“He’d be a heathen and I should have to enlighten him,” she answered sweetly.
Just then Mr. Veath entered the saloon and took a seat beside her. She looked surprised, as did Mr. Ridgeway. They looked to the far end of the table and saw that Veath’s original chair was occupied by another man.
“I traded seats with that fellow,” murmured Veath, a trifle red about the ears. Miss Vernon’s face assumed a stony expression for an instant, but the gleam of pure frankness in his eyes dispelled her momentary disapproval. “You don’t mind, do you?” he asked hastily.
“Not at all, Mr. Veath,” she said, forgetting that a moment before she had considered him presumptuous. “On the contrary, I think it is so much nicer to have you on this side of the table. We can talk without having everybody in the room hear us.”
“I have just heard that we are bound for the same destination and we can certainly speculate among ourselves as to the outcome of our individual and collective pilgrimages. We can talk about shipwrecks, pirates, simoons, cholera, sea serpents—”
“And the heathen,” said Hugh maliciously, but not looking up from his plate.
“Ahem!” coughed loyal Mr. Veath.
“Are there any heathen over there?” asked Miss Vernon very innocently but also very maliciously. She smiled at Hugh, who leaned far back in his chair and winked solemnly at the bewildered Veath. That gentleman, manlike, interpreted Hugh’s wink as the means of conveying the information that the tactful young lady asked the question merely to throw him off the scent. So he answered very politely but very carefully.
“I hear there are more missionaries than heathen.”
“Indeed? Don’t you think that the women who go out as missionaries among those vile creatures are perfect idiots, Mr. Veath?”
“Well,—ahem, ah,” stammered Veath, “I can’t say that I do. I think, if you will permit me to disagree with you, that they are the noblest women in the world.”
“Excellent sentiment, Veath,” said the merry Ridgeway, “and quite worthy of endorsement by this misguided sister of mine. She despises the heathen, you know.”
“Oh, I am sure she does not despise them,” cried Veath.
“But I do—I think they ought to be burned alive!”
A dead silence, during which the two men were unnecessarily intent upon the contents of their plates, followed this explosion. Miss Vernon demurely smiled to herself, and finally kicked Hugh’s foot. He laughed aloud suddenly and insanely and then choked. Veath grew very red in the face, perhaps through restraint. The conversation from that moment was strained until the close of the meal, and they did not meet at all during dinner.
“Perhaps we have offended him,” said Grace as they strolled along the deck that evening.
“It’s probable that he thinks we are blamed fools and does not care to waste his time on us.”