“Oh, you coward! You coward!”
“Frona! Listen to me—”
But she cut him off. “No. Do not speak. You can have nothing to say. You have behaved abominably. I am disappointed in you. It is horrible! horrible!”
“Yes, it was horrible,—horrible that she should walk with you, have speech with you, be seen with you.”
“‘Not until the sun excludes you, do I exclude you,’” she flung back at him.
“But there is a fitness of things—”
“Fitness!” She turned upon him and loosed her wrath. “If she is unfit, are you fit? May you cast the first stone with that smugly sanctimonious air of yours?”
“You shall not talk to me in this fashion. I’ll not have it.”
He clutched at her sled, and even in the midst of her anger she noticed it with a little thrill of pleasure.
“Shall not? You coward!”
He reached out as though to lay hands upon her, and she raised her coiled whip to strike. But to his credit he never flinched; his white face calmly waited to receive the blow. Then she deflected the stroke, and the long lash hissed out and fell among the dogs. Swinging the whip briskly, she rose to her knees on the sled and called frantically to the animals. Hers was the better team, and she shot rapidly away from Corliss. She wished to get away, not so much from him as from herself, and she encouraged the huskies into wilder and wilder speed. She took the steep river-bank in full career and dashed like a whirlwind through the town and home. Never in her life had she been in such a condition; never had she experienced such terrible anger. And not only was she already ashamed, but she was frightened and afraid of herself.
The next morning Corliss was knocked out of a late bed by Bash, one of Jacob Welse’s Indians. He was the bearer of a brief little note from Frona, which contained a request for the mining engineer to come and see her at his first opportunity. That was all that was said, and he pondered over it deeply. What did she wish to say to him? She was still such an unknown quantity,—and never so much as now in the light of the day before,—that he could not guess. Did she desire to give him his dismissal on a definite, well-understood basis? To take advantage of her sex and further humiliate him? To tell him what she thought of him in coolly considered, cold-measured terms? Or was she penitently striving to make amends for the unmerited harshness she had dealt him? There was neither contrition nor anger in the note, no clew, nothing save a formally worded desire to see him.
So it was in a rather unsettled and curious frame of mind that he walked in upon her as the last hour of the morning drew to a close. He was neither on his dignity nor off, his attitude being strictly non-committal against the moment she should disclose hers. But without beating about the bush, in that way of hers which he had come already to admire, she at once showed her colors and came frankly forward to him. The first glimpse of her face told him, the first feel of her hand, before she had said a word, told him that all was well.