“The last time I spied him was two days ago . . . in the late afternoon. Now you come to mention it, I’d a notion at the time he wasn’t anxious to be seen. For he came over the fields at the back—across the ten-acre field that Mrs Bosenna carried last week—and a very tidy crop, I’m told, though but moderate long in the stalk. . . . Well, there he was comin’ across the stubble—at a fine pace, too, with his coat ’pon his arm—when as I guess he spied me down in the road below and stopped short, danderin’ about an’ pretendin’ to poke up weeds with his stick. ‘Some new-fashioned farmin’,’ thought I; ‘weedin’ stubble, and in August month too! I wonder who taught the Widow that trick’—for I won’t be sure I reckernised your friend, not slap-off. But Cap’n Hunken it was: for to make certain I called and had a drink o’ cider with Farmer Middlecoat, t’other side of the hill, an’ he’d seen your friend frequent these last few weeks. . . . There now, you don’t seem pleased about it!—an’ yet ’twould be a very good match for him, if it came off.”
Cai’s head was whirling. He steadied himself to say, “You seem to take a lot of interest, Mr Philp, in other people’s affairs.”
“Heaps,” said Mr Philp. “I couldn’ live without it.”
It must be admitted, though with sorrow, that on the Committee Ship that day Captain Cai did not shine. He bungled two “flying starts” by nervously playing with his stop-watch and throwing it out of gear; he fired off winning guns for several hopelessly belated competitors; he made at least three mistakes in distributing the prize-money (and nobody who has not committed the indiscretion of paying out a first prize to a crew which has actually come in third can conceive the difficulty of enforcing its surrender); finally, he provoked something like a free fight on deck by inadvertently crediting two boats each with the other’s time on a close handicap. It was the more vexatious, because he had in committee meetings taken so many duties upon himself, virtually cashiering many old hands, whose enforced idleness left them upon the ship with a run of the drinks, and whose resentment (as the day wore on) made itself felt in galling comments while, with no offer to help, they stood by and watched each painful development. The worst moment arrived when Captain Cai, who had replaced the old treasurer by a new and pushing man, and had, further, carried a resolution that prizes for all the major events should be paid by cheque, discovered his protege to be too tipsy to sign his name. This truly terrible emergency Captain Cai met by boldly subscribing his own name to the cheques. They would be drawn, of course, upon his private account, and he trusted the Committee to recoup him, while reading in the eyes of one or two that they had grasped this opportunity of revenge. But Regatta Day happens on a Wednesday, when the banks in Troy close early; and these cheques were accepted with an unflattering show of suspicion.