‘Ay, to be sure! a grand old soul,’ he said. ’You know that scum of old, Harry.’
I laughed, and so did he, at which I laughed the louder.
‘He laughs, I suppose, because his party’s got a majority in the House,’ said the squire.
‘We gave you a handsome surplus this year, sir.’
‘Sweated out of the country’s skin and bone, ay!’
’You were complimented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.!
’Yes, that fellow’s compliments are like a cabman’s, and cry fool:—he never thanks you but when he’s overpaid.’
Captain Bulsted applauded the sarcasm.
‘Why did you keep out of knowledge all this time, Hal?’ my grandfather asked.
I referred him to the captain.
‘Hang it,’ cried Captain Bulsted, ’do you think I’d have been doing duty for you if I’d known where to lay hold of you.’
‘Well, if you didn’t shake hands with me, you touched my toes,’ said I, and thanked him with all my heart for his kindness to an old woman on the point of the grave. I had some fun to flavour melancholy with.
My grandfather resumed his complaint: ’You might have gone clean off, and we none the wiser.’
‘Are we quite sure that his head’s clean on?’ said the mystified captain.
’Of course we should run to him, wherever he was, if he was down on his back,’ the squire muttered.
‘Ay, ay, sir; of course,’ quoth Captain William, frowning to me to reciprocate this relenting mood. ’But, Harry, where did you turn off that night? We sat up expecting you. My poor Julia was in a terrible fright, my lad. Eh? speak up.’
I raised the little finger.
‘Oh, oh,’ went he, happily reassured; but, reflecting, added: ’A bout of it?’
I dropped him a penitent nod.
‘That’s bad, though,’ said he.
‘Then why did you tip me a bottle of rum, Captain William?’
‘By George, Harry, you’ve had a crack o’ the sconce,’ he exclaimed, more sagaciously than he was aware of.
My grandfather wanted to keep me by his side in London until we two should start for the island next day; but his business was in the city, mine toward the West. We appointed to meet two hours after reaching the terminus.
He turned to me while giving directions to his man.
’You ‘ve got him down there, I suppose?’
‘My father’s in town, sir. He shall keep away,’ I said.
‘Humph! I mayn’t object to see him.’
This set me thinking.
Captain Bulsted—previously asking me in a very earnest manner whether I was really all right and sound—favoured me with a hint:
’The squire has plunged into speculations of his own, or else he is peeping at somebody else’s. No danger of the dad being mixed up with Companies? Let’s hope not. Julia pledged her word to Janet that I would look after the old squire. I suppose I can go home this evening? My girl hates to be alone.’