laid a childish hand on his arm. "Oh, you poor old Bear!" she said,
dropping her voice a little. "I'm real sorry for you!"
And then she turned swiftly and was gone from his side like a flash of
It was some time later that Merefleet entered the smoking-room to satisfy
a certain curiosity which had taken possession of him. He looked round
the room as he sat down, and almost at once his attention lighted upon a
broad-shouldered man of about thirty with a plain, square-jawed face of
great determination, who sat, puffing at a short pipe, by the open
Merefleet silently observed this man for some time, till, his scrutiny
making itself felt, the object of it wheeled abruptly in his chair and
Merefleet leant forward. It was so little his custom to open conversation
with a stranger that his manner was abrupt and somewhat forced on this
"I believe I ought to know you," he said. "But I can't recall your name."
The reply was delivered in a manner as curt as his own. "My name is
Seton," said the stranger. "As you have only met me once before, you
probably won't recall it now."
Merefleet nodded comprehension. He loved the straight, quiet speech of
Englishmen. There was no flurry or palaver about this specimen. He spoke
as a man quite sure of himself and wholly independent of his fellow men.
"Ah, I remember you now," Merefleet said. "You came as Ralph Warrender's
guest to a club dinner in New York. Am I right?"
"Perfectly," said Seton. "You were the guest of the evening. You made a
good speech, I remember. You were looking horribly ill. I suppose that is
how I came to notice you particularly."
"I was ill," said Merefleet, "or I should have been out of New York
before that dinner came off. I always detested the place. And Warrender
would have done far better in my place."
"I am not an admirer of Warrender," said Seton bluntly.
Merefleet made no comment. He was never very free in the statement of his
"The railway accident in which his wife was killed took place immediately
after that dinner, I believe?" he observed presently. "I remember hearing
of it when I was recovering."
"It was a shocking thing - that accident," said Seton thoughtfully. "It's
odd that Americans always manage to do that sort of thing on such a
"They do everything on a gigantic scale," said Merefleet. "What became of
Warrender afterwards? It was an awful business for him."
"I don't know anything about him," Seton answered, with a brevity that
seemed to betray lack of interest. "He was no friend of mine, though I
chanced to be his guest on that occasion. I was distantly connected with
his wife, and I inherited some of her money at her death. She was a rich
woman, as you probably know."
"So I heard. But I have never found New York gossip particularly
Seton leant his elbow on the window-sill and gazed meditatively into the
night. "If it comes to that," he said slowly, "no gossip is exactly
edifying. And to be the victim of it is to be in the most undesirable
position under the sun."
It struck Merefleet that he uttered the words with some force, almost
with the deliberate intention of conveying a warning; and, being the
last man in the world to attempt to fathom the wholly irrelevant affairs
of his neighbour, he dropped into silence and began to smoke.
Seton sat motionless for some time. The murmur of a conversation that was
being sleepily sustained by two men in the room behind them created no
disturbing influence. Presently Seton spoke casually, but with that in
his tone which made Merefleet vaguely conscious of an element of
"You didn't expect to see me just now, did you?" he asked.
"No," said Merefleet. "I should have taken the trouble to call your name
to mind before I spoke if I had."
Seton nodded. "I saw you at _table d'hôte_" he remarked. "I was with my
cousin at the other end of the room. You were gone when we got up."
"Your cousin?" said Merefleet deliberately. "Is that the American lady
who is staying here?"
"Yes. Miss Ward. She is from New York, too. You may have seen her there."
"No," said Merefleet. "I know very little of New York society, or any
society for the matter of that."
Seton turned and looked at him with a smile. "Odd," he said. "For there
can be scarcely a man, woman, or child, here or in America, who does not
know you by name."
"Not so bad as that, I hope," said Merefleet. And Seton laughed.
"You have the reputation for shunning celebrity," he remarked.
"So I understand," said Merefleet. "I hope the reputation will be my
Young Seton became genial from that point onward. Without being
communicative, he managed to convey the impression that he was quite
prepared to be friendly. And for some reason unexplained Merefleet was
pleased. He went to bed that night with somewhat revised ideas on the
subject of society in general and the society of American girls in
"Is this the gentleman as was to come and see me? Come in, sir. Come in!
