The captain’s reply was of a nature known to Mrs. Kingdom and her circle as “snapping one’s head off.” He drew his chair to the table as Bella brought in the tray and, accepting a cup of tea, began to discuss with his daughter the events which had transpired in his absence.
“There is no news,” interposed Mrs. Kingdom, during an interval. Mr. Hall’s aunt died the other day.”
“Never heard of her,” said the captain. “Neither had I, till then,” said his sister. “What a lot of people there are one never hears of, John.” The captain stared at her offensively and went on with his meal. A long silence ensued.
“I suppose you didn’t get to hear of the cable that was sent?” said Mrs. Kingdom, making another effort to arouse interest.
“What cable?” inquired her brother.
“The one Mr. Hardy sent to his father about you,” replied Mrs. Kingdom.
The captain pushed his chair back and stared her full in the face. “What do you mean?” he demanded.
His sister explained.
“Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been speaking to young Hardy?” exclaimed the captain.
“I could hardly help doing so, when he came here,” returned his sister, with dignity. “He has been very anxious about you.”
Captain Nugent rose and strode up and down the room. Then he stopped and glanced sharply at his daughter.
“Were you here when he called?” he demanded.
“Yes,” was the reply.
“And you—you spoke to him?” roared the captain.
“I had to be civil,” said Miss Nugent, calmly; “I’m not a sea-captain.”
Her father walked up and down the room again. Mrs. Kingdom, terrified at the storm she had evoked, gazed helplessly at her niece.
“What did he come here for?” said the captain.
Miss Nugent glanced down at her plate. “I can’t imagine,” she said, demurely. “The first time he came to tell us what had become of you.”
The captain stopped in his walk and eyed her sternly. “I am very fortunate in my children,” he said, slowly. “One is engaged to marry the daughter of the shadiest rascal in Sunwich, and the other—”
“And the other?” said his daughter, proudly, as he paused.
“The other,” said the captain, as he came round the table and put his hand on her shoulder, “is my dear and obedient daughter.”
“Yes,” said Miss Nugent; “but that isn’t what you were going to say. You need not worry about me; I shall not do anything that would displease you.”
With a view to avoiding the awkwardness of a chance meeting with any member of the Nugent family Hardy took the sea road on his way to the office the morning after the captain’s return. Common sense told him to leave matters for the present to the healing hand of Time, and to cultivate habits of self-effacement by no means agreeable to one of his temperament.