It struck Merefleet that he uttered the words with some force, almost with the deliberate intention of conveying a warning; and, being the last man in the world to attempt to fathom the wholly irrelevant affairs of his neighbour, he dropped into silence and began to smoke.
Seton sat motionless for some time. The murmur of a conversation that was being sleepily sustained by two men in the room behind them created no disturbing influence. Presently Seton spoke casually, but with that in his tone which made Merefleet vaguely conscious of an element of suspicion.
“You didn’t expect to see me just now, did you?” he asked.
“No,” said Merefleet. “I should have taken the trouble to call your name to mind before I spoke if I had.”
Seton nodded. “I saw you at table d’hote” he remarked. “I was with my cousin at the other end of the room. You were gone when we got up.”
“Your cousin?” said Merefleet deliberately. “Is that the American lady who is staying here?”
“Yes. Miss Ward. She is from New York, too. You may have seen her there.”
“No,” said Merefleet. “I know very little of New York society, or any society for the matter of that.”
Seton turned and looked at him with a smile. “Odd,” he said. “For there can be scarcely a man, woman, or child, here or in America, who does not know you by name.”
“Not so bad as that, I hope,” said Merefleet. And Seton laughed.
“You have the reputation for shunning celebrity,” he remarked.
“So I understand,” said Merefleet. “I hope the reputation will be my protection.”
Young Seton became genial from that point onward. Without being communicative, he managed to convey the impression that he was quite prepared to be friendly. And for some reason unexplained Merefleet was pleased. He went to bed that night with somewhat revised ideas on the subject of society in general and the society of American girls in particular.
“Is this the gentleman as was to come and see me? Come in, sir. Come in! My old eyes ain’t so sharp as they used to be, but I can see a many things yet.”
And old Quiller, the fisherman, removed his sou’wester from his snowy head and peered at the visitor from under his hand.
“You don’t know me, eh, Quiller?” Merefleet said.
He was surprised to hear a high voice from the interior of the cottage break in on the old man’s hesitating reply.
“He’s a sort of walking monkey-puzzle, I guess,” said the voice, and a roguish laugh followed the words.
Merefleet looked over old Quiller’s shoulder into the little kitchen. She was standing by the table with her sleeves up to her elbows, making some invalid dish. A shaft of sunlight slanting through the tiny window fell full upon her as she stood. It made him think of the searchlight glory of the previous night. She shone like a princess in her lowly surroundings.