My old eyes ain't so sharp as they used to be, but I can see a many
And old Quiller, the fisherman, removed his sou'wester from his snowy
head and peered at the visitor from under his hand.
"You don't know me, eh, Quiller?" Merefleet said.
He was surprised to hear a high voice from the interior of the cottage
break in on the old man's hesitating reply.
"He's a sort of walking monkey-puzzle, I guess," said the voice, and a
roguish laugh followed the words.
Merefleet looked over old Quiller's shoulder into the little kitchen. She
was standing by the table with her sleeves up to her elbows, making some
invalid dish. A shaft of sunlight slanting through the tiny window fell
full upon her as she stood. It made him think of the searchlight glory of
the previous night. She shone like a princess in her lowly surroundings.
She nodded to him gaily as she met his eyes.
"Come right in!" she said hospitably. "And I shall tell Grandpa Quiller
who you are."
"Aye, but I know," broke in the old man eagerly. "Master Bernard, ain't
it? That's right, sonny. That's right. Yes, come in! There! I never
thought to see you again. That I never did. This here's little missie
what comes regular to see my daughter-in-law as has been laid by this
week or more. I calls her our good angel," he ended tenderly. "She's been
the Lord's own blessing to us ever since she come."
Merefleet, thus invited, entered and sat down on a wooden chair by
the table. Old Quiller turned in also and fussed about him with the
solicitude that comes with age.
"No," he said meditatively, "I never thought to see you again, Master
Bernard. Why, it's twenty year come Michaelmas since you said 'Good-bye.'
And little miss was with you. Ah, dear! It do make me think of them days
to see you in the old place again. I always said as I'd never see the
match of little miss but this young lady, sir - she's just such another,
Merefleet, with his eyes on the busy white hands at the table, smiled at
The American girl glanced at him and laughed more softly than usual.
"Isn't he fine?" she said. "I just love that old man."
Somehow that peculiar voice of hers did not jar upon him quite so
painfully as he sat and watched her at her dexterous work. There was
something about her employment that revealed to him a side of her that
her frivolous manner would never have led him to suspect. While he talked
to the old fisherman, more than half his attention was centred on her
beautiful, innocent face.
"My!" she suddenly exclaimed, turning upon him with a dazzling smile. "I
reckon you'll almost be equal to beating up an egg yourself if you watch
"Perhaps," said Merefleet.
She laughed gaily. "Are you coming along with Bert and me this afternoon
in Quiller's boat?" she inquired.
"I believed I have engaged Quiller to come and do the hard work for me,"
"You!" She was bending over the fire, stirring the beaten egg into a
saucepan. "Oh, you lazy old Bear!" she said reprovingly. "What good will
that do you?"
"I don't know that I want anything to do me good," Merefleet returned.
He had become almost genial under these unusual circumstances. It was
certainly no easy matter to keep this exceedingly sociable young lady at
He was watching the warm colour rising in her face as she stooped over
the fire. He had never imagined that the art of cookery could be
conducted with so much of grace and charm. Her odd, high voice instantly
broke in on this reflection.
"I'm going to see Mrs. Quiller and the baby now," she said, with her
sprightly little nod. "So long, Big Bear!"
The little kitchen suddenly looked dull and empty. The sun had gone in.
Old Quiller was sucking tobacco ruminatively, his fit of loquacity over.
Merefleet rose. "Well, I am glad to have seen you, Quiller," he said,
patting the old man's shoulder with a kindly hand. "I must come in again.
You and I are old friends, you know, and old comrades, too. Good-bye!"
Quiller looked at him rather vacantly. The fire of life was sinking low
in his veins. He had grown sluggish with the years, and the spark of
understanding was seldom bright.
"Aye, but she's a bonny lass, Master Bernard," he said with slow
appreciation. "A bonny lass she be. You ain't thinking of getting settled
now? I'm thinking she'd keep your home tidy and bright."
"Good-bye!" said Merefleet with steady persistence.
"Aye, she would," said the old man, shifting the tobacco in his cheek.
"She's been a rare comfort to me and mine. She'd be a blessing to your
home, Master Bernard. Take an old chap's word for it, an old chap as
knows what's what. That young lady'll be the joy of some man's heart some
day. You've got your chance, Master Bernard. You be that man!"
