“And you—did make sure, Jim? There was no doubt? I—I remember the pretty little thing; it would have been damnable to—to hurt her.”
“I scrooged the main fact out o’ old Pete, her father. There was a mighty lot o’ talk in the hills, but I was glad ter get the facts and shut the mouths o’ them that take ter—ter hissin’ like all-fired scorpions! Nella-Rose had writ to her father, but Marg, the sister, tore the letter up in stormin’ rage ’cause Nella-Rose had got the man she had sot her feelin’s on. Do you happen to call ter mind what I once told you ’bout those two gals and a little white hen?”
“Same old actin’ up!” Jim went on. “But when Greyson let out what war in the letter—knowin’ Burke like what I do—I studied it out cl’ar enough. Nella-Rose was sure up agin blood and thunder whatever way yo’ put it—so she ran her chances with Burke. There ain’t much choosin’ fo’ women in the hills and Burke is an owdacious fiery feller, an’ he ain’t ever set his mind to no woman but Nella-Rose.”
That night Truedale went to his old cabin. He built a fire on the hearth, drew the couch before it, and then the battle was on—the fierce, relentless struggle. In it—Nella-Rose escaped. Like a bit of the mist that the sun burns, so she was purified—consumed by the fire of Truedale’s remorse and shame. Not for a moment did he let the girl bear a shadow of blame—he was done with that forever!—but he held himself before the judgment seat of his own soul and he passed sentence upon himself in terms that stern morality has evolved for its own protection. But from out the wreck and ruin Truedale wrenched one sacred truth to which he knew he must hold—or sink utterly. He could not expect any one in God’s world to understand; it must always be hidden in his own soul, but that marriage of his and Nella-Rose’s in the gray dawn after the storm had been holy and binding to him. From now on he must look upon the little mountain girl as a dear, dead wife—one whose childish sweetness was part of a time when he had learned to laugh and play, and forget the hard years that had gone to his un-making, not his upbuilding.
Truedale travelled back to the place of his new life bearing his books, his unfinished play, and his secret sorrow with him. His books and papers were the excuse for his journey; for the rest, no one suspected nor—so thought Truedale—was any one ever to know. That part of his life-story was done with; it had been interpreted bunglingly and ignorantly to be sure, but the lesson, learned by failure, had sunk deep in his heart.
He arranged his private work in the little room under the eaves. He intended, if time were ever his again, to begin where he had left off when broken health interrupted.
In the extension room over William Truedale’s bedchamber Lynda carried on her designing and her study; her office, uptown, was reserved for interviews and outside business. Her home workshop had the feminine touch that the other lacked. There were her tea table by the hearth, work bags of dainty silk, and flowers in glass vases. The dog and the cats were welcome in the pleasant room and sedately slept or rolled about while the mistress worked.