The instant the front door closed behind her son, Mrs. McKaye recovered her composure. Had the reason been more trifling, she would have wept longer, but, in view of its gravity, her common sense (she possessed some, when it pleased her to use it) bade her be up and doing. Also, she was smitten with remorse. She told herself she was partly to blame for this scourge that had come upon the family; she had neglected her son and his indulgent father. She, who knew so well the peculiar twists of her husband’s mental and moral make-up, should not be surprised if he cast a tolerant eye upon his son’s philanderings; seemingly the boy had always been able to twist his father round his finger, so to speak. She sat up, dabbed her eyes, kissed Jane lovingly as who should say, “Well, thank God, here is one child I can rely upon,” and turned upon the culprit. Her opening sentence was at once a summons and an invitation.
“It happened while you were away—while we were both away, Nellie. I was gone less than forty-eight hours—and he had compromised himself.”
“You don’t mean—really compromised himself!” Jane cried sharply, thus bringing upon her The Laird’s attention. He appeared to transfix her with his index finger.
“To bed with you, young lady!” he ordered. “Your mother and I will discuss this matter without any of your pert suggestions or exclamations. I’m far from pleased with you, Jane. I told you to shut that door, and you disobeyed me. For that, you shall suffer due penance. Six months in Port Agnew, my dear, to teach you obedience and humility. Go!”
Jane departed, sniffling, and this stern evidence of The Laird’s temper was not lost upon his wife. She decided to be tactful, which, in her case, meant proceeding slowly, speaking carefully, and listening well. Old Hector heaved himself out of his great chair, came and sat down on the divan with his wife, and put his arm round her.
“Dear old Nellie!” he whispered, and kissed her.
For the moment, they were lovers of thirty-odd years agone; their children forgotten, they were sufficient unto themselves.
“I know just how you feel, Nellie. I have done my best to spare you—I have not connived or condoned. And I’ll say this for our son: He’s been open and above-board with her and with me. He’s young, and in a moment of that passion that comes to young men—aye, and young women, too, for you and I have known it—he told her what was in his heart, even while his head warned him to keep quiet. It seems to me sometimes that ’tis something that was to be.”
“Oh, Hector, it mustn’t be! It cannot be!”
“I’m hoping it will not be, Nellie. I’ll do my best to stop it.”
“But, Hector, why did you support him a moment ago?”
He flapped a hand to indicate a knowledge of his own incomprehensible conduct.
“She’d called for him, Nellie. Poor bairn, her heart went out to the one she knew would help her, and, by God, Nellie, I felt for her! You’re a woman, Nellie. Think—if one of your own daughters was wishful for a kind word and a helping hand from an honorable gentleman and some fool father forbade it. Nellie wife, my heart and my head are sore tangled, sore tangled—”