“Nothing, sir,” said Mr. Wilks, with an insufferable simper. “Nothing, only it’ll make things a little hit slow for me, that’s all.”
Mr. Nugent eyed him for a space in speechless amazement, and then, with a few strong remarks on ingratitude and senile vanity, mounted the winding little stairs and went to bed.
The day after Mr. Silk’s sudden and unexpected assertion of his marital rights Mr. Kybird stood in the doorway of his shop, basking in the sun. The High Street was in a state of post-prandial repose, and there was no likelihood of a customer to interfere with his confidential chat with Mr. Nathan Smith, who was listening with an aspect of great severity to his explanations.
“It ought not to ’ave happened,” he said, sharply. “It was Teddy done it,” said Mr. Kybird, humbly.
[Illustration: “‘It was Teddy done it,’ said Mr. Kybird, humbly.”]
Mr. Smith shrugged his shoulders. “It wouldn’t ’ave happened if I’d been there,” he observed, arrogantly.
“I don’t see ’ow” began Mr. Kybird.
“No, o’ course you don’t,” said his friend. “Still, it’s no use making a fuss now. The thing is done. One thing is, I don’t suppose it’ll make any diff——”
“Difference,” suggested Mr. Kybird, after waiting for him to finish.
“Difference,” said Mr. Smith, with an obvious effort. His face had lost its scornful expression and given way to one almost sheepish in its mildness. Mr. Kybird, staring at him in some surprise, even thought that he detected a faint shade of pink.
“We ain’t all as clever as wot you are, Nat,” he said, somewhat taken aback at this phenomenon. “It wouldn’t do.”
Mr. Smith made a strange noise in his throat and turned on him sharply. Mr. Kybird, still staring in surprise at his unwonted behaviour, drew back a little, and then his lips parted and his eyes grew round as he saw the cause of his friend’s concern. An elderly gentleman with a neatly trimmed white beard and a yellow rose in his button-hole was just passing on the other side of the road. His tread was elastic, his figure as upright as a boy’s, and he swung a light cane in his hand as he walked. As Mr. Kybird gazed he bestowed a brisk nod upon the bewildered Mr. Smith, and crossed the road with the evident intention of speaking to him.
“How do, Smith?” he said, in a kindly voice.
The boarding-master leaned against the shop-window and regarded him dumbly. There was a twinkle in the shipbroker’s eyes which irritated him almost beyond endurance, and in the doorway Mr. Kybird—his face mottled with the intensity of his emotions—stood an unwelcome and frantic witness of his shame.
“You’re not well, Smith?” said Mr. Swann, shaking his head at him gently. “You look like a man who has been doing too much brain-work lately. You’ve been getting the better of some-body, I know.”