MRS. CHINNERY received the news of her brother's marriage with a calmness that was a source of considerable disappointment and annoyance to her friends and neighbours. To begin with, nobody knew how it had reached her, and several worthy souls who had hastened to her, hot-foot, with what they had fondly deemed to be exclusive information had some difficulty in repressing their annoyance. Their astonishment was increased a week later on learning that she had taken a year's lease of No. 9, Tranquil Vale, which had just become vacant, and several men had to lie awake half the night listening to conjectures as to where she had got the money.
Most of the furniture at No. 5 was her own, and she moved it in piecemeal. Captain Sellers, who had his own ideas as to why she was coming to live next door to him, and was somewhat flattered in consequence, volunteered to assist, and, being debarred by deafness from learning that his services were refused, caused intense excitement by getting wedged under a dressing-table on the stairs.
To inquiries as to how he got there, the captain gave but brief replies, and those of an extremely sailorly description, the whole of his really remarkable powers being devoted for the time being to the question of how he was to get out. He was released at length by a man and a saw, and Mrs. Chinnery, as soon as she could speak, gave him a pressing invitation to take home with him any particular piece of the table for which he might have a fancy.
He was back next morning with a glue-pot, and divided his time between boiling it up on the kitchen stove and wandering about the house in search of things to stick. Its unaccountable disappearance during his absence in another room did much to mar the harmony of an otherwise perfect day. First of all he searched the house from top to bottom; then, screwing up his features, he beckoned quietly to Mrs. Chinnery.
"I hadn't left it ten seconds," he said, mysteriously. "I went into the front room for a bit of stick, and when I went back it had gone—vanished. I was never more surprised in my life."
"Don't bother me," said Mrs. Chinnery. "I've got enough to do."
Mrs. Chinnery, who was hot and flustered, shook her head at him.
"It's a very odd thing," said Captain Sellers, shaking his head. "I never lost a glue-pot before in my life—never. Do you know anything about that charwoman that's helping you?"
"Yes, of course," said Mrs. Chinnery.
The captain put his hand to his ear.
"Yes, of course."
"I don't like her expression," said Captain Sellers, firmly. "I'm a very good judge of faces, and there's a look, an artful look, about her eyes that I don't like. It's my belief she's got my glue-pot stowed about her somewhere; and I'm going to search her."
"You get out of my house," cried the overwrought Mrs. Chinnery.
"Not without my glue-pot," said Captain Sellers, hearing for once. "Take that woman upstairs and search her. A glue-pot—a hot glue-pot—can't go without hands."
Frail in body but indomitable in spirit he confronted the accused, who, having overheard his remarks, came in and shook her fist in his face and threatened him with the terrors of the law.
"A glue-pot can't go without hands," he said, obstinately. "If you had asked me for a little you could have had it, and welcome; but you had no business to take it."
"Take it!" vociferated the accused. "What good do you think it would be to me? I've 'ad eleven children and two husbands, and I've never been accused of stealing a glue-pot before. Where do you think I could put it?"
"I don't know." said the captain, as soon as he understood. "That's what I'm curious about. You go upstairs with Mrs. Chinnery, and if she don't find that you've got that glue-pot concealed on you, I shall be very much surprised. Why not own up the truth before you scald yourself?"
Instead of going upstairs the charwoman went to the back door and sat on the step to get her breath, and, giving way to a sense of humour which had survived the two husbands and eleven children, wound up with a strong fit of hysterics. Captain Sellers, who watched through the window as she was being taken away, said that perhaps it was his fault for putting temptation in her way.
Mrs. Chinnery tried to keep her door fast next morning, but it was of no use. The captain was in and out all day, and, having found a tin of green paint and a brush among his stores, required constant watching. The day after Mrs. Chinnery saw her only means of escape, and at nine o'clock in the morning, with fair words and kind smiles, sent him into Salthaven for some picture-cord. He made four journeys that day. He came back from the last in a butcher's cart, and having handed Mrs. Chinnery the packet of hooks and eyes, for which he had taken a month's wear out of his right leg, bade her a hurried good-night and left for home on the arm of the butcher.