"Say, Bert! We can take Big Bear along in our boat. Isn't that so?"
Merefleet looked up from his paper as he heard the words. They were
seated at the next table at lunch, his American friend and her
excessively English cousin. Merefleet noticed that she was dressed for
boating. She wore a costume of white linen, and a Panama hat was crammed
jauntily on the soft, dark hair. She was anything but dignified. Yet
there was something splendid in the very recklessness of her beauty. She
was a queen who did not need to assert her rights. There were other women
present, and Merefleet was not even conscious of the fact.
"Who?" asked Seton, in response to her careless inquiry.
She nodded in Merefleet's direction and caught his eye as she did so.
"He's the cutest man in U.S.," she said, staring him straight in the face
without sign of recognition. "But he's real lazy. He saw me making
custard at Grandpa Quiller's this morning, and he wasn't even smart
enough to lift the saucepan off the fire. I thought he might have had
spunk enough for that, anyway."
Twenty-four hours earlier Merefleet would have deliberately hunched his
shoulders, turned his back, and read his paper. But his education was in
sure hands. He had made rapid progress since the day before.
He leant a little towards his critic and said gravely:
"Pray accept my apologies for the omission! To tell you the truth, I was
not watching the progress of the cookery."
The girl nodded as if appeased.
"You can come and sit at this table," she said, indicating a chair
opposite to her. "I guess you know my cousin Bert Seton."
"What makes you guess that?" Merefleet inquired, changing his seat as
She looked at him with a little smile of superior knowledge. "I guess
lots," she said, but proffered no explanation of her shrewd conclusion.
Young Seton greeted Merefleet with less cordiality than he had displayed
on the previous evening. There was a suggestion of caution in his manner
that created a somewhat unfavourable impression in Merefleet's mind.
Already he was beginning to wonder how these two came to be thus isolated
in the forgotten little town of Old Silverstrand. It was not a natural
state of affairs. Neither the girl with her marvellous beauty, nor the
man with his peculiar concentration of purpose, was a fitting figure for
such a background. They were out of place - most noticeably so.
Merefleet was the very last man to make observations of such a
description. But this was a matter so obvious and so undeniably strange
that it forced itself upon him half against his will. He became strongly
aware that Seton did not desire his presence in the boat with him and his
cousin. He did not fathom the objection. But its existence was not to be
ignored. And Merefleet wondered a little, as he cast about in his mind
for a suitable excuse wherewith to decline the girl's invitation.
"It's very good of you to ask me to accompany you, Miss Ward," he said
presently. "But I know that Quiller the younger is under the impression
that I have engaged him to row me out of the harbour and bring me back
again. And I don't see very well how I can cancel the engagement."
Miss Ward nudged her cousin at this speech.
"Oh, if he isn't just quaint!" she said. "Look here, Bert! You're running
this show. Tell Mr. Merefleet it's all fixed up, and if he won't come
along with us he won't go at all, as we've got Quiller's boat!"
Seton glanced up, slightly frowning.
"My dear Mab," he said, "allow Mr. Merefleet to please himself! The fact
that you are willing to put your life in my hands day after day is no
guarantee of my skill as a rower, remember."
"Oh, skittles!" said Mab irrelevantly.
And Seton, meeting Merefleet's eyes, shrugged his shoulders as if
disclaiming all further responsibility.
Mab leant forward.
"You'd better come, Mr. Merefleet," she said in a motherly tone. "It'll
be a degree more lively than mooning around by yourself."
And Merefleet yielded, touched by something indescribable in the
beautiful, glowing eyes that were lifted to his. Apparently she wanted
him to go, and it seemed to him too small a thing to refuse. Perhaps,
also, he consulted his own inclination.
Seton dropped his distant manner after a time. Nevertheless the
impression of being under the young man's close observation lingered with
Merefleet, and Mab herself seemed to feel a strain. She grew almost
silent till lunch was over, and then, recovering, she entered into a
sprightly conversation with Merefleet.
They went down to the shore shortly after, and embarked in Quiller's
boat. Mab sat in the stern under a scarlet sunshade and talked gaily to
her two companions. She was greatly amused when Merefleet insisted upon
doing his share of the work.
"I love to see you doing the galley-slave," she said. "I know you hate
it, you poor old Bear."
