The downfall of Captain Nugent was for some time a welcome subject of conversation in marine circles at Sunwich. At The Goblets, a rambling old inn with paved courtyard and wooden galleries, which almost backed on to the churchyard, brother-captains attributed it to an error of judgment; at the Two Schooners on the quay the profanest of sailormen readily attributed it to an all-seeing Providence with a dislike of over-bearing ship-masters.
[Illustration: “A welcome subject of conversation in marine circles.”]
The captain’s cup was filled to the brim by the promotion of his first officer to the command of the Conqueror. It was by far the largest craft which sailed from the port of Sunwich, and its master held a corresponding dignity amongst the captains of lesser vessels. Their allegiance was now transferred to Captain Hardy, and the master of a brig which was in the last stages of senile decay, meeting Nugent in The Goblets, actually showed him by means of two lucifer matches how the collision might have been avoided.
A touching feature in the business, and a source of much gratification to Mr. Wilks by the sentimental applause evoked by it, was his renunciation of the post of steward on the ss. Conqueror. Sunwich buzzed with the tidings that after eighteen years’ service with Captain Nugent he preferred starvation ashore to serving under another master. Although comfortable in pocket and known to be living with his mother, who kept a small general shop, he was regarded as a man on the brink of starvation. Pints were thrust upon him, and the tale of his nobility increased with much narration. It was considered that the whole race of stewards had acquired fresh lustre from his action.
His only unfavourable critic was the erring captain himself. He sent a peremptory summons to Mr. Wilks to attend at Equator Lodge, and the moment he set eyes upon that piece of probity embarked upon such a vilification of his personal defects and character as Mr. Wilks had never even dreamt of. He wound up by ordering him to rejoin the ship forthwith.
“Arsking your pardon, sir,” said Mr. Wilks, with tender reproach, “but I couldn’t.”
“Are you going to live on your mother, you hulking rascal?” quoth the incensed captain.
“No, sir,” said Mr. Wilks. “I’ve got a little money, sir; enough for my few wants till we sail again.”
“When I sail again you won’t come with me,” said the captain, grimly. “I suppose you want an excuse for a soak ashore for six months!”
Mr. Wilks twiddled his cap in his hands and smiled weakly.
“I thought p’r’aps as you’d like me to come round and wait at table, and help with the knives and boots and such-like,” he said, softly. “Ann is agreeable.”
“Get out of the house,” said the captain in quiet, measured tones.