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Salthaven
by W. W. Jacobs
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"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.

THE END

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