He did not know if she had overheard him, and he did not at the moment care. He met her glance with one as impersonal as her own.
“I’m afraid I must apologize for my father,” she said simply. “I hope you aren’t offended. It was awfully good of you to bring us ashore.”
“That’s quite all right,” he answered casually. “Why should I be offended? When a roughneck does something for you, it’s proper to hand him some of your loose change. Perfectly natural.”
“But you aren’t anything of the sort,” she said frankly. “I feel sure you resent being tipped for an act of courtesy. It was very thoughtless of papa.”
“Some people are so used to greasing their way with money that they’ll hand St. Peter a ten-dollar bill when they pass the heavenly gates,” he observed. “But it really doesn’t matter. Tell me something. Whose house is that, and how long has it been there?”
“Ours,” she answered. “Two years. We stay here a good deal in the summer.”
“Ours, I daresay, means Horace A. Gower,” he remarked. “Pardon my curiosity, but you see I used to know this place rather well. I’ve been away for some time. Things seem to have changed a bit.”
“You’re just back from overseas?” she asked quickly.
He nodded. She looked at him with livelier interest.
“I’m no wounded hero,” he forestalled the inevitable question. “I merely happened to get a splinter of wood in one eye, so I have leave until it gets well.”
“If you are merely on leave, why are you not in uniform?” she asked quickly, in a puzzled tone.
“I am,” he replied shortly. “Only it is covered up with overalls and mackinaw. Well, I must be off. Good-by, Miss Gower.”
He pushed his boat off the beach, rowed to the opposite side of the bay, and hauled the small craft up over a log. Then he took his bag in hand and climbed the rise that lifted to the backbone of Point Old. Halfway up he turned to look briefly backward over beach and yacht and house, up the veranda steps of which the girl in the blue sweater was now climbing.
“It’s queer,” he muttered.
He went on. In another minute he was on the ridge. The Gulf opened out, a dead dull gray. The skies were hidden behind drab clouds. The air was clammy, cold, hushed, as if the god of storms were gathering his breath for a great effort.
And Jack MacRae himself, when he topped the height which gave clear vision for many miles of shore and sea, drew a deep breath and halted for a long look at many familiar things.
He had been gone nearly four years. It seemed to him but yesterday that he left. The picture was unchanged,—save for that white cottage in its square of green. He stared at that with a doubtful expression, then his uncovered eye came back to the long sweep of the Gulf, to the brown cliffs spreading away in a ragged line along a kelp-strewn shore. He put down the bag and seated himself on a mossy rock close by a stunted, leaning fir and stared about him like a man who has come a great way to see something and means to look his fill.