Words, emotion choked him. But he could not wait, then. She saw something in his eyes she had never seen there till that moment. But before she could understand he carried her along with him.
“Come! I can’t wait!” he cried.
When he flung open the door of the committee-room the men in it were standing in silence. Presson had picked up the “Thornton Bill” and was reading it, scowling. Whatever Linton had said, it was plain that the father of Madeleine Presson had just found something which diverted his attention from family matters.
Harlan shut the door behind. He locked it. He stepped away from the girl, leaving her standing there. She was a picture to confute slander.
The chairman gazed at her in astonishment. He had not expected such prompt incarnation of the topic.
“I know what foul lies have just been uttered in this room by that fellow!” Harlan leaned forward and drove an accusatory finger at Linton. “Now here stands the woman you have insulted. Look at her, you lying hound! There’s only one thing you can do! Acknowledge yourself a liar and apologize!”
Linton did not speak. He raised his eyebrows; it was unspoken comment on the peculiar actions of this young savage from the woods.
“Presson, get out of here and bring help,” muttered the Duke. “Hell is going to break loose!”
The chairman slipped the document into his pocket and tiptoed around the side of the room. Harlan paid no attention to him. His eyes were for Linton.
“Are you going to apologize?”
“I’ll wait until—” began the lawyer, but he got no further.
The Thornton temper had been strained beyond the breaking-point. Harlan was upon him.
“Bring a dozen!” yelled the Duke after the chairman who had been tugging at the door, and now escaped.
Linton was tall and muscular, but law-practice is not lumbering. He struck viciously at Harlan, ducking to and fro with the briskness of the trained boxer. But the woodsman merely leaped upon him, heedless of his blows. He bore him down. He drove resistless knees into his shoulders. He thrust Linton’s face against the floor and ground it against the boards. Then he dragged the limp figure past the cursing Duke toward the girl. She had fled to a corner, covering her eyes and sobbing in terror.
“D—n you, you’ll apologize to the girl who’s going to be my wife,” raved Harlan.
When Presson returned at the head of volunteers the victor was grinding the bleeding face on the floor once more and Linton was screaming appeals.
There were enough of them to separate the men. They dragged Harlan away out of the room in spite of his struggles. The mere sight of the lawyer seemed to infuriate him more.
The Duke hurried the girl out and away while the peacemakers were struggling with the young combatants.
“Stop that blubbering,” he commanded, roughly. “If you’ve got any grit left in you, brace up. Don’t let people here notice!”