He spent the next day or two in an easy-chair by the fire, but the arrival of Mrs. Willett to complete the furnishing of No. 5 from her own surplus stock put him on his legs again. As an old neighbour and intimate friend of Mr. Truefitt's he proffered his services, and Mrs. Willett, who had an old-fashioned belief in "man," accepted them. His one idea—the pot of paint being to him like a penny in a schoolboy's pocket—was to touch things up a bit; Mrs. Willett's idea was for him to help hang pictures and curtains.
"The steps are so rickety they are only fit for a man," she screamed in his ear. "Martha has been over with them twice already."
Captain Sellers again referred to the touching-up properties of green paint. Mrs. Willett took it from him, apparently for the purpose of inspection, and he at once set out in search of the glue-pot.
"We'll do the curtains downstairs first," she said to Martha. "Upstairs can wait."
The captain spent the morning on the steps, his difficulties being by no means lessened by the tremolo movement which Martha called steadying them. Twice he was nearly shaken from his perch like an over-ripe plum, but all went well until they were hanging the curtains in the best bed-room, when Martha, stooping to recover a dropped ring, shut the steps up like a pair of compasses.
The captain, who had hold of the curtains at the time, brought them down with him, and lay groaning on the floor. With the help of her mistress, who came hurrying up on hearing the fall, Martha got him on to the bed and sent for the doctor.
"How do you feel?" inquired Mrs. Willett, eying him anxiously.
"Bad," said the captain, closing his eyes. "Every bone in my body is broken, I believe. It feels like it."
Mrs. Willett shook her head and sought for words to reassure him. "Keep your spirits up," she said, encouragingly. "Don't forget that: 'There's a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft to look after the life of poor Jack.'"
Captain Sellers opened his eyes and regarded her fixedly. "He wouldn't ha' been sitting there long if that fool Martha had been holding the steps," he said, with extraordinary bitterness.
He closed his eyes again and refused to speak until the doctor came. Then, having been stripped and put to bed for purposes of examination, he volunteered information as to his condition which twice caused the doctor to call him to order.
"You ought to be thankful it's no worse," he said, severely.
The captain sniffed. "When you've done pinching my leg," he said, disagreeably, "I'll put it back into bed again."
The doctor relinquished it at once, and, standing by the bed, regarded him thoughtfully.
"Well, you've had a shock," he said at last, "and you had better stay in bed for a few days."
"Not here," said Mrs. Willett, quickly. "My daughter and her husband will be home in a day or two."
The doctor looked thoughtful again; then he bent and spoke in the captain's ear.
"We are going to move you to your own house," he said.
"No, you're not," said the other, promptly.
"You'll be more comfortable there," urged the doctor.
"I'm not going to be moved," said Captain Sellers, firmly. "It might be fatal. I had a chap once—fell from aloft—and after he'd been in the saloon for a day or two I had him carried for'ard, and he died on the way. And he wasn't nearly as bad as I am."
"Well, we'll see how you are to-morrow," said the doctor, with a glance at Mrs. Willett.
"I shall be worse to-morrow," said the captain, cheerfully. "But I don't want to give any trouble. Send my housekeeper in to look after me. She can sleep in the next room."
They argued with him until his growing deafness rendered argument useless. A certain love of change and excitement would not be denied. Captain Sellers, attended by his faithful housekeeper, slept that night at No. 5, and awoke next morning to find his prognostications as to his condition fully confirmed.
"I'm aching all over," he said to Mrs. Willett. "I can't bear to be touched."
"You'll have to be moved to your own house," said Mrs. Chinnery, who had come in at Mrs. Willett's request to see what could be done. "We expect my brother home in a day or two."
"Let him come," said the captain, feebly. "I sha'n't bite him."
"But you're in his bed," said Mrs. Chinnery.
"In his bed," screamed Mrs. Chinnery.
