“Until to-morrow at five, Donald, since you will persist in being obstinate,” he heard Nan say, as they reached the gate and paused there. “Good-night, dear.”
Andrew Daney waited no longer, but turned and fled into the darkness.
Having done that which her conscience dictated, Nan Brent returned to her home a prey to many conflicting emotions, chief of which were a quiet sense of exaltation in the belief that she had played fair by both old Hector and his son, and a sense of depression in the knowledge that she would not see Donald McKaye again. As a boy, she had liked him tremendously; as a man, she knew she liked him even better.
She was quite certain she had never met a man who was quite fit to breathe the same air with Donald McKaye; already she had magnified his virtues until, to her, he was rapidly assuming the aspect of an archangel—a feeling which bordered perilously on adoration.
But deep down in her woman’s heart she was afraid, fearing for her own weakness. The past had brought her sufficient anguish—she dared not risk a future filled with unsatisfied yearning that comes of a great love suppressed or denied.
She felt better about it as she walked homeward; it seemed that she had regained, in a measure, some peace of mind, and as she prepared dinner for her father and her child, she was almost cheerful. A warm glow of self-complacency enveloped her. Later, when old Caleb and the boy had retired and she sat before the little wood fire alone with her thoughts, this feeling of self-conscious rectitude slowly left her, and into its place crept a sense of desolation inspired by one thought that obtruded upon her insistently, no matter how desperately she drove her mind to consider other things. She was not to see him again—no, never any more. Those fearless, fiery gray eyes that were all abeam with tenderness and complete understanding that day he left her at the gate; those features that no one would ever term handsome, yet withal so rugged, so strong, so pregnant of character, so peculiarly winning when lighted by the infrequent smile—she was never to gaze upon them again. It did not seem quite fair that, for all that the world had denied her, it should withhold from her this inconsequent delight. This was carrying misfortune too far; it was terrible—unbearable almost—
A wave of self-pity, the most acute misery of a tortured soul, surged over her; she laid her fair head on her arms outspread upon the table, and gave herself up to wild sobbing. In her desolation, she called aloud, piteously, for that mother she had hardly known, as if she would fain summon that understanding spirit and in her arms seek the comfort that none other in this world could give her. So thoroughly did she abandon herself to this first—and final—paroxysm of despair that she failed to hear a tentative rap upon the front door and, shortly, the tread of rough-shod feet on the board walk round the house. Her first intimation that some one had arrived to comfort her came in the shape of a hard hand that thrust itself gently under her chin and lifted her face from her arms.