“I insist upon protecting his wife. I love her. She has been kind to me. She’s the only friend of my own sex that I have ever known. She’s tubercular, and will not live many years. She has two children—and she adores her scamp of a husband. If I cannot convict that man of bigamy, would it not be foolish of me to try? And why should I inflict upon her, who has shown me kindness and love, a brimming measure of humiliation and sorrow and disgrace? I can bear my burden a year or two longer, I think; then, when she is gone, I can consider my vindication.” She patted his hand to emphasize her unity of purpose. “That’s the way I’ve figured it all out—the whole, crazy-quilt pattern, and if you have a better scheme, and one that isn’t founded on human selfishness, I’m here to listen to it.”
A long silence fell between them.
“Well, dear heart?” she demanded finally.
“I wasn’t thinking of that,” he replied slowly. “I was just trying to estimate how much more I love you this minute than I did five minutes ago.”
He drew her golden head down on his shoulder and held her to him a long time without speaking. It was Nan who broke the spell by saying:
“When the time comes for my vindication, I shall ask you to attend to it for me, dear. You’re my man—and I think it’s a man’s task.”
His great fingers opened and closed in a clutching movement. He nodded.
When Donald returned to The Dreamerie about eleven o’clock, he was agreeably surprised to find his father in the living-room.
“Hello, dad!” he greeted The Laird cheerfully. “Glad to see you. When did you get back?”
“Came down on the morning train, Donald.”
They were shaking hands now. The Laird motioned him to a chair, and asked abruptly.
“Where have you been all day, son?”
“Well, I represented the clan at church this morning, and, after luncheon here, I went down to visit the Brents at the Sawdust Pile. Stayed for dinner. Old Caleb’s in rather bad shape mentally and physically, and I tried to cheer him up. Nan sang for me—quite like old times.”
“I saw Nan Brent on the beach the other day. Quite a remarkable young woman. Attractive, I should say,” the old man answered craftily.
“It’s a pity, dad. She’s every inch a woman. Hard on a girl with brains and character to find herself in such a sorry tangle.”
The Laird’s heavy heart was somewhat lightened by the frankness and lack of suspicion with which his son had met his blunt query as to where he had been spending his time. For the space of a minute, he appeared to be devoting his thoughts to a consideration of Donald’s last remark; presently he sighed, faced his son, and took the plunge.
“Have you heard anything about a fight down near the Sawdust Pile last night, my son?” he demanded.