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.
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."
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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.