What jarred, then? Not the silent appearance of the head of a seal in that shining plain of blue and white; for the poor old fellow only regarded the boat for a second or two with his large and pathetic eyes, and then quietly disappeared. Perhaps it was this—that Miss White was leaning over the side of the boat, and admiring very much the wonderful hues of groups of sea-weed below, that were all distinctly visible in the marvellously clear water. There were beautiful green plants that spread their flat fingers over the silver-white sands; and huge rolls of purple and sombre brown; and long strings that came up to the surface—the traceries and decorations of these haunts of the mermaid.
“It is like a pantomime,” she said. “You would expect to see a burst of lime-light, and Neptune appearing with a silver trident and crown. Well, it only shows that the scene-painters are nearer nature than most people imagine. I should never have thought there was anything so beautiful in the sea.”
And then again she said, when they had rounded Ulva, and got a glimpse of the open Atlantic again,
“Where is it, Keith, you proposed to sink all the theatres in England for the benefit of the dolphins and the lobsters?”
He did not like these references to the theatre.
“It was only a piece of nonsense,” said he, abruptly.
But then she begged him so prettily to get the men to sing the boat-song, that he good-humoredly took out a sheet of paper and a pencil, and said to her,—
“If I write it down for you, I must write it as it is pronounced. For how would you know that Fhir a bhata, na horo eile is pronounced Feer a vahta na horo ailya?”
“And perhaps, then,” said she, with a charming smile, “writing it down would spoil it altogether? But you will ask them to sing it for me.”
He said a word or two in the Gaelic to Sandy, who was rowing stroke; and Sandy answered with a short, quick laugh of assent.
“I have asked them if they would drink your health,” Macleod said, “and they have not refused. It would be a great compliment to them if you would fill out the whiskey yourself; here is my flask.”
She took that formidable vessel in her small hands, and the men rested on their oars; and then the metal cup was passed along. Whether it was the dram, or whether it was the old familiar chorus they struck up—