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- The Grey Lady - 5/45 -
Lord Seahampton settled his throat more comfortably in his spotless collar, and proceeded to help himself to a fourth mutton cutlet.
"Staying here long?" he inquired.
"No, not long," answered Captain Bontnor slowly, as if meditating; then suddenly he burst into his story. "You see, sir," he said, "I'm getting on in years, and I'm not quite the build for foreign travel. It sort of flurries me. I'm a bit past it. I'm not here for pleasure, you know."
This seemed to have the effect of sending Lord Seahampton off into a brown study--not apparently of great value so far as depth of thought was concerned. He looked as if he were wondering whether he himself was in Barcelona for pleasure or not.
"No," he murmured encouragingly,
"It is like this," pursued Captain Bontnor, confidentially. "My sister, Amelia Ann, married above her."
"Very much to her credit," said Lord Seahampton, with a stolid face and a twinkle in his eye. "And--"
"Yes," pursued the captain, "she died nineteen years ago, leaving a little girl. He's dead now--Mr. Challoner. He's my brother-in-law, but I call him Mr. Challoner, because he's above me."
"I trust he is," said Lord Seahampton, cheerfully, with a glance at the painted ceiling. "I trust he is."
The captain chuckled. "I mean in a social way," he explained. "And now he's dead, his daughter Eve is left quite alone in the world, and she telegraphed for me. She is living in the Island of Majorca."
The kindly old blue eyes flashed round on his companion's face.
"Do you know it?"
The peer thrust forward his chin and spoilt what small claims he had to good looks.
"No; I've heard of it, though. I know of a wom--a lady, who has large estates there--a Mrs. Harrington."
"The Honourable Mrs. Harrington is a sort of relation of my niece's, Miss Challoner. I call her Miss Challoner, although she is my niece, because she is above me."
His lordship glanced at the ceiling again.
"I mean she is a lady. And I'm going to Majorca to fetch her. At least, I'm trying to get there, but I cannot somehow find out about the boat. They're a bit irregular, it seems, and this stupid jabbering of theirs does flurry me so. Now, what's this? Eh? Pudding, is it? Well, it doesn't look like it. No, thank ye!"
The poor old man was soon upset by insignificant trifles, and after he had given way to a little burst of petulance like this, he had a strange, half pathetic way of staring straight in front of him for a few seconds, as if collecting himself again.
It happened that Lord Seahampton was a good-natured young man, with rather a soft heart, such as many horsey persons possess. Something in Captain Bontnor touched him; some simple British quality which he was pleased to meet with, thus, in a foreign land.
"Look here," he said, "I'll go out with you afterwards and find out all about the boat, take your ticket, and fix the whole thing up."
"I'm sure you're very kind," began the old sailor hesitatingly. He fumbled at his necktie for a moment with unsteady, weather-beaten hands. "But I shouldn't like to trespass on your time. I take it you're here for pleasure?"
Lord Seahampton smiled.
"Yes, I'm here for pleasure; that's what I'm in the world for."
Still Captain Bontnor hesitated.
"You might meet some of your friends," he began tentatively, "in the streets, you know." He paused and looked down at his own hands; he turned one palm up, showing the faint tattoo on the wrist. "I'm only a rough seafaring man," he went on. "They might think it strange--might wonder whom you had picked up."
The spotless collar seemed to be very uncomfortable.
"I've always made a practice," mumbled Lord Seahampton, rather incoherently, "of letting my friends think what they damned well please. May I ask your name?"
"Bontnor's my name. Captain Bontnor, at your service."
"My name's Seahampton."
Captain Bontnor turned and looked at him.
"Yes, I'm Lord Seahampton."
"Oh!" ejaculated Captain Bontnor, under his breath. His social facilities did not quite rise to an occasion like this.
"As soon as you've finished," went on his companion rather hurriedly, "we'll go out and look up these steamer people. Miss Challoner will be anxious for you to get there as soon as you can."
The captain laid aside his napkin and began to show signs of getting flurried again.
"Her name is Eve," he said, in the hurried way which was rather pathetic. "Now, I wonder what I should call her. Poor young thing! if she's distressed about her father's death--which is only natural, I'm sure--it would sound a bit chilly like to call her Miss Challoner. What do you think, Mr.--eh--er--Lord--sir?"
"Well, I think I should call her Eve--it's a pretty name--and take her by the hand, and--yes, I think I'd kiss her. Especially if she was a nice-looking girl," he added for his own personal edification as he preceded his companion into the hall.
He was fumbling in the tail pocket of his short tweed coat as he went. In the hall he turned.
"Got anything to smoke?" he asked, in his most abrupt manner, as if the cut of his collar did not allow of verbosity.
The old man shyly produced some cigars in a leather case, which had never been of great value, even in the far-off days of its youth.
"I hardly like to offer them to you," he said slowly. "T--they're not expensive, and I couldn't explain to the young woman what I wanted."
"Rather like the look of them," said Lord Seahampton, taking one and cutting the end off with a certain show of eagerness. This young man's reputation for personal bravery was a known quantity on the hunting-field. "Old sailors," he continued, "generally know good tobacco."
And all the while he had half-a-dozen of the best Havanas in his pocket. Some instinct, which he was much too practical to define, and possibly too stupid to detect, told him that this was one of those occasions where it is much more blessed to receive than to give.
"And so," continued Captain Bontnor, as they were walking down the shady side of that noisiest street in the world, the Rambla, "and so you would just call her Eve, if you was me?"
"Remember that she is a lady, you know. Quite a lady."
"I am remembering that," replied the peer stolidly; "that's why I am of the opinion just expressed."
Captain Bontnor gave a little sigh of relief, as if one of his many difficulties had been removed. At the same time he glanced furtively towards the inexpensive cigar, which was affording distinct if somewhat exaggerated enjoyment.
Together they walked down the broad street and turned along the quay. And here Captain Bontnor found himself talking quite easily and affably about palm-trees and tramways, and other matters of local interest, to the first peer whom he had ever seen in the flesh.
Out of sheer good nature, and with a vague question in his mind as to whether Miss Challoner knew what sort of help she had called in, Lord Seahampton obtained the necessary information--no easy matter in this country--and took the necessary ticket. Ticket and information alike were obtained from a grave gentleman who smoked a cigarette, and did the honours of his little office as if it had been a palace--showing no desire to sell the ticket, and taking payment as if he were conferring a distinct favour.
The steamer left that same afternoon, and Lord Seahampton sent his protege back rejoicing to the hotel to pack up. Then the youthful peer bestowed the remainder of the cheap cigar on an individual in reduced circumstances and lighted one of his own. He was quite unconscious of having done a good action. Such actions are supposed to bring their own reward, but experience suggests that it is best not to count upon anything of a tangible nature.
CHAPTER IV. PURGATORIO.
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