She shook her head. “Tell me what you like best in the world!” she said.
“You must know,” she insisted briskly. “Is it a woman?”
“Good heavens, no!” said Merefleet, with an emphasis not particularly flattering to the sex.
“Well, then,” she said, “p’r’aps it’s the sea?”
“You may say so for the sake of argument,” said Merefleet.
“I don’t argue,” she responded, with what he took for a touch of heat. “If people disagree with me I just shunt.”
“Excellent policy,” said Merefleet, interested in spite of himself. He fancied a faint shadow crossed her face. But she continued to speak with barely a pause. “If you like the sea you’d better join Bert and me. We go out every day. It’s real fun.”
“Exciting as well as dangerous,” suggested Merefleet.
She nodded again. It was a habit of hers when roused to eagerness. “You’ve hit it. It’s just that,” she said. “Will you come?”
Merefleet hesitated. He was still inclined to be surly. But the new influence was not so easy to resist as he had imagined. The woman before him attracted him strongly, despite the fact that he now knew her loveliness to be but mortal; despite the constant jar of her shrill voice.
“Who is Bert?” he enquired at length, reluctantly aware that in temporising he signed away his freedom of action.
“Bert’s my cousin,” she answered. “He’s English right through. You’d like Bert. He’s in the smoke-room. Bert and I are great chums.”
“Are you staying here alone together?” Merefleet enquired.
She nodded. “Bert is taking care of me,” she explained. “He’s like a son to me. I call him my English bull-dog. I just love bull-dogs, Mr. Merefleet.”
Merefleet was silent.
She stretched out her arms with a swift, unconscious movement of weariness.
“Well,” she said, “I’m real lazy to-night, and that’s fact. I guess you want to smoke, so I’ll go and leave you in peace.”
She rose and stood for a few moments in the doorway, looking out into the pulsing darkness beyond. Merefleet watched her, fascinated. And as he watched, a deep shadow rose and lingered on the beautiful face. Moved by an instinct he did not stop to question, he rose abruptly and stood beside her. There was a pause. Then suddenly she looked up at him and the shadow was gone.
“Isn’t he cross?” she said.
“Who?” asked Merefleet.
“Why, that funny old sea,” she laughed. “He’s just wild to dash over and swamp us all. Supposing he did, should you care any?”
“I don’t know,” said Merefleet.
Her eyes were full of a soft laughter as she looked at him. Suddenly she 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 sunlight.