At five Nora brought in the tea-things, and Katrine closed the book over which she had been dreaming.
“Nora,” she began, for the Irishwoman was like a mother to her, “did you ever forget your first love?”
“I did worse than that, I married him. Barney’s the result,” was the answer.
“But you never could have married any one else but Dennis, could you?” Katrine persisted.
“Niver!” the little old woman returned, with ready decision. “He bate me, Miss Katrine, and misprized me, and came and wint as he listed, and finally left me altogether; but I could never have chose another. It’s the way with Irishwomen, that! The drame of it niver comes but the wance—niver but the wance,” she repeated, looking into the fire, but seeing the old sea-wall at Killybegs, with flowers on top of it, against a cloudy sky, and a sailor boy with bold black eyes calling to her from the boats.
And Katrine, her tea forgotten, repeated, “It’s that way with Irishwomen—the dream never comes but once.”
At sunset the bitter wind which had been blowing all day long turned into a gale, a rascal wind, which slapped a handful of sleet and ice, hard as glass, on one side of your face, and scurried round the corner to come back and strike harder from an entirely different direction.
The storm must have suited his mood in some way, for Dermott McDermott chose to walk through it, arriving at Katrine’s door breathless and flushed, the fur of his coat gleaming with ice and snow. Here he found a glowing fire, with the old mahogany settle on one side and the green grandmother’s chair on the other; the dull glow of old tapestry; flowers; the odor of mignonette; and Katrine herself, in a scarlet gown, delighted as a child at his coming. Perhaps it was the clatter and roaring and discomfort without which accentuated the peace and happiness within, and led him, more than he knew, to that precipitancy of conduct which ended disastrously for him. As he sat in the great green chair Katrine looked up at him from the settle, and something in the intensity of his gaze made her make a quick gesture of warning to him before he spoke.
“Will you marry me, Katrine?”
She looked again quickly, to see if he could be jesting. In North Carolina it was his custom to ask her every day; but his sudden pallor and the choked voice told how terribly he was in earnest.
She answered, with a note of despair in her voice, “I wish with all my heart I could, Dermott.”
“And why not?” he asked.
“It wouldn’t be fair to you. There is some one else,” she explained, bravely, a great wave of coloring coming to her face at the confession.
“Whom ye will marry?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I think not. It seems as if I could almost say I hope not.”