Frank had some difficulty in persuading the Colonel that his remark was not meant as a serious one, and that there was no fear whatever that Lady Greendale had ever had the slightest reason to suppose that his intentions were not of a most Platonic nature.
“I am heartily glad,” the Colonel said, when he was quite pacified, “that Hawley’s affair has come off all right. Even if she had not been an heiress I should have said that he was a lucky fellow, for she is an extremely nice and pleasant young woman, without any nonsense about her; still there is no doubt that her fortune will come in very handy for Hawley. As to the girl herself, I think she has made a very good choice. She has plenty of money for both, and as he has managed to keep up on his younger son’s portion, he can have no extravagant tastes, and will make her a very good husband. There is no other engagement to be announced, I suppose?”
“As I am the only other unmarried man on board, Colonel, your question is somewhat pointed. No; I hope there may be one of these days, but I don’t think that it would be fair to ask her here, where I am her host, and she is under the glamour of the sea. I doubt whether she has the slightest idea of what I want. That is the worst of being very old friends; the relations get so fixed that a woman does not recognise that they can ever be changed. However, I shall try my luck one of these days. I don’t think that I shall meet with any serious opposition on her mother’s part, if Bertha likes me, but I know that Lady Greendale has very much more ambitious views for her, and has quite set her mind upon her making a good match. No doubt she has a right to expect that she will do so. However, I think she is too fond of Bertha to thwart her, however disappointed she might feel. At present I don’t think that she has any more suspicion than Bertha herself of my intentions.”
During the voyage Bertha and Amy Sinclair had become quite adroit helmswomen, and one or other was constantly at the tiller when the wind was light. Bertha had learned the names of all the crew, and often went forward to ask questions of the men tending the head sails, becoming a prime favourite with all hands. On arriving at Southampton the rest of the party went up at once to town, while Frank remained behind for a day or two, going round in the yacht to Gosport, where she was to be laid up for the winter.
“I am so sorry,” Bertha Greendale said, “so awfully sorry. I had no idea that you thought of me like that. We were such friends so long ago, and it has been so pleasant since you came home last year, and I like you as if you were a big brother; but I have never thought of you in any other light, and now it seems dreadful to me to give you pain; but I feel sure that I should never come to love you in that way.”
And she burst into tears.