“Still harping on my daughter?” said I.
“You may think it devilish funny,” he replied; “but for me there’s only one woman in the world.”
“Let us have a final drink,” said I.
We drank, chatted a while, and went to bed.
When I awoke the next morning the Vesta was already four hours on her way to Madagascar.
I have one failing. Even I, Hilary Freeth, of Northlands in the County of Berkshire, Esquire, Gent, have one failing, and I freely confess it. I cannot keep a key. Were I as other men are—which, thank Heaven, I am not—I might wear a pound or so of hideous ironmongery chained to my person. This I decline to do, with the result that, as I say, I cannot keep a key. Of all the household stowaway places under my control (and Barbara limits their number) only one is locked; and that drawer containing I know not what treasures or rubbish is likely to continue so forever and ever—for the key is lost. Such important documents as I desire to place in security I send to bankers or solicitors, who are trained from childhood in the expert use of safes and strong-boxes. My other papers the world can read if it choose to waste its time; at any rate, I am not going to lock them up and have the worry of a key preying on my mind. I should only lose it as I lost the other one. Now, by a freak of fortune, the key of Jaffery’s flat remained in the suit-case wherein I had flung it at Havre, until it was fished out by Franklin on my arrival at Northlands.
“For goodness’ sake, my dear,” said I to Barbara, “take charge of this thing.”
But she refused. She had too many already to look after. I must accept the responsibility as a moral discipline. So I tied a luggage label to the elusive object, inscribed thereon the legend, “Key of Jaffery’s flat,” and hung it on a nail which I drove into the wall of my library.
“Besides,” said Barbara, satirically watching the operation, “I am not going to have anything to do with this crack-brained adventure.”
“To hear you speak,” said I, for she had already spoken at considerable length on the subject, “one would think that I could have prevented it. If Jaffery chooses to go Baresark and Liosha to throw her cap over the topmasts, why in the world shouldn’t they?”
“I suppose I’m conventional,” said Barbara. “And from the description you have given me of the boat, I’m sure the poor child will be utterly miserable, and she’ll ruin her hands and her figure and her skin.”
I wished I had drawn a little less lurid picture of the steamship Vesta.