“Teddy!” protested Mrs. Silk.
“It’s true, mother,” said the melancholy youth. “Mr. Wilks is old. Why should ’e mind being told of it? If ’e had ’ad the trouble I’ve ’ad ’e’d be glad to go. But he’ll ’ave to go, whether ’e likes it or not. It might be to-night. Who can tell?”
Mr. Wilks, unasked, poured himself out another glass of ale, and drank it off with the air of a man who intended to make sure of that. It seemed a trifle more flat than the last.
“So many men o’ your age and thereabouts,” continued Mr. Silk, “think that they’re going to live on to eighty or ninety, but there’s very few of ’em do. It’s only a short while, Mr. Wilks, and the little children’ll be running about over your grave and picking daisies off of it.”
“Ho, will they?” said the irritated Mr. Wilks; “they’d better not let me catch ’em at it, that’s all.”
“He’s always talking like that now,” said Mrs. Silk, not without a certain pride in her tones; “that’s why I asked you in to cheer ’im up.”
“All your troubles’ll be over then,” continued the warning voice, “and in a month or two even your name’ll be forgotten. That’s the way of the world. Think ’ow soon the last five years of your life ’ave passed; the next five’ll pass ten times as fast even if you live as long, which ain’t likely.”
“He talks like a clergyman,” said Mrs. Silk, in a stage whisper.
Mr. Wilks nodded, and despite his hostess’s protests rose to go. He shook hands with her and, after a short but sharp inward struggle, shook hands with her son. It was late in the evening as he left, but the houses had not yet been lit up. Dim figures sat in doorways or stood about the alley, and there was an air of peace and rest strangely and uncomfortably in keeping with the conversation to which he had just been listening. He looked in at his own door; the furniture seemed stiffer than usual and the tick of the clock more deliberate. He closed the door again and, taking a deep breath, set off towards the life and bustle of the Two Schooners.
[Illustration: “He set off towards the life and bustle of the Two Schooners.”]
Time failed to soften the captain’s ideas concerning his son’s engagement, and all mention of the subject in the house was strictly forbidden. Occasionally he was favoured with a glimpse of his son and Miss Kybird out together, a sight which imparted such a flavour to his temper and ordinary intercourse that Mrs. Kingdom, in unconscious imitation of Mr. James Hardy, began to count the days which must elapse before her niece’s return from London. His ill-temper even infected the other members of the household, and Mrs. Kingdom sat brooding in her bedroom all one afternoon, because Bella had called her an “overbearing dish-pot.”
The finishing touch to his patience was supplied by a little misunderstanding between Mr. Kybird and the police. For the second time in his career the shopkeeper appeared before the magistrates to explain the circumstances in which he had purchased stolen property, and for the second time he left the court without a stain on his character, but with a significant magisterial caution not to appear there again.