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.’
‘By all means,’ said I; and the captain proposed to leave the squire at his hotel, in the event of my failing to join him in the city.
‘But don’t fail, if you can help it,’ he urged me; ’for things somehow, my dear Harry, appear to me to look like the compass when the needle gives signs of atmospheric disturbance. My only reason for saying so is common observation. You can judge for yourself that he is glad to have you with him.’
I told the captain I was equally glad; for, in fact, my grandfather’s quietness and apparently friendly disposition tempted me to petition for a dower for the princess at once, so that I might be in the position to offer Prince Ernest on his arrival a distinct alternative; supposing—it was still but a supposition—Ottilia should empower me. Incessant dialogues of perpetually shifting tendencies passed between Ottilia and me in my brain—now dark, now mildly fair, now very wild, on one side at least. Never, except by downright force of will, could I draw from the phantom of her one purely irrational outcry, so deeply-rooted was the knowledge of her nature and mind; and when I did force it, I was no gainer: a puppet stood in her place—the vision of Ottilia melted out in threads of vapour.