Suddenly, Hugh pressed Veath’s arm a little closer.
“Look over there near the rail. There’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen!”
“Can’t point, because she’s looking this way. Girl with a dark green coat, leaning on an old gentleman’s arm—”
“I see,” interrupted Veath. “By George! she’s pretty!”
“No name for it! Have you in your life ever seen anything so beautiful?” cried Ridgeway. He stared at her so intently that she averted her face. “Wonder who she can be? The old man must be her father. Strange we haven’t seen them before. I’m sure that she hasn’t been on deck.”
“You seem interested—do you want a flirtation?”
“Oh, Grace wouldn’t stand for that—not for a minute.”
“I don’t believe she would object if you carried it on skilfully,” smiled the other.
“It wouldn’t be right, no matter how harmless. I couldn’t think of being so confoundedly brutal.”
“Sisters don’t usually take such things to heart.”
Hugh came to himself with a start and for a moment or two could find no word of response, so deeply engrossed was he in the effort to remember whether he had said anything that might have betrayed his secret.
“Oh,” he laughed awkwardly, “you don’t understand me. Grace is so—well, so—conscientious, that if she thought I was—er—trifling, you know, with a girl, she’d—she’d have a fit. Funniest girl you ever saw about those things—perfect paragon.”
“Is it possible? Are you not a little strong on that point, old man? I’m afraid you don’t know your sister any better than other men know theirs.”
“What’s that?” demanded Hugh, suddenly alert and forgetful of the stranger.
“The last person on earth that a man gets acquainted with, I’ve heard, is his sister,” said Veath calmly. “Go ahead and have a good time, old fellow; your sister isn’t so exacting as you think—take my word for it.”
It was fully five minutes before Hugh could extract himself from the slough of speculation into which those thoughtless words had driven him. What did Veath know about her ideas on such matters? Where did he learn so much? The other spoke to him twice and received no answer. Finally he shook his arm and said:
“Must be love at first sight, Ridge. Are you spellbound?” Hugh merely glared at him and he continued imperturbably: “She’s pretty beyond a doubt. I’ll have to find out who she is.”
“That’s right, Veath; find out,” cried Hugh, bright in an instant. “Make her have a good time. Poor thing, she’ll find it pretty dull if she hangs to her father all the time.”
“He isn’t a very amusing-looking old chap, is he? If that man hasn’t the gout and half a dozen other troubles I’ll jump overboard.”