“Tell me about your work,” said clever Deb, smiling behind her waving fan.
At once she had him quite happy, talking about himself. No effort was necessary to draw him out; that she deigned to listen to him was enough. His struggles as boy—blue-nose boy; his tough battle for the first certificate; his complicated trials as second mate, holding theoretically an authority that was practically none; his rise to be qualified master and actual mate—no “t’penny-ha’penny” position in his eyes evidently; his anticipation of the “master extra” and the pass in steam, which might lead to anything—the whole tale was told her in terse, straightforward fashion, but with an art new to the modest sailor-man, who hated brag as much as cowardice. He bragged in self-defence, in challenge of the formidable equipment of his rival. And how interested she was! How well she understood his case—that it was better than the swellest training-ship to make your own way by your own exertions, and splendid to have done so much while still on the right side of thirty.
So much! He had done more than that—he had been a husband and father at twenty-one. But this, his most distinguished exploit, was not mentioned.
He mentioned it next day, however. He had to; for after breakfast a letter, forwarded from Five Creeks, reached him from the baby’s caretaker—the lady of whom he stood in such undignified dread. The sight of her handwriting paled his brown face and set his stout heart fluttering. What did she want of him? He kept the letter unopened for some time, because he was afraid to know, although convinced beforehand that he did know—that, of course, it was the visit he should have paid before coming up country. When at last he drew the sheet from its envelope, as if it had come from an infected house, and had not been fumigated, and cast a hurried glance over the contents, he found that the unexpected had happened once more—the wildly unexpected.
She was going to be married. He was a “general merchant” in prosperous business, and there was nothing to wait for—except Mr Carey’s instructions as to what was to be done with the dear little boy. She would feel acutely the parting from him, after he had been from his birth like a child of her own, but Mr Carey would understand that she could not now continue her labour of love on his behalf—that she had others to consider. But she knew of a most excellent substitute—a dear friend of her own, who had long taken the deepest interest in darling Harry, and with whom she was sure he would be as safe and happy as with herself. She had expected to see Mr Carey when he arrived, to arrange matters; she hoped he would come as soon as possible.