W.W. Jacobs.

At Sunwich Port, Part 5. Contents: Chapters 21-25 online

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Produced by David Widger




AT SUNWICH PORT

BY

W. W. JACOBS

Part 5.



ILLUSTRATIONS

From Drawings by Will Owen




CHAPTER XXI

Gossip from one or two quarters, which reached Captain Nugent's ears
through the medium of his sister, concerning the preparations for his
son's marriage, prevented him from altering his mind with regard to the
visits of Jem Hardy and showing that painstaking young man the door.
Indeed, the nearness of the approaching nuptials bade fair to eclipse,
for the time being, all other grievances, and when Hardy paid his third
visit he made a determined but ineffectual attempt to obtain from him
some information as to the methods by which he hoped to attain his ends.
His failure made him suspicious, and he hinted pretty plainly that he had
no guarantee that his visitor was not obtaining admittance under false
pretences.

"Well, I'm not getting much out of it," returned Hardy, frankly.

"I wonder you come," said his hospitable host.

"I want you to get used to me," said the other.

The captain started and eyed him uneasily; the remark seemed fraught with
hidden meaning. "And then?" he inquired, raising his bushy eyebrows.

"Then perhaps I can come oftener."

The captain gave him up. He sank back in his chair and crossing his legs
smoked, with his eyes fixed on the ceiling. It was difficult to know
what to do with a young man who was apparently destitute of any feelings
of shame or embarrassment. He bestowed a puzzled glance in his direction
and saw that he was lolling in the chair with an appearance of the
greatest ease and enjoyment. Following the direction of his eyes, he saw
that he was gazing with much satisfaction at a photograph of Miss Nugent
which graced the mantelpiece. With an odd sensation the captain suddenly
identified it as one which usually stood on the chest of drawers in his
bedroom, and he wondered darkly whether charity or mischief was
responsible for its appearance there.

In any case, it disappeared before the occasion of Hardy's next visit,
and the visitor sat with his eyes unoccupied, endeavouring to make
conversation with a host who was if anything more discourteous than
usual. It was uphill work, but he persevered, and in fifteen minutes had
ranged unchecked from North Pole explorations to poultry farming. It was
a relief to both of them when the door opened and Bella ushered in Dr.
Murchison.

The captain received the new arrival with marked cordiality, and giving
him a chair near his own observed with some interest the curt greeting of
the young men. The doctor's manner indicated polite surprise at seeing
the other there, then he turned to the captain and began to talk to him.

For some time they chatted without interruption, and the captain's
replies, when Hardy at last made an attempt to make the conversation
general, enabled the doctor to see, without much difficulty, that the
latter was an unwelcome guest. Charmed with the discovery he followed
his host's lead, and, with a languid air, replied to his rival in
monosyllables. The captain watched with quiet satisfaction, and at each
rebuff his opinion of Murchison improved. It was gratifying to find that
the interloper had met his match.

Hardy sat patient. "I am glad to have met you to-night," he said, after
a long pause, during which the other two were discussing a former
surgical experience of the captain's on one of his crew.

"Yes?" said Murchison.

"You are just the man I wanted to see."

"Yes?" said the doctor, again.

"Yes," said the other, nodding. "I've been very busy of late owing to my
partner's illness, and you are attending several people I want to hear
about."

"Indeed," said Murchison, with a half-turn towards him.

"How is Mrs. Paul?" inquired Hardy.

"Dead!" replied the other, briefly.

"Dead!" repeated Mr. Hardy. "Good Heavens! I didn't know that there was
much the matter with her."

"There was no hope for her from the first," said Murchison, somewhat
sharply. It was merely a question of prolonging her life a little while.
She lived longer than I deemed possible. She surprised everybody by her
vitality."

"Poor thing," said Hardy. "How is Joe Banks?"

"Dead," said Murchison again, biting his lip and eyeing him furiously.

