So she rose, and passed Dan without a word, and went slowly towards the house. She tried to hurry, indeed, but her legs would not quicken their pace. Yet at length she had reached shelter and no sooner was she past the door of the house than her knees buckled; she had to steady herself with both hands as she dragged herself up the stairs to her room. There, from the window, she looked down and saw Whistling Dan standing as she had left him, staring blankly at the wolf-dog.
There was no star-storming confidence in Kate Cumberland after that first victory. Rather she felt as the general who deploys his skirmishers and drives in the outposts of an enemy. The advantage is his, but it has really only served to give him some intimation of the strength of the enemy. At the supper table this night she found Whistling Dan watching her—not openly, for she could never catch his eye—but subtly, secretly, she knew that he was measuring her, studying her; whether in hostility, amity, or mere wonder, she could not tell. Finally a vast uneasiness overtook her and she turned to the doctor for relief. Doctor Randall Byrne held a singular position in the attention of Kate. Since the night of the fire and her open talk with him, the doctor knew “everything,” and women are troubled in the presence of a man who knows the details of the past.
The shield behind which they hide in social intercourse is a touch of mystery—or at least a hope of mystery. The doctor, however, was not like other men; he was more similar to a precocious child and she comforted herself in his obvious talent for silence. If he had been alert, strong, self-confident, she might have hated him because he knew so much about her; but when she noted the pale, thoughtful face, the vast forehead outbalancing the other features, and the wistful, uncertain eyes, she felt nothing towards him stronger than pity.
It is good for a woman to have something which she may pity, a child, an aged parent, or a house-dog. It provides, in a way, the background against which she acts; so Kate, when in doubt, turned to the doctor, as on this night. There was a certain cruelty in it, for when she smiled at him the poor doctor became crimson, and when she talked to him his answers stumbled on his tongue; and when she was silent and merely looked at him that was worst of all, for he became unable to manage knife and fork and would sit crumbling bread and looking frightened. Then he was apt to draw out his glasses and make a move to place them on his nose, but he always caught and checked himself in time—which added to his embarrassment.