The unfortunate steward quailed beneath the severity of her glance. Even if he gave a full account of the affair it would not make his position better. It was he who had made all the arrangements with Mr. Smith, and after an indignant glance at that gentleman he lowered his gaze and remained silent.
“It is rather odd that my father should take you into his confidence,” said Miss Nugent, turning to the boarding-master.
“Just wot I thought, miss,” said the complaisant Mr. Smith; “but I s’pose there was nobody else, and he wanted ’is message to go for fear you should get worrying the police about ‘im or something. He wants it kep’ quiet, and ’is last words to me as ’e left me was, ’If this affair gets known I shall never come back. Tell ’em to keep it quiet.’”
“I don’t think anybody will want to go bragging about it,” said Jack Nugent, rising, “unless it is Sam Wilks. Come along, Kate.”
Miss Nugent followed him obediently, only pausing at the door to give a last glance of mingled surprise and reproach at Mr. Wilks. Then they were outside and the door closed behind them.
“Well, that’s all right,” said Mr. Smith, easily.
“All right!” vociferated the steward. “Wot did you put it all on to me for? Why didn’t you tell ’em your part in it?”
“Wouldn’t ha’ done any good,” said Mr. Smith; “wouldn’t ha’ done you any good. Besides, I did just wot the cap’n told me.”
“When’s he coming back?” inquired the steward.
Mr. Smith shook his head. “Couldn’t say,” he returned. “He couldn’t say ‘imself. Between you an’ me, I expect ’e’s gone up to have a reg’lar fair spree.”
“Why did you tell me last night he was up-stairs?” inquired the other.
“Cap’n’s orders,” repeated Mr. Smith, with relish. “Ask ’im, not me. As a matter o’ fact, he spent the night at my place and went off this morning.”
“An’ wot about the five pounds?” inquired Mr. Wilks, spitefully. “You ain’t earned it.”
“I know I ain’t,” said Mr. Smith, mournfully. “That’s wot’s worrying me. It’s like a gnawing pain in my side. D’you think it’s conscience biting of me? I never felt it before. Or d’ye think it’s sorrow to think that I’ve done the whole job too cheap You think it out and let me know later on. So long.”
He waved his hand cheerily to the steward and departed. Mr. Wilks threw himself into a chair and, ignoring the cold and the general air of desolation of his best room, gave way to a fit of melancholy which would have made Mr. Edward Silk green with envy.
Days passed, but no word came from the missing captain, and only the determined opposition of Kate Nugent kept her aunt from advertising in the “Agony” columns of the London Press. Miss Nugent was quite as desirous of secrecy in the affair as her father, and it was a source of great annoyance to her when, in some mysterious manner, it leaked out. In a very short time the news was common property, and Mr. Wilks, appearing to his neighbours in an entirely new character, was besieged for information.