JOAN HARTLEY returned to Salthaven a week after Captain Trimblett's departure, and, with a lively sense of her inability to satisfy the curiosity of her friends, spent most of the time indoors. To evade her father's inquiries she adopted other measures, and the day after her return, finding both her knowledge and imagination inadequate to the task of satisfying him, she first waxed impatient and then tearful. Finally she said that she was thoroughly tired of the subject, and expressed a fervent hope that she might hear no more about it. Any further particulars would be furnished by Captain Trimblett, upon his return.
"But when I asked him about it he referred me to you," said Hartley. "The whole affair is most incomprehensible."
"We thought it would be a surprise to you," agreed Joan.
"It was," said her father, gloomily. "But if you are satisfied, I suppose it is all right."
He returned to the attack next day, but gained little information. Miss Hartley's ideas concerning the various marriage ceremonies were of the vaguest, but by the aid of "Whitaker's Almanack" she was enabled to declare that the marriage had taken place by license at a church in the district where Trimblett was staying. As a help to identification she added that the church was built of stone, and that the pew-opener had a cough. Tiresome questions concerning the marriage certificate were disposed of by leaving it in the captain's pocket-book. And again she declared that she was tired of the subject.
"I can't imagine what your aunt was thinking about," said her father. "If you had let me write—"
"She knew nothing about it," said Joan, hastily; "and if you had written to her she would have thought that you were finding fault with her for not looking after me more. It's done now, and if I'm satisfied and Captain Trimblett is satisfied, that is all that matters. You didn't want me to be an old maid, did you?"
Mr. Hartley gave up the subject in despair, but Miss Willett, who called a day or two later, displayed far more perseverance. After the usual congratulations she sat down to discuss the subject at length, and subjected Joan to a series of questions which the latter had much difficulty in evading. For a newly married woman, Miss Willett could only regard her knowledge of matrimony as hazy in the extreme.
"She don't want to talk about it," said Mr. Truefitt, the following evening as he sat side by side with Miss Willett in the little summer-house overlooking the river. "Perhaps she is repenting it already."
"It ought to be a tender memory," sighed Miss Willett. "I'm sure—"
She broke off and blushed.
"Yes?" said Mr. Truefitt, pinching her arm tenderly.
"Never mind," breathed Miss Willett. "I mean—I was only going to say that I don't think the slightest detail would have escaped me. All she seems to remember is that it took place in a church."
"It must have been by license, I should think," said Mr. Truefitt, scowling thoughtfully. "Ordinary license, I should say. I have been reading up about them lately. One never knows what may happen."
Miss Willett started.
"Trimblett has not behaved well," continued Mr. Truefitt, slowly, "by no means, but I must say that he has displayed a certain amount of dash; he didn't allow anything or anybody to come between him and matrimony. He just went and did it."
He passed his arm round Miss Willett's waist and gazed reflectively across the river.
"And I suppose we shall go on waiting all our lives," he said at last. "We consider other people far too much."
Miss Willett shook her head. "Mother always keeps to her word," she said, with an air of mournful pride. "Once she says anything she keeps to it. That's her firmness. She won't let me marry so long as Mrs. Chinnery stays here. We must be patient."
Mr. Truefitt rumpled his hair irritably and for some time sat silent. Then he leaned forward and, in a voice trembling with excitement, whispered in the lady's ear.
"Peter!" gasped Miss Willett, and drew back and eyed him in trembling horror.
"Why not?" said Mr. Truefitt, with an effort to speak stoutly. "It's our affair."
Miss Willett shivered and, withdrawing from his arm, edged away to the extreme end of the seat and averted her gaze.
"It's quite easy," whispered the tempter.
Miss Willett, still looking out at the door, affected not to hear.
"Not a soul would know until afterward," continued Mr. Truefitt, in an ardent whisper. "It could all be kept as quiet as possible. I'll have the license ready, and you could just slip out for a morning walk and meet me at the church, and there you are. And it's ridiculous of two people of our age to go to such trouble."
"Mother would never forgive me," murmured Miss Willett. "Never!"
"She'd come round in time," said Mr. Truefitt.
"Never!" said Miss Willett. "You don't know mother's strength of mind. But I mustn't stay and listen to such things. It's wicked!"
She got up and slipped into the garden, and with Mr. Truefitt in attendance paced up and down the narrow paths.
"Besides," she said, after a long silence, "I shouldn't like to share housekeeping with your sister. It would only lead to trouble between us, I am sure."
Mr. Truefitt came to a halt in the middle of the path, and stood rumpling his hair again as an aid to thought. Captain Sellers, who was looking over his fence, waved a cheery salutation.
"Fine evening," he piped.
The other responded with a brief nod.
"What did you say?" inquired Captain Sellers, who was languishing for a little conversation.
"Didn't say anything!" bawled Mr. Truefitt.
"You must speak up if you want me to hear you!" cried the captain. "It's one o' my bad days."
Truefitt shook his head, and placing himself by the side of Miss Willett resumed his walk. Three fences away, Captain Sellers kept pace with them.
"Nothing fresh about Trimblett, I suppose?" he yelled.
Truefitt shook his head again.
"He's a deep 'un!" cried Sellers—"wonderful deep! How's the other one? Bearing up? I ain't seen her about the last day or two. I believe that was all a dodge of Trimblett's to put us off the scent. It made a fool of me."
