In all that time he had not mourned, as he mourned to-night, the loss of the twin-sister who had been as his second and better self. He had not realised till he sat alone in the place, where as a boy he had never known solitude, how utterly flat and undesirable was the future that stretched out like a trackless desert at his feet.
And in that moment he would have cast away the whole bulk of his great possessions for one precious day of youth out of the many that had fled away for ever.
A woman’s laugh, high, inconsequent, rang through the great coffee-room, and all but one looked towards the corner whence it proceeded. An American voice began at once to explain the joke with considerable volubility.
Bernard Merefleet rose from his chair with a frowning countenance and made his way down to the old stone quay below the hotel.
The air was keen and salt. He paused on the well-worn stone wall and turned his face to the spray. A hundred memories were at work in his brain, and the relief of solitude was unspeakable. It was horribly lonely, but he hugged his loneliness. That laughing voice in the hotel coffee-room had driven him forth to seek it. No mental or physical discomfort would have induced him to return.
He propped himself against a piece of stonework and gazed moodily out to sea. He did not want to leave this haven of his childhood. Yet the thought of remaining in close proximity to a party of tourists was detestable to him. Why in the world couldn’t they stop away, he wondered savagely? And then his own inconsistency occurred to him, and he smiled grimly. For the place undoubtedly had its charm.
A fisherman in a blue jersey lounged on to the quay at this point of his meditations, and, old habit asserting itself, Merefleet greeted him with a remark on the weather. The man halted in front of him in a conversational attitude. Merefleet knew the position well. It came back to him on a flood of memory. He could not believe that it was twenty years since he had talked with such an one.
“Wind in the nor’-east, sir,” said the man.
“Yes. It’s cold for the time of year,” said Merefleet.
The man assented.
“Fish plentiful?” asked Merefleet.
“Nothing to boast of,” was the guarded reply.
Merefleet had expected it. Right well he knew these fisher-folk.
“You get a few visitors now, I see,” Merefleet observed.
The fisherman nodded. “Don’t know what they come for,” he observed. “Bathing ain’t good, and them pleasure-boats—well”—he lifted his shoulders expressively—“half-a-capful of wind would upset ’em. There’s a lady staying at this here hotel—an American lady she be—what goes out every day regular, she and a young gentleman with her. They won’t have me nor yet any of my mates to go along, and yet—bless you—they could no more manage that boat if a squall was to come up nor they could fly. I told her once as it wasn’t safe. And she laughed in my face, sir. She did, really.”