Through the mist of her tears she saw only the vague outlines of a man clad in heavy woolen shirt and mackinaw, such as her father frequently wore.
“Oh, father, father!” she cried softly, and laid her head on his breast, while her arms went round his neck. “I’m so terribly unhappy! I can’t bear it—I can’t! Just—because he chose to be—kind to us—those gossips—as if anybody could help being fond of him—”
She was held tight in his arms.
“Not your father, Nan.” Donald murmured in a low voice.
She drew away from him with a sharp little cry of amazement and chagrin, but his great arms closed round her and drew her close again.
“Poor dear,” he told her, “you were calling for your mother. You wanted a breast to weep upon, didn’t you? Well, mine is here for you.”
“Oh, sweetheart, you mustn’t!” she cried passionately, her lips unconsciously framing the unspoken cry of her heart as she strove to escape from him.
“Ah, but I shall!” he answered. “You’ve called me ‘sweetheart,’ and that gives me the right.” And he kissed her hot cheek and laughed the light, contented little laugh of the conqueror, nor could all her frantic pleadings and struggling prevail upon him to let her go. In the end, she did the obvious, the human thing. She clasped him tightly round the neck, and, forgetting everything in the consuming wonder of the fact that this man loved her with a profound and holy love, she weakly gave herself up to his caresses, satisfying her heart-hunger for a few blessed, wonderful moments before hardening herself to the terrible task of impressing upon him the hopelessness of it all and sending him upon his way. By degrees, she cried herself dry-eyed and leaned against him, striving to collect her dazed thoughts. And then he spoke.
“I know what you’re going to say, dear. From a worldly point of view, you are quite right. Seemingly, without volition on our part, we have evolved a distressing, an impossible situation—”
“Oh, I’m so glad that you understand!” she gasped.
“And yet,” he continued soberly, “love such as ours is not a light thing to be passed lightly by. To me, Nan Brent, you are sacred; to you, I yearn to be all things that—the—other man was not. I didn’t realize until I entered unannounced and found you so desolate that I loved you. For two weeks you have been constantly in my thoughts, and I know now that, after all, you were my boyhood sweetheart.”
“I know you were mine,” she agreed brokenly. “But that’s just a little tender memory now, even if we said nothing about it then. We are children no longer, Donald dear; we must be strong and not surrender to our selfish love.”
“I do not regard it as selfish,” he retorted soberly. “It seems most perfectly natural and inevitable. Why, Nan, I didn’t even pay you the preliminary compliment of telling you I loved you or asking you if you reciprocated my affection. It appeared to me I didn’t have to; that it was a sort of mutual understanding—for here we are. It seems it just was to be—like the law of gravitation.”