Merefleet saw more of Mab when she was ashore than Seton did. They would meet on the quay, in old Quiller’s cottage, or in the hotel-garden, several times a day. Occasionally he would accompany them on the water, but not often. He had a notion that Seton preferred his absence, and he would not go where he felt himself to be an intruder.
Nevertheless, the primary fascination had not ceased to act upon him; the glamour of the girl’s beauty was still in his eyes something more than earthly. And there came a time when Bernard Merefleet listened with unconscious craving for the high, unmodulated voice, and smiled with a tender indulgence over the curiously naive audacity which once had made him shrink.
As for Mab, she was too eagerly interested in various matters to give more than a passing thought to the fact that the man she called Big Bear had laid aside his surliness. If she thought about it at all, it was only to conclude that their daily intercourse had worn away the outer crust of his shyness.
She was always busy—in and out of the fishermen’s cottages, where she was welcomed as an angel—to and fro on a hundred schemes, all equally interesting and equally absorbing. And Merefleet was called upon to assist. She singled him out for her friendship because he was as one apart and without interests. She drew him into her own bubbling life. She laughed at him, consulted him, enslaved him.
All innocently she wove her spell about this man. He was lonely, she knew; and she, in her ardent, great-souled pity for all such, was willing to make cheerful sacrifice of her own time and strength if thus she might ease but a little the burden that galled a fellow-traveller’s shoulders.
Merefleet came upon her once standing in the sunshine with Mrs. Quiller’s baby in her arms. She beckoned him to speak to her. “Come here if you aren’t afraid of babies!” she said, displaying her charge. “Look at him, Big Bear! He’s three weeks old to-day. Isn’t he fine?”
“What do you know about babies?” said Merefleet, with his eyes on her lovely flushed face.
She nodded in her sprightly fashion, but her eyes were far away on the distant horizon, and her soul with them. “I know a lot, Big Bear,” she said.
Merefleet watched her, well pleased with the sight. She stood rocking to and fro. Her gaze was fixed and tender.
“I wonder what you see,” Merefleet said, after a pause.
Her eyes came back at once to her immediate surroundings.
“Shall I tell you, Big Bear?” she said.
“Yes,” said Merefleet, marvelling at the radiance of her face.
And, her voice hushed to a whisper, she moved a pace nearer to him and told him.
“Just a little baby friend of mine who lives over there,” she said. “I’m going to see him some day. I guess he’ll be glad, don’t you?”
“Who wouldn’t?” said Merefleet. “But that’s not the West, you know.”