Old Hector sighed. He was quite familiar with the fact that, while the records of the county clerk of Santa Clara County, California, indicated that a marriage license had been issued on a certain date to a certain man and one Nan Brent, of Port Agnew, Washington, there was no official record of a marriage between the two. The Reverend Mr. Tingley’s wife had sorrowfully imparted that information to Mrs. McKaye, who had, in turn, informed old Hector, who had received the news with casual interest, little dreaming that he would ever have cause to remember it in later years. And The Laird was an old man, worldly-wise and of mature judgment. His soul wore the scars of human perfidy, and, because he could understand the weakness of the flesh, he had little confidence in its strength. Consequently, he dismissed now, with a wave of his hand, consideration of the possibility that Nan Brent would ever make a fitting mate for his son.
“It’s nice of you to believe that, Donald. I would not destroy your faith in human nature, for human nature will destroy your faith in time, as it has destroyed mine. I’m afraid I’m a sort of doubting Thomas. I must see in order to believe; I must thrust my finger into the wound. I wonder if you realize that, even if this poor girl should, at some future time, be enabled to demonstrate her innocence of illicit love, she has been hopelessly smeared and will never, never, be quite able to clean herself.”
“It matters not if I know she’s a good woman. That is all sufficient. To hell with what the world thinks! I’m going to take my happiness where I find it.”
“It may be a long wait, my son.”
“I will be patient, sir.”
“And, in the meantime, I shall be a doddering old man, without a grandson to sweeten the afternoon of my life, without a hope for seeing perpetuated all those things that I have considered worth while because I created them. Ah, Donald, lad, I’m afraid you’re going to be cruel to your old father!”
“I have suffered with the thought that I might appear to be, dad. I have considered every phase of the situation; I was certain of the attitude you would take, and I feel no resentment because you have taken it. Neither Nan nor I had contemplated the condition which confronts us. It happened—like that,” and Donald snapped his fingers. “Now the knowledge of what we mean to each other makes the obstacles all the more heart-breaking. I have tried to wish, for your sake, that I hadn’t spoken—that I had controlled myself, but, for some unfathomable reason, I cannot seem to work up a very healthy contrition. And I think, dad, this is going to cause me more suffering than it will you.”
A faint smile flitted across old Hector’s stern face. Youth! Youth! It always thinks it knows!
“This affair is beyond consideration by the McKayes, Donald. It is utterly impossible! You must cease calling on the girl.”