Marriage seemed yet a long way ahead of him. He rode slowly back to “The Barracks.” His problem seemed to be riding double with him. The problem, one might say, was in the form of a maid on a pillion. But he did not look behind to see whether the maid bore the features of Clare Kavanagh or Madeleine Presson. At that moment he was sure that only Clare’s image rode with him. But in thinking of her he understood his limitations. For, woodsman and unversed in the ways of women, he had not arrived at that point in life where he could analyze even a boy’s love, much less a man’s passion.
The next morning he left Fort Canibas with big Ben Kyle, to make a tour of the Thornton camps. It was a trip that took in the cruising of a township for standing timber on short rations and in the height of the blackfly season, an experience not conducive to reflections on love and matrimony.
But when he returned to Fort Canibas, on the eve of his departure to take up his duties as General Waymouth’s chief of staff, he saddled his horse and rode across the long bridge.
This time there was no white figure on the church porch and no wistful voice to call after him. He kept on up the hill. He was not thinking about what Dennis Kavanagh might say to him. He had resolved to ask Clare manfully if she would continue to trust him for a while until both could be certain that their boy and girl love signified to them the love that life needed for its bounty and its blessing. That seemed the honest way. It seemed the only way, as matters lay between them and their families.
Dennis Kavanagh was seated on his veranda, smoking his short pipe and inhaling the freshness of the shower-cooled summer air along with the aroma of his tobacco.
“I would like to see your daughter, Mr. Kavanagh,” announced the young man, boldly. “And I have not come sneaking by the back way. It will be a good while before I can see her again.”
“That it will,” responded Mr. Kavanagh, dryly, “and it will be a good long while before ye’ll see her now—that may be mixed, but I reckon ye’ll get the drift of it!”
“It will be better for all our interests if I have a few words with her,” persisted the young man, trying to keep his temper.
“Will ye talk to her through the air or over the telephone?” inquired the father, sarcastically. “She is not here, she is not near here, and if ye wait for her to come back ye’ll best arrange to have your meals brought.”
He did not pause for Harlan to ask any more questions. He came down from the porch on his stubby legs and handed up an envelope. The flap of the envelope had been opened.
“She left this,” he said; “and having opened it and seen that it held nothing but what ye might profitably know, Thornton’s grandson, I here give it into your hand, and ye needn’t thank me.”
Harlan, wondering, apprehensive, fearing something untoward, took out the single sheet of paper. He read: