For that reason, I didn’t see her till she stood right in front of me; and when I did, I stared like an idiot. It was a girl, and she was coming down a path to the trail, with her hands full of flowers, for all the world like a Duchess novel. Another minute, and I’d have run over her, I guess. She stopped and looked at me from under lashes so thick and heavy they seemed almost pulling her lids shut, and there was something in her eyes that made me go hot and cold, like I was coming down with grippe; when she spoke my symptoms grew worse.
“Did you wish to see father?” she asked, as if she were telling me to leave the place.
“I believe,” I rallied enough to answer, “that ‘father’ would give a good deal to see me.” Then that seemed to shut off our conversation too abruptly to suit me; there are occasions when prickly chills have a horrible fascination for a fellow; this was one of the times.
“He’s not at home, I’m very sorry to say,” she retorted in the same liquid-air voice as before, and turned to go back to the house.
I thanked the Lord for that, in a whisper, and kept pace with her. It was plain she hated the sight of me, but I counted on her being enough like her dad not to run away.
“May I trouble you for a drink of water?” I asked, in the orthodox tone of humility.
“There is no need to trouble me; there is the creek, beyond the house; you are welcome to all you want.”
“Thanks.” I watched the pink curve of her cheek, and knew she was dying for a chance to snub me still more maliciously. We were at the steps of the veranda now, but still she would not hurry; she seemed to hate even the semblance of running away.
“Can you direct me to the Bay State Ranch?” I hazarded. It was my last card, and I let it go with a sigh.
She pointed a slim, scornful finger at the brand on Shylock’s shoulder.
“If you are in doubt of the way, Mr. Carleton, your horse will take you home—if you give him his head.”
That put a crimp in me worse than the look of her eyes, even. I stared at her a minute, and then laughed right out. “The game’s yours, Miss King, and I take off my hat to you for hitting straight and hard,” I said. “Must the feud descend even to the second generation? Is it a fight to the finish, and no quarter asked or given?”
I had her going then. She blushed—and when I saw the red creep into her cheeks my heart was hardened to repentance. I’d have done it again for the pleasure of seeing her that way.
“You are taking a good deal for granted, sir,” she said, in her loftiest tone. “We Kings scarcely consider the Carletons worthy our weapons.”
“You don’t, eh? Then, why did you begin it?” I wanted to know. “If you permit me, you started the row before I spoke, even.”
“I do not permit you.” Clearly, my lady could be haughty enough to satisfy the most fastidious.