Jane was the first to recover her customary aplomb.
“Don dear,” she cooed throatily, “are we mistaken in our assumption that the person with whom you have just talked is Nan Brent?”
“Your penetration does you credit, Jane. It was.”
“And did our ears deceive us or did we really hear you call her ‘dear’ and ’sweetheart’?”
“It is quite possible,” Donald answered. He crossed the room and paused beside his father. “Caleb Brent blinked out a few minutes ago, dad. It was quite sudden. Heart-trouble. Nan’s all alone down there, and of course she needs help. I’m going. I’ll leave to you the job of explaining the situation to mother and the girls. Good-night, pop; I think you understand.”
Mrs. McKaye was too stunned, too horrified, to find refuge in tears.
“How dare that woman ring you up?” she demanded haughtily. “The hussy!”
“Why, mother dear, she has to have help,” her son suggested reproachfully.
“But why from you, of all men? I forbid you to go!” his mother quavered. “You must have more respect for us. Why, what will people say?”
“To hell with what people say! They’ll say it, anyhow,” roared old Hector. Away down in his proud old heart he felt a few cheers rising for his son’s manly action, albeit the necessity for that action was wringing his soul. “‘Tis no time for idle spierin’. Away with you, lad! Comfort the puir lass. ’Tis no harm to play a man’s part. Hear me,” he growled; “I’ll nae have my soncy lad abused.”
“Dad’s gone back to the Hielands. ’Nough said.” Elizabeth had recovered her customary jolly poise. Wise enough, through long experience, to realize that when her father failed to throttle that vocal heritage from his forebears, war impended, she gathered up her knitting and fled to her room.
Jane ran to her mother’s side, drew the good lady’s head down on her shoulder, and faced her brother.
“Shame! Shame!” she cried sharply. “You ungrateful boy! How could you hurt dear mother so!”
This being the cue for her mother to burst into violent weeping, forthwith the poor soul followed up the cue. Donald, sore beset, longed to take her in his arms and kiss away her tears, but something warned him that such action would merely serve to accentuate the domestic tempest, so, with a despairing glance at old Hector, he left the room.
“Pretty kettle o’ fish you’ve left me to bring to a boil!” the old man cried after him. “O Lord! O Lord! Grant me the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, and the cunning of Judas Iscariot! God help my mildewed soul!”