To his amazement the girl did kiss her hand and stretch it out. Solemnly he took that cool, slim hand and laid it to his cheek. The two little girls broke into clapping, and Freda said:
"Now, then, we shall have to save your life at any time; that's settled. Can I have another cup, Stella, not so beastly weak?" Tea was resumed, and Ashurst, folding up the paper, put it in his pocket. The talk turned on the advantages of measles, tangerine oranges, honey in a spoon, no lessons, and so forth. Ashurst listened, silent, exchanging friendly looks with Stella, whose face was again of its normal sun-touched pink and white. It was soothing to be so taken to the heart of this jolly family, fascinating to watch their faces. And after tea, while the two little girls pressed seaweed, he talked to Stella in the window seat and looked at her water-colour sketches. The whole thing was like a pleasurable dream; time and incident hung up, importance and reality suspended. Tomorrow he would go back to Megan, with nothing of all this left save the paper with the blood of these children, in his pocket. Children! Stella was not quite that--as old as Megan! Her talk-- quick, rather hard and shy, yet friendly--seemed to flourish on his silences, and about her there was something cool and virginal--a maiden in a bower. At dinner, to which Halliday, who had swallowed too much sea-water, did not come, Sabina said:
"Every time Stella calls you Mr. Ashurst, she's got to pay a forfeit. It's ridiculous."
Ashurst looked at Stella, who grew slowly red. Sabina giggled; Freda cried:
Ashurst reached out to right and left, and grasped some fair hair in each hand.
"Look here," he said, "you two! Leave Stella alone, or I'll tie you together!"
"You call her Stella, you see!"