WORK!" said Mr. Robert Vyner, severely, as he reclined in a deck-chair on the poop of the Indian Chief and surveyed his surroundings through half-closed eyes. "Work! It's no good sitting here idling while the world's work awaits my attention."
Captain Trimblett, who was in a similar posture a yard away, assented. He also added that there was "nothing like it."
"There's no play without work," continued Mr. Vyner, in a spirit of self-admonition.
The captain assented again. "You said something about work half an hour ago," he remarked.
"And I meant it," said Mr. Vyner; "only in unconscious imitation I dozed off. What I really want is for somebody to take my legs, somebody else my shoulders, and waft me gently ashore."
"I had a cook o' mine put ashore like that once," said Captain Trimblett, in a reminiscent voice; "only I don't know that I would have called it 'wafting,' and, so far as my memory goes, he didn't either. He had a lot to say about it, too."
Mr. Vyner, with a noisy yawn, struggled out of his chair and stood adjusting his collar and waistcoat.
"If I couldn't be a chrysalis," he said, slowly, as he looked down at the recumbent figure of the captain, "do you know what I would like to be?"
"I've had a very hard day's work," said the other, defensively, as he struggled into a sitting posture—"very hard. And I was awake half the night with the toothache."
"That isn't an answer to my question," said Mr. Vyner, gently. "But never mind; try and get a little sleep now; try and check that feverish desire for work, which is slowly, very, very slowly, wearing you to skin and bone. Think how grieved the firm would be if the toothache carried you off one night. Why not go below and turn in now? It's nearly five o'clock."
"Couldn't sleep if I did," replied the captain, gravely. "Besides, I've got somebody coming aboard to have tea with me this afternoon."
"All right, I'm going," said Robert, reassuringly. "Nobody I know, I suppose?"
"No," said the captain. "Not exactly," he added, with a desire of being strictly accurate.
Mr. Vyner became thoughtful. The captain's reticence, coupled with the fact that he had made two or three attempts to get rid of him that afternoon, was suspicious. He wondered whether Joan Hartley was the expected guest; the captain's unwillingness to talk whenever her name came up having by no means escaped him. And once or twice the captain had, with unmistakable meaning, dropped hints as to the progress made by Mr. Saunders in horticulture and other pursuits. At the idea of this elderly mariner indulging in matrimonial schemes with which he had no sympathy, he became possessed with a spirit of vindictive emulation.
"It seems like a riddle; you've excited my curiosity," he said, as he threw himself back in the chair again and looked at the gulls wheeling lazily overhead. "Let me see whether I can guess—I'll go as soon as I have."
"'Tisn't worth guessing," said Captain Trimblett, with a touch of brusqueness.
"Don't make it too easy," pleaded Mr. Vyner. "Guess number one: a lady?"
The captain grunted.
"A widow," continued Mr. Vyner, in the slow, rapt tones of a clairvoyant. "The widow!"
"What do you mean by the widow?" demanded the aroused captain.
"The one you are always talking about," replied Mr. Vyner, winking at the sky.
"Me!" said the captain, purpling. "I don't talk about her. You don't hear me talk about her. I'm not always talking about anybody. I might just have mentioned her name when talking about Truefitt's troubles; that's all."
"That's what I meant," said Robert Vyner, with an air of mild surprise.
"Well, it's not her," said the captain, shortly.
"Somebody I know, but not exactly," mused Robert. "Somebody I know, but—Let me think."
He closed his eyes in an effort of memory, and kept them shut so long that the captain, anxious to get him away before his visitor's arrival, indulged in a loud and painful fit of coughing. Mr. Vyner's eyes remained closed.
"Any more guesses?" inquired the captain, loudly.
Mr. Vyner, slept on. Gulls mewed overhead; a rattle of cranes sounded from the quays, and a conversation—mostly in hoarse roars—took place between the boatswain in the bows and an elderly man ashore, but he remained undisturbed. Then he sprang up so suddenly that he nearly knocked his chair over, and the captain, turning his head after him in amaze, saw Joan Hartley standing at the edge of the quay.
Before he could interfere Mr. Vyner, holding her hand with anxious solicitude, was helping her aboard. Poised for a moment on the side of the ship, she sprang lightly to the deck, and the young man, relinquishing her hand with some reluctance, followed her slowly toward the captain.
Ten minutes later, by far the calmest of the three, he sat at tea in the small but comfortable saloon. How he got there Captain Trimblett could not exactly remember. Mr. Vyner had murmured something about a slight headache, due in his opinion to the want of a cup of tea, and, even while talking about going home to get it, had in an abstracted fashion drifted down the companion-way.
"I feel better already," he remarked, as he passed his cup up to Miss Hartley to be refilled. "It's wonderful what a cup of tea will do."
"It has its uses," said the captain, darkly.
