He closed his eyes on the indignant Mrs. Silk and fell fast asleep. It was a sound sleep and dreamless, and only troubled by the occasional ineffectual attempts of his hostess to arouse him. She gave up the attempt at last, and taking up a pair of socks sat working thoughtfully the other side of the fire-place.
The steward awoke an hour or two later, and after what seemed a terrible struggle found himself standing at the open door with the cold night air blowing in his face, and a voice which by an effort of memory he identified as that of Edward Silk inviting him “to go home and lose no time about it.” Then the door slammed behind him and he stood balancing himself with some difficulty on the step, wondering what had happened. By the time he had walked up and down the deserted alley three or four times light was vouchsafed to him and, shivering slightly, he found his own door and went to bed.
Any hopes which Hardy might have entertained as to the attitude of Miss Nugent were dispelled the first time he saw her, that dutiful daughter of a strong-willed sire favouring him with a bow which was exactly half an inch in depth and then promptly bestowing her gaze elsewhere. He passed Captain Nugent next day, and for a week afterwards he had only to close his eyes to see in all its appalling virulence the glare with which that gentleman had acknowledged his attempt at recognition.
[Illustration: “Captain Nugent.”]
He fared no better in Fullalove Alley, a visit to Mr. Wilks eliciting the fact that that delectable thoroughfare had been put out of bounds for Miss Nugent. Moreover, Mr. Wilks was full of his own troubles and anxious for any comfort and advice that could be given to him. All the alley knew that Mrs. Silk had quarrelled with her son over the steward, and, without knowing the facts, spoke their mind with painful freedom concerning them.
“She and Teddy don’t speak to each other now,” said Mr. Wilks, gloomily, “and to ’ear people talk you’d think it was my fault.”
Hardy gave him what comfort he could. He even went the length of saying that Mrs. Silk was a fine woman.
“She acts like a suffering martyr,” exclaimed Mr. Wilks. “She comes over ’ere dropping hints that people are talking about us, and that they ask ’er awkward questions. Pretending to misunderstand ’er every time is enough to send me crazy; and she’s so sudden in what she says there’s no being up to ’er. On’y this morning she asked me if I should be sorry if she died.”
“What did you say?” inquired his listener.
“I said ‘yes,’” admitted Mr. Wilks, reluctantly. “I couldn’t say anything else; but I said that she wasn’t to let my feelings interfere with ’er in any way.”
Hardy’s father sailed a day or two later, and after that nothing happened. Equator Lodge was an impregnable fortress, and the only member of the garrison he saw in a fortnight was Bella.