She nodded to him gaily as she met his eyes.
“Come right in!” she said hospitably. “And I shall tell Grandpa Quiller who you are.”
“Aye, but I know,” broke in the old man eagerly. “Master Bernard, ain’t it? That’s right, sonny. That’s right. Yes, come in! There! I never thought to see you again. That I never did. This here’s little missie what comes regular to see my daughter-in-law as has been laid by this week or more. I calls her our good angel,” he ended tenderly. “She’s been the Lord’s own blessing to us ever since she come.”
Merefleet, thus invited, entered and sat down on a wooden chair by the table. Old Quiller turned in also and fussed about him with the solicitude that comes with age.
“No,” he said meditatively, “I never thought to see you again, Master Bernard. Why, it’s twenty year come Michaelmas since you said ‘Good-bye.’ And little miss was with you. Ah, dear! It do make me think of them days to see you in the old place again. I always said as I’d never see the match of little miss but this young lady, sir—she’s just such another, bless her.”
Merefleet, with his eyes on the busy white hands at the table, smiled at the eulogy.
The American girl glanced at him and laughed more softly than usual. “Isn’t he fine?” she said. “I just love that old man.”
Somehow that peculiar voice of hers did not jar upon him quite so painfully as he sat and watched her at her dexterous work. There was something about her employment that revealed to him a side of her that her frivolous manner would never have led him to suspect. While he talked to the old fisherman, more than half his attention was centred on her beautiful, innocent face.
“My!” she suddenly exclaimed, turning upon him with a dazzling smile. “I reckon you’ll almost be equal to beating up an egg yourself if you watch long enough.”
“Perhaps,” said Merefleet.
She laughed gaily. “Are you coming along with Bert and me this afternoon in Quiller’s boat?” she inquired.
“I believed I have engaged Quiller to come and do the hard work for me,” Merefleet said.
“You!” She was bending over the fire, stirring the beaten egg into a saucepan. “Oh, you lazy old Bear!” she said reprovingly. “What good will that do you?”
“I don’t know that I want anything to do me good,” Merefleet returned. He had become almost genial under these unusual circumstances. It was certainly no easy matter to keep this exceedingly sociable young lady at a distance.
He was watching the warm colour rising in her face as she stooped over the fire. He had never imagined that the art of cookery could be conducted with so much of grace and charm. Her odd, high voice instantly broke in on this reflection.
“I’m going to see Mrs. Quiller and the baby now,” she said, with her sprightly little nod. “So long, Big Bear!”
The little kitchen suddenly looked dull and empty. The sun had gone in. Old Quiller was sucking tobacco ruminatively, his fit of loquacity over.