“I drove Donald down from The Dreamerie to catch the up train, and thought I’d drop over and visit with you a bit,” he explained. “I didn’t intend to eavesdrop, and I didn’t—very much; but since I couldn’t help overhearing such a pertinent bit of conversation, I’ll come up and we’ll get to the bottom of it. Keep your seat, Mrs. Daney.”
The advice was unnecessary. The poor soul could not have left it. The Laird perched himself on the veranda railing, handed the dumfounded Daney a cigar, and helped himself to one.
“Well, proceed,” The Laird commanded. His words apparently were addressed to both, but his glance was fixed on Mrs. Daney—and now she understood full well her husband’s description of the McKaye look.
“I had finished what I had to say, Mr. McKaye,” Andrew Daney found courage to say.
“So I noted, Andrew, and right well and forcibly you said it. I’m grateful to you. I make no mistake, I think, if your statement wasn’t in reply to some idle tale told your good wife and repeated by her to you—in confidence, of course, as between man and wife.”
“If you’ll excuse me, Mr. McKaye, I—I’d rather not—discuss it!” Mary Daney cried breathlessly.
“I would I did not deem it a duty to discuss it myself, Mary. But you must realize that when the tongue of scandal touches my son, it becomes a personal matter with me, and I must look well for a weapon to combat it. You’ll tell me now, Mary, what they’ve been saying about Donald and Caleb Brent’s daughter.”
“Andrew will tell you,” she almost whispered, and made as if to go. But The Laird’s fierce eyes deterred her; she quailed and sat down again.
“Andrew cannot tell me, because Andrew doesn’t know,” The Laird rebuked her kindly. “I heard him tell you not to tell him, that he wasn’t a gossip, and wouldn’t befoul the salt he ate by being disloyal, or words to that effect. Is it possible, Mary Daney, that you prefer me to think you are not inspired by similar sentiments? Don’t cry, Mary—compose yourself.”
“Idleness is the mother of mischief, and since the children have grown up and left home, Mary hasn’t enough to keep her busy,” Daney explained. “So, womanlike and without giving sober thought to the matter, she’s been listening to the idle chattering of other idle women. Now then, my dear,” he continued, turning to his wife, “that suspicion you just voiced didn’t grow in your head. Somebody put it there—and God knows it found fertile soil. Out with it now, wife! Who’ve you been gossiping with?”
“I’ll name no names,” the unhappy woman sobbed; “but somebody told me that somebody else was down at the Sawdust Pile the day Donald burned those shacks, and after be burned them he spent an hour in the Brent cottage, and when he came out he had the baby in his arms. When he left, the child made a great to-do and called him, ‘daddy.’”
The Laird smiled.
“Well, Mary, what would you expect the boy to do? Beat the child? To my knowledge, he’s been robbing the candy department of my general store for years, and the tots of Port Agnew have been the beneficiaries of his vandalism. He was born with a love of children. And would you convict him on the prattle of an innocent child in arms?”