Nan Brent’s departure from the Sawdust Pile was known to so few in Port Agnew that it was fully ten days before the news became general; even then it excited no more than momentary comment, and a week later when Donald McKaye returned to town, somewhat sooner than he had anticipated, Port Agnew had almost forgotten that Nan Brent had ever lived and loved and sinned in its virtuous midst. Even the small gossip about her and the young laird had subsided, condemned by all, including the most thoughtless, as a gross injustice to their favorite son, and consequently dismissed as the unworthy tattling of unworthy, suspicious old women. Life in the busy little sawmill town had again sagged into the doldrums.
For several days, a feeling of lassitude had been stealing over Donald. At first he thought it was mental depression, but when, later, he developed nausea, lack of appetite, and pains in his head, back, and extremities, it occurred to him that he wasn’t feeling well physically and that The Dreamerie was to be preferred to his rough pine shanty in the woods, even though in the latter he had sanctuary from the female members of his family.
He came in unexpectedly on the last log-train on Saturday night; tired, with throbbing head and trembling legs, he crawled off the caboose at the log dump and made his way weakly up to the mill office. It was deserted when he got there at half-past six, but in his mail-box he found something which he had promised himself would be there, despite certain well-remembered assurances to the contrary. It was a letter from Nan. He tore the envelop eagerly and read:
Donald dear, I love you. That is why I am leaving you. We shall not meet again, I think. If we should, it will doubtless be years hence, and by that time we shall both have resigned ourselves to this present very necessary sacrifice. Good-by, poor dear.
Always your sweetheart,
He read and reread the letter several times. It was undated. Presently, with an effort, he recovered the envelop from the waste-basket and examined the postmark. The letter had been mailed from Seattle, but the post-date was blurred.
With the letter clutched in his hand, he bent forward and pillowed his hot face in his arms, outspread upon his father’s old desk. He wanted to weep—to sob aloud in a childish effort to unburden his heart, scourged now with the first real sorrow of his existence. His throat contracted; something in his breast appeared to have congealed, yet for upward of an hour he neither moved nor gave forth a sound. At last, under the inspiration of a great hope that came apparently without any mental effort or any desire for hope, so thoroughly crushed was he, the black, touseled head came slowly up. His face, usually ruddy beneath the dark, suntanned skin but now white and haggard, showed a fleeting little smile, as if he grinned at his own weakness and lack of faith; he rose unsteadily and clumped out of the office-building.