“I do not have to. The dear soul is so grateful that I’m forced to refuse favours.”
“Lynda, ring for Thomas.” Truedale drew his brows close. “I think I’ll—I’ll smoke. It may help me to sleep after the long stories and—when I am alone.” He rarely indulged in this way—tobacco excited instead of soothed him—but the evening must have all the clear thought possible!
Lynda sat again upon her ottoman—her capacity for sitting hours without a support to her back had always been one of her charms for William Truedale. The old man looked at her now; how strong and fine she was! How reliant and yet—how appealing! How she would always give and give—be used to the breaking point—and rarely understood. Truedale understood her through her mother!
“I want to ask you, Lynda, why do you come here—you of all the world? I have often wondered.”
“I—I like to come, generally, Uncle William.”
“But—other times, out of the general? You come oftener then. Why?”
And now Lynda turned her clear, dark eyes upon him. A sudden resolve had been taken. She was going to comfort him as she never had before, going to recompense him for the weeks just past when she had failed him while espousing Con’s cause. She was going to share her secret with him!
“Just before mother went, Uncle William, she told me—”
The hand holding the cigar swayed—it was a very frail, thin hand.
“That you once—loved her.”
The old wound ached as it was bared. Lynda meant to comfort, but she was causing excruciating pain.
“She—told you that? And you so young! Why should she so burden you—she of all women?”
“And—my mother loved you, Uncle William! She found it out too late and—and after that she did her best for—for Brace and me and—father!”
The room seemed swaying, as all else in the universe was, at that moment, for William Truedale. Everything that had gone to his undoing—to the causing of his bitter loneliness and despair—was beaten down by the words that flooded the former darkness with almost terrifying light. For a moment or two he dared not speak—dared not trust his voice. The shock had been great. Then, very quietly:
“And—and why did she—speak at the last?”
Lynda’s eyes filled with tears.
“Because,” she faltered, “since she could not have come to you without dishonour—she sent me! Her confidence has been the sacredest thing in my life and I have tried to do as she desired. I—I have failed sadly—lately, but try to forgive me for—my mother’s sake!”
“And you—have”—the voice trembled pitifully in spite of the effort Truedale made to steady it—“kept silence—since she went; why? Oh! youth is so ignorant, so cruel!” This was said more to himself than to the girl by his knee upon whose bowed head his shrivelled hand unconsciously rested.