Mr. Truefitt, with a nervous glance at the open windows of his house, turned and walked hastily down the garden again.
"He quite deceived me," continued Captain Sellers, following—"quite. What did you say?"
"Nothing," bawled Mr. Truefitt, with sudden ferocity.
"Eh!" yelled the captain, leaning over the fence with his hand to his ear.
"Eh?" said the captain, anxiously. "Speak up! What?"
"Oh, go to—Jericho!" muttered Mr. Truefitt, and, taking Miss Willett by the arm, disappeared into the summer-house again. "Where were we when that old idiot interrupted us?" he inquired, tenderly.
Miss Willett told him, and, nestling within his encircling arm, listened with as forbidding an expression as she could command to further arguments on the subject of secret marriages.
"It's no use," she said at last "I mustn't listen. It's wicked. I am surprised at you, Peter. You must never speak to me on the subject again."
She put her head on his shoulder, and Mr. Truefitt, getting a better grip with his arm, drew her toward him.
"Think it over," he whispered, and bent and kissed her.
"Never," was the reply.
Mr. Truefitt kissed her again, and was about to repeat the performance when she started up with a faint scream, and, pushing him away, darted from the summer-house and fled up the garden. Mr. Truefitt, red with wrath, stood his ground and stared ferociously at the shrunken figure of Captain Sellers standing behind the little gate in the fence that gave on to the foreshore. The captain, with a cheery smile, lifted the latch and entered the garden.
"I picked a little bunch o' flowers for Miss Willett," he said, advancing and placing them on the table.
"Who told you to come into my garden?" shouted the angry Mr. Truefitt.
"Yes, all of 'em," said Captain Sellers, taking up the bunch and looking at them. "Smell!"
He thrust the bunch into the other's face, and withdrawing it plunged his own face into it with rapturous sniffs. Mr. Truefitt, his nose decorated with pollen ravished from a huge lily, eyed him murderously.
"Get out of my garden," he said, with an imperious wave of his hand.
"I can't hear what you say," said the captain, following the direction of the other's hand and stepping outside. "Sometimes I think my deafness gets worse. It's a great deprivation.''
"Is it?" said Mr. Truefitt. He made a funnel of both hands and bent to the old man's willing ear.
"You're an artful, interfering, prying, inquisitive old busybody," he bellowed. "Can you hear that?"
"Say it again," said the captain, his old eyes snapping.
Mr. Truefitt complied.
"I didn't quite catch the last word," said the captain.
"Busybody!" yelled Mr. Truefitt. "Busybody! B—u—s——"
"I heard," said Captain Sellers, with sudden and alarming dignity. "Take your coat off."
"Get out of my garden," responded Mr. Truefitt, briefly.
"Take your coat off," repeated Captain Sellers, sternly. He removed his own after a little trouble, and rolling back his shirt sleeves stood regarding with some pride a pair of yellow, skinny old arms. Then he clenched his fists, and, with an agility astonishing in a man of his years, indulged in a series of galvanic little hops in front of the astounded Peter Truefitt.
"Put your hands up!" he screamed. "Put 'em up, you tailor's dummy! Put 'em up, you Dutchman!"
"Go out of my garden," repeated the marvelling Mr. Truefitt. "Go home and have some gruel and go to bed!"
Captain Sellers paid no heed. Still performing marvellous things with his feet, he ducked his head over one shoulder, feinted with his left at Mr. Truefitt's face, and struck with his right somewhere near the centre of his opponent's waistcoat. Mr. Truefitt, still gazing at him open-mouthed, retreated backward, and, just as the captain's parchment-like fist struck him a second time, tripped over a water-can that had been left in the path and fell heavily on his back in a flower-bed.
"Time!" cried Captain Sellers, breathlessly, and pulled out a big silver watch to consult, as Miss Willett came hurrying down the garden, followed by Mrs. Chinnery.
"Peter!" wailed Miss Willett, going on her knees and raising his head. "Oh, Peter!"
"Has he hurt you?" inquired Mrs. Chinnery, stooping.
"No; I'm a bit shaken," said Mr. Truefitt, crossly. "I fell over that bla—blessed water-can. Take that old marionette away. I'm afraid to touch him for fear he'll fall to pieces."
"Time!" panted Captain Sellers, stowing his watch away and resuming his prancing. "Come on! Lively with it!"
Miss Willett uttered a faint scream and thrust her hand out.
"Lor' bless the man!" cried Mrs. Chinnery, regarding the old gentleman's antics with much amazement "Go away! Go away at once!"
"Time!" cried Captain Sellers.
She stepped forward, and her attitude was so threatening that Captain Sellers hesitated. Then he turned, and, picking up his coat, began to struggle into it.
"I hope it will be a lesson to him," he said, glaring at Mr. Truefitt, who had risen by this time and was feeling his back. "You see what comes of insulting an old sea-dog."
He turned and made his way to the gate, refusing with a wave of his hand Mrs. Chinnery's offer to help him down the three steps leading to the shore. With head erect and a springy step he gained his own garden, and even made a pretence of attending to a flower or two before sitting down. Then the deck-chair claimed him, and he lay, a limp bundle of aching old bones, until his housekeeper came down the garden to see what had happened to him.