"I sha'n't bite him," repeated the captain.
"But he can't sleep with you," said Mrs. Chinnery, red with loud speaking.
"I don't want him to," said Captain Sellers. "I've got nothing against him, and, in a general way of speaking, I'm not what could be called a particular man—but I draw the line."
Mrs. Chinnery went downstairs hastily and held a council of war with Mrs. Willett and Martha. It was decided to wait for the doctor, but the latter, when he came, could give no assistance.
"He's very sore and stiff," he said, thoughtfully, "but it's nothing serious. It's more vanity than anything else; he likes being made a fuss of and being a centre of attraction. He's as tough as leather, and the most difficult old man I have ever encountered."
"Is he quite right in his head?" demanded Mrs. Chinnery, hotly.
The doctor pondered. "He's a little bit childish, but his head will give more trouble to other people than to himself," he said at last. "Be as patient with him as you can, and if you can once persuade him to get up, perhaps he will consent to be moved."
Mrs. Chinnery, despite a naturally hot temper, did her best, but in vain. Mrs. Willett was promptly denounced as a "murderess," and the captain, holding forth to one or two callers, was moved almost to tears as he reflected upon the ingratitude and hardness of woman. An account of the accident in the Salthaven Gazette, which described him as "lying at death's door," was not without its effect in confining him to Mr. Truefitt's bed.
The latter gentleman and his wife, in blissful ignorance of the accident, returned home on the following evening. Mrs. Willett and Mrs. Chinnery, apprised by letter, were both there to receive them, and the former, after keeping up appearances in a stately fashion for a few minutes, was finally persuaded to relent and forgive them both. After which, Mrs. Truefitt was about to proceed upstairs to take off her things, when she was stopped by Mrs. Chinnery.
"There—there is somebody in your room," said the latter.
"In my room?" said Mrs. Truefitt, in a startled voice.
"We couldn't write to you," said Mrs. Willett, with a little shade of reproach in her voice, "because you didn't give us your address. Captain Sellers had an accident and is in your bed."
"Who?" said the astounded Mr. Truefitt. "What!"
Mrs. Willett, helped by Mrs. Chinnery, explained the affair to him; Mr. Truefitt, with the exception of a few startled ejaculations, listened in sombre silence.
"Well, we must use the next room for to-night," he said at last, "and I'll have him out first thing in the morning."
"His housekeeper sleeps there," said Mrs. Willett, shaking her head.
"And a niece of hers, who helps her with him, in the little room," added Mrs. Chinnery.
Mr. Truefitt got up and walked about the room. Broken remarks about "a nice home-coming" and "galvanized mummies" escaped him at intervals. Mrs. Willett endured it for ten minutes, and then, suddenly remembering what was due to a mother-in-law, made a successful intervention. In a somewhat subdued mood they sat down to supper.
The Truefitts slept at Mrs. Willett's that night, but Mr. Truefitt was back first thing next morning to take possession of his own house. He found Captain Sellers, propped up with pillows, eating his breakfast, and more than dubious as to any prospects of an early removal.
"Better wait a week or two and see how I go on," he said, slowly. "I sha'n't give any trouble."
"But you are giving trouble," shouted the fuming Mr. Truefitt. "You're an absolute nuisance. If it hadn't been for your officiousness it wouldn't have happened."
The captain put his plate aside and drew himself up in the bed.
"Get out of my room," he said, in a high, thin voice.
"You get out of my bed," shouted the incensed Mr. Truefitt. "I'll give you ten minutes to dress yourself and get out of my house. If you're not out by then, I'll carry you out."
He waited downstairs for a quarter of an hour, and then, going to the bed-room again, discovered that the door was locked. Through the keyhole the housekeeper informed him that it was the captain's orders, and begged him to go away as the latter was now having his "morning's nap."
Captain Sellers left with flags flying and drums beating three days later. To friends and neighbours generally he confided the interesting fact that his departure was hastened by a nightly recurring dream of being bitten by sharks.