His voice broke. He was shaken with emotion. He had stood much and he had stood it alone; while it had never occurred to him to think so, he had been facing life pretty much alone for a decade. It would have eased his surcharged spirit could he have shed a few manly tears, if his wife had taken his leonine old head on her shoulder and lavished upon him the caresses his hungry heart yearned for. Unfortunately, she was that type of wife whose first and only thought is for her children. She was aware only that he was in a softened mood, so she said,
“Don’t you think you’ve been a little hard on poor Jane, Hector dear?”
“No, I do not. She’s cruel, selfish, and uncharitable.”
“But you’ll forgive her this once, won’t you, dear?”
“Well, if she doesn’t heckle Donald—” he began, but she stopped further proviso with a grateful kiss, and immediately followed Jane up-stairs to break the good news to her. She and Jane then joined Elizabeth in the latter’s room, and the trio immediately held what their graceless relative would have termed “a lodge of sorrow.” Upon motion of Jane, seconded by Elizabeth, it was unanimously resolved that the honor of the family must be upheld. At all cost. They laid out a plan of campaign.
Upon his arrival in Port Agnew, Donald called upon one Sam Carew. In his youth, Mr. Carew had served his time as an undertaker’s assistant, but in Port Agnew his shingle proclaimed him to his world as a “mortician.” Owing to the low death-rate in that salubrious section, however, Mr. Carew added to his labors those of a carpenter, and when outside jobs of carpentering were scarce, he manufactured a few plain and fancy coffins.
Donald routed Sam Carew out of bed with the news of Caleb Brent’s death and ordered him down to the Sawdust Pile in his capacity of mortician; then he hastened there himself in advance of Mr. Carew. Nan was in the tiny living-room, her head pillowed on the table, when Donald entered, and when she had sobbed herself dry-eyed in his arms, they went in to look at old Caleb. He had passed peacefully away an hour after retiring for the night; Nan had straightened his limbs and folded the gnarled hands over the still heart; in the great democracy of death, his sad old face had settled into peaceful lines such as had been present in the days when Nan was a child and she and her father had been happy building a home on the Sawdust Pile. As Donald looked at him and reflected on the tremendous epics of a career that the world regarded as commonplace, when he recalled the sloop old Caleb had built for him with so much pride and pleaure, the long-forgotten fishing trips and races in the bight, the wondrous tales the old sailor had poured into his boyish ears, together with the affection and profound respect, as for a superior being, which the old man had always held for him, the young laird of Tyee mingled a tear or two with those of the orphaned Nan.