“It is a fine night,” she said, as she shook hands.
“The best I have ever known,” said Hardy. “Good-bye.”
The weeks passed all too quickly for James Hardy. He saw Kate Nugent at her own home; met her, thanks to the able and hearty assistance of Mr. Wilks, at Fullalove Alley, and on several occasions had the agreeable task of escorting her back home.
He cabled to his father for news of the illustrious stowaway immediately the Conqueror was notified as having reached Port Elizabeth. The reply—“Left ship”—confirmed his worst fears, but he cheerfully accepted Mrs. Kingdom’s view that the captain, in order to relieve the natural anxiety of his family, had secured a passage on the first vessel homeward bound.
Captain Hardy was the first to reach home. In the early hours of a fine April morning the Conqueror steamed slowly into Sunwich Harbour, and in a very short time the town was revelling in a description of Captain Nugent’s first voyage before the mast from lips which were never tired of repeating it. Down by the waterside Mr. Nathan Smith found that he had suddenly attained the rank of a popular hero, and his modesty took alarm at the publicity afforded to his action. It was extremely distasteful to a man who ran a quiet business on old-fashioned lines and disbelieved in advertisement. He lost three lodgers the same day.
[Illustration: “A popular hero.”]
Jem Hardy was one of the few people in Sunwich for whom the joke had no charms, and he betrayed such an utter lack of sympathy with his father’s recital that the latter accused him at last of wanting a sense of humour.
“I don’t see anything amusing in it,” said his son, stiffly.
Captain Hardy recapitulated one or two choice points, and was even at some pains to explain them.
“I can’t see any fun in it,” repeated his son. “Your behaviour seems to me to have been deplorable.”
“What?” shouted the captain, hardly able to believe his ears.
“Captain Nugent was your guest,” pursued the other; “he got on your ship by accident, and he should have been treated decently as a saloon passenger.”
“And been apologized to for coming on board, I suppose?” suggested the captain.
“It wouldn’t have been amiss,” was the reply.
The captain leaned back in his chair and regarded him thoughtfully. “I can’t think what’s the matter with you, Jem,” he said.
“Ordinary decent ideas, that’s all,” said his son, scathingly.
“There’s something more in it than that,” said the other, positively. “I don’t like to see this love-your-enemy business with you, Jem; it ain’t natural to you. Has your health been all right while I’ve been away?”
“Of course it has,” said his son, curtly. “If you didn’t want Captain Nugent aboard with you why didn’t you put him ashore? It wouldn’t have delayed you long. Think of the worry and anxiety you’ve caused poor Mrs. Kingdom.”