“Will you understand that I won’t have the Hardys mentiond in my house?” said the captain, looking up. “I’m not interested in their business, and I will not have it discussed here.”
“As you please, John,” said his sister, drawing herself up. “It’s your house and you are master here. I’m sure I don’t want to discuss them. Nothing was farther from my thoughts. You understand what your father says, Kate?”
“Perfectly,” said Miss Nugent. “When the desire to talk about the Hardys becomes irresistible we must go for a walk.”
The captain turned in his chair and regarded his daughter steadily. She met his gaze with calm affection.
“I wish you were a boy,” he growled.
“You’re the only man in Sunwich who wishes that,” said Miss Nugent, complacently, “and I don’t believe you mean it. If you’ll come a little closer I’ll put my head on your shoulder and convert you.”
“Kate!” said Mrs. Kingdom, reprovingly.
“And, talking about heads,” said Miss Nugent, briskly, “reminds me that I want a new hat. You needn’t look like that; good-looking daughters always come expensive.”
She moved her chair a couple of inches in his direction and smiled alluringly. The captain shifted uneasily; prudence counselled flight, but dignity forbade it. He stared hard at Mrs. Kingdom, and a smile of rare appreciation on that lady’s face endeavoured to fade slowly and naturally into another expression. The chair came nearer.
“Don’t be foolish,” said the captain, gruffly.
The chair came still nearer until at last it touched his, and then Miss Nugent, with a sigh of exaggerated content, allowed her head to sink gracefully on his shoulder.
“Most comfortable shoulder in Sunwich,” she murmured; “come and try the other, aunt, and perhaps you’ll get a new bonnet.”
[Illustration: “‘Most comfortable shoulder in Sunwich,’ she murmured.”]
Mrs. Kingdom hastened to reassure her brother. She would almost as soon have thought of putting her head on the block. At the same time it was quite evident that she was taking a mild joy in his discomfiture and eagerly awaiting further developments.
“When you are tired of this childish behaviour, miss,” said the captain, stiffly——
There was a pause. “Kate!” said Mrs. Kingdom, in tones of mild reproof, how can you?”
“Very good,” said the captain, we’ll see who gets tired of it first. “I’m in no hurry.”
A delicate but unmistakable snore rose from his shoulder in reply.
For the first few days after his return Sunwich was full of surprises to Jem Hardy. The town itself had changed but little, and the older inhabitants were for the most part easily recognisable, but time had wrought wonders among the younger members of the population: small boys had attained to whiskered manhood, and small girls passing into well-grown young women had in some cases even changed their names.