W.W. Jacobs.

At Sunwich Port, Part 2. Contents: Chapters 6-10 online

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surprise; no hasty reappearance of an indignant Kate Nugent. His
features working nervously he resumed his seat and gazed dutifully at his
superior officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes," said the girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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Online LibraryW.W. JacobsAt Sunwich Port, Part 2. Contents: Chapters 6-10 → online text (page 4 of 4)