He would have given much if he had never done the foolish thing. He stood there with lowered eyes, bent head, abashed, discomfited.
“An’ I ’lowed you were my friend!” said she.
Now he looked up at her and spoke out impulsively: “And so I am, Madge, really! I was ... wrong. Forgive me!”
She dropped her hands with a weary change of manner. “Well, I reckon I will,” said she. “You’ve been too kind and good for me to bear a grudge ag’in you; but ... but ... Well, maybe I had better say good-night.”
She walked slowly back across the bridge without another word, pulled on its rope and raised it, made the rope fast and slowly disappeared within her little cabin.
“Poor child!” said he, and turned away. “I was a brute to wound her.”
As he went down the trail, darkening, now, as the moon slid behind the towering mountain back of him, his heart was in a tumult. “After all,” he reflected, “education isn’t everything. All the culture in the world wouldn’t make her more sincere and true. She has taught me a lesson I shan’t soon forget.”
His thoughts turned, then, to the girl who would come up with the party on the following day.
“I—wonder! Was there ever, really, a time when I loved Barbara?... If so, that time has gone, now, never to return.”
His visitors took Layson by surprise, next morning. They had started from the valley long before he had supposed they would.
Holton saw him first and nudged his daughter, who was with him. They were well ahead of Miss Alathea and the Colonel, who had been unable to keep up with them upon the final sharp ascent of the foot-journey from the wagon-road. The old man grinned unpleasantly. He had rather vulgar manners, often annoying to his daughter, who had had all the advantages which, in his rough, mysterious youth, he had been denied.
“Thar he is, Barb; thar he is,” he said, not loudly. Miss Alathea and the Colonel, following close behind, were a restraint on him.
The girl’s face was full of eagerness as she saw the man they sought. He was busy polishing a gun, but that his thoughts were occupied with something less mechanical and not wholly pleasant the slight frown upon his face made evident. “Mr. Layson! Frank!” she cried.
The young man turned, on hearing her, and hurried toward her and her father with his hands outstretched in welcome. He was not overjoyed to have the old man visit him, just then; he was even doubtful of the welcome which his heart had for the daughter; but he was a southerner and in the gentle-born southerner real hospitality is quite instinctive.
“Mr. Holton—Barbara,” said he. “I am delighted. Welcome to the mountains.” He grasped their hands in hearty greeting. “But where are Aunt Alathea and the Colonel?”
Holton tried to be as cordial as his host. That he was very anxious to appear agreeable was evident. “Oh, them slow-pokes?” he said, laughing. “We didn’t wait for them. We pushed on ahead. We reckoned as you would be glad to see us.”