“Yes; you’re beautiful as women go, but that’s not the right word to express you. Physically, you might be very homely, but if you were still Nan Brent you would be sweet and compelling. You remind me of a Catholic chapel; there’s always one little light within that never goes out, you know. So that makes you more than beautiful. Shall I say—glorious?”
She smiled at him with her wistful, sea-blue eyes—a smile tender, maternal, all-comprehending. She knew he was not seeking to flatter her, that the wiles, the Artifices, the pretty speeches of the polished man of the world were quite beyond him.
“Still the same old primitive pal,” she murmured softly; “still thinking straight, talking straight, acting straight, and—dare I say it, Donald?—seeing straight. I repeat, you always were the sweetest boy in the world—and there is still so much of the little boy about you.” Her hand fluttered up and rested lightly on his arm. “I’ll not forget this day, my dear friend.”
It was characteristic of him that, having said that which was uppermost in his mind, he should remember his manners and thank her for dressing his knuckles. Then he extended his hand in farewell.
“When you come again, Donald,” she pleaded, as he took her hand, “will you please bring me some books? They’re all that can keep me sane—and I do not go to the public library any more. I have to run the gantlet of so many curious eyes.”
“How long is it since you have been away from the Sawdust Pile?”
“Since before my baby came.”
He was silent a minute, pondering this. Since old Caleb had become house-ridden, then, she had been, without books. He nodded assent to her request.
“If I do not say very much, you will understand, nevertheless, how grateful I am,” she continued. “To-day, the sun has shone. Whatever your thoughts may have been, Donald, you controlled your face and you were decent enough not to say, ‘Poor Nan.’”
He had no answer to that. He was conscious only of standing helpless in the midst of a terrible tragedy. His heart ached with pity for her, and just for old sake’s sake, for a tender sentiment for lost youth and lost happiness of the old comradely days when she had been Cinderella and he the prince, he wished that he might take her in a fraternal embrace and let her cry out on his breast the agony that gnawed at her heart like a worm in an apple. But it was against his code to indicate to her by word or action that she was less worthy than other women and hence to be pitied, for it seemed to him that her burden was already sufficient.
“Let me know if those people return to annoy you, Nan,” was all he said. Then they shook hands very formally, and the young laird of Tyee returned to the mill-office to report to Andrew Daney that the Sawdust Pile had been cleaned out, but that, for the present at least, they would get along with the old drying-yard.