“I thought as much!” Merrivale nodded, with the trouble a good man knows at times in his eyes; but his faith in Burke coming to his aid. “You mean—Lawson?” he asked.
Bill nodded foolishly.
“Then keep yo’ mouth shut!” warned Merrivale. “If I hear yo’ gabbing—I’ll flax the hide o’ yo’, sure as I keep store.”
A month, then two, passed in the desolate cabin in the Hollow. Winter clutched and held Pine Cone Settlement in a deadly grip. Old people died and little children were born. Lois Ann, when it was physically possible, got to the homes of suffering and eased the women, while she berated the men for bringing poor souls to such dread passes. But always Nella-Rose hid and shrank from sight. No need, now, to warn her. A new and terrible look had come into her eyes, and when Lois Ann saw that creeping terror she knew that her hour had come. To save Nella-Rose, she believed, she must lay low every illusion and, with keen and deliberate force, she pressed the apple of the knowledge of life between the girlish lips. The bitter truth at last ate its way into the girl’s soul and gradually hate, such as she had never conceived, grew and consumed her.
“She will not die,” thought the old woman watching her day by day.
And Nella-Rose did not die, at least not outwardly, but in her, as in Truedale, the fine, first glow of pure faith and passion, untouched by the world’s interpretation, faded and shrivelled forever.
The long winter hid the secret in the dreary cabin. The roads and trails were closed; none drew near for shelter or succour.
By springtime Nella-Rose was afraid of every living creature except the faithful soul who stood guard over her. She ran and trembled at the least sound; she was white and hollow-eyed, but her hate was stronger and fiercer than ever.
Early summer came—the gladdest time of the year. The heat was broken by soft showers; the flowers bloomed riotously, and in July the world-old miracle occurred in Lois Ann’s cabin—Nella-Rose’s child was born! With its coming the past seemed blotted out; hate gave place to reverent awe and tenderness. In the young mother the woman rose supreme and she would not permit her mind to hold a harmful thought.
Through the hours of her travail, when Lois Ann, desperate and frightened, had implored, threatened, and commanded that she should tell the name of the father of her child, she only moaned and closed her lips the firmer. But when she looked upon her baby she smiled radiantly and whispered to the patient old creature beside her:
“Miss Lois Ann, this lil’ child has no father. It is my baby and God sent it. I shall call her Ann—cuz you’ve been right good to me—you sholy have.”
So it was “lil’ Ann” and, since the strange reticence and misunderstood joyousness remained, Lois Ann, at her wit’s end, believing that death or insanity threatened, went secretly to the Greyson house to confess and get assistance.