But Merefleet did not hate his work. He sat facing her throughout the
afternoon, gazing to his heart's content on the perfect picture before
him. He wore his hands to blisters, and the sun beat mercilessly down
upon him. But he felt neither weariness nor impatience, neither regret
A magic touch had started the life in his veins; the revelation of a
wandering searchlight had transformed his sordid world into a palace of
delight. He accepted the fact without question. He had no wish to go
either forward or backward.
The blue sea and the blue sky, and the distant, shining shore. These were
what he had often longed for in the rush and tumult of a great, unresting
city. But in the foreground of his picture, beyond desire and more
marvellous than imagination, was the face of the loveliest woman he had
There was no wandering alone on the quay for Merefleet that night. It was
very warm and he sat on the terrace with his American friend. Far away
over at New Silverstrand, a band was playing, and the music came floating
across the harbour with the silvery sweetness which water imparts. The
lights of the new town were very bright. It looked like a dream-city seen
"I guess we are just a couple of Peris shut outside," said Mab in her
brisk, unsentimental voice. "I like it best outside, don't you, Big
"Yes," said Merefleet, with a simplicity that provoked her mirth.
"Oh, aren't you just perfect!" she said. "You've done me no end of good.
I'd pay you back if I could."
Merefleet was silent. He could not see her beautiful face, but her words
touched him inexplicably.
There was a long pause. Then, to his great surprise, a warm little hand
slipped on to his knee in the darkness and a voice, so small that he
hardly recognised it, said humbly:
"Mr. Merefleet, I'm real sorry."
Merefleet started a little.
"Good heavens! Why?" he said.
"Sorry you disapprove of me," she said, with a little break in her voice.
"Bert used to be the same. But he's different now. He knows I wasn't made
prim and proper."
She paused. Merefleet's hand was on her own. He sat in silence, but
somehow his silence was kind.
She went on. "I wasn't going to speak last night. Only you looked so
melancholy at dinner. And then I thought p'r'aps you were lonely, like
I am. I didn't find out till afterwards that you didn't like the way I
"Do you know you make me feel a most objectionable cad?" said Merefleet.
"Oh, no, you aren't that," she hastened to assure him. "I'm positive you
aren't that. It was my fault. I spoke first. I thought you looked real
sad. And I always want to hearten up sad folks. You see I've been there,
and I know what it is."
"You!" said Merefleet.
Did he hear a sob in the darkness beside him? He fancied so. The hand
that lay beneath his own twitched as if agitated.
"What do you know about trouble?" said Merefleet.
She did not answer him. Only he heard a long, hard sigh. Then she laughed
"Well," she said, "there aren't many things in this world worth crying
for. You've had enough of me, I guess. It's time I shunted."
She tried to withdraw her hand, but Merefleet's hold tightened.
"No, no. Not yet," he said, almost as if he were pleading with her. "I've
behaved abominably. But don't punish me like this!"
She laughed again and yielded.
"You ought to know your own mind by now," she said, with something of her
former briskness. "It's a rum world, Mr. Merefleet."
"It isn't the world," said Merefleet. "It's the people in it. Now, Miss
Ward, I have a favour to ask. Promise me that you will never again
imagine for a moment that I am not pleased - more, honoured - when you are
good enough to stop by the way and speak to me. Of your charity you have
stooped to pity my loneliness. And, believe me, I do most sincerely
"My!" she said. "That's the nicest thing you've said yet. Yes, I promise
that. You're real kind, do you know? You make me feel miles better."
She drew her hand gently away. Merefleet was trying to discern her
features in the darkness.
"Are you really lonely, I wonder?" he said. "Or is that a figure of
"It's solid fact," she said. "But, never mind me! Let's talk of something
"No, thanks!" Merefleet could be obstinate when he liked. "Unless you
object, I prefer to talk about you."
She laughed a little, but said nothing.
"I want to know what makes you lonely," he said. "Don't tell me, of
course, if there is any difficulty about it!"
"No," she responded coolly. "I won't. But I guess I'm lonely for much the
same reason that you are."
"I have never been anything else since I became a man," said Merefleet.
"Ah!" she said. "I might say the same. Fact is" - she spoke with sudden
startling emphasis - "I ought to be dead. And I'm not. That's my trouble
in a nutshell."