"Dear me," said Hardy, shaking his head; "I met him not a month ago. He
was on his way to see you then."

"The poor fellow had been an invalid nearly all his life," said
Murchison, to the captain, casually. "Aye, I remember him," was the
reply.

"I am almost afraid to ask you," continued Hardy, "but shut up all day I
hear so little. How is old Miss Ritherdon?"

Murchison reddened with helpless rage; Captain Nugent, gazing at the
questioner with something almost approaching respect, waited breathlessly
for the invariable answer.

"She died three weeks ago; I'm surprised that you have not heard of it,"
said the doctor, pointedly.

"Of course she was old," said Hardy, with the air of one advancing
extenuating circumstances.

"Very old," replied the doctor, who knew that the other was now at the
end of his obituary list.

"Are there any other of my patients you are anxious to hear about?"

[Illustration: "Are there any other of my patients you are anxious to
hear about?"]

"No, thank you," returned Hardy, with some haste.

The doctor turned to his host again, but the charm was broken. His talk
was disconnected, owing probably to the fact that he was racking his
brain for facts relative to the seamy side of shipbroking. And Hardy,
without any encouragement whatever, was interrupting with puerile
anecdotes concerning the late lamented Joe Banks. The captain came to
the rescue.

"The ladies are in the garden," he said to the doctor; "perhaps you'd
like to join them."

He looked coldly over at Hardy as he spoke to see the effect of his
words. Their eyes met, and the young man was on his feet as soon as his
rival.

"Thanks," he said, coolly; "it is a trifle close indoors."

Before the dismayed captain could think of any dignified pretext to stay
him he was out of the room. The doctor followed and the perturbed
captain, left alone, stared blankly at the door and thought of his
daughter's words concerning the thin end of the wedge.

He was a proud man and loth to show discomfiture, so that it was not
until a quarter of an hour later that he followed his guests to the
garden. The four people were in couples, the paths favouring that
formation, although the doctor, to the detriment of the border, had made
two or three determined attempts to march in fours. With a feeling akin
to scorn the captain saw that he was walking with Mrs. Kingdom, while
some distance in the rear Jem Hardy followed with Kate.

He stood at the back door for a little while watching; Hardy, upright and
elate, was listening with profound attention to Miss Nugent; the doctor,
sauntering along beside Mrs. Kingdom, was listening with a languid air to
an account of her celebrated escape from measles some forty-three years
before. As a professional man he would have died rather than have owed
his life to the specific she advocated.

Kate Nugent, catching sight of her father, turned, and as he came slowly
towards them, linked her arm, in his. Her face was slightly flushed and
her eyes sparkled.

"I was just coming in to fetch you," she observed; "it is so pleasant out
here now."

"Delightful," said Hardy.

"We had to drop behind a little," said Miss Nugent, raising her voice.
"Aunt and Dr. Murchison _will_ talk about their complaints to each other!
They have been exchanging prescriptions."

The captain grunted and eyed her keenly.

"I want you to come in and give us a little music," he said, shortly.

Kate nodded. "What is your favourite music, Mr. Hardy?" she inquired,
with a smile.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Hardy can't stay," said the captain, in a voice which
there was no mistaking.

Hardy pulled out his watch. "No; I must be off," he said, with a
well-affected start. "Thank you for reminding me, Captain Nugent."

"I am glad to have been of service," said the other, looking his
grimmest.

He acknowledged the young man's farewell with a short nod and, forgetting
his sudden desire for music, continued to pace up and down with his
daughter.

"What have you been saying to that - that fellow?" he demanded, turning to
her, suddenly.

Miss Nugent reflected. "I said it was a fine evening," she replied, at
last.

"No doubt," said her father. "What else?"

"I think I asked him whether he was fond of gardening," said Miss Nugent,
slowly. "Yes, I'm sure I did."

"You had no business to speak to him at all," said the fuming captain.

