“Apparently she has been frank,” Elizabeth answered him coolly. “On the other hand, father McKaye, her so-called courage may have been ignorance or apathy or cowardice or indifference. It all depends on her point of view.”
“I disagree with mother that it is not a matter of importance,” Donald persisted. “It is a matter of supreme importance to me that my mother and sisters should not feel more charity toward an unfortunate member of their sex; and I happen to know that it is a matter of terrible importance to Nan Brent that in Port Agnew people regard her as unclean and look at her askance. And because that vacillating old Daney didn’t have the courage to fly in the face of Port Agnew’s rotten public opinion, he subjected Nan Brent and her helpless old father to the daily and nightly association of depraved people. If he should dare to say one word against”
“Oh, it wasn’t because Andrew was afraid of public opinion, lad,” Hector McKaye interrupted him dryly. “Have you no power o’deduction? Twas his guid wife that stayed his hand, and well I know it.”
“I dare say, dad,” Donald laughed. “Yes; I suppose I’ll have to forgive him.”
“She’ll be up to-morrow, my dear, to discuss the matter with you,” The Laird continued, turning to his wife. “I know her well. Beware of expressing an opinion to her.” And he bent upon all the women of his household a smoldering glance.
Apparently, by mutual consent, the subject was dropped forthwith. Donald’s silence throughout the remainder of the meal was portentous, however, and Mrs. McKaye and her daughters were relieved when, the meal finished at last, they could retire with good grace and leave father and son to their cigars.
“Doesn’t it beat hell?” Donald burst forth suddenly, apropos of nothing.
“It does, laddie.”
“I wonder why?”
The Laird was in a philosophical mood. He weighed his answer carefully.
“Because people prefer to have their thoughts manufactured for them; because fanatics and hypocrites have twisted the heart out of the Christian religion in the grand scramble for priority in the ’Who’s Holier than Who’ handicap; because people who earnestly believe that God knows their inmost thoughts cannot refrain from being human and trying to put one over on Him.” He smoked in silence for a minute, his calm glance on the ceiling. “Now that you are what you are, my son,” he resumed reflectively, “you’ll begin to know men and women. They who never bothered to seek your favor before will fight for it now—they do the same thing with God Almighty, seeking to win his favor by outdoing him in the condemnation of sin. A woman’s virtue, lad, is her main barricade against the world; in the matter of that, women are a close corporation. Man, how they do stand together! Their virtue’s the shell that protects them, and when one of them leaves her shell or loses it, the others assess her out of the close corporation, for she’s a minority stockholder.”