"Great heavens, child!" Merefleet exclaimed, with an involuntary start.
"Don't talk like that!"
"Why not?" she asked innocently. "Is it wrong?"
"It isn't literal truth, you know," he answered gravely. "You will not
persuade me that it is."
"I'm no judge then," she said, with a note of recklessness in her voice.
"You have your cousin," Merefleet pointed out, feeling that he was on
uncertain ground, yet unaccountably anxious to prove it. "You are not
utterly alone while he is with you."
She uttered a shrill little laugh. "Why," she said, "I believe you think
I'm in love with Bert."
Merefleet was silent.
"I'm not, you know," she said, after a momentary pause. "I'm years older
than Bert, anyhow."
"Oh, come!" said Merefleet.
"Figuratively, of course," she explained.
"I understand," said Merefleet. And there was a silence.
Suddenly she laughed again merrily.
"May I share the joke?" asked Merefleet.
"You won't see it," she returned. "I'm laughing at you, Big Bear. You are
just too quaint for anything."
Merefleet did not see the joke, but he did not ask for an explanation.
Seton himself strolled on to the terrace and joined them directly after;
and Mab began to shiver and went indoors.
The two men sat together for some time, talking little. Seton seemed
preoccupied and Merefleet became sleepy. It was he who at length proposed
Seton rose instantly. "Mr. Merefleet," he said rather awkwardly, "I want
to say a word to you."
Merefleet waited in silence.
"Concerning my cousin," Seton proceeded. "You will probably misread my
motive for saying this. But nevertheless it must be said. It is not
advisable that you should become very intimate with her."
He brought out the words with a jerk. It had been a difficult thing to
say, but he was not a man to shrink from difficulties. Having said it, he
waited quietly for the result.
Merefleet paused a moment before he spoke. Seton had surprised him, but
he did not show it.
"I shall not misread your motive," he said, "as I seldom speculate on
matters that do not concern me. But allow me to say that I consider your
warning wholly uncalled for."
"Exactly," said Seton, "I expected you to say that. Well, I am sorry. It
is quite impossible for me to explain myself. I hope for your sake you
will never be placed in the position in which I am now. I assure you it
is anything but an enviable one."
His manner, blunt and direct, appealed very strongly to Merefleet. He
said nothing, however, and they went in together in unbroken silence.
Mab did not reappear that night.
A fortnight passed away and Merefleet was still at the hotel at Old
Silverstrand. Mab was there also, the idol of the fisher-folk, and an
unfailing source of interest and admiration to casual visitors at the
Merefleet, though he had become a privileged acquaintance, was still
wholly unenlightened with regard to the circumstances which had brought
her to the place under Seton's escort.
As time went on, it struck Merefleet that these two were a somewhat
incongruous couple. They dined together and they usually boated together
in the afternoon - this last item on account of Mab's passion for the sea;
but beyond this they lived considerably apart. Neither seemed to seek the
other's society, and if they met at lunch, it was never by preconceived
Merefleet saw more of Mab when she was ashore than Seton did. They would
meet on the quay, in old Quiller's cottage, or in the hotel-garden,
several times a day. Occasionally he would accompany them on the water,
but not often. He had a notion that Seton preferred his absence, and he
would not go where he felt himself to be an intruder.
Nevertheless, the primary fascination had not ceased to act upon him; the
glamour of the girl's beauty was still in his eyes something more than
earthly. And there came a time when Bernard Merefleet listened with
unconscious craving for the high, unmodulated voice, and smiled with a
tender indulgence over the curiously naïve audacity which once had made
As for Mab, she was too eagerly interested in various matters to give
more than a passing thought to the fact that the man she called Big Bear
had laid aside his surliness. If she thought about it at all, it was only
to conclude that their daily intercourse had worn away the outer crust of
She was always busy - in and out of the fishermen's cottages, where she
was welcomed as an angel - to and fro on a hundred schemes, all equally
interesting and equally absorbing. And Merefleet was called upon to
assist. She singled him out for her friendship because he was as one
apart and without interests. She drew him into her own bubbling life. She
laughed at him, consulted him, enslaved him.
All innocently she wove her spell about this man. He was lonely, she
knew; and she, in her ardent, great-souled pity for all such, was willing