“No,” she said simply. “He’s in the Land beyond the sea, Big Bear.” And with a strange little smile into his face, she drew the shawl closer about the child in her arms and disappeared into Quiller’s cottage.
There was something in this interview that troubled Merefleet unaccountably. But when he saw her again, her mirth was brimming over, and he thought she had forgotten.
It was about a week after this conversation that Merefleet, invited by Seton, joined his two friends at table d’hote at their table. The suggestion came from Mab, he strongly suspected, for she seconded Seton’s proposal so vigorously that to decline would have been almost an impossibility.
“You look so lonely there,” she said. “It’s miles nicer over here. What’s your opinion?”
“I agree with you, of course,” said Merefleet, with a glance at Seton which discovered little.
“Isn’t he getting polite?” said the American girl approvingly. “Say, Bert! I guess you’ll have to take lessons in manners or he’ll get ahead of you.”
Seton smiled indulgently. He was this girl’s watch-dog and protector. He aspired to be no more.
“My dear girl, you will never make a social ornament of me as long as you live,” he said.
And Mab patted his arm affectionately.
“You’re nicer as you are, dear boy,” she said. “You aren’t smart, it’s true, but I give you the highest mark for real niceness.”
Seton’s eyes met Merefleet’s for a second. There was a touch of uneasiness about him, as if he feared Merefleet might misconstrue something. And Merefleet considerately struck a topic which he believed to be wholly impersonal.
“By the way,” he said, “I had an American paper sent me to-day. It may interest you to hear that Ralph Warrender has resigned his seat in Congress and married again.”
“What?” said Seton.
“My!” cried Mab, with a shrill laugh. “That is news, Mr. Merefleet!”
Merefleet glanced at her sharply, his attention arrested by something he did not understand. Seton pushed a glass of sherry towards her, but he was looking at Merefleet.
“News indeed!” he said deliberately. “Is it actually an accomplished fact?”
“According to the New York Herald,” said Merefleet.
Mab’s face was growing whiter and whiter. Seton still leant over the table, striving with all his resolution to force Merefleet’s attention away from her. But Merefleet would not allow it. He saw what Seton did not stop to see; and it was he, not Seton, who lifted her to her feet a moment later and half-led, half-carried her out of the stifling room.
With a practical commonsense eminently characteristic of him, Seton remained to pour out a glass of brandy; and thus armed he followed them into the vestibule. Mab was lying back in an arm-chair when he arrived. Her eyes were closed, and she was breathing quickly. Merefleet was propping open the door on to the terrace. The lights flickered in the draught and gave a strange look to the colourless face on the cushion. It was like a beautifully carved marble. But for Merefleet the place was deserted.