She clung to him trembling. “He saved my life—at the risk of his own,” she whispered, almost inarticulately.
“Oh, I know—I know. He was that sort—brave enough, but a hopeless rotter.” Jack’s voice held a curious mixture of tenderness and contempt. “Women always fall in love with that sort of fellow,” he said. “Heaven knows why. But you’d no right to lose your heart to him, little ’un. You knew—you always knew—he wasn’t the man for you.”
She clung to him in silence for a space, then lifted her face. “All right, Jack,” she said.
He looked at her closely for a moment. “Come! It’s only silly sentiment,” he urged. “You can’t feel bad about it after all this time. Why, child, it’s five years!”
She laughed rather shakily. “I am a big fool, aren’t I, Jack? Yet—somehow—do you know—I thought he meant to come back.”
“Not he!” declared Jack. “Catch Buckskin Bill putting his head back into the noose when once he had got away! He’s not quite so simple as that, my dear. He probably cleared out of Australia for good as soon as he got the chance. And a good thing, too!” he added, with emphasis. “He’d done mischief enough.”
She raised her lips to his. “Thank you for not laughing at me, Jack,” she said. “Don’t—ever—tell Adela, will you? I’m sure she would.”
He smiled a little. “Yes, I think she would. She’d say you were old enough to know better.”
Dot nodded. “And very sensible, too. I am.”
He patted her shoulder. “Good girl!
Then that chapter is closed.
And—you’re going to give poor Fletcher his chance?”
She drew a sharp breath. “Oh, I don’t
know. I can’t promise that.
Don’t—don’t hustle me, Jack!”
He gave her a hard squeeze and let her go. “There, she shan’t be teased by her horrid bully of a brother! She’s going to play the game off her own bat, and I wish her luck with all my heart.”
He turned to the job of feeding his horse, and Dot, after a few inconsequent remarks, sauntered away in the direction of the barn, “to be alone with herself,” as she put it.
Adela Burton was laying the cloth for supper, and looking somewhat severe over the process. She was usually cheerful at that hour of the day, for it brought her husband back from his work and, thanks to Dot’s ministrations, the evening was free from toil. It was seldom, indeed, that Adela bestirred herself to lay the cloth for any meal, for she maintained that it was better for a girl like Dot to have plenty to do at all times, and she herself preferred her needlework, at which she was an adept.