Young Seton greeted Merefleet with less cordiality than he had displayed on the previous evening. There was a suggestion of caution in his manner that created a somewhat unfavourable impression in Merefleet’s mind.
Already he was beginning to wonder how these two came to be thus isolated in the forgotten little town of Old Silverstrand. It was not a natural state of affairs. Neither the girl with her marvellous beauty, nor the man with his peculiar concentration of purpose, was a fitting figure for such a background. They were out of place—most noticeably so.
Merefleet was the very last man to make observations of such a description. But this was a matter so obvious and so undeniably strange that it forced itself upon him half against his will. He became strongly aware that Seton did not desire his presence in the boat with him and his cousin. He did not fathom the objection. But its existence was not to be ignored. And Merefleet wondered a little, as he cast about in his mind for a suitable excuse wherewith to decline the girl’s invitation.
“It’s very good of you to ask me to accompany you, Miss Ward,” he said presently. “But I know that Quiller the younger is under the impression that I have engaged him to row me out of the harbour and bring me back again. And I don’t see very well how I can cancel the engagement.”
Miss Ward nudged her cousin at this speech.
“Oh, if he isn’t just quaint!” she said. “Look here, Bert! You’re running this show. Tell Mr. Merefleet it’s all fixed up, and if he won’t come along with us he won’t go at all, as we’ve got Quiller’s boat!”
Seton glanced up, slightly frowning.
“My dear Mab,” he said, “allow Mr. Merefleet to please himself! The fact that you are willing to put your life in my hands day after day is no guarantee of my skill as a rower, remember.”
“Oh, skittles!” said Mab irrelevantly.
And Seton, meeting Merefleet’s eyes, shrugged his shoulders as if disclaiming all further responsibility.
Mab leant forward.
“You’d better come, Mr. Merefleet,” she said in a motherly tone. “It’ll be a degree more lively than mooning around by yourself.”
And Merefleet yielded, touched by something indescribable in the beautiful, glowing eyes that were lifted to his. Apparently she wanted him to go, and it seemed to him too small a thing to refuse. Perhaps, also, he consulted his own inclination.
Seton dropped his distant manner after a time. Nevertheless the impression of being under the young man’s close observation lingered with Merefleet, and Mab herself seemed to feel a strain. She grew almost silent till lunch was over, and then, recovering, she entered into a sprightly conversation with Merefleet.
They went down to the shore shortly after, and embarked in Quiller’s boat. Mab sat in the stern under a scarlet sunshade and talked gaily to her two companions. She was greatly amused when Merefleet insisted upon doing his share of the work.