone this evening."

He closed the door behind them, and, while Mr. Vyner stood gazing
moodily at the mound on the table which appeared to have been hastily
covered up with a rather soiled towel, placed a couple of easy chairs by
the fire. Mr. Vyner, with his eyes still on the table, took his seat
slowly, and then transferring his regards to Captain Trimblett, asked
him in a stern vein what he was smiling at Joan for.

"She smiled at me first," said the captain.

Mr. Vyner shook his head at both of them, and at an offer of a glass of
beer looked so undecided that the captain, after an uneasy glance at the
table, which did not escape Mr. Vyner, went to the kitchen to procure
some.

"I wonder," said Robert musingly, as he turned to the table, "I wonder
if it would be bad manners to—"

"Yes," said Joan, promptly.

Mr. Vyner sighed and tried to peer under a corner of the towel. "I can
see a saucer," he announced, excitedly.

Miss Hartley rose and pointing with a rigid fore-finger at her own
chair, changed places with him.

"You want to see yourself," declared Mr. Vyner.

Miss Hartley scorned to reply.

"Let’s share the guilt," continued the other. "You shut your eyes and
raise the corner of the towel, and I’ll do the ’peeping’."

The return of the unconscious captain with the beer rendered a reply
unnecessary.

"We half thought you would be at number nine," he said as the captain
poured him out a glass.

"I’m keeping house this evening," said the captain, "or else I should
have been."

"It’s nice for you to have your children near you," said Joan, softly.

Captain Trimblett assented. "And it’s nice to be able to give up the
sea," he said with a grateful glance at Vyner. "I’m getting old, and
that last bout of malaria hasn’t made me any younger."

"The youngsters seem to get on all right with Mrs. Chinnery," said
Robert, eying him closely.

"Splendidly," said the Captain. "I should never have thought that she
would have been so good with children. She half worships them."

"Not all of them," said Mr. Vyner.

"All of ’em," said the captain.

"Twins, as well?" said Mr. Vyner, raising his voice.

"She likes them best of all," was the reply.

Mr. Vyner rose slowly from his chair. "She is a woman in a million," he
said impressively. "I wonder why—"

"They’re very good girls," said the captain hastily. "Old Sellers thinks
there is nobody like them."

"I expect you’ll be making a home for them soon," said Robert,
thoughtfully; "although it will be rather hard on Mrs. Chinnery to part
with them. Won’t it?"

"We are all in the hands of fate," said the captain gazing suddenly at
his tumbler. "Fate rules all things from the cradle to the grave."

He poured himself out a little more beer and lapsing into a reminiscent
mood cited various instances in his own career, in confirmation. It was
an interesting subject, but time was pressing and Mr. Vyner, after a
regretful allusion to that part, announced that they must be going. Joan
rose, and Captain Trimblett, rising at the same moment, knocked over his
beer and in a moment of forgetfulness snatched the towel from the table
to wipe it up. The act revealed an electro-plated salad-bowl of noble
proportions, a saucer of whitening and some pieces of rag.

                                  ————





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