“What, Con? I must know all.”
“Lynda, before God I believe something drove the child to it; you must not—you shall not judge her. But she went, the very night I left, to a man—a man of the hills—who had loved her all his life. He was in danger; he escaped, taking her with him!”
“I—I do not believe it!” The words rang out sharply, defiantly. Woman was in arms for woman. The loyalty that few men admit confronted Truedale now. It seemed to glorify the darkness about him. He had no further fear for Nella-Rose and he bowed his head before Lynda’s blazing eyes.
“God bless you!” he whispered, “but oh! Lyn, I went back to make sure. I had the truth from her own father. And with all—she stands to this day, in my memory, guiltless of the monstrous wrong she seemed to commit; and so she will always stand.
“Since then, Lynda, I have lived a new piece of life; the past lies back there and it is dead, dead. I would not have told you this but for one great and tremendous thing. You will not understand this; no woman could. A man could, but not a woman.
“As I once loved—in another way—that child of the hills, I love you, the one woman of my manhood’s clearer vision. Because of that love—I had to speak.”
Truedale looked up and met the eyes that searched his soul.
“I believe you,” Lynda faltered. “I do not understand, but I believe you. Go away now, Con, I want to think.”
He rose at once and bent over her. “God bless you, Lyn,” was all he said.
Two days, then three passed. Lynda tried to send for Truedale—tried to believe that she saw clearly at last, but having decided that she was ready she was again lost in doubt and plunged into a new struggle.
She neglected her work and grew pale and listless. Brace was worried and bewildered. He had never seen his sister in like mood and, missing Conning from the house, he drew, finally, his own conclusions.
One day, it was nearly a week after Truedale’s call, Brace came upon his sister in the workshop over the extension. She was sitting on the window-ledge looking out into the old garden where a magnolia tree was in full bloom.
“Heigho, boy!” she said, welcoming him with her eyes. “I’ve just discovered that spring is here. I’ve always been ready for it before. This year it has taken me by surprise.”
Brace came close to her and put his hands on her shoulders.
“What’s the matter, girl?” he asked in his quick, blunt way.
The tears came to Lynda’s eyes, but she did not shrink.
“Brother,” she said slowly, “I—I want to marry Con and—I do not dare.”
Kendall dropped in the nearest chair, and stared blankly at his sister.
“Would you mind being a bit more—well, more explicit?” he faltered.
“I’m going to ask you—some questions, dear. Will you—tell me true?”