The next Sunday, Harry elbowed his way to Meredith's side and cleared his throat. She stopped in the middle of a airy giggle and turned toward him. His green eyes were serious and level.
"Come on, Meredith, we'd better be headin' home," he said.
At this, several of the better off young men offered to give her a lift in the family buggy. As Meredith fluttered, trying to make up her mind, Harry gently took her by the arm and declared, "Actually, though it is very kind of you all, I am going to walk her home."
Meredith shot him an offended glace under her eyelid, then decided not to argue. He seemed tired and maybe a little sad; besides, he didn't look like he would take any guff from anyone. As he steered her off, they heard, "Say, what do you think came over him? I have never seen him look like that before!"
Meredith glanced up at him and thought, "Me neither."
After they got out on the road, Meredith queried, "Is something wrong, Harry?"
He sighed uncomfortably and bit his bottom lip. "You ain't goin' to like this, Merry."
She looked at him sharply and stiffed ever so slightly, "Why not?" she asked, in an attempt at cool breeziness.
"Well..." A pause. "Well, it touches on...Meredith, you've turned into a horrid flirt!" There. It was out.
He had stopped, turning to look her straight in the face as he said it.
Her eyes flashed angrily, "So? All the other girls flirt. Besides, the boys like it." With that she turned and started off again, as though dismissing the matter.
Harry groaned to himself, then hurried after her. "Meredith, just because 'the other girls do it' and 'the boys like it', does that make it right? What makes givin' parts of your heart to different fellas right? What makes givin' them false hopes right? What makes lyin' about your feelings right?"
Meredith turned on him and blazed out, "Leave me alone!" before rushing off ahead of him.
Harry kicked a rock viciously and turned off the road to pick his way home through woods and fields.
Meredith arrived home first. Her mother was fixing dinner and trying to keep the convalescent children quiet. Samuel was still very weak and Sophia was having fun babying him.
"Why, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Drewry as her daughter burst in. "What on earth is the matter?"
"Harry insulted me! That's what!" the irate girl emphasised her wrath by stamping a foot.
Truely suprised, Mrs. Drewry demanded, "What! How did he insult you?" Her concern grew deeper when Meredith refused to answer the question, but flushed scarlet.
Sophia whispered in Janet's ear, "He was probably just teasing her." Janet look at her older sister with wide eyes and tearfully snuck outside.
Harry was startled by the little voice. "Harry, Meredith is really mad; but Sophy says you were probably just teasing. I'm scared. I have never seen her that angry before. What did you do?"
"Janee!" he exclaimed, "You aren't supposed to be out here--particularly in your bare feet!"
She looked guiltily at her bare toes. The young man smiled tenderly and scooped her up. As she snuggled down on his broad shoulder she asked, "Harry, why is Meredith mad?"
"You'll find out soon enough, I reckon," he answered, "so don't ask."
She didn't understand, but decided not to ask any more questions. Her beloved Harry was unhappy and that was bad enough.
When they got home and stepped through the door, the tension was so thick it was oppresive. No one, not even Sophia, thought anything was funny. Harry looked at Meredith as he entered; she was setting the table. She tossed her head and turned away.
Handing Janet to her mother, Harry said, "I'm not hungry, Mrs. Drewry. Please proceed without me."
As he turned to leave, she stopped him. "Harry, tell me what happened. Meredith refuses to say anything other than that you insulted her."
"I suppose I did." He looked around at the children, rather embarrassed.
Seeing his discomfort, Mrs. Drewry set Janet down and requested Harry to step out of doors with her. As he did so, he saw Meredith open her lips and grasp the edge of the table convulsively.
"Alright now. Out with it." Mrs. Drewry was commanding, yet compassionate.
"Yes, m. It really is quite simple. I confronted her with the truth."
"About what?" prompted Mrs. Drewry as he paused.
He took a deep breath, "I told her that she has become a terrible flirt. She didn't like it and we argued some."
"No wonder she wouldn't tell me!" her mother exclaimed. "I suspected something of the sort."
Harry began, "I'm sorry..."
"Don't be, son. I have noticed that she has been acting foolish lately, but was 'too busy'--what a terrible excuse!--to address it. It is I who should be sorry."
"Perhaps I should have been more subtle," Harry mused. "I mean, I was rather blunt."
Mrs. Drewry smiled slightly, "If you weren't blunt Harry, you wouldn't be you!"
She went back in and Harry strolled off, headed to his stump. All of a sudden, he stopped and peered at the patch of blackened field he had planted.
"Hallelujah!" he yelled in excitment. "It's coming up! It's COMING UP! Praise the Lord!!"
He bolted back towards the barn, entirely forgetting his 'disgrace'. As he crashed through the door, frightening everyone within, his weariness gone, he was shouting, "The corn! The corn! It's a comin' up!"
He stopped suddenly, rather abashed and remembering his status. James tumbled out of his chair and bolted out the door with excitment; Harry followed suit.
To be continued...