"I don't quite see how I could help doing so," said his daughter. "You
surely don't expect me to be rude to your visitors? Besides, I feel
rather sorry for him."

"Sorry?" repeated the captain, sharply. "What for?"

"Because he hasn't got a nice, kind, soft-spoken father," said Miss
Nugent, squeezing his arm affectionately.

The appearance of the other couple at the head of the path saved the
captain the necessity of a retort. They stood in a little knot talking,
but Miss Nugent, contrary to her usual habit, said but little. She was
holding her father's arm and gazing absently at the dim fields stretching
away beyond the garden.

At the same time Mr. James Hardy, feeling, despite his bold front,
somewhat badly snubbed, was sitting on the beach thinking over the
situation. After a quarter of an hour in the company of Kate Nugent all
else seemed sordid and prosaic; his own conduct in his attempt to save
her brother from the consequences of his folly most sordid of all. He
wondered, gloomily, what she would think when she heard of it.

[Illustration: "He wondered, gloomily, what she would think when she
heard of it."]

He rose at last and in the pale light of the new moon walked slowly along
towards the town. In his present state of mind he wanted to talk about
Kate Nugent, and the only person who could be depended upon for doing
that was Samson Wilks. It was a never-tiring subject of the steward's,
and since his discovery of the state of Hardy's feelings in that quarter
the slightest allusion was sufficient to let loose a flood of
reminiscences.

It was dark by the time Hardy reached the alley, and in most of the
houses the lamps were lit behind drawn blinds. The steward's house,
however, was in darkness and there was no response when he tapped. He
turned the handle of the door and looked in. A dim figure rose with a
start from a chair.

"I hope you were not asleep?" said Hardy.

"No, sir," said the steward, in a relieved voice. "I thought it was
somebody else."

He placed a chair for his visitor and, having lit the lamp, slowly
lowered the blind and took a seat opposite.

"I've been sitting in the dark to make a certain party think I was out,"
he said, slowly. "She keeps making a excuse about Teddy to come over and
see me. Last night 'e talked about making a 'ole in the water to
celebrate 'Melia Kybird's wedding, and she came over and sat in that
chair and cried as if 'er 'art would break. After she'd gone Teddy comes
over, fierce as a eagle, and wants to know wot I've been saying to 'is
mother to make 'er cry. Between the two of 'em I 'ave a nice life of
it."

"He is still faithful to Miss Kybird, then?" said Hardy, with a sudden
sense of relief.

"Faithful?" said Mr. Wilks. "Faithful ain't no word for it. He's a
sticker, that's wot 'e is, and it's my misfortune that 'is mother takes
after 'im. I 'ave to go out afore breakfast and stay out till late at
night, and even then like as not she catches me on the doorstep."

"Well, perhaps she will make a hole in the water," suggested Hardy.

Mr. Wilks smiled, but almost instantly became grave again. "She's not
that sort," he said, bitterly, and went into the kitchen to draw some
beer.

He drank his in a manner which betokened that the occupation afforded him
no enjoyment, and, full of his own troubles, was in no mood to discuss
anything else. He gave a short biography of Mrs. Silk which would have
furnished abundant material for half-a-dozen libel actions, and alluding
to the demise of the late Mr. Silk, spoke of it as though it were the
supreme act of artfulness in a somewhat adventurous career.

Hardy walked home with a mind more at ease than it had been at any time
since his overtures to Mr. Swann. The only scruple that had troubled him
was now removed, and in place of it he felt that he was acting the part
of a guardian angel to Mr. Edward Silk.




CHAPTER XXII

Mr. Nathan Smith, usually one of the most matter-of-fact men in the
world, came out of Mr. Swann's house in a semi-dazed condition, and for
some time after the front door had closed behind him stood gaping on the
narrow pavement.

