“And how do you do to-day, Harlan Thornton?” he asked. “And how is that old gorilla of a grandfather of yours? Though you needn’t tell me, for I don’t want to know—not unless you can lighten me up a bit by telling me that he’s enjoying his last sickness. But right now while I think of it, I have something to say to you, young Thornton, sir.”
The young man stared hard at him. It was an unwonted tone for Kavanagh to employ. Clare’s father, till now, had not included Harlan in his feud with the grandfather. He had always treated him with a brusqueness that had a sort of good-humor beneath it. His discourse with the young man had been curt and satiric and infrequent, and consisted usually in mock messages of defiance which he asked to have delivered by word of mouth to the grandfather. But his tone now was crisp and it had a straight business ring.
“My girl will be sixteen to-morrow. She is done with childhood to-day. Children may ride cock-horse and play ring-around-a-rosy. I haven’t drawn any particular line on playfellows up to now. But there isn’t going to be any playing at love, sir.”
“I never have played at love with your daughter!” cried Harlan, shocked and indignant at this sudden attack.
“Well, I’m fixing it so you won’t. We won’t argue about what has happened, nor we won’t discuss what might happen. All is, I don’t propose to have any grandson of old Thornton mixed up in my family. I don’t like the breed. You take that word back to him. I hear he’s been making talk. He made some talk to-day. You needn’t look at Clare, young man. She didn’t tell me. But it came across to me mighty sudden. Others heard, too. What I ought to do is go over there and stripe his old Yankee hide with a horsewhip. But you tell him for me that that would be taking too much stock in anything that a politician in your politics-ridden States could say. That’s all. You’ve got it, blunt and straight. And, by-the-way, I understand he’s making a politician out of you, too, to-day? I’m taking this thing just in time!”
The young man and the girl looked at each other. It was a pitiful, appealing glance that they exchanged. Shame surged in both of them. In that gaze, also, was mutual apology for the ruthless ones who had dealt such insult that day in their hearing; there was hopelessness that any words from them to each other, just then, could help the situation. And in that gaze, too, there was proud denial, from one to the other, that anything except friendship, the true, honest comradeship of youth, had drawn them together.
Kavanagh eyed them with grim relish. The thought that he was harrying one of the Thorntons overbore any consideration he felt for his daughter, even if he stopped to think that her affection was anything except the silliness of childhood.
“Politics seems to be a good side-line for the Thornton family,” Kavanagh remarked, maliciously. “If you can start where your grandfather is leaving off, you ought to be something big over in your country before you die!”