A week later George rode over to the store at the settlement, feeling a little diffident, because he had undertaken the visit only from a sense of duty. He was cordially received, and was presently taken in to supper, which was served in a pretty room and presided over by a very attractive girl. She had a pleasant voice and a quiet face; though he thought she must have guessed his errand, she treated him with a composure that set him at his ease. Indeed, she was by no means the kind of girl he had expected Edgar to choose; but this was in her favor. George could find no fault in her.
Shortly after the meal was finished his host was called away, and the girl looked up at George with a flush of color creeping, most becomingly, into her face.
“Edgar told me I needn’t be afraid of you,” she said.
“I can understand his confidence, though it had a better foundation than my good-nature. I wonder whether I might venture to say that he has shown remarkably good sense?”
“I’m glad you don’t think he has been very foolish,” replied the girl, and it was obvious to George that she understood the situation.
He made her a little grave bow.
“What I’ve said, I’m ready to stick to. I’m a friend of Edgar’s, and that carried an obligation.”
“Yes,” she assented, “but it was because you are a friend of his and, in a way, represent his people in England, that I was a little uneasy.”
Her speech implied a good deal and George admired her candor.
“Well,” he said, “so far as I am concerned, you must never feel anything of the kind again. But I think you should have known it was quite unnecessary.”
She gave him a grateful glance and soon afterward her father came in.
“Guess we’ll take a smoke in the back office,” he said to George.
George followed him, and thought he understood why he was led into the little untidy room strewn with packets of goods, though his host had a fine commodious house. Taunton would not attempt to dissociate himself from his profession; he meant to be taken for what he was, but he knew his value. He was a gaunt, elderly man: as far as his general appearance went, a typical inhabitant of a remote and half-developed western town, though there was a hint of authority in his face. Giving George an excellent cigar, he pointed to a chair.
“Now,” he began, “we must have a talk. When your partner first came hanging round my store, buying things he didn’t want, I was kind of short with him. Helen helps me now and then with the books, and he seemed to know when she came in.”
“I noticed he came home in a rather bad temper once or twice,” George said with a laugh. “I used to wonder, when he produced sardine cans at supper, but after a while I began to understand.”
“Well,” continued Taunton, “I didn’t intend to have any blamed Percy trying to turn my girl’s head, until I knew what he meant. I’d nobody to talk it over with—I lost her mother long ago—so I kind of froze him out, until one day he came dawdling in and asked if he might take Helen to Jim Haxton’s dance.