The dogs came racing to meet Harlan. They knew him as their mistress’s friend.
She was sitting on the broad porch-rail when he rode up, and he swung his horse close and patted her cheek as one greets a child. She smiled wistfully at him.
“Am I impudent, and all the things your grandfather said? I’ve been thinking it all over, Big Boy, as I was riding home.”
“You’re only a little girl, and he talked to you as he’d talk to one of our lumber-jacks,” he burst out, angrily. “It was shameful, Clare. I never saw my grandfather as he was to-day. He has used me just as shamefully.”
“I suppose I haven’t had the bringing up a girl ought to have,” she confessed. “I haven’t thought much about it before. There was nothing ever happened to make me think about it. I was just Dennis Kavanagh’s girl, without any mother to tell me better. I suppose it has been wrong for me to ride about with you. But you didn’t have any mother and I didn’t have any mother, and it—it sort of seemed to make us—I don’t know how to say it, Big Boy! But it seemed to make us related—just as though I had a brother to keep me company. I suppose it has been wrong when you look at it the way girls have to look at such things.”
He gazed on her compassionately. A few ruthless words had broken the spell of childhood.
There was shame in her eyes as she gazed up at him. He had seen the flush of youth and joy in her cheeks before—he had seen the happy color come and go as they had met and parted. But this hue that crept up over cheeks and brow made pity grow in him.
“He said—but you know what he said! And it isn’t true. You know it isn’t true. He shamed and insulted me because I’m a girl—and can’t a girl have a friend that’s tender and good to her?”
“A girl can,” he said, gravely, “because I’m that friend, Clare. Perhaps my grandfather cannot understand. But I’ll see that he does. We are to have some very serious talk together, he and I. I’m here to tell you, little girl, that I’m grateful because you sent that message into the woods to me. I’m not going to allow myself to be made a fool of in any such fashion; I’m not going to be sent to the legislature.”
“Oh, I’ve been thinking—thinking how it sounded—all that I said,” she mourned. “It all came to me as I was riding home—after what your grandfather said. I didn’t realize what kind of a girl I must seem to folks that didn’t know. But you know. It sounded as though I was claiming you for myself, when I didn’t want you to go away. I’m ashamed—ashamed!” She averted her eyes from him. The crimson in her cheeks was deeper. It was a vandal hand that had wrecked the little shrine of her childhood. His indignation against Thelismer Thornton blazed higher.
But Dennis Kavanagh knew how to be even more brutal, for that was Dennis Kavanagh’s style of attack. He came out upon the porch, a broad, stocky chunk of a man, with eyebrows sticking up like the horns on a snail, and the eyes beneath them keen with humor of the grim and pitiless sort.