Hardy thanked him and whispered a caution as a footstep was heard on the landing. The door opened and the nurse, followed by the housekeeper bearing a tray, entered the room.
“And I can’t be worried about these things,” said Swann, in an acrimonious voice, as they entered. “If you are not capable of settling a simple question like that yourself, ask the office-boy to instruct you.
“It’s your work,” retorted Hardy, “and a nice mess it’s in.”
“H’sh!” said the nurse, coming forward hastily. “You must leave the room, sir. I can’t have you exciting my patient.”
Hardy bestowed an indignant glance at the invalid.
“Get out!” said that gentleman, with extraordinary fierceness for one in his weak condition. “In future, nurse, I won’t have this person admitted to my room.”
“Yes, yes; certainly,” said the nurse. “You must go, sir; at once, please.”
“I’m going,” said Hardy, almost losing his gravity at the piteous spectacle afforded by the house-keeper as she stood, still holding the tray and staring open-mouthed at the combatants. “When you’re tired of skulking in bed, perhaps you’ll come and do your share of the work.”
Mr. Swann rose to a sitting position, and his demeanour was so alarming that the nurse, hastening over to him, entreated him to lie down, and waved Hardy peremptorily from the room.
“Puppy!” said the invalid, with great relish. “Blockhead!”
[Illustration: “‘Puppy!’ said the invalid.”]
He gazed fixedly at the young man as he departed and then, catching sight in his turn of the housekeeper’s perplexity, laid himself down and buried his face in the bed-clothes. The nurse crossed over to her assistant and, taking the tray from her, told her in a sharp whisper that if she ever admitted Mr. Hardy again she would not be answerable for the consequences.
Charmed at the ease with which he had demolished the objections of Mr. Adolphus Swann and won that suffering gentleman over to his plans, Hardy began to cast longing glances at Equator Lodge. He reminded himself that the labourer was worthy of his hire, and it seemed moreover an extremely desirable thing that Captain Nugent should know that he was labouring in his vineyard with the full expectation of a bounteous harvest. He resolved to call.
Kate Nugent, who heard the gate swing behind him as he entered the front garden, looked up and stood spellbound at his audacity. As a fairly courageous young person she was naturally an admirer of boldness in others, but this seemed sheer recklessness. Moreover, it was recklessness in which, if she stayed where she was, she would have to bear a part or be guilty of rudeness, of which she felt incapable. She took a third course, and, raising her eyebrows at the unnecessarily loud knocking with which the young man announced his arrival, retreated in good order into the garden, where her father, in a somewhat heated condition, was laboriously planting geraniums. She had barely reached him when Bella, in a state of fearsome glee, came down the garden to tell the captain of his visitor.