Tradition was the stone in the road to Donald McKaye’s happiness, and his strength was not equal to the task of rolling it away.
Despair enveloped him. Every fiber of his being, every tender, gallant instinct drew him toward this wonder-girl that the world had thrust aside as unworthy. His warm, sympathetic heart ached for her; he knew she needed him as women like her must ever need the kind of man he wanted to be, the kind he had always striven to be. Had he been egotist enough to set a value upon himself, he would have told himself she was worthy of him; yet a damnable set of damnable man-made circumstances over which he had no control hedged them about and kept them apart. It was terrible, so he reflected, to know that, even if Nan should live the life of a saint from the hour of her child’s birth until the hour of her death, a half-century hence, yet would she fail to atone for her single lapse while there still lived one who knew—and remembered. He, Donald McKaye, might live down a natural son, but Nan Brent could not. The contemplation of this social phenomenon struck him with peculiar force, for he had not hitherto considered the amazing inequalities of a double standard of morals.
For the first time in his life, he could understand the abject deference that must be shown to public opinion. He, who considered himself, and not without reason, a gentleman, must defer to the inchoate, unreasoning, unrelenting, and barbaric point of view of men and women who hadn’t sense enough to pound sand in a rat-hole or breeding enough to display a reasonable amount of skill in the manipulation of a knife and fork. Public opinion! Bah! Deference to a fetish, a shibboleth, to the ancient, unwritten law that one must not do that which hypocrites condemn and cowards fear to do, unless, indeed, one can “get away with it.”
Ah, yes! The eleventh commandment: “Thou shalt not be discovered.” It had smashed Nan Brent, who had violated it, desolated her, ruined her—she who had but followed the instinct that God Almighty had given her at birth—the instinct of sex, the natural yearning of a trustful, loving heart for love, motherhood, and masculine protection from a brutal world. More. Not satisfied with smashing her, public opinion insisted that she should remain in a perennial state of smash. It was abominable!