He opened the door so suddenly that the man on the other side, with a sudden cry, fell on all fours into the room, and raising his face stared stupidly at the steward. Mr. Wilks’s hands dropped to his sides and his tongue refused its office, for in some strange fashion, quite in keeping with the lawless proceedings of the previous night, Captain Nugent had changed into a most excellent likeness of his own son.
[Illustration: “The man on the other side fell on all fours into the room.”]
For some time Mr. Wilks stood gazing at this unexpected apparition and trying to collect his scattered senses. Its face was pale and flabby, while its glassy eyes, set in rims of red eyelids, were beginning to express unmistakable signs of suspicion and wrath. The shock was so sudden that the steward could not even think coherently. Was the captain upstairs? And if so, what was his condition? Where was Nathan Smith? And where was the five pounds?
A voice, a husky and discordant voice, broke in upon his meditations; Jack Nugent was also curious.
“What does all this mean?” he demanded, angrily. “How did I get here?”
“You—you came downstairs,” stammered Mr. Wilks, still racking his brains in the vain effort to discover how matters stood.
Mr. Nugent was about to speak, but, thinking better of it, turned and blundered into the kitchen. Sounds of splashing and puffing ensued, and the steward going to the door saw him with his head under the tap. He followed him in and at the right time handed him a towel. Despite the disordered appearance of his hair the improvement in Mr. Nugent’s condition was so manifest that the steward, hoping for similar results, turned the tap on again and followed his example.
“Your head wants cooling, I should think,” said the young man, returning him the towel. “What’s it all about?”
Mr. Wilks hesitated; a bright thought occurred to him, and murmuring something about a dry towel he sped up the narrow stairs to his bedroom. The captain was not there. He pushed open the small lattice window and peered out into the alley; no sign of either the captain or the ingenious Mr. Nathan Smith. With a heavy heart he descended the stairs again.
[Illustration: “He pushed open the small lattice window and peered out into the alley.”]
“Now,” said Mr. Nugent, who was sitting down with his hands in his pockets, “perhaps you’ll be good enough to explain what all this means.”
“You were ’ere last night,” said Mr. Wilks, “you and the cap’n.”
“I know that,” said Nugent. “How is it I didn’t go home? I didn’t understand that it was an all-night invitation. Where is my father?”
The steward shook his head helplessly. “He was ’ere when I went out last night,” he said, slowly. “When I came back the room was empty and I was told as ’e was upstairs in my bed.”