“So you may,” said Merefleet quietly. “But I do not see that that involves my departure.”
Seton struck the balustrade of the terrace with an impatient hand. “Can’t you understand?” he said rather thickly. “How else can I put it?”
“I have no desire to pry into your affairs, Heaven knows,” Merefleet said, “but this I will say. If I can be of use to either of you in helping to dispose of what appears to be a somewhat awkward predicament you may rely upon me with absolute safety.”
“Thanks!” Seton turned slowly and held out his hand. “There is only one thing you can do,” he said, with an awkward laugh. “And that is precisely what you are not prepared to do. All right. I suppose it’s human nature. I am obliged to you all the same. Good-night!”
“Say, Big Bear! Will you take me on the water?”
Merefleet, lounging on the shingle with a pipe and newspaper, looked up with a start and hastened to knock out the half-burnt tobacco on the heel of his boot.
His American friend stood above him, clad in the white linen costume she always wore for boating. She looked very enchanting and very childlike. Merefleet who had seen her last sobbing bitterly in her cousin’s arms, stared up at her with wonder and relief on his face.
She nodded to him. Her eyes were marvellously bright, but he did not ascribe their brilliance to recent tears.
“You don’t look exactly smart,” she said critically. “Hope I don’t intrude?”
“Not a bit.” Merefleet stumbled to his feet and raised his hat. “Pardon my sluggishness! How are you this morning?”
“Fresh as paint,” she returned. “But I’m just dying to get on the water. And Bert has gone off somewhere by himself. I guess you’ll help me, Big Bear. Won’t you?”
Merefleet glanced from the sea to the sun.
“There’s a change coming,” he said. “I will go with you with pleasure. But I think it would be advisable to wait till the afternoon as usual. We shall probably know by then what sort of weather to expect.”
Mab pouted a little.
“We shan’t go at all if we wait,” she declared. “Why can’t we go while the fine weather lasts? I believe you want to back out of it. It’s real lazy of you, Big Bear. You shan’t read, anyhow.”
She took his paper from his unresisting hands, dug a hole in the shingle with vicious energy, and covered it over.
“Now what?” she said, looking up at him with an impudent smile.
“Now,” said Merefleet gravely, “I will take you for a row.”
“Will you? Big Bear, you’re a brick. I’ll put you into my will. No, I won’t, because I haven’t got anything to leave. And you wouldn’t want it if I had. Say, Big Bear! Haven’t you got any friends?”
Merefleet looked surprised at the abrupt question.
“I have one friend in England besides yourself, Miss Ward,” he replied. “His name is Clinton. But he is married and done for.”