After supper, at which Carl had eaten little and Mr. Meredith nothing at all, both went silently into the study. The switch lay on the table. Mr. Meredith had had a bad time getting a switch to suit him. He cut one, then felt it was too slender. Carl had done a really indefensible thing. Then he cut another—it was far too thick. After all, Carl had thought the eel was dead. The third one suited him better; but as he picked it up from the table it seemed very thick and heavy—more like a stick than a switch.
“Hold out your hand,” he said to Carl.
Carl threw back his head and held out his hand unflinchingly. But he was not very old and he could not quite keep a little fear out of his eyes. Mr. Meredith looked down into those eyes—why, they were Cecilia’s eyes—her very eyes—and in them was the selfsame expression he had once seen in Cecilia’s eyes when she had come to him to tell him something she had been a little afraid to tell him. Here were her eyes in Carl’s little, white face—and six weeks ago he had thought, through one endless, terrible night, that his little lad was dying.
John Meredith threw down the switch.
“Go,” he said, “I cannot whip you.”
Carl fled to the graveyard, feeling that the look on his father’s face was worse than any whipping.
“Is it over so soon?” asked Faith. She and Una had been holding hands and setting teeth on the Pollock tombstone.
“He—he didn’t whip me at all,” said Carl with a sob, “and—I wish he had—and he’s in there, feeling just awful.”
Una slipped away. Her heart yearned to comfort her father. As noiselessly as a little gray mouse she opened the study door and crept in. The room was dark with twilight. Her father was sitting at his desk. His back was towards her—his head was in his hands. He was talking to himself—broken, anguished words— but Una heard—heard and understood, with the sudden illumination that comes to sensitive, unmothered children. As silently as she had come in she slipped out and closed the door. John Meredith went on talking out his pain in what he deemed his undisturbed solitude.
Una went upstairs. Carl and Faith were already on their way through the early moonlight to Rainbow Valley, having heard therefrom the elfin lilt of Jerry’s jews-harp and having guessed that the Blythes were there and fun afoot. Una had no wish to go. She sought her own room first where she sat down on her bed and had a little cry. She did not want anybody to come in her dear mother’s place. She did not want a stepmother who would hate her and make her father hate her. But father was so desperately unhappy—and if she could do any anything to make him happier she MUST do it. There was only one thing she could do—and she had known the moment she had left the study that she must do it. But it was a very hard thing to do.