“Could you find them now?” said Mr. Chalk.
“Why not?” said the captain, with a short laugh. “The island hasn’t run away.”
He rose as he spoke and, tossing the fragments of his visitor’s pipe into the fireplace, invited him to take a turn in the garden. Mr. Chalk, after a feeble attempt to discuss the matter further, reluctantly obeyed.
Mr. Chalk, with his mind full of the story he had just heard, walked homewards like a man in a dream. The air was fragrant with spring and the scent of lilac revived memories almost forgotten. It took him back forty years, and showed him a small boy treading the same road, passing the same houses. Nothing had changed so much as the small boy himself; nothing had been so unlike the life he had pictured as the life he had led. Even the blamelessness of the latter yielded no comfort; it savoured of a lack of spirit.
[Illustration: “A small boy treading the same road.”]
His mind was still busy with the past when he reached home. Mrs. Chalk, a woman of imposing appearance, who was sitting by the window at needlework, looked up sharply at his entrance. Before she spoke he had a dim idea that she was excited about something.
“I’ve got her,” she said, triumphantly.
“Oh!” said Mr. Chalk.
“She didn’t want to come at first,” said Mrs. Chalk; “she’d half promised to go to Mrs. Morris. Mrs. Morris had heard of her through Harris, the grocer, and he only knew she was out of a place by accident. He—”
Her words fell on deaf ears. Mr. Chalk, gazing through the window, heard without comprehending a long account of the capture of a new housemaid, which, slightly altered as to name and place, would have passed muster as an exciting contest between a skilful angler and a particularly sulky salmon. Mrs. Chalk, noticing his inattention at last, pulled up sharply.
“You’re not listening!” she cried.
“Yes, I am; go on, my dear,” said Mr. Chalk.
“What did I say she left her last place for, then?” demanded the lady.
Mr. Chalk started. He had been conscious of his wife’s voice, and that was all. “You said you were not surprised at her leaving,” he replied, slowly; “the only wonder to you was that a decent girl should have stayed there so long.”
Mrs. Chalk started and bit her lip. “Yes,” she said, slowly. “Ye-es. Go on; anything else?”
“You said the house wanted cleaning from top to bottom,” said the painstaking Mr. Chalk.
“Go on,” said his wife, in a smothered voice. “What else did I say?”
“Said you pitied the husband,” continued Mr. Chalk, thoughtfully.
Mrs. Chalk rose suddenly and stood over him. Mr. Chalk tried desperately to collect his faculties.
“How dare you?” she gasped. “I’ve never said such things in my life. Never. And I said that she left because Mr. Wilson, her master, was dead and the family had gone to London. I’ve never been near the house; so how could I say such things?”