He took another cup himself and sat silent and watchful, listening to the conversation of his guests. A slight appearance of reserve on Miss Hartley's part, assumed to remind Mr. Vyner of his bad behaviour on the occasion of their last meeting, was dispelled almost immediately. Modesty, tinged with respectful admiration, was in every glance and every note of his voice. When she discovered that a man who had asked for his tea without sugar had drunk without remark a cup containing three lumps, she became thoughtful.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked, in concern.
Modesty and Mr. Vyner—never boon companions—parted company.
"I thought you had given me the wrong cup," he said, simply.
The explanation seemed to Captain Trimblett quite inadequate. He sat turning it over in his mind, and even the rising colour in Miss Hartley's cheek did not serve to enlighten him. But he was glad to notice that she was becoming reserved again. Mr. Vyner noticed it, too, and, raging inwardly against a tongue which was always striving after his undoing, began with a chastened air to criticise the architecture of the new chapel in Porter Street. Architecture being a subject of which the captain knew nothing, he discussed it at great length, somewhat pleased to find that both his listeners were giving him their undivided attention.
He was glad to notice, when they went up on deck again, that his guests had but little to say to each other, and, with a view to keeping them apart as much as possible, made no attempt to detain her when Joan rose and said that she must be going. She shook hands and then turned to Mr. Vyner.
"Oh, I must be going, too," said that gentleman.
He helped her ashore and, with a wave of his hand to Captain Trimblett, set off by her side. At the bridge, where their ways homeward diverged, Joan half stopped, but Mr. Vyner, gazing straight ahead, kept on.
"Fine chap, Captain Trimblett," he said, suddenly.
"He is the kindest man I know," said Joan, warmly.
Mr. Vyner sang his praises for three hundred yards, secretly conscious that his companion was thinking of ways and means of getting rid of him. The window of a confectioner's shop at last furnished the necessary excuse.
"I have got a little shopping to do," she said, diving in suddenly. "Good-by."
"The 'good-by' was so faint that it was apparent to her as she stood in the shop and gave a modest order for chocolates that he had not heard it. She bit her lip, and after a glance at the figure outside, added to her order a large one for buns. She came out of the shop with a bag overflowing with them.
"Let me," said Mr. Vyner, hastily.
Miss Hartley handed them over at once, and, walking by his side, strove hard to repress malicious smiles. She walked slowly and gave appraising glances at shop windows, pausing finally at a greengrocer's to purchase some bananas. Mr. Vyner, with the buns held in the hollow of his arm, watched her anxiously, and his face fell as she agreed with the greengrocer as to the pity of spoiling a noble bunch he was displaying. Insufficiently draped in a brown-paper bag, it took Mr. Vyner's other arm.
"You are quite useful," said Miss Hartley, with a bright smile.
Mr. Vyner returned the smile, and in bowing to an acquaintance nearly lost a bun. He saved it by sheer sleight of hand, and noting that his companion was still intent on the shops, wondered darkly what further burdens were in store for him. He tried to quicken the pace, but Miss Hartley was not to be hurried.
"I must go in here, I think," she said, stopping in front of a draper's. "I sha'n't be long."
Mr. Vyner took his stand by the window with his back to the passers-by, and waited. At the expiration of ten minutes he peeped in at the door, and saw Miss Hartley at the extreme end of the shop thoughtfully fingering bales of cloth. He sighed, and, catching sight of a small boy regarding him, had a sudden inspiration.
"Here! Would you like some buns, old chap?" he cried.
The child's eyes glistened.
"Take 'em," said Mr. Vyner, thankfully. "Don't drop 'em."
He handed them over and stood smiling benevolently as the small boy, with both arms clasped round the bag, went off hugging it to his bosom. Another urchin, who had been regarding the transaction with speechless envy, caught his eye. He beckoned him to him and, with a few kind words and a fatherly admonition not to make himself ill, presented him with the bananas. Then he drew a deep breath, and with a few kind words he presented him with the bananas assuming an expression of gravity befitting the occasion, braced himself for the inevitable encounter.
Five minutes later Miss Hartley, bearing a large and badly-tied parcel, came smiling out to him. The smile faded suddenly, and she stood regarding him in consternation.
"Why—!" she began. "Where—?"
Mr. Vyner eyed her carefully. "I gave 'em away," he said, slowly. "Two poor, hungry little chaps stood looking at me. I am awfully fond of children, and before I knew what I was doing—"
"I've no doubt," said Joan, bitterly, as she realized her defeat. "I've no doubt."
Mr. Vyner leaned toward the parcel. "Allow me," he murmured, politely.
"Thank you, Til carry it myself," said Joan, sharply.
Her taste for shopping had evaporated, and clutching her parcel she walked rapidly homeward. An occasional glance at her companion did not quite satisfy her that he was keeping his sense of humour under proper control. There was a twitching of his lips which might, she felt, in a little time become contagious. She averted her head.
"That's all right," said Mr. Vyner, with a sigh of relief. "I was half afraid that I had offended you."