He looked up and down the quiet little street and shook his head sadly.
It was a street of staid and substantial old houses; houses which had
mellowed and blackened with age, but whose quaint windows and
chance-opened doors afforded glimpses of comfort attesting to the
prosperity of those within. In the usual way Mr. Nathan Smith was of too
philosophical a temperament to experience the pangs of envy, but to-day
these things affected him, and he experienced a strange feeling of
discontent with his lot in life.

"Some people 'ave all the luck," he muttered, and walked slowly down the
road.

[Illustration: "'Some people 'ave all the luck,' he muttered."]

He continued his reflections as he walked through the somewhat squalid
streets of his own quarter. The afternoon was wet and the houses looked
dingier than usual; dirty, inconvenient little places most of them, with
a few cheap gimcracks making a brave show as near the window as possible.
Mr. Smith observed them with newly opened eyes, and, for perhaps the
first time in his life, thought of the draw-backs and struggles of the
poor.

In his own untidy little den at the back of the house he sat for some
time deep in thought over the events of the afternoon. He had been
permitted a peep at wealth; at wealth, too, which was changing hands, but
was not coming his way. He lit his pipe and, producing a bottle of rum
from a cupboard, helped himself liberally. The potent fluid softened him
somewhat, and a half-formed intention to keep the news from Mr. Kybird
melted away beneath its benign influence.

"After all, we've been pals for pretty near thirty years," said Mr. Smith
to himself.

He took another draught. "Thirty years is a long time," he mused.

He finished the glass. "And if 'e don't give me something out of it I'll
do 'im as much 'arm as I can," he continued; and, buttoning up his coat,
he rose and set out in the direction of the High Street.

The rain had ceased and the sun was making faint efforts to break through
watery clouds. Things seemed brighter, and Mr. Smith's heart beat in
response. He was going to play the part of a benefactor to Mr. Kybird;
to offer him access, at any rate, to such wealth as he had never dreamed
of. He paused at the shop window, and, observing through a gap in the
merchandise that Mr. Kybird was be-hind the counter, walked in and
saluted him.

"I've got news for you," he said, slowly; "big news."

"Oh," said Mr. Kybird, with indifference.

"Big news," repeated Mr. Smith, sinking thoughtlessly into the broken
cane-chair and slowly extricating himself. "Something that'll make your
eyes start out of your 'ed."

The small black eyes in question were turned shrewdly in his direction.
"I've 'ad news of you afore, Nat," remarked Mr. Kybird, with simple
severity.

The philanthropist was chilled; he fixed his eyes in a stony stare on the
opposite wall. Mr. Kybird, who had ever a wholesome dread of falling a
victim to his friend's cuteness, regarded him with some uncertainty, and
reminded him of one or two pieces of information which had seriously
depleted his till.

"Banns up yet for the wedding?" inquired Mr. Smith, still gazing in front
of him with fathomless eyes.

"They'll be put up next week," said Mr. Kybird.

"Ah!" said his friend, with great emphasis. "Well, well!"

"Wot d'ye mean by 'well, well'?" demanded the other, with some heat.

"I was on'y thinking," replied Mr. Smith, mildly. "P'r'aps it's all for
the best, and I'd better 'old my tongue. True love is better than money.
After all it ain't my bisness, and I shouldn't get much out of it."

"Out of wot, Nat?" inquired Mr. Kybird, uneasily.

Mr. Smith, still gazing musingly before him, appeared not to hear the
question. "Nice after the rain, ain't it?" he said, slowly.

"It's all right," said the other, shortly.

"Everything smells so fresh and sweet," continued his nature-loving
friend; "all the little dickey-birds was a-singing as if their little
'arts would break as I come along."

"I don't wonder at it," said the offended Mr. Kybird.

"And the banns go up next week," murmured the boarding-master to himself.
"Well, well."

"'Ave you got anything to say agin it?" demanded Mr. Kybird.

"Cert'nly not," replied the other. "On'y don't blame me when it's too
late; that's all."

