Merefleet rose. “Well, I am glad to have seen you, Quiller,” he said, patting the old man’s shoulder with a kindly hand. “I must come in again. You and I are old friends, you know, and old comrades, too. Good-bye!”
Quiller looked at him rather vacantly. The fire of life was sinking low in his veins. He had grown sluggish with the years, and the spark of understanding was seldom bright.
“Aye, but she’s a bonny lass, Master Bernard,” he said with slow appreciation. “A bonny lass she be. You ain’t thinking of getting settled now? I’m thinking she’d keep your home tidy and bright.”
“Good-bye!” said Merefleet with steady persistence.
“Aye, she would,” said the old man, shifting the tobacco in his cheek. “She’s been a rare comfort to me and mine. She’d be a blessing to your home, Master Bernard. Take an old chap’s word for it, an old chap as knows what’s what. That young lady’ll be the joy of some man’s heart some day. You’ve got your chance, Master Bernard. You be that man!”
“Say, Bert! We can take Big Bear along in our boat. Isn’t that so?”
Merefleet looked up from his paper as he heard the words. They were seated at the next table at lunch, his American friend and her excessively English cousin. Merefleet noticed that she was dressed for boating. She wore a costume of white linen, and a Panama hat was crammed jauntily on the soft, dark hair. She was anything but dignified. Yet there was something splendid in the very recklessness of her beauty. She was a queen who did not need to assert her rights. There were other women present, and Merefleet was not even conscious of the fact.
“Who?” asked Seton, in response to her careless inquiry.
She nodded in Merefleet’s direction and caught his eye as she did so.
“He’s the cutest man in U.S.,” she said, staring him straight in the face without sign of recognition. “But he’s real lazy. He saw me making custard at Grandpa Quiller’s this morning, and he wasn’t even smart enough to lift the saucepan off the fire. I thought he might have had spunk enough for that, anyway.”
Twenty-four hours earlier Merefleet would have deliberately hunched his shoulders, turned his back, and read his paper. But his education was in sure hands. He had made rapid progress since the day before.
He leant a little towards his critic and said gravely:
“Pray accept my apologies for the omission! To tell you the truth, I was not watching the progress of the cookery.”
The girl nodded as if appeased.
“You can come and sit at this table,” she said, indicating a chair opposite to her. “I guess you know my cousin Bert Seton.”
“What makes you guess that?” Merefleet inquired, changing his seat as directed.
She looked at him with a little smile of superior knowledge. “I guess lots,” she said, but proffered no explanation of her shrewd conclusion.