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Chapter 8

Hal asked the name of his new acquaintance, and she told him it was Mary Burke. "Ye've not been here long, I take it," she said, "or ye'd have heard of 'Red Mary.' 'Tis along of this hair."

"I've not been here long," he answered, "but I shall hope to stay now--along of this hair! May I come to see you some time, Miss Burke?"

She did not reply, but glanced at the house where she lived. It was an unpainted, three room cabin, more dilapidated than the average, with bare dirt and cinders about it, and what had once been a picket-fence, now falling apart and being used for stove-wood. The windows were cracked and broken, and upon the roof were signs of leaks that had been crudely patched.

"May I come?" he made haste to ask again--so that he would not seem to look too critically at her home.

"Perhaps ye may," said the girl, as she picked up the clothes basket. He stepped forward, offering to carry it, but she did not give it up. Holding it tight, and looking him defiantly in the face, she said, "Ye may come, but ye'll not find it a happy place to visit, Mr. Smith. Ye'll hear soon enough from the neighbours."

"I don't think I know any of your neighbours," said he.

There was sympathy in his voice; but her look was no less defiant. "Ye'll hear about it, Mr. Smith; but ye'll hear also that I hold me head up. And 'tis not so easy to do that in North Valley."

"You don't like the place?" he asked; and he was amazed by the effect of this question, which was merely polite. It was as if a storm cloud had swept over the girl's face. "I hate it! 'Tis a place of fear and devils!"

He hesitated a moment; then, "Will you tell me what you mean by that when I come?"

But "Red Mary" was winsome again. "When ye come, Mr. Smith, I'll not be entertaining ye with troubles. I'll put on me company manner, and we'll go out for a nice walk, if ye please."

All the way as he walked back to Reminitsky's to supper, Hal thought about this girl; not merely her pleasantness to the eye, so unexpected in this place of desolation, but her personality, which baffled him--the pain that seemed always just beneath the surface of her thoughts, the fierce pride which flashed out at the slightest suggestion of sympathy, the way she had of brightening when he spoke the language of metaphor, however trite. How had she come to know about poetry-books? He wanted to know more about this miracle of Nature--this wild rose blooming on a bare mountain-side!

Upton Sinclair