With a bitter smile she wrote him a long letter, relating in detail the incident of her marriage, the birth of her child, her standing in Port Agnew society and her belief that all of this rendered acceptance of his invitation impossible, if she were to act with deference to his point of view and still remain loyal to the memory of her dead father. For these reasons she declined, thanked him for his kindness and remained his very sincerely. When she had posted this letter she felt better, and immediately took up the case of the McKayes.
Until that moment she had not considered seriously the possibility of a marriage with the young Laird of Port Agnew as a means of humiliating these women who had humiliated her. The thought had occurred to her in the telegraph office and at the moment had held for her a certain delightful fascination; prior to that meeting her resolution not to permit Donald McKaye to share her uncertain fortunes had been as adamant. But long and bitter reflection upon the problem thrust upon her by her grandfather had imbued her with a clearer, deeper realization of the futility of striving to please everybody in this curious world, of the cruelty of those who seek to adjust to their point of view that of another fully capable of adjusting his own; of the appalling lack of appreciation with which her piteous sacrifice would meet from the very persons who shrank from the ignominy incident to non-sacrifice oft the part of her whom they held in open contempt!
Donald McKaye was not unintelligent. He was a man, grown, with all a man’s passions, with all the caution to be expected in one of his class. If he still loved her sufficiently, following a period of mature deliberation and fierce opposition from his people, to offer her honorable marriage, would she not be a fool to cast away such a priceless gift? How few men know love so strong, so tender, so unselfish, that they do not shrink from sharing with the object of their love, the odium which society has always set upon the woman taken in adultery.
In rejecting his proffered sacrifice, she had told herself that she acted thus in order to preserve his happiness, although at the expense of her own. By so doing Nan realized that she had taken a lofty, a noble stand; nevertheless, who was she that she should presume to decide just wherein lay the preservation of his happiness? In her grandfather’s letter before her she had ample evidence of the miscarriage of such pompous assumptions.
There is a latent force in the weakest of women, an amazing capacity for rebellion in the meekest and a regret for lost virtue even in the most abandoned. Nan was neither weak, meek, nor abandoned; wherefore, to be accorded toleration, polite contumely and resentment where profound gratitude and admiration were her due, had aroused in her a smouldering resentment which had burned like a handful of oil-soaked waste tossed into a corner. At first a mild heat; then a dull red glow of spontaneous combustion progresses—and presently flame and smoke.