DENNIS KAVANAGH’S GIRL
A rangy roan horse followed the dogs, galloping so wildly that when his rider halted him his hoofs tore up the turf as he slid. A girl rode him. She was mounted astride, and Presson had to look twice at her to make sure she was a girl, for she wore knickerbockers and gaiters, and her copper-red hair curled so crisply that it seemed as short as a boy’s.
“Good-morning, Mr. Duke,” she called. “Is Harlan down from the woods yet?”
The old man turned to march off after a scornful glance at her. He kicked away another dog. Then he whirled and stepped back toward her. It was anger and not courtesy that impelled him.
“He isn’t here, and he won’t be here. And how many times more have I got to tell you not to be impertinent to me?”
“How, Mr. Duke?”
“By that infernal nickname,” he stormed. “Young woman, I’ve told you to stay on your side of the river, and you—”
“Really you ought to be called ‘Duke’ if you order folks off the earth that way,” she cried, saucily. “But I did not come to see you, Mr. Duke. I came to see Harlan. Has he got home yet?”
She swung sideways on her horse and nursed her slender ankle across her knee. It was plain that she had expected this reception, and knew how to meet it. She gazed at him serenely from big, gray eyes. She smiled and held her head a little to one side, her nose tiptilted a bit, giving her an aggravatingly teasing expression.
“I tell you he’s not here, and he won’t be here.”
“Oh yes, he will. For”—she smiled more broadly, and there was malice in her eyes—“I sent word to him to come, and he’s coming.”
“You sent word to him, you red-headed Irish cat? What do you mean?”
The lord of Fort Canibas strode close to her, passion on his face. Presson could see that this was no suddenly evoked quarrel between the two. It was hostility reawakened.
“I mean that I’m looking out for the interests of Harlan when those at home are plotting against him. I hear the news. I listen to news for him, when he’s away in the big woods. And I’m not going to let you send him off down to any old prison of a legislature, where he’ll be spoiled for his friends up here. And he doesn’t want to go. And he’ll be here, Mr. Duke, to see that you don’t trade him off into your politics.”
She delivered her little speech resolutely, and gave him back his blistering gaze without winking.
“Oh, my God, if you were—were only Ivus Niles, or Beelzebub himself sitting there on that horse,” Thornton gasped. “You—you—” he turned away from her maddening smile and stamped about on the turf. The hounds still played around him, persistent in their attentions. He kicked at them.
“It suits me to be just Clare Kavanagh, Mr. Duke—and I’m not afraid of you!”