He returned an hour later, and instead of entering the sitting-room went straight upstairs to bed, from whence he sent down word by the sympathetic Ann that he was suffering from a bad headache, which he proposed to treat with raw meat applied to the left eye. His nose, which was apparently suffering from sympathetic inflammation, he left to take care of itself, that organ bitterly resenting any treatment whatsoever.
He described the battle to Kate and Ann the next day, darkly ascribing his defeat to a mysterious compound which Jem Hardy was believed to rub into his arms; to a foolish error of judgment at the beginning of the fray, and to the sun which shone persistently in his eyes all the time. His audience received the explanations in chilly silence.
“And he said it was an accident he knocked you down,” he concluded; “he said he hoped you weren’t hurt, and he gave me some toffee for you.”
“What did you do with it?” demanded Miss Nugent.
“I knew you wouldn’t have it,” replied her brother, inconsequently, “and there wasn’t much of it.”
His sister regarded him sharply.
“You don’t mean to say you ate it?” she screamed.
“Why not?” demanded her brother. “I wanted comforting, I can tell you.”
“I wonder you were not too—too proud,” said Miss Nugent, bitterly.
“I’m never too proud to eat toffee,” retorted Jack, simply.
He stalked off in dudgeon at the lack of sympathy displayed by his audience, and being still in need of comforting sought it amid the raspberry-canes.
His father noted his son’s honourable scars, but made no comment. As to any action on his own part, he realized to the full the impotence of a law-abiding and dignified citizen when confronted by lawless youth. But Master Hardy came to church no more. Indeed, the following Sunday he was fully occupied on the beach, enacting the part of David, after first impressing the raving Mr. Wilks into that of Goliath.
[Illustration: “Master Hardy on the beach enacting the part of David.”]
For the next month or two Master Hardy’s existence was brightened by the efforts of an elderly steward who made no secret of his intentions of putting an end to it. Mr. Wilks at first placed great reliance on the saw that “it is the early bird that catches the worm,” but lost faith in it when he found that it made no provision for cases in which the worm leaning from its bedroom window addressed spirited remonstrances to the bird on the subject of its personal appearance.
To the anxious inquiries of Miss Nugent, Mr. Wilks replied that he was biding his time. Every delay, he hinted, made it worse for Master Hardy when the day of retribution should dawn, and although she pleaded earnestly for a little on account he was unable to meet her wishes. Before that day came, however, Captain Nugent heard of the proceedings, and after a painful interview with the steward, during which the latter’s failings by no means escaped attention, confined him to the house.