[Illustration: “Selina was standing in front of Mr. Tasker in the manner of a small hen defending an overgrown chicken.”]
“What’s all this?” he repeated, with an attempt at pomposity.
The disputants all spoke at once: Mr. Russell with an air of jocular ferocity, Miss Vickers in a voice that trembled with passion, and Mr. Tasker speaking as a man with a grievance. Despite the confusion, Mr. Vickers soon learned that it was a case of “two’s company and three’s none,” and that Mr. Russell, after turning a deaf ear to hints to retire which had gradually increased in bluntness, had suddenly turned restive and called Mr. Tasker a “mouldy image,” a “wall-eyed rabbit,” and divers other obscure and contradictory things. Not content with that, he had, without any warning, kissed Miss Vickers, and when Mr. Tasker, obeying that infuriated damsel’s commands, tried to show him the door, had facetiously offered to show that gentleman the wall and taken him up, and bumped him against it until they were both tired.
“Anybody would ha’ thought I was hurting ’im by the noise he made,” said the impenitent Mr. Russell.
“I—I’m surprised at you, Bill,” said Mr. Vickers, nervously.
“Put him outside,” cried Selina, stamping her foot.
“You’d better get off ’ome, Bill,” said Mr. Vickers, with a persuasive wink.
“While you’re safe,” added his daughter, with a threatening gesture.
“Go and get yourself ‘arf a pint o’ warm lemonade,” chimed in the voice of the daring Joseph.
Mr. Russell stepped towards him, but Mr. Vickers, seizing him by the coat, held him back and implored him to remember where he was.
“I’d bump the lot of you for two pins,” said the disappointed Mr. Russell, longingly. “And it’ud do you good; you’d all be the better for it. You’d know ’ow to behave to people when they come in to see you, then. As for Selina, I wouldn’t marry her now for all her money.”
“Money?” said the irate Selina, scornfully. “What money?”
“The money in the paper,” said Mr. Russell, with a diabolical leer in the direction of the unfortunate Mr. Vickers. “The paper what your father found in your box. Didn’t he tell you?”
He kicked over a chair which stood in his way and, with a reckless swagger, strode to the door. At the “Horse and Groom,” where he spent the remainder of the evening, he was so original in his remarks upon women that two unmarried men offered to fight him, and were only appeased by hearing a full and true account of the circumstances responsible for so much bitterness.
“TRIED!” said Captain Bowers, indignantly. “I have tried, over and over again, but it’s no use.”
“Have you tried the right way?” suggested Ed ward Tredgold.
“I’ve tried every way,” replied Captain Bowers, impatiently.