The whim seized her, and she followed Corliss through the three days’ events, but she tacitly avoided the figure of another man whom she would not name. Something terrible was connected therewith, she knew, which must be faced sooner or later; but she preferred to put that moment away from her. She was stiff and sore of mind as well as of body, and will and action were for the time being distasteful. It was more pleasant, even, to dwell on Tommy, on Tommy of the bitter tongue and craven heart; and she made a note that the wife and children in Toronto should not be forgotten when the Northland paid its dividends to the Welse.
The crackle of a foot on a dead willow-twig roused her, and her eyes met St. Vincent’s.
“You have not congratulated me upon my escape,” he began, breezily. “But you must have been dead-tired last night. I know I was. And you had that hard pull on the river besides.”
He watched her furtively, trying to catch some cue as to her attitude and mood.
“You’re a heroine, that’s what you are, Frona,” he began again, with exuberance. “And not only did you save the mail-man, but by the delay you wrought in the trial you saved me. If one more witness had gone on the stand that first day, I should have been duly hanged before Gow put in an appearance. Fine chap, Gow. Too bad he’s going to die.”
“I am glad that I could be of help,” she replied, wondering the while what she could say.
“And of course I am to be congratulated—”
“Your trial is hardly a thing for congratulation,” she spoke up quickly, looking him straight in the eyes for the moment. “I am glad that it came out as it did, but surely you cannot expect me to congratulate you.”
“O-o-o,” with long-drawn inflection. “So that’s where it pinches.” He smiled good-humoredly, and moved as though to sit down, but she made no room for him, and he remained standing. “I can certainly explain. If there have been women—”
Frona had been clinching her hand nervously, but at the word burst out in laughter.
“Women?” she queried. “Women?” she repeated. “Do not be ridiculous, Gregory.”
“After the way you stood by me through the trial,” he began, reproachfully, “I thought—”
“Oh, you do not understand,” she said, hopelessly. “You do not understand. Look at me, Gregory, and see if I can make you understand. Your presence is painful to me. Your kisses hurt me. The memory of them still burns my cheek, and my lips feel unclean. And why? Because of women, which you may explain away? How little do you understand! But shall I tell you?”
Voices of men came to her from down the river-bank, and the splashing of water. She glanced quickly and saw Del Bishop guiding a poling-boat against the current, and Corliss on the bank, bending to the tow-rope.