The anticipations of Mr. Wilks were more than realized on the following Tuesday. From the time a trim maid showed him into the smoking-room until late at night, when he left, a feted and honoured guest, with one of his host’s best cigars between his teeth, nothing that could yield him any comfort was left undone. In the easiest of easy chairs he sat in the garden beneath the leafy branches of apple trees, and undiluted wisdom and advice flowed from his lips in a stream as he beamed delightedly upon his entertainer.
[Illustration: “Undiluted wisdom and advice flowed from his lips.”]
Their talk was mainly of Sunwich and Sunwich people, and it was an easy step from these to Equator Lodge. On that subject most people would have found the ex-steward somewhat garrulous, but Jem Hardy listened with great content, and even brought him back to it when he showed signs of wandering. Altogether Mr. Wilks spent one of the pleasantest evenings of his life, and, returning home in a slight state of mental exhilaration, severely exercised the tongues of Fullalove Alley by a bearing considered incompatible with his station.
Jem Hardy paid a return call on the following Friday, and had no cause to complain of any lack of warmth in his reception. The ex-steward was delighted to see him, and after showing him various curios picked up during his voyages, took him to the small yard in the rear festooned with scarlet-runner beans, and gave him a chair in full view of the neighbours.
“I’m the only visitor to-night?” said Hardy, after an hour’s patient listening and waiting.
Mr. Wilks nodded casually. “Miss Kate came last night,” he said. “Friday is her night, but she came yesterday instead.”
Mr. Hardy said, “Oh, indeed,” and fell straight-way into a dismal reverie from which the most spirited efforts of his host only partially aroused him.
Without giving way to undue egotism it was pretty clear that Miss Nugent had changed her plans on his account, and a long vista of pleasant Friday evenings suddenly vanished. He, too, resolved to vary his visits, and, starting with a basis of two a week, sat trying to solve the mathematical chances of selecting the same as Kate Nugent; calculations which were not facilitated by a long-winded account from Mr. Wilks of certain interesting amours of his youthful prime.
Before he saw Kate Nugent again, however, another old acquaintance turned up safe and sound in Sunwich. Captain Nugent walking into the town saw him first: a tall, well-knit young man in shabby clothing, whose bearing even in the distance was oddly familiar. As he came closer the captain’s misgivings were confirmed, and in the sunburnt fellow in tattered clothes who advanced upon him with out-stretched hand he reluctantly recognized his son.
“What have you come home for?” he inquired, ignoring the hand and eyeing him from head to foot.