Captain Nugent turned purple. Such language from his late first officer was a revelation to him.
“I also came to warn you,” he said, furiously, “that I shall take the law into my own hands if you refuse.”
“Aye, aye,” said Hardy, with careless contempt; “I’ll tell him to keep out of your way. But I should advise you to wait until I have sailed.”
Captain Nugent, who was moving towards the door, swung round and confronted him savagely.
“What do you mean?” he demanded.
“What I say,” retorted Captain Hardy. “I don’t want to indulge Sunwich with the spectacle of two middle-aged ship-masters at fisticuffs, but that’s what’ll happen if you touch my boy. It would probably please the spectators more than it would us.”
“I’ll cane him the first time I lay hands on him,” roared Captain Nugent.
Captain Hardy’s stock of patience was at an end, and there was, moreover, a long and undischarged account between himself and his late skipper. He rose and crossed to the door.
“Jem,” he cried, “come downstairs and show Captain Nugent out.”
There was a breathless pause. Captain Nugent ground his teeth with fury as he saw the challenge, and realized the ridiculous position into which his temper had led him; and the other, who was also careful of appearances, repented the order the moment he had given it. Matters had now, however, passed out of their hands, and both men cast appraising glances at each other’s form. The only one who kept his head was Master Hardy, and it was a source of considerable relief to both of them when, from the top of the stairs, the voice of that youthful Solomon was heard declining in the most positive terms to do anything of the kind.
Captain Hardy repeated his command. The only reply was the violent closing of a door at the top of the house, and after waiting a short time he led the way to the front door himself.
“You will regret your insolence before I have done with you,” said his visitor, as he paused on the step. “It’s the old story of a beggar on horseback.”
“It’s a good story,” said Captain Hardy, “but to my mind it doesn’t come up to the one about Humpty-Dumpty. Good-night.”
If anything was wanted to convince Captain Nugent that his action had been foolish and his language intemperate it was borne in upon him by the subsequent behaviour of Master Hardy. Generosity is seldom an attribute of youth, while egotism, on the other hand, is seldom absent. So far from realizing that the captain would have scorned such lowly game, Master Hardy believed that he lived for little else, and his Jack-in-the-box ubiquity was a constant marvel and discomfort to that irritable mariner. Did he approach a seat on the beach, it was Master Hardy who rose (at the last moment) to make room for him. Did he stroll down to the harbour, it was in the wake of a small boy looking coyly at him over his shoulder. Every small alley as he passed seemed to contain a Jem Hardy, who whizzed out like a human firework in front of him, and then followed dancing on his toes a pace or two in his rear.