“I’d advise you to take my hint,” retorted Harlan.
They stared at each other, eye to eye, both plainly wishing with all heartiness that no feminine presence hampered them.
The girl laughed.
“Coffee and pistols for two! If each other’s company makes you so impolite, I’ll be compelled to separate you. Come, Mr. Harlan Thornton, baron of Fort Canibas, you have volunteered to see me safely home.”
He offered his arm, and they followed Mrs. Presson, who had already started for the carriage. He rode with them to the station, flushed and silent, and the girl studied his face covertly and with some curiosity.
On the train, in the first of their tete-a-tete, she sounded him cautiously, trying to discover if his feelings toward Linton were inspired wholly by political differences. She seemed to suspect there was something more behind it, even at the risk of flattering herself. But she had detected certain suggestive symptoms in the demeanor of Harlan at the breakfast-table that morning. He did not betray himself under her deft questioning. But he promptly grew amiable, and before the end of their railroad ride that day she had proved to her own satisfaction that her ability to interest young men had not been thrown away upon him. The light in his eyes and the zest of his chatter with her told their own story. He left her at her home with a regret that he did not hide from her.
And yet, when he was at last in his room at the hotel that night, he wrote to Clare Kavanagh the longest letter of all those he had written to her since he left Fort Canibas.
It might have been because he had so much to write about.
It might have been because a strange little feeling of compunction bothered him.
But Harlan did not have the courage to examine his sentiments too closely. Only, after he had sealed the letter and inscribed it, he lay back in his chair awhile, and then, having reflected that after three weeks he would no longer be his own man, he decided that he’d better run up to Fort Canibas and attend to his business interests.
And he departed hastily the next morning, in spite of the Duke’s puzzled and rather indignant protests that business wasn’t suffering beyond what the telephone and mails could cure, and that he himself would go home the next week and see to everything.
There are some men who are strong enough to run away from weakness. Not that Harlan Thornton admitted that he was weak in the presence of Madeleine Presson. But he felt a sudden hunger for the big hills, the wide woods, the serene silences. He wanted to get his mental footing again. He had been swept off in a flood of new experiences. Just now he found himself in a state of mind that he did not understand.
“I’ll go back and let the old woods talk to me,” he whispered to himself.
Then he tore up the letter he had written to Clare Kavanagh.