Mr. Kybird, staring at him wrathfully, turned this dark saying over in
his mind. "Too late for wot?" he inquired.

"Ah!" said Nathan Smith, slowly. "Nice and fresh after the rain, ain't
it? As I come along all the little dickey-birds - "

"Drat the little dickey-birds," interrupted Mr. Kybird, with sudden
violence. "If you've got anything to say, why don't you say it like a
man?"

[Illustration: "If you've got anything to say, why don't you say it like
a man?"]

The parlour door opened suddenly before the other could reply, and
revealed the face of Mrs. Kybird. "Wot are you two a-quarrelling about?"
she demanded. "Why don't you come inside and sit down for a bit?"

Mr. Smith accepted the invitation, and following her into the room found
Miss Kybird busy stitching in the midst of a bewildering assortment of
brown paper patterns and pieces of cloth. Mrs. Kybird gave him a chair,
and, having overheard a portion of his conversation with her husband,
made one or two casual inquiries.

"I've been spending a hour or two at Mr. Swann's," said Mr. Smith.

"And 'ow is 'e?" inquired his hostess, with an appearance of amiable
interest.

The boarding-master shook his head. "'E's slipping 'is cable," he said,
slowly. "'E's been making 'is will, and I was one o' the witnesses."

Something in Mr. Smith's manner as he uttered this simple statement made
his listeners anxious to hear more. Mr. Kybird, who had just entered the
room and was standing with his back to the door holding the handle,
regarded him expectantly.

"It's been worrying 'im some time," pursued Mr. Smith. "'E 'asn't got
nobody belonging to 'im, and for a long time 'e couldn't think 'ow to
leave it. Wot with 'ouse property and other things it's a matter of over
ten thousand pounds."

"Good 'eavens!" said Mr. Kybird, who felt that he was expected to say
something.

"Dr. Blaikie was the other witness," continued Mr. Smith, disregarding
the interruption; "and Mr. Swann made us both promise to keep it a dead
secret till 'e's gone, but out o' friendship to you I thought I'd step
round and let you know."

The emphasis on the words was unmistakable; Mrs. Kybird dropped her work
and sat staring at him, while her husband wriggled with excitement.

"'E ain't left it to me, I s'pose?" he said, with a feeble attempt at
jocularity.

"Not a brass farden," replied his friend, cheerfully. "Not to none of
you. Why should 'e?

"He ain't left it to Jack, I s'pose?" said Miss Kybird, who had suspended
her work to listen.

"No, my dear," replied the boarding-master. "E's made 'is will all
ship-shape and proper, and 'e's left everything - all that 'ouse property
and other things, amounting to over ten thousand pounds - to a young man
becos 'e was jilt - crossed in love a few months ago, and becos 'e's been
a good and faithful servant to 'im for years."

"Don't tell me," said Mr. Kybird, desperately; "don't tell me that 'e's
been and left all that money to young Teddy Silk."

"Well, I won't if you don't want me to," said the accommodating Mr.
Smith, "but, mind, it's a dead secret."

Mr. Kybird wiped his brow, and red patches, due to excitement, lent a
little variety to an otherwise commonplace face; Mrs. Kybird's dazed
inquiry. "Wot are we a-coming to?" fell on deaf ears; while Miss Kybird,
leaning forward with lips parted, fixed her eyes intently on Mr. Smith's
face.

"It's a pity 'e didn't leave it to young Nugent," said that gentleman,
noting with much pleasure the effect of his announcement, "but 'e can't
stand 'in: at no price; 'e told me so 'imself. I s'pose young Teddy'll
be quite the gentleman now, and 'e'll be able to marry who 'e likes."

Mr. Kybird thrust his handkerchief into his tail-pocket, and all the
father awoke within him. "Ho, will 'e?" he said, with fierce sarcasm.
"Ho, indeed! And wot about my daughter? I 'ave 'eard of such things as
breach o' promise. Before Mr. Teddy gets married 'e's got to 'ave a few
words with me."

