“What a woman!” he reflected. “Brains, imagination, dignity, womanly pride, courage, beauty and—yes; I agree with Donald. Neither maid, wife nor widow is she—yet she is not, never has been, and never will be a woman without virtue. Ah, Donald, my son, she’s a bonny lass! For all her fall, she’s not a common woman and my son is not a common man—I wonder—Oh, ’tis lies, lies, lies, and she’s heard them and knows they’re lies. Ah, my son, my son, with the hot blood of youth in you—you’ve a man’s head and heart and a will of your own—Aye, she’s sweet—that she is—I wonder!”
At the front of Caleb Brent’s little house there was a bench upon which the old man was wont to sit on sunny days—usually in the morning, before the brisk, cool nor’west trade-wind commenced to blow. Following Hector McKaye’s departure, Nan sought this bench until she had sufficiently mastered her emotions to conceal from her father evidence of a distress more pronounced than usual; as she sat there, she revolved the situation in her mind, scanning every aspect of it, weighing carefully every possibility.
In common with the majority of human kind, Nan considered herself entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and now, at a period when, in the ordinary course of events, all three of these necessary concomitants of successful existence (for, to her, life meant something more than mere living) should have been hers in bounteous measure, despite the handicap under which she had been born, she faced a future so barren that sometimes the distant boom of the breakers on Tyee Head called to her to desert her hopeless fight and in the blue depths out yonder find haven from the tempests of her soul.
In an elder day, when the Sawdust Pile had been Port Agnew’s garbage-dump, folks who clipped their rose bushes and thinned out their marigold plants had been accustomed to seeing these slips take root again and bloom on the Sawdust Pile for a brief period after their ash-cans had been emptied there; and, though she did not know it, Nan Brent bore pitiful resemblance to these outcast flowers. Here, on the reclaimed Sawdust Pile, she had bloomed from girlhood into lovely womanhood—a sweet forget-me-not in the Garden of Life, she had been transplanted into Eden until Fate, the grim gardener, had cast her out, to take root again on the Sawdust Pile and ultimately to wither and die.
It is terrible for the great of soul, the ambitious, the imaginative, when circumstances condemn them to life amid dull, uninteresting, drab, and sometimes sordid surroundings. Born to love and be loved, Nan Brent’s soul beat against her environment even as a wild bird, captured and loosed in a room, beats against the window-pane. From the moment she had felt within her the vague stirrings of womanhood, she had been wont to gaze upon the blue-back hills to the east, to the horizon out west, wondering what