She smiled, though it was winter in her heart.
Not the least of the traits which formed Shirley Sumner’s character was pride. Proud people quite usually are fiercely independent and meticulously honest—and Shirley’s pride was monumental. Hers was the pride of lineage, of womanhood, of an assured station in life, combined with that other pride which is rather difficult of definition without verbosity and is perhaps better expressed in the terse and illuminating phrase “a dead-game sport.” Unlike her precious relative, unlike the majority of her sex, Shirley had a wonderfully balanced sense of the eternal fitness of things; her code of honour resembled that of a very gallant gentleman. She could love well and hate well.
A careful analysis of Shirley’s feelings toward Bryce Cardigan immediately following the incident in Pennington’s woods, had showed her that under more propitious circumstances she might have fallen in love with that tempestuous young man in sheer recognition of the many lovable and manly qualities she had discerned in him. As an offset to the credit side of Bryce’s account with her, however, there appeared certain debits in the consideration of which Shirley always lost her temper and was immediately quite certain she loathed the unfortunate man.
He had been an honoured and (for aught Shirley knew to the contrary) welcome guest in the Penninton home one night, and the following day had assaulted his host, committed great bodily injuries upon the latter’s employees for little or no reason save the satisfaction of an abominable temper, made threats of further violence, declared his unfaltering enmity to her nearest and best-loved relative, and in the next breath had had the insolence to prate of his respect and admiration for her. Indeed, in cogitating on this latter incongruity, Shirley recalled that the extraordinary fellow had been forced rather abruptly to check himself in order to avoid a fervid declaration of love! And all of this under the protection of a double-bitted axe, one eye on her and the other on his enemies.
However, all of these grave crimes and misdemeanors were really insignificant compared with his crowning offense. What had infuriated Shirley was the fact that she had been at some pains to inform Bryce Cardigan that she loathed him—whereat he had looked her over coolly, grinned a little, and declined to believe her! Then, seemingly as if fate had decreed that her futility should be impressed upon her still further, Bryce Cardigan had been granted an opportunity to save, in a strikingly calm, heroic, and painful manner, her and her uncle from certain and horrible death, thus placing upon Shirley an obligation that was as irritating to acknowledge as it was futile to attempt to reciprocate.
That was where the shoe pinched. Before that day was over she had been forced to do one of two things—acknowledge in no uncertain terms her indebtedness to him, or remain silent and be convicted of having been, in plain language, a rotter. So she had telephoned him and purposely left ajar the door to their former friendly relations.