“I love to see you doing the galley-slave,” she said. “I know you hate it, you poor old Bear.”
But Merefleet did not hate his work. He sat facing her throughout the afternoon, gazing to his heart’s content on the perfect picture before him. He wore his hands to blisters, and the sun beat mercilessly down upon him. But he felt neither weariness nor impatience, neither regret nor surliness.
A magic touch had started the life in his veins; the revelation of a wandering searchlight had transformed his sordid world into a palace of delight. He accepted the fact without question. He had no wish to go either forward or backward.
The blue sea and the blue sky, and the distant, shining shore. These were what he had often longed for in the rush and tumult of a great, unresting city. But in the foreground of his picture, beyond desire and more marvellous than imagination, was the face of the loveliest woman he had ever seen.
There was no wandering alone on the quay for Merefleet that night. It was very warm and he sat on the terrace with his American friend. Far away over at New Silverstrand, a band was playing, and the music came floating across the harbour with the silvery sweetness which water imparts. The lights of the new town were very bright. It looked like a dream-city seen from afar.
“I guess we are just a couple of Peris shut outside,” said Mab in her brisk, unsentimental voice. “I like it best outside, don’t you, Big Bear?”
“Yes,” said Merefleet, with a simplicity that provoked her mirth.
“Oh, aren’t you just perfect!” she said. “You’ve done me no end of good. I’d pay you back if I could.”
Merefleet was silent. He could not see her beautiful face, but her words touched him inexplicably.
There was a long pause. Then, to his great surprise, a warm little hand slipped on to his knee in the darkness and a voice, so small that he hardly recognised it, said humbly:
“Mr. Merefleet, I’m real sorry.”
Merefleet started a little.
“Good heavens! Why?” he said.
“Sorry you disapprove of me,” she said, with a little break in her voice. “Bert used to be the same. But he’s different now. He knows I wasn’t made prim and proper.”
She paused. Merefleet’s hand was on her own. He sat in silence, but somehow his silence was kind.
She went on. “I wasn’t going to speak last night. Only you looked so melancholy at dinner. And then I thought p’r’aps you were lonely, like I am. I didn’t find out till afterwards that you didn’t like the way I talked.”
“Do you know you make me feel a most objectionable cad?” said Merefleet.
“Oh, no, you aren’t that,” she hastened to assure him. “I’m positive you aren’t that. It was my fault. I spoke first. I thought you looked real sad. And I always want to hearten up sad folks. You see I’ve been there, and I know what it is.”