"'E's behaved very bad," said Mrs. Kybird, nodding.

"'E come 'ere night after night," said Mr. Kybird, working himself up
into a fury; "'e walked out with my gal for months and months, and then
'e takes 'imself off as if we wasn't good enough for'im."

"The suppers 'e's 'ad 'ere you wouldn't believe," said Mrs. Kybird,
addressing the visitor.

"Takes 'imself off," repeated her husband; "takes 'imself off as if we
was dirt beneath 'is feet, and never been back to give a explanation from
that day to this."

"I'm not easy surprised," said Mrs. Kybird, "I never was from a gal, but
I must say Teddy's been a surprise to me. If anybody 'ad told me 'e'd
ha' behaved like that I wouldn't ha' believed it; I couldn't. I've never
said much about it, becos my pride wouldn't let me. We all 'ave our
faults, and mine is pride."

"I shall bring a breach o' promise action agin 'im for five thousand
pounds," said Mr. Kybird, with decision.

"Talk sense," said Nathan Smith, shortly.

"Sense!" cried Mr. Kybird. "Is my gal to be played fast and loose with
like that? Is my gal to be pitched over when 'e likes? Is my gal - "

"Wot's the good o' talking like that to me?" said the indignant Mr.
Smith. "The best thing you can do is to get 'er married to Teddy at
once, afore 'e knows of 'is luck."

"And when'll that be?" inquired his friend, in a calmer voice.

"Any time," said the boarding-master, shrugging his shoulders. "The old
gentleman might go out to-night, or again 'e might live on for a week or
more. 'E was so weak 'e couldn't 'ardly sign 'is name."

"I 'ope 'e 'as signed it all right," said Mr. Kybird, starting.

"Safe as 'ouses," said his friend.

"Well, why not wait till Teddy 'as got the money?" suggested Mrs. Kybird,
with a knowing shake of her head.

"Becos," said Mr. Smith, in a grating voice, "be-cos for one thing 'e'd
be a rich man then and could 'ave 'is pick. Teddy Silk on a pound or
thereabouts a week and Teddy Silk with ten thousand pounds 'ud be two
different people. Besides that 'e'd think she was marrying 'im for 'is
money."

"If 'e thought that," said Mrs. Kybird, firmly, "I'd never forgive 'im."

"My advice to you," said Nathan Smith, shaking his forefinger
impressively, "is to get 'em married on the quiet and as soon as
possible. Once they're tied up Teddy can't 'elp 'imself."

"Why on the quiet?" demanded Mr. Kybird, sharply.

The boarding-master uttered an impatient exclamation. "Becos if Mr.
Swann got to 'ear of it he'd guess I'd been blabbing, for one thing," he
said, sharply, "and for another, 'e left it to 'im partly to make up for
'is disappointment - he'd been disappointed 'imself in 'is younger days,
so 'e told me."

"Suppose 'e managed to get enough strength to alter 'is will?"

Mr. Kybird shivered. "It takes time to get married, though," he
objected.

"Yes," said Mr. Smith, ironically, "it does. Get round young Teddy, and
then put the banns up. Take your time about it, and be sure and let Mr.
Swann know. D'ye think 'e wouldn't understand wot it meant, and spoil
it, to say nothing of Teddy seeing through it?

"Well, wot's to be done, then?" inquired the staring Mr. Kybird.

"Send 'em up to London and 'ave 'em married by special license," said Mr.
Smith, speaking rapidly - "to-morrow, if possible; if not, the day after.
Go and pitch a tale to Teddy to-night, and make 'im understand it's to be
done on the strict q.t."

"Special licenses cost money," said Mr. Kybird. "I 'ave 'eard it's a


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Online LibraryW.W. JacobsAt Sunwich Port, Part 5. Contents: Chapters 21-25 → online text (page 1 of 3)