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- The Grey Lady - 4/45 -
"Yes, if you like. But do not bring Luke to me until he is prepared to apologise for his ingratitude and rudeness."
"What a dear boy he is!" ejaculated Mrs. Ingham-Baker almost before the door was closed. "So upright and honest and straightforward."
"Yes," answered Mrs. Harrington, with a sigh of anger.
"He will be a fine man," continued Mrs. Ingham-Baker. "I shall die quite happy if my Agatha marries such a man as Henry will be."
Mrs. Harrington glanced at her voluminous friend rather critically.
"You do not look like dying yet," she said.
Mrs. Ingham-Baker put her head on one side and looked resigned.
"One never knows," she answered. "It is a great responsibility, Marian, to have a daughter."
"I should imagine, from what I have seen of Agatha, that the child is quite capable of taking care of herself."
"Yes," answered the fond mother, "she is intelligent. But a girl is so helpless in the world, and when I am gone I should feel happier if I knew that my child had a good husband, such as Fitz, to take care of her."
Neither of these ladies being of the modern school of feminine learning, the vague theology underlying this remark was allowed to pass unnoticed.
Mrs. Harrington drummed with her thin wrinkled fingers on the arm of her chair, and waited with a queer anticipatory little smile for her friend to proceed.
"But, of course," continued Mrs. Ingham-Baker, blundering into the little feminine snare, "a naval man can scarcely marry. They are always so badly off. I suppose poor Fitz will not be able to support a wife until he is quite middle-aged."
"That remains to be seen," said Mrs. Harrington, with a gleam in her hard grey eyes, and Mrs. Ingham-Baker pricked her finger.
"I am sure," said the latter lady unctuously, when she had had time to think it out, "I am sure I should be content for her to live very quietly if I only knew that she had married a good man. I always say that riches do not make happiness."
"Yes, a number of people say that," answered Mrs. Harrington, and at the same moment Fitz burst into the room.
"Aunt Marian," he cried, "he has gone!"
"Who has gone?" asked the lady of the house coldly. "Please close the door."
"Luke! He has gone! He went straight out of the house, and the butler does not know where he went to! It is all your fault, Aunt Marian; you had no right to speak to him like that! You know you hadn't. I am going to look for him."
"Now, do not get excited," said Mrs. Harrington soothingly. "Just come here and listen to me. Luke has behaved very badly. He has been idle and stubborn on board the Britannia. He has been rude and ungrateful to me."
She found she had taken the boy's hand, and she dropped it suddenly, as if ashamed of showing so much emotion.
"I am not going to have my house upset by the tantrums of a bad- tempered boy. It is nearly dinner time. Luke is sure to come back. If he is not back by the time we have finished dinner I will send one of the men out to look for him. He is probably sulking in some corner of the gardens."
Seeing that Fitz was white with anxiety, she forgot herself so much as to draw him to her again.
"Now, Fitz," she said, "you must obey me and leave me to manage Luke in my own way. I know best. Just go and dress for dinner. Luke will come back--never fear."
But Luke did not come back.
CHAPTER III. A SEA DOG.
There is one that slippeth in his speech, but not from his heart.
The glass door of the dining-room of the Hotel of the Four Nations at Barcelona was opened softly, almost nervously, by a shock-headed little man, who peered into the room.
One of the waiters stepped forward and drew out a chair.
"Thank ye--thank ye," said the new-comer, in a thick though pleasant voice.
He looked around, rather bewildered--as if he had never seen a table d'hote before. It almost appeared as if a doubt existed in his mind whether or not he was expected to go and shake hands with some one present, explaining who he was.
As, however, no one appeared to invite this confidence he took the chair offered and sat gravely down.
The waiter laid the menu at his side, and the elderly diner, whose face and person bespoke a seafaring life, gazed politely at it. He was obviously desirous of avoiding hurting the young man's feelings, but the card puzzled as much as it distressed him.
Observing with the brightest of blue eyes the manners and customs of his neighbours, the old sailor helped himself to a little wine from the decanter set in front of him, and filled up the glass with water.
The waiter drew forward a small dish of olives and another containing slices of red sausage of the thickness, consistency, and flavour of a postage stamp. The Englishman looked dubiously at these delicacies and shook his head--still obviously desirous of giving no offence. Soup was more comprehensible, and the sailor consumed his portion with a non-committing countenance. But the fish, which happened to be of a Mediterranean savour--served in little lumps--caused considerable hesitation.
"Is it slugs?" inquired the mariner guardedly--as if open to conviction--in a voice that penetrated half the length of the table.
The waiter explained in fluent Castilian the nature of the dish.
"I want to know if it's slugs," repeated the sailor, with a stout simplicity.
One or two commercial travellers, possessing a smattering of English, smiled openly, and an English gentleman seated at the side of the inquirer leant gravely towards him.
"That is a preparation of fish," he explained. "You won't find it at all bad."
"Thank you, sir," replied the old man, helping himself with an air of relief which would have been extremely comic had it been shorn of its pathos. "I am afraid," he went on confidentially, "of gettin' slugs to eat. I'm told that they eat them in these parts."
"This," replied the other, with stupendous gravity, "is not the slug season. Besides, if you did get 'em, I dare say you would be pleasantly surprised."
"Maybe, maybe! Though I don't hold by foreign ways."
Such was the beginning of a passing friendship between two men who had nothing in common except their country; for one was a peer of the realm, travelling in Spain for the transaction of his own private affairs, or possibly for the edification of his own private mind, and the other was Captain John Thomas Bontnor, late of the British mercantile service.
Being a simple-minded person, as many seamen are, Captain Bontnor sought to make himself agreeable.
"This is the first time," he said, "that I have set foot in Spain, though I've heard the language spoken, having sailed in the Spanish Main, and down to Manilla one voyage likewise. It is a strange- sounding language, I take it--a lot of jabbering and not much sense."
He spoke somewhat slowly, after the manner of one who had always had a silent tongue until grey hairs came to mellow it.
The young man, his hearer, looked slightly distressed, as if he was suppressing some emotion. He was rather a vacuous-looking young man--startlingly clean as to countenance and linen. He was shaven, and had he not been distinctly a gentleman, he might have been a groom. He apparently had a habit of thrusting forward his chin for the purpose of scratching it pensively with his forefinger. This elegant trick probably indicated bewilderment, or, at all events, a slight mystification--he had recourse to it now--on the question of the Spanish language.
"Well," he answered gravely, "if you come to analyse it, I dare say there is as much sense in it as in other languages--when you know it, you know."
"Yes," murmured the captain, with a glowing sense of satisfaction at his own conversational powers. He felt he was becoming quite a society man.
"But," pursued the hereditary legislator, "it's tricky--deuced tricky. The nastiest lot of irregular verbs I've come across yet. Still, I get along all right. Worst of it is, you know, that when I've got a sentence out all right with its verbs and things, I'm not in a fit state to catch the answer."
"Knocks you on to your beam-ends," suggested Captain Bontnor.
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