[Illustration: “He took up his candle and went off whistling.”]
The idea in the mind of Mr. James Hardy when he concocted his infamous plot was that Jack Nugent would be summarily dismissed on some pretext by Miss Kybird, and that steps would at once be taken by her family to publish her banns together with those of Mr. Silk. In thinking thus he had made no allowance for the workings and fears of such a capable mind as Nathan Smith’s, and as days passed and nothing happened he became a prey to despair.
He watched Mr. Silk keenly, but that gentleman went about his work in his usual quiet and gloomy fashion, and, after a day’s leave for the purpose of arranging the affairs of a sick aunt in Camberwell, came back only a little less gloomy than before. It was also clear that Mr. Swann’s complaisance was nearly at an end, and a letter, couched in vigorous, not to say regrettable, terms for a moribund man, expressed such a desire for fresh air and exercise that Hardy was prepared to see him at any moment.
It was the more unfortunate as he thought that he had of late detected a slight softening in Captain Nugent’s manner towards him. On two occasions the captain, who was out when he called, had made no comment to find upon his return that the visitor was being entertained by his daughter, going so far, indeed, as to permit the conversation to gain vastly in interest by that young person remaining in the room. In face of this improvement he thought with dismay of having to confess failure in a scheme which apart from success was inexcusable.
The captain had also unbent in another direction, and Mr. Wilks, to his great satisfaction, was allowed to renew his visits to Equator Lodge and assist his old master in the garden. Here at least the steward was safe from the designs of Mrs. Silk and the innuendoes of Fullalove Alley.
It was at this time, too, that the widow stood in most need of his advice, the behaviour of Edward Silk being of a nature to cause misgivings in any mother’s heart. A strange restlessness possessed him, varied with occasional outbursts of hilarity and good nature. Dark hints emanated from him at these times concerning a surprise in store for her at no distant date, hints which were at once explained away in a most unsatisfactory manner when she became too pressing in her inquiries. He haunted the High Street, and when the suspicious Mrs. Silk spoke of Amelia he only laughed and waxed humorous over such unlikely subjects as broken hearts and broken vows.
It was a week after Mr. Kybird’s visit to the alley that he went, as usual, for a stroll up and down the High Street. The evening was deepening, and some of the shops had already lit up, as Mr. Silk, with his face against the window-pane, tried in vain to penetrate the obscurity of Mr. Kybird’s shop. He could just make out a dim figure behind the counter, which he believed to be Amelia, when a match was struck and a gas jet threw a sudden light in the shop and revealed Mr. Jack Nugent standing behind the counter with his hand